Sunday, February 21, 2010

But what about the elections?

The Iraqi provincial elections scheduled for March 7 were originally envisioned as a a clear step on the high road to true democracy in Iraq. Instead they have become the symbol of just how fragile both the political process and the by-comparison-with-previous-years stability are in a nation still defined by its internal divisions.

Even the date itself expresses that: By Iraq's constitution, the elections were supposed to be held no later than January 31. But as political wrangling and arguing over the arrangements chewed up month after month on the calendar, that date became impossible to meet - and so the Constitution was ignored. As an indication of just much this has been "make it up as you go along," the elections are just eight days before the end of this parliament's term, so some kind of ad hoc caretaker government will have to be cobbled together until a new governing coalition can be assembled.

The campaign itself - the official start of which was delayed by five days because of legal issues about candidates' eligibility - has been marked by violence.
At least two candidates have been killed. Bombings have struck at least four party headquarters in Baghdad, as well as a candidate’s home in Ramadi. In Maysan, in southern Iraq, gunmen opened fire on a candidate hanging posters for Ahrar, a party led by a cleric who favors a secular democracy, killing one of the candidate’s aides....
But overshadowing even the violence has been the issue of Baathism - or, more properly, the single-minded focus of the campaign of the ruling Shiite coalition on the supposed (and basically mythical) threat of its return. Iraqi journalists with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) expressed how
[a] quick study of the election posters recently plastered up along a street in downtown Baghdad gives an insight into the political campaign agenda ahead of a nationwide ballot on March 7.

In the space of a city block, campaign banners read, "There is no place for Baathists", "Revenge to the Baathists who mistreated you", and "No return of the Baathist criminals". ...

Only one poster along the road promises something different. "We will work to solve the unemployment problem", proclaims a lonely placard nearly lost on a wall plastered with strident rhetoric.

The prevalence of anti-Baathist sloganeering is not confined to the streets. Television, radio and print media have run daily coverage of the campaigns against the previous regime’s party, and prominent politicians have engaged in one-upmanship over who has the hardest line against the party....
The campaign could be seen as a particularly strident combination of "law and order" (or lawn ordure, if you prefer) and "the terrorists are coming!" campaigns in the US and one that at least some Iraqis see as merely an attempt to distract from the government's failure to deliver on its promises - but it's one which has succeeded in its goal of frightening and so mobilizing pro-government Shiite voters.

There are other effects which are more immediate and more than merely rhetorical: The anti-Baathist campaign was the direct source and justification for the decision by the Accountability and Justice Commission to ban over 500 candidates from the parliamentary elections, most of them on the grounds of a claim they had some connection to Saddam Hussein's old, now illegal, Baath Party.

Some 171 appealed their exclusion. On February 3, an appeals court overturned the decision of the Commission, saying there was not enough time to determine the facts before the election. However, just two days later, under enormous political pressure from both the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and, it appears, the US, it began hearing appeals. Only 26 candidates ultimately prevailed, leaving 145 out. Among the excluded, notably, were Saleh al-Mutlaq and Dhafir al-Ani, two leading candidates of the Iraqiya list, a coalition of Sunni parties. Both Mutlaq and Ani are secular Sunnis and both are current members of Parliament.

So strident is the anti-Baathist campaign that when US officials expressed concern about the election situation, fearing that if it appeared illegitimate to Sunnis it could reawaken large-scale sectarian violence, the main Shiite bloc, the National Iraqi Alliance,
accused the United States of interfering in Iraqi domestic politics and of plotting to bring the Baath Party back into prominence as the "neo-Baath,"
reports Juan Cole.

The court's decision essentially endorsing the Commission's findings lead to a boycott of the election by Mutlaq's Iraqi National Dialogue Front. That development, coupled with the informal agreement between the two main (and supposedly competing) Shiite blocs that they will unite in forming a new government after the election, has lead to the understandable - and justifiable - suspicion among Sunnis that the Commission had acted as it did in order to blunt the potential influence of the Iraqiya list and maintain Shiite dominance in the government.

Adding to the suspicion is the fact that the head of the Accountability and Justice Commission is Iraq's very own Comeback Kid: Ahmed Chalabi.

Sunnis and many secularists in the Shiite community are so eager to overturn the dominance of the Shiite religious parties that have controlled Iraq's government for five years that it is unclear whether Mutlak's boycott call will have weight with many people.
Juan Cole, for his part, suggests that a boycott would not have the same "disastrous" effects as the boycott of national elections in January of 2005 did.
I don't think that catastrophe can now be repeated[, he said]. ... The current elections instead have Iraqi provinces as the electoral unit. Thus, the largely Sunni provinces of al-Anbar, Salahuddin and Ninevah will return a lot of Sunni members of parliament even with a boycott (the resulting members of parliament just would not represent that many people).
I'm not as sanguine about this as Professor Cole because the issue isn't really the number of Sunni members of Parliament but the public sense - especially among Sunnis - of the legitimacy of the elections, which in this case could be affected more by turnout than by results. At the same time, the decision of the Iraqiya coalition to proceed with campaigning likely indicates the idea of a boycott is not catching on.

Even so, as recently as last fall, a time when there was still hope that the elections could be held in January, there were some new political alliances claiming to favor nationalist agendas, raising the hope that, in the words of an IWPR report from the time, "the country may be inching away from sectarian politics."

That hope has been shown to be false, as the New York Times reported from Nineveh earlier this month.
What is striking is how faithfully Iraqis expect to vote by identity, despite campaign appeals to national unity.

Issues - basic services, economic development, security - all seem to stem from identity as much as politics. “First ethnicity, second political party,” was how the leading Kurdish official here, Khasro Goran, put it.

The new Parliament will include 31 members from Nineveh, and Mr. Goran expects the main national Kurdish coalition to win 10 seats - based not on polls, but on the estimated percentage of Kurds in the province.
And as the ruling forces in the Iraqi government continue to fan the flames of fear in their campaign to maintain their dominance, those ethnic divisions intensify and the shadow of resurgent violence spreads. This from the Washington Post this past Wednesday.
The Mashhadani family, which is Sunni, has lived in Hurriyah[, a mostly Shiite neighborhood in northwest Baghdad,] for 40 years, save two years when family members were forced to flee. ...

On Jan. 23, Omar Mashhadani sat on a flimsy mattress in his living room, waiting to watch a soccer game on television. There was a knock at the door.

When Omar answered, he was shot at least three times.

His brother, Jassim, and his mother, Nadima Taha Yasseen, rushed toward the front door. Omar limped into his brother's arms, the Iraqi flag on his green jersey soaked in blood.

No one came to the family's aid. No one helped load Omar into the minibus that took him to the hospital. No men came to pay condolences after he died last month; they were too afraid to openly mourn his death.
His name - Omar - marked him as Sunni. Marked him, apparently, for murder.
It was only one killing[, the Post said,] but it unleashed the demons of a bitter and perhaps unfinished past. ...

The death and the aftermath were reminiscent of the prelude to the sectarian war, which began in late 2005 with a smattering of killings and threats and culminated with 100 bodies a day being dumped in the streets of the capital. With the imminent departure of American forces and fierce competition for power ahead of general elections on March 7, many here say sectarian strife is reigniting.

A senior U.S. military official who has spent years in Iraq said he fears that as the drawdown begins, American forces are leaving behind many of the same conditions that preceded the sectarian war.

"All we're doing is setting the clock back to 2005," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a stark assessment.
As the Post observes, "the violence goes both ways": Note that several of the attacks I mentioned on Friday were against Shiite pilgrims on their way to Karbala. But the execution-style killing of Omar Mashhadani has a special resonance. Even more than the bombings of pilgrims, it has the rank smell of what David Neiwert adroitly (if not altogether originally) labels "eliminationism." It says in a special way, a very personal way, that you are "other." That "you are not welcome here." That even though you have lived here for decades, you do not belong. You are "not us."
[T]hrough the narrow streets, in the low-slung homes that were cleansed of Sunnis before a few trickled back, the fear is palpable. Sectarian graffiti sprayed on walls in 2006 and 2007 have been scrubbed or scribbled out. But now, new tags are appearing. At one Sunni mosque, security forces quickly removed a spray-painted message.

"Death to Baathists and Wahhabis," it said, referring to Saddam Hussein loyalists and followers of a fundamentalist version of Sunni Islam. Days later, another was sprayed across the wall. The message was clear: "Death to Sunnis."
The elections will happen on schedule. The votes will be counted, the winners declared, and after a fair amount of complaining, wrangling, maneuvering, and accusing, a new government will emerge. Iraq will go on. But none of it will remove the meaning of that graffiti or head off more of the same, the graffiti of gunfire, tit for tat, retaliation to counter-retaliation to counter-counter retaliation. Indeed, by its embrace of fear of the dark threat of the "other" as a campaign tactic, Maliki and his supporters have pushed the country onto a dangerous path.

Let's be as generous as we can and suppose that it was just a campaign tactic, one solely intended to win votes rather than to produce tangible actions. If that's true, if they want to contain the fear and forego the force, they will need to say so, clearly and explicitly. And soon.

If they don't, we will know their true intent.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ok, so? Yes? Iraq?

During the health care debate, those of us who favored actual national health care were often admonished to not let the "perfect" be the enemy of the "good." The rejoinder was that neither should we use "supposedly better" as a cover for "still bad."

That same answer applies to Iraq. Things are "better" than they were but they are "still bad." First, it should be acknowledged that
2009 was characterized by the lowest levels of violence in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
(Link via Newshoggers.)

This was due to a combination of factors, including the Anbar Awakening and the related Sons of Iraq movement, the dismantling of Shiite militias, and Iran's reduction in support to militants. None of which, I can't help but note, had anything to do with the "surge" - no, not even the Anbar Awakening, which was prompted by Sunnis getting fed up with the brutality of the self-proclaimed al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia née al-Qaeda in Iraq, which had always been seen as every bit as much of an outsider as the US. Nonetheless and whatever the combination of causes, the result has been an end to large-scale fighting that in turn has led to almost a 50% drop in deaths in 2009 as compared to 2008.

Iraq has more casualties from terrorist attacks than any other country in the world.
In 2009, Iraq Body Count recorded an average of 13 deaths a day from such attacks, which continue to occur in all parts of the country and most especially in areas with mixed populations. The idea that ethnic and religious tensions are largely a thing of the past is true only to the extent that Iraq has been ethnically cleansed - more accurately, ethnically segregated - and the various ethnic and religious groupings simply have less contact than they used to.

Then add this: Maplecroft is a company that provides risk analyses for corporations that wish to do business in line with the UN's Principles for Responsible Investment. As part of that, it issues an annual "Terrorism Risk Index," ranking nations based on a combination of the likelihood of terrorist incidents and the likelihood of them causing mass casualties.

According to their listing, Iraq is the place in the world where you are most at risk of a terrorist strike. (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Lebanon round out the top five.)
According to the TRI[, the company says,] even though the terrorist situation in Iraq has improved, the frequency, scale and human impact of attacks still makes it the most extreme risk country for terrorism, with nearly 4,500 civilians killed in 2009.
So yes, things are "better" - but then again, skin cancer is "better" than lung cancer but that doesn't mean it's a desirable or healthy state.

This year has started off offering more of the same. Juan Cole reports that Iraqi officials say that
196 non-insurgent Iraqis were killed in political violence in January, 135 of them civilians and the others police or soldiers. ... The total of wounded this January was 782, 620 of them civilians.
That is a total which February is on track to meet or pass.

February 1: At least 56 people were killed and 144 wounded in Baghdad by a female suicide bomber targeting Shiites taking part in an annual religious pilgrimage to Karbala. She entered a tent where women pilgrims could get water and set off the explosive before she could be checked.

The attack was described as one "that Iraqi officials had predicted but could not stop,"
underscoring the ability of insurgents to outmaneuver the country’s security forces, seemingly at will.

Two more attacks - one with a grenade, another with a roadside bomb - later struck still more pilgrims in southern Baghdad, wounding 16.
February 3: More than a score of people were killed and more than 100 wounded in Karbala in another bombing aimed at the Shiite pilgrims arriving in the city. As is often true, the details surrounding the blast are unclear; only the dead are a certainty.
Local officials said the attacker drove a motorcycle, pulling a cart laden with explosives, and detonated the bomb by remote control after parking in a crowded area. However, an official at the Interior Ministry said that it was a suicide bombing, with the attacker steering a minibus rigged with explosives into a crowd....

Several smaller attacks were also directed at pilgrims this week. In Baghdad ... three separate bombings killed one pilgrim and wounded nine, according to security officials.

In Karbala ... militants attached a bomb to a car belonging to a military official and killed three people, according to the officials. Thirteen pilgrims were wounded.
February 10: A "frequently-attacked" oil pipeline in Rashidiya, just north of Baghdad, was bombed again, cutting oil production at the Dora refinery in the capital by half. It was unclear when the pipeline would be fixed.
Also on Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed two policemen and wounded four west of Baghdad, the police said.
February 16: A string of bombs targeting Iraqi army patrols and police around Mosul killed at least four people.

February 17: Reuters reported that
[f]our Christians have been killed in the last four days by gunmen in Iraq's turbulent north, weeks ahead of an election in which the minority group's vote could be a factor in a Kurd-Arab tussle for power.

Bombings and shootings are recorded almost daily in the violent northern city of Mosul, where a struggle for territory and power between Arabs and Kurds has hampered effective policing and been exploited by al Qaeda. ...

With Iraq's March 7 parliamentary vote looming, a spike in attacks against Christians could be a sign of voter intimidation by factions in the bitter Kurd-Arab dispute, or another attempt by al Qaeda to derail the election.
While some of the violence as the election approaches could be chalked up to the latter cause, in this case I think it unlikely: Tensions remain high in the north of Iraq, where Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish interests and communities mingle - and attacking a minority group seems a poor way to intimidate the majority into abandoning the elections. Either factional intimidation or straightforward, non-election-related ethnic violence - which many fear is returning after having subsided for a time - seems considerably more likely both here and in many of the other cases. Contrary to the tendency of the US media, not every drop of blood shed in Iraq should be attributed to al-Qaeda.

(Sidebar: Yes, I know most Kurds are Sunni Muslim but they largely think of themselves as "Kurdish" rather than "Sunni" and so are a separate community with their own interests that may and do diverge from those of Sunni Arabs in Iraq.)

February 18: Two dozen people were wounded by a car bomb near a police building in Mosul.

Also on February 18: At least 13 people were killed and more than two dozen wounded when a suicide bomber struck a police checkpoint near government offices in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province. As the BBC noted,
[u]ntil 2007, the Sunni insurgency was strong in Anbar province.

Local Sunni tribes and their followers then turned against the militants and began co-operating with the Iraqi government and US forces.

But after a period of relative calm, the province is again suffering from mounting violence.
But hey, why should any of that concern us? That would only detract from the "Roaring Success!" meme of what is now officially "Operation New Dawn" - disturbingly enough, also the name of the operation that pretty much leveled Fallujah in 2004 - as US forces in Iraq drop below 100,000 for the first time since the invasion. I mean, after all, only six Americans were killed in Iraq in all of 2010!

And that's the only thing that really matters, yes?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Days of future passed

As always, I'm a day late and a dollar short, but I've missed too many anniversaries recently to let another one slip past.

Monday, February 15, was the seventh anniversary of the largest worldwide day of protest in history.
[M]illions on 6 continents demonstrated against the U.S./U.K. plans to invade Iraq. Reported totals included 1 to 2 million in London and Rome; 1.3 million in Barcelona, Spain (a city of 1.5 million); 500,000 each in Berlin, Paris, Madrid, and New York. Smaller demonstrations were held in over 600 cities and towns across the U.S., including tens of thousands in several cities, and 150,000 the following day in San Francisco. Total participation is estimated at 25 million in more than 100 countries.
And it apparently didn't do a goddam bit of good, which is why I'm not sure if this should be noted with some degree of pleasure and pride at the outpouring of feeling or with dismay and disillusionment at its failure to prevent the war.

Y'know, the rightwing nutcases are forever insisting that those of us on the left never admit to being wrong. That's a good bit of psychological projection on their part, but never mind, my purpose here is to acknowledge something a rightwinger said that was correct even though it was criticized by a number of lefty bloggers.

Remember when, during the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain was asked that question about US troops in Iraq "for 50 years" and he said "Why not a hundred?" Boy, did he get smacked around for that.

He was right.

He was right because what he actually said involved comparing US troops in Iraq with those stationed in Germany and South Korea and said that Americans would not object to US forces remaining in Iraq indefinitely if no Americans were dying. As long as casualties were low enough not to draw a lot of atttention, we wouldn't give a damn.

As so it has proved to be. The seventh anniversary of the invasion and continuing occupation are approaching with barely a notice. I mean, Iraq was so yesterday. So last administration. Okay, that's an overstatement but not by much - not when it can't be denied that there is far less attention being paid to Iraq than in years past. And, to be quite clear, I do not exclude myself from the guilty.

It's not that things are so much better and it's not because violence is down for Iraqis - yes, it is down but I daresay most Americans have no clue what level of violence Iraqis suffer now or suffered in the past - but because violence against Americans is down to almost nothing. The attitude among the media, the politicians, and too much of the public, including the left, is that if it doesn't affect us, we don't really care that much.

I am so damned depressed.

Hey, Glenn, are you listening?

Not to belabor the point although I suppose I am, but a new Washington Post-ABC News poll says that an overwhelming majority of Americans, a majority that cuts across party and ideological lines, opposes the Citizens United decision.
Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court's Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent "strongly" opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.

The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent). ...

[T]he poll shows remarkably strong agreement about the ruling across all demographic groups, and big majorities of those with household incomes above and below $50,000 alike oppose the decision. Age, race and education levels also appeared to have little relative bearing on the answers.
In short, pretty much everybody hates it - and with good cause. So I have to ask again of Glenn Greenwald: Just where is this public that you claimed "overwhelmingly agrees with the Court's ruling?"

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Something just for fun

It's Valentine's Day and in honor of the saint who maybe did not exist and surely had no particular connection to February 14, we have a new way to express your love for all of creation - or at least your share of it.
Derived from an interpretation of passages of the New Testament (most notably 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17), Rapture prophecy posits that Jesus Christ will return to Earth to gather his disciples for eternal life in God's kingdom, while leaving behind those who have not met a standard of piety to face the rule of Satan.

Unfortunately, pets may not be eligible for eternal salvation.

"Pets don't have souls, so they'll remain on Earth," Todd Strandberg, the founder of a Web site called, told BusinessWeek. "I don't see how they can be taken with you."
Oh, how sad! But never fear, true believers, there is a way to protect your beloved pets! For the nominal fee of just $110 for the first pet and $15 for each additional one, Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, run by 61-year-old Bart Centre, promises to see to those unfortunate soulless creatures. 'Cause, y'see,
"Each Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you have received your reward," the company's Web site promises. "Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus."
It's a really great deal, because the fee is good if the Rapture happens any time in the next 10 years - and if it doesn't, you can sign up for an additional 10 years at a 25% discount! Cool beans!

The firm says it has rescuers in 22 states who are committed, "come hell or high water," to reach a person's pet in 18 to 24 hours after the Rapture and it won't sell coverage to people in areas where that promise can't be met.

More than 100 people have signed up.

Footnote to the preceding

Or, the empire is struck back.

Just for the record, it doesn't always work out the way they wanted and arbitrary abuse of power does not always go unpunished. At least in the District of Columbia, from which all three of these examples come. This is old news, but I just learned about the cases yesterday, so it's new to me.

1) On April 15, 2000, the International Action Center staged a demonstration as part of a weekend of actions at a meeting of the IMF/World Bank. In response,
police illegally closed a whole downtown block in Washington and arrested 678 demonstrators, tourists, shoppers and passers-by in what has been described as the largest act of preventive detention in recent decades in the United States.
Most of the cases were later dismissed, but the DA pushed the case against the group's co-director, Brain Becker. That may have been a big mistake, as that September, Becker was acquitted by the judge, who found the government had failed to prove that the demonstrators had engaged in "unlawful assembly." With that as part of the record, the more recent news is less surprising than it might have been:
The District of Columbia has agreed to pay $13.7 million to settle a class action suit brought by protesters arrested during a demonstration in 2000, lawyers in the case announced at court today[, November 23, 2009].

Lawyers for the protesters said it would be the largest amount ever paid in the U.S. to compensate protesters who were wrongfully arrested. ...

[Mara] Verheyden-Hilliard[, of the Partnership for Civil Justice, which filed the suit in 2001,] said she believed that U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman’s decision to set a trial date had pushed the District to settle.

“Faced with the reality of trial and a potentially huge loss, the district was able to come to the table,” she said.
2) In 2002, police wrongfully arrested and interrogated eight individuals during a demonstration against the Iraq war. In November 2009, the city agreed to pay them $450,000 in compensation.

3) On September 27, 2002, a protest against the World Bank was taking place in Pershing Park. Police surrounded the gathering and prevented anyone from leaving. Then, without warning or providing a chance to "disperse," police arrested some 400 people.
[S]ome were hogtied and held for more than 24 hours before being released.
Officials seemed to realize almost immediately that this was, to put it mildly, a big mistake. The captain of the US Park Police said he told a DC police official that he wouldn't carry out the arrests. The District refused to prosecute a single case.
Within the next two years, the D.C. Council investigated Pershing Park and released their own scathing assessment. The Council concluded that then-Chief Charles Ramsey had lied, and police officials had engaged in a cover-up of the incident.

Eventually, the case became all about the cover up. A federal judge would slam the the Office of the Attorney General and the D.C. Police Department's general counsel for withholding thousands of pages of discovery documents. The police department's running resume, a moment-by-moment chronicling of police activity on Sept. 27, went missing. Radio dispatches turned over to plaintiffs contained mysterious gaps.
The upshot was that two months ago, on December 16, the city settled a class action suit, agreeing to a payout of $8.25 million and to a series of improvements related to record-keeping - about which officials are required to report every six months to the Partnership for Civil Justice, a nonprofit civil rights organization which represented to plaintiffs in all three cases.

Footnote: The Pershing Park saga is not over.
Four bystanders rounded up by police that day are represented by separate lawyers and are not part of the class-action suit.

One of their attorneys, Jonathan Turley, said he is scheduled to meet with [DC Attorney General Peter] Nickles for the first time Tuesday[, December 15,] to discuss a possible settlement. But he seems to be itching for a courtroom brawl.

"We are preparing for trial," Turley said.
Go get 'em, Jonathan.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Relatively brief paranoid rant

A couple of months ago I griped about those devices that monitor your driving, supposedly so that parents can monitor how safely the teens are driving.

Turns out that not only are they intrusive, they're not all that useful as real-world measures, an auto columnist discovered.
How badly do you think you drive? You'd be surprised.

In my first day testing a real-time driver-tracking device called the TIWI, I racked up an almost unbelievable 53 speeding violations and more than a few "aggressive driving" violations. And I'm a safe driver. Honest.
For one thing, the gizmo makes no allowances for the conditions under which you're driving: The author, for example, commutes on the LA freeways, where - as I can confirm by personal experience - if you stick to the speed limit you're less a safe driver than you are a dangerous obstruction.

It also gave him an "aggressive driving" demerit when he had to stop short when someone pulled out in front of him without looking. He wound up thinking the thing is great based on company claims of improvements in teen driving (offered, at least in the article, without any indication of a control to see if the improvement is because of the device or because of greater experience with driving) but still had to admit the potential impact of his own experience:
[P]ity the son or daughter of a parent or guardian who refuses to accept these excuses and banishes them from driving the family car ever again after just one day with the TIWI device in the car. Like many things, but particularly the bond of trust between a new driver and their overseer, working with this device requires a degree of patience, tolerance and understanding.
Especially since parents can opt to track events in real time via alerts sent out "immediately by phone, email or text message."

In other words, the device is only as useful as the intelligence and reasonableness of the parents. Which is pretty much the same as matters are without the damn thing.

You can surely tell that I dislike this sort of device, which I find representative of the creepy but increasingly common experience of having everywhere you go and everything you do subject to surveillance by someone with some sort of power or authority over you: a parent, a boss, a cop, a whatever but most particularly the state. It's a creeping 1984, except that instead of universal surveillance being used to maintain a dictatorship, it's the specter of universal surveillance being used to establish a dictatorship.

And make no mistake, it is about power. It's always about power.
Simon Glik, a lawyer, was walking down Tremont Street in Boston when he saw three police officers struggling to extract a plastic bag from a teenager’s mouth. Thinking their force seemed excessive for a drug arrest, Glik pulled out his cellphone and began recording.

Within minutes, Glik said, he was in handcuffs. ...

The charge? Illegal electronic surveillance.
Massachusetts is one of 12 "two-party" consent states, in which all parties to a conversation must agree to be recorded - otherwise, the recording is illegal. Boston police have been twisting the meaning of the law to harass and arrest people recording police actions performed in public - and doing it to some extent with the support of the courts, which have found that if the recording is "secret," it is in fact illegal. (By comparison, charges against Glik were ultimately dropped because he was recording the cops openly.)

The abuse of authority is not the only issue here. The other is why the concept of "no expectation of privacy," which has been repeatedly used to expand police surveillance powers, does not apply to police under similar circumstances.

The answer, of course, is obvious: They're the cops. You're not. They can record you, openly or secretly. You don't record them. Any more than the employee records the boss or the child records the parent.

It's always about power.

Footnote: Just as a related example, just who do you think will have access to this?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Turn your head and cough

Avedon Carol made a good point the other day, about all the talking and squawking about the "health care summit" which the GOPpers may or may not attend:
I'm just annoyed that process is more important than policy once you're inside the bubble. The right-wing wrote too much of health insurance bill, but instead of talking about that, we're supposed to talk about why they should vote for it since it's so full of their own crap.
Indeed. It turns out on simple examination that the health insurance care bill passed by the Senate is already chock-full of right-wing ideas. Not that this comes as any surprise, but still it's nice to have the details. In the face of that, the reaction should have been "How the fuck did this crap get in there? Why the hell did you keep capitulating to a bunch of wacko reactionaries who you knew or at the very least should have known damn well wouldn't agree to anything that actually helped people no matter what you offered them?"

Instead, the chatter - which the rest of us are apparently supposed to feel obligated to echo - is "Whoa! They get what they want and still oppose it! This is gold!" Steve Benen, for example, is admitting that the purpose of Obama meeting with GOPpers is to "score a key public-relations victory ... give Democrats cover and put Republican intransigence on full display." (Above links via AC.)

Put more bluntly, it's not that the Senate bill is a good bill, it's that, well, it's politically useful! How kewl is that?

Perhaps that's the emphasis because it's getting ever harder to justify the claim that the Senate bill is a clearly good thing. First there is the fact that the claim that financing it though an excise tax on falsely-labeled "Cadillac" health plans won't hurt working people because what employers save in health insurance costs will be passed on in the form of higher wages is outright false, as shown last month by Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute. (Via Firedoglake.)
Proponents of this theory point for evidence to the latter half of the 1990s, a five-year period when wages were growing rapidly while growth in employer health care spending was relatively constrained. They contrast the period from 1995 to 2000 with the periods from 1989 to 1995 and 2000 to 2006, when wages stagnated while health care costs grew much more rapidly.

There is logic to their argument, but it is only skin-deep....

[D]igging just a bit beneath the surface reveals the following:

1. Health care costs are not large enough to substantially move wages as these proponents claim;

2. Examination of actual wage and benefit trends confirms that changes in the trajectory of health care costs did not materially affect wage trends over the last 20 years; and

3. The wage behavior described - accelerating in the late 1990s and more slowly thereafter - actually best characterizes wage growth for low-wage workers who have minimal access to employer-based health care. Conversely, this pattern of wage-growth over time is least pronounced for higher paid workers with the most health coverage.

Clearly, this “health care theory of wage determination” is wrong....
What's more, the notion that raising costs for individuals via higher deductibles and co-pays - which is one of the conscious intents of such a tax - saves money by making us "more conscious consumers" without harming health has long been known to be false and it may actually increase the pressure on public health care spending. In fact, a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, issued nearly three years ago, studied the effects of a policy change that raised patient cost-sharing for retired public employees in California.
We find that physician office visits and prescription drug utilization are price sensitive.... [W]e find substantial “offset” effects in terms of increased hospital utilization in response to the combination of higher copayments for physicians and prescription drugs. These offset effects are concentrated in patients for whom medical care is presumably efficacious: those with a chronic disease. Finally, we find that the savings from increased cost-sharing accrue mostly to the supplemental insurer, while the costs of increased hospitalization accrue mostly to Medicare; thus, there is a fiscal externality associated with cost-sharing increases by supplemental insurers.
Now in case that wasn't clear, let me translate: Increasing health care costs to consumers results in them going to the doctor less often and either not getting or skimping on needed meds. That tends to lead to more hospitalizations - with the result that the savings go mostly to the insurers and the costs go mostly to Medicare.

(On a related point, the Urban Institute argued last year that such "consumer-directed health care" - what a foully-misleading name - threatens to remove
physician-patient trust as a fundamental underpinning of the health care system. Although physicians have deviated from ideals of professionalism in various ways, patients still rely on physicians, as professionals, to serve their patients' best interests. ...[T]he competitive vision that is core to consumer-driven care would inevitably replace professional ethics with, at best, commercial ethics....
Put another way, despite our cynicism it's unlikely that we see our own doctors, particularly if we have a regular one, the same way we see someone trying to sell us a used car. But the more important money becomes in the transaction, the greater the similarity in how we see the two.)

Those two points - insurance savings are not passed along as wage increases and raising the cost of health care means people get less of it - would appear to be self-evident. Indeed, so much so that it's hard to imagine why they have been taken seriously as arguments absent the drive to "do something about health care" while embracing the intent to change the system as little as possible. But together they do serve to point up the fatal flaw at the heart of the whole set of proposed changes:

It has been noted a number of times that the structure that would be established by the Senate bill is at least somewhat similar to that which exists now in Massachusetts. The state program includes mandated coverage (with penalties for not having insurance), MassHealth (the state's Medicaid program), and the Health Connector (which allows people and small businesses to shop for private insurance while providing subsidies to low-income individuals and families, and so has similarities to the proposed exchanges).

While it has struggled with costs and has cut back on some benefits (for example, legal immigrants are no longer eligible for assistance and dental coverage has been restricted to those with incomes below the federal poverty level) the program has undeniably increased the number of people in Massachusetts with health insurance, with the state claiming last fall that only 2.7% of the state's residents remain uninsured, about half the rate before the program began over three years ago.

However, that is not the real story. As always, as I and others have said repeatedly, the issue is not access to health insurance, it is access to health care. Again, I have to thank the folks at Firedoglake for a link, this one to a report by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.
According to a March 2009 Urban Institute report, health reform has improved access to health care services for newly insured and previously insured adults. Over ninety percent of adults in Massachusetts have a usual source of care and most reported seeing a doctor in the previous year. However, the affordability of health care remains a barrier to receiving care for some residents. Of the total population, 21 percent went without needed care in the previous year because of cost. People with disabilities and those in fair and poor health experienced the greatest barriers to accessing care. [Emphasis added.]
(Links to the actual Urban Institute studies, done for the state, are here and here.)

Despite all the efforts, despite the near-universal reach of health insurance, still one out of every five people in Massachusetts went without needed care because they couldn't afford it. I want to emphasize again that nearly all of those people had health insurance - in fact, a minimum of 18 of those 21 percentage points, nearly 86% of the total number, did. And I'm going to say it a third time to really drive it home: Six out of every seven people who had to forego needed health care in Massachusetts last year had health insurance.

It can't be said enough times: Health insurance does not equal health care. Full stop. And the fatal flaw at the heart of the entire discussion about health in and among Congress, the White House, and the media is the utter failure to recognize and address that simple fact.

Which brings up one last thing, one last but extremely important thing. Greg Sargent pointed to a CBS News poll in January that headlined a result that Obama’s approval rating on health care had dropped to 36%. That was down by 11 percentage points since October. However, the poll did two other things: One, it compared Obama to Congress - and he did better than Democrats, who did better than Republicans. More importantly, it didn't ask, as most polls have, some form of "Are you for or against the health care reform bills in Congress?" Instead, it asked what people thought about the proposals; so far as I'm aware, it's the only news poll which has.

People were asked how they thought health care reform in Congress was doing on three points: covering Americans, controlling costs, and regulating health insurance companies. In each case, did they think the proposals go too far, not far enough, or are about right. In all three cases, a plurality said the proposals do not go far enough.

No, it is not a majority, but it is a plurality and it does show clearly and unquestionably that there is a real and sizable constituency for real change, for real advances, for real progress. It's also worth noting that if you include the "about right" numbers, then even after all the months of unremitting attacks, all the foot-dragging, all the town hall screaming, all the references to Hitler, all the accusations of "socialism" and "government takeover" and "death panels" and "they're gonna kill grandma" and my favorite "keep your government hands off my Medicare," still less than one in three Americans thinks what's being proposed goes too far.

Now, you know that I am very much in the "not far enough camp" and that I think the best thing thing that could happen for the longer term is for the bill to fail because enough progressives in Congress - and yes, there are some - stand up and say "This is just not good enough." And it is precisely for that same reason that I think the poll is worthy of note - because no, it does not demonstrate any sort of national consensus for a single-payer plan or, even less, a national health system, but it does indicate that some good amount of the declining support is not for health care reform but for what is being presented as health care reform. And while the screechers and the shouters, with their diatribes and dissembling, may have snowed the Democrats, snowed the White House, and snowed the media, they have not snowed the public.

Footnote: That CBS poll also indicates how skewed media coverage of issues is, a little window into how mass media thinks and what drives it: The poll asked people what they thought the most important issue facing the country is. Of the seven choices offered, the economy got the biggest response, at 44%. Health care was next with 14%. Terrorism was fourth, at 7% - even the rarely-covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ranked higher, at 8%. But the survey summary contained nine questions on terrorism, including airport security and Gitmo, but only two on the economy and two on health care.

Footnote to the Footnote: So what came in fifth on the list of concerns, with just 3% of responders picking it, barely ahead of poverty/homelessness and defense/military? The deficit. Bang that drum louder, bozos, it appears you haven't succeeded in scaring people yet.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Two very quick thoughts

1. Like Avedon Carol, from who I learned of it, I want one of these T-shirts. Unhappily, I'd need two - one for me, one for the love - and that's actually a pretty big investment right now. But maybe a few weeks of careful budgeting....

2. I am flaming sick to death of the word "forward!" You can't hear a single damn political discussion - and read few enough of them - without hearing "move the process forward" or "as we go forward" or "looking/moving/going/something-else-ing forward," often enough all of them and more.

I'd like to see someone running one of those TV pundit roundtables start off by saying that anyone who used the word "forward" except to describe actual physical motion would have their mike turned off just to see how long it would take for silence to fall over the set.

People are still talkin'

Via TPM, I learned of a bipartisan poll that asked, among other things, about the Citizens United decision. This was the exact question, with the four possible answers being strongly or somewhat support and strongly or somewhat oppose.
Before the decision, the law barred corporations and unions from spending money to support or oppose candidates. The Supreme Court overturned this previous law and ruled that corporations and unions have the right to spend money to support or oppose specific candidates. Now, after learning a little bit more about this, do you favor or oppose this decision?
Only 11% strongly supported it while 47% strongly opposed it. Add in the somewhats and people opposed the decision by a better than 2-1 margin, 64-27.
The opposition was found across party lines[,TPM said], and according to the pollsters was especially common among independents....
So much for Glenn Greenwald's contention that the public "overwhelmingly agrees with the Court's ruling."

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Makes it whiter than white

This, too, is an old bit - two weeks, in fact - but because it's about something I addressed at the time, I wanted to mention it.

I expect you heard some news about how
[v]ital evidence which could solve the mystery of the death of Government weapons inspector Dr David Kelly will be kept under wraps for up to 70 years.

In a draconian – and highly unusual – order, Lord Hutton, the peer who chaired the controversial inquiry into the Dr Kelly scandal, has secretly barred the release of all medical records, including the results of the post mortem, and unpublished evidence.
What you might not recall is what this was about, so I thought I'd refresh folks' memories.

In September 2002, as part of its efforts to bang the drums of war against Iraq, the British government under Prime Minister Tony Blair issued what was claimed to be a sober, solidly-founded indictment of Saddam Hussein as possessing massive stocks of banned weapons.

Prominently played in this report was the dramatic statement that Saddam's chemical weapons were so advanced and so well-distributed to front-line units that they could be deployed within 45 minutes of an order to do so.

Later, two BBC reporters, citing a senior official, reported that the 45-minute claim was poorly sourced and was inserted at the insistence of Blair's director of communications, Alistair Campbell, to "sex up" the document to make Saddam seem more threatening.

Blair's team stomped about Whitehall, looking for the leaker - and Dr. David Kelly, Britain's top weapons inspector, admitted to being the source, while denying he said anything about "sexing up" the dossier. The Blair government then proceeded to try to discredit the BBC report by outing its own intelligence operative, dropping hints as to his identity until some reporter guessed it - and then "confirming" his name.

Dr. Kelly was publicly assailed, his sanity was questioned (the usual tactic against a whistleblower), and he was raked over the coals by a Parliamentary committee. Unable to deal with the publicity, the pressure, the destruction of his career, and the humiliation, David Kelly committed suicide.

That caused a huge row, which the Blair government tried to quiet by having a special inquiry overseen by Lord Hutton. It's conclusion? Dr. Kelly did commit suicide, and the whole imbroglio, the whole mess, the whole deal, was all the fault of (wait for it) the BBC. No, I'm not joking.

That was in 2004. Last year, a group of doctors opened a legal challenge to the verdict.
They argue that Hutton’s conclusion that Dr Kelly killed himself by severing the ulnar artery in his left wrist after taking an overdose of prescription painkillers is untenable because the artery is small and difficult to access, and severing it could not have caused death.
It was as a result of that proceeding that it has emerged that all the evidence in the case is to be sealed - even from the family - for between 30 and 70 years.
Last night, the Ministry of Justice was unable to explain the legal basis for Lord Hutton’s order.
Oh, we know the basis, and it's not a legal one. The Hutton inquiry was, I said at the time, "a shameful, disgraceful, disgusting, and transparently false whitewash," a sentiment in which I was hardly alone, intended to maintain the fiction of a justified war on Iraq,

And that, friends, is why this recent news is so infuriating: It is a whitewash of a whitewash.

Footnote: On a tangentially-related note, I just came across an item from last October, where it seems that Tony Blair labeled atheists a danger to society and the equivalent of terrorists, decrying "an aggressive secular attack from without" and "the threat of extremism from within" from those who would "scorn God."

The Spirit of Geek

A bit of sad news for space geeks: Just about a month ago I posted on the difficulty faced by the Mars rover Spirit, which had gotten stuck in soft sand after one of its wheels broke through a crust. Months of effort had failed to dislodge it.

A little over a week ago, NASA announced that it was giving up on freeing the rover. Spirit will rove no more.

But that may not be the end of it: Agency scientists are working on ways to move the rover just in a way to tilt its solar panels toward the Martian sun, now getting lower in the sky as the Martian winter approaches. Even just a few degrees in the right direction would enable Spirit to survive the winter and communicate with Earth every few days.

If they succeed, and they seem reasonably confident they will, Spirit would become a stationary science platform that could carry out studies it couldn't do without being fixed on one place. As such, its mission, originally scheduled for 90 days but now over six years long, could continue for months or even years longer.
"Spirit is not dead; it has just entered another phase of its long life," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
The rover is dead, long live the rover I mean the stationary platform!

Footnote: Spirit's twin rover Opportunity keeps on keepin' on.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Filed under STFU

This is from last week but I just couldn't let it pass without reacting. According to The Guardian (UK), Pope Benedict XVI, the former (and more appropriately named) Cardinal Ratzinger, has condemned British equality legislation for running contrary to "natural law."

He was apparently referring to two recent developments, the first being a law from last year that bars discrimination against same-sex couples by adoption agencies. He claimed that's a "limitation on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs" because, bluntly, Catholic adoption agencies don't wanna deal wit' no fags.

The other is a pending law that
narrows the special exemption enjoyed by churches allowing them to exclude people whose lifestyles do not fit in with the religious ethos of an organisation when hiring staff.
How "the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded" which Ratzinger invoked involves the "freedom" to be a bigot went unexplained.

Despite the recent string of stinging losses in Maine, New York, and New Jersey, the slow progress toward full social and legal acceptance of LGBT folks and same-sex relationships continues both here and abroad.
"At the start of the decade, if you were gay and wanted to get married, you couldn't do it anywhere," said Hayley Gorenberg, the deputy legal director of Lambda Legal, a U.S. advocacy group for gay rights. "If you look at the progress since then, it's striking."
It is. Seven nations allow same-sex marriages and twenty more have some form of civil union or domestic partnership. Some cities, such as Mexico City, do as well. And even n the US, often a laggard on such matters despite our claims to open-mindedness and "live and let live," it appears clear that over time the tide is flowing in one direction only: toward justice.

Excuse the expression, but keep the faith.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Another sign of the coming apocalypse

Lots of people have commented on the Research 2000 poll of self-described Republicans done for DailyKos. And it's true that the results are disturbing because of the strong undercurrent of paranoia and ignorance they show in our society. That undercurrent is nothing new; it's been there since the beginning - but the present strength of it is notable.

You've seen the numbers, I'm sure, but I wanted to give a slightly different perspective on them before noting one question and its associated answers that I haven't seen addressed much.

First, the perspective. Consider what we could call the Big 5 questions: Should Obama be impeached, was he born in the US, is he a socialist, does he want the terrorists to win, and is he a racist. For what I expect are obvious reasons, I'm ignoring possible replies of the sort that some of us might give like "yes, he should be impeached for continuing the Bush legacy of crushing civil liberties and fighting illegal wars" and "yes, he wants the terrorists to win - because we're the real terrorists" and taking, as I expect those polled took, the questions in their most obvious sense.

The smallest wacko vote on a question, the 24% who answered yes to "does he want the terrorists to win," represents the largest percentage of those polled who could believe all five of those contentions.

But what's the smallest percentage? To do that, to eliminate the possibility of overlapping "no"s, we have to multiply the percentages. And the result: 0.65%. That is, according to this poll, an absolute minimum of about one out of every 150 self-described Republicans holds all five of those positions. If you include the "not sure"s, more than one in 10 self-described Republicans thinks all five of those claims either is or might be true. Doesn't matter how you feel about Obama, that sort of disconnect from basic reality is creepy.

As for that undiscussed question, which perhaps helps explain the answers to those other five, this was it:
Should public school students be taught that the book of Genesis in the Bible explains how God created the world?
Now, it would be entirely possible to read that question as asking if the Bible should be used to explain how the Judeo-Christian religious tradition explains the world, in the same sense as other religions have their own creation mythologies. But I'm quite sure that was not the intention and equally sure it's not how it was read. Rather, it was read as "should Genesis be the basis on which public schools teach how the world came into being?" Should, that is, the Bible be used as a science textbook.

A stunning - even to me - 77% of self-identified Republicans said yes. Neither sex nor age nor location made much of a difference. (The only exception was race: 79% of "White" said yes, while 58% of "other/refused" did so.)

It's an absolute rejection of science. In toto. It goes beyond the obvious case of evolution - and therefore of paleontology, not to mention all of modern biology - to of necessity rejecting geology as well. And beyond that, to of necessity also rejecting physics and chemistry, the tools used to verify the assertions of geology about the age of the Earth. Science is to be denied.

It is a celebration of ignorance by people who do not know, do not want to know, and do not want others to know. These are frightening people.

I mean, just how do they think their TVs work? Magic incantation?

"Come, let us gather before the magic box to behold the wisdom revealed therein by Glennus Beckus, the Bigus Dickus."

We're doomed.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Footnote to Everybody's talkin', Parts 1 and 3

Updated Some updates and observations about the Citizens United decision and my two-part response to Glenn Greenwald's defense of it.

It's true, as he says, that the issue of corporate personhood was not directly addressed in the dissent. But, I've learned, it's flatly untrue that it was never raised. An editorial in The Nation says that
[d]issenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke as a strict constructionist when she declared during oral hearings on the case that "a corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights." ...

At the hearing on Citizens United, Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested that instead of expanding the supposed First Amendment rights of corporations, the justices should reconsider the misguided Santa Clara ruling, which "gave birth to corporations as persons." Added Sotomayor, "There could be an argument made that that was the Court's error to start with."
What's more, the dissent written by Justice John Paul Stevens has this to say:
The fact that corporations are different from human beings might seem to need no elaboration, except that the majority opinion almost completely elides it. ...

[C]orporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their “personhood” often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established. (Opinion of Stevens, pp. 75-76; pp. 162-163 of the above-linked .pdf file.) (Emphasis added.)
Related to that and contrary to what Greenwald would have you believe, the dissent did not hinge solely on a claim of "compelling state interest." Rather, Stevens spent a good deal of time arguing that because corporations are not people it is entirely Constitutional to make distinctions based on that. That is, corporations can be treated differently from "natural persons," including having their speech regulated more closely, precisely because they are not persons. In fact, he says so in the very first paragraph of his consideration of the merits of the arguments advanced by the majority, where he said that the majority
claims that the First Amendment precludes regulatory distinctions based on speaker identity, including the speaker’s identity as a corporation.
That claim, he wrote, "is wrong." (Opinion of Stevens, p. 23; page 110 of the .pdf file.) Further on, he wrote:
Campaign finance distinctions based on corporate identity tend to be less worrisome, in other words, because the “speakers” are not natural persons, much less members of our political community, and the governmental interests are of the highest order. ...

If taken seriously, our colleagues’ assumption that the identity of a speaker has no relevance to the Government’s ability to regulate political speech would lead to some remarkable conclusions. ... [I]t would appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans: To do otherwise, after all, could “‘enhance the relative voice’” of some (i.e., humans) over others (i.e., nonhumans). Under the majority’s view, I suppose it may be a First Amendment problem that corporations are not permitted to vote, given that voting is, among other things, a form of speech. (Opinion of Stevens, pp. 32-34; pp. 119-121 of the .pdf.) (Emphasis in original.)
Note here that while I agree with Stevens, my immediate point is more that Greenwald's contention that the minority embraced the notion of corporate personhood as fully and eagerly as the majority and that the issue of a difference between corporations and persons really didn't figure in the debate is flatly false.

And I clearly do agree with Stevens: In that last line, he anticipated one of my own questions, which was:
Could a US corporation that's been around for 35 years run for president? How, once you say that corporations have the same rights as individuals, could you say no?
It also anticipated the move by Murray Hill Incorporated (a PR outfit that does campaigns for labor and progressive groups) to embrace the full meaning of the decision and run for Congress. (Thanks to Digby for the link.)

It also appears that another two of my contentions have gotten confirmation, one historical and one contemporaneous.

First, I argued very strongly that "corporations do not actually exist in the physical world" and that
[w]e are entirely within our rights and authorities as a free people to define the rights, protections, and authorities of corporations in whatever way we choose, including imposing whatever limitations we care to place on them.
It turns out that in a case in 1819, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote this for the Court:
“A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it.”
Of course, that was before corporations, just like the Velveteen Rabbit, became "real" (although the love in this case was that of money and power). Still, for that very reason, it could be argued that it's more likely to represent the intentions of the framers vis-à-vis corporations and the political process.

And second, I insisted that the danger of Citizens United is
its existence as precedent and the longer-term impact of the philosophy contained in it, one under which putting any restrictions on money in politics becomes an untenable limit on free speech.
Well, guess what (again, link via Digby):
Clearly operating on the premise that the Supreme Court last week changed the entire legal landscape for money in politics[, SCOTUS blog reports,] the D.C. Circuit Court appeared on Wednesday[, January 27,] to be leaning strongly toward giving even more freedom to campaign groups that are set up to operate independently of candidates and parties. From the opening moment of the 65-minute hearing, most of the nine judges on the en banc Court treated the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission as the beginning, not the end, of expansion of those freedoms.
That didn't take long, did it?

And we're off and running. Some for the hills and some, specifically those who continue to struggle to dismiss the importance of the decision, just off at the mouth.

Updated with a Footnote: Some years ago, someone tried to reject an argument I was advancing by claiming that it was similar to something Ronald Reagan had said. I replied that it just proved that even Ronald Reagan couldn't be wrong all the time.

Apparently, I can say the same of the teabaggers. TPMMuckraker brings the news:
Some Tea Partiers are expressing vocal opposition to the Supreme Court's recent ruling striking down the ban on corporate political spending - a stance that puts them at odds with the Republican Party and the broader conservative movement. ...

Tea Partiers - especially the rank-and-file activists, as opposed to the movement leaders - often embrace a more populist, anti-corporate position than does the Republican Party, or the conservative movement that under-girds it.
Back in the '90s, these were Perot voters, the people I called "the ag'in'ers - whatever it is, they're ag'in it." They haven't gone away. They've just gotten angrier and more frustrated - but it's an anger still, unhappily, manipulated and directed for the most part against the most obvious target (government) and away from the real target (the power of concentrated wealth). But that doesn't mean they don't know that other target is there.
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