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Watch: Livestream from Ferguson: August 19

| Wed Aug. 20, 2014 1:21 AM EDT

The live stream feed via Vice News and Tim Pool was largely mellow for most of the night, Aug. 19, until about 11: 50 p.m. CDT, when a thrown bottle led to police moving in. Pool has taken his feed down for now, but may bring it back up if things heat up again.

12:04 p.m. CDT: Ryan Devereaux of The Intercept tweeted a picture of peacemakers trying to calm down a potentially violent moment:

12:15 p.m. CDT:Wesley Lowery tweets a picture of police forming a line against the press:

12:30 p.m. CDT:Adam Serwer with some protesters being pushed back by police:

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Don't Like the War in Iraq? Blame Congress.

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 9:21 PM EDT

President Obama has no plans to ask Congress for authority under the War Powers Act to take military action in Iraq. But he's hardly the only one to blame here. An even bigger problem is that Congress doesn't really want him to ask in the first place:

“This is not about an imperial presidency, it’s about a Congress that’s reluctant to cast tough votes on U.S. military action,” said [Senator Tim] Kaine....“We should not be putting American men and women’s lives at risk if we are not willing to do the political work to reach a consensus that it’s necessary,” Mr. Kaine said in an interview.

....Senior administration officials note that congressional leaders, who met with Mr. Obama about Iraq in June, have explicitly told them Mr. Obama need not come to Congress to authorize military action.

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader whose weekly conference calls with Democrats during the congressional break have been dominated by discussions of Iraq, said that Mr. Obama had wide latitude to act without Congress and suggested that Republicans eager to criticize the president would not be as eager to vote.

“We’ll see where the Republicans will be who have been calling for this, that and the other thing, if they had to vote on Iraq,” Ms. Pelosi said in San Francisco last week....Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, who helped draft the resolution to authorize strikes against Syria, has not called for a similar measure for the current operation in Iraq. He said he wanted administration officials to testify at a hearing when Congress returned about their strategy for the airstrikes and what authorities they intended to use in executing them.

It's an election year, after all, and this would be politically difficult for everyone. Democrats probably aren't excited about re-engaging in Iraq, but they'd be reluctant to oppose a president of their own party. Republicans would love to oppose Obama, but if they did they wouldn't be able to complain any more about what a wuss he is. Better for everyone to let sleeping dogs lie. That way they can kibitz from the sidelines and then, when it's all over, pretend that they supported a better policy all along.

It's cowardly, but that's politics. In any case, it's certainly hard to blame Obama for overreach when the branch of Congress that passed the War Powers Act in the first place has all but begged him to ignore it.

This Is Rick Perry's Mugshot

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 7:02 PM EDT

Rick Perry was booked today on abuse of power charges that look pretty flimsy.

Say what you will about his awful retrograde conservative politics, but Rick Perry is a handsome devil.

Mo'ne Davis Is the First Little Leaguer to Make the Cover of Sports Illustrated

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 6:20 PM EDT

Thirteen-year-old pitching sensation Mo'ne Davis just became the first Little Leaguer ever on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Davis, who pitches for South Philadelphia's Taney Dragons, received national attention last week when she threw a two-hit shutout and struck out eight in the Dragons' Little League World Series opening victory over Nashville, Tennessee. On Sunday she became the sixth girl to get a hit in the LLWS, a first-inning RBI single that helped Philadelphia to a 7-6 win over Pearland, Texas.

And the 5-foot-4 right-hander's fastball, clocked at 71 mph, is roughly equivalent to a 93 mph pitch thrown on a big-league-size field.

But Davis' Sports Illustrated appearance isn't just unusual for her age: It's also damn-near impossible for a female to make the magazine's cover. Discounting the women dressed only in leis and inner tubes for the annual swimsuit edition, about 95 percent of SI covers feature men. An analysis of 716 covers from 2000 to 2011 found:

  • 35 (4.9 percent) featured a woman;
  • 18 (2.5 percent) featured a woman as the primary image;
  • 11 (1.5 percent) featured a woman of color.

And this trend doesn't appear to have reversed since 2011: A quick glance at SI's 2014 cover gallery shows that just five female athletes have graced the cover prior to Davis this year.

Davis told ESPN she plans to play basketball at UConn and eventually in the WNBA. When a Fox News anchor asked why she doesn't play a "more female friendly sport," like soccer, last week, she seemed surprised. "Well, I play soccer actually, but I don't consider it as my favorite sport…But soccer is fun."

As Albert Chen writes in the Sports Illustrated story, "She's a lot of things to a lot of different people, all of them good things: a totem for inner-city baseball, a role model for your 10-year-old niece, a role model for your 10-year-old nephew. Most of all, she's a laid-back kid just having a really good time." NBA superstar Kevin Durant was just one of a number of pro athletes to tweet their support: "This youngster is striking everyone out and she is a girl. I love it."

Davis told the Philadelphia Inquirer that "the attention should not just be on one girl; more girls should join boys' teams so it is a tradition and it won't be so special." She is expected to take the mound again Wednesday, when Philadelphia faces off against Las Vegas.

baseball fan
A young fan shows her support of Mo'ne Davis after the team's 4-0 win over Nashville in the LLWS. Sean Simmers/AP

Amnesty International's Latest Hot Spot? Ferguson.

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 5:06 PM EDT

Amnesty International is best known for monitoring human rights conditions in places like Afghanistan and China—while active in the United States, it rarely makes headlines here. That's why the sight of yellow-clad Amnesty activists walking the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, is attracting so much attention: It marks the first time an Amnesty delegation has been dispatched to monitor a human rights crisis unfolding on American soil.

Margaret Huang, deputy executive director of campaigns and programs for Amnesty USA, was in Ferguson earlier this week for what she called a "support mission" and says that Amnesty came at the request of the community. Huang and her colleagues did field trainings to educate protesters on their rights and how to respond to police. "The goal was not necessarily to produce a report, which is what Amnesty has typically done, but just to make sure things have been examined from a human rights angle and for people to understand international legal obligations," Huang says. She says the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive; the police, however, haven't been as welcoming. On Monday night, police forced Amnesty observers out of the protest area at gunpoint.

Amnesty began reporting on human rights in the United States in 1998, and it has since become just as vocal about conditions here as it is elsewhere. The organization's 2013 report on the US is a laundry list of alleged human rights transgressions, including solitary confinement, detention of prisoners in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, drone strikes, and police brutality. This tweet about the situation in Ferguson sums up the organization's angle:

While the nature of Amnesty's mission in Ferguson is unprecedented in the United States, it's not the first time delegations have been on the ground in times of crisis. After Hurricane Katrina hit, teams went to New Orleans to interview residents, with the purpose of producing a report detailing how government was failing in its recovery efforts. Amnesty also helped organize protests and raise awareness leading up to Troy Davis' execution in 2011.

To find the closest parallel to what Amnesty is doing in Missouri, though, you have to look abroad. Huang says that Amnesty's work during Turkey's massive anti-government protests in 2013 most resembles the Ferguson mission. In Istanbul, activists gave medical assistance to injured protesters and observed the violent clashes involving protesters, police, and sometimes members of the press. They ultimately produced a huge report detailing the numerous human rights abuses carried out by Turkish police. Their concerns then—police brutality, harassment and detainment of the press—were also articulated in a statement about Ferguson.

What's happening in Ferguson and what happened across Turkey last year aren't the same, of course. But the similarities between the two situations—and the fact that Amnesty is in Ferguson in the first place—are, for many, making what's unfolding now even more troubling. Huang didn't say how long the delegation plans to stay in Ferguson, calling the situation "very fluid," but Amnesty USA's executive director, Steven Hawkins, is there now.

The Man Who Ran Contra Propaganda for Reagan Is Guatemala’s New DC Lobbyist

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 2:45 PM EDT

In late July, with child migrants still surging across the US-Mexico border, President Obama met with Central American leaders to discuss a response to the crisis. Not satisfied with Obama's plans, Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina took his agenda to the media, writing a Guardian op-ed criticizing the United States for the lasting legacy of both the Cold War and the drug war in his country.

Around the same time, Guatemala hired a lobbyist to help push its interests in Washington, DC. Given Pérez Molina's sharp criticism of the United States' history in the region, his choice—former Reagan official and noted Cold War propagandist Otto Reich—was a shocker.

If you've forgotten about the Reich, check out this 2001 profile from The American Prospect, this 2002 New Yorker piece, or his National Security Archive page. Highlights of his Latin American misadventures include:

  • Running the Reagan-era Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (OPD), which, as historian Greg Grandin wrote in Empire's Workshop, "was officially charged with implementing a 'new, nontraditional' approach to 'defining the terms of the public discussion on Central American policy.'" What it actually did was work to ensure US support of the Nicaraguan Contras in their offensive against the Sandinistas.
  • Overseeing OPD's "white propaganda" program, which placed pro-Contra op-eds in the mainstream media without acknowledging their links to the Reagan administration.
  • Confronting and intimidating those journalists Reich believed were sympathetic with the Sandinistas or the Salvadoran rebels. This included a memorable trip to the NPR office in DC—Reich referred to NPR as "Moscow on the Potomac"—during which he alerted reporters that OPD was listening to and transcribing their Central American reporting.
  • Helping write the Helms-Burton Act (which tightened the Cuban embargo) as well as lobbying for Bacardi to eliminate Cuban trademark rights so the rum maker could pilfer Cuba's official Havana Club brand. (Reich is Cuban American and staunchly anti-Castro.)

Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but hiring someone with Reich's history in the region is probably not the best way to, as the lobbying disclosure form puts it, "develop a strategy to move forward on the change of narrative from Guatemala to Washington, DC, allowing representatives in the North American political parties that are willing to abandon the reference to Guatemala of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the last century, and are eager to talk about the present and future of Guatemala of the 21st century." (The rest of the form is embedded below.)

Nor is it the best way for fellow cold warrior Pérez Molina to avoid references to his role as a military leader during Guatemala's 36-year civil war, which claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Guatemalans, many of them indigenous Mayans, with assistance from the United States. But then again, trying to make sense of the country's politics can be futile. "Just as you think you understand," University of California-Santa Cruz prof Susanne Jonas once wrote, Guatemala will "show you that you understand nothing at all."

 

(h/t CEPR's The Americas Blog)

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Don't Believe the Crocodile Tears Over High Corporate Tax Rates

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 12:46 PM EDT

The US corporate tax code is inefficient, distortive, and staggeringly complex. Almost no one defends it on those grounds. But US multinational corporations, who have recently been engaged in a wave of tax inversions, have a different complaint: our tax rates are just flatly too high. They make American corporations uncompetitive compared to their foreign peers, and that's why they're being forced to relocate their headquarters to other countries with lower tax rates.

Edward D. Kleinbard, a professor at the Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California and a former chief of staff to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, says this is nonsense. Firms that are entirely (or almost entirely) domestic do indeed pay high corporate taxes. But multinationals don't. Thanks to the "feast of tax planning opportunities laid out before them on the groaning board of corporate tax expenditures," they mostly pay effective tax rates that aren't much different from French or German companies. They are, in fact, perfectly competitive.

So why the recent binge of tax inversions?

The short answer is that the current mania for inversions is driven by U.S. firms’ increasingly desperate need to do something with their $1 trillion in offshore cash, and by a desire to reduce U.S. domestic tax burdens on U.S. domestic operating earnings.

The year 2004 is a good place to start, because that year’s corporate offshore cash tax amnesty (section 965) had a perfectly predictable knock-on effect, which was to convince corporate America that the one-time never to be repeated tax amnesty would inevitably be followed by additional tax amnesties, if only multinationals would opportune their legislators enough. The 2004 law thus created a massive incentive to accumulate as much permanently reinvested earnings in the form of cash as possible.

....The convergence of these two phenomena led to an explosion in stateless income strategies and in the total stockpile of U.S. multinationals’ permanently reinvested earnings. But U.S. multinationals are now hoist by their own petard. The best of the stateless income planners are now drowning in low-taxed overseas cash....It is less than a secret that firms in this position really have no intention at all of “permanently” reinvesting the cash overseas, but instead are counting the days until the money can be used to goose share prices through stock buy backs and dividends.

....The obvious solution from the perspective of the multinationals would have been a second, and then a third and fourth, one-time only repatriation holiday, but there are still hard feelings in Congress surrounding the differences between the representations made to legislators relating to how the cash from the first holiday would be used, and what in fact happened.

Indeed. Back in 2004, multinational corporations swore that if Congress granted them a tax amnesty to repatriate their foreign income into the United States, it would unleash a tsunami of new investment. Needless to say, that never happened. Corporate investment had never been credit-constrained in the first place. Instead, all that lovely cash was used mostly to goose stock prices via buy-backs and increased dividends. It's no wonder that Congress is unwilling to repeat that fiasco.

Kleinbard's paper is an interesting one, with a couple of fascinating case studies demolishing the self-serving ways that corporate CEOs try to blame the tax code for things that have nothing to do with it. Andrew Ross Sorkin has more here.

Rick Perry Indictment Highlights the Hack Gap Once Again

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 12:02 PM EDT

Simon Maloy finds five pundits arguing that last week's indictment of Rick Perry was flimsy and obviously politically motivated:

Who are these five pundits downplaying the case against Texas’ Republican governor? In order: New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, MSNBC host Ari Melber, political scientist and American Prospect contributor Scott Lemieux, the Center for American Progress’ Ian Millhiser, and the New Republic’s Alec MacGillis. Five guys who work/write for big-name liberal publications or organizations. This, friends, is the Hack Gap in action.

Ah yes, the hack gap. Where would we be without it? For the most part, it doesn't show up on the policy side, where liberals and conservatives both feature a range of thinkers who bicker internally over lots of things. It mostly shows up on the process side. Is the legal reasoning on subject X sound? Is it appropriate to attack candidate Y in a particular way? Is program Z working well or poorly? How unanimously should we pretend that a mediocre speech/poll/debate performance is really a world-historical victory for our guy?

Both sides have hacks who are willing to take their party's side on these things no matter how ridiculous their arguments are. But Republicans sure have a lot more of them. We've seen this most recently with Obamacare. Obviously liberals have been more positive in their assessments of how it's doing, but they've also been perfectly willing to acknowledge its problems, ranging from the website rollout debacle to the problems of narrow networks to the reality of rate shock for at least some buyers. Conservatives, conversely, have been all but unanimous in their insistence that every single aspect of the program is a flat-out failure. Even as Obamacare's initial problems were fixed and it became clear that, in fact, the program was working reasonably well, conservatives never changed their tune. They barely even acknowledged the good news, and when they did it was only to set up lengthy explanations of why it could be safely ignored. To this day, virtually no conservative pundits have made any concessions to reality. Obamacare is a failure on every possible front, and that's that.

Liberals just don't have quite this level of hackish discipline. Even on a subject as near and dear to the Democratic heart as Social Security, you could find some liberals who supported a version of privatization back when George Bush was hawking the idea in 2005. It's pretty hard to imagine any conservatives doing the opposite.

Is this changing? Are liberals starting to close the gap? Possibly. The liberal narrative on events in Ferguson has stayed pretty firm even as bits and pieces of contradictory evidence have surfaced along the way. The fact that Michael Brown had robbed a convenience store; that he wasn't running away when he was shot; and that a lighter policing touch didn't stop the looting and violence—none of those things have changed the liberal storyline much. And maybe they shouldn't, since they don't really affect the deeper issues. A cop still pumped six rounds into an unarmed teenager; the militarized response to the subsequent protests remains disgraceful; and the obvious fear of Ferguson's black community toward its white police force is palpable. Maybe it's best to keep the focus there, where it belongs.

Still, a bit of honest acknowledgment that the story has taken a few confusing turns wouldn't hurt. Just as having a few liberal voices defending Rick Perry doesn't hurt. Keep it honest, folks.

POSTSCRIPT: And what do I think of the Perry indictment? I'm not sure. When I first saw the headlines on Friday I was shocked, but then I read the stories and realized this was all about something Perry had done very publicly. That seemed like a bit of a yawner, and it was getting late, so I just skipped commenting on it. By Monday, it hardly seemed worth rehashing, especially since I didn't have a very good sense of the law involved.

So....I still don't know. The special prosecutor who brought the indictment seems like a fairly straight shooter, so there might be something there. Overall, though, I guess it mostly seems like a pretty political use of prosecutorial power.

It Looks Like Obamacare Is Here to Stay

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 10:46 AM EDT

Republicans may say that Obamacare is still the white-hot issue it's always been, and among their tea party base that might still be true. But if money talks, it turns out that Republicans no longer really believe Obamacare is a winning issue anywhere else. Bloomberg ran the numbers in a few battleground Senate races and discovered that GOP candidates are starting to turn to other issues:

Republicans seeking to unseat the U.S. Senate incumbent in North Carolina have cut in half the portion of their top issue ads citing Obamacare, a sign that the party’s favorite attack against Democrats is losing its punch.

The shift — also taking place in competitive states such as Arkansas and Louisiana — shows Republicans are easing off their strategy of criticizing Democrats over the Affordable Care Act now that many Americans are benefiting from the law and the measure is unlikely to be repealed.

....In April, anti-Obamacare advertising dwarfed all other spots in North Carolina. It accounted for 3,061, or 54 percent, of the 5,704 top five issue ads in North Carolina, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. By July, the numbers had reversed, with anti-Obamacare ads accounting for 971, or 27 percent, of the top issue ads, and the budget, government spending, jobs and unemployment accounting for 2,608, or 72 percent, of such ads, CMAG data show.

As Greg Sargent points out, this doesn't mean Democrats are any more likely to hold the Senate this year. But it does suggest that as time goes by and Obamacare appears to be working fairly well without causing the collapse of the Republic, even the GOP faithful are starting to accept it. More and more, it looks like Obamacare is here to stay.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 19, 2014

Tue Aug. 19, 2014 10:21 AM EDT

A US Marine shouts out to his crew during a training mission in the Atlantic. (US Marine Corps photo taken by Lance Cpl. Alex W. Mitchel)