Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Will GOP Extremists Be Able to Dislodge Boehner From The Speaker's Chair?


Yesterday Boehner was boasting that he hadn't talked to Ted Cruz, the man who would like to name the next Speaker of the House, since Cruz was first elected to the Senate 2 years ago. A little bravado from the man who knows he has a struggle to keep the top job in the House. The extremists and radicals inside the House Republican caucus-- Team Cruz-- are determined to depose Boehner… and Roll Call's Matt Fuller took a look at their chances yesterday. A couple weeks ago, we listed 17 Republicans who had either flat out pledged to vote for someone other than Boehner or who had refused to commit to voting for Boehner.

In 2012 a dozen Republicans voted against him. Because the DCCC refuses to back, Tom Poetter, the Democrat running against Boehner in OH-08, Boehner has no worries about the kind of surprise Eric Cantor had. So he's been able to spend-- up until the June 30 FEC reporting deadline-- $14,164,990 on helping other Republican candidates… buying friendship and support. He's grateful enough to Israel, to make him the only Member of Congress from a district with a neutral PVI to not face his own NRCC electoral challenge. Funny how that works and how Congress' most corrupt members, regardless of party affiliation, scratch each other's backs.

One of the Republicans who is backing Boehner, Indiana right-wing extremist Marlin Stutzman estimates that as many as 50 disgruntled Republicans could vote against him, enough to drive him out of the Speaker's chair. But, as Stutzman told Fuller, "it’s hard to beat somebody with nobody." And right now the extremists don't have a plausible candidate to replace Boehner. Ryan is too cautious and chicken-shit to take the chance and Texas crook Jeb Hensarling is also afraid that if he takes on Boehner and fails, his House career will get flushed down the toilet.
Hensarling communications director Sarah Rozier told CQ Roll Call her boss “doesn’t find speculative conversations about leadership elections to be a productive exercise,” and that he “intends to support the speaker candidate that receives the support of the Republican Conference.”

“And at this point he expects that person will be John Boehner,” she said.

In other words, Hensarling vs. Boehner is a long shot.

“I just don’t see it,” Rep. Tom Cole said of a Hensarling challenge. “That doesn’t mean he won’t run for speaker at some point. But again: Jeb plays by the rules. And if you’re going to run for speaker, it’s awfully late to mount that.”

Cole didn’t see anyone posing a legitimate challenge-- “Boehner is safer than all the gold in Fort Knox,” he said-- and he thought the opposition from the congressional newcomers was exaggerated. There is a lot of pressure, he said, on new members to not “go out there on your very first vote and embarrass yourself.”

The Oklahoma Republican said there’s already an effort underway from state party officials and national GOP figures to rein in the newcomers.

And that’s what many of the would-be Republican rebels seem to miss. As much chatter as there is about a coup, Boehner allies have their own plans for gumming up any plots against the speaker.

One senior aide said even if Boehner doesn’t secure the votes on an initial ballot, there’s no guarantee Republicans would, as opponents expect, halt the inaugural festivities and hold a special conference meeting. Conservatives have long believed that if they could deny Boehner a first-ballot victory, the conference would be thrown into chaos and a legitimate challenger would emerge.

Instead, leadership could simply hold the vote open, twist arms, maybe even hold another vote immediately after the first. Or hold many successive votes, until someone caves.

The point is: Boehner and his allies control the process. Even if his opponents could prevent him from becoming speaker on a first ballot-- something that hasn’t happened since 1923-- the situation is unlikely to go down as the conservative rabble-rousers envision.

There has also been discussion, first reported in May by Politico, and expanded upon recently by National Journal, of punishing anyone bucking the party line. But a senior GOP leadership aide told CQ Roll Call the idea of formally stripping rebels of their committee assignments is “not currently under consideration.”

As long as Republicans manage to navigate the lame duck, it seems Boehner’s speakership isn’t in any real danger.

Of course, the lame-duck session will be tricky, as Congress battles over whether-- and when-- to debate and vote on an Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq and Syria. Boehner is presented with choices that are certain to anger at least somebody. And Congress still has an omnibus spending bill to address by Dec. 11.

And then there are the GOP conspiracy theorists who believe Boehner has been waiting for the lame duck to pass a comprehensive immigration bill.

“If he pushes an immigration bill, it’d probably create more opposition than anything else he could do,” Jones told CQ Roll Call on Monday.

The North Carolinian, who swears he won’t support Boehner come January, has been meeting with a small group of conservatives-- about seven-- looking to oust the speaker. But he insists opposition to Boehner extends much deeper into the conference.

Jones said he “thought” there were other groups talking. It’s just that those groups don’t appear to be talking with each other.
At least half a dozen far right fanatics and teabaggers likely to win in November-- Glenn Grothman (WI), Jody Hice (GA), John Ratcliffe (TX), Mark Walker (NC), Barry Loudermilk (GA) and Gary Palmer (MI)-- have pledged to their voters that they will not back Boehner for Speaker. Worth keeping in mind that this is base politics and that several conservative Democratic candidates, particularly in backward red districts, have pledged to got against Pelosi if they get elected, although it's not likely any of them will be. (We'll look at one, West Virginia Blue Dog Nick Casey, first thing tomorrow morning.)

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On the trail of Batman at home in Long Island City (Queens)


Top Chef Duels -- surprisingly not-terrible! --
is on Bravo tonight (we'll talk about it soon)

Any sign of Batman? (photo by Mitch Waxman; click to enlarge)

by Ken

I was thinking I might write about Bravo's Top Chef Duels this evening, in time for tonight's new episode, having finally looked at a couple of episodes and discovered that it's surprisingly not-terrible. We got to watch how a couple of chefs, going head to head, approach the given challenges -- starting with a pair set by the episode's contenders -- and execute them, which is kind of fun as long as we don't pretend it adds up to anything more.

Meanwhile, though, there's this blogost of Mitch Waxman's, from his Newtown Pentacle blog, that I really wanted to share. Mitch has been the subject of a number of posts here (here, for example; and most recently here, photographing Astoria at twilight). On the blog Mitch chronicles his wanderings, camera gear at the ready, around (most often) his Queens home base of Astoria and related territories plus the Brooklyn and Queens basin of his beloved befouled Newtown Creek (he's the official historian of the Newtown Creek Alliance), in and around which he does frequent tours for Brooklyn Brainery and Atlas Obscura, among others.

One reason for keeping up with Mitch's blog is information about his tours as they upcome. But a larger reason is the gloomy charm of his urban wanderings, always accompanied by those spectacular pictures of his.

This story of Mitch's, from a suitable-for-Halloween-season blogpost called "conscious or subconscious," found our narrator doing some night shooting in the Court Square area of Long Island City, which he notes he has learned from the new TV series Gotham is the Gotham City home base of -- you guessed it, Batman! While "popping off a few exposures" in Bat-territory, he writes, "one suddenly experienced a tap on the shoulder."
A fellow was standing next to me, just a little too close for comfort, and watching as I played around with camera settings and assumed the series of odd postures which have proven themselves efficacious when attempting to gather low light shots without deploying a tripod. He said “Can I ask you a question?” as he slipped his hand into his knapsack. A child of New York in the 1980’s, and a Batman fan, I immediately began working out defensive solutions in my mind. There were five. Two would just put space between me and him, one would have busted his pelvis, and the other two would have put me in front of a judge for attempted homicide. The sixth solution was to wait, and find out what the question was.

He slowly pulled his hand out of the carry all, and there was something large – and heavy – held in his grasp. “Here we go again” I thought.

As his hand, grasping a large object which was black in coloration and clearly metallic, exited the bag – one was prepared to grab his wrist with my right hand and pull his arm and a probable weapon down toward the sidewalk and away from me. My left arm was primed to deliver a sharp elbow to his throat while I was simultaneously preparing to deliver a hip check that any NHL player would have approved of (this is one of the two solutions in which I end up in front of a judge). That’s when the fellow asked his question – “can you help me learn how to take better shots at night” as his hand finally emerged from the knap sack and produced a consumer level Nikon with an f3.5 zoom lens on it. Thereupon, a short lesson in aperture, ISO, and shutter speed ensued.

Gotham, indeed.
Ah, the surprises of the night here in Gotham City. (On the Newtown Pentacle site, watch for the link to sign up for an e-mail subscription, which gets you an e-notification of each post that goes up. I almost always click through, and am almost always delighted.)

Long Island City at night (photo by Mitch Waxman; click to enlarge)

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Pelosi's Worst Mistake Comes Back To Plague House Democrats


From the moment Nancy Pelosi announced she was reappointing failed Blue Dog Steve Israel to be DCCC Chairman again, it was apparent to anyone who pays attention that the Republicans had nothing to worry about in regard to losing the House majority. Once Israel started announcing his recruits-- garbage conservative Democrats in unwinnable red districts like anti-Choice, antigay,/pro-NRA, pro-fracking Jennifer Garrison in OH-06 and a trio of CIA stooges from Michigan and Pennsylvania the agency is trying to use to infiltrate Congress.

Now, one month before election day, many of Israel's top recruits-- like Garrison-- have fallen so flat with voters that the DCCC has decided to set them adrift and stop spending money on their pointless campaigns. Red-to-Blue this cycle certainly isn't adding up to green! The best opportunities to defeat Republican incumbents in Obama districts-- like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Dave Jolly in Florida, Fred Upton in Michigan, Peter Roskam in Illinois, Darrell Issa in California, Charlie Dent, Joe Pitts and Pat Meehan in Pennsylvania, Paul Ryan and his clone Sean Duffy in Wisconsin, Dave Reichert in Washington, David Joyce in Ohio and John Kline in Minnesota-- have been completely blown by Israel's incompetence and hatred for progressives and independent-minded grassroots candidates.

While Israel is floundering, trying to minimize losses, this morning, Alex Isenstadt reported at Politico that the GOP Is trying to expand the field and go for their biggest partisan majority since the Truman presidency. Pelosi should have thought the consequences of reappointing Israel through more carefully. His policy of not targeting GOP leaders or committee chairs and of not going after members of his old Center Aisle Caucus have not only been catastrophic for Democrats, they make it mathematically impossible for House Dems to increase their numbers.
Over the past several weeks, the National Republican Congressional Committee has reserved millions of dollars of TV advertising time in two House districts-- one in upstate New York, the other in northern Maine-- that broke sharply for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election but where GOP prospects have been on the rise.

In the coming days, the House GOP campaign arm will launch a polling project to gauge whether to invest in three other blue congressional districts that have only recently come onto the national radar, according to two sources familiar with the deliberations. Two of them comprise the eastern, more liberal half of Iowa. The other is in Obama’s native Hawaii.

The goal is to broaden a political map that, much to the GOP’s frustration, has remained stubbornly narrow. Thanks to a recent round of redistricting that limited the number of seats vulnerable to an opposing party takeover, the House playing field comprises only around three dozen districts. If the election were held today, Republicans, who currently have a 17-seat majority, would gain perhaps six or seven seats-- short of the 11-seat benchmark they’ve set.

So the GOP is venturing into places one wouldn’t expect. The stakes are high: Republicans are trying to achieve a governing majority, something that has eluded John Boehner in his tenure as speaker. If they can meet their 11-district goal, Republicans will have 245 seats, their largest delegation since 1949. It would also give the party a buffer heading into a 2016 House election expected to be more generous to Democrats.

Encroaching on the Democratic turf won’t be easy. The upstate New York seat, centered in Syracuse, has been represented the past two years by Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei; Obama carried it by 16 points in 2012.

The NRCC launched ads there in mid-September, with messaging that’s distinct from what the committee has emphasized in more conservative areas. There are no pointed attacks on the president or his health care law. Some of the spots highlight the biography of the GOP candidate, former organized crime prosecutor John Katko.

Republicans face a similar challenge in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, where they started airing ads this week. Obama won the district by 9 points in 2012 and by 10 points four years earlier. But Republicans contend they’re gaining ground. An independent poll released last weekend actually had the GOP candidate in Maine, former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, with a 10-point lead over his Democratic opponent.

The NRCC has booked more than $1 million in advertising time in each of the districts.

The Iowa and Hawaii seats are even harder slogs for the GOP, but party officials say there’s cause for encouragement in both cases. Democrats’ struggles in the Iowa Senate and governor’s races, they argue, could trickle down to the congressional races.

In Hawaii, a new independent poll shows the Republican candidate, popular former Rep. Charles Djou, in a surprisingly close race against Democratic state Rep. Mark Takai.

Democratic groups are bracing for the GOP offensive. House Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, has reserved advertising time in Syracuse and Maine.

Democrats insist the GOP engagement will backfire.
The Republicans are unlikely to win any of the 5 seats-- although the conservative-leaning Democrats in Hawaii, Maine and New York are incapable of inspiring much grassroots enthusiasm. The one race worth progressive investment is IA-01, where the Democrat is a proven progressive champion, Pat Murphy. You can support him here. Polling in IA-01 doesn't bare out GOP optimism. There are 3 publicly available polls, two from August and one from September and all three, including a partisan GOP poll, show Murphy beating his right-wing opponent, Rob Blum in the D+5 district that Obama won against McCain 58-40% and against Romney 56-42%.
The Polling Company (R)- Murphy 40%, Blum 35%
Myers Research (D)- Murphy 51%, Blum 40%
Loras College- Murphy 35%, Blum 33%
But what the Republican strategy will do is sop up Democratic resources and prevent them from going into races where they are needed. If the House Majority PAC is spending big bucks on behalf of New Dems Emily Cain in Maine and Dan Maffei in New York-- the way the DCCC is wasting as much as a million dollars of their weak conservative candidate, Pete Aguilar, in California's D+5 Inland Empire district-- they can't use that money to help Democratic candidates in tough races-- let alone expand the field in a Democratic direction by aiding solid Democratic challengers that Israel has ignored, like Paul Clements (MI-06), Kelly Westlund (WI-07), Jason Ritchie (WA-08), Michael Wager (OH-14) and Mike Obermueller (MN-02).

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Don't Be Surprised That The NRCC Is Just As Incompetent And Lame As The DCCC


I don't know why the NRCC is wasting money on TV ads against Lower Manhattan multimillionaire Sean Eldridge in the Hudson Valley. You can watch it above. Eldridge will be lucky if he breaks 40% in November, very lucky. Although the district is blue and Obama won it against McCain in 2008 and against Romney in 2012, Eldridge has run a sappy, messageless campaign that's accomplishing nothing but making a bunch of slimy political consultants richer. The only publicly available polls show mediocre Republican backbencher Chris Gibson absolutely creaming him. In 2012, Julian Schreibman-- the Democratic candidate who had none of the personal wealth Eldridge has been throwing into the race ($1,340,000 from his own bank account at the time of the last FEC deadline in June)-- held Gibson to a 53-47% margin. Eldridge hired DFM Research to poll for him and they reported that Gibson was up 56-29%. And that was after Eldridge had already spent $962,959! Two weeks ago Siena, a non-partisan firm polled the district and didn't find much change. Gibson was leading Eldridge 57-33%. So why bother with the ad-- especially since the Chamber of Commerce and the NRA had already jumped in with, respectively, $650,567 and $28,600 in ads smearing poor (rich) Eldridge?

Not only is the ad unnecessary, it also is ineffective-- fine for a Republican primary but completely idiotic in a district like NY-19, using stale and failed Republican talking points that may help turn out the Fox News/Hate Talk Radio GOP base, but will do nothing-- zip-- to persuade independents, let alone Democrats, to turn against Eldridge. If anything, it will probably excite as many Democrats in his favor and it excites Republicans against him. This is typical clueless NRCC standard operating procedure-- the only reason someone as incompetent as DCCC chairman Steve Israel can walk around DC without being laughed at by busboys and parking attendants.

Yesterday the NRCC released 8 ads like the lame anti-Eldridge ad. Their targets are Ron Barber (Blue Dog-AZ), Nick Rahall (Blue Dog-WV), John Foust (VA), Aaron Woolf (NY), Staci Appel (IA), Gwen Graham (Blue Dog-FL), Emily Cain (New Dem-ME), and, of course, Eldridge. Most of the ads-- each of which can be viewed by clicking on the link under the candidate's name-- are self-referential, patently misleading Republican hogwash: failed talking points that persuade no one. The ads that aren't that just meaningless rote Republican dribble and so negative and vicious-- the ones against Woolf and Appel-- that they'll probably do the Democrats more good than harm.

But, no doubt some advertising consultants made a mint on this multimillion dollar buy. So… in the end that's all it's about for these Beltway sleaze buckets anyway. And, by the way, here's Eldridge's own latest ad. I wonder why someone thought reminding people that he's one of the richest candidates for Congress running anywhere-- by bringing up the role of money in politics-- was a good idea.

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Eric Holder's Legacy


In a USAToday OpEd yesterday, University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds, urged Obama to reach across the aisle for his next Attorney General. He may be a law professor but he's also a deranged crackpot claiming Obama needs to pick a Republican because other crackpots like himself-- particularly in states like Tennessee filled with crackpots-- don't trust Obama because of the GOP-manufactured scandals propagated by Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and other partisan Republican propaganda outlets that apparently are the only sources of Professor Crackpot's vast array of knowledge. He actually cites Darrell Issa's nonsensical fakes scandals, everything from "the IRS's targeting of Tea Party groups, to the Fast and Furious gun-smuggling scandal" and claims Obama is "beset by numerous scandals." Thanks for the garbage dump, USAToday. Another far right kook like Reynolds, also operating on behalf of the GOP, Byron York, was echoing Ted Cruz in demanding to give the obstructionist right-wing nuts veto power over his nomination. Why? Just 'cuz. The racists who control the Republicans in the Senate and House have always been on the warpath against Holder.

When Holder announced he was retiring, we looked at some of what he was able to accomplish even as he had to face the most bitter and vicious, non-stop Republican Party racism any cabinet member has ever had to endure. That's not to imply that Holder is beyond criticism, not by a long shot. He was lacking in so many of the same ways that so many elite Democrats-- like Obama, Clinton, Cuomo, etc-- are lacking. A far more useful OpEd than Reynold's embarrassing derangement was put forward by Joe Nocera in the NY Times yesterday, The Hole In Holder's Legacy.
A few weeks ago, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. gave a speech at the New York University School of Law on the subject of white-collar prosecutions. In it, he offered a full-throated defense of his department’s efforts in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. With his resignation announcement coming eight days later, one can’t help but view his speech as a kind of valedictory.

The Justice Department, he said, had stood vigilant against financial fraud “wherever it is uncovered”-- and prosecuted “criminal conduct to the fullest extent of the law.” He took credit for negotiating huge fines against financial firms, and for forcing several big banks-- Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas-- to accept guilty pleas.

As for the prosecution of individuals involved in the financial crisis, he claimed that the Justice Department had “taken aggressive action, nearly doubling the number of mortgage fraud indictments and criminal convictions between 2009 and 2010, then increasing them even further the following year.”

Actually, Holder’s Justice Department has been notoriously laggard in prosecuting crimes that stemmed from the financial crisis, and much of what it has done amounts to an exercise in public relations.

Take, for instance, those guilty pleas extracted from Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas. Last March, Holder said that he feared that prosecuting large financial institutions could hurt the economy. This became known as his “too big to jail” remark-- which he quickly disavowed. No wonder he was eager to have some firms plead guilty! Yet, as Peter Henning notes in a New York Times DealBook article, the Justice Department made sure those guilty pleas didn’t inflict too much pain. In the case of BNP Paribas, prosecutors secured agreements from state banking regulators that they wouldn’t pull the bank’s license to do business.

Or take the claim that the Justice Department has been rigorously rooting out mortgage fraud. In fact, after a grand announcement that the department was putting together a mortgage fraud task force, U.S. attorneys around the country began aiming their fire at easy prey: small-time mortgage brokers, or homeowners who had lied on “liar loans.” None of the top executives from any of the major firms were indicted. Indeed, according to an article in the New York Times Magazine in May, only one executive of any kind-- a mid-level executive with Credit Suisse — has gone to prison as a result of his actions during the financial crisis. The notion that he’s the only one who committed a crime in the mortgage-crazed run-up to the financial crisis is, quite simply, implausible.

As for those big fines against Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, not only did they come very late, but their terms were such that it was impossible to know for sure the extent of their wrongdoing. And, of course, despite fines that went into the billions, no actual human was prosecuted for any wrongdoing.

…Holder’s legacy is a mixed bag. As The Times’s Matt Apuzzo wrote last week, he “succeeded in reducing lengthy prison sentences, opened civil rights investigations against police departments in record numbers and challenged identification requirements for voters.” On the negative side, he subpoenaed journalists and went after their sources.

No matter how he tries to spin it, Holder’s inability-- or unwillingness-- to prosecute financial crimes is on the negative side of the ledger.
David Dayen, covering the same territory for The Guardian goes straight to the point that refusing to send banksters to prison for their dangerous criminal behavior equates to an outrageous dearth of justice-- as Holder prepares to go back into business defending corporate clients at Covington & Burling, whose clients include mega-banks like JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Bank of America. Bad enough, but Dayen felt there is worse to look at in evaluating Holder's performance as Attorney General, when it came to the criminal frauds perpetrated on homeowners by the banksters. That got off way, way too easy.
A recent series of securities fraud settlements with JP Morgan, Bank of America and Citigroup, which DoJ said cost the banks $36.65bn, actually cost them about $11.5bn. And shareholders, not executives, truly bear that cost.

Incidentally, the Wall Street Journal found last week that the Justice Department only collects around 25% of the fines they impose. So the banks may have gotten off even easier.

These settlements have actually perverted the notion of justice, turning accountability into a public relations vehicle. And Holder’s Justice Department has been guilty of cooking the books: they admitted last August to overstating the number of criminal financial fraud charges by over 80%.

The DoJ’s Inspector General criticized this in a March report, and also found that DoJ de-prioritized mortgage fraud, making it the “lowest-ranked criminal threat” from 2009-2011.

As for homeowners, the biggest victims of Wall Street misconduct, they received little relief. Victims who already lost their homes got checks in the National Mortgage Settlement for between $1,500-$2,000, compensating people wrongly foreclosed upon with barely enough money for two month’s rent.

Despite claims that 1m borrowers still in their homes would get principal reductions under the settlement, when the final numbers came in this March, just 83,000 families received such a benefit, an under-delivery of over 90%.

Considering that over five million families experienced foreclosures since the end of the crisis, that relief is a drop in the bucket.

…The decision to protect banks instead of homeowners should be laid at the feet of the president and his administration, not one man in the Justice Department. But Holder certainly carried out the policy, even if he didn’t devise it.

We’ll soon find out if Holder merely presided over DoJ in a pause between helping corporate clients at Covington & Burling. But the failure to prosecute during his time in office certainly makes it look like Holder’s sympathies were with those clients even while serving as attorney general.
Economist Dean Baker was even harder on Holder than Dave Dayen and he asked a simple question, why isn't Robert Rubin behind bars? "We can never know," he concludes, "[if] this pattern of prosecution would have nailed big fish like Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein or Citigroup’s Robert Rubin. We do know that Holder never even tried. As a result the Wall Streeters who profited most from illegal acts in the bubble years got to keep their haul. This is the message that bankers will take away going forward. This virtually guarantees ongoing corruption in finance." And you still wonder why so many voters sneer when naive partisans tell them about the great difference between the two political parties? The "us" and "them" is less about Democrats and Republicans and more about issues that don't come neatly wrapped in red or blue t-shirts.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

David Cameron's Conservative Party Is Drip, Drip, Dripping Away


Historically, mainstream conservative parties always devolve into fascism

John Boehner is always crying how hard it is for him to control the teabaggers and libertarians inside his own caucus. David Cameron knows just what he means-- in spades. As we mentioned in the last few weeks, two prominent Members of Parliament, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, quit his party, blamed him and joined the racist and fascist-oriented UKIP, which seeks to replace the Conservatives as the British party of the right.

Here we are, right in the middle of the big Conservative Party conference that kicks off their election campaign, and Cameron just lost another big-name Conservative to the fascists. Former London Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes slammed Cameron and his party on the way out. He said he was leaving because Cameron was basically full of shit when it comes to EU renegotiations. He added that be is going with the fascists because the 3 respectable parties don't "speak the language of normal people."
Amid fears among Tory whips that the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, is planning to disrupt David Cameron’s speech on Wednesday with further defections, [London Mayor Boris] Johnson moved to lower the temperature. In a speech to a rally organised by the ConservativeHome website, the London mayor mocked the “quitters, splitters and kippers” who have defected to Ukip as he extended a 20-year-old invitation to Farage to join the Tories.

Barnes, a member of the London assembly between 2000 and 2012, ignored his former boss as he announced his decision in an interview with the London Evening Standard. He said: “There seems to be a detachment from ordinary people’s lives in the Westminster village. The parties just don’t seem to relate and talk the language of normal people.”

The former deputy mayor, who wants Britain to leave the EU, dismissed the prime minister’s renegotiation plans. He told the Standard: “Do we really believe they can create a new settlement by 2017, with the agreement of all the member states? It’s just unrealistic. There has to be more clarity and it’s not there at the moment.

“Our borders are massively porous. Immigration is a good idea, but it has to bring a benefit to our economic, social and cultural life. It cannot be to take advantage of the NHS or to exploit the benefits system. At the moment it’s a mess. We don’t count people in, or count them out. That would be a good place to start.”

Barnes, who is gay, says he is unworried by claims that Ukip is a homophobic party after a former Tory councillor and Ukip member blamed the floods this year on the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Barnes said: “I’ll stand my ground against any prat. They are in all the parties. I don’t think they become homophobic the moment they join Ukip.”

The former deputy mayor faced embarrassment last year when intimate photographs of him appeared on his Facebook account. Barnes said the account had been hacked. The pictures, believed to have been taken on his iPhone, appeared when changes to iOS settings eased the uploading of photos from Apples devices to Facebook.

In his speech at the ConservativeHome rally on Monday, Johnson joked that Ukip members were the sort of people who could damage themselves with a vacuum cleaner. “I have read that there are some people, probably the type who think of defecting to Ukip, who present themselves at A&E with barely credible injuries sustained in the course of vacuum cleaner abuse,” he said.

Johnson mentioned vacuum cleaners amid reports that the European commission intends to impose restrictions on the devices. “I am perfectly willing to concede that if you do not handle your vacuum cleaner correctly you may end up accidentally inhaling the hamster, the budgerigar through the bars of the cage.”

Ye typical Conservative Member of Parliament

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Urban Gadabout:The schedule for OHNY Weekend (Oct. 11-12) is out today, and registration begins tomorrow!


"Overview" from the Open House New York website: "For two days every October, OHNY Weekend unlocks the doors to New York’s most important buildings, offering an extraordinary opportunity to experience the city and meet the people who design, build, and preserve New York. From historic to contemporary, residential to industrial, hundreds of sites across the five boroughs are open to visit, with tours, talks, performances and other special events taking place over the course of the Weekend. Through the unparalleled access that it enables, OHNY Weekend deepens our understanding of the importance of architecture and urban design to foster a more vibrant civic life and helps catalyze a citywide conversation about how to build a better New York."

by Ken

I think I did post the crucial dates: schedule for Open House New York 2014 available to the general public on September 30, with registration for events that require registration (lots don't, but lots do) starting the next day, October 1, at 11am. I suppose I should have provided a reminder as those dates approached. Well, here's a reminder.

The full schedule for what I think can safely be called the most exciting weekend in the annual New York City calendar is now posted online, and New Yorkers can pick up copies at designated locales, in preparation for tomorrow's craziness. Rest assured that even once the most sought-after events are booked up, there will still be roughly a zillion options open for those two days, Saturday and Sunday, October 11-12. Note that this year for the first time there are evening programs both days: tours of the lighting systems of storied structures around the city (all requiring advance registration).

Here's what OHNY sent out this morning to the mailing list:

Today is the big day! As of this morning, the Event Guide for the 12th Annual OHNY Weekend is officially available to the public. Click here to download a digital copy right now via We Transfer; stop by one of our distribution hubs around the city to pick up a printed guide; or get a copy of this week's issue of Time Out New York where the Event Guide is a special insert. 


Listings for the hundreds of sites and tours offered during this year's OHNY Weekend are now live at Web listings include full site descriptions, as well as all of the vital info for sites and tours, like dates and open hours for Open Access Sites, and times for Advanced Reservation tours. Read below for information on Advance Reservations, which begin at 11 am on Wednesday, Oct 1.
As an OHNY member I had a peek at at least part of the schedule; even we members, though, didn't get to see schedule information for the events that require advance registration, which made it kind of hard to "plan." For help in sorting through the truly mind-blowing range of options, you can view the list applying all sorts of filters -- for borough, kinds of events, etc., etc., etc. None of them happen to correspond to my interests, and so this morning I started plowing through the alphabetical list, and when I came up for air I was still in the "F"s.

Frankly, as of the time of writing, I still haven't figured out my "strategy" for tomorrow. So far I've encountered an alarming number of events that sound terrific, and get us into places that aren't likely to be publicly accessible most of the year, but (luckily, perhaps!) I don't think I've stumbled across any of the kind that make me think, "If I can't do that, I'll die."

So don't panic. If you want to just take your time working your way through the materials, there will still be all sorts of fascinating things you can see, many of them presented by people who played or play a crucial role in their creation or operation. See you on October 11!

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Did The Democrats Learn Anything From The Alex Sink Disaster In Florida?


Alex Sink may have been a mediocre candidate but Republican David Jolly wasn't any better. And Sink had the advantage of running in a blue-leaning district that Obama won against McCain in 2008 and against Romney in 2012… and that Bill Nelson won against Connie Mack in the 2012 Senate race. On top of that, Sink spent way more money-- $3,195,638 to his $1,616,137. Outside allies spent heavily on both sides-- the DCCC put in $2,234,959, the biggest single outside expenditure of the campaign, Pelosi's House Majority PAC put in another $988,769, and EMILY's List spent $177,869. The money did not go to an effective field operation but to broadcast TV and mailings that generate big kickbacks for favored insiders who became wealthier as Sink sunk beneath the waves.

Steve Israel and his thoroughly corrupted and entirely ineffective and mismanaged DCCC is genetically incapable of learning from it's mistakes, only repeating them endlessly. Nothing will change there until Israel is kicked out and new leadership takes over. But the DSCC, for all its flaws, is a much better organization and, in fact, is working hard to make sure the Republicans don't swamp their candidates with better field operations the way the GOP did to Sink in FL-13. This morning Derek Willis looked into this cycle's Democratic field operations for the NY Times. Fear, he asserts, is driving the DSCC to invest heavily in Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina.
[T]he spending trends are clear. The Democrats’ spending advantage is greatest in states where they’ve had time to organize and plan for competitive races, and they are using that edge to register new voters; publicize absentee and early voting options; and, of course, make sure supporters actually go to the polls on Election Day. The efforts extend to states where the Republicans more recently made Senate contests more competitive, like Michigan.

Democrats have invested several million dollars in both North Carolina and Colorado for this ground game. Republican spending in those states so far has tended to focus on broadcast advertisements and direct mail.

That edge extends to Alaska, where the Democratic incumbent Mark Begich faces Dan Sullivan. Combined, Democratic independent groups, party committees and Mr. Begich’s campaign have already spent nearly 10 times more than Republicans on wages and expenses for local staffers; get-out-the-vote efforts; and other field operations.

The state Democratic Party alone has spent at least $763,687 on voter turnout and staffing this year, which amounts to $1.45 for every citizen over 18 in the state. By comparison, the more than $1 million the Wake County Democratic Party has spent on voter turnout and staffing in North Carolina this year works out to 15 cents for every potential voter.

In Iowa, the state Democratic Party has spent more than $872,000 in ground operations, part of a substantial advantage that Democrats have over Republicans in that state. The party has paid the salaries of at least 148 people in the current election cycle, according to data through the end of August. The Republican Party of Iowa had 11 people on its federal campaign payroll in August.

...Outside groups working on behalf of Democratic candidates have extended the advantage. Super PACs, environmental organizations and abortion rights groups have spent more than $4.8 million on ground activity in Senate races in Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina. Republican-leaning groups have kicked in only $369,000.

The amount spent to help G.O.P. candidates doesn’t include field work by Americans for Prosperity and other political nonprofits that do not have to report their spending. Americans for Prosperity does report some of its broadcast advertisements, but Federal Election Commission rules do not require disclosure of ground operations or direct mail. Although much of its spending represents broadcast ads, it also has more than doubled its field staff compared with the 2010 elections. Even if it decided to spend several million dollars in a race, it could not coordinate its work with a party or campaign (the same rule applies to super PACs). A spokesman for Americans for Prosperity did not respond to a request for comment.

EMILY's List principals and revolving door DCCC employees were raking off big bucks from Alex Sink's campaign for themselves while GOP allies concentrated on a successful ground game. The DSCC has no intention of following Steve Israel's horribly run DCCC down that rabbit hole in November.

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Warning To Democratic Candidates: The GOP Is Doctoring Your Wikipedia Pages


You can contribute to Mike Olbermueller's campaign here

America Rising LLC-funded America Rising PAC, a right-wing front group for the Republican Party, is pretty much acknowledged to be one of the shadiest political operations in the country, the bottom of the barrel for the anti-American right. The cover up their donors-- although the Koch brothers are known to be funneling huge sums into their operations-- but cross referencing contributions from some GOP groups show that they are being partially financed by the House Republicans' Young Guns, the NRCC, the NRSC, Karl Rove's Crossroads organizations, Citizens United, and American Action Network. They may be true believers, but they're peddling their malevolent crap and vicious, misleading attacks for profit. Their primary goal in life-- after making a profit for themselves-- is smearing Hillary Clinton and raising doubts about her in the minds of easily-influenced middle-of-the-roaders.
Founded by former Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades, and former Republican National Committee operatives [Tim] Miller and Joe Pounder, America Rising LLC doesn’t report its earnings to the Federal Election Commission. But many of its clients, including campaigns and third party groups, do disclose payments to America Rising, prompting the group to open its own books this week before a key filing deadline. The $1.3 million sum only includes earnings from political groups that report to the FEC, including American Crossroads, American Action Network, Young Guns, Citizens United, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. It does not include the firm’s corporate and individual clients; that information is not publicly available.

…“America Rising PAC has been successful at raising the funds necessary to run a robust earned media communications effort that has been leading the way in taking on Hillary Clinton ahead of her potential presidential bid,” Miller added in the Time statement. “We plan to significantly expand the groups digital footprint in the coming months targeting both Hillary and Democrats facing tough midterm elections in 2014.”
Much of their vitriol-for-pay is hilariously ineffective and banal-- like this silly, knee-jerk attack on Mike Obermueller no doubt inspired by polling numbers that show Obermueller ready to beat right-wing douche bag John Kline-- but their real goal is too please the partisan fanatics who write them checks… so why should they care that they look like fools?

Much of what they do isn't all that apparent. They're a sneaky, shady bunch and BuzzFeed caught them doctoring Democratic politicians' wikipedia pages. Technically, they're not breaking any rules because they are transparent if you know exactly what you're looking for and have endless time to search around on wikipedia back pages. So they make negative changes pushing their right-wing clients' agendas and talking points and then buried on linked pages is a disclaimer admitting a "possible conflict of interest."

This is the America Rising user contribution page that lists the sleazy little trick they're playing, a trick that will make wikipedia useless for people trying to use Wikipedia for serious research. Who saw Kenneth Anger's classic 28 minute film Scorpio Rising? Not you? Here's your chance. You're welcome.

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Who Will Control The Senate? Will It Be Destructive Conservatives Working For The One Percent?


Always the fount of Beltway conventional wisdom, the Washington Post's Fix headline parroted exactly the messaging the DSCC and NRCC want to push: These five races will decide control of the Senate. And the conventional wisdom hive-mind comes up with… Alaska (Begich vs Sullivan), Colorado (Udall vs Gardner), Iowa (Braley vs Ernst), North Carolina (Hagan vs Tillis) and Kansas (Roberts vs Orman). Like most of the Post's election coverage-- other than Greg Sargent's worthwhile insights-- its another droll, worthless horserace regurgitation.

Progressives, like the people who read DWT for the most part, aren't victims of Beltway manipulation. We stand up to it. There are good reasons none of the DSCC priorities are on that page linked in the last sentence. Progressives are seeking a better Senate, not one crippled by conservative Democrats too scared about losing their seats in red states in 6 years to push forward a progressive vision for America's problems. Yes, we want to see the Democrats in control of the Senate, but we want to see progressives in the Senate, not conservatives and not weak hacks with no core values. Politicians' careerism is not a factor.

If Shenna Bellows and Rick Weiland win, respectively, in Maine and South Dakota, it won't just mean that Democrats retain control of the Senate, it means there will be two more strong, independent-minded progressives standing with Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown, Tammy Baldwin, Al Franken, Ed Markey, Mazie Hirono, Chris Murphy, Barbara Boxer and Brian Schatz, seeking not narrow partisan gain but actual solutions to the problems working families would like to see addressed from a perspective other than the ones being pushed by fat cats and their well-paid lobbyists.

The Beltway conventional-wisdomists-- and their lame media mouthpieces-- wrote off both states before the election season even began. Susan Collins was "unbeatable" and South Dakota is deep red. Wrong and wrong. The newest polling again shows Shenna gaining on Collins despite the DSCC refusing to stop wasting all their money and desperate efforts on their pet conservative candidates in lost causes Georgia and Kentucky. In the last 6 weeks, Collins' has dropped another 13%. The more Mainers see how Collins has swung right since Olympia Snowe retired, the more they're turning away from her. That's why the DSCC should be spending some of those millions they're wasting in Kentucky and Georgia up in Maine.

And they should tell Harry Reid to get over his childish rivalry with Tom Daschle and get behind Rick Weiland, their best chance to hold the Senate. Yesterday, Beltway imbeciles were quoting one of the most ridiculous and wrong-headed polling firms in the country, Nielson Brothers (not related to Nielson the ratings firm), to make the spurious claim that Republican Larry Pressler is the best vehicle to beat Mike Rounds. Yes… silly season.

One thing is certain in South Dakota-- most voters neither like nor trust Mike Rounds-- and for good reason. And the more South Dakotans hear about Rounds' EB-5 visa selling scandal, the more upset they get that this crook might end up as their senator. Blue America is working on turning the song below into an effect broadcast ad. If you want to help us run it, please contribute here. If you want to help Rick and Shenna directly… that's what this page is for.

UPDATE: Harry Reid Must Be Insane

Here at DWT we've been writing about how Reid is throwing away South Dakota's Senate seta because of his childish pique at Tom Daschle. No one else has covered it… until this morning. Bob Cusack and Jessica Taylor at The Hill have finally acknowledged the damage Reid is doing to the Democrats' chances to hold the Senate.
Daschle is expressing frustration with the Senate majority leader (D-Nev.) for refusing to endorse Rick Weiland, a former Daschle aide who is running for the South Dakota seat held by retiring Sen. Tim Johnson (D).

  Reid last year declared Weiland was “not my choice” in the race, and this summer added, “We are going to lose in South Dakota, more than likely.”

Asked if those comments hurt Weiland’s chances, Daschle told The Hill, “Well, it certainly hasn’t helped.”

Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid, fired back on Monday: “It’s sad that Sen. Daschle is working against Senate Democrats’ interests rather than working to preserve the Democratic majority that Sen. Reid restored.”

The dispute between Reid, who succeeded Daschle as the Senate’s top Democrat, is highly unusual. It is also rare for a Democratic leader to withhold support for a Democratic nominee in a Senate race.

Daschle said he urged Reid to back Weiland a few months ago. Pressed on the details of that conversation and why Reid hasn’t endorsed, Daschle responded: “You’ll have to talk to Sen. Reid. I don’t want to be critical. Harry Reid has a job to do and he’s made decisions that he thinks are the correct ones and I’m not going to second-guess him. I hold a different point of view.”

Democratic campaign officials last year tried to convince former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) to run in South Dakota, but she opted against it.

Former South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf admitted that the “relationship between the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] and Rick Weiland didn’t start off strong,” but said that might have been designed to keep the door open for Herseth Sandlin to change her mind.

“That upset them when Weiland jumped in and messed with their timetable,” said Nesselhuf, who is now managing the congressional race for Democrat Jim Mowrer against Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

…In an email on Monday, a DSCC official stated in an email, “The DSCC has endorsed Rick. Rick attended the DSCC’s big retreat on Martha’s Vineyard earlier this year. The DSCC has also conducted polling on Rick’s behalf.”

It’s unclear, however, when the DSCC endorsed Weiland and whether it was publicly announced.

Asked if the DSCC should spend money in South Dakota, Daschle said that’s a “judgment [DSCC] has to make. I think it’s going to prove a very good investment.”

…Lincoln County Democratic Party Chairman Ryan Casey, who led the unsuccessful “Draft Brendan Johnson” movement to recruit the retiring senator’s son into the race, was brushed back by national Democrats who wanted the Blue Dog Herseth Sandlin to run.

“It’s understandable why the national Democratic Party needs to pick their horses to run with, but on the other hand, they sit in their ivory tower in Washington, D.C., and they don’t always appreciate the sentiment of active Democrats in the state and what they believe and want in candidates to represent them.”

“In my opinion,” said Casey, “it’s been frankly an unprofessional approach-- and kind of pouting, for lack of a better word.”
If the jackass in the picture up top looks like Harry Reid, it was meant to. The best part of this feud for South Dakota voters, though, is that if Weiland does win, he will be 100% free of any Reid influence ever.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Regulatory Capture-- A Story Of Democratic Dysfunction In The Face Of Increasingly Unfettered Capitalism


This is far more true today than it was in 1902

Last week's most important story wasn't that mini-states Belgium, the U.K. and Denmark are joining in the bombing of airforceless ISIL-- or even the birth of Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky. The biggest news was broken by Ira Glass on NPR's This American Life. That one and change long YouTube at the bottom is the entire show but I suspect NPR will persuade Google to take it down so… if they do, you can listen to it here too and you can read the transcript here. And remember as you listen to one outrage after another, the Fed refused to speak on the record except to send a short comment saying that begins with "The New York Fed categorically rejects the allegations being made about the integrity of its supervision of financial institutions."

The story is about a Fed whistleblower, attorney Carmen Segarra-- and impressive compliance officer with degrees from Harvard, Cornell and Columbia-- who secretly recorded 46 hours of interaction between crooks at Goldman Sachs and the regulators who systematically are programmed to let them get away with it. Her goal was to expose the sickening deference by Fed regulators to the banksters that were supposed to be overseeing. A report the Fed commissioned in 2009 had already shown that there were a whole rang of alarming problems that had to be dealt with and weren't being addressed. In Glass' words, "what they found were a whole range of problems, all of them distressing to read about. They found deference to the banks, they found an unwillingness to take action, extreme passivity, and they found what experts call 'regulatory capture.' Regulatory capture is when a regulator gets too cozy with the company he’s supposed to be monitoring. He’s a watchdog who licks the face of an intruder, and plays catch with the intruder, instead of barking at him." The report shows how ineffective the Fed had become "And," says Glass, "one of his recommendations was to hire a new kind of employee: outspoken, unafraid, somebody who would not get captured" (i.e., Carmen Segarra). Her recordings, asserts Glass "raise serious questions about whether the Fed has changed enough since 2008 to protect us from another financial disaster."

Segarra's stint at Goldman for the Fed started with a comment from a Goldman exec saying that "once clients were wealthy enough, certain consumer laws don't apply to them," which Goldman denies was said and then claims the exec didn't really mean it. Early into the job the top Fed regulator at Goldman, a captured whore for the bank named Mike Silva, warned her that if she made waves, she'd be "frozen out" of the Fed. He also told her everything between the Fed and Goldman depended on perception rather than reality. She was stunned. Keep in mind that "employees of the Fed do go to work for banks. A quick Internet search reveals at least seven former Fed bank examiners who now work at Goldman. They include the colleague who, according to Carmen, asked her to change her meeting notes."
Carmen says she was so shaken by these incidents-- someone telling her she didn’t hear something she knew she heard, another colleague asking to alter minutes that Carmen believed were accurate, and then the Fed’s top guy at Goldman telling her that perceptions are more important than reality-- she says it was like reality itself was being questioned at the Fed. She realized she wanted a clear record of what was really happening in case there were ever any disputes about it. So she went to the Spy Store, bought a tiny audio recorder, put it on her keychain, and started switching it on secretly at important meetings.

…Segarra: "[T]hey were all sort of afraid of Goldman and I think they were a little bit confused as to who they were working for. What I was sort of seeing and experiencing was this level of deference to the banks. This level of fear. And just not really showing a lot of interest in putting two and two together."

According to Beim’s report, this culture of fear paralyzed the Fed in the years leading up to the financial crisis and prevented it from taking action. It’s not that the Fed regulators didn’t notice the problems accumulating in the financial system that eventually brought it down.

David Beim: "So I could just read the fear of speaking up list of quotations. And it goes like this: 'Don’t want to be too far outside from where management is thinking. The organization does not encourage thinking outside the box. After you get shot down a couple of times, you tend not to go there anymore. Until I know what my boss thinks, I don’t want to tell you.'"
Silva eventually summarily fired Segarra for forcing the Fed to confront the very inconvenient reality that Goldman, on of the most conflicted "legalistic" criminal enterprises in history had no conflict of interest policy. Silva-- the literal definition of regulatory capture, left not long afterwards and went to work for GE Capital. Segarra is suing the Fed and Silva for wrongful termination. Writing for Fortune Shawn Tully reported that Segarra says her spineless bosses at the New York Federal Reserve stymied her efforts to reform what she regarded as the storied institution’s rampant conflicts of interest and that is why she was fired. Those spineless bosses are still saying they "categorically reject the allegations being made about the integrity of its supervision of financial institutions."

I wonder if the Fed regulators would work better if they were incentivized with a percentage of the fines they got out of the criminal banksters. Or firing squads.

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Any wonder our spooks can't get all that intelligence stuff right? They're mainlining, er, Buttfucks coffee


Paulie (Tony Sirico) undergoes culture shock -- okay, he goes kind of nuts (there's much worse to come than we see in this clip) -- as he accompanies Pussy ("I'm fuckin' Rockford over here"), under orders from Tony, tracking down the year-old Saturn belonging to AJ Soprano's science teacher Mr. Miller (stolen from the school parking lot), having turned up a lead that one of the malefactors was wearing a uniform from, you know, Buttfucks, in "46 Long," the epic Episode 2 (written by David Chase) of The Sopranos.

"I have no idea what they do. I just know they need coffee, a lot of it."
-- a (security-cleared) barista at the coffee dispensary
inside a major U.S. security agency

by Ken

Washington Post newsfolk are of course known for their fearlessness and forthrightness, which perhaps explains why political reporter Emily Wax-Thibodeaux is so bold as to refer to a coffee franchise ensconced in the headquarters of a certain well-known American spy agency as "the BYK [rhymes with the actual name, withheld by me for reasons of national-security] Buttfucks [name withheld by me for reasons of corporate-coffee-schlepper security]." I feel more comfortable referring to it as, perhaps, Emily tells us the store receipts do: "Store Number 1."

Time was when, er, Buttfucks refused to allow its name or corporate trademarks to be used by some crazy new HBO show that wanted to stage several scenes in, er, Buttfucks stores, as noted in the caption above, and the writers found the inspired work-around of having the place referred to as, er, Buttfucks.

Now it turns out that one of the biggest-volume, er, Buttfucks stores services -- under conditions of extreme security, the heavily caffeinating ladies and germs of the, er, BYK. There are so many unutterably delicious deatils in Emily's account that I think we need to turn the proceedings over to her.
At CIA Starbucks, even the baristas are covert

By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
Washington Post reporter

The new supervisor thought his idea was innocent enough. He wanted the baristas to write the names of customers on their cups to speed up lines and ease confusion, just like other Starbucks do around the world.

But these aren’t just any customers. They are regulars at the CIA Starbucks.

“They could use the alias ‘Polly-O string cheese’ for all I care,” said a food services supervisor at the Central Intelligence Agency, asking that his identity remain unpublished for security reasons. “But giving any name at all was making people — you know, the undercover agents — feel very uncomfortable. It just didn’t work for this location.”

This purveyor of skinny lattes and double cappuccinos is deep inside the agency’s forested Langley, Va., compound.

Welcome to the “Stealthy Starbucks,” as a few officers affectionately call it.

Or “Store Number 1,” as the receipts cryptically say.

The baristas go through rigorous interviews and background checks and need to be escorted by agency “minders” to leave their work area. There are no frequent-customer award cards, because officials fear the data stored on the cards could be mined by marketers and fall into the wrong hands, outing secret agents.

It is one of the busiest Starbucks in the country, with a captive caffeine-craving audience of thousands of analysts and agents, economists and engineers, geographers and cartographers working on gathering intelligence and launching covert operations inside some of the most vexing and violent places around the world.

One female agent said she occasionally runs into old high school and college friends in line at Starbucks. Until then, they didn’t know they worked together. Such surprise reunions are not uncommon. Working at the agency is not something you e-mail or write Facebook posts about, she said.

Normally, during the day, the bestsellers are the vanilla latte and the lemon pound­cake. But for officers working into the night, whether because of a crisis or they are dealing with someone in a different time zone, double espressos and sugary Frappuccinos are especially popular.

“Coffee culture is just huge in the military, and many in the CIA come from that culture ,” said Vince Houghton, an intelligence expert and curator at the International Spy Museum. “Urban myth says the CIA Starbucks is the busiest in the world, and to me that makes perfect sense. This is a population who have to be alert and spend hours poring through documents. If they miss a word, people can die.”

The nine baristas who work here are frequently briefed about security risks.

“We say if someone is really interested in where they work and asks too many questions, then they need to tell us,” the supervisor said.

A female barista who commutes from the District before sunrise said she initially applied to work for a catering company that services federal buildings in the region, not knowing where she might be assigned. She said she underwent extensive vetting “that was more than just a credit check.”

The 27-year-old woman was offered a job and told that she would be working in food services in Langley. On her first morning of work, she recalled, she put a location in her GPS and nothing came up. So she called the person who had hired her and got an explanation of the address. “Before I knew it, I realized I was now working for the Starbucks at the CIA,” she said.

Unfortunately, she can’t boast about where she works at parties. “The most I can say to friends is that I work in a federal building,” she said.

She said she has come to recognize people’s faces and their drinks. “There’s caramel-macchiato guy” and “the iced white mocha woman,” she said.

“But I have no idea what they do,” she added, fastening her green Starbucks apron and adjusting her matching cap. “I just know they need coffee, a lot of it.”
Of course if those hard-working souls of the, er, BYK wanted some drinkable coffee, they would run some sort of black op to replace the, er, Buttfucks outlet with, say, a Dunkin' Donuts.


Changing Our Dumb Discourse And Ending Austerity


by Alice Marshall

I want to thank the entire DownWithTyranny community for the terrific work you do supporting progressive candidates for office. As we all know to our cost, it is very difficult for progressive candidates to raise sufficient funds to be competitive. The DownWithTyranny community not only raises funds, but through its Blue America page, and this blog, offers them visibility. It is easier to raise funds if there is evidence of online support, which brings me to the subject of this post.

We are all acutely aware of how embarrassing our public discourse has become. By the time campaign season begins the parameters of permissible debate, as defined by the Very Serious People are narrow and the best policy options are deemed controversial,  not  serious, and off the table. If we are to reclaim our national discourse, this needs to change.

In particular the debate over the federal budget is completely bogus. We are forever told that we are in danger of going broke. Somehow there is always money for bail outs, quantitative easing, more surveillance, another war, but no money for goods and services that people actually want. Joe Firestone, lambert strether, and I, propose are putting together an economics talk show that will explain what real fiscal responsibility looks like.

Deficit fear mongers are like the medieval doctors who thought that bleeding a patient would let out impurities and make them better. Bleeding the economy by reducing the federal deficit has only made things worse. The 1998-2001 budget surplus was the longest surplus since the 1927-1930 surplus. It is not a coincidence that our two worst economic collapses came in the aftermath of budget surpluses.

We propose an economics talk show that will examine the world from the point of view of Modern Monetary. Modern Monetary Theory is a school of economics asserting that:
The currency itself is a simple public monopoly;

Governments provision themselves by creating taxes that cause people to sell real goods and services toget the funds they need to pay their taxes and then by purchasing the goods and services they desire with their otherwise worthless currencies;

Since the economy needs the government’s money to pay its taxes, the value of the currency depends on the prices government. pays when it spends;

For a given size of government, unemployment is the evidence that the government is either overtaxing the economy, or spending too little to compensate for any residual desire to save;

Governments with fiat currencies create money at will when they spend, and destroy money when taxes are paid, further indicating that taxes function to regulate the economy, and not to collect revenue per se;

The currency is a governmental tool that in a democracy is created and maintained to promote public purpose, and to provide for the general welfare.
From an MMT point of view, the entire debate about the federal budget and finance is predicated upon a series of false beliefs, the greatest fallacy being the idea that some purpose would be served by a balanced budget.

We propose a talk show that would expose the lies of austerity week by week, story by story, so that ordinary people would understand that all the current suffering is completely unnecessary and how to remedy our situation. Please help us, please help make Real Fiscal Responsibility Today a reality.

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Frequent Flyer Miles… Alan Grayson To The Rescue?


Few people know that Congressman Alan Grayson clerked for both Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, respectively the most right-wing and the most progressive justices on the current Supreme Court. We first started to get to know Grayson when he began a primary campaign against Charlie Stuart, a Chamber of Commerce type good ole boy conservative Democrat for the Orlando congressional seat held by Republican Rik Keller. Blue America endorsed Grayson, who was running as an anti-war candidate, but didn't win the primary that time, beaten by the Establishment; and immediately started preparing to run in 2008. He was the top Blue America candidate in that winning race, again running on a principled peace platform and on his record of holding war profiteers accountable-- and to this day he's the candidate our donors have given the most to. We're backing him again this year and encouraging him to run for higher office in the future as well.

We're raised well into the six figures for Grayson. In Republican circles donors get all sorts of special favors for that-- primarily special interest legislation, earmarks in bills (although Republicans stopped calling it that a few years ago) and even the ability to write their own pet projects into federal bills. Democrats who raise that kind of money get favors too-- like sleep-overs in the Lincoln bedroom or, to be completely honest, the same type of shady, slimy business the Republicans are up to. But that isn't what we get from Grayson. I can call him up for travel advise. Grayson's been to every country in the world-- and Antarctica. When Roland and I went to Mali, we didn't ask him where to stay in Bamako, the capital city, or Timbuktu, the biggest tourist draw-- you can find those on dozens of online travel sites-- but Grayson was able to tell us where to stay in off the beaten track towns like Bangiagara and Sangha, where few tourists ever venture.

Grayson, a Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is the most well-traveled Member of Congress. He serves on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and on the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. He's racked up something like ten million frequent flyer miles. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that he's paid attention to some of the shenanigans perpetrated by the airlines who systematically mislead consumers-- Delta is the worst-- and misrepresent their offerings to the public. This year Grayson is introducing legislation to regulate the programs and keep the airlines from cheating the flying public. A crafty spokesperson for the airline industry trade organization claims that "Carriers are completely transparent regarding loyalty programs both on their websites and in direct communication with their customers." Do you know any travelers who would agree?
In the 33 years since American Airlines (AAL) launched the mileage craze with its AAdvantage program, frequent-flyer miles have become a critical revenue source for U.S. carriers. The airlines sell billions of dollars worth of miles each year to banks, retailers, and other marketers that use them to entice customers. Today, more miles are earned from credit cards and other loyalty programs than from actual flying. Millions of people who rarely fly are keenly attuned to boosting their mileage balances.

The top frustration of frequent-flyer program members is needing more miles than they expected for an award, followed by sudden rule changes, according to a survey of 1,600 miles collectors earlier this year by, a credit card comparison site.

...Grayson maintains that airline competition kept the programs relatively unchanged for mileage collectors throughout the 1980s and ’90s, with most award travel seats offered at starting rates of 25,000 miles. In recent years, especially as airlines have gone bankrupt and restructured, the carriers’ push for profitability has made the programs far less generous to consumers than they once were.

Irate members of Delta Air Lines’ (DAL) SkyMiles program began calling those miles “SkyPesos” several years ago, owing to difficult redemptions and their perceived lack of value. Delta has announced several changes for 2015, including offering more seats at lower mileage levels, to try to make SkyMiles more competitive with the programs at United Airlines (UAL) and American.

Next year, Delta and United will begin considering annual spending in their rewards calculation, not just the distances that travelers cover, so customers who spend more money will get more miles. Awards for most international business- and first-class seats on partners of the Big Three U.S. carriers have also soared within the past year. Those changes and others in recent years have caused many miles collectors to rethink the value of trying to amass miles for free airline travel.

Regardless of how much consumer irritation airline miles generate, the Transportation Department probably lacks a “leverage point” to delve too deeply into new regulations for the programs, says Tim Winship, editor of But he says the department will be able to push airlines to offer more advance notice of program changes that are negative for consumers.

Grayson says many of the recent program changes have been made with little or no warning, which often requires travelers to spend more miles for an award trip. American made such a change on June 1. “Announcing a program change today that takes effect today sticks in the craw of most consumers, and rightfully so,” Winship says. Eric Fraser, a miles collector and Phoenix attorney who specializes in federal regulatory issues, says the department is likely to be most interested in whether airlines properly notify program members of pending changes. “This is an area where the DOT sniffing around could just have an immediate benefit, even if they don’t start to write rules,” Fraser says.

Ideally, Grayson says, the airlines should be forced to give at least one year’s notice of major program changes and to offer at least one seat on every flight available at the lowest mileage level. “If you’re going to have a program like this at all, it’s got to be an honest program,” he says. “Every human being comes with a built-in cheat detector. They know when they’re being cheated; they know when they’re being deceived.”

Still home of the most useless frequent flyer program

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