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Monday, February 20, 2012

Premium support con

by digby

TPMs Sahil Kapur has published a characteristically smart analysis of the GOPs latest strategy for destroying Medicare in the wake of their Ryan Plan debacle. It's absolutely correct --- "premium support" is the new watchword. It's especially potent because it was originally developed by Democrats and has been recently joined by one high profile health reformer Ron Wyden (who is evidently doing it because he's miffed at having his pet plan shelved in the health care debate. Seriously.) They have good reason to think they'll get a few more Dems on board with this as well.

Kapur's piece gives a good overview of the problems with it, but I thought I'd add this important analysis from one of the men who came up with the original concept:

In brief, current proposals are not premium support as Reischauer and I used the term. In addition, I now believe that even with the protections we set forth, vouchers have serious shortcomings. Only systemic health care reform holds out real promise of slowing the growth of Medicare spending. Predicted savings from vouchers or premium support are speculative. Cost shifting to the elderly, disabled, and poor and to states is not.

Medicare’s size confers power, so far largely untapped, that no private plan can match to promote the systemic change that can improve quality and reduce cost. The advantages of choice in health care relate less to choice of insurance plan than to choice of provider, which traditional Medicare now provides and which many private plans restrict as a management tool.

Finally, the success of premium support depends on sustained and rigorous regulation of plan offerings and marketing that the current Congress shows no disposition to establish and maintain.

I assume that once the election is over we'll have another attack of deficit fever and this issue will be back on the agenda. It's good to be armed with all the information now and get prepared. We know what the Republicans are going to do and there's not much we can do to stop it short of defeating a few of them. But it may be useful to corner some of the Democrats now, during the election, and get them to publicly disavow premium support. That's hardly a guarantee, of course, but it might put them on notice that they won't get away with trying to pass it off as some sort of legitimate bipartisan reform effort.

It's not much, I know. The Democrats will undoubtedly be almost as anxious to gut Medicare as the Republicans are, especially once the Health care lobby brings the hammer down on provider cuts. But they are slightly less gleeful about it, so perhaps there's an opening.

Sh!t Online Organizers Say

by David Atkins

If any of you have ever been involved in online organizing for progressive causes, this will be one of the most simultaneously painful and hilarious videos you've seen lately:

The people poking fun at themselves in the video are a superb group of committed activists. But part of me wonders whether these sorts of tactics can really create change given the difficulty of the challenges we face. Maybe we need a new theory of change.

Oh wait. There I go again.

Your moment of zen

by digby

From awkward campaign photos

I can't even begin to put a story to that one.

The Verdict

by digby

This morning David asked if Santorum was stupid or crazy. As far as I'm concerned this tips it way over into the stupid side:

“What they have done? And I referred to it the other day and I got criticized by some of our, well, less-than-erudite members of the national press corps who have a difficulty understanding when you refer to someone’s ideology to the point where they elevate Earth, and they say that, well, men and humanity is just of a variety of different species on the Earth and should be treated no differently.”

He continued: “Whereas, we all know that man has a responsibility of stewards of the Earth, that we are good stewards and we have a responsibility to be good stewards. Why? Because unlike the Earth, we’re intelligent and we can actually manage things.”

“It’s so funny that this party that criticizes the right for being anti-science, but when it comes to the management of the Earth, they are the anti-science ones!” the candidate declared. “We’re the ones who stand for science and technology and using the resources we have to make sure we have a quality of life in this country and maintain a good and stable environment.”

Santorum added that there was “obviously a role for government to play” in environmental regulation, but it was best left to state and local government.

“Freedom isn’t to do whatever you want to do, it’s to do what you ought to do,” he opined.

Uh huh. Any idea what the hell he's talking about there? I'm beginning to think Sarah Palin deserves more respect.

My favorite dumb remark in that word salad (and there are many) has to be the idea that environmental protection is best left to local and state governments. After all, the air and the water are all confined within the arbitrary lines on the 50 state maps. In fact, they're confined to the arbitrary lines on the maps of each individual town, village and home. If your little berg wants to belch smoke into the air 24/7 it's none of my bidness. And there's no reason for you to be involved if I dump raw sewage into the river that runs through mine.

Why do we have a nation again? I can't remember.

Where's all the campaign cash going?

by digby

Kevin Drum posts an interesting graph showing that presidential contests have become very expensive in just the last few years:

From 1964 all the way through 2000, the cost of presidential campaigns was pretty stable, ranging around $300-600 million in inflation-adjusted terms. It was only in 2004 and 2008 that costs suddenly went through the roof.

I wouldn't have guessed that. I always figured that campaign costs had been rising inexorably for decades. But apparently not. They've only been rising inexorably for the past eight years.

Here's my question again, which nobody ever seems to ask. Where's all that money going?

Yesterday, I mused that it must be the television industry, and I'm still assuming that's the case. But have their prices risen that much? Or is it the consultants? This precipitous rise in campaign costs means that somebody's making a boatload of cash. Who?

Going back to the 50s

by digby

I just can't say how relieved I am that racism is dead in this country. Now we can relax and carry on as if it never happened:

An intensifying conservative legal assault on the Voting Rights Act could precipitate what many civil rights advocates regard as the nuclear option: a court ruling striking down one of the core elements of the landmark 1965 law guaranteeing African Americans and other minorities access to the ballot box.

At the same time, the view that states should have free rein to change their election laws even in places with a history of Jim Crow seems to be gaining traction within the Republican Party.

“There certainly has been a major change,” said Rick Hasen, a professor of election law at the University of California at Irvine. “Now, you have a whole bunch of credible mainstream state attorneys general and governors taking this view. … That would have been unheard of even five years ago. You would have been accused of being a racist.”

Some of the shift appears to be driven by resentment of what tea party members and others perceive as an overgrown, out-of-control federal government, as well as by widespread concern among Republicans about claims of voter fraud at the polls. Part of the change could also stem from more vigorous enforcement of voting rights laws by President Barack Obama’s Justice Department.

The issue has surfaced in the Republican presidential contest, including at one of the televised debates, and could move to the front burner within weeks as a federal appeals court in Washington prepares to rule on the leading lawsuit against the Voting Rights Act. That case, brought by Shelby County, Ala., is backed by the attorneys general of Alabama, Arizona and Georgia. At least three similar constitutional challenges are pending.


“There are obviously more elected officials today than there were who are willing to question the wisdom of keeping this provision” of the law, said the American Enterprise Institute’s Edward Blum, a longtime critic. “In 2006, it was very lonely being a voice against reauthorization.”

President George W. Bush didn’t just support renewal of the law — he held a Rose Garden celebration for the bill signing that included the entire Congressional Black Caucus and bipartisan supporters from the Senate and House. “Civil rights leaders from around the country were invited,” Blum said. “It was a big deal.”

A key indication that political consensus is crumbling came during a GOP presidential debate last month in South Carolina.

Fox commentator Juan Williams asked then-candidate Gov. Rick Perry of Texas about the federal role in guaranteeing voting rights. Perry drew raucous cheers from the crowd for promising that he would not allow the federal government to take actions “against the will of the people.”

“Are you suggesting on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that the federal government has no business scrutinizing the voting laws of states where minorities were once denied the right to vote?” Williams asked.

“I’m saying that the state of Texas is under assault by the federal government,” Perry replied. “I’m saying also that South Carolina is at war with this federal government and with this administration. If you look at what this Justice Department has done, not only have they taken [South Carolina] to task on voter ID, they’ve also taken them to task on their immigration law. When I’m the president of the United States, the states are going to have substantially more right to take care of their business. And not be forced by the EPA, or by the Justice Department for that matter, to do things that are against the will of the people.”

Readers of this blog are well aware of the GOP assault on voters' rights over the past 20 years. The whole voter fraud trope is a rightwing construct developed in the wake of Jesse Jackson's successful voter registration efforts in the late 1980s to suppress the African American vote. We all know what happened to ACORN. But the idea that the federal courts are possibly going to overturn parts of the Voting Rights Act is news to me.

As you can see from the above article this has all happened very, very quickly, picking up tremendous speed in just the last three years or so. There have been a number of events which may have precipitated it, but it's happening.

It's pretty hard to believe that the fruits of social progress like voting rights and legal contraception could be rolled back. But clearly they can be. And the funny thing is that it will be done in the name of freedom. But then it will be freeing for the people who will no longer have to accommodate these uppity women and minorities demanding their rights. You know, like it was in the good old days.

Rick Santorum: Stupid or just Crazy?

by David Atkins

This must have been covered by others before, but here's Rick Santorum on Twitter from February 13:

Obama is wrong. Government cannot force you to pay for something that violates faith or beliefs. Govt has no right to do this.

Unlike Gingrich or Romney, Rick Santorum doesn't seem to be the type to say something like this purely as a political ploy. I think Rick actually believes this when he says it.

Which means one of three things:

1) He's so stupid that he doesn't understand the implications of this theory of government and taxation, in which case he shouldn't be allowed near sharp objects unsupervised, much less the nuclear launch codes; or

2) He's a power-mad situational ethicist who simply doesn't give credence to any spiritual beliefs that might reject other things government pays for that people find morally objectionable, such as illegal wars, capital punishment, faith-based initiatives, etc. In which case he intends to rule with a dominionist iron fist of theocracy in which government needn't pay a dime for anything his narrow of band co-religionists find objectionable, but must pay for things that others might well find immoral. In which case he shouldn't be allowed anywhere near power of any kind, even as a manager at McDonalds, to say nothing of Commander-in-Chief; or

3) He's a member of the sovereign citizen movement, declaring each person a nation unto themselves to determine what if any tax laws apply to them. In which case he belongs under surveillance, not in the Oval Office.

It would be nice if a reporter would ask him to clarify his statement on Twitter, and try to elicit from him which of the three categories of instant disqualifications from the Presidency best fit this madman.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Independence daze

by digby

Uh oh. It's little Tommy Friedman, 6 years old*, dreaming of a magical unicorn who will make mommy and daddy stop fighting:

I still don’t know if I’d support an independent. Like others, I worry about electing the wrong person by accident. (See: Ralph Nader and George W. Bush.) But I know what I’d pay good money to see: an intelligent independent candidate just taking part in the presidential debates, because it would make both Obama and his Republican opponent better. One independent I’d like to see play that role is David Walker.

Walker was the country’s chief auditor, serving from 1998 to 2008 as the U.S. comptroller general. He is currently the chief executive of the Comeback America Initiative (www.tcaii.org), a nonpartisan group dedicated to getting America’s fiscal house in order. Walker — who came in second to Hillary Clinton in a reader poll that Politico conducted last October for favorite Third Party candidate — told me that he has no desire to run but that he’s been speaking across the country, trying to do what Perot did.

Yeah, he's been very helpful --- to his mentor and benefactor, wealthy anti-government conservative Pete Peterson, the man who has been saying since the mid 70s that we must immediately end "entitlements" or his grandchildren will all be living like animals. Meanwhile, the original doomed grandchildren are now grandparents themselves ...(No word on global warming --- apparently not in his wheelhouse.)

There is no secret to all this. It was revealed more than 30 years ago by Reagan's budget chief David Stockman:

The purpose of ginning up the social security crisis was "to permit the politicians to make it look like they are doing something for the beneficiary population when they are doing something to it, which they normally would not have the courage to undertake."

I get why David Walker, whose raison d'etre is to fearmonger the deficit does what he does. It's his job. But what in the world is Thomas Friedman's excuse?

*trademark Atrios
The Mitch and Michelle show

by digby

Here's a charismatic pair for you:

I hadn't heard the term "morning after abortion" before but it's a good one.

If you didn't know what they were talking about here, you'd assume that that Obamacare mandated abortions. Which isn't an accident. They know their audience.

A model for pushing back on anti-tax "Democrats" nationwide

by David Atkins

There has been an interesting dynamic in a local state senate election in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, which should serve as a model for how to deal with conservative anti-tax Democrats nationwide.

Hannah-Beth Jackson served in the California Assembly as a proud progressive. Eventually she was termed out by term limits, and ran for State Senate in 2008, where she lost by less than 1,000 to the virulently conservative Republican Tony Strickland, who ran a nasty anti-tax campaign against her.

After redistricting made the State Senate seat more favorable to Democrats this year, Hannah-Beth decided to take another run at the seat (Tony Strickland is jumping over to try a run at Congress in CA26 after veteran Republican Elton Gallegly's retirement.)

Firefighter and conservative Democrat Jason Hodge won a seat on Oxnard's Harbor Commission in 2010 and has been looking for a race to run in to further his political ambitions, and decided to run against Hannah-Beth in SD19 as well. His optimism in the race is fueled by California's new top-two primary system, in which the two candidates receiving the most votes in June now advance to November, regardless of party affiliation. That has led to centrist candidates running direct appeals to decline-to-state unaffiliated voters, in an attempt to marginalize the two parties.

Hodge received several local labor endorsements in spite of Hannah-Beth Jackson's strongly pro-labor record. This was partly due to his being a firefighter, partly due to the longtime conservative leanings of many local labor leaders, and partly due to petty patronage network issues. Hannah-Beth, by contrast, won the California Democratic Party endorsement with massive support from local progressive delegates, despite a hard-fought attempt by some local labor leaders to game the Democratic endorsement process on Hodge's behalf against the progressive grassroots.

Now the Hodge campaign has been distributing walking literature with the message that he's "the Democrat who doesn't think you need higher taxes."

But an interesting thing has happened since then: rather than buckling under and getting scared of an anti-tax "Democrat" with local labor support, there's been a major pushback instead by Democrats, labor and progressive groups:

19th Senate District candidate Jason Hodge began his campaign against fellow Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson with an impressive early showing among organized labor, racking up both campaign contributions and endorsements -- including that of the Tri Counties Central Labor Council.

But that may be changing, thanks in large part to a piece of campaign literature that Hodge has been leaving on district doorknobs. It proclaims Hodge to be "The Democrat Who Doesn't Think You Need Higher Taxes..."

But in the context of the 2012 campaign, Hodge's slogan rankles organized labor, which is rallying behind one or more initiatives that could be headed to the November ballot that will ask California voters to increase taxes to provide additional revenue to boost school spending.

The SEIU reported this week that a "town hall" process involving members in the districts resulted in an endorsement of Jackson. And sources tell me there are efforts afoot to deny Hodge the California Labor Federation federation endorsement when the statewide group meets this spring to consider whether to ratify the local labor caucus' decision to back Hodge.

Hopefully this sort of pushback will become a model for fighting back against conservative anti-tax Democrats nationwide, even when local labor leaders and powerful politicians support them (Hodge has been endorsed by CA Speaker of the Assembly John Perez, partly because of Hodge's marriage to termed-out assemblymember Fiona Ma.)

This is also why it's important for progressives to get involved in institutional Democratic politics if they can stomach it. Before more progressives started getting involved in Ventura and Santa Barbara County Democratic politics about 6 years ago, a candidate like Hodge might well have advanced with much more local institutional support, and without the sort of resistance that Hodge has encountered. But with greater progressive strength locally and a governor in Jerry Brown who isn't afraid to advance the notion of fairer taxation on the top 1%, the direction of political pressure is finally moving leftward rather than rightward.

And that's a good thing.

War without enemies

by digby

Via Republic Report:

Jim Messina, President Barack Obama’s campaign manager, assured a group of Democratic donors from the financial services industry that Obama won’t demonize Wall Street as he stresses populist appeals in his re-election campaign, according to two people at the meeting.

At the members-only Core Club in Manhattan, Messina provided a campaign briefing last night for some of the president’s top donors, including Ralph Schlosstein, chief executive officer at Evercore Partners Inc., and his wife, Jane Hartley, co-founder of the economic and political advisory firm Observatory Group LLC; Eric Mindich, founder of Eton Park Capital Management LP; and Ron Blaylock, co-founder of GenNx360 Capital Partners.

Well, that's a relief ...

So, are we going with populism without a villain? Or are we going to blame the poor and the government like the right wingers do? Stay tuned.

The perils of a cheap and easy argument

by digby

Adele Stan is pitching in at the Washington Monthly this week-end and makes a point that can't be made enough: if you root your arguments in right wing assumptions, you will eventually find yourself backed into a corner by right wingers. She comments on Ross Douthat's latest scribble which points out that abortion rates are higher in places where abortion is more available (which strikes me as a thoroughly silly observation.) But then he throws the DLC tested "safe legal and rare" slogan in liberals' faces, pointing out that we obviously don't practice what we preach. Adele concedes the problem and then writes:

What’s really at issue in Douthat’s column is the perils of accepting the right-wing frame when constructing liberal positions. By unilaterally presenting abortion as a very bad thing in the 1990s, the message mavens of the Clinton administration, with their construction of “safe, legal and rare,” gave abortion opponents a rhetorical rationale for piling on restrictions that, in many states, make abortion inaccessible to increasing numbers of women — despite the fact that the Supreme Court decided decades ago that their right to the procedure is protected by the Constitution.

Reasons matter. Political arguments must be based upon truth if they are going to ultimately be persuasive. Those grounded in right wing philosophical assumptions are inevitably going to bring you to a right wing conclusion. The minute I heard that "safe, legal and rare" platitude (especially when uttered by Bill Clinton who put a whole lot of emphasis on the "rare" part) I knew it was wrong --- it gave credence to all these attempts to stop women from exercising their constitutional right to abortion. As Douthat says, according to liberals, it's as important that it be rare as it is that it be legal and safe. So, why aren't we supporting all these crude attempts to talk women out of it?

Stan makes the point further about the "born this way" campaign for the LGBT community. It's catchy. But it skirts the real issue, which is that it's none of the government's damned business who consenting adults love, sleep with or make a family. Every time we concede these points, we end up having to reinvent the wheel.

Fundamental human rights and liberties are fundamental human rights and liberties. Maybe we should just make the arguments on the merits for a change and see what happens. As Adele says:

Our rights come from the Constitution, not from some set of “Judeo-Christian values” selectively defined by right-wing politicians. Leave it to the religious institutions to promote their values as they see fit. After all, that’s their constitutional prerogative.

My breakfast with Chris Hayes

by digby

As usual, a great Chris Hayes show this week-end featuring segments you just won't see anywhere else on cable news networks (or anywhere!)

For instance:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I realize that admitting you are a socialist in America is only slightly worse than admitting you are a child molester, but perhaps if people would actually define it like that it might sound a little less ominous.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend earlier talking about the fact that when you are young you tend to think that the reality you know is permanent and that social progress can never be reversed. Here's a little example of how that isn't true. The words "socialist" and "communist" were epithets when I was young, for sure. But after the fall of the Soviet Empire I think we all thought that they would no longer be useful or that people would even understand what they meant anymore. That hasn't turned out to be true, has it? Nobody used it much for 20 years but ever since Obama was elected, it's been as if Kruschev pounded on the desk with his shoe just yesterday. It's the damnedest thing. And I'm fairly sure it's just a vague meme, with no real meaning for most of the people who use it. It was just there lurking in the subconscious waiting to be put to use again whenever they needed it.

Update: This piece by RJ Eskow explains why Obama isn't actually a socialist --- and why that's too bad.

Consumer protection

by digby

Tyler Cowan (who once expressed fear for his personal safety because I wrote that I was buying pitchfork futures) said a particularly ignorant thing on twitter yesterday and is justifiably getting skewered for it.

Oh how clevah.

Scott Lemieux writes:

[I]t’s remarkable how proud some conservative commentators are of the idea that if you support some state regulations that a conservertarian doesn’t you must presumptively favor all state regulations, given how utterly asinine it is.

Cowen does, however, have to be given credit in a way for choosing an example that makes the silliness of his premise particularly obvious. Yes, indeed, many of the people appalled by Virginia’s reprehensible forthcoming abortion regulations favor other regulations that provide information to consumers. The “contradiction” is not terribly hard to understand if one thinks about it for a tenth of a second or so. On the one hand, the typical consumer regulation does not require consumers to pay substantial direct costs to undergo humiliating and invasive medical procedures without their consent. And on the other hand, the “information” provided to women by the regulation is worthless, since women are generally aware of what pregnancy entails.

Yes. Women know very well that they are pregnant and, what's more, they know very well that it will eventually result in the birth of a child. If they didn't know this, they would not be taking proactive steps to end that eventuality. In other words, if she didn't know what she was doing, she would do nothing. The idea that after a woman finds out that she is pregnant, decides that she doesn't want to give birth, makes an appointment, arrives at the office for the procedure, then needs to be shown that she is pregnant is fatuous in the extreme.

There are only two reasons to support this: you either believe that women are mentally disabled and are incapable of understanding that they are pregnant and will give birth if they don't have this procedure or you believe they should be punished for seeking the procedure by shoving a probe inside them while lecturing them about their decision and showing them pictures of the inside of their wombs. That's it. My guess is that Tyler Cowan and the rest of these people making all these clever bon mots believe the second. But it doesn't matter: you're a jackass either way.

The Importance of Unemployment Trends

by David Atkins

Take this with a grain of salt (or several handfuls), but the implications of the model are certainly interesting:

A couple of economic researchers working for Yahoo say they have developed a forecasting model that predicts a win for President Barack Obama this November.

The model, created by David Rothschild and Patrick Hummel, predicts that Mr. Obama will carry 303 electoral votes this fall. At the same time, they say that several states contests remain virtual toss-ups.

In reviewing the last ten presidential cycles, the researchers say that their model correctly predicted the eventual winners in 88% of the 500 state elections that took place. Between now and mid-June, they they assume that personal income growth remains average for a reelection year and that the president's approval rating remains at or above its current 48% range.

One aspect of the model that might generate controversy within the ranks of professional politicians and their handlers is the conclusion about the value of a campaign and a candidate: Rothschild and Hummel believe that it matters far less than conventional opinion has conventionally believed.

"One of the interesting findings of the research is, quite frankly, that you can predict outcomes of elections with pretty amazing accuracy pretty far away," Rothschild said.

The researchers found that an increase or decrease in unemployment trend lines was a much more powerful predictor of election results than the unemployment rate itself. In particular, a key data point was the state-by-state growth in income in the first quarter of the election year. With the main economic indicators trending up, albeit at historically depressed levels, they say that's an encouraging harbinger for an Obama victory.

"The net effect of campaigns are meaningful but not massive," Rothschild said. He said that the economy's first and second quarters (in an election year) "more strongly correlate with a president's reelection chances."

I dislike and distrust the notion increasingly trendy in academic and church-of-the-savvy sources that campaign structure and rhetoric make little difference to electoral outcomes, which are supposedly predetermined by a combination of voter registration, name ID, approval polling and economic numbers. That's certainly not true of more local elections, though it may be more reflective of presidential campaigns. At the very least, campaigns and rhetoric influence the political ground on which the post-electoral legislative battles are fought--which is the only good reason to care about politics. Without the real implications for consequences in people's lives, the horse race of political elections is a dreary business, a reality show far more corrupt and less entertaining than most sporting events.

Still, insofar as the model has credibility, it shows the importance of maintaining positive employment trends throughout the first half of a presidential election year. The Obama Administration would do well to keep that clearly in mind.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Night at the Movies

The cook, the epidemiologist, the thief and his lover

By Dennis Hartley

Loosies: What does it have in its pocketses?

Oh, indie love story (sigh). How I adore your predictably unpredictable mélange of quirky characterization and pithy observation. So low in budget, so rich in substance! Fly! Take spray can in talon, spread wide your wings of gossamer, and boldly soar heavenward to tag the marquee of Hollywood convention in shades of hipster irony…OK, too flowery? I just thought that since this is sort of, Valentine’s Day “week” (yes I know I’m stretching), you would indulge me if I got in touch with my inner Byron. Anyway, there’s a pair of new films out concerning Cupid’s more scattershot tendencies.

Loosies is a hit-and-miss affair about, well, a hit-and-miss affair between a slick New York City pickpocket named Bobby (Peter Facinelli) and a barmaid named Lucy (Jaimie Alexander) who Meet Cute one day, when they bump into each other on a crowded Manhattan sidewalk. However, when a pickpocket bumps into you, it’s usually not an “accident”. See, Bobby (who goes about his larcenous rounds disguised as a well-appointed stockbroker) does a little double dipping while he’s at “work”. He has developed a unique variation on speed dating. If he espies an attractive prospect amongst his victims, he nobly returns her “lost” wallet or purse. An “honest” guy…with GQ looks? Guaranteed icebreaker (yeah, he’s an asshole). Due to his “true” profession, he also prefers to keep his relationships casual (and relatively brief), lest his cover is blown.

However, I’m getting a little ahead of the narrative. When we first meet Bobby, his fling with Lucy is history. His current concern is with his fence, a somewhat sociopathic fellow named Jax (Vincent Gallo). Jax is not happy with the fact that Bobby has jeopardized his enterprise by filching the badge of a NYC detective (Michael Madsen), who is now hot on Bobby’s trail. Bobby is also suffering through a personality clash with Carl (Joe Pantoliano), who has recently started dating Bobby’s mother (Marianne Leone). As if his stress levels aren’t elevated enough, Lucy (who he hasn’t seen in three months) manages to track him down with some sobering news…she’s pregnant. With his karma closing in to nail him on several fronts, he has to decide which “life” he wants to pursue.

There are really two films here, awkwardly fighting for the lead, as it were. There’s the cutesy rom-com aspect of Bobby and Lucy’s push me-pull you relationship, and then there’s the gritty urban crime thriller (culminating in a “let’s con the audience” triple-cross gimmick that we’ve seen countless times before). With special care, these disparate narrative elements can gel nicely (Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight comes to mind), but director Michael Corrente (who in the past has delivered absorbing character studies like Federal Hill, Outside Providence and Brooklyn Rules) isn’t quite up to it. The problem may not lie with the director’s skills, but rather with Facinelli’s screenplay (his first stab), which plays like Elmore Leonard for Dummies. Also, Facinelli can’t carry the movie; he has limited range (most apparent in any scene he shares with savvy character actors Pantoliano, Gallo and Madsen). If you should bump into this film, hang on to your wallet.

And if I ever lose my eyes…Perfect Sense

I have some better news regarding David Mackenzie’s post-apocalyptic drama, Perfect Sense, which tackles that age-old question: Can a chef and an epidemiologist find meaningful, lasting love in the wake of a pandemic that is insidiously and systematically robbing every human on Earth of their five senses? I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count of all of the sleepless nights I’ve had contemplating that scenario…or is it just me?

Alright, fellow hypochondriacs, listen up. According to screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson, it starts like this: A spontaneous onset of deep melancholia and dark despair, followed by uncontrollable weeping; after which you come to realize that (sniff, sniff) you have completely lost your sense of smell. Then, days (maybe weeks, maybe months) later, a spontaneous onset of fearful paranoia, turning into the worst panic attack you could imagine. This is immediately followed by an insatiably ravenous hunger; you grab anything that’s handy and looks edible (from lipstick to pet rabbits) and stuff it in your mouth. Then, you realize you have lost your sense of taste. Then…well, you get the idea.

It appears that Patient Zero resides somewhere in Scotland. That’s what brings an epidemiologist (Eva Green) to a Glasgow lab to help analyze the data as more cases pop up. Fate and circumstance conspire to place her and a local chef (Ewan McGregor) together on the particular evening where they both suffer the initial emotional breakdown that signals the onset of the disease. As they have “taken leave” of their senses in tandem, they begin, naturally, to fall in love (there is lots of room for metaphor in this narrative).

Since this is a malady with a relatively leisurely incubation, people do have a certain (if indeterminate) amount of time to adjust to each progressive sensory deficit. Also (if you can make it over the hump of that suicidal despair part), it isn’t necessarily what one would call a “death sentence”. That’s what makes this a unique entry in an already overcrowded film genre. While there’s still an understandable sense of urgency to find a cure, the question is not so much “can the human race be saved?” but rather “can the human race make lemonade out of this lemon it’s been handed?” I suppose your chances for survival hinge on how you answer the old “half-empty or half-full” conundrum. In this context, I think the film has more in common with Children of a Lesser God, The Miracle Worker or Diving Bell & The Butterfly, than Contagion or 28 Days Later.

As far as any “takeaway” goes, there are likely to be as many interpretations as there are viewers of this film. I mean that in the most positive way; that’s the beauty of it. The director and the screenwriter do an admirable job of suggesting possible philosophical and socio-political reverberations that could result from such a scenario, without getting too heavy-handed. The film is strikingly photographed by DP Giles Nuttgens, who renders a steely-blue and slate look that recalls another moody post-apocalyptic piece from several years ago, Children of Men. Most central to the film’s appeal, however, are McGregor and Green, who deliver performances that are at once broodingly intense and deeply compassionate. There’s great supporting work as well, particularly from Denis Lawson (forever “Gordon” from Local Hero to me) and McGregor’s Trainspotting alum Ewen Bremner (retaining his crown as the most unintelligible Scot in the history of sound films). See it, while all your senses are intact. (Note: Currently on PPV in some markets).

Previous posts with related themes:

Top 10 End of the World Movies


The Road



Cui Bono?

by digby

Here's a great piece by Ari Berman about the % who are buying our current election. This strikes me as particularly important:

The Wesleyan Media Project recently reported a 1600% increase in interest-group-sponsored TV ads in this cycle as compared to the 2008 primaries. Florida has proven the battle royal of the super PACs thus far. There, the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, outspent the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, five to one. In the last week of the campaign alone, Romney and his allies ran 13,000 TV ads in Florida, compared to only 200 for Gingrich. Ninety-two percent of the ads were negative in nature, with two-thirds attacking Gingrich, who, ironically enough, had been a fervent advocate of the Citizens United decision.

With the exception of Ron Paul’s underdog candidacy and Rick Santorum’s upset victory in Iowa -- where he spent almost no money but visited all of the state’s 99 counties -- the Republican candidates and their allied super PACs have all but abandoned retail campaigning and grassroots politicking. They have chosen instead to spend their war chests on TV.

This is part of a devil's bargain between politics and media, isn't it? All this money is going directly into the pockets of the television industry --- which has every incentive to keep the gravy train going.

Maybe you can't attack the money equals speech argument. But what about the costs? Isn't there some kind of campaign reform that could specifically and narrowly target the pricing structure of political television ads? The status quo amounts to a form of political collusion between the wealthy magnates who are trying to buy our elections and the media corporations who stand to benefit from their contributions.


"I'm all for the government making women feel bad"

by digby

I love principled libertarians, I really do. Especially those who say things like this:

I think that abortion should be legal, but I also think that it should be a last resort, and I’m all for the government using any non-coercive methods it can to encourage women to carry their pregnancy to term, including things that will make them feel bad about aborting. I think, for example, that sonograms should be mandatory before termination, I’m in favor of waiting periods and parental notification laws, and I’m agnostic on spousal notification.”

Ever had an abortion? Considerably more invasive than a trans-vaginal ultrasound. In fact, there are lots of worse things that happen in women’s health clinics; be glad you haven’t experienced any of them.

Ever had a cop hit you over the head with a billy club? It's considerably more painful than slapping you in the face. There are lots of worse things that happen while in custody; be glad you haven't experienced any of them.

This is someone who used to call herself "Jane Galt." And she wants the government to be in the business of shaming.

I'd also point out a little known fact about Virginia's state rape law: they are to be used even for women who are having chemically induced abortions. They must be probed as well --- in order that the government "make them feel bad" for what they are legally entitled to do. (And, by the way, if they refuse to look at the ultrasound, that's supposed to be noted in their medical record --- I'm assuming for some sort of future reference, the purpose of which is obscure.)

She does draw the line at "coercive" government power though, so that's good.

This story is via Tbogg,who takes it on as only he can.


by digby

So a famous Republican law and order, anti-immigrant tough guy turns out to have an undocumented gay lover and there are pictures to prove it. Just another day in Arizona.

It's interesting how willing so many right wingers are to defend him and blame "the left" for intruding into his private life. But it isn't really all that unusual. They don't want the government intruding on the private lives of their own. That would be wrong. But subjecting people who don't agree or identify with them to the long arm of the law is perfectly fine. After all, they deserve it.

There's a phrase for it: hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Put another way, hypocrisy is the tribute Republicans politicians pay to their equally hypocritical church lady constituents, also known as IOKIYAR.

I suspect that Sheriff Babeau will be easily forgiven by many right wingers, despite the fact that he has had a secret life as a gay man involved with a Mexican who is (apparently) illegally in the country. After all, he's one of them --- a card carrying, freedom loving, CPAC attending wingnut. On the other hand, a sheriff who was openly sympathetic to gay people and undocumented workers would be fair game to be outed and run from office. It's one thing to sleep with an immigrant of the same sex, it's quite another to advocate for the freedom of others to sleep with whomever they want or for the humanity and dignity of non-citizens. The first is just being a flawed human being. The second is being a
liberal and that's unforgiveable.

Quote from wingnut commenter at Gateway Pundit:

"[Liberals will] clutch their pearls and go on and on about Babeu being a hypocrite, followed by wringing their hands as they go on and on about those who continue to support his run for sheriff also being hypocrites. They’ll tsk tsk those hypocrites as if behaving in a hypocritical way is the absolute worst sin a human being can possibly commit, worse than raping children and/or detonating the explosives strapped to ones body in the cabin of a commercial jet chock full of passengers and soaring thousands of feet above the Atlantic ocean. Typical libtard bullsh*t."

There you go.

Update: There's more to this story. Howie has it here. Yikes.



by digby

An area Catholic food pantry whose mission is to feed the hungry says no to Planned Parenthood.

As part of its Martin Luther King food drive, Planned Parenthood collected 50 pounds of food. It hoped to donate the food to Paul's Pantry.

“What was told to me was that they simply said we do not want any food donations from you period,” said Lisa Boyce, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.


FOX 11 asked St. Norbert College religious professor Paul Wadell to provide context to the situation. He says since Paul's Pantry is a catholic organization, Planned Parenthood shouldn't have been surprised by its decision.

“In the Catholic Church there is such an emphasis on the dignity of life, the sacredness of life that it really is a cornerstone moral principle that there is a fear of wanting to do anything that might seem to compromise that principle or to weaken the church's stance on it,” said Wadell.
While Paul's Pantry won't comment on its choice, Waddle says catholic principles for life often come first.

“It becomes for many people I think a defining issue of catholic morality and to the point where it can overrule other moral considerations,” said Wadell.


But it isn't just the Catholics, as Sarah Posner pointed out last week at Religion Dispatches:

Last week at CPAC, Mike Huckabee, who has previously identified as a "Bapti-costal," spread his religious wings a little further by declaring, "we are all Catholics now." (Translation: this Southern Baptist pastor backs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in opposing the contraception coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act as a mortal threat to religious freedom.)

Now Glenn Beck (a convert to Mormonism) has picked up the Catholic ball, reports Evan McMorris-Santoro. He's urging his radio listeners and followers to call their member of Congress in support of the Blunt Amendment (a ridiculously broad proposal which would permit any employer to refuse to provide coverage or any medical service he or she finds morally objectionable) and include in their comments, "We are all Catholics now."

A new New York Times/CBS News poll finds 66% of respondents support the contraception coverage requirement, and 61% support requiring religiously-affiliated institutions to provide the coverage, with 57% of Catholics supporting. With the American public, the contraception coverage is very popular, and a new Gallup poll finds President Obama experienced no decline in support even among Catholics since announcing the rule.

If you wonder where Republicans think they're finding support for legislative proposals like the Blunt amendment, a new poll out from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life makes a telling discovery: evangelicals are more opposed to requiring religious institutions to provide coverage for contraception than Catholics are.

This is why I don't believe the whole brouhaha is about religion at all, at least on the elite level. It's about tribalism and politics. I'm sure that some of the people who are foolishly hating on Planned Parenthood have strong moral objections to abortion rights and contraception. But mostly, it's just standard old groupthink --- and an opportunity to make a point for your "side". There's nothing moral about turning away food for the hungry. For any reason.

h/t to bb
"I don't see where it's going to be that hard to apprehend her."

by digby

When the Taser's prongs hit her back, Danielle Maudsley spun backward and smacked her head on the pavement.

A nearby dashcam recorded the fall, even capturing the sound of her head cracking on the asphalt.

Maudsley, 20, clutched her head and struggled to rise. "I can't get up," she moaned, her final words.

Then she went still.

She has been in a vegetative state ever since. Doctors have told her family she likely will never wake up.

It happens. It happens a lot. If an allegedly life saving drug killed this many people, it would be banned:

This week, two state agencies cleared Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Daniel Cole of any wrongdoing in the September incident, which occurred as Maudsley tried to escape from an FHP station in Pinellas Park.

But several experts and researchers who reviewed reports and video of the incident said the case raises questions...

"It just doesn't make any sense," said Greg Connor, a professor at the University of Illinois Police Training Institute who specializes in use of force. "I don't see where it's going to be that hard to apprehend her."

Cole, who at 267 pounds weighed about three times as much as Maudsley, told investigators he used his Taser because he was concerned one or both of them would be injured if he tackled her. He worried she was headed toward heavy traffic on U.S. 19.

The scrutiny of the Maudsley case comes amid calls from some national groups for police agencies to take a closer look at how and when they use Tasers.

The human rights organization Amnesty International called this week for stricter limits on Taser use after an intoxicated Georgia man died hours after police shot him with one. The group believes there should be a national policy on Taser use.

Florida has had 65 Taser-related deaths since 2001, the second highest total behind California, which had 92.

I will be shocked if the federal government issues a national policy. If there's one thing the states' rights fanatics guard heavily it's their right to create their own policing policy. It would be a very heavy lift.

I'm counting on large punitive damage awards and public opinion to turn this one, and that's a heavy lift too. When they don't think tasering is a hilarious joke or well-deserved instant justice, most people think it's a fairly harmless tool that doesn't really hurt anyone. Educating them to the danger is going to take some work. And getting juries to hold the Taser manufacturer and lax police agencies liable to the point where it hurts is a long term project.

The good news is that it finally seems to be penetrating the consciousness a little bit. I suppose hundreds of deaths will do that.

Maybe a good place to start on this would be to convince Hollywood that using this deadly torture device for cheap laughs is sadistic and irresponsible.

Counting on Sanity

by digby

Tom Harkin:

"This Congress will be making a grave mistake -- a grave mistake -- and reinforcing a dangerous precedent," Harkin said in a dramatic Senate floor speech late Thursday. "And I’m dismayed that Democrats, including a Democratic president and a Democratic vice president, have proposed this, and are willing to sign off on a deal that could begin the unraveling of Social Security."

Harkin argued that Social Security had always been strong and protected because it was funded by its own dedicated tax stream that ensured every American would be guaranteed a basic income in their retirements, and that the program added not "even one dime to the deficits or the national debt."

But he said now that Congress was going to pay for this cut with borrowed money from the general treasury funds, the best argument of the program's defenders was gone.

"With this bill, we can no longer say that. We can no longer say that Social Security doesn't contribute to the deficit," Harkin said.

He argued that a far better plan would have been to simply grant working Americans rebates on their income taxes, the way Presidents Obama and George W. Bush had done in recent years.

Yep. Or send checks. Everybody loves getting a check.

Harkin's right on this. And I have to say that I cannot see the path to raising this tax again. If anyone's counting on the Republicans sticking with their current position, they're cracked. They'll be screaming "tax hike" the first time anyone tries to let it happen. And assuming that Obama wins the election, with the Bush tax cuts expiring we are already going to have a battle royale over raising taxes. What's going to give?

Republicans Didn't Have to Support the Bishops

by David Atkins

Many people have critiqued my and Digby's assertions that the anti-contraception stance constitutes a victory for the GOP. Most of the comments and emails to me about this piece have indicated that I'm an avowed pessimist who cannot realize when the Republicans have overplayed their hand and lost an issue. In the critics' opinion, the Bishops overreacted and have now created an issue that will be easy for Democrats to exploit, thus creating a pre-packaged defeat for the Republicans.

But keep in mind that the Republicans did not have to support the Bishops. The Bishops could simply have registered their objection and then meekly gone along with offering contraception as they have done so often before under various state laws. But the conservative establishment decided to kick in. Fox News, Limbaugh, and the other assorted factions of the reactionary media empire decided to make a big deal out of it, and their legislative puppets in the Republican Party dutifully stepped right in line to make hay of it.

These things don't happen by accident. The conservative establishment decided early on that this was going to be a hill for them to die on. They weren't forced to die on that hill. They could have let the Bishops stand alone. But they didn't. They decided to run this ball all the way down the court.

And guess what? As Digby points out, it's working. What just a few weeks ago was considered so mainstream as to an afterthought (providing contraception) is now seen as some sort of controversial touchstone, even as "religious freedom" has become a buzzword in the press.

Democrats can high-five one another about Republican overreach and laugh hysterically at the increased number of votes Barack Obama will receive in 2012 over Mitt Santorum. But ultimately the joke's on us. It's been on us ever since the Obama Administration decided to concede an inch to the misogynist conspiracy of extremist fanatics that are the Bishops, rather than mock them immediately for being out of touch with their own flock, to say nothing of the mainstream American public.

The political ground on contraception has suddenly shifted to the right faster than I have seen on any social issue in my lifetime. It's incredible.


Friday, February 17, 2012

It's the coercion, stupid

by digby

I've been off-line for most of the day, so forgive me if that has been aired thoroughly and I missed it. I keep reading on twitter and elsewhere that the wingnuts are saying that women being forced to undergo a vaginal probe if they are seeking an abortion is the same as having sex (so why should the little sluts object?) Here's the lovely Dana Loesch:

That’s the big thing that progressives are trying to say, that it’s rape and so on and so forth. And in fact, this big battle that I’ve, uh, totally won with Keith Olbermann by the way, like, not only won once but twice and three times… uh, there were individuals saying, [high voice] “Oh what about the Virginia rape? The rapes that, the forced rapes of women who are pregnant?” What!?

Wait a minute, they had no problem having similar to a trans-vaginal procedure when they engaged in the act that resulted in their pregnancy.

Usually that particular view is expressed by some leering old man saying like "if it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it" but the fresh faced Loesch (last heard saying she would like to urinate on corpses) saying it takes it to a different level. Why is it that right wing authoritarian types always equate coercion and humiliation with pleasure?

Here's the thing that is instinctively obvious to any normal person: the women are being forced to undergo a physically invasive procedure they do not want and which has no medical purpose by state actors for political reasons. It's like something out of the inquisition. No, these women are not virgins, but the last I heard the definition of rape didn't require virginity. It's about the state not being allowed to stick something inside your body in order to persuade you not to do something you have every legal right to do.

The argument about abortion is all about women's right to make their own decisions about their own bodies. If you want to prove that this is about someone else making decisions about women's bodies, there can be no better way to do that than insisting that pregnant women seeking abortions first have an instrument shoved inside them against their will. These disgusting little sadists are pretending there's nothing wrong with that --- but the pleasure they are clearly taking in the prospect is what gives them away. They know it's coercive. That's the whole point.

Mainstreaming in minutes

by digby

Check out this headline and storyfrom the AP:

Democrats protest religious freedom hearing
Religious leaders told a House panel Thursday the Obama administration was violating basic rights to religious freedom with its policies for requiring that employees of religion-affiliated institutions have access to birth control coverage.

The unity of the religious leaders contrasted with the partisan divide among lawmakers on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, with Democrats saying they had been denied the ability to present witnesses who might support the government stance or speak for the rights of women to reproductive health coverage. They asked why women weren't better represented among the 10 witnesses at the hearing.

The issue has sparked a political firestorm for the administration, with Catholics and other religious groups strongly protesting an original Health and Human Services ruling that religion-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities must include free birth control coverage in their employee health plans.

I mention this in the context of David's post below in which he discusses the GOP's long term strategy. If this story is any indication, at least a few members of the mainstream press are buying it. Think about it: something that until approximately five minutes ago was so commonplace and unremarkable to the American mainstream that we couldn't conceive of any national politician attacking it, is now "controversial." This has moved very, very quickly.

Keep in mind that the pharmacists who evoked the conscience clauses were all objecting to emergency contraception --- Plan B. They weren't talking about refusing to fill ordinary prescriptions for the birth control pill. That wasn't even discussed outside the darkest corners of the far religious right among the Quiverfull fanatics and fundamentalist Catholics. They have managed in record time to create another issue out of something that most people didn't give a second thought to a year ago.

Now, they won't win this if the Democratic Party stops listening to the Religion Industrial Complex and beats them back hard. But people should stop high fiving and recognize that this is now a battle and get prepared. They aren't going to let it go --- they're all in on this "conscience" strategy.

Update: Debcoop was on to this a year ago. And there's more to it than meets the eye.


by David Atkins

One of the few reasons to ever read Slate, Dahlia Lithwick, is in fine form:

So the problem is not just that the woman and her physician (the core relationship protected in Roe) no longer matter at all in deciding whether an abortion is proper. It is that the physician is being commandeered by the state to perform a medically unnecessary procedure upon a woman, despite clear ethical directives to the contrary. (There is no evidence at all that the ultrasound is a medical necessity, and nobody attempted to defend it on those grounds.) As an editorial in the Virginian-Pilot put it recently, “Under any other circumstances, forcing an unwilling person to submit to a vaginal probing would be a violation beyond imagining. Requiring a doctor to commit such an act, especially when medically unnecessary, and to submit to an arbitrary waiting period, is to demand an abrogation of medical ethics, if not common decency.”

Evidently the right of conscience for doctors who oppose abortion are a matter of grave national concern. The ethical and professional obligations of physicians who would merely like to perform their jobs without physically violating their own patients are, however, immaterial. Don’t even bother asking whether this law would have passed had it involved physically penetrating a man instead of a woman without consent. Next month the U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument about the obscene government overreach that is the individual mandate in President Obama’s health care law. Yet physical intrusion by government into the vagina of a pregnant woman is so urgently needed that the woman herself should be forced to pay for the privilege.

The bill will undoubtedly be enacted into law by the governor, Bob McDonnell, who is gunning hard for a gig as vice president and has already indicated that he will sign the bill. “I think it gives full information,” he said this week on WTOP radio’s “Ask the Governor” program. “To be able to have that information before making what most people would say is a very important, serious, life-changing decision, I think is appropriate.”

It's very important for the government to rape a woman to give her "information" against the wishes of herself and her doctor, and make her pay for the privilege.

But it's not at all important to find out who is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on unaccountable advertisements and legislative bribes to buy our democracy. That would be an impediment to "freedom."

Perhaps we should require invasive colonoscopies for Republican male "pro-life" politicians to provide them more "information" about the location of their senses of conscience and empathy.