Tuli Can't Stop Talking

These are just my thoughts on contemporary issues and an attempt to open up a dialogue.

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Location: New York City

A citizen who cares deeply about the United States Constitution and the Rule of Law.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Go Tony!

From Mtanga to you:

An election is coming. Universal peace is declared and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.

– T.S. Eliot

The NYT’s on Steve Gilliard

From the Lives They Lived:

Steven Gilliard Jr. | b. 1964

Invisible Blogger


The sidewalks of Harlem’s main thoroughfares are wide and inviting, and in the 1960s the kids playing “boxball” shared the asphalt squares with some of the greatest orators in creation. The most famous spot for speechifying was the “Speakers’ Corner” outside Lewis Michaux’s bookstore on 125th Street, where Malcolm X delivered his lectures on race and politics. On weekends or after work, fathers took their boys down to the corners in Harlem to watch any number of would-be firebrands engaged in emotional debate over Vietnam or the state of race relations or Bobby Kennedy’s political future.

Steve Gilliard was born into this Harlem and took it all in, but he wouldn’t find his voice on the corners. He was quiet, bookish, overweight. He won entrance to an elite high school, where he passed his time reading obscure military histories, then studied history and journalism at New York University. He found his true calling, though, on the Internet. In 1998, when he was 34, Gilliard joined a new site called NetSlaves.com, whose blogger-reporters chronicled the misadventures of the new high-tech work force, and there he discovered his own kind of incendiary oration. It was by the dim light of a computer screen, rather than on the sunlit corners of Harlem, that Gilliard took to expertly excoriating the moneyed establishment.

By 2003, Gilliard had become one of the first official “guest bloggers” on Daily Kos, then on its way to becoming the most influential of the new liberal political blogs, where he informed his indictments of the Iraq war with detailed references to the British occupation of Mesopotamia. Eventually he created his own site — “Steve was a big personality, and it was clear he needed his own stage,” Daily Kos’s creator, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, later wrote — and became one of a small group of early political bloggers with his own devoted following (and a self-sustaining, if modest, income from ads). On Gilliard’s “News Blog,” along with the partisan attacks on Republicans that made him a hated figure on the conservative blogs, he specialized in applying history to the present day, which made him an unusual and distinctive voice. In 2004, he banged out a remarkable 37-part series, the equivalent of about 200 typed pages, chronicling the foibles of European colonialism.

Though Gilliard, unlike many bloggers, always used his real name, few readers knew much about him. They didn’t know, for instance, that at age 39 he had open-heart surgery to repair an infected valve. They didn’t know he lived alone in a small apartment in East Harlem. And, although Gilliard often wrote about race and alluded to his own perspective, a lot of readers never realized he was black. In the incident that brought him the most infamy, Gilliard acidly attacked Michael Steele, the black Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Maryland in 2006, as a traitor to his race. Black conservatives like Steele infuriated Gilliard, who couldn’t understand how any African-American could support a party that exploited racial prejudice. “I’s Simple Sambo and I’s Running for the Big House,” read Gilliard’s caption, below a doctored photo of Steele as a minstrel. Only after the post earned him headlines in major newspapers and recriminations from politicians of both parties did a lot of readers come to understand that a white man hadn’t written it — although, for Gilliard’s critics, that hardly made it less offensive.

The paradox of Gilliard’s existence is a familiar story on the blogs, where people often adapt avatars that are more like the selves they imagine being. Online, he was vicious and uncompromising. In person, Gilly, as his close friends called him, was reserved and enigmatic. His writing at times betrayed a sense of loneliness and dislocation. In 2000, after seeing the movie “High Fidelity,” he posted on NetSlaves.com a melancholy reflection on life as a geek. “Geeks live in an eternal conflict between their love of topic and love of people,” he wrote. “I wonder if people substitute fascination with things they can control over things they can’t — other people. You start to wonder if you’ve created a world so limited that you can’t really reach beyond it.” He lamented that he didn’t know what it was to “wake up naked in a strange bed,” but, he wrote, “at 35, I’ve figured out that this is it, at least for now. Anything I do, any life I make, is going to revolve around words and computers and strange, bright people.”

It was a life both short and loud. What began with a bad cough just after Valentine’s Day became a spiraling infection that ravaged Gilliard’s vulnerable heart and kidneys, and he spent most of his last four months hospitalized. The identities he kept separate for most of his 42 years collided in the days after he died; the few dozen mostly white bloggers who came to Harlem for the funeral saw for the first time the stark urban setting of Gilliard’s childhood, while his parents and relatives groped to understand what kind of work he had been doing at that computer and why scores of people had come so far to see him off. They must have been confused when Gilly’s online pals, sickened by the way some right-wing bloggers were gloating over his death, advised them not to disclose where he was buried, out of fear that someone might deface the site. The grave, like Gilliard himself, is known only to a few.

Many have commented on how Bai just doesn’t get it and rest assured that is true. That said, it was good to see the Times pay attention to a Blogger and one of the more influential ones.

I think the portrait of him (picture) with the article was beautiful. And as for Matt Bai’s article: how could anyone not know he was black?

Everyday I miss him. I am grateful that the group blog is carrying on in his absence. But nothing and no one can replace his irreplaceable voice and message.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Just Exactly Who Are We as We Head into 2008?

Michael Jackson has too many issues to even mention. But, that said, he is a musical genius. And here is one of his more timeless contributions to our musical history.

So, we are headed into what has been called the most important election in our country’s history by the Chattering Classes, Village Pundits and Idiots in Washington, DC, and I am not saying they are necessarily wrong this time. What with torture, eviscerating the U. S. Constitution, holding American Citizens in Prison without Due Process, suspending Habeas Corpus, and an Illegal War or two, I have to question what has become of our republic and the citizens who inhabit it. Not to mention what our Founding Fathers would have thought of this “Perfect Union.”

As imperfect as we all are, and we all are, I have to think it is imperative that we all take a look in the Mirror! And in spite of those imperfections do what we can to make “That Change.”


Friday, December 28, 2007

We are the World!

Just call me an old fashion gal. So, as we head into the New Year here are two songs which still bring a chill to my spine.

Joe Cocker and Pavarotti:

I am hoping that in 2008, and at least by 2009, we will take a positive place in the world and make ourselves and the world proud. Because we can be and are so beautiful.

Here is to the New Year and hopefully a turning of the page.

Cheers to you and yours.

UPDATE: For the purists out there:

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated this Morning.

From Steve Clemons:

Benazir Bhutto had not yet become president or prime minister in her recent return to Pakistan's political arena -- but she was the leading opposition leader in Pakistan.

While it is doubtful that she could have easily calmed Pakistan's increasing turmoil if she had ascended to officialdom while in some power-sharing arrangement with President Musharraf, her death today makes everything much more fragile.

I met Bhutto during one of her recent trips through Washington in a session arranged by Harlan Ullman -- and I found her powerfully eloquent. She acknowledged to the group she was meeting that she was willing to risk her life to try and achieve a different course in Pakistan. I thought at the time that her chances of survival were low in the cauldron of a political scene that requires political leaders to mix with the masses.

A commentator close to Bhutto just told me that Pakistan will not disintegrate because of this incident -- as the military excels in "situations where preventing a meltdown is required."

Bhutto was part of America's hope for political stabilization there -- and that plan has been definitively sabotaged.

Benazir Bhutto is dead now -- and the implication I believe is that while Pakistan's future would always have been messy, that mess will be less managed and scripted and will now be far more uncontrolled, unstable, and dangerous.

The cauldron that is, and has been for a long time, Pakistan is now at a boiling point. It seems to me that the recipe of nuclear weapons, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the instability of the Musharraf government does not bode well for the region’s future.

I hope that Clemons’ connections are correct.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Day Treat!

From Pavarotti and the Chieftains!

Happy Holidays!

New York, New York!

I love New York City.
I believe that it is the one place that I have been that opportunity is available and abundant. As someone who has been a big fish in a small pond I am naturally a willing fish in the big pond.

And what a pond it is! My life exploded when I finally made the move to NYC.

Nuff said!

For My Mother!

She loved this piece and Pavarotti. Though I am not sure she would have approved of Sting.

Merry Christmas Joyce we miss you!

Nessun Dorma

Just because!

Puccini and Pavarotti, what is better than that?

Eventually this Will be True!

War is Over?

So can we make that happen and do we want it to happen?

John we miss you!

Oscar Peterson


1925 – 2007

Toxic Toys Indeed!

Yes, indeedy this deregulation that the GOP touts has worked out so well hasn’t it?

Deregulation has been a real gift to the corporatists and the Right-Wing wouldn’t want it any other way. But, what is so sorry about this story is that the American public and consumer continue to buy this shit. Yes, the toys from China and elsewhere are probably made with toxic ingredients but the real problem is that the idea of toys themselves can be toxic.

Get with the program folks. Stop buying the “Stuff” period the end. Children don’t need all this crap to develop. Give them stuff that will help them develop. And it isn’t made by Mattel!

The American Consumer buying this crap is just benefiting the very Corporations, toxic or otherwise, that make you a dupe for corporate greed. They don’t care about you or your children, they care about profits. Don’t support them!


Monday, December 24, 2007

No Shit!

Here is to the Republican Dysfunctional Holiday Celebration. Just like my family, how quaint.

From Whiskey Fire without comment:

December 24, 2007

Souls Who Have Redefined Our Roles

You read some strange things in the Washington Post Opinion pages, no doubt. But this really deserves some sort of prize in the WTF? category:

Some of us -- in my case, a political conservative and evangelical Christian -- are getting a queasy feeling when it comes to the presidential campaign of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and much of it has to do with his use of faith in this political campaign....

Some of these episodes are by themselves unproblematic; others are more troubling. They are certainly different in degree, and even in kind, from what President Bush, an evangelical Christian, has said.

Ummm... what?

And taken together, they raise a concern: Is Mike Huckabee, a man of extremely impressive political gifts and shrewdness, playing the Jesus card in a way that is unlike anything we have quite seen before?

Why, no. Or to put this another way, are you high, or do you just think everyone else is?

I get that the muckety-mucks in the GOP are worried because Huckabee actually means and believes all this God-bothering bullshit, and they've just been pretending and pandering. That's clear.

But the cynicism of this essay is just way off the charts. After the Huckabee poll surge, I can see why Peter Wehner wants to pretend that his party hasn't been pretending and pandering and dog-whistling and Christ-invoking and code-talking and cross-waving, very goddamn loudly and ostentatiously, for a couple of decades now. Similarly, for private reasons of his own he may someday wish to appear in public dressed in chainmail and a fruit-hat demanding he be worshiped as the Supreme Empress Susan. However, that doesn't place any obligation on anyone to play along with such sports.

That's your modern conservative thinker for you, though, especially of the Bush/Bennett variety. As soon as the immediate past that everyone knows about becomes inconvenient -- pretend it never happened. This is what they call "personal responsibility."

"Is Mike Huckabee, a man of extremely impressive political gifts and shrewdness, playing the Jesus card in a way that is unlike anything we have quite seen before?" Jaysus! It is in fact rather comical.

“Stuff” the Movie!

Annie Leonard at FreeRangeStudios has produced a video about all the “Stuff” we consume. It is quite instructive.

Here is the Introduction:

Here is one of the parts of the movie which explains that which ails our consumer and consumption economy:

Now I know that you need to go and see the whole film. This is the link and I know as Martha says, “Learn Something New Everyday.” You won’t be sorry.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Opinionator at the NYT’s.

Chris Suellentrop has a post up about the Stiglitz article in Vanity Fair (which is a must read). Though Stiglitz is very polite, his commentary, as a Nobel Laureate, is devastating.

The Opinionator comments are very interesting and also a must read.

Go ahead and take a gander. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

This is Hilarious and too Frightening!

"Americans on Canada!" These are some of the bits from Rick Mercer’s CBC show “Talking to Americans.” The longer version which is in two parts is here and here. The thing is that you need to actually know something about Canada in order to get a lot of the jokes.

So, take the test and get a real education.

Naturally being from Canada and living in the U.S. I am not too shocked about this. The questions to students and professors at Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Berkley, NYU and Stamford are particularly sad. Watch for the young boy at NYU with his mother. He gets it!

And the esteemed political leaders in the States don’t come off very well, either.

This explains a lot.

The Canadian Dollar is now worth more than the U.S. Dollar for the first time in my life.

Nuff said!

Update: Reload the page to get the video to play.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

MP3 Tell All!

Beware technology!

This reminds me of all the politicians who say things that can readily be proven wrong by “roll the Video Tape!” So, here we have a police officer interrogating a suspect who then denies that he ever interrogated the suspect.

OOPS! It is 2007 and everyone has a cellphone, most youngsters have MP3 players and as we all know Youtube is just a post away. Folks, it isn’t just the Bush Administration that is taping everything you do and say. Your neighbors and complete strangers, not to mention suspects, are capable of recording everything you do as well.

Now as just about every defense attorney knows the cops often color their testimony (read: euphemism for lies).

Now, for defense attorneys this case is a god send. Most defense attorneys know that confessions and the circumstances around which they are attained are not trustworthy ( see the Higazy confession). Think of it as the “Not there DNA.”

So, should we be shocked by this development? I don’t think so. I just love the fact that a “kid” got the better of a “cop.”

As someone I know made clear to me many who serve on juries don’t understand the “Burden of Proof.” They think that they should balance the testimony of the prosecution with the testimony of the defense. If they don’t find the prosecution’s testimony credible they think that they should see if the defense’s testimony is more credible. Well folks, that is completely wrong. If the prosecution’s testimony and evidence isn’t credible they haven’t met the “Burden of Proof” period the end.

This is why we need to video tape all interrogations! What could be clearer folks and why do the Gendarmes resist?

Quote of the Day!

From Gail Collins:

For Obama, the real question is not about what he ingested in his freshman year of college. If middle-aged men were disqualified from serious jobs because of recreational drug use as teenagers, there would be nobody left to run the stock exchange.

Though it does seem that many of those running the stock exchange are currently still smoking something and I am not thinking tobacco.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Cause I love it!

And why wouldn't I?

So the Youtube Police took this one away from me. But this one is still out there!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Being Informed is Indeed Depressing!

From A.J. over at Americablog:

Being informed is depressing
by A.J. Rossmiller · 12/11/2007 02:02:00 PM ET

I had the strongest sense of deja vu reading this fantastic piece on how *depressing* it is to be informed these days. I don't know if I read a similar article before, or if it's just something I've been thinking about for a while, but the tagline really sums it up well: "Staying informed has become -- for so many of us -- a moral obligation that feels like hell."

As the author, Courtney Martin, laments,

Some weekends it feels like a masochistic, last-ditch effort to keep myself from going numb. Some weekends, I can hardly read the headlines without feeling myself being pulled into a morass of 21st century existential pain over the challenges of living aware in a globalized world with so much violence, soulless bureaucracy, and disappointing leadership. . . .

It seems to be that we haven't figured out systems -- educational, governmental, non-governmental -- for actualizing the inevitable outrage, sadness, and empathy that we feel as a direct result of contemporary world news.

I've been a news junkie ever since I can remember, and I was giddy when the internet made available more news and analysis on more topics and issues than I ever could have imagined. There's only so much one can read, though, so I started with mostly domestic electoral politics and foreign policy. And there's enough depressing news on those topics to last a lifetime.

A while ago, though, I decided to add to my list of topics to know something about. I decided that I knew embarrassingly little about health care, so I read a few books and started reading health care blogs. Not surprisingly, this is a pretty gloomy subject: lots of people uninsured, underinsured, and generally getting screwed.

Then, God help me, I added some feminist blogs to the rotation. And sure, everybody knows that women are mistreated in a variety of contexts, but when you read the actual stories, day after day, at home and abroad, it's really quite horrifying.

Plus economics here, global warming there, and poverty way over there (but wait, also here), it's pretty overwhelming -- and more importantly, it seems like nothing one individual (or even a small group of individuals) would even begin to make a dent.

No wonder I've made CuteOverload a part of the rotation -- adorable animals are the only thing that can push back against this onslaught . . .

So, CuteOverload is A.J.’s push back. Mine is Music! What’s yours?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Digby is Right Again!

This is another episode of “What Digby Says.”


by digby

Yesterday on CNN I heard author Ronald Kessler say:

Inside the CIA are dismayed these tapes were destroyed. But at the same time, these techniques are something that worked and that were approved by congress and that were needed to protect us.

I was aghast because we know torture didn't work, it wasn't (explicitly anyway) approved by congress and it wasn't needed to protect us --- and CNN offered no rebuttal to those claims.

How stunned I was to click over to the Washington Post this morning to learn that people in the CIA say that congress did approve it. Or, at least, members of the leadership knew about it, did nothing, and have then spent the last few years pretending to be shocked and appalled to learn the administration was doing such things.

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

"The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough," said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

Congressional leaders from both parties would later seize on waterboarding as a symbol of the worst excesses of the Bush administration's counterterrorism effort. The CIA last week admitted that videotape of an interrogation of one of the waterboarded detainees was destroyed in 2005 against the advice of Justice Department and White House officials, provoking allegations that its actions were illegal and the destruction was a coverup.

And yet:


The Speech and Debate clause has been interpreted to extend beyond floor speeches, e.g. to committee statements, but it unquestionably applies to floor statements. Thus, it would have been possible for Rep. Harmon, or Senator Rockefeller, or the others allegedly briefed to go to the floor, either during the times when members may speak on topics of their choice, or under one of the extraordinary mechanism for privileged statements, and denounce the Bush administration’s determinate to torture helpless captives in secret offshore detention facilities.

It's true that this would have been politically painful immediately after 9/11 and there would have been those who called it treasonous. But that was five years ago. After all we know, is there any reason that one of these people couldn't have come forward more recently if they had a problem with it? I don't think there would have been any political fallout for them from 2005 on and probably not before. They could have put the administration on notice very early that they would not go along.

As Digby says: “Accomplices.” And any American who doesn’t stand up and renounce these practices is also an Accomplice and Un-American.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Makes You Wanna Holler!

And it continues!

Thank you Marvin.

Who Are These Idiots?

And why are they in charge of anything? Isn’t it time that we re-evaluate who the best and the brightest are? And why are they paid enormous sums of money to be wrong time and again? Not to mention how much they are paid to leave the Shitepile (h/t to Atrios) that they have created and enabled.

From the Shrill One:

Crony capitalism rears its ugly head. If this is as bad as it looks, the subprime mess has just entered a whole new level of scandal:

Countrywide Financial Corp. fell more than 10 percent in New York Stock Exchange trading after U.S. Senator Charles Schumer urged the regulator of the Federal Home Loan Bank system to probe cash advances to the largest U.S. mortgage lender.

Schumer said he was alarmed by the volume of advances the system’s Atlanta bank has made to Countrywide considering “the rapid deterioration'’ in the credit quality of some of the Calabasas, California-based company’s mortgages. Schumer expressed his concerns in a letter sent today to Federal Housing Finance Board Chairman Ronald Rosenfeld.

The Atlanta bank has made $51.1 billion in advances to Countrywide as of Sept. 30, representing 37 percent of the bank’s total outstanding advances, Schumer wrote, citing U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

The Federal Home Loan Bank is what the British call a quango — a quasi-non-governmental organization. Although it isn’t legally backed by taxpayer money, it’s widely perceived as having an implicit federal guarantee. And at first glance, it appears that taxpayers’ trust is being used to bail out one of the biggest bad actors in the subprime story.

PS: I wondered if I was overdoing it, but Yves Smith makes an even stronger statement: Amazingly, Countrywide manages to soldier on despite all the organizations and individuals that have the bank in their crosshairs. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s an organization that has always existed on the edge of the law.

This is making me even more convinced everyday that all that free market and deregulation talk, etc., is really a “good” thing is total Bullshit! Oh, yeah the “Masters of the Universe” rule again, and again and again!

Why are these lessons never learned? I remember the S&L debacle and knew before hand that it was inevitable and I was just a youngster at the time. Oh, yeah, that’s right I had some actual experience in the Savings and Loan Industry and knew the players not to mention that I was actually paying attention.

Larry Johnson on the Destroyed Tapes.

As someone, and I can’t remember who, said: Would you rather be prosecuted for Obstruction of Justice or a War Crime? HMMMM!

Mr. Johnson fills in the dots, read all of it as it is quite short and pithy!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Very Reverend Billy and Whose War on Christmas?

From the Raw Story here is the real question which Rev. Billy asks, ‘What Would Jesus Buy. With that in mind read this Raw Story story and watch this video and think about your consumer choices and purchases.

What would Jesus buy? Preacher leads anti-shopping church in war on consumerism.

12/05/2007 @ 4:13 pm

Filed by Mike Aivaz and Mike Sheehan

With Americans expected to spend about almost $500 billion this Christmas, ABC's 'Nightline' takes a closer look at one man trying to spread the message that America is being crushed under the weight of consumerism.

"We're proceeding into the shopping season under an enormous misunderstanding. We think we are consumers at Christmas time," shouted the flamboyant Rev. Billy Talen of the Church of Stop Shopping. "No, we are being consumed!"

Talen is an activist and performance artist who's made his presence known at malls and chain stores in New York City. His efforts to halt what he and his followers call the "shopocalypse" have been chronicled in a new documentary, 'What Would Jesus Buy?' In the film, Talen is shown being kicked out of a Starbucks, performing an exorcism at Wal-Mart headquarters, and getting arrested in front of a Disney store.

"I think the commercial Christmas has become the Grinch," says Talen. "Polls indicate that most Americans now think of Christmas with dread rather than happy anticipation, and that's sad."

And here is the trailer for the movie:

We don’t “need” all that stuff folks. And you know it

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Who is in Charge, Apparently Not George W.

How can it be possible that the President of the United States of America is told by his underlings that they have new information about “his” favorite Foreign Policy area and he doesn’t even ask them a question or to clarify what they are talking about?

This is what you get when you vote for some one that you want to have a “beer with. Not withstanding that he is a dry drunk.

Should there be an IQ test, or something or other, to decide who gets to vote in this country? I am beginning to think this is an even larger question than the “illegal alien” issue.


Update: My personal feeling is that the Intelligence Community doesn’t want to be hung out to dry by this Administration this time around (remember the Intelligence Community was right about WMD) and want the Bushies to have to deal with reality and the Intel folks want to circumvent the Administration’s rhetoric, etc., and policy. But then I have been wrong before. Though I haven’t been wrong that often!

Muppet News Flash: Robert’s Court Not Exactly Populist!

It is no surprise that the Robert’s Court is Corporate friendly. This article from “In These Times” has a very good rundown on how these times have changed.

I know it’s long, but well worth reading.

Supreme Court Inc.
By Stephen J. Fortunato Jr.
In These Times

Wednesday 05 December 2007

The Roberts Court unravels a generation of progress.

While in law school in Washington, D.C., in the late '60s, I heard Justice William O. Douglas explain at a public forum that his support for the Warren Court's "criminal law revolution" was undergirded by his fear that the nation's police stations were staffed in no small part by "crypto-fascists."

Though his pithy phrase never found its way into any of the Warren era's cases - many of which solidified the Constitution's protection for those accused of crime - Justice Douglas shared with his colleagues a passion for the Founding Fathers' luminous idea that the Bill of Rights was created to restrain, and sometimes thwart, the actions of government officials.

Along with Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justices Hugo Black, William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall - as well as his more cautious brethren, Justices John Marshall Harlan and Felix Frankfurter - Douglas and his colleagues viscerally understood Chief Justice John Marshall's famous 1819 declaration that "it is a Constitution we are expounding." They protected and expanded free speech rights for antiwar and civil rights activists, and drew within the Constitution's protections many groups previously excluded: racial minorities, women, prisoners, probationers and school children.

The Bush-Roberts Court rejects this commitment to liberty and equality. Under Chief Justice John Roberts and his major domo Antonin Scalia, "the spirit of the laws" (to borrow the 18th century French philosopher Montesquieu's apt phrase) exalts order over liberty, and institutional prerogatives - governmental or private - over the individual.

There are occasional happy exceptions to this: The current court preserved confrontational rights for the accused in criminal trials and sought to ameliorate the harshness of federal sentencing guidelines. And the 2004 Guantánamo cases curbed some of Bush's more odious powers.

Still, folk wisdom supplies the most charitable assessment of this court: Even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then.

Where does this deference to institutional power and prerogatives, with its accompanying hostility toward "average people," come from? In 1921, Justice Benjamin Cardozo suggested an answer that was as applicable then as it is today: "The great tides and currents which engulf the rest of men do not turn aside in their course and pass the judges by."

Tellingly, no member of the current Supreme Court has ever defended a person accused of committing a felony, which means they have no experience with the dynamics of a criminal trial and have never rubbed shoulders in a dilapidated cell block with the poor and battered souls, predominantly of color, who are hauled into the nation's criminal courts. Roberts made his fortune representing the interests of corporate America, and all members of the court were corporate, academic or governmental careerists. With the exception of Justice Ginsburg's background litigating for women's reproductive freedom and fairness in the workplace, no current justice came to the high court with a reputation as a champion of civil rights or poor people.

Contrast the backgrounds of the Bush-Roberts Court with those who served prior to 1986, the beginning of the court's demise, when Reagan elevated William Rehnquist to chief justice and appointed Scalia as associate justice. Where the Bush-Roberts Court is suffused with corporate parochialism, the Warren Court was worldly. In the aggregate, it included a former California governor (Warren); a country lawyer who defended accused moonshiners and striking miners, and later served in the U.S. Senate (Black); a brilliant strategist and litigator who kicked open the legal doors of school segregation (Marshall); a trial judge from a labor union household (Brennan); an anti-rackets prosecutor (Harlan); and a Harvard Law School professor who defended Sacco and Vanzetti (Frankfurter).

Contrary to the methodology of the Warren Court, the high court under Roberts follows in the tradition of Rehnquist. It scraps the teachings of the social sciences and ignores social realities when it suits its purposes. This is illustrated by a comparison of leading cases from the socially alert court of the Warren era and the reality-blind court of the past decade. In 1965's Miranda v. Arizona, the leading decision on self-incrimination is written in a style understandable by anyone who can read a newspaper. At the same time, it grounds its conclusions on a thorough and thoughtful analysis of government and academic studies, court records and history regarding police brutality and the third-degree interrogations police employed to extract confessions.

Thirty years later, in Whren v. United States (1996), Scalia saw no need to consider any data on racial profiling and the "driving while black" phenomenon when he wrote for a unanimous court that rejected claims by two young African-American males who said they were victims of racial profiling during a traffic stop (lingering too long at a stop sign; failure to signal a right turn, etc.). The plain-clothes officers who stopped them were assigned to a special squad concerned with drug trafficking in a "high crime" area of Washington, D.C., and were subject to a department regulation that prohibited them from enforcing traffic laws unless they observed a violation that threatened public safety.

Scalia did not reference the race of the young men until halfway through his decision, and then he scoffed in his opaque and orotund style that the intent of the officers was of no constitutional consequence. Scalia and his colleagues, even the ones the media occasionally tags as "liberal," submitted no commentary regarding racial profiling and police practices in minority neighborhoods. For a right-wing court, like a right-wing administration, an unacknowledged problem is one that does not exist.

Scalia, who remains the court's designated hitter to swat the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures into oblivion, garnered unanimous decisions in other cases involving claims against the police. No relief from unreasonable searches, said a unanimous court, for a white couple that was rousted out of bed and forced to stand naked before police finally realized that the subjects of their search warrant were supposed to be African American (Los Angeles County v. Rettele, 2006).

Similarly in another opinion Scalia authored (United States v. Grubbs, 2006), a unanimous court informed police officers that they had no obligation to describe the triggering mechanism in so-called anticipatory search warrants. Police obtain these warrants after an officer's sworn representation that, at some future time, criminal activity or evidence of crime will be at a particular location. But the Supreme Court has, in effect, made these warrants perpetual by declaring that a triggering mechanism (e.g. the arrival of a particular truck at a given location) need not be described. In fairness, it must be noted that Justice Souter, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Stevens, whimpered that the better practice is to include the triggering mechanism, but they nevertheless concurred.

Not all the justices are always on the same page, but the court's unanimous decisions reveal frequent collusion between the conservative majority and the liberal wing. And there are few significant ideological fissures in any of the court's decisions.

The current justices are especially in lockstep with their endorsement of the existing economic order and their insensitivity to the problems of the poor and the middle class. While the Supreme Court has no mandate to redesign the economy, there are many instances where constitutional and statutory interpretation allow justices to use their discretion to choose between the predator and the prey. The Bush-Roberts Court hunts with the predator.

In 2007, in Long Island Care at Home Ltd. v. Coke, the Supreme Court unanimously held that ambiguous Department of Labor regulations exempted hundreds of thousands of home healthcare workers (mostly women) from minimum wage protection.

In a 2006 opinion for a unanimous court written by Roberts, the former corporate litigator, the court told taxpayers they had no right to challenge the State of Ohio's tax abatements and investment credits extended to DaimlerChrysler. Taxpayers had argued that they and their communities would sustain injury because the less money DaimlerChrysler paid, the less money the state would distribute mandated revenue to its cities.

But Roberts and his colleagues offered a short lesson in neoconservative, supply-side economics: "The very point of the tax benefits is to spur economic activity, which in turn increases government revenues." Apparently, the conservative activists of the Bush-Roberts Court have rejected the observation of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that "A constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory."

When the DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno case is read together with Kelo v. City of New London (2005) - a controversial case permitting private homes to be condemned so that the land on which they sit can be transferred to a private developer - the result is a population stripped of all defenses against corporate power. Workers and taxpayers cannot fight against corporations that take property for the benefit of profit-making, and they are just as powerless to seek redress in court when a town's officials give the store away to a corporation.

The Bush-Roberts Court also slammed the courthouse door shut on people challenging the Bush administration's affirmative action efforts, which were really designed to insure that faith-based social programs would seek and obtain federal funding. Taking casuistry to new heights, the majority ruled in 2007's Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation that because the funds were coming from the administration's budget, there was no need to follow a Warren precedent, which allowed taxpayers to challenge congressional appropriations that fund textbooks for religious schools.

With rare exception, the Bush-Roberts Court has no inclination to restrain executive power.

It was this unbridled deference that led a unanimous court to uphold the Solomon amendment, which authorized a halt in federal funding for colleges and universities that barred military recruiters access to campus. An association of law schools had prohibited campus recruiting because of the military's anti-gay "don't ask, don't tell" policy, but the high court - heedless of its own recent decision allowing the Boy Scouts of America to preserve its moral code by expelling a gay scoutmaster from its ranks, and unwilling to have the military rely on off-campus recruiting facilities - chose spinelessly not to defend the law schools' efforts to protect a marginalized minority (Rumsfeld v. FAIR, 2006).

The Supreme Court's reactionary agenda over the last decade has left few areas untouched by its restrictive reading of the Constitution. It has curtailed in various ways reproductive freedom, efforts to racially integrate schools, and First Amendment and privacy rights of high school students.

Devoid of passion for civil liberties and civil rights, and oblivious to economic injustice and inequality, this court will not change its direction any time soon. As for the possibility of change in the future, the task for progressives is to begin insisting that Democratic presidential candidates pledge now that any Supreme Court nominee during their administration will be drawn from the human rights, civil rights and racial justice communities. Not from the corporate structure that perpetuates the power of the elite.

Yes, corporations have been deemed to be “people” under the law. That shouldn’t mean that they have greater rights than actual “people” under the Constitution. This Supreme Court has shown time and again that they believe corporations do have more rights and for the sake of Democracy that needs to be curtailed.

They may have more money (and thereby more influence) but they shouldn’t have more RIGHTS.

Again, JMHO!

Pearlstein Speaks!

And I usually listen. Like Krugman, he has the ability to connect random and not so random dots. You know what I mean: REALITY. Now I often listen to those who are so often wrong, say the Bush Administration for instance, but I really pay attention and listen to those who are so often right. And though the folks in charge, and the inside the beltway punditry, rarely if ever give them anything but short shrift, they cannot be ignored.

Here is Mr. Pearlstein’s latest from the WAPO in its entirety.

It's Not 1929, but It's the Biggest Mess Since

By Steven Pearlstein
Wednesday, December 5, 2007; D01

It was Charles Mackay, the 19th-century Scottish journalist, who observed that men go mad in herds but only come to their senses one by one.

We are only at the beginning of the financial world coming to its senses after the bursting of the biggest credit bubble the world has seen. Everyone seems to acknowledge now that there will be lots of mortgage foreclosures and that house prices will fall nationally for the first time since the Great Depression. Some lenders and hedge funds have failed, while some banks have taken painful write-offs and fired executives. There's even a growing recognition that a recession is over the horizon.

But let me assure you, you ain't seen nothing, yet.

What's important to understand is that, contrary to what you heard from President Bush yesterday, this isn't just a mortgage or housing crisis. The financial giants that originated, packaged, rated and insured all those subprime mortgages were the same ones, run by the same executives, with the same fee incentives, using the same financial technologies and risk-management systems, who originated, packaged, rated and insured home-equity loans, commercial real estate loans, credit card loans and loans to finance corporate buyouts.

It is highly unlikely that these organizations did a significantly better job with those other lines of business than they did with mortgages. But the extent of those misjudgments will be revealed only once the economy has slowed, as it surely will.

At the center of this still-unfolding disaster is the Collateralized Debt Obligation, or CDO. CDOs are not new -- they were at the center of a boom and bust in manufacturing housing loans in the early 2000s. But in the past several years, the CDO market has exploded, fueling not only a mortgage boom but expansion of all manner of credit. By one estimate, the face value of outstanding CDOs is nearly $2 trillion.

But let's begin with the mortgage-backed CDO.

By now, almost everyone knows that most mortgages are no longer held by banks until they are paid off: They are packaged with other mortgages and sold to investors much like a bond.

In the simple version, each investor owned a small percentage of the entire package and got the same yield as all the other investors. Then someone figured out that you could do a bigger business by selling them off in tranches corresponding to different levels of credit risk. Under this arrangement, if any of the mortgages in the pool defaulted, the riskiest tranche would absorb all the losses until its entire investment was wiped out, followed by the next riskiest and the next.

With these tranches, mortgage debt could be divided among classes of investors. The riskiest tranches -- those with the lowest credit ratings -- were sold to hedge funds and junk bond funds whose investors wanted the higher yields that went with the higher risk. The safest ones, offering lower yields and Treasury-like AAA ratings, were snapped up by risk-averse pension funds and money market funds. The least sought-after tranches were those in the middle, the "mezzanine" tranches, which offered middling yields for supposedly moderate risks.

Stick with me now, because this is where it gets interesting. For it is at this point that the banks got the bright idea of buying up a bunch of mezzanine tranches from various pools. Then, using fancy computer models, they convinced themselves and the rating agencies that by repeating the same "tranching" process, they could use these mezzanine-rated assets to create a new set of securities -- some of them junk, some mezzanine, but the bulk of them with the AAA ratings more investors desired.

It was a marvelous piece of financial alchemy, one that made Wall Street banks and the ratings agencies billions of dollars in fees. And because so much borrowed money was used -- in buying the original mortgages, buying the tranches for the CDOs and then in buying the tranches of the CDOs -- the whole thing was so highly leveraged that the returns, at least on paper, were very attractive. No wonder they were snatched up by British hedge funds, German savings banks, oil-rich Norwegian villages and Florida pension funds.

What we know now, of course, is that the investment banks and ratings agencies underestimated the risk that mortgage defaults would rise so dramatically that even AAA investments could lose their value.

One analysis, by Eidesis Capital, a fund specializing in CDOs, estimates that, of the CDOs issued during the peak years of 2006 and 2007, investors in all but the AAA tranches will lose all their money, and even those will suffer losses of 6 to 31 percent.

And looking across the sector, J.P. Morgan's CDO analysts estimate that there will be at least $300 billion in eventual credit losses, the bulk of which is still hidden from public view. That includes at least $30 billion in additional write-downs at major banks and investment houses, and much more at hedge funds that, for the most part, remain in a state of denial.

As part of the unwinding process, the rating agencies are in the midst of a massive and embarrassing downgrading process that will force many banks, pension funds and money market funds to sell their CDO holdings into a market so bereft of buyers that, in one recent transaction, a desperate E-Trade was able to get only 27 cents on the dollar for its highly rated portfolio.

Meanwhile, banks that are forced to hold on to their CDO assets will be required to set aside much more of their own capital as a financial cushion. That will sharply reduce the money they have available for making new loans.

And it doesn't stop there. CDO losses now threaten the AAA ratings of a number of insurance companies that bought CDO paper or insured against CDO losses. And because some of those insurers also have provided insurance to investors in tax-exempt bonds, states and municipalities have decided to pull back on new bond offerings because investors have become skittish.

If all this sounds like a financial house of cards, that's because it is. And it is about to come crashing down, with serious consequences not only for banks and investors but for the economy as a whole.

That's not just my opinion. It's why banks are husbanding their cash and why the outstanding stock of bank loans and commercial paper is shrinking dramatically.

It is why Treasury officials are working overtime on schemes to stem the tide of mortgage foreclosures and provide a new vehicle to buy up CDO assets.

It's why state and federal budget officials are anticipating sharp decreases in tax revenue next year.

And it is why the Federal Reserve is now willing to toss aside concerns about inflation, the dollar and bailing out Wall Street, and move aggressively to cut interest rates and pump additional funds directly into the banking system.

This may not be 1929. But it's a good bet that it's way more serious than the junk bond crisis of 1987, the S&L crisis of 1990 or the bursting of the tech bubble in 2001.

I’m thinking that this isn’t looking really positive for the future despite the Bush Administration's “Rosy Prognostications.”

This is very serious folks. And it isn’t Pearlstein’s or JMHO, it is the opinion of many others. As Atrios would say, the Big Shitpile is hitting the fan.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Big Shitpile’s Creators and Enablers Explained.

Atrios has so poetically named our Arsonist/Fireman’s latest disaster the Big Shitpile. How apropos can you get. I am afraid he is not wrong this time either. Doesn’t he ever get tired of being right? It must be quite the burden!

So, with that in mind here is a take, from across the pond, on the thinking of those who created and enabled the Big Shitpile.

If this wasn’t so scary it would be hysterical. They say that comedy comes from tragedy. It couldn’t be truer today.

h/t A. J. Rossmiller at AmericaBlog.com

Saturday, December 01, 2007


So, thinking about Steve Martin this comes up:

Way back in the day a friend of mine told me about this guy who did me but in a white suit. I knew immediately who he was talking about. The guy who said this was a musician whose band I had managed years before and in between sets, in those days, I did “very lame” stand-up. My “very lame” routines consisted of verbal and physical stuff. This is not to say that I was as good as the guy in the “white suit” but we were definitely on the same page in that comedy, the way we did it, was a combination of the verbal and physical mix.

So, move forward many years to when I met Steve Martin on the street.

A couple of years ago Mr. Martin stopped me on Riverside Drive and asked me for directions to West End Avenue. How did I know it was him, beside the obvious? I knew it was him because of his smile and teeth. And he concurred as he rode away on his bike.

The teeth always tell. Just ask your dentist!

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be a comment on any of my dentists all of whom I love and are for the most part exceptions to the rule!

I Love a Banjo!

I really love Steve Martin and Bela Fleck! And now I am a fan of Tony Trischka, who knew? Well apparently lots of folks, so, learn something new everyday!

As most banjoers I know say, “Steve Martin’s The Crow is an immediate classic in the vein of Cripple Creek” and I would say Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

This comes up because I just saw Steve Martin being interviewed by Pumpkinhead today.

And speaking of classics by Mr. Martin:

I just couldn’t help myself with that last bit from 1976! And talk about a wide stance!

Update: Here is the Slate review of his book.