Politics

The Department of Homeland Security is a total disaster. It’s time to abolish it.

Vox

If Congress doesn’t act before February 27, the Department of Homeland Security is going to run out of money and go into a partial shutdown. (Eighty-five percent of employees would still be working, but they wouldn’t be getting paid.) Congress doesn’t appear to have a plan for action; as of last week, before it broke for recess, House and Senate lawmakers were each telling each other to do something. Meanwhile, politicians in both parties have already skipped to the step where they blame the other party for the possible shutdown — making them seem pretty resigned to it happening. House Speaker John Boehner said on Sunday he’s “certainly” ready for a DHS shutdown.

It helps that both parties think they can win on the politics of a shutdown. Democrats see this as a replay of the government shutdown of 2013, when congressional Republicans tried to undo a major Obama administration policy (then Obamacare; now the president’s executive actions on immigration) as a condition of keeping the government open. Republicans, for their part, appear to believe that because the Senate’s Democratic minority is filibustering their funding bill, Democrats will take the blame — though there’s little indication that they would become willing to roll back all of Obama’s executive actions to end a shutdown. It’s also not clear if Republicans could get a critical mass of support within their own party for anything less.

But the nonchalance with which both parties are treating the prospect of a Department of Homeland Security shutdown raises a big policy question: why does the department even exist?

The answer is that it shouldn’t, and it never should have. DHS was a mistake to begin with. Instead of solving the coordination problems it was supposed to solve, it simply duplicated efforts already happening in other federal departments. And attempts to control and distinguish the department have politicized it to the point where it can’t function smoothly — and might be threatening national security.

This isn’t to say that DHS should be fully liquidated. The argument is there’s no reason for it to exist as its own department when it can be reabsorbed into the various departments (from Justice to Treasury) from which it was assembled.

Since neither side is fighting to make the case for DHS, it’s as good a time as any to look back over the agency’s decade-plus-long history, and assess how the department’s actually worked. The answer appears to be that the problems built deep in the department haven’t aided national security — and might have damaged it.

DHS was doomed from the start

DHS formation

Tom Ridge, the first DHS secretary, looks like he’s about to high-five President Bush — but the White House left him hanging in more ways than one. (Mike Theiler/Getty)

“I don’t think (George W.) Bush was ever excited about the department,” former Democratic member of Congress Jane Harman told The New Republic in 2009. But because it was “politically expedient,” his White House went ahead with building a proposal for the new department in spring 2002 — and rushed the process, possibly to distract from revelations that the intelligence community could have prevented 9/11 if it had coordinated the information it already had.

If the point of DHS was to consolidate disaster prevention (whether natural or terroristic) and response under one roof, it failed miserably.

The process for deciding which existing agencies would be moved to DHS, and which ones would stay in other departments, was haphazard at best. According to a 2005 Washington Post article, the agency that supplies prosecutors in immigration court cases was moved to DHS; the agency that supplies immigration court judges, on the other hand, stayed in the Department of Justice. (The reason: the person in charge, a Harvard security expert working for Secretary-to-be Tom Ridge, simply hadn’t known immigration courts were a thing, so hadn’t looked for them.) When the White House team wanted a research lab for the new department, one of them phoned a friend to ask which of the Department of Energy’s labs they should take — according to the Post, the team “did not realize that he had just decided to give the new department a thermonuclear weapon simulator.”

The department’s biggest problem, however, was that it completely failed to address the single biggest pre-9/11 counterterrorism failure. In fact, it made it worse. The 9/11 Commission Report (which came out after the creation of DHS) cited failure to share counter-terrorism intelligence and strategy as one reason the attacks succeeded. According to a 2011 Cato Institute report, the two primary agencies it singled out were the FBI and the CIA — neither of which was moved to DHS. (The FBI is still part of the Department of Justice; the CIA is still an independent agency.) So now, counterterrorism work is being done by agencies in three different departments.

A department of copycat programs

DHS headquarters

Just like this image of the US, counterterrorism responsibilities are cobbled together from a bunch of departments in the federal government. (Jim Watson/AFP)

This hasn’t stopped DHS from trying to develop its own security capacity. It just means that whatever DHS does is already being done elsewhere in the government. And that duplication and fragmentation has made the national-security apparatus even harder to manage.

Take the example of equipment grants to state and local law enforcement. There were already two different federal programs to help police departments get equipment: the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, which sends out surplus military gear to law enforcement (and requires they use it within a year), and the Department of Justice’s Byrne grant program. But DHS now has its own set of grants to allow police departments to purchase military and other equipment. It’s supposed to be used for counterterrorism, but (just as with the other grant programs) police often end up using the equipment for routine drug enforcement.

SWAT team manhunt

And as a recent White House report pointed out, having three different departments giving resources to local police has made it harder to track how those resources get used. If the Department of Justice, for example, finds out that a police department has been misusing funds or violating the constitution, it can cut off DOJ grant money — but the police department can turn around and apply for help from the Department of Defense and DHS.

Or think of “fusion centers,” regional hubs supported by DHS to share information among multiple federal agencies and between state, local and federal law enforcement. The fusion centers aren’t limited to sharing information about terrorism (they’re also supposed to monitor other types of crime), but it’s definitely a big component of their mission. The problem is that the FBI already has Joint Terrorism Task Forces to investigate terrorism, and Field Intelligence Groups to share information about it. In a 2013 study, the Government Accountability Officelooked at eight cities, and found that the fusion centers in all eight cities overlapped at least partially with the FBI’s counterterrorism work — and in four of them, there was nothing the fusion centers did that the FBI wasn’t already doing. (There are also other things within DHS that overlap with fusion centers’ other purposes.)

fusion center

“I don’t know why I need to be here, either!” (Karl Gehring/Denver Post)

That means that at best, DHS’ coordination work is redundant: a 2012 report from Republican Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) found that over a quarter of terrorism-related fusion center reports “appeared to duplicate a faster intelligence-sharing process administered by the FBI.” (That’s in addition to the reports that were based on publicly available information.) Because of that redundancy, dismantling DHS wouldn’t necessarily help civil liberties — anything DHS is doing that infringes on them is also being done by other departments. But, just like with police grants, consolidating the agencies that might be infringing on civil liberties will at least focus efforts to hold them accountable.

At worst, DHS’ work with fusion centers is actually hampering information sharing. A 2007 ACLU report on fusion centers explained how this would work:

Most likely what is taking place is a power struggle in which federal agencies seek to turn fusion centers into “information farms”—feeding their own centralized programs with data from the states and localities, without providing much in return. The localities, meanwhile, want federal data that the agencies do not want to give up. For federal security agencies, information is often the key currency in turf wars and other bureaucratic battles, and from the days of J. Edgar Hoover they have long been loathe to share it freely.

Those turf wars also happen between federal agencies, including between the FBI and DHS. In 2009, a Homeland Security Today column warned that “we’re operating the way things were before 9/11, where we uncovered the dots, but don’t connect them in time.”

Resistance from Congress and from its own employees

DHS has managed to distinguish itself from the other government agencies doing similar work — by becoming extremely politicized, both in its dealings with Congress and internally. It’s become part of DHS’ structure — again, in ways that have threatened national security.

The department has had to deal with so much congressional “oversight” that it’s become unproductive. As of fall 2014, more than 90 congressional committees and subcommittees had some sort of oversight responsibility over some portion of DHS. For comparison, the Department of Defense has about 30 committees or subcommittees with oversight responsibility.

Jeh Johnson testifying

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson looks like he wants to be basically anywhere else. Can you blame him? (Saul Loeb/AFP)

DHS officials need to spend enormous amounts of time preparing for congressional hearings and delivering research reports to members; that’s time that can’t go into directing DHS strategy, or managing the department. As former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a2013 Annenberg Public Policy Center report, this can actually defeat the purpose of congressional oversight: “either the department has no guidance or, more likely, the department ignores both because they’re in conflict. And so the department does what it wants to do.”

But what does the department “want to do”? That often depends on whether “the department” means officials in Washington, or agents in the field. At DHS, the two groups are often in open conflict. Throughout President Obama’s presidency, for example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have been vocally opposed to any effort from DHS leadership to reduce the risk of deportation for some unauthorized immigrants. So when DHS leadership tried to target immigration enforcement by issuing memos to ICE field offices about who they should and shouldn’t “prioritize” for deportation, the offices often resisted or ignored those instructions — preventing the administration from actually being able to implement its policies. (As I’ve written before, this is arguably the biggest reason that the administration’s shifted to granting “deferred action” to unauthorized immigrants, in 2012 and again in 2014.)

This intra-agency tension is likely a big reason that DHS agencies routinely rank near or at the bottom of the federal government in employee morale. (In the latest survey in December 2014,DHS ranked lowest among “large agencies,” and ICE and two other DHS agencies shared the bottom three slots among all 314 agencies.) But it’s also a security problem.

After repeated security breaches in fall 2014, former Secret Service agent Dan Emmett wrote for Vox about the problems with the agency’s culture. The culprit he identified: the move from the Department of the Treasury to DHS. After that move, he said, the agency got politicized — and Secret Service leadership stopped telling White House staff when letting the president do something (like participate in a landing on an aircraft carrier) was a bad or unsafe idea.

DHS’ “essential” employees aren’t at department headquarters

At least one member of Congress, Rep. John Mica (R-FL), is talking openly about dismantling DHS. That’s partly a smokescreen for a fight about the labor rights of DHS employees — which has been ongoing since Congress passed the Homeland Security Act in 2002, and decided the creation of a new department justified stripping a bunch of rights from the workers who’d be staffing it. (Many of DHS’ labor regulations were later struck down in court.)

But Congress shouldn’t let a partisan battle over labor relations distract them from taking a hard look at whether they still believe DHS is necessary. After all, the attitude of many members of Congress suggests that, while they’re committed to many of DHS’ functions, they’re not as committed to the bureaucracy that oversees them.

Border patrol agent on ATV

Sure, when it’s time to blame the other party, members of Congress are playing up DHS’ importance: Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) called the shutdown fight “parliamentary ping-pong with national security,” while Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) suggested building coffins outside the offices of Democratic Senators if a terrorist attack happened during the shutdown. But when they’re talking about the actual consequences, Republicans, in particular, emphasize that over 85 percent of DHS employees would keep coming to work as “essential” government workers even if the department were shut down. “It’s not the end of the world if we get to that time,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) told Politico, “because the national security functions will not stop.”

Those 85 percent are mostly front-line government workers: border agents, TSA screeners, etc. They’re employees of the agencies who existed before DHS, and would continue to exist if DHS were dissolved. The employees at DHS headquarters, providing the centralized bureaucratic glue that’s supposedly so important to coordinating our national security strategy? They’d be staying home in the event of a shutdown. The department’s plan for the 2013 government shutdown had only 10 percent of the staff of the Office of the Secretary and the Office of the Undersecretary for Management “exempted” from the shutdown; 50 percent of the office of Analysis and Operations; and 57 percent of the National Protection and Programs Directorate (which didn’t exist pre-DHS but encompasses a few pre-DHS offices).

Either those offices are fundamental to “national security functions,” or they’re not. Given the department’s track record since its formation, Diaz-Balart is probably accidentally correct: it’s not actually essential to national security that DHS, as a department, be running on a daily basis. But if he and other members of Congress are really so convinced that that’s the case, they need to seriously consider disbanding DHS for good.


CORRECTION: This article originally said the CIA is part of the State Department. It’s an independent agency. (It’s still not part of DHS, though.) The article also incorrectly stated the date of Annenberg Public Policy Center’s oversight report; it was published in 2013.

America’s political narcissism: What Rand Paul, Sean Hannity (and even some liberals) forget

America's political narcissism: What Rand Paul, Sean Hannity (and even some liberals) forget

Rand Paul, Sean Hannity (Credit: MSNBC/Fox News)

Salon

The left and right agree that Eric Garner was wronged. That’s good—but here’s what both are using him to talk about

Despite its name, one of the defining characteristics of the United States of America has always been its many, many internal divisions. So as the public response to the exonerations of Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo continues to play out, whether through peaceful acts of civil disobedience or more violent expressions of impotent rage, we shouldn’t be shocked to see the social fabric of our ostensibly united nation ripped along familiar lines of region, race and class. Symbolic references to struggles waged decades in the past — be it the fight to end slavery or to defeat Jim Crow — still grip us for a reason.

But as familiar as what we’re seeing right now in Ferguson, New York City and all over the country may be, the events of the past week — specifically the grand jury decision in Staten Island — have also introduced a new element into our politics, however temporarily: widespread agreement. Admittedly, this isn’t happening so much on the ground as it is among journalists and pundits. But the fact that folks at a hard-right publication like the Federalist are on the same page as those at the Nation is notable. And the fact that this is all over a controversy that touches on police brutality and race is downright remarkable.

Contrarian that I am, though, I feel compelled to note that hidden beneath all this self-conscious unity is yet another division, one that is mostly going unnoticed because it doesn’t rest on the usual political terrain. It’s not between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, black people and white people, or the suburbs and the cities. In some ways, it’s not even political at all, but rather temperamental. It’s less about whatwe think of Eric Garner’s death than why we think it. At its heart, it’s the split between those who view Eric Garner’s death as a human tragedy, and those who see it as a vindication of their ideology. It’s possible for it to have been both, of course; but which one we choose to emphasize can be revealing.

When it comes to seeing opportunity in Garner’s death, it’s hard to find an example more arresting than that of Sen. Rand Paul, who has described the incident as yet another example of why his anti-tax, pseudo-libertarian philosophy is the solution to all of America’s ills. Appearing on MSNBC on Wednesday, Paul claimed that the true villain in the Garner story wasn’t officer Pantaleo, but rather some unnamed politician. “I do blame the politician,” Paul said before adding, “we put our police in a dangerous situation with bad laws.” But the bad law in question didn’t pertain to “broken windows” or NYPD training. It was — what else? — taxes. “I think it’s also important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes [in New York],” Paul said. “So they’ve driven cigarettes underground so as not to make them so expensive.”

For those understandably puzzled as to why Paul would want to talk about cigarette taxes in regard to an unarmed man being strangled, his thin reed of a reason is that Garner was known to cops for repeatedly selling loose cigarettes, which is against the law. And indeed, it’s quite unlikely that Garner would have found the practice worthwhile if not for the high price of smokes opening up a niche in the (underground) market. But for Paul to say, as he did on MSNBC, that Garner’s death was because “some politician” told cops to arrest over selling loosies — rather than because of the racist history of both Pantaleo himself and the NYPD — is either disingenuous or ignorant. And it’s certainly ridiculous.

While it wasn’t surprising to see other conservatives run with the argument, it was disappointing to see Paul, who is abnormally rational for a politician of his stature when it comes to criminal justice reform, insist on folding Garner’s death into his usual government-is-bad framework. That’s not to say it wasn’t savvy; Paul is very likely going to run for president in 2016, and shifting the blame from a white cop (an archetype most conservatives reflexively like) to “the politician” (an archetype they reflexively hate) was a clever way to side with Garner without threatening any right-wing shibboleths. Yet using Eric Garner’s death as an excuse to sing the same song you sang yesterday and will sing again tomorrow is not a gesture of solidarity. It’s just another form of the same old dehumanization.

That much was made abundantly clear by Sean Hannity’s coverage of the controversy, which made Paul’s subterranean lack of concern for Garner as a human being grotesquely explicit. On his Fox News show Wednesday night, Hannity revealed that the grand jury’s decision not to indict Garner’s killer had made him “so angry.” Not because Eric Garner was unarmed, nonviolent and in no need of physical restraining, but because he didn’t understand the reason for “police officers ever arresting anybody for selling cigarettes in a city where you only get a summons if you’re caught smoking pot.” The taxes on cigarettes, which let’s remember are intended to discourage cigarette smoking, were, according to Hannity, “stupid.” In Sean Hannity’s mind, therefore, officer Pantaleo — who Hannity insisted was not using a chokehold, citing his experience “as a martial arts student” — is also a victim.

Earlier in this piece, I argued that the inability to fully appreciate Eric Garner as an end unto himself, rather than a means to an ideological victory, was not exclusive to the right. I still think that’s true, but I must admit that it was much easier to find conservative pundits making the mistake than liberal ones. In the less rarefied air of Twitter, however, it took very little effort to find self-identified lefties using the Garner tragedy as a way to broadcast their own progressivism. Most obviously, a hashtag that went viral soon after the non-indictment, #crimingwhilewhite, while no doubt originally intended to underline the injustice of racist policing, soon devolved into yet another embarrassing display of narcissism and privilege. As the Guardian’s Jessica Valenti put it, “There is a hierarchy of who should be listened to and read about the way race impacts lived experiences – and white people are on the bottom of that totem pole.” Just as Eric Garner’s death is not Rand Paul’s to use to slam big government, so too is it not right-thinking white people’s to use to signal their own virtue.

To be clear, this is not an argument against responding to high-profile news events with policy recommendations; I’m not proposing a liberal equivalent to the GOP and NRA’s go-to line whenever there’s a mass-shooting, that we should not “politicize” the event by proposing legislative remedies. As Mike Grunwald  and many others have noted, there’s nothing at all wrong with responding to a tragedy or disaster by offering solutions you genuinely believe would prevent another in the future. The thing is, though, that this can’t be done ethically unless the connection between the event and your chosen policy response is clear, direct and self-evident. If you honestly and reasonably believe that mandating background checks will stop the next Adam Lanza, it would be wrong not to say so. But retrofitting your hobbyhorse for the news cycle, as Paul and Hannity have done, is different.

Ultimately, Eric Garner’s killing, while obviously relevant to numerous political and social maladies, does not belong to anyone besides his family and his friends. It is not a morality tale. It is not the impetus for another “national conversation.” It is a moment in time when Eric Garner — a son, husband, friend and father of six children — demanded to be treated like a human being, and was greeted in turn with brute force and, eventually, indifference. As he lay dying on that Staten Island sidewalk, Eric Garner repeated a heartbreaking and now famous phrase: “I can’t breathe.” No one listened. Many of us still aren’t. It’s time we start.

H/t: DB

They Hope You Won’t Wake Up

The Huffington Post

Here’s the bottom line. The Tea Party Republicans and their Big Business and Wall Street allies plan to grab what they want while ordinary people sleep through this election.

They want ordinary Americans to stay home on Election Day.

To them, high voter turnout is like daylight to a burglar — or for that matter to a vampire. It stops them cold.

The corporate CEO’s and Wall Street bankers together with Tea Party extremists control the Republican Party. They see this traditionally low-turnout mid-term election as the perfect opportunity to take over the United States Senate, Governors’ mansions and State Houses with politicians who represent their interests.

They don’t want Senators from Iowa, Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alaska, South Dakota or Michigan. They want Senators from the Koch Brothers and their corporate and Wall Street allies — Senators who actually represent them and will do whatever they are told.

They want to know that when the chips are down they can count on government officials to continue rigging the economic game so they can continue to siphon off all of the economic growth for wealthiest one percent of the population.

That’s why, at the beginning of this cycle, the Koch Brothers’ network vowed to invest $300 million to smear Democratic candidates for office. That’s why Wall Street has redirected most of its giving to the GOP. And that’s why Republicans have spent the last two years passing laws to suppress voter turnout — especially among African Americans and Hispanic voters.

In order to continue taking our money, they need to take our votes. Where they can, they’ve passed “voter ID” laws that disenfranchise hundred of thousands — and impose what amounts to a poll tax — allegedly to stop the non-existent problem of voter identity fraud. Where they can, they’ve curtailed early voting periods and access to mail ballots.

In Georgia, the Republican Secretary of State has gone so far as to refuse to process 40,000 new voter registrations.

The smaller the turnout, the better for the plutocrats who want to continue to have unfettered access to virtually all of the economic growth generated by the American economy — just as they have for the last 30 years.

The fact is that over the last three decades our Gross Domestic Product per person has gone up by 80 percent. That means we all should be 80 percent better off than 30 years ago. But instead, wages have stagnated for most Americans because the rules of the game have allowed the CEO’s and Wall Street speculators to take all of that growth in income for themselves. They want to keep it that way.

But that requires that ordinary people stay away from the polls, because when most Americans vote, the electorate represents the whole population of the United States. And the fact is that most Americans support a progressive program that would change all of that.

Bottom line: they want to steal your family’s security while you sleep through the election.

There’s only one problem with this strategy: you don’t have to go along. Ordinary Americans can stop them by going to the polls.

It’s really up to us.

If you don’t have an ID, get one.

If they don’t have enough voting machines, camp there. Stand in line as long as it takes.

In 2012, thousands of people stood in line for hours – even after Barack Obama was declared the winner for President – because they were unwilling to allow the Republicans to steal their votes. If necessary, join them and do the same.

Don’t let them steal your vote.

Of course, in many places they can’t try these kind of overt voter intimidation tactics. Instead, they try to lull ordinary people to sleep by trying to convince us that the elections don’t matter anyway.

Tea Party extremists masquerade as moderates. Politicians who owe everything to rich plutocrats parade around in old cars and workshirts to look like they understand the “common man.”

They come out with mushy position papers on issues that are overwhelmingly popular — like raising the minimum wage. But they never mention that if you elect enough Republicans for them to control the House or Senate, the leadership in those bodies will simply refuse to call a minimum wage bill for a vote — just like John Boehner did this year.

Want to pass immigration reform? Then get out and vote against Republicans, who blocked an up or down vote in the House on comprehensive immigration reform — a bill that would have passed the House if the Republican leadership had simply called the bill to the floor.

Want to restore long-term unemployment compensation benefits? A bill passed the Senate that would have been signed by the president, but the House Republican leadership refused to call it for a vote.

Want to cut the cost of student loans? The Republican leadership in the House refused to take up the very popular measure sponsored in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren. If Mitch McConnell becomes Senate Majority Leader, the Senate won’t call it for a vote either.

Want to stop cuts in Social Security and Medicare? The House Republicans passed a budget that would end the Medicare guarantee and replace it with vouchers for private insurance that would raise out-of-pocket costs for retirees by thousands of dollars.

Want tax policies that shift the burden from ordinary working people to the one percent that has received all of the benefits of our growing economy? It won’t come from Republicans — ever.

In fact, elections matter enormously to the economic well-being of every American. And no one’s vote counts more than yours — unless you don’t vote. Because if you don’t vote, everyone’s vote counts more than yours. In political terms, if you don’t vote, you don’t count. And we know that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.

If nothing else will convince you to vote, think about this. If millions of ordinary middle and working class Americans sit this election out and let the Koch Brothers of the world have their way, can’t you just imagine how they will yuck it up over drinks in their exclusive private clubs, or onboard their private jets?

They have no respect for working people — or the value of hard work. Many of them disdain ordinary working people. To them, it will just confirm their view that ordinary people can be sold a bill of goods if they just spend enough money and repeat enough lies.

In the end we will prove them dead wrong. The moral arc of the universe does in fact bend toward justice. But don’t give them the satisfaction — even for a few fleeting months at the end of 2014 — to think that their money can buy our democracy and there is nothing we are willing to do about it.

The most profound words I’ve heard in quite a while…

…come from an author of comic books and movies based on his characters :

 

Your humans slaughter each other because of the color of your skin, or your faith or your politics—or for no reason at all—

too many of you hate as easily as you draw breath.

 

Stan Lee, The Uncanny X-Men (via thatlitsite)

 

Addendum:  

Although widely credited to Stan Lee it is said by Magneto in the time Jack Kirby was the main writer of the X-Men series.I would dare to say it was him who should be credited.

Thanks again, Mavedelo!

Four Great Political Scandal Movies

John Travolta and Adrian Lester in Primary Colors.

Full disclosure…

I’m a political movie fanatic so this article caught my eye and I wanted to share it with any fellow political movie devotees out there.

Granted, this list consists of political scandal movies but that’s ok as long as politics is a part of the main storyline.

Slate

Since word broke on Friday that CIA director David Petraeus was resigning his post because of an affair with biographer Paula Broadwell, the news cycle has whiplashed from one theory to another, trying to figure out what exactly this scandal is about: Is it about classified information? A scheming professional climber? Proof that the FBI is abusing its power to investigate the private lives of public figures? An example of military culture gone awry? As the who, what, where, and whys continue to unravel and we all sweat to keep up, here are four movies that go a long way toward explaining the sexual culture of Washington and the powerful men who live it.

1. The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979): A must-see, if only for the sight of Alan Alda and Meryl Streep in bed together, The Seduction of Joe Tynan shows just how sexy shared interests can be. Alda plays Joe Tynan, a senator who’s been tapped to lead the campaign against a conservative Supreme Court nominee, raising his political career prospects. But he risks everything for an affair with Karen Traynor (Streep), a smart lobbyist, that begins when they’re out on the road together, inspecting wetlands. What’s sticks with you isn’t just Tynan’s stupidity—though there’s that too—but also how much fun he’s having with Traynor. We tend to think of affairs as furtive, desperate things. But despite how sordid they can seem when exposed, The Seduction of Joe Tynan is a reminder of why people, particularly those with lots of power but little in the way of amusement, fall into affairs in the first place.

2. Primary Colors (1998): Based on Joe Klein’s novel of the same name, Primary Colors follows the peccadillo-plagued campaign for president of a southern governor named Jack Stanton (John Travolta, in one of the best performances of his career), otherwise known as Bill Clinton. Rather than trying to understand the appetites of powerful men, the movie is more interested in how people enable those men and those appetites, whether they are aides lying to themselves about their candidate’s transgressions, or actively covering them up in service of some perceived greatness. When Libby Holden, the long-time friend of Jack Stanton played by Kathy Bates, mourns that “No one ever calls you on it. Because you’re so completely fucking special … Me too. Me the worst,” she’s articulating what it’s like to believe in someone so deeply, and to have that faith betrayed.

3. Heartburn (1986): Not strictly a political scandal movie, Heartburn is the movie adaptation of Nora Ephron’s novelization of her marriage to Carl Bernstein—a marriage that was broken up by his perpetual philandering. But if you’ve been watching l’affair Petraeus-Broadwell unfold and marveling at how small the world of the scandal seems—Broadwell’s emails were investigated after she harassed a friend of Petraeus, Tampa hostess Jill Kelley, who was herself exchanging flirty emails with Petraeus’s successor in Afghanistan—this is the movie for you. As Rachel Samstat (Meryl Streep again) navigates life in Washington with her journalist husband Mark Forman (Jack Nicholson), the city starts to feel more and more claustrophobic with every encounter Rachel has at a Georgetown supermarket or at the beauty salon, where she bolts out mid-perm. I can only imagine that the social bubble of the military elite feels equally incestuous, and is equally capable of driving everyone a little crazy.

4. Dick (1999): Particularly if you’re of the view that the FBI, which has its own problems with an agent who sent shirtless photos of himself to Jill Kelley, dramatically overstepped its bounds in investigating Broadwell and Petraeus, watch Dick. It’s both one of the great, underrated Washington movies, and a brilliantly mean portrait of powerful men working themselves into a flop sweat. After two teenaged girls (Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst) accidentally witness the Watergate break-in, the Nixon administration goes to great lengths to placate them, even making them Checkers’ official dog walkers. But when the two turn out to be good for more than worshipping the president and hooking up the Secret Service with magic brownies, the administration turns on them. The lesson? The less time important men spend on teenage girls and middle-aged mistresses, the better for the nation.

 

Think Progress: Morning Briefing: May 8, 2012

Think Progress

The CIA thwarted an attempt by Al Qaeda to blow up a commercial airplane heading for the United States, according to the National Security Council. CIA agents uncovered the plot, which was supposed to coincide with the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death on May 1.

President Obama has given Congress a “to do list” for the rest of the year, urging job creation proposals and help for families who need to refinance their mortgages.

Democratic legislation that would prevent federal student loan interest rates from doubling by eliminating some corporate tax breaks hits the Senate floor today. Republicans, who want to extend the lower interest rate by pulling money from a preventative care fund under the health reform law, have promised to block the White House-backed bill.

In a late-night email to supporters last night, Rick Santorum endorsed Mitt Romney. While Santorum’s tone was tepid, he said Republicans should rally around the presumptive nominee,writing, “We both agree that President Obama must be defeated.”

At an event in Ohio yesterday, Mitt Romney was confronted by a voter “over $1.5 million in foreign tax credits” he received since 2000. Romney dodged, claiming to be “not familiar with that.” The crowd booed.

American taxpayers could make a profit of more than $15.1 billion from the government bailout of insurer AIG, according to a report from Government Accountability Office.

Major liberal donors are preparing to give up to $100 million to independent groups to help Democrats this fall, but instead of pouring the money into Super PACs, the donors are focusing on grass roots organizing, voter registration, and Democratic turnout efforts.

Three “pink slime” plants are closing following uproar over the ammonia-treated meat trimmings they produce. Production was suspended at the plants after a petition asking that they take pink slime out of schools went viral, but now the plants are set to close permanently at the end of the month.

And finally: DC has always been home to major scandals, and now a company will offer a walking tour of city to show you where they all went down. The two-and-a-half hour Scandal Walking Tour, which costs $15, promises to show you the strip club where a congressman held a press conference and teach you which politico shot his wife’s lover and got away with it.

Most of Obama’s “Controversial” Birth Control Rule Was Law During Bush Years

Tell me again what’s wrong with this administration requiring most employers to cover birth control which the Bush administration also required without the hysterics from those on the Right?

In fact some twenty-six states have also implemented the law.

So what is the big deal here?

Kick! Making Politics Fun says:

BTW, did you know that in the Sherman State of Georgia they have a state mandate for this very same thing law, as do 25 other states?

Politifact:

A study by the Guttmacher Institute in 2002 found that 86 percent of employer-purchased insurance plans covered a full range of contraceptive methods, up dramatically over the previous decade. One reason is that 27 states have passed laws requiring fully-insured employer health insurance plans that cover prescription drugs to provide “equitable” coverage for contraceptives. In short, if an employer is going to offer prescription drugs, contraceptives have to be among the options.

Mother Jones

The right has freaked out over an Obama administration rule requiring employers to offer birth control to their employees. Most companies already had to do that.

President Barack Obama’s decision to require most employers to cover birth control and insurers to offer it at no cost has created a firestorm of controversy. But the central mandate—that most employers have to cover preventative care for women—has been law for over a decade. This point has been completely lost in the current controversy, as Republican presidential candidates and social conservatives claim that Obama has launched a war on religious liberty and the Catholic Church.

Despite the longstanding precedent, “no one screamed” until now, said Sara Rosenbaum, a health law expert at George Washington University.

In December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that companies that provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn’t provide birth control were in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. That opinion, which the George W. Bush administration did nothing to alter or withdraw when it took office the next month, is still in effect today—and because it relies on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it applies to all employers with 15 or more employees. Employers that don’t offer prescription coverage or don’t offer insurance at all are exempt, because they treat men and women equally—but under the EEOC’s interpretation of the law, you can’t offer other preventative care coverage without offering birth control coverage, too.

“It was, we thought at the time, a fairly straightforward application of Title VII principles,” a top former EEOC official who was involved in the decision told Mother Jones. “All of these plans covered Viagra immediately, without thinking, and they were still declining to cover prescription contraceptives. It’s a little bit jaw-dropping to see what is going on now…There was some press at the time but we issued guidances that were far, far more controversial.”

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Occupied Washington

Mother Jones

Grotesque income inequality is just a symptom of our larger political disease.

A FEW WEEKS AFTER the Occupy Wall Street protests began, we found ourselves having a random conversation with a couple of San Franciscans at a store counter. What were these kids going on about? they asked. Time was tight, the inquiry a pleasantry, really. Best to keep it simple. “Jobs, the economy, income inequality.” Well, one offered, he knew the wife of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, and according to him, the reason companies aren’t hiring is because they are worried about the extra cost of Obama’s health care reform.

Stunned silence.

Because what can you really say to that, except…let them eat cake? Stumpf made $17.6 million in 2010—672 times what the average American takes home. And say what you will about Obamacare, but for large companies that already offer health benefits, it imposes pretty much zero costs and might even save money.

But why single out Stumpf, who actually sounds fairly cuddly for a bank CEO? (His hobby is baking bread, for Christ’s sake.) Let’s turn instead to John Paulson, the billionaire hedge fund manager who unctuously admonished Occupy protesters: “Instead of vilifying our most successful businesses, we should be supporting them and encouraging them to remain in New York City and continue to grow.” Or how about the homeless-themed Halloween party thrown by an upstate New York foreclosure mill? Or the financier David Moore, who, having been dressed down by a panhandler for proffering only a dollar, took to the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages to bray about Obama’s class-warfare rhetoric: “The president’s incendiary message has now reached the streets. His complaints that rich people must ‘pay their fair share’ have now goaded some of our society’s most unfortunate.”

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Racism to blame for Obama’s problems, key Democrat says

Well, I’m just shocked!  Shocked, I tell you, to find out that racism is to blame for Obama’s problems (sarcasm).

However, I prefer to call it Obama Derangement Syndrome. You know, it sounds more politically correct.

The truth of the matter is, Rep. Clyburn is spot on!

McClatchy

House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, on Wednesday blamed most of President Barack Obama’s political problems on racism.

Clyburn, who’s from South Carolina and is a close ally of the president, offered his views in response to a question about Obama’s re-election prospects next year.

“I think they’re improving every day,” Clyburn said. “I think the president has been a good president, a great commander in chief.”

Clyburn, who met his wife at a 1960 court hearing after spending a night in jail for having engaged in a civil rights protest in Orangeburg, S.C., then brought up Obama’s race as the first black president.

“You know, I’m 70 years old,” he said. “And I can tell you; people don’t like to deal with it, but the fact of the matter is, the president’s problems are in large measure because of the color of his skin.”

Clyburn noted that he himself got hate mail, racist phone calls and offensive faxes on a regular basis. Asked how that relates to the president, Clyburn retorted: “We have the same skin color; that’s how it relates to him.”

Clyburn described a recent racist image of Obama that received widespread news coverage.

“When he sees his face being put on a chimpanzee’s body; do you think he didn’t see that?” Clyburn said. “And I suspect they send the same faxes to his office they send to mine.”

Marilyn Davenport, a member of the Orange County Republican Central Committee in California, forwarded an email to friends last month that displayed a photograph of a chimpanzee with Obama’s face superimposed on its head.

In response to the immediate uproar, Davenport apologized but rebuffed demands from the California NAACP that she resign her GOP post.

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