David Pilling has it right in the Financial Times: “the unstated aim of the TPP is to create a ‘high level’ trade agreement that excludes the world’s second-biggest economy,” while including practically everyone else with Pacific a coastline: Vietnam, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Japan, and more.
Pilling argues that the prospective free-trade union will, in effect, both reverse and replay the story of China’s admission to the World Trade Organization—allowing Beijing to be singled out as an unfair trader on the one hand (thereby slowing its economic ascent) and on the other creating “a block so powerful and attractive that China will feel obliged to mend its errant ways in order to join.” Pilling doesn’t think TPP will achieve its grand objectives, whatever modest benefits it may confer on states like Vietnam (“giving it preferential market access”) and Japan (“through nudging industrial and agricultural reform”).
Actually, the last thing Japan needs is cheap, imported rice—through all the hardships of the past 20 years, the Japanese have remained a healthy and culturally distinct people. Why give that up for the 21st-century equivalent of $24 of wampum? Yet Japan may sacrifice much for the illusion of a multipolar East Asia—for China’s neighbors, strategic considerations are at least as much a motive here as strictly economic ones. The leverage TPP would give Asia’s second-tier powers over China would be minimal in real terms, but to whatever extent it helps them persuade themselves that they aren’t really second tier, it is something deeply to be desired. No doubt there are certain U.S. lobbies that gain something concrete from the agreement, but the opportunity to manipulate perceptions of power in the region is part of Washington’s motivation as well.
It’s an unnecessary as well as futile ploy: quite apart from the dubious economic merits of TPP, it will aggravate the Chinese, encouraging them to lash out with their own symbolic displays of power, while the reality of the East Asian balance is unchanged. China is in the paradoxical position of being vastly more powerful than any of its neighbors, yet being surrounded by so many suspicious states large and small—not only the likes of Vietnam and Japan, but such giants as Russia and India—that it will never enjoy the freedom to throw its weight around that the U.S. enjoys now or that the Soviet Union once wielded in Europe. China is both paramount and constrained; what TPP does is to give Beijing one more reason to resent its condition. That helps drive nationalistic provocations, and TPP will mean more of them.
“Mud,” now making the rounds of movie theaters in a limited release, was a hit at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Rotten Tomatoes says that 98% of 122 film critics have given it a thumbs-up.
Glory be. Who would have thought that a conservative movie could receive such an enthusiastic reception?
Skeptic that I am, I believe that’s because nobody but me realizes it’s a conservative movie. It does not touch on the political, and it doesn’t preach. The focus is kept on culture, and it communicates its politics in a very personal way, letting the script and acting (both excellent) make its points so effectively that the audience is unaware of the larger implications.
“Mud” is a coming-of-age story about two 14-year-old boys, Ellis and Neckbone, growing up in an Arkansas town on the Mississippi River.
Ellis is distraught because his parents are separating and plan on getting a divorce. The boys find refuge from the world on an island in the Mississippi, where they stumble upon a fugitive from the law who calls himself “Mud” (Matthew McConaughey). Mud is madly in love with beautiful Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who is supposed to meet him in their town. Mud’s crime is that he killed the man who impregnated Juniper and who threw her down the stairs to abort the baby. We know nothing else about the circumstances of that fight and why it resulted in the death.
The problem is a lynch mob organized by the victim’s father and other son. They are not legal bounty hunters. They plan to kill Mud in revenge, not bring him back to justice in Texas, where the murder took place. And they have paid off the local police to let them do it. Read More…
Today the IRS official in charge of the exemptions unit where the targeting of conservative groups occurred went before the House Oversight committee, and refused to answer any questions.
The ranking member on the committee Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has called for Lois Lerner’s resignation already, and said during the hearing today that he was ”disappointed” that she pled the fifth.
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) referred to the IRS’s behavior to this point as “stonewalling” that “can’t continue,” and suggested a special prosecutor might be necessary. “There will be hell to pay if that’s the route we choose to go down,” he said.
“I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws,” said Lerner in a brief opening statement. “I have not violated any IRS rules and regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other committee.”
She then declined to answer any questions. When pressed by Chairman Darrell Issa, (R-CA) as to whether there were any more specific areas she would be willing to talk about, the former director repeated, “I will not answer any questions.”
The IRS maintains that the targeting that went on was not political, and claims that interpretation is borne out by the Inspector General’s report. The IRS commissioner at the time, Douglas Schulman, said in his opening statement that the questions for tea party groups “created the appearance” of political targeting, which he said was nonetheless “inappropriate and damaging.”
The two Democratic Reps on the oversight committee aren’t the only ones who have questioned the IRS’s handling of the scandal thus far. On Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Baucus asked “Why wasn’t more definitive action taken?” after the IRS found out the targeting was going on. No one was fired at the time, when commissioner Schulman found out about it in May 2012.
One was reassigned, but today Schulman said, “To the best of my knowledge I was not involved in the reassignments.”
Though conservatives are working hard to tie the scandal to the upper levels of the administration, that link need not exist for the targeting to have been politically motivated. The IRS’s behavior takes place within the context of the president’s criticisms of tax exemptions for right-wing groups, with many Democratic legislators going further calling for them to be investigated.
The White House has had to walk back several claims about who knew what, when. Howard Fineman has more on that.
The hearing is still going on, updates to follow.
Update: Reps Markey and Holmes-Norton pile on. Markey focuses on the IRS asking about the content of the prayers of Christian conservative groups, to which Schulman responded that “sounds inappropriate to me.” Holmes-Norton says it would be “far worse if there were outside influence, outside the IRS.” The IG responds that there is no evidence of that yet.
— GOP Oversight (@GOPoversight) May 22, 2013
Rep Jordan: Schulman visited WH 118 times
— Jordan (@j_arthur_bloom) May 22, 2013
Jordan brings up that 132 different members of Congress contacted Shulman about 501(c)4 status in the time period they’re focused on.
— Jedediah Bila (@JedediahBila) May 22, 2013
IRS IG says they’ve had trouble getting an answer on how and why the agency started targeting tea party groups
— Jon Ward (@jonward11) May 22, 2013
Update: Inspector General J. Russell George says, “We have had some difficulty in terms of getting clarity from some of the IRS employees we’ve interviewed.”
— Kaylin Bugos (@KaylinBugos) May 22, 2013
The Nation looks into the Center for American Progress’s “dark money” and ties to First Solar:
Last year, when First Solar was taking a beating from congressional Republicans and in the press over job layoffs and alleged political cronyism, CAP’s Richard Caperton praised Antelope Valley in his testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, saying it headed up his list of “innovative projects” receiving loan guarantees. Earlier, Caperton and Steve Spinner— a top Obama fundraiser who left his job at the Energy Department monitoring the issuance of loan guarantees and became a CAP senior fellow—had written an article cross-posted on CAP’s website and its Think Progress blog, stating that Antelope Valley represented “the cutting edge of the clean energy economy.”
Though the think tank didn’t disclose it, First Solar belonged to CAP’s Business Alliance, a secret group of corporate donors, according to internal lists obtained by The Nation. Meanwhile, José Villarreal—a consultant at the power- house law and lobbying firm Akin Gump, who “provides strategic counseling on a range of legal and policy issues” for corporations—was on First Solar’s board until April 2012 while also sitting on the board of CAP, where he remains a member, according to the group’s latest tax filing.
Read the whole thing, it’s a great illustration of why the Democratic party’s version of liberalism isn’t remotely opposed to big business. First Solar is an almost perfect case study in how it’s usually not thriving upstart companies that benefit from government favors, it’s flailing, politically-connected ones seeking to preserve their place in the market.
In the fall of 2011, First Solar finalized nearly $4 billion in loan guarantees fromt he Department of Energy, as part of a program enthusiastically endorsed by ThinkProgress and CAP’s other affiliates. They also received a $455.7 million loan guarantee from the Export-Import Bank to build plants in Canada.
As all this was happening, First Solar was beset by a number of threats to its business, mainly the introduction of more efficient Chinese and Canadian solar panels and diminished demand in Europe. In 2010 they had a net income of $664 million, and in 2011, a net loss of $39 million, in part because of a $215 million “manufacturing excursion” involving solar panels that failed at high temperatures. In 2012 it was one of the worst performing members of the S&P 500, despite a major cash infusion from the Walton family—heralded friends of labor and the environment, them—on New Year’s Eve 2011.
First Solar quickly sold three of the largest solar farms for which they received loan guarantees; Antelope Valley, Desert Sunlight, and Topaz Solar. In fact, the day after a $1.46 billion loan guarantee was approved in late September 2011 for Desert Sunlight, it was sold to NextEra Energy. It was dubbed 2011′s North American Solar Deal of the Year.
A GAO audit found that the DOE’s loan guarantee program had significant oversight problems.
The DOE estimates the project CAP’s Richard Caperton praised will create 20 permanent jobs.
Bill McMorris has more on CAP’s “Business Alliance.”
The editors of Antiwar.com have known for some time that the FBI has had an eye on them. Naturally enough, they used the Freedom of Information Act to request bureau’s files on them and their organization—but the FBI hasn’t been forthcoming. Now the ACLU has filed suit to force the bureau to divulge the extent of its snooping on anti-interventionist journalists. As Kelley Vlahos reports: Read More…
The New Yorker‘s George Packer can’t decide what to think about 21st-century America.
On the one hand, Packer likes developments that enhance the lifestyles of the educated upper middle class: “marriage equality, Lipitor, a black President, Google searches, airbags, novelistic TV shows, the opportunity for women to be as singlemindedly driven as their male colleagues, good coffee, safer cities, cleaner air, photographs of the kids on my phone, anti-bullying, Daniel Day Lewis, cheap communications, smoke-free airplanes, wheelchair parking, and I could go on.” On the other hand, he’s sorry that these benefits aren’t more broadly shared. Life is pretty good in brownstone Brooklyn and its spiritual counterparts. But it’s gotten harder and harder in “urban cores like Youngstown, Ohio; rural backwaters like Rockingham County, North Carolina; and the exurban slums outside Tampa…”
So how can this be the best of times for gays, sufferers from cardiovascular disease, African American politicians, TV fans, ambitious women, and so on, but among the worst for the urban poor, agricultural workers, and overleveraged homeowners? Packer can’t quite figure it out:
We usually think of greater inclusiveness as a blow struck for equality. But in our time, the stories of greater social equality and economic inequality are unrelated. The fortunes of middle-class Americans have declined while prospects for many women and minorities have risen. There’s no reason why they couldn’t have improved together—this is what appeared to be happening in the late nineteen-sixties and early seventies. Since then, many women and minorities have done better than in any previous generations, but many others in both groups have seen their lives and communities squeezed by the economic contractions of the past generation.
Although his economic generalizations are accurate, Packer’s remark is historically and politically obtuse. Rather than shedding light on the profound divergence in Americans’ fortunes and expectations over the last few decades, it reflects a spiritual crisis of the BoBo elite, which is unwilling even to contemplate the possibility that its commitments to individual autonomy and expressive consumerism are incompatible with the egalitarianism that it pretends to favor.
This is why a convention was a bad idea.
The Chesapeake bishop who clinched the Virginia GOP’s nomination for lieutenant governor this weekend has a history of crazy, unhinged statements that everyone from Buzzfeed to Bill Bolling have already criticized. Many of them are pretty standard charismatic fare, but there’s some genuinely offensive stuff in there too, like saying liberals “have done more to kill black folks whom they claim so much to love than the Ku Klux Klan, lynching and slavery and Jim Crow ever did.”
Ordinarily there’s a certain logic to putting someone who can please the party faithful on a ticket’s second slot—the Paul Ryan to Mitt Romney. But Cuccinelli is anything but a squish, and E.W. Jackson’s nomination does nothing but ensure a very conservative nominee is associated with his very conservative running mate’s crazy, unhinged statements.
More importantly, the LG is the tiebreaking vote in the state senate right now. The current Republican LG hasn’t reliably voted with his party (on transportation, voter ID and redistricting). But Jackson will not win. That means the state GOP didn’t just give up the lieutenant governorship, but control of the state legislature too.
Dave Weigel has more:
Democrats win in Virginia, in off-years, when they convince suburbanites that the GOP has lost its mind. They will point out that the lieutenant governor, rather unusually, has real clout in Virginia at the moment. The state Senate is evenly split between the parties, and the state’s second-highest ranking official gets to break the ties. Bolling provided key votes on a tax-hiking transportation plan and a voter ID bill. Jackson repeatedly told Republican activists why Bolling was wrong; if you’d have put him in the chair, he’d have sided with hardcore conservatives.
A month ago, before the party took him seriously, Jackson gave a long interview to an Internet radio host named Anna Yeisley, and told her that the lieutenant governor’s office would offer him even more than the vote. He’d approach it as a “platform to move this commonwealth into a conservative, constitutional direction when the legislature is not in session.”
Bearing Drift is much more optimistic.
No, this is not Watergate or Iran-Contra. Nor is it like the sex scandal that got Bill Clinton impeached.
The AP, IRS and Benghazi matters represent a scandal not of presidential wrongdoing, but of presidential indolence, indifference and incompetence in discharging the duties of chief executive.
The Barack Obama revealed to us in recent days is something rare in our history: a spectator president, clueless about what is going on in his own household, who reacts to revelations like some stunned bystander.
Consider. Because of a grave national security leak, President Obama’s Department of Justice seized two months of records from 20 telephones used by The Associated Press. An unprecedented seizure.
Yet the president was left completely in the dark. And though he rushed to defend the seizure, he claims he was uninvolved.
While the AP issue does not appear to have legs—we know what was done and why—it has badly damaged this president. For his own Justice Department treated the press, which has an exalted opinion of itself and its role, with the same contempt as the IRS treated the Tea Party.
The episode has damaged a crucial presidential asset. For this Washington press corps had provided this president with a protective coverage of his follies and failings unseen since the White House press of half a century ago covered up the prowlings of JFK.
The Benghazi issue is of far greater gravity. Still, Obama’s sins here as well seem to be those of omission, not commission. Read More…
The Washington Post reported yesterday that in 2010 the Justice Department surveilled Fox News reporter James Rosen and obtained a search warrant for his private emails:
They used security badge access records to track the reporter’s comings and goings from the State Department, according to a newly obtained court affidavit. They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter’s personal e-mails. …
At a time when President Obama’s administration is under renewed scrutiny for an unprecedented number of leak investigations, the Kim case provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of one such probe.
Glenn Greenwald explains what sets this apart from the Obama administration’s other prosecutions over leaks:
It involves the prosecution of State Department adviser Stephen Kim, a naturalized citizen from South Korea who was indicted in 2009 for allegedly telling Fox News’ chief Washington correspondent, James Rosen, that US intelligence believed North Korea would respond to additional UN sanctions with more nuclear tests – something Rosen then reported. Kim did not obtain unauthorized access to classified information, nor steal documents, nor sell secrets, nor pass them to an enemy of the US. Instead, the DOJ alleges that he merely communicated this innocuous information to a journalist – something done every day in Washington – and, for that, this arms expert and long-time government employee faces more than a decade in prison for “espionage”. …
This newfound theory of the Obama DOJ – that a journalist can be guilty of crimes for “soliciting” the disclosure of classified information – is a means for circumventing those safeguards and criminalizing the act of investigative journalism itself. These latest revelations show that this is not just a theory but one put into practice, as the Obama DOJ submitted court documents accusing a journalist of committing crimes by doing this.
To obtain that search warrant (read the full thing here), the Obama administration had to argue Rosen had committed a criminal act. A second high-profile incident in as many weeks of the DOJ surveilling journalists raises the question of just how widespread this kind of behavior is, a question Julian Sanchez took up last Friday in Mother Jones. Not surprisingly, we don’t really know:
It wouldn’t be surprising if there were more cases like this we’ve never heard about. Here’s why: The Justice Department’s rules only say the media must be informed about “subpoenas” for “telephone toll records.” The FBI’s operations guidelines interprets those rules quite literally, making clear the requirement “concerns only grand jury subpoenas.” … The procedures that do apply to those tools have been redacted from publicly available versions of the FBI guidelines. Thus, it’s no shocker the AP seizure would seem like an “unprecedented intrusion” if the government doesn’t think it has to tell us about the precedents. And there’s no telling if the Justice Department rules (and the FBI’s interpretation) allow the feds to seize without warning other types of electronic communications records that could reveal a journalist’s e-mail, chat, or Web browsing activity.
If there’s an upshot to any of this, it’s that snooping on journalists could be the last straw that gets people to care about the administration’s ongoing effort to shut down leaks and prosecute whistleblowers.
Key to both surveillance operations are the ways in which executive powers have expanded, but also how privacy laws have failed to keep pace with technological progress. If ever there were a time to call for a ‘Leveson in reverse’ commission to examine how both might be adjusted to better protect journalists and whistleblowers—rather than a toothless shield law, as the administration is proposing—now might be it.
John Nichols of the Nation makes what should be, but is not (for reasons I’ll attempt to explain below), an obvious point about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:
Christie also knows his party won’t be looking for a Northeastern moderate in 2016. The GOP has never been more conservative than it is now; and while the motivation to win may be powerful, the common wisdom among the folks who actually nominate presidential candidates says that experiments with supposedly “mainstream” figures like John McCain and Mitt Romney will not be repeated. So Christie is executing a delicate maneuver. He needs to run left this year to pump up his gubernatorial re-election vote numbers, and then pivot right in states like Iowa and South Carolina. Amid all the gamesmanship, it’s easy to lose sight of where Christie is really coming from—unless you look at his record.
Christie is no moderate. He’s a social conservative who opposes reproductive rights, has defunded Planned Parenthood and has repeatedly rejected attempts to restore state funding for family planning centers. He has vetoed money for clinics that provide health screenings for women, including mammograms and pap smears. He vetoed marriage equality.
Nichols goes on to declare that “Christie is at his most militant when it comes to implementing the austerity agenda associated with the most conservative Republican governors.”
By way of throat-clearing, I have a big problem with the term “austerity” being thrown at governors. Most states are constitutionally required to balance their budgets. Having done so, many states are now in a healthy fiscal position and should see revenue return to pre-recession levels this year. Critics of austerity at the federal level understood this all along. The anti-austerians, as I interpret them, aren’t against cutting spending always, anywhere, and everywhere; their argument was, and is, that contractionary fiscal policy in Washington makes our unemployment problem worse. In the face of state and local cutbacks, Congress should have been cushioning the blow.
But Nichols is largely correct: Christie is by any reasonable measure a fiscal and social conservative. Read More…