Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Did You Know Congressman Chaka Fattah May Go To Prison Before Congressman Michael Grimm?


Future Club Fed roommates?

Chaka Fattah has a decent progressive voting record. Not stellar, but better than most. Earlier this month, despite corruption charges swirling around Fattah, he beat Republican Armond James more than convincingly-- 177,648 (87.7%) to 24,987 (12.3%)-- in a district that encompasses the black neighborhoods of North and West Philly and some of the tony white Main Line suburbs like Ardmore, Bryn Mawr and Bala Cynwyd. His constituents may not have been concerned about the charges-- he actually hasn't been indicted yet-- but many betting Members of Congress say Fattah is likely to resign his seat in a plea bargain even before Staten Island Mafia thug Michael "Mikey Suits" Grimm does.

This hasn't been a big national news story though, the way the Grimm scandals have. Fattah staffers, though, have agreed to testify against him to save their own asses. The Philly media is all over the story though.
Now Tom Lindenfeld, a Washington, D.C., political consultant, may help investigators land Fattah in an ongoing public-corruption probe.

One day after Fattah collected 87 percent of the vote to win his 11th term in the 2nd District, Lindenfeld, 59, pleaded guilty to wire fraud in U.S. District Court in connection with an illegal $1 million loan he funneled into Fattah's failed 2007 mayoral bid.

As part of the plea deal, Lindenfeld agreed to cooperate in the investigation linked to Fattah - who has not been charged-- and to testify at trial if necessary. In August, a longtime aide to Fattah, Gregory Naylor, admitted that he had lied to investigators about the $1 million campaign loan.

Fattah, described only as "Elected Official A" in court documents, denied any wrongdoing again yesterday, and the allegations didn't seem to bother voters on Tuesday.

"In light of today's news, it is disappointing that a second individual associated with me has pleaded guilty to wrongdoing," Fattah said in a statement yesterday. "I spent today thanking the citizens of my district for their vote of confidence. Those citizens can be assured that, as I previously stated, I have never been involved in any illegal conduct nor misappropriation of taxpayer funds."

Luther Weaver III, Fattah's lawyer, declined to comment yesterday.

Lindenfeld is known as a political bulldog inside the Beltway, a former partner of David Axelrod who has worked on several mayoral campaigns in Washington along with former Gov. Ed Rendell and former Mayor John Street... "Tom takes full responsibility for his actions and regrets participating in illegal activity," a Lindenfeld spokeswoman said in a statement later. "He did not profit from this activity. He has and is cooperating fully with the government."

The man who made the $1 million loan to Fattah, described in court documents as "Person D," is Al Lord, a former CEO of Sallie Mae and current trustee at Penn State University. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The complicated scheme devised to repay Fattah's debt to Lindenfeld would be comical if it didn't involve taxpayer money. Fattah was supposed to funnel federal earmarks to the "Blue Guardians," an environmental-advocacy group created by Lindenfeld, via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A $500,000 earmark was approved, but after NOAA started making phone calls and getting bounced around from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, the agency determined that the Blue Guardians didn't exist. That forced alleged conspirators to "pull the plug," Eric Gibson, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, said after the hearing.

A Fattah spokeswoman, when asked about Lindenfeld and the Blue Guardians in September, said: "Tom Lindenfeld has been engaged in environmental-justice work for 30 years."
There's been a lot of speculation that Fattah will get quite a few years in prison, not just a chance to duck out with a congressional resignation. If he does resign, City Council President Darrell Clarke is likely to run for the seat, and likely to win.

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Will The Republicans Impeach Obama If He Moves Unilaterally To Stop Wage Theft?


The poll last week by NBC and the Wall Street Journal confirmed that most Americans support a progressive vision of our country beyond what the fractured, sclerotic Beltway Establishment Democrats have the guts to push-- and on another planet from the reactionary Republican vision of a mean, crabbed country divided in perpetual class war. 82% want to lower the cost of student debt. 75% want to spend more money on infrastructure. 65% want to raise the minimum wage. 59% support addressing climate change by limiting carbon emissions. Conservatives and Wall Street whores oppose all of these things. Only a third of Americans back the conservative push to raise the Social Security retirement age to 69 and only 41% want the Federal government to stop funding Obamacare, core Republican agenda items backed by more than a few from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party.

There isn't much President Obama can do to do about the progressive things, although it's likely he'll veto two years worth of Republican efforts to further annihilate the middle class with their Koch-inspired ideological extremism. But there is another piece of the progressive puzzle that Obama can and should move on unilaterally, one that has widespread support from the American people: overtime pay. "With a stroke of the pen," wrote venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, "President Obama can make sure you get what you earned, without any congressional action at all. If it feels like you're struggling harder than your parents did, working longer hours for less money, it's because you are. Meanwhile, a handful of capitalists like me are growing wealthy beyond our parents' wildest dreams."

When I first got into the workforce, over 65% of salaried workers earned overtime pay-- today, just 11% do. Overtime was a fact of life... a good fact of life and I used to relish those awesome time-and-a-half bumps in my paychecks when they came. Now workers are looking an an entirely different phenomenon, wage theft, "which occurs when an employer withholds pay rightfully earned by an hourly worker. It happens in a variety of ways, from not paying for overtime, to denying mandated breaks, to subtracting hours from employees' weekly total."
A recent poll commissioned by labor group Fast Food Forward estimates that a stunning 89 percent of fast-food workers have experienced at least one form of wage theft. A previous study, conducted in the first half of 2008 before the recession, found 68 percent of low-wage workers had been victims of wage theft in their previous work week, and estimated that wage theft cost workers an average of $2,634 annually.

...Wage theft can become increasingly common in times of high unemployment, experts say. "When people are desperate for jobs, they're afraid to risk them by taking on their boss," said Ross Eisenbrey, of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.

And because the amounts of wages being withheld are often small, it can be hard for a low-wage worker to find an attorney willing to take their case.

For their part, fast-food managers are under "tremendous pressure" to keep labor costs low, especially when sales are sluggish, said Nelson Lichtenstein, the director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Companies may also engage in the practice when the risk of getting caught is low. There aren't nearly enough U.S. Department of Labor investigators to enforce the laws, said Gebreselassie. He added, "The chance any worksite will be investigated is miniscule."

Nevertheless, the issue of wage theft has been getting increased attention in recent months. In March, the owner of seven McDonald's restaurants in New York was ordered to pay almost $500,000 to more than 1,000 employees who performed work off the clock and had other pay illegally withheld.
Now back to our friendly, enlightened capitalist Nick Hanauer and his suggestion to President Obama to remedy this without letting conservatives stand in the way. He;s working with DFA, which has a petition you can sign if you agree. Hanauer wants the Department of Labor to simply raise the overtime threshold to $69,000. In other words, if you earn $69,000 or less, the law would require that you be paid time-and-a-half for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. Hanauer:
That would mean 10.4 million middle-class Americans with more money in your pockets or more time to spend with friends and family. And if corporate America didn't want to pay you time and a half, it would need to hire hundreds of thousands of additional workers to pick up the slack-- slashing the unemployment rate and forcing up wages.

President Obama could also expand the ranks of workers eligible for overtime pay by ending the exemption that denies overtime to teachers, doctors, computer professionals, and many others. And he can do all this simply by instructing the Department of Labor to change the rules-- immediately putting money into the pockets of millions of American workers.

...Many of my fellow capitalists will warn you that a higher overtime threshold would be a job killer, but the truth is, we already have more capital than we know what to do with. Corporate profits have doubled over the past 40 years to more than 12 percent of GDP; that’s about a $1 trillion a year in extra profits.

But rather than invest in creating jobs or raising wages, executives like me are mostly spending our windfall profits manipulating the price of our own shares through stock buybacks. In fact, over the past decade, public U.S. corporations have spent an astounding $6.9 trillion buying back shares, reducing the total outstanding, and increasing the value of the remaining shares owned by capitalists like me.

We get richer. You get nothing. Again, sorry. But we're only playing by the rules-- rules that President Obama has the power to change.

President Obama is showing that he isn't shy about using his executive powers to do good things for the American people. But the White House needs a strong public push-- the president needs to hear from as many of you as possible that overtime pay is to the middle class what the minimum wage is to the working poor, and that a stronger middle class is good for business and good for America.
Again, here's the DFA petition.

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With No Political Price To Pay, Republicans Are More Likely To Shut Down The Government Over Immigration Measures


Right after the Republican Party decided a good electoral strategy would be to cater to the hardcore elements inside their own Fox-fed base and shut down the government, polling showed that dozens of Republicans in Congress had put themselves in jeopardy of electoral defeat for that vote. After being told that the their congressmember had voted to shut down the government, voters across the country said they were more likely to vote for the Democrat, including in these 15 key districts:
CO-06- Coffman- 41%, Democrat- 51%
FL-02- Southerland- 41%, Democrat- 50%
FL-27- Ros-Lehtinen- 42%, Democrat- 53%
KY-06- Barr- 42%, Democrat- 50%
IL-06- Roskam- 43%, Democrat- 49%
IL-13- Davis- 42%, Democrat- 47%
MI-01- Benishek- 35%, Democrat- 57%
MI-06- Upton- 36%, Democrat 56%
MI-07- Walberg- 42%, Democrat- 51%
NJ-05- Garrett- 45%, Democrat- 50%
NY-22- Hanna- 40%, Democrat- 48%
OH-15- Stivers- 40%, Democrat- 50%
PA-08- Fitzpatrick- 42%, Democrat- 50%
VA-05- Hurt- 40%, Democrat- 50%
WA-08- Reichert- 40%, Democrat- 52%
Of the 15 districts, the DCCC only contested 6 (bolded below) and only won one, FL-02. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Steve Israel made sure there was no Democratic opponent running against Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and they sabotaged the campaigns of several other Democrats running against these vulnerable Republicans. These were the results on election day.
CO-06- Coffman- 52.0%, Romanoff- 42.9%
FL-02- Southerland- 49.6%, Graham- 50.4%
FL-27- Ros-Lehtinen- uncontested
KY-06- Barr- 60.0%, Jensen- 40.0%
IL-06- Roskam- 67.2%, Mason- 32.8%
IL-13- Davis- 58.7%, Callis- 41.3%
MI-01- Benishek- 52.1%, Cannon- 45.3%
MI-06- Upton- 55.8%, Clements- 40.4%
MI-07- Walberg- 53.5%, Byrnes- 41.2%
NJ-05- Garrett- 55.7%, Cho- 43.0%
NY-22- Hanna- uncontested
OH-15- Stivers- 66.1%, Wharton- 33.9%
PA-08- Fitzpatrick- 61.9%, Strouse- 38.1%
VA-05- Hurt- 61/0%, Gaughan- 35.8%
WA-08- Reichert- 63.4%, Ritchie- 36.6%
How could the DCCC have done so badly-- apart from making sure there were no candidates running in FL-27 (where Obama beat Romney 53-47%) and in NY-22 (where Obama and Romney were tied 49-49%)? It starts with atrocious candidate recruitment in the races they were interested in (Callis, Cannon, Strouse being perfect examples) and then is further explained by the districts they either ignored completely (IL-06, NJ-05, OH-15, VA-05, WA-08) or the progressives that Steve Israel actively worked to sabotage (Paul Clements being the stand-out example). And then there's the matter of the inability of the Steve Israel/Kelly Ward-led DCCC to exploit the deep resentment towards Republicans for shutting down the government. These are not capable, competent, talented people. They are hopeless hacks put in position for every other reason but the right reasons. It's what worried me about the new DCCC chair, Ben Ray Luján, who has already announced he's keeping Ward in place as executive director, and has no vision or appetite for the kinds of profound changes the dysfunctional and corrupt DCCC would need to function effectively in the 2016 cycle.

And the whole shutting down the government thing is back with us. Ted Cruz is telling Republicans that the tactic worked for the GOP and that because they shut down the government, they won so many seats in November 4. Cruz and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (KKK-AL) are pushing to shut it down again over immigration reform or health care or Obama being a usurping colored person or whatever has driven them deep into the darkness of paranoia and insanity. Again, polling shows most Americans do not want a government shut down. Look at these two questions from the Quinnipiac poll:

Not even Republican voters, a majority of whom (54%) want to forceably deport over 11 million undocumented immigrants-- primarily Hispanics and Asians-- support the idea of a government shutdown. Normal Americans are adamantly opposed to even partial shutdown-- 89% of Democrats and 71% of independents. 44% of Republicans actually are buying into the Ted Cruz/KKK perspective and are eager for a shutdown. The Republican leadership says they can prevent it. Are they lying? Miscalculating? Probably one or the other but they are also well aware that the sclerotic Democratic congressional leadership will again be incapable of making them pay for their unpopular actions at the polls.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Will Harry Reid's Sell Out Of The Middle Class Help Solidify An Open Rebellion Caucus?


Trouble for America

John Nichols post-election piece for The Nation, Democrats: The Party of Pablum, is pretty harsh... but completely on track, a track the geriatric, sclerotic Democratic congressional leadership is now utterly incapable of dealing with.
When Bernie Sanders gets to griping about the Democratic Party, which happens frequently, he asks, “What does it stand for?” The independent senator argues that, after years of sellouts and compromises on issues ranging from trade policy to banking regulation, and especially after letting campaign donors and consultants define its messaging, the party of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman has become an ill-defined and distant political machine that most Americans do not relate to or get excited about. His point has always been well-taken, but it was confirmed on November 4. How else can we explain voters who chose Mitch McConnell senators and Elizabeth Warren policies?

...While voter suppression and low turnout are huge concerns that must be addressed, voters who came to the polls on November 4 were sufficiently progressive and populist to support minimum-wage hikes, paid sick leave, crackdowns on corporate abuses of the environment, expansion of healthcare and radical reform of a money-drenched campaign-finance system. They just didn’t elect Democrats. Of course, personalities, dark-money interventions and plenty of other factors were at play. But the consistent pattern of progressive policy votes in combination with Republican wins provide the starkest evidence of the extent to which the Democratic Party was an incoherent force in 2014.

Sanders and members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus tried to get Democrats on message throughout the year. Warren wowed the crowd at Netroots Nation in July, where she outlined a platform centered on economic populism but also including progressive social, environmental and political reforms. But the memo never got to most candidates, consultants, party chairs and leaders. And the results were devastating-- not just at the federal level but in the states, where Republicans grabbed governorships and eleven new legislative chambers. Midterms are usually rough for the party of the sitting president, but the 2014 defeats ran deeper, and in many cases will be harder to reverse.

At the root of the problem is a delinking of politics from policy. Increasingly, Democratic candidates in major contests run as “brands” carefully constrained to make a lowest-common-denominator appeal that is satisfying to campaign donors and insiders in Washington but that makes little sense to voters. While GOP candidates rage cynically against “elites” and “crony capitalism,” Democrats peddle pablum. As such, they don’t excite even their own base. What excited activists were those initiative and referendum campaigns; indeed, some of the biggest rallies I witnessed during the 2014 campaign were organized by backers of minimum-wage hikes and “Move to Amend” campaigners for an end to corporate influence on politics and policy. They were right to be excited: they were on their way to big and meaningful victories because they were fighting for big and meaningful-- as well as popular-- proposals. That’s a lesson Democrats should ponder, because as Stephanie Taylor of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee reminds us: “When elections are about nothing, Democrats lose.”
Yesterday Igor Volsky reported at ThinkProgress that Harry Reid "compromised" with the Republicans that will allow them to eliminate tax breaks for the middle class, provide massive corporate tax breaks, end breaks for green energy companies while continuing to subsidize Big Oil and Gas. Sounds more like caving in than compromising, no?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has reached a compromise with House Republicans on a package of tax breaks that would permanently extend relief for big multinational corporations without providing breaks for middle or lower-income families, individuals with knowledge of the deal tell ThinkProgress.

Under the terms of the $444 billion agreement, lawmakers would phase out all tax breaks for clean energy and wind energy but would maintain fossil fuel subsidies. Expanded eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit would also end in 2017, even though the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that allowing the provisions to expire would push “16 million people in low-income working families, including 8 million children into-- or deeper into-- poverty.” The proposal would help students pay for college by making permanent the American Permanent Opportunity Tax Credit, a Democratic priority.

...The costs of the package will not be offset... On Monday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew also blasted the emerging agreement as “fiscally irresponsible” and doing “very little for working families.” He said, “Any deal on tax extenders must ensure that the economic benefits are broadly shared. We are committed to working with Congress to address the issue in a manner that is fiscally responsible and extends critical tax benefits for working families.”
The "Democratic-controlled" Senate will be voting on this nightmare package-- a lovely gift for the Republican donors who bought the GOP their big victories Nov. 4-- next week. If you haven't read Gaius Publius' post a Senate Open Rebellion Caucus now is the time to do so. It should be interesting to watch which Democrats stand with Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown and Brian Schatz and which will stand with Reid and the Republicans. House Democrats are scratching their heads and wondering why Reid is trying to give away the store. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is opposing the Reid deal with the Republicans. "The overall package is simply unacceptable and adds more than $400 billion to the debt. Unless our economy works for every American, it isn't working." And, then, of course... will we see a veto of this attack against the middle class and against a cohesive, forward-looking energy policy?

Progressives in the House, like CPC co-chairs Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison, didn't beat around the bush. They oppose the Reid-McConnell deal and in a joint statement, they explained that "The tax extension package will once again be a boon for corporate profits while largely leaving out middle-class and low-income families who are struggling just to get by. If we can find hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to make corporate tax breaks permanent, we should be able to help those struggling to find work. We should be making permanent those tax breaks that help working families without adding restrictions that exclude children in need. This deal is a permanent step backwards for those who think we have a system that is rigged in favor of the wealthy."

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Of course there's no chance of any actual discussion about immigration


From today's Washington Post "Tuesday's Opinions" e-mail

by Ken

If I told you that I didn't bother to click through to the specimen of op-ed illumination promised by the above e-blurb, and merely waved it at you saying "See? See?," you would probably say, "Well, sure, that's dumber than dirt, but it probably doesn't represent what that noted far-right-wing sage Marc A. Thiessen really wrote or, you know, oversimplifies it." (As if everything MAT writes didn't come to us presimplified down to the single-cell-life-form level.)

So I clicked through, and you know what? What the simple one actually says is if anything dumber. To wit:
President Obama’s immigration address was profoundly moving and deeply cynical. Obama spoke of the plight of illegal immigrants who struggle in the shadows to build a better life for their kids and of his desire to “work with both parties” to find a solution. If Obama really believed a single word of that, he would not have taken unconstitutional executive action that he knows will kill any chances for reform.

Obama is not acting to help illegal immigrants. He is acting to provoke the GOP. The giveaway moment in Obama’s address was when he told Republicans that “Americans are tired of gridlock” and urged them not to “let a disagreement over a single issue be a deal breaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works, and Congress certainly shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this.” . . .
You're welcome to pursue this on your own if you like: "Obama's cynical immigration ploy." But whatever one may think of the president's planned executive action on immigration, it's simply impossible for anyone with a working brain to say with any degree of sincerity that the purpose of the president's initiative is "to provoke Republicans." (On the simplest, most literal level, it would be a simply imbecilic idea, only likely to occur to someone who's not only an imbecile but an imbecile of a particularly paranoid and savage variety, such that from the fetid muck of your pre-brain might arise a pre-thought along the lines: "Leastwise that's what I'd fuckin' do if someone fuckin' put me in fuckin' charge of some fuckin' thing.")

I threw in the "with any degree of sincerity" to cover the possibility that Marc T isn't really that stupid -- is it even humanly possible to be that stupid? -- and rather is, for some unknown purpose, simply lying his putrid guts out. Although he has a long track record that suggests something close to a genius level at stupidity, it could instead by some sort of cunning. Perhaps it would be helpful if he began, as I've suggested in the past, by saying either "Speaking as a pathological liar" or "Speaking as a gibbering idiot." But would it make much difference?

The reality is that the dope has somehow gotten this electrical impulse (I hate to dignify it by calling it an "idea") buzzing about his brain, most likely by implantation from some other ultra-right-wing zero-brain-function life form, this notion that the president "is acting to provoke the GOP," and he's by God going to keep blithering about it until his word count says it's time to stop.

It's not even worth going into, say, what Marc T knows about the Constitution. The zero-brainers have implanted in his brain that this executive action is, plain and simple, unconstitutional, even though the whole pack of them put together don't know anything about the Constitution except that it's awful scratchy when you try to use it to wipe your festering stinkybutt.

What's important here is to note the effect: It makes any discussion of the rights and wrongs of, and possible fixes for, immigration policy literally impossible. And there you have the whole hulking Modern American Right: "Our brains are like a fortress, and no way can you come in."

And these hulking life forms loom and bluster and threaten, and there is no sentient human being to talk to. In some hard-to-quantify ratio they're people who either: (a) have no capacity to receive and process information, or (b) are at the service of masters who in one way or another command their fealty.

And Benghazi to you too, buttwipe.

(Afterword: Apologies to Professor Lakoff. Yes, I know I'm supposed to be remembering that right-wingers aren't stupid, and aren't necessarily even lying; they just have different values from regular people. I'm really trying, George. It's just that I look at a lunk like Marc T and I don't see values, I see a yutz who, apparent from his dominant mode of self-promoting careerism is brain-dead beyond believe, and viciously determined to avenge his deep awareness of his personal worthlessness on, well, any poor fucker he can get in the crosshairs of his word processor.)

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Who Does The Law Prosectute-- And Who Gets A Free Ride For Even The Most Heinous Criminal Behavior?


Just a fantasy

At the end of 2011 there were 2,266,800 adults in prison and another 4,814,200 on parole or probation. Add to that 70,792 juveniles in detention. Almost 40% of those in prison are black. By age 18 almost a third of all black males and just over a quarter of all Hispanic males have already been arrested, compared to just 22% of white males. 5 years on and almost half of all black males have been arrested, as have 44% of Hipsanic males (38% of white males). Bias? Absolutely-- and it goes beyond race to class. Angela Davis and other critics of the U.S. gulags have been pointing this out for years. She's written that the country's prisons have "become venues of profit as well as punishment." 

In his new book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, Matt Taibbi argues that the expanding disparity of wealth and the increasing criminalization of those in poverty have culminated in the U.S. having the largest prison population in the history of human civilization. Wall Street banksters and Beltway politicians may be enriching themselves and ripping off the system to the tune of billions of dollars, but Wall Street banksters don't get prosecuted and grotesquely crooked politicians from Rick Scott (R-FL), Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Gina Raimondo (D-RI) to Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Bruce Rauner (R-IL) were not indicted but were all just elected governors a couple of weeks ago, despite very public and very overwhelming evidence that all of them are personally very criminally corrupt.

But it isn't just the rich who escape criminal prosecution. Police get away with murder-- literally (in fact 400 per year). Alex Vitale, an author and associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, explained for Al Jazeera America why police are rarely indicted for misconduct. Vitale writes that "successful criminal prosecution of a police officer for killing someone in the line of duty, if no corruption is alleged, is extremely rare. Even when officers are convicted, the charges are often minimal. For example, Coleman Brackney, a Bella Vista, Oklahoma, police officer who was convicted of misdemeanor negligent homicide in 2010 after shooting an unarmed teen to death while in custody in his cruiser, went on to rejoin the police and was recently appointed chief of police in Sulphur Springs, Oklahoma."
There are significant structural barriers to successful police indictment or prosecution. For one, investigations are usually conducted by a combination of police detectives and investigators from the prosecutors’ office. Prosecutors tend to take a greater role when there is a reason to believe that the shooting might not be justified. However, they must rely on the cooperation of the police to gather necessary evidence, including witness statements from the officer involved and other officers at the scene. In some cases they are the only living witnesses to the event.

The close collaboration between police and prosecutors, which is an asset in homicide investigations, becomes a hindrance in police shooting cases. In most cases, the prosecutors’ reliance on the cooperation of police creates a fundamental conflict of interest. As a result, prosecutors are often reluctant to aggressively pursue these cases.

Moreover, the local elected district attorneys often want to avoid being seen as inhibiting police power. Even in communities where distrust of police is common, no prosecutor ever got thrown out of office for defending the police. At its core, the public sees the DA’s office as a defender of law and order and expects these officials to uphold them.

...There are also huge legal hurdles to overcome. State laws that authorize police use of force, which are backed up by Supreme Court precedent, give police significant latitude in using deadly force. In the 1989 case Graham v. Connor, the Supreme Court ruled that officers may use force to effect a lawful arrest or if they reasonably believe that the person represents a serious physical threat to the officer or others. This means that police may use force over any resistance to arrest and that if the resistance escalates, officers may escalate their force. The court also said that the totality of circumstances must be judged with an understanding of the split-second nature of police decision-making.

...Juror mindset creates yet another challenge to successful indictments and prosecutions. Grand juries and criminal court juries consist of local residents. Even in periods of heightened concern about police misconduct, most citizens retain a strong bias in favor of police. Popular culture and political discourse are suffused with commentaries about both the central importance of police in maintaining the basic structural integrity of society and the dangerous nature of their work. In addition, the legal standard for judging police misconduct calls on jurors to put themselves in the officers’ shoes, further strengthening the tendency to identify with the police.

Another important dynamic in police prosecutions is the state of race relations in the United States. Despite the rhetoric about being a postracial society, racial divisions and bias remain omnipresent in American society and nowhere more than in the realm of criminal justice. There is abundant evidence of jury bias in a variety of racially disparate criminal justice outcomes, including false convictions, application of the death penalty and drug convictions. Research shows that whites have a generally more positive view of the police than blacks do. The sad reality is that white jurors are much more likely to side with police, regardless of the race of the officer and the person killed. This was seen in the Rodney King prosecutions in California, in which a mostly white suburban state court jury did not convict four Los Angeles Police Department officers in the severe beating of King after a high-speed car chase, despite the incident’s being videotaped. (The jury acquitted three of the four officers and deadlocked on a charge of excessive force against one officer.) A more diverse federal jury later found two of the officers guilty of violating King’s civil rights.

...[S]tates should create a police prosecutor’s office, or blue desk, that is more removed from local politics. While relying on state attorneys general has its own challenges, the outcomes are likely to be viewed as more legitimate. These blue desks could become repositories of expertise on police prosecutions. Even if tied to state politics, they might be better able to insulate themselves from accusations of overly aggressive prosecutions as well as charges of not supporting the police.

Laws on the use of force need reform. Police shootings were much more common in the 1970s when regulations about the use of force were even looser. In response to public outcries and rioting in the 1960s and ’70s, local police began to tighten up regulations and offer training to officers, resulting in significant reductions in shootings. The 1984 Supreme Court case Tennessee v. Garner institutionalized some of these changes nationally, including making it unlawful for police to shoot a fleeing suspect. Since then, however, the courts have mostly expanded police authorization to use force.

Finally, the U.S. needs to dial back the dramatic expansion of police power over the last 40 years. For example, the growing prevalence of paramilitary SWAT teams and the ongoing war on drugs have significantly contributed to excessive use of force. In part this happened through the combined direct enforcement practices of these two types of policing. But they also contributed indirectly to a larger ethos of militarized patrolling that equates policing with the use of force and a war footing. The public and its representatives need to realize that there are better ways to prevent crime and serve the community than licensing excessive police force.
Michael Krieger posted a tangentially related article at his Boulder-based blog Liberty Blitzkrieg over the weekend. It's part of his concern about "how the percentage of sociopaths within a group of humans becomes increasingly concentrated the higher you climb within the positions of power in a society, with it being most chronic amongst those who crave political power." Makes sense? Continue reading-- and don't be disturbed that it's "about" England; it's about all of us.
Those with the sickest minds, and who wish to act upon their destructive fantasies, understand that they can most easily get away with their deeds if they are protected by an aura of power and ostensible respectability. They believe that as a result of their status, no one would dare accuse them of horrific activities, and if it ever came to that, they could quash any investigation. Unfortunately for us all, this is typically the case. I previously covered the issue of powerful pedophiles in the UK in the piece: Former BBC Host “Sir” Jimmy Savile Exposed as Major Player in Massive Pedophile Ring.

Now we have evidence of yet another case.

The Guardian reports that:
The security services are facing questions over the cover-up of a Westminster paedophile ring as it emerged that files relating to official requests for media blackouts in the early 1980s were destroyed.

Two newspaper executives have told the Observer that their publications were issued with D-notices-- warnings not to publish intelligence that might damage national security – when they sought to report on allegations of a powerful group of men engaging in child sex abuse in 1984. One executive said he had been accosted in his office by 15 uniformed and two non-uniformed police over a dossier on Westminster paedophiles passed to him by the former Labour cabinet minister Barbara Castle.
Ah, national security. Remember that the next time you are lectured that we need to give up our civil liberties in the name of “national security.” Think about what that really means. It really means the security of the status quo to continue to behave like insane criminals with zero accountability.
Following the announcement that the grand gury declined to indict the police officer who murdered Michael Brown in Ferguson, Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison both released statements urging calm. “As emotions continue to run understandably high," said Grijalva, "it is crucial to bear in mind a lesson history has taught us time and again: justice is not won through destruction or violence, but through unity and perseverance. Just as violence can tarnish peaceful protestors standing for justice, excessive force by law enforcement can only further divide our nation. We must honor Michael through peace, and by fixing the failures in our system, from racial profiling to the militarization of local police." Ellison was even more pointed: "Our country has an indefensible history of racial violence. The same violence that killed Emmett Till and beat Rodney King is alive today as Michael Brown’s family grieves. I understand the anger and fear that many in Ferguson and around the country feel, but all must remain peaceful. Protest injustice, but do not meet violence with violence. I urge the federal government to continue its investigation of Michael Brown’s shooting. The fight for equality is not over. We have tremendous work to do, including protecting the right to vote. But right now, my thoughts are with Michael’s parents, whose son will not be coming home." 

But let's leave off with a powerful and wrenching performance from rapper Killer Mike in St. Louis about an hour and a half after the grand jury decision was announced:

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Professional Politicians Dread Them But Primaries Are An Essential Component Of Our Electoral System


Hillary sees the billionaire class as her benefactors and partners; Bernie has a different perspective

One of the problems with the professional political parties based inside the Beltway is that they instinctively discourage primaries. Party bosses hate them because they cost money and tend to cater to the base, making it more difficult to get muddled careerist hacks without vision into office. And if the party elites are about anything, it's getting muddled careerist hacks without vision into office. This past cycle we talked a lot about how Harry Reid, Michael Bennet and Guy Cecil were so angry that a populist challenger in South Dakota, Rick Weiland, decided to challenge their recruit, Blue Dog careerrist Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, that she bowed out and they decided to let the Republicans win the state. That's pretty extreme.

Bordering on the southeast corner of South Dakota, we find Iowa, which holds a very special spot in electoral politics. Progressive radio talk show host, Ed Fallon, points out that the same antipathy DC Democrats feel towards primaries, imvues the state party careerists as well. "An elite Establishment controls the Iowa Democratic Party, and they simply don't like primaries," he wrote over the weekend. "Nominating candidates is so old school. The Establishment prefers coronations. It's less messy. And it's less expensive, saving limited Establishment dollars for essentials like yachts, trips to the Caribbean and that new Lexus your trust-fund kid so desperately needs.
Coronations happen in two ways:

One. Establishment Democrats wait until a day or two before the filing deadline to announce that an elected official is retiring, so potential challengers unacceptable to the Establishment have no time to collect the signatures needed to qualify. This happens more often than you think. (Two cases from a few years back that come to mind are the retirements of State Representatives Wayne Ford and Elesha Gayman.)

Two. The Establishment picks a "safe" candidate, one who won't rock the boat if elected, one who may pay lip service to challenging the Corporate Elite, but won't push for systemic reform. The Establishment gets the corporate-owned media to tout the candidate as the inevitable nominee, and hammer away at the "fact" that this candidate is so strong, so likely to win in November that no sensible Democrat would challenge them. Meanwhile, they pump loads of money and hype into the "race." If any upstart Democrats threaten to jump in, they discourage them with every means available, including threats and even bribes. When the chosen candidates get their clock cleaned in November, the Establishment just says, "Well, it was a Republican year."

Two of the most important races in Iowa this year involved coronations: Bruce Braley and Staci Appel. If Braley and Appel had been tested in a primary, perhaps they would have been prepared to fend off the attacks of the virtually unknown Republicans who beat them, who are now on their way to Washington, DC. (And in case you think the coronation problem is strictly a Democratic malaise, how many of you remember the perceived inevitably of Jim Ross Lightfoot in 1998 and Jim Nussle in 2006? Former Governors Vilsack and Culver remember-- and they both had primaries.)

Of course, the coronation thing is not just a state problem. It's a national one. Right now, both the Iowa and national Establishment Democrats are beating the drums for the coronation of Hillary Clinton as the inevitable Democratic nominee for President. Don't let them do it! Regardless of how you feel about Clinton, insist on a good, hearty multiple-candidate nominating process. That's one thing the Republicans got right in 2012, although most of their candidates were . . . how do I say it politely . . . extremists? As 2016 approaches, a slew of Republican presidential wannabes are already making their intentions known. Democratic contenders better do the same, and they better start soon.
And centrist sparring partners for Hillary-- like Martin O'Malley and James Webb-- are not the makings of a meaningful primary. Webb wants to run as a progressive despite a reactionary voting record in the Senate and O'Malley wants to prove he could be a good vice president for Hillary. That's not what Fallon was talking about when he was asking for a consequential, ideas-oriented debate. And that's why we're staking so much here at Blue America on Bernie Sanders' likely run. You can encourage him here.

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McConnell To Senate Republicans: "Reelection Starts Now"


Will Democrats run on this-- or run away from it again?

In theory, 2016 should be a good electoral year for Democrats. Their voters will probably be enthusiastic at the idea of electing Hillary Clinton (a moderate, the first woman president, familiar entitity everyone feels they know...). And Hillary at the top of the ticket is giving to mean rough wealth for Republicans in blue-leaning House seats and in non-Confederate Senate races especially in places where she's well-regarded, like Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, maybe even North Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and Arizona-- all states where Republican incumbents are up for reelection. The Democrats could blow it of course... but so might the Republicans. Let's keep the tendency to blow it out of this discussion.

Yesterday, Politico did a story on how McConnell, who doesn't want to be minority leaders again, isn't leaving anything to chance. "Republicans face a daunting map in 2016," wrote Manu Raju, "when they will be forced to defend 24 seats in a presidential year, while Democrats have to defend only 10 seats-- a scenario McConnell is taking so seriously he’s leaving nothing to chance, starting now."
Last week, McConnell summoned all 24 Republicans up for reelection in 2016 to a morning meeting at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which was even attended by potential 2016 presidential candidates like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has said he wouldn’t run for the White House and Senate at the same time. At the meeting, McConnell and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, the new NRSC chairman, made a blunt declaration to their colleagues: Reelection, they said, starts now.

...“Members need to begin to do the things to tool their campaigns differently, to understand the significant change in resource needs,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said, recounting the message from the meeting. “And now is the time to begin to think about the mechanics of the campaigns.”

Burr, who is up for reelection for a third term in 2016, has just $720,000 in cash in a state where more than $100 million was spent in the 2014 North Carolina Senate race, in which Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan narrowly lost to Republican Thom Tillis. But despite the lack of money, Burr said he plans on running and even seemed ready to take on Hagan if she were to run against him.

...The Republican path to keep the Senate won’t be easy. They have to defend seats in blue states and swing states, like Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin-- compared to just 10 for Democrats. Moreover, Democrats could have some serious statewide recruits. In recent interviews, two Democratic senators who lost this year-- Arkansas’ Mark Pryor and Alaska’s Mark Begich — punted on their intentions to run in 2016 in their respective states, though they didn’t rule it out.

“We’ll see,” Begich said when asked if he’d run against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in 2016.

Plus, Hillary Clinton could end up at the top of the ballot if she decides to run and becomes the party’s nominee, a scenario that could boost turnout, giving Democrats hope that they can increase the gender gap among women voters after seeing it shrink in 2014.

With Democratic turnout typically higher in an election year and a big-spending Democratic super PAC, Senate Majority PAC, prepared to dump tens of millions into the effort to bring its party back to the majority, McConnell is seeking more effective ways to spend GOP money.

Josh Holmes, McConnell’s chief political adviser, is holding private conversations with donors and operatives to see if there’s interest to form a new super PAC dedicated to helping Senate Republicans retain the majority. Currently, a bevy of big-spending GOP outside groups influence key races, including the Karl Rove-linked American Crossroads, as well as the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. But in 2016, their attention may focus on the presidential race.

Plus, Holmes has identified at least $8 million spent by smaller super PACs on individual races in 2014 that Republicans believe could have been better spent this cycle.

...“In 2012, we got off to a tough start because our donors were so discouraged that we actually lost ground in the Senate as well as the presidency,” Wicker said. “We’re now in an era of good feeling and our donors believe in us and we need to get started early.”
As we mentioned over the weekend, right-wing extremist Ron Johnson (R-WI) is on everyone's target list-- even his own. “Obviously, I’m going to be the No. 1 target,” he said. “I don’t dispute that whatsoever.” Let's take a look at the seats up in 2016. Among the Democrats, the toughest races will be Harry Reid's and Michael Bennet's, the only two likely to draw serious Republican attention. Barbara Boxer (CA) is retiring and I expect Barabra Mikulski (MD), who will turn 80 before election day and isn't in great health, may as well. Both states are extremely likely to select Democratic replacements. These are the Democratic incumbents whose seats look safe:
Richard Blumenthal (CT)
Brian Schatz (HI)
Chuck Schumer (NY)
Ron Wyden (OR)
Pat Leahy (VT)
Patty Murray (WA)
Now let's take the safe Republican seats out of the equation:
Richard Shelby (AL)
Mike Crapo (ID)
Jerry Moran (KS) although Hueslkamp has been threatening a primary
John Hoeven (ND)
James Lankford (OK)
Tim Scott (SC)
John Thune (SD)
Mike Lee (UT)- though mainstream conservatives may run a primary challenge against him
That leaves the battle ground Senate states as 2 Democratic-held seats, Nevada and Colorado and 16 Republican-held seats. Nevada and Colorado will be big focuses for the Clinton campaign and so will most of the states where Republican incumbents could face choppy waters, depending, of course, on the success of Democratic recruiting efforts. Here are the states with the interesting post-primary Senate races for 2016:
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
John McCain (R-AZ)- will be 80, screaming at people to get off his lawn
John Boozman (R-AR)
Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Mark Kirk (R-IL)
Dan Coats (R-IN)
Chuck Grassely (R-IA)- will be 83 on election day, already noticeably senile
Rand Paul (R-KY)
[David Vitter (R-LA)]
Roy Blunt (R-MO)
Harry Reid (D-NV)
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Richard Burr (R-NC)
Rob Portman (R-OH)
Pat Toomey (R-PA)
Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Bolded incumbents are the five I would bet will be most likely to not be returning in 2017. Democratic recruitment is key. 


Monday, November 24, 2014

The Cosby mess


Illustration by PJ Loughran for Philadelphia magazine

by Ken

Beyond the fundamental creepiness of the behavior attributed to Bill Cosby by a growing number of women, there are a bunch of creepy aspects to the mess now swirling around the beloved comedian. Of all of them, perhaps the creepiest is that hardly any of it is news. As New York Times media columnist David Carr notes, "the accusations had already been carefully and thoroughly reported in Philadelphia magazine and elsewhere" at least as early as June 2006, when the Philadelphia magazine piece, "Dr. Huxtable and Mr. Cosby," by Robert Huber, appeared.

The matter received little or no attention:

• by Mark Whitaker in his recently published "almost 500-page biography," Cosby: His Life and Times;

• by Ta-Nehisi Coates in "a long and seemingly comprehensive article" for The Atlantic in 2008;

• by Kelefa T. Sanneh in a September New Yorker profile;

• and by Carr himself in a 2011 Q-and-A for United Airlines' in-flight magazine, Hemispheres. Hence the title of Carr's column today, "Calling Out Bill Cosby's Media Enablers, Including Myself."

"We all have our excuses," says Carr, "but in ignoring these claims, we let down the women who were brave enough to speak out publicly against a powerful entertainer."

Ta-Nehisi Coates, he notes, "recently expressed regret on The Atlantic website"
that he did not press harder on Mr. Cosby’s conflicted past. In the course of his reporting, he said he came to the conclusion that “Bill Cosby was a rapist.”

He added: “I regret not saying what I thought of the accusations, and then pursuing those thoughts. I regret it because the lack of pursuit puts me in league with people who either looked away, or did not look hard enough.”
And in the wake of the appearance of the Carr column, the Hollywood Reporter notes, biographer Mark Whitaker "admits he was wrong to not mention any of the sexual abuse allegations against Bill Cosby," declaring in a tweet: "David, you are right. I was wrong to not deal with the sexual assault charges against Cosby and pursue them more aggressively."

As for his own case, Carr owns that he "read the Philadelphia magazine article when it was published," but "knew when the editors of the airline magazine called that they would have no interest in pursuing those accusations in a short interview in a magazine meant to occupy fliers."
My job as a journalist was to turn down that assignment. If I was not going to do the work to tell the truth about the guy, I should not have let him prattle on about his new book at the time.

But I did not turn it down. I did the interview and took the money.
He says, though, that he "paid for that in other ways," but in this case we're the beneficiaries, because he provides us with this vivid picture of what it can mean to be a certified media icon:
The interview was deeply unpleasant, with a windy, obstreperous subject who answered almost every question in 15-minute soliloquies, many of which were not particularly useful.

After an hour of this, I mentioned that the interview was turning out to be all A. and no Q. He paused, finally.

“Young man, are you interested in hearing what I have to say or not?” he said. “If not, we can end this interview right now.”

Mr. Cosby was not interested in being questioned, in being challenged in any way. By this point in his career, he was surrounded by ferocious lawyers and stalwart enablers and he felt it was beneath him to submit to the queries of mere mortals.

He was certain of his own certainty and had very little time for the opinions of others. Mr. Cosby, as all of those who did profiles on him have pointed out, was never just an entertainer, but a signal tower of moral rectitude.
Which brings us to another creepy aspect of the Cosby mess: the now-clear gap between our image of The Cos and this not-so-newly-revealed image.
From the beginning, part of his franchise was built on family values, first dramatized in “The Cosby Show” and then in his calling out the profane approach of younger comics and indicting the dress and manner of young black Americans.

Beyond selling Jell-O, Mr. Cosby was selling a version of America where all people are responsible for their own lot in life.

He seldom addressed bigotry and racism. Instead, he exhorted individuals to install their own bootstraps and pull themselves into success. And while they were at it, they should pull up their pants and quit sagging, a fashion trope Mr. Cosby found inexcusable.
Carr notes that this theme found more favor with white audiences than with black ones. "A generation of black comics who revered other pioneers like Richard Pryor," he writes, "found Mr. Cosby’s lectures tired and misplaced."

"In the end, " he says, "it fell to a comic, not an investigative reporter or biographer, to speak truth to entertainment power, to take on the Natural Order of Things," and he quotes from the October 16 Philadelphia stand-up performance by comedian Hannibal Buress, in which he decried The Cos's "smuggest old black man public persona that I hate. Pull your pants up, black people. I was on TV in the '80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom." And: "Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches."

I'm not entirely sure, though, that this entirely qualifies as "speaking truth to entertainment power." Yes, the revelation of The Cos's massive hypocrisy brings The Cos down a couple of notches. However, I don't see how it raises Hannibal Buress -- or any of the targets of The Cos's scorn -- the littlest fraction of a notch. A guy who refers to The Cosby Show as '[being] on TV in the '80s" sounds to me awfully like a screeching imbecile.

Of course The Cosby Show, for all its sustained brilliance over eight blockbuster seasons (being "on TV in the '80s," indeed), is now pretty much lost to us. As David Carr notes, TVLand has already yanked its reruns from the schedule.'s Alexandra Petri made a valiant effort the other day to see whether perhaps the person of Bill Cosby might somehow be separable from the show -- as are, after all, so many luminous creations produced by and/or with fairly creepy people. In this case, though, the contradiction between Dr. Huxtable and Mr. Cosby seems to me too fundamental to bridge.

Oh well.

One final note on creepiness, though a lighter one (I think). In an piece, Ryan Gorman notes:
Model Jewel Allison told the New York Daily News that Cosby drugged and forced her to touch his genitals during a dinner. Female staffers with CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" said he forced them to watch him eat curry before every appearance.
And later:
Cosby's latest appearance on the show was canceled amid the torrent of rape claims being made against him, and Letterman's staffers expressed relief at not having to go through the "hated" pre-show ritual with the accused pervert.
Forced to watch the man eat curry? Oh, the horror!

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Malibu And Beverly Hills Are Not Tanzania, Not Yet Anyway


If we've become inured to the plight of our own countrymen being kicked out of their own homes by predatory banksters, something tells me not too many Americans rushed to the Tanzanian embassy at 1232 22nd St NW in DC or to the consulate at 201 East 42nd Street in Manhattan to protest the eviction of 40,000 Masai from their ancestral homeland bordering the world-famous Serengeti national park, to make room for a Dubai royal family private hunting preserve. They have until the end of the year to vacate the premises. The Tanzanian government, to make it up to the displaced Masai, have offered around half a million dollars in contributions towards development projects meant to benefit the tribe.
“I feel betrayed,” said Samwel Nangiria, co-ordinator of the local Ngonett civil society group. “One billion is very little and you cannot compare that with land. It’s inherited. Their mothers and grandmothers are buried in that land. There’s nothing you can compare with it.”

Nangiria said he believes the government never truly intended to abandon the scheme in the Loliondo district but was wary of global attention. “They had to pretend they were dropping the agenda to fool the international press.”

He said it had proved difficult to contact the Ortelo Business Corporation (OBC), a luxury safari company set up by a UAE official close to the royal family. The OBC has operated in Loliondo for more than 20 years with clients reportedly including Prince Andrew.

Activists opposing the hunting reserve have been killed by police in the past two years, according to Nangiria, who says he has received threatening calls and text messages. “For me it is dangerous on a personal level. They said: ‘We discovered you are the mastermind, you want to stop the government using the land’. Another said: ‘You have decided to shorten your life. The hands of the government are too long. Put your family ahead of the Masai.’”

Nangiria is undeterred. “I will fight for my community. I’m more energetic than I was. The Masai would like to ask the prime minister about the promise. What happened to the promise? Was it a one-year promise or forever? Perhaps he should put the promise in writing.”

This will be the last time the Masai settle for talks, he added, before pursuing other methods including a court injunction. They could also be an influential voting bloc in next year’s elections.

An international campaign against the hunting reserve was led last year by the online activism site, whose Stop the Serengeti Sell-off petition attracted more than 1.7 million signatures and led to coordinated email and Twitter protests.

Alex Wilks, campaign director for Avaaz, said: “The Masai stare out from every tourism poster, but Tanzania’s government wants to kick them off their land so foreign royalty can hunt elephants there. Almost two million people around the world have backed the Masai’s call for president Jakaya Kikwete to fulfil his promise to let them stay where they’ve always lived. Treating the Masai as the great unwanted would be a disaster for Tanzania’s reputation.”

A spokesperson for Tanzania’s natural resources and tourism ministry said : “It’s the first I’ve heard of it. I’m currently out of the office and can’t comment properly.”
As a result of the ensuing media attention, Gulf hunting culture in Africa has been exposed in its starkest, ugliest form. Arabs in their Ray Bans with their new money and shotguns on the one side, and the exploited Masai on the other.
It would be easy to dismiss this as an example of the filthy rich doing what they do best-- trampling over the rights of others in order to have a good time. It’s a little bit more complicated than that, however. None of these expeditions would happen without government sanction and, indeed, encouragement. It’s easy money for cash-strapped African treasuries. And if the hunters seem to have no respect for the traditions of those whose property and way of life they know will be sacrificed, that is only because of the eagerness of Tanzanian politicians to strike a deal; for them, the relocation of a few people (40,000, in this case) is deemed a price worth paying.

There is without doubt a “cheque-cutting” relationship between some African countries, specifically those in the east and north of the continent and in the Gulf, where random amounts of money are handed over in dodgy transactions that are neither aid nor debt. And the deals made are usually at the expense of the citizens these governments are supposed to represent.

When Osama bin Laden-- incidentally also fond of hunting in Sudan-- sought refuge in Khartoum, it was mistakenly seen as an indication of the Sudanese government’s sympathy with his ideology. In fact, his money was the main attraction. At one point it was reported that bin Laden was the single largest landowner in the country. When he was forced out, the land reverted to the government and he was never compensated. There is a view-- and perhaps this acts as an incentive, who knows?-- that those from the Gulf who choose to do business in Africa are, shall we say, easily parted from their money.

As far as local intermediaries are concerned, these hunters are simply the latest bunch of rich eccentrics, coming to or travelling through Africa either to hunt like the white explorers and colonialists, or go on safaris like honeymooners.

In countries with few other resources, the land’s natural gifts are one means of earning money. And the Arabian peninsula has a long history of trade with east Africa, just across the Red Sea. The Arabic language as well as Islam travelled with traders to and from the region. Even the word Swahili is derived from the Arabic for coastal. This relationship has always had an exploitive edge, particularly when slaves and material resources have been concerned. There is arguably still a certain sense of entitlement among the Gulf Arabs, not unrelated to racial disdain. But in this case it is as much the greed of the Tanzanian government that perpetuates the anguish of the Masai as it is the desire of Arabs to make a playground out of Africa.
Last week-- entirely unsolicited, I promise-- the new issue of Modern Luxury's Angeleno arrived. I don't allow electronic devises in the bathrooms-- other than shavers; I read magazines that find their way to my doorstep instead, even Angeleno. This one is called "the Philanthropy Issue." Big bold letters across the front cover make that perfectly clear. Inside... less clear.

Attempting to navigate between the pages and pages and pages of ads and the articles that are barely discernible from ads, we come to columns about worthy events that seem like an excuse to write about the L.A. jet set:
Among the A-listers who turned out for Operation Smile’s annual gala, held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, were actor David Charvet and his wife (and the event’s emcee), Brooke Burke Charvet, along with honorees Access Hollywood anchor Billy Bush and Days of Our Lives Executive Producer Ken Corday. More than $1 million was raised for the 32-year-old international children’s charity that has performed more than 220,000 free surgical procedures to repair cleft palates and other facial deformities. A silent auction and cocktail reception kicked off the event, which was followed by dinner, the program and a post-dinner raffle, which included gorgeous bespoke diamond jewelry by Le Dragon d’Or. NBC Entertainment’s Jennifer Salke made a touching speech about her son, Henry, who was diagnosed with a cleft palate and made an astounding impact on Operation Smile, raising more than $100,000 through his own initiatives.
Or the party supported by "the culinary world's top talents" for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, hosted by Suzanne Goin, Caroline Styne, and David Lentz. They raised $700,000 for childhood cancer research. A live auction for a private dinner prepared by Goin, Giada De Laurentis, April Bloomfield and Nancy Oakes "sold for $40,000-- talk about girl power." So, yes, philanthropy. Someone donated $40,000 for childhood cancer research for that dinner. That is awesome! The readers, one could reasonably suspect, might have more in common with the louche Dubai hunters in Tanzania than with the awesome $40,000 donor. This isn't even an ad per se. Who would pass over a chance to own this $90,000... thing (at Neiman Marcus, Beverly Hills)?

There’s far more than meets the eye to the Magnipheasant Feathers collar from British jeweler Stephen Webster. The aptly named pièce de résistance pays homage to the glorious game bird. A single glance at the hand-selected marquise-cut amethyst, citrine, blue topaz, rhodolite, red garnet, iolite and peridot gemstones, tipped in black pavé diamonds and set in 18K white gold, confirms that this bauble is every bit as regal and exotic as its muse. And, just like the fine-plumed bird, it flaunts a most alluring tail-- only this one can be removed from the piece and worn separately as a pendant. Now, if that’s not enough to ruffle your feathers, we don’t know what is.
Other non-ads displayed a $640 Interecciato brushed steel dog bowl (from Bottega Veneta), an Egocentrismo umbrella stand for $1,205 by Fornasetti at Barney's, a fair of "fossilized dinosaur bone double pentagonal earrings with 18K recycled oxidized white gold" for just $4,700 at Barney's, and a hand-painted alligator Bloomsbury bag at Burberry for $37,000. Or how about helping welcome Westime's 4th L.A. location to Malibu. Which belongs on the wrist of one of the Dubai hinters-- the MB&F (Maximilian Büsser and Friends) design for $92,000 or this thing from Audemars Piguet?
"There are only 15 of these available in the world," says Ron Groezinger, a Westime sales associate who puts on black gloves to reveal a massive Audemars Piguet tourbillon chronograph ($288,000), proving that the shop's inventory is as impressive as its new views.

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Why Did Pelosi Pick Ben Ray Luján? No One Seems Sure


by Anonymous Operative

Pelosi has lost some of her mental facilities with old age-- as we all do. It's inevitable... and often everyone recognizes it except the person gradually becoming less focussed. When I used to ask Members if they could detect her losing it, they would either flat out deny it or get very defensive. These days, even her allies and admirers cop to it, albeit never on the record, of course.

Rewarding her abysmally failed, two cycle DCCC chairman, Steve Israel, with a manufactured leadership post-- as though rewarding him for a job well done-- was shocking enough. But then replacing him with a nice guy/novice who immediately signaled he doesn't intend to change a thing at the dysfunctional committee, riven with systemic corruption and stinking to the high heavens from failure, was more discouraging news for congressional Democrats eager to move off the dime and win back the majority.

Luján is not a bad choice, but he's an odd choice.

Other than Pelosi, no one knew that Luján was even under consideration. The discussion was about the three DCCC deputy co-chairs, the grassroots' choice, Donna Edwards (D-MD), Wall Street's choice, Jim Himes (D-CT) and Jared Polis (D-CO). (Edwards didn't have that title, but she functioned as such.) Reporters speculated that Joe Kennedy III (D-MA)and Joaquin Castro (D-TX) were in the mix, but neither one ever applied for the job, and Kennedy specifically told Pelosi that he wasn't interested. Lois Frankel (D-FL) tried to barge in and take it, but no one other than Lois thought that she was a serious contender and people were openly snickering at her clumsy attempts to plant stories in the press about her qualifications for the job. There was a sense that Pelosi wasn't happy with choosing among Edwards, Himes and Polis, but it was quite a leap from that dissatisfaction to Luján. All three of the deputy co-chairs reputedly worked hard, so by rejecting all of them, she has deterred both them and others from putting in the same kind of effort, although she did give Edwards a significant consolation prize as the new co-chair of the House Democrats' Steering and Policy Committee.

Luján is a solid liberal on most issues. He is a particularly strong supporter of renewable energy. He supported the public option in healthcare reform, and he opposed the troop buildup in Afghanistan. He is a little weak on civil liberties, having co-sponsored SOPA, a GOP bill to criminalize internet copyright issues.

Luján has never worked in the private sector, and he has no management experience. The DCCC's internal budget is around $25 million per year, so I am concerned that he may not manage that operation effectively. There is no indication that Luján would have any interest in dealing with the "revolving door" issue at the DCCC, going after high-ranking Republicans in weak districts, or addressing any of the other structural problems at the DCCC. Luján doesn't make waves. This is a time in DCCC history that waves are exactly what is desperately needed. Instead Luján announced he is keeping the failed, incompetent but well-like Executive Director, Kelly Ward, in place for the next cycle.

The past several DCCC Chairs have emphasized fundraising. Luján hasn't been bad at that, but he hasn't been good, either. He raised around $1 million for his campaign, which is on the low side these days. He complained to the Congressional Progressive Caucus at the beginning of the year that he was quitting the group because he couldn't raise the dues. I'm hearing he was unable to raise the amount he had promised the DCCC for the cycle and he didn't raise much for other House Democratic candidates in contested races, the way ambitious politicians like Polis and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz did.

Keep in mind, though, that the DCCC outraised the NRCC in 2013-14 by $41 million. Outside groups, including the Koch Brothers, went GOP by $60 million to $17 million, so in terms of money, it was a draw.

The DCCC spent $67 million on TV ads in 39 races. They DCCC went against the NRCC in 22 of those races. In those 22 races, the NRCC outspent the DCCC by $6 million, but the DCCC bought cheaper time, so the DCCC ended up with more "points." Whatever the problem was this year for Democrats, it certainly wasn't money.

My own sense is that Luján is an "identity politics" choice, which is something that Pelosi does often. She wants the Hispanic vote. Luján is Hispanic. Therefore, she chose Luján. She wants the youth vote. Luján is relatively young. Therefore, she chose Luján.

The DCCC is well set-up for failure far into the future. Going forward, the Republicans have plenty to fear, but not from the DCCC-- and not from Nancy Pelosi.

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