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By: Jane Hamsher Thursday October 23, 2014 7:34 am

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David Bromwich: American Exceptionalism and Its Discontents

By: Tom Engelhardt Thursday October 23, 2014 7:33 am

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

We’re now passing through a no-name election season of a particularly lusterless sort, but don’t count on that for 2016.  Here, in fact, is a surefire prediction for that moment, which (given the nature of modern presidential campaigns) will kick off with the usual round of media speculation and odds-making on November 5th.  Whoever the presidential candidates may be, expect the political landscape to be littered with references to the United States as an “exceptional nation” and to “American exceptionalism” (as well as its more recent doppelgänger, “indispensable,” as in “indispensable nation”).  And the presidential candidates, baying for the exceptional privilege of entering the Oval Office in 2017, will join a jostling crowd of past presidential candidates, presidential wannabes, major politicians, minor figures, and pundits galore who have felt compelled in recent years to tell us and the world just how exceptional we really are.

Such references were once rare in our politics, but that was back in the days when Americans didn’t doubt our exceptional nature, which meant that there was no need to talk about it ad infinitum.  Like anything spoken of too insistently, recent rounds of exceptionalist comments surely reveal lurking feelings of doubt about this country, its state, its fate, and its direction (which, according to most polls, Americans believe to be downward, as in “wrong track” or “decline”).

So, as an antidote to the creeping sense that the U.S. — that unipolar power, the last superpower etc., etc. — may not be quite all it’s cracked up to be, here’s the beginning of a little post-9/11 list that you can complete at your leisure: six incontestable areas where America is #1.  Once filled out, it should help future candidates for office and leave the rest of us punching the air with a renewed sense of celebratory pride.

We’re #1 in investment in our military and our national security state!  No other country comes within a light year of us!  In 2011, the defense budgets of the next 13 countries combined didn’t quite equal ours and we’ve been dumping up to a trillion dollars yearly into the national security budget since 9/11.  The best news of all: with a new war on our hands and those budgets sure to rise, we’re guaranteed #1 status into the distant future!

We’re #1 in “renditions” (called “kidnappings” when done by the security forces of less noble governments)!  Post-9/11, at least 136 “terror suspects” (some certifiably innocent) were taken by the CIA and other American outfits off the streets of global cities and from the backlands of the planet!  Who in the world can equal that?

We’re #1 in knocking off wedding parties from the air!  At least eight of them in three countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen) in a little more than a decade!  Bridal parties, brides and grooms, hundreds of wedding goers obliterated by American air power!  You tell me: What other country could brag of such a feat?

We’re #1 in military bases on foreign soil!  We have hundreds of them across the planet, some the size of small American towns.  There’s never been anything like it, not from the Romans, nor the British at their imperial heights, and no other country today has more than a handful.  When it comes to bases, we’ve got history by the throat!

We’re number #1 in invading, occupying, and/or bombing Muslim countries, 14 of them since 1980!  I challenge you, find me another country with such an accomplishment — and for the record, it’s never been a “crusade,” just what needed to be done to keep order on our planet!

We’re number #1 in investing in militaries that won’t “stand up”!  At least $25 billion for the Iraqi military alone (and you know how successful we were there, since it recently collapsed, allowing us to rearm it and stand it up again).  And that’s nothing compared to the Afghan military into which our country had poured $51 billion by 2011 and billions more thereafter — and don’t tell me that wasn’t a success, since that force’s desertion rate has long hovered at or near 25% annually!  High fives all around!

American exceptionalism?  Honestly, who could deny it — other than TomDispatch regular David Bromwich, author most recently of Moral Imagination, who explores the special immorality of imagining yourself as the most exceptional of lands. Tom

The Importance of Being Exceptional
From Ancient Greece to Twenty-First-Century America
By David Bromwich

The origins of the phrase “American exceptionalism” are not especially obscure. The French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville, observing this country in the 1830s, said that Americans seemed exceptional in valuing practical attainments almost to the exclusion of the arts and sciences. The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, on hearing a report by the American Communist Party that workers in the United States in 1929 were not ready for revolution, denounced “the heresy of American exceptionalism.” In 1996, the political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset took those hints from Tocqueville and Stalin and added some of his own to produce his book American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. The virtues of American society, for Lipset — our individualism, hostility to state action, and propensity for ad hoc problem-solving — themselves stood in the way of a lasting and prudent consensus in the conduct of American politics.

The Grand Jury investigation of the Michael Brown shooting has been hopelessly corrupted

By: Masoninblue Thursday October 23, 2014 7:23 am

Cross posted from the Frederick Leatherman Law Blog

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Good morning:

The Los Angeles Times is reporting this morning that the United States Department of Justice has condemned the selective leaking by “unnamed officials” of information provided to the grand jury investigating the Michael Brown shooting as an attempt to improperly influence public opinion. According to Andrew Hart at the Huffington Post, Attorney General Eric Holder is ‘exasperated’ by the selective leaking.

I am more than exasperated. I am disgusted because I have never seen anything this blatant.

Yesterday, I asked who is responsible for this over-the-top effort to influence public opinion.

Only one answer makes any sense.

I accuse Bob McCulloch, the St.Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, the office that he directs and supervises and for which he is accountable, and the Ferguson Police Department and Officer Darren Wilson of conspiring to selectively leak information that is exclusively within their possession, custody and control in order to influence public opinion in favor of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown.

The grand jury should have indicted Wilson for second degree murder two months ago because no one can credibly deny that probable cause (i.e., reasonable grounds) existed to believe that Wilson murdered Michael Brown.

Wilson’s self-defense claim revealed for the first time by the leakers is a laughable self-serving tangle of scripted nonsense designed to fit the known facts.

We have a name for that. We call it subornation of perjury and it is a felony.

Today, we need to ask the next question.

Is there any reason to believe that the blatant and shocking effort to improperly influence public opinion in favor of Darren Wilson by selectively leaking information to the print media and spinning it in his favor is not also being used to influence the grand jury not to indict him for second degree murder?

Is the nation not being groomed and conditioned to passively accept a grand jury decision not to charge Wilson?

We are witnessing such massive corruption and abuse of the grand jury that its decision next month not to indict Wilson will have no legitimacy.

The people responsible for corrupting the grand jury need to be identified, prosecuted, sentenced to prison and disbarred.

The whole world is watching this wretched perversion and it’s time to end it.

Cost of Turning down Federal Medicaid Funding Continues to Climb in Wisconsin

By: WI Budget Project Thursday October 23, 2014 6:28 am

Participation of Childless Adults in BadgerCare Far Exceeds Forecasts, While Parent and Child Enrollment Continues to Fall 

The cost to Wisconsin taxpayers of turning down federal funding for expansion of BadgerCare will be substantially higher the next time the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) makes that calculation.  The potential savings from expanding BadgerCare to 138% of the poverty level and accepting the full federal funding for covering childless adults keeps climbing because the enrollment of those adults continues to grow faster than the Dept. of Health Services (DHS) and the LFB projected.

In an August 14 memo, the LFB estimated that setting the BadgerCare eligibility ceiling for childless adults and parents at 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL) and accepting the enhanced federal funding could have saved Wisconsin taxpayers $206 million during the current biennium, and reversing that choice would save substantially more than that in the next biennial budget. However, those estimates are far too low because childless adult enrollmentcontinues to climb rapidly. Consider the following:

  • The Fiscal Bureau’s calculations in August assumed that the number of childless adults in BadgerCare would gradually climb to 135,000 by next June.
  • The actual enrollment level already reached 129,361 at the end of September, and has climbed by more than 4,500 per month in each of the last two months.

Even assuming the recent rapid pace of growth slows, it now appears that the number of childless adults in BadgerCare will surge well past the 135,000 figure assumed in August and past the revised figure of 145,000 used in September in the DHS budget request.  As childless adult enrollment climbs, so do the potential savings from expanding BadgerCare and taking the increased federal funding (which would finance 100% of spending for childless adult coverage in 2015 and 2016, and 95% in 2017).

Although the enrollment of adults without dependent children is far greater than anticipated, the number of parents and children in BadgerCare continues to fall.  The following are the enrollment changes from September 2013 to September 2014:

  • The number of parents in BadgerCare (including Transitional Medicaid) has dropped by more than 63,000 and the number of children has fallen unexpectedly by more than 10,700.
  • Among families over the poverty level, the number of parents is down by more than 73,400 and the number of children has dropped by more than 25,000.

As I wrote in a WI Budget Project Blog post in early August, the drop in coverage of children is very surprising because the budget bill assumed that the Affordable Care Act would indirectly cause an increase of about 37,000 children in BadgerCare.  One reason for the difference is that DHS had been assuming a significant drop in the number of kids covered by employer-sponsored insurance, and that hasn’t happened.  Even so, the drop in children’s participation in BadgerCare is very disappointing.

I suspect the decline in the number of kids in BadgerCare and Transitional Medicaid is a result of the large drop in the number of parents after their eligibility ceiling was slashed in April.  Although  the children remain eligible up to 300% of FPL, some parents who are now ineligible might not understand that and might not be renewing coverage for their children when they come up for their annual  review.

When Governor Thompson argued in the late 1990s for covering parents in BadgerCare up to 200% of the poverty level, he contended that the best way to get more kids covered was to cover their parents. That proved to be correct, and we are now seeing that the converse is also true:  covering fewer parents significantly reduces coverage of children.  Of course, there may also be other factors, so WCCF reached out to DHS a couple of months ago to get data that could shed light on some of the potential variables. DHS is still working on that data request, and we will share the results with you soon after we get them from the department.

Although the exact cause of the trend in children’s coverage isn’t totally settled, what is very clear is that the surging participation of adults without dependent children means that state taxpayers are paying far more than previously estimated for the decision to reject the enhanced federal funding for Medicaid expansions.

 

Over Easy

By: Ruth Calvo Thursday October 23, 2014 4:45 am

Over Easy

The community that began with Southern Dragon’s Lakeside Diner continues. Today we collect news from outside the usual, and renew the discussion.

Solar power could be providing energy to the U.K. soon under a plan that gathers transferable units from Tunisia to distribute in homes farther north over lines running from Northern Africa.

Under the scheme, up to 2.5 million UK homes could be powered by Tunisian sunshine by 2018.

The company involved says they have already spent 10 million euros developing the site.

(snip)

The company argues that existing gas pipelines from Algeria that run through Tunisia have operated without a glitch through the turbulence that has followed on from the Arab Spring.

Their plans involve using concentrated solar power (CSP) technology. This allows the developers to store some of the energy generated so that the supply is “dispatchable”. It can be switched on or off on demand.

The company involved says its electricity supplies will be secure, and 20% cheaper than home-grown sources, such as offshore wind.

Never.Give.Up.

Christ Needs to Tap One of Those Rich Dudes in Heaven

By: patrick devlin Wednesday October 22, 2014 2:23 pm

Guru Ramsey postulates if the commonly held interpretation of Matthew 19:24 is true, “then Jesus’ blood that was spilled at Calvary isn’t powerful enough to get a rich man into heaven, I think that’s called heresy.”

Biblical financial self-help pitchman Dave Ramsey, whose get-rich-scheme is to convince followers of the first century homeless preacher called Jesus of Nazareth (who advised cult members to “give up all you own and follow me”) that they can become get-rich-quick-Christians by buying his greed absolving screeds and who is featured weekly on the TV station owned by televangelist-presidential candidate-sect leader Pat Robertson, advised viewers recently that, stunningly, Christ was a heretic.

Ramsey was hawking his latest tract, The Legacy Journey: A Radical View of Biblical Wealth and Generosity when he advised Robertson and his TVland fold that people who interpret the biblical passage, put forth for centuries as the actual words of Jesus; “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” (Matthew 19/23-24) as meaning that it is Christlike to abhor human greed and instead act with humility and charity were “heretics”.

Ramsey said that interpreting the fairly obvious symbols in Christ’s statement as meaning that Christians should not be greedy was not providing a religious interpretation but rather pushing a “political agenda”.

Using logic available to self-recognized religious interpreters, an elite brand of exegesis that centuries of biblical scholars could not grasp but has been gifted to modern ‘get rich quick’ preachers including Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen, Ramsey postulated that, if the long standing and commonly held interpretation of Matthew 19:24 is true, “then Jesus’ blood that was spilled at Calvary isn’t powerful enough to get a rich man into heaven, I think that’s called heresy. I’m pretty sure it is, look it up.”

While acknowledging that it is a “melon-scratcher” for regular folks, Ramsey counseled the faithful, “When you start putting limits on the power of the cross and limits on the power of grace that is extended to us from the Father through the son, based on someone’s wealth, then that’s Gnosticism – the worship of spirit versus materialism versus the worship orthodoxy.”

Ramsey assured the audience of TV watching Christians that if a Bible reader interprets Christ’s analogy of camels and eyes of needles as warning against acting greedily (one of Christianity’s “Seven Deadly Sins) “What that means is that someone just doesn’t understand the Bible.”

Ramsey went on to assert that the Bible “is not inconsistent” and actively calls on the faithful to accumulate wealth (some of which Ramsay hopes watchers will be handing to him as payment for one of his “Get Rich With Jesus” wealth accumulation books).

Meanwhile in Lawton Oklahoma, faithful wife Kristi Rhines told the managers at an El Chico Café Mexican restaurant located in the Central Mall that her husband was on his way to pay for the meal and drinks she had ordered and consumed at the establishment.

After some minutes, and not quite understanding the timeframes Rhines was referring to, the café’s managers asked Ms. Rhines to give them the name of her husband. Although Rhines was unable to produce a marriage license, she advised the business owners that her husband, Jesus Christ, had made a promise (some years ago) that he was ‘returning’ and assured them that he was good for the tab.

Not questioning the Christ of Oklahoma’s ability to pay – but certainly understanding how the ‘downturn in the economy’ has impacted mall restaurant diners across America, the restaurant’s owners (perhaps themselves having read the advance reviews of Jesus’ return as detailed in the biblical Book of Revelation and weighing the prospect of the difficulties of seeking reimbursement from the heavenly husband amongst all the predicted rivers of blood and four horsemen and such) decided to contact local police to handle the unpaid bill situation.

cross posted at the demise

Sentenced to death and later found innocent, one man seeks to bring his story to the big screen

By: Jose Cornejo Wednesday October 22, 2014 1:47 pm

Convicted of murder and sentenced to death, yet innocent. This hell is unimaginable to most people, but it was all too real for Kirk Bloodsworth.

Bloodsworth spent eight years in prison, including two on death row, before becoming the first U.S. prisoner exonerated through DNA testing for a capital conviction. Now Bloodsworth is seeking to share his harrowing story through a full-length documentary.

While the project, titled Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man, is still in its funding stages, the film’s latest trailer is engrossing enough on its own. Bloodsworth describes the ineptitude of his trial lawyer and how the murder he was convicted of shook his community. He also recounts the moment his life completely changed:

“It was August 9, at about 2:45 in the morning. I was staying at my cousin’s house; my first wife and I were having problems. I hear this big “BOOM BOOM BOOM” at the door. It was the Baltimore County police. They arrested me for the first degree murder of Dawn Hamilton. I was wearing silk running shorts, no shoes, no shirt. And they bought me out in a police car, and that was the last time I saw Cambridge, Maryland for eight years, ten months and nineteen days.”

At the end of the trailer, Gregory Bayne, the film’s director and producer, calls Bloodsworth’s case “mind-blowing and maddening,” continuing:

“[W]hat I found most compelling about Kirk is that this is an individual that essentially had his life shaped by a crime he had nothing to do with. Yet 30 years later, he’s dedicated his life to ensuring that what happened to him, doesn’t happen to others.

“Over the course of the past three years, I’ve had a number of people say to me that Kirk’s is a story that must be told and should be seen.”

Count me as one of those people. If you agree too, pitch in to the film’s Kickstarter campaign to help ensure that happens. As the death penalty in the U.S. comes under increasing scrutiny and becomes more controversial, America needs to hear Kirk’s story.

October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation is Underway

By: wendydavis Wednesday October 22, 2014 11:22 am

The group’s website says that they have been mobilizing every year since 1996 for a National Day of Protest on October 22, bringing together those under the gun and those not under the gun as a powerful voice to expose the epidemic of police brutality.
The Coalition also works on the Stolen Lives Project, which documents cases of killings by law enforcement nationwide. The second edition of the Stolen Lives book documents over 2000 cases in the 1990s alone. Volunteers are needed to help with the research and editing of cases since then.

Click here to see the Call for the 19th National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization

Click here for the list of contacts and assembly points for October 22, 2014

You can follow along on #O22 or #Oct22  Many events will be held this evening, some on Oct. 25.  Please add your own in comments; I’ll add or replace as I’m able…

‘Many thanks to the Alan Blueford Center for Justice for this national promotional video’