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“It’s Getting A Little Silly”: Perry Finds A Way To Blame Obama For Indictments

After Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) was unexpectedly indicted late Friday, the Republican governor discovered some unexpected allies: observers who generally don’t care for Perry blasted the charges against him.

MSNBC’s Ari Melber, for example, characterized the case against the Texas governor as “weak.” Jon Chait called the charges “ridiculous.” Rick Hasen and David Axelrod reached similar conclusions. Scott Lemieux, summarizing the thoughts of many, added, “I’m as contemptuous of Perry as anyone, but this seems really thin.”

Benjy Sarlin joked, “It’s hard to believe an issue would get liberal commentators rallying on Rick Perry’s side, but this indictment seems to be doing it.”

And while the Republican governor and likely presidential candidate is clearly pleased by his reluctant backers, he doesn’t exactly look above the fray when he blames President Obama for an indictment handed down by a Texas grand jury.

The governor, who appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” also used the occasion to criticize President Obama, saying he was responsible for a national erosion of the “rule of law.” […]

Mr. Perry repeatedly invoked the “rule of law,” suggesting that it had suffered under Mr. Obama, whether in the scandal over the Internal Revenue Service, enforcement of border security or surveillance by the National Security Agency.

Look, if the governor wants to mount a proper defense against the pending felony counts, fine. Apparently, he’ll even enjoy a fair amount of support from the left.

But if Perry wants to position himself as a responsible chief executive, who’s been targeted for petty and partisan reasons, his baseless complaining about the president won’t help his broader public-relations cause.

For one thing, there is no IRS scandal; border security has never been stronger; and it’s Perry’s party that supports expansive NSA surveillance. If this is the best the governor can do to offer proof of Obama eroding the “rule of law,” he’s going to need a new talking point.

For another, let’s not forget that the Obama administration has literally nothing to do with Perry’s indictment. The Texas grand jury was empaneled by Texas prosecutors scrutinizing Texas law.

But taking a step back, it’s hard not to notice the pattern: when Republicans find themselves in a difficult position, they reflexively try to blame the president whether it makes sense or not. Eric Cantor lost a primary? Blame President Obama. John Boehner failed to pass immigration bills? Blame President Obama. Bob McDonnell was indicted on corruption charges? Blame President Obama. Sam Brownback fared much worse than expected in a GOP primary? Blame President Obama. Chris Christie’s plan screwed up New Jersey’s finances? Blame President Obama.

It’s getting a little silly.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, August 18, 2014

August 18, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans, Rick Perry | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Offender-Funded Justice”: The Economics Of Police Militarism

Two crucial battles broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, this week. The first began with the public airing of sorrow and rage after the death of the eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, who was shot by a police officer, on Canfield Court, in the St. Louis suburb, at 2:15 P.M. last Saturday. Then came the local law enforcement’s rejoinder to the early round of protests. Officers rolled in with a fleet of armored vehicles, sniper rifles, and tear-gas cannisters, reinserting the phrase “the militarization of policing” into the collective conscience. The tactical missteps by the town’s police leadership have been a thing to behold. (They’re also to be expected; anyone doubting as much should pick up Radley Balko’s “The Rise of the Warrior Cop.”)

One moment, we see a young man with a welt from a rubber bullet between his eyes; the next, three officers with big guns are charging at another black man who has his hands up. On Thursday, Jelani Cobb filed a powerful account from the sidewalks and homes of Ferguson. Cobb asks about “the intertwined economic and law-enforcement issues underlying the protests,” including, for instance, the court fees that many people in Ferguson face, which often begin with minor infractions and eventually become “their own, escalating, violations.” “We have people who have warrants because of traffic tickets and are effectively imprisoned in their homes,” Malik Ahmed, the C.E.O. of an organization called Better Family Life, told Cobb. “They can’t go outside because they’ll be arrested. In some cases, people actually have jobs but decide that the threat of arrest makes it not worth trying to commute outside their neighborhood.”

The crisis of criminal-justice debt is just one of the many tributaries feeding the river of deep rage in Ferguson. But it’s an important one—both because it’s so ubiquitous and because it’s easily overlooked in the spectacular shadow of tanks and turrets. Earlier this year, I spent six months reporting on the rise of profiteering in American courts, which happens by way of the proliferation of fees and fines for very minor offenses—part of a growing movement toward what’s known as offender-funded justice. Private companies play an aggressive role in collecting these fees in certain states. (Often, this tactic is aimed at the poor with unpaid traffic tickets.) The reports from Ferguson raise questions about how militarization and economic coercion feed a shared anger.

Missouri was one of the first states to allow private probation companies, in the late nineteen-eighties, and it has since followed the national trend of allowing court fees and fines to mount rapidly. Now, across much of America, what starts as a simple speeding ticket can, if you’re too poor to pay, mushroom into an insurmountable debt, padded by probation fees and, if you don’t appear in court, by warrant fees. (Often, poverty means transience—not everyone who is sent a court summons receives it.) “Across the country, impoverished people are routinely jailed for court costs they’re unable to pay,” Alec Karakatsanis, a cofounder of Equal Justice Under Law, a nonprofit civil-rights organization that has begun challenging this practice in municipal courts, said. These kinds of fines snowball when defendants’ cases are turned over to for-profit probation companies for collection, since the companies charge their own “supervision” fees. What happens when people fall behind on their payments? Often, police show up at their doorsteps and take them to jail.

From there, the snowball rolls. “Going to jail has huge impacts on people at the edge of poverty,” Sara Zampieren, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told me. “They lose their job, they lose custody of their kids, they get behind on their home-foreclosure payments,” the sum total of which, she said, is “devastating.” While in prison, “user fees” often accumulate, so that, even after you leave, you’re not quite free. A recent state-by-state survey conducted by NPR showed that in at least forty-three states defendants can be billed for their own public defender, a service to which they have a Constitutional right; in at least forty-one states, inmates can be charged for room and board in jail and prison.

America’s militarized police forces now have some highly visible tools at their disposal, some of which have been in the spotlight this week: machine guns, night-vision equipment, military-style vehicles, and a seemingly endless amount of ammo. But the economic arm of police militarization is often far less visible, and offender-funded justice is part of this sub-arsenal. The fears that Cobb and Ahmed describe—court debts that lead to warrants and people who are afraid to leave their homes as a result—compound the force that can be wielded during raids or protests like those on the streets of Missouri. Debtors’ fears change their daily lives—can they go to the grocery story or drive a child to school without being detained? “It deters people who have legitimate problems from calling the police, and removes the police’s ability to do what they’re supposed to be doing—helping people in the community respond to emergencies,” Karakatsanis said. It erodes the community’s trust in and coöperation with law enforcement.

In Alabama, Equal Justice Under Law has filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Montgomery on behalf of minor offenders who have been jailed for debt; their challenge is pending and the city refutes the allegations, but, Karakatsanis says, at least thirty-five people were released from jail for their court debts since the suit was filed. (A judge has issued a preliminary injunction that leans in favor of the debtors.) More often than not, though, plaintiffs who face overwhelming municipal-court debts never get a shot at a legal challenge. Instead, their problem often compounds their resentment and their disinvestment in authority.

Several years ago, I embedded with U.S. troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and spent time with a unit that was tasked with implementing the directives from a set of trainings known as “Commander’s Guide to Money as a Weapons System.” The trainings instruct troops in how to use economic tools to further military objectives, and there is a warning printed in the opening pages of one such field manual: “Warfighters and their leaders must ensure their actions will stand up to a Congressional inquiry and must not cause embarrassment to the Department of Defense.” Here, “real” militarism has one advantage over its domestic counterpart, at least doctrinally—the principle is genuine investment in communities where the military hopes to earn trust and influence. Unsurprisingly, it has proved complicated to implement (and has often failed wildly), but, at least in theory, it is far more graceful than police officers or the military blasting their way across human terrain. Here at home, SWAT teams continue to tear down the proverbial power lines.

In a sign of hope, the new commander in Ferguson, Captain Ron Johnson, of the Missouri State Highway Patrol (who grew up in Ferguson), immediately seemed to grasp this issue when he assumed leadership on Thursday. “We all want justice. We all want answers,” he told the Associated Press. “It means a lot to me personally that we break this cycle of violence.”

In reckoning with police militarization, the economic side of the phenomenon should be considered. The connection may not be obvious to those who’ve never had the gas or water or electricity in their homes shut off. But these forces operate in tandem—the tear gas and the tickets; the weaponry and the warrants—compromising a wide range of fundamental rights that seem, in Ferguson and beyond, to have gone up in smoke.

 

By: Sarah Stillman, The New Yorker, August 15, 2014

August 18, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Non-Journalistic Instincts”: Joe Scarborough, Mike Allen Form Journalistic Axis of Evil

One of the more fascinating sidelights of the crisis in Ferguson is the way it has revealed the complacent, obedient, and fundamentally non-journalistic instincts of certain leading centrist establishmentarian journalists. The precipitating event was the arrest of Wesley Lowery, a young Washington Post reporter who was illegally ordered to leave a McDonalds near the demonstrations and, correctly, refused, leading to his arrest.

This angered Joe Scarborough. And by “angered,” we should be clear, we mean angered at the presumption of Lowery for refusing. The avuncular host of Morning Joe instructed him, “Next time a police officer tells you that you’ve got to move along because you’ve got riots outside, well, you probably should move along.” (Because nothing says “journalism” like following orders from authorities, however questionable, self-interested, or illegal they may be.) Scarborough attributed Lowery’s refusal not to any commitment to continue doing his job but to his desire to “get on TV and have people talk about me the next day,” because the desire to get on television in any way possible is the only motivation that makes sense to Joe Scarborough.

Lowery replied sharply. Riding to Scarborough’s side today, forming a kind of journalistic Axis of Evil, is Mike Allen. In Allen’s world, which is defined by overlapping and possibly coterminous circles of sources, friends, and paid advertisers, the sort of effrontery displayed by Lowery first toward the police and then toward an esteemed television commentator was thoroughly intolerable. Sniffs Allen, in today’s Playbook:

YA CAN’T MAKE IT UP – Wesley Lowrey, 23-year-old Congress/politics reporter for the WashPost, responding on CNN to suggestions that he should have obeyed police amid a riot: “[L]et me be clear about this: I have LITTLE PATIENCE for talking heads.”

FYI, his name is spelled Lowery, and his age is 24. But if Lowery wants more favorable coverage from Allen, maybe he should think about sponsoring some ads in Playbook.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencier, New York Magazine, August 15, 2014

August 18, 2014 Posted by | Journalism, Journalists | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Embrace Their Phoniness”: The Truth Is Catching Up To Them

The Republican Party has finally admitted what has been fairly obvious for much of the past six years: It produces fake news.

This is not an earth-shattering revelation to anybody who has been paying attention, but, still, it’s an important step for the party to embrace the phoniness.

NRCC Launches Fake News Sites to Attack Democratic Candidates” was a headline in the National Journal on Tuesday.

As Shane Goldmacher reported, “The National Republican Congressional Committee, which came under fire earlier this year for a deceptive series of fake Democratic candidate websites that it later changed after public outcry, has launched a new set of deceptive websites, this time designed to look like local news sources.”

These two dozen sites, with names such as “North County Update” and “Central Valley Update” look like political fact-checking sites; the NRCC’s spokeswoman, Andrea Bozek, called it “a new and effective way to disseminate information.”

An NRCC official told me the sites are legal because, if you scroll all the way to the bottom, you’ll find, “Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee” in small print. “They’re not fake Web sites,” the official said. “These are real attack Web sites.”

Real attacks, but fake news: This is a fairly accurate summary of what the GOP’s scandalmongers have been purveying during the Obama years.

There was the assertion that the White House was covering up high-level involvement in Operation “Fast and Furious,” a gun program under the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives that went awry. No evidence was found.

There was the accusation that the Obama White House pushed through money for Solyndra to pay the president’s political cronies even though officials knew the solar-energy firm was going bankrupt. Didn’t happen that way.

Accusation: Obamacare would bring about the collapse of the American health-care system and replace it with socialized medicine and death panels. No such thing has occurred.

The IRS scandal, it was alleged, could be traced back to the White House, which targeted Obama’s enemies for political reasons. Nope.

The actual truth of the allegations doesn’t matter. Each one sullied President Obama’s name, and investigators’ failure to deliver the goods did little to remove the taint. That’s why fake news works: Falsehoods can drive a president’s approval rating into the cellar while the truth is still getting out of bed.

And now we have the Benghazi exoneration.

For nearly two years, Republicans have been alleging all manner of scandal involving the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in the Libyan city. That somebody — Hillary Clinton? — issued a stand-down order to prevent help from getting to American officials under fire; that Clinton rejected pleas for more diplomatic security in Libya; and that the Obama White House pushed false talking points to play down the terrorist attacks before the election.

The accusations have been roundly debunked, most recently in military officers’ testimony released by the GOP-controlled House Armed Services Committee.

Now there’s a bipartisan report, adopted unanimously by the GOP-controlled House Intelligence Committee on July 31, awaiting declassification by the administration. It throws yet another bucket of cold water on the conspiracy theories. In a statement, the top Democrat on the panel, Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), said the report finds that:

“[T]here was no intelligence failure surrounding the Benghazi attacks.”

“[T]here was no ‘stand down order’ given to American personnel attempting to offer assistance that evening, and no American was left behind.”

“[T]he talking points reflected the conflicting intelligence assessments in the days immediately following the crisis.”

“[T]here was no illegal activity or illegal arms sales occurring at the U.S. facilities in Benghazi.”

“And there was absolutely no evidence, in documents or testimony, that the intelligence community’s assessments were politically motivated in any way.”

The report is not yet public, and Republican sources indicate that there is more disagreement in the report than Ruppersberger’s statement indicates and that the report is not as exculpatory as he implies. But there has been no challenge from the Republican side to the accuracy of the findings Ruppersberger detailed in his statement.

Now that the truth is catching up to them, House Republicans will need to stay one step ahead. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the select committee on Benghazi, told CNN’s Deirdre Walsh last week that, despite what the Intelligence Committee found, “there is more work to be done and more to be investigated.”

Excellent. Maybe he can post his phony accusations on some fake news Web sites.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 13, 2014

August 18, 2014 Posted by | NRCC, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Forever Slump”: The Debate Between The ‘Too-Muchers’ And The ‘Not-Enoughers’

It’s hard to believe, but almost six years have passed since the fall of Lehman Brothers ushered in the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. Many people, myself included, would like to move on to other subjects. But we can’t, because the crisis is by no means over. Recovery is far from complete, and the wrong policies could still turn economic weakness into a more or less permanent depression.

In fact, that’s what seems to be happening in Europe as we speak. And the rest of us should learn from Europe’s experience.

Before I get to the latest bad news, let’s talk about the great policy argument that has raged for more than five years. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details, but basically it has been a debate between the too-muchers and the not-enoughers.

The too-muchers have warned incessantly that the things governments and central banks are doing to limit the depth of the slump are setting the stage for something even worse. Deficit spending, they suggested, could provoke a Greek-style crisis any day now — within two years, declared Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles some three and a half years ago. Asset purchases by the Federal Reserve would “risk currency debasement and inflation,” declared a who’s who of Republican economists, investors, and pundits in a 2010 open letter to Ben Bernanke.

The not-enoughers — a group that includes yours truly — have argued all along that the clear and present danger is Japanification rather than Hellenization. That is, they have warned that inadequate fiscal stimulus and a premature turn to austerity could lead to a lost decade or more of economic depression, that the Fed should be doing even more to boost the economy, that deflation, not inflation, was the great risk facing the Western world.

To say the obvious, none of the predictions and warnings of the too-muchers have come to pass. America never experienced a Greek-type crisis of soaring borrowing costs. In fact, even within Europe the debt crisis largely faded away once the European Central Bank began doing its job as lender of last resort. Meanwhile, inflation has stayed low.

However, while the not-enoughers were right to dismiss warnings about interest rates and inflation, our concerns about actual deflation haven’t yet come to pass. This has provoked a fair bit of rethinking about the inflation process (if there has been any rethinking on the other side of this argument, I haven’t seen it), but not-enoughers continue to worry about the risks of a Japan-type quasi-permanent slump.

Which brings me to Europe’s woes.

On the whole, the too-muchers have had much more influence in Europe than in the United States, while the not-enoughers have had no influence at all. European officials eagerly embraced now-discredited doctrines that allegedly justified fiscal austerity even in depressed economies (although America has de facto done a lot of austerity, too, thanks to the sequester and cuts at the state and local level). And the European Central Bank, or E.C.B., not only failed to match the Fed’s asset purchases, it actually raised interest rates back in 2011 to head off the imaginary risk of inflation.

The E.C.B. reversed course when Europe slid back into recession, and, as I’ve already mentioned, under Mario Draghi’s leadership, it did a lot to alleviate the European debt crisis. But this wasn’t enough. The European economy did start growing again last year, but not enough to make more than a small dent in the unemployment rate.

And now growth has stalled, while inflation has fallen far below the E.C.B.’s target of 2 percent, and prices are actually falling in debtor nations. It’s really a dismal picture. Mr. Draghi & Co. need to do whatever they can to try to turn things around, but given the political and institutional constraints they face, Europe will arguably be lucky if all it experiences is one lost decade.

The good news is that things don’t look that dire in America, where job creation seems finally to have picked up and the threat of deflation has receded, at least for now. But all it would take is a few bad shocks and/or policy missteps to send us down the same path.

The good news is that Janet Yellen, the Fed chairwoman, understands the danger; she has made it clear that she would rather take the chance of a temporary rise in the inflation rate than risk hitting the brakes too soon, the way the E.C.B. did in 2011. The bad news is that she and her colleagues are under a lot of pressure to do the wrong thing from the too-muchers, who seem to have learned nothing from being wrong year after year, and are still agitating for higher rates.

There’s an old joke about the man who decides to cheer up, because things could be worse — and sure enough, things get worse. That’s more or less what happened to Europe, and we shouldn’t let it happen here.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 14, 2014

August 18, 2014 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Financial Crisis | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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