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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies

Beginners and losers: Alan Partridge

By Dennis Hartley

The drinkin' I did on my last big gig
Made my voice go low
They said that they liked the 'younger sound'
When they let me go

-From "W-O-L-D", by Harry Chapin

Four score and seven years ago (OK, that's an exaggeration...it was 1974) I was a neophyte DJ working the midnight-6am shift at an AM station in Fairbanks, Alaska. The call letters, KFAR, were somewhat apropos; this was about as far fucking north as you could live on planet Earth and still have a radio career. I have never forgotten a nugget of wisdom imparted to me back in those days by a veteran jock, who, perhaps sensing my Pollyanna enthusiasm for the gig, took me aside to share some career advice. "You're still young," be began with a world-weary sigh, "So I'm gonna tell ya something about small market radio stations like this one, Dennis. There are only two types of people who work here: Beginners, and losers." I was the beginner, so...I assume he knew of what he spoke.

No fictional character better embodies the ethos of this showbiz axiom than Alan Partridge, the creation of droll English actor-comedian Steve Coogan and writer Armando Iannucci (the comic genius behind the BBC political sitcom The Thick of It). A smarmy, egotistical "program presenter" of middling talent and perennially underwhelming accomplishment, Alan is a "jack of all trades, master of none" who persists in orbiting about the showbiz peripheral like an angry bee, despite continual failure. This stalwart refusal to surrender dreams of stardom makes Alan oddly endearing, despite the fact he's a self-absorbed asshole. UK TV audiences (and Anglophiles like yours truly) have become fixated (in bad car wreck fashion) on following Alan’s ever-downward career trajectory. It began in the mid-90s, with the one-season BBC series Knowing Me, Knowing You (also the name of the fictional "show within the show"), which “documented” an ill-fated variety program created (and ultimately destroyed) by its prickly, passive-aggressive host (this incarnation of the Partridge persona recalls Dabney Coleman's character in the short-lived but brilliant 80s NBC series, Buffalo Bill).

Several years later, Coogan and Iannucci resurrected the character in I'm Alan Partridge, a two-season series that picks up Alan's story as he moves back to his hometown of Norwich, in the wake of his humiliating failure as a national TV personality. He has managed to snag the graveyard shift on a local radio station (erm...see paragraph 1) where he spins 80s synth-pop hits for residents of the sleepy little hamlet. By season 2, he's living in a trailer with his young Ukrainian girlfriend, picking up whatever gigs he can in between making desperate pitches to stone-faced BBC executives. Whereas Knowing Me Knowing You was more showbiz satire, I'm Alan Partridge has darker tones; Alan emerges more as a figure like John Osborne's Archie (or a character from a Ray Davies song). It's a 'cringe-comedy'; discomfiting yet funny (like Curb Your Enthusiasm).

The most recent TV update on the Alan Partridge saga was parlayed via the 12-episode series, Mid Morning Matters (2010-2011), which finds Alan more or less settled in (or wearily settling for) his career as a radio personality for a small market station, hosting a slightly higher profile air shift on "North Norfolk Digital". Coogan and Iannucci ease up on the pathos that informed I'm Alan Partridge and go more for the belly laughs in this series. And the laughs are plentiful, mostly thanks to Alan's interaction with fellow staff, particularly "Side-kick Simon" (Tim Key) and Alan's apparent inability to complete one single interview without somehow offending his guests. Which brings us to a new feature film called Alan Partridge (which was released as Alpha Papa in the UK this past fall).

In the film (directed by Declan Lowney and co-written by Coogan, Iannucci, Peter Baynham and twin brothers Rob and Neil Gibbons) we find Alan (Coogan) still ensconced in the air chair at North Norfolk Digital, with Side-kick Simon (Key)  covering his flank. Alan is waging his usual charm offensive, with song outros like "You can keep Jesus Christ. That was Neil Diamond...truly the 'King of the Jews'!" and challenging his listeners to ponder and weigh in on the big questions like, "What is the worst 'monger'-? Iron, fish, rumor...or war?" However, it is not business as usual with upper management, who call Alan into a meeting after his show to inform him that North Norfolk Digital is about to be absorbed by a media conglomerate, who want to make some staff cuts. Alan dodges the bullet, but his old pal Pat (Colm Meaney) is not so lucky. The new owners want to pick up younger listeners, and Pat is seen as too stodgy. Pat doesn’t take it so well; he comes back with a gun and takes hostages. Alan becomes the reluctant liaison between Pat and the police in the resulting standoff; hilarity ensues.

I know that may not necessarily sound like the setup for a riotous comedy on paper, but it works as such, thanks to the sharp writing, smart direction and deft ensemble work from the cast, right down to the smallest roles. Meaney (a fine actor who has proven to be equally adept at dramatic and comedic roles) plays it fairly straight, lending the film an edge and even genuine poignancy at times. Still, this is ultimately Coogan’s show; he’s inhabited this uniquely weird character over so many years with such commitment that it’s nearly impossible to figure out where Coogan begins and Partridge ends, or vice-versa (like Andy Kaufman and Latka Gravas). But you needn’t ponder that. Your job is to simply sit back and enjoy 90 minutes of laugh therapy…something we could all use.

Previous posts with related themes:

If you like Ole Blue Eyes you're going to love this Blue America contest

by digby

Check it out:
Frank Sinatra started Reprise Records as a haven for artists who didn't want to be pushed around by corporate dictators, an ethos that epitomizes Rick Weiland's "Take It Back" Senate campaign in South Dakota. We're offering an RIAA-certified plaque that was made when Sinatra's greatest hits album, The Very Good Years, went double platinum… two million records sold in the U.S. This gorgeous, historical collector's item will go randomly to one contributor this week who helps get Rick's first television spot up on the South Dakota airwaves.
The winner will be chosen at random. It doesn't matter how much you contribute. Click here to enter. The contest ends on Monday so don't put it off.

Now, about Rick Weiland. I'll let Howie introduce you:
On the day Blue America-endorsed Rick Weiland, the prairie populist and progressive candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat in South Dakota, he visited tiny Hudson (pop. 296) which made him the first candidate to have ever visited every one of the state's 311 incorporated towns and cities. And this morning he released a song about doing it.

Joined by his daughters, Taylor and Alex, and brother Ted, Rick re-worked the Johnny Cash classic "I’ve Been Everywhere" (written by Geoff Mack in 1959). Weiland and his family like getting together and playing music-- his son Nick shot the video-- but, as good as it sounds and as inspiring as the film is-- his motivations for this one weren't purely musical.

He talks about he growing up on stories of another prairie populist, George McGovern, standing in the family living room telling his dad, Bud, how he would break the GOP's stranglehold on the state by taking his compassionate populism directly to the people. He believes the U.S. is due for another course adjustment, like it was when McGovern represented South Dakota in the Senate. "Big money has stolen our government and turned it against us," Rick says, "and I'm trying to set the caring of my friend George McGovern, and the wisdom of a woman I admire very much, Senator Elizabeth Warren, to a modern tune, and sing it in a voice ordinary folks will hear."

Here are Rick's lyrics:

I was on my way to meet with voters at the local coffee shop
When my opponent called and said “when are you gonna stop?”
All this listening to what voters say
Don’t mean a thing, you know my money will rule the day
I said you can raise all your millions by the sack
The time has come for us to take our country back

Chorus: I’m goin’ everywhere, man I’m goin everywhere
Our country needs repair, man
Gotta make it all more fair, man
I’m runnin’ ‘cause I care, man
I’m going everywhere
I’m going to:
Millboro, Flandreau, Lodgepole, Bloomingdale Provo, Roscoe, Dakota Dunes and Yale Scenic, Frederick, Smithwick, Red Shirt Black Hawk, Dimock, Hitchcock, Holabird Dupree, Hurley, Emery, Westerville Selby, Gregory, Goodwill, what a thrill -

You can donate to Weiland's campaign here --- and get a chance to win the Sinatra Platinum record at the same time.

By the way, if you want a prairie populist in the Senate who also has some amazing ideas about climate and the environment, you should support Rick Weiland.

Yes, the stupid is strong.

by digby

I caught this on twitter earlier today:


This piece by Paul Rosenberg on climate deniers delves into the underpinning for this fools delusion:

One of the aspects of conspiratorial thinking is — paradoxically — that it gives people a sense of control because it gives meaning to apparent randomness. It may be more comforting to some people to think that 9/11 was an “inside job” than accepting that it was a fairly random event triggered by a few fanatics.” Even more in line with Armstrong’s thinking, he added, “I also think that there is a lot of identity politics in this, e.g., if Republicans generally think that climate change is a hoax, then it becomes a ‘tribal totem’ for others to pick up on this.”

As a further refinement, I noted that conspiracist ideation thrives on creating specific malicious others as a particuarly powerful form of meaning-making. “Yes, absolutely,” Lewandowsky responded. “There is this tension between ‘victim’ and ‘hero’ within the conspiracist worldview that leads to those contradictory positions. On the one hand (the ‘hero’ frame) it is permissible to accuse scientists of fraud and harass them, but by the same token (‘victim’ frame) scientists must do nothing to cast aspersions on the accusers or to defend themselves. Arthur Koestler has referred to those people as ‘mimophants.’ It is crucial for the public to understand this.”

Unfortunately, this represents a whole lot of the public. And not just right wingers.

The most important skill necessary for success in our "meritocracy"? Brown-nosing the new aristocrats.

by digby

I have taken to telling people that if they want to make a decent living they will need to find a job that serves the rich. It's the smart move in a society such as ours. That's where the money is. And it appears that one needs to apply this principle to all issues in our society. Even the government is getting into the act:
On a crisp morning in late March, an elite group of 100 young philanthropists and heirs to billionaire family fortunes filed into a cozy auditorium at the White House.

Their name tags read like a catalog of the country’s wealthiest and most influential clans: Rockefeller, Pritzker, Marriott. They were there for a discreet, invitation-only summit hosted by the Obama administration to find common ground between the public sector and the so-called next-generation philanthropists, many of whom stand to inherit billions in private wealth.

“Moon shots!” one administration official said, kicking off the day on an inspirational note to embrace the White House as a partner and catalyst for putting their personal idealism into practice.

The well-heeled group seemed receptive. “I think it’s fantastic,” said Patrick Gage, a 19-year-old heir to the multibillion-dollar Carlson hotel and hospitality fortune. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” Mr. Gage, physically boyish with naturally swooping Bieber bangs, wore a conservative pinstripe suit and a white oxford shirt. His family’s Carlson company, which owns Radisson hotels, Country Inns and Suites, T.G.I. Friday’s and other brands, is an industry leader in enforcing measures to combat trafficking and involuntary prostitution.

A freshman at Georgetown University, Mr. Gage was among the presenters at a breakout session, titled “Combating Human Trafficking,” that attracted a notable group of his peers. “The person two seats away from me was a Marriott,“ he said. “And when I told her about trafficking, right away she was like, ‘Uh, yeah, I want to do that.’ ”

Justin McAuliffe, a 24-year-old heir to the Hilton hotel fortune, was similarly impressed by the crowd. “Hilton, Marriott and Carlson,” he said. “That is cool.”

The daylong conference was organized by Thomas Kalil, a deputy director for technology and innovation in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, with the help of Nexus, a youth organization based in Washington that seeks to “catalyze” the next generation of billionaire philanthropists and other stakeholders.

Mr. Kalil moved nimbly among the affluent participants and through the ornate halls of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where the summit was held. “A lot of this is not just, you know, collaborations between the administration and philanthropists,” he said, “but philanthropists finding each other, finding other philanthropists with shared interests.”

(Disclosure: Although the event was closed to the media, I was invited by the founders of Nexus, Jonah Wittkamper and Rachel Cohen Gerrol, to report on the conference as a member of the family that started the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company.)

As in the old days of feudalism, if one wants to do something for the people one must petition the King or whomever the local noble might be to seek the funds to make it happen. It's an interesting American twist that we have the government facilitating the nobility's philanthropic hobbies, but it all adds up to the same thing.

Whenever I read something like this I like to reprise this piece from a decade ago by Phil Agre. It seemed a little bit extreme to some people at the time. I'd guess fewer people think that today:
From the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the self-regarding thugs of ancient Rome to the glorified warlords of medieval and absolutist Europe, in nearly every urbanized society throughout human history, there have been people who have tried to constitute themselves as an aristocracy. These people and their allies are the conservatives.

The tactics of conservatism vary widely by place and time. But the most central feature of conservatism is deference: a psychologically internalized attitude on the part of the common people that the aristocracy are better people than they are. Modern-day liberals often theorize that conservatives use "social issues" as a way to mask economic objectives, but this is almost backward: the true goal of conservatism is to establish an aristocracy, which is a social and psychological condition of inequality. Economic inequality and regressive taxation, while certainly welcomed by the aristocracy, are best understood as a means to their actual goal, which is simply to be aristocrats.

More generally, it is crucial to conservatism that the people must literally love the order that dominates them. Of course this notion sounds bizarre to modern ears, but it is perfectly overt in the writings of leading conservative theorists such as Burke. Democracy, for them, is not about the mechanisms of voting and office-holding. In fact conservatives hold a wide variety of opinions about such secondary formal matters. For conservatives, rather, democracy is a psychological condition. People who believe that the aristocracy rightfully dominates society because of its intrinsic superiority are conservatives; democrats, by contrast, believe that they are of equal social worth. Conservatism is the antithesis of democracy. This has been true for thousands of years.

The defenders of aristocracy represent aristocracy as a natural phenomenon, but in reality it is the most artificial thing on earth. Although one of the goals of every aristocracy is to make its preferred social order seem permanent and timeless, in reality conservatism must be reinvented in every generation. This is true for many reasons, including internal conflicts among the aristocrats; institutional shifts due to climate, markets, or warfare; and ideological gains and losses in the perpetual struggle against democracy.

In some societies the aristocracy is rigid, closed, and stratified, while in others it is more of an aspiration among various fluid and factionalized groups. The situation in the United States right now is toward the latter end of the spectrum. A main goal in life of all aristocrats, however, is to pass on their positions of privilege to their children...
It's very nice that many of these young idealistic aristocrats want to do good deeds. But this is really nothing more than good old fashioned noblesse oblige which basically leaves the betterment of man to the whims of rich people. One of the big improvements democracy was supposed to bring was that the people themselves decided how to organize society rather than depending on the kindness of aristocrats. Even great philanthropists of the gilded age like Andrew Carnegie believed in a huge confiscatory tax of great estates in order that the government of the people might make the decisions rather than the heirs of great fortunes.

But we're going the wrong way again. So if you have a good idea or want to help people or just need a job --- figure out which of the wealthy young scions of the new aristocracy might be amenable to your needs and figure out a way to kiss their asses in exactly the way they like them kissed. That's the major skill we're all going to need in our so-called  "meritocracy".

Update: More from Kathy Geier and Harold Pollack.

What's the matter with Topeka?  They haven't learned a damned thing in 60 years.

by digby

A school district in Topeka Kansas invited Michelle Obama to speak at a high school graduation. And all hell broke loose:
A furor over what the Topeka school district considers an honor has erupted after plans were announced for Obama to address a combined graduation ceremony for five area high schools next month an 8,000-seat arena. For some, it was the prospect of a tight limit on the number of seats allotted to each graduate. For others, it was the notion that Obama's speech, tied to the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education outlawing segregation in schools, would overshadow the student's big day.
Well, they aren't lining up in front of the courthouse to block her entrance so I suppose they've evolved. I think we know what's really going on here don't we? Yes, the people they interviewed said they were all very upset because it took the spotlight off the kids. And that might even make sense if having guest speakers at graduations wasn't something you see all over the nation every single year. Yes, this is a high school rather than a university, but it's hardly unprecedented either. In fact, Michelle Obama spoke at this High School graduation a couple of years ago. Here's the Notre Dame basketball coach addressing a high school commencement. Here's Rudy Giuliani at a high school graduation.  Here's President Obama at one. Here's Ben Affleck. It happens all the time. And the students and parents are thrilled.

No, these people just don't want this commencement speaker, the first African American first lady, coming there to mark the 60th anniversary of the landmark supreme court decision overturning segregation in the public schools. You'd think they'd be thrilled to be a part of such a momentous occasion and would remember it forever. Instead, they're looking for reasons not to do it.

Mother (Nettie Hunt) and daughter (Nickie) sit on steps of the Supreme Court building on May 18, 1954, the day following the Court's historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Nettie is holding a newspaper with the headline "High Court Bans Segregation in Public Schools."

And yes, the schools are no longer segregated by law. But 60 years later, the people of Topeka still can't bring themselves to acknowledge their role in that landmark legal finding  --- and they're teaching their kids to ignore what happened. (Well, that's the most generous way of looking at it ...)  What a missed opportunity for a beautiful moment of recognition and reconciliation.

Jesus H Christ --- how long can they keep this up?

The longer we wait to act on climate change, the more it will cost

by David Atkins

Naked self-interest is by far the biggest reason for failure to act on climate change. Most major corporations don't want any short-term reductions to their bottom lines, and nation-states don't want to disrupt their political networks and take on major green energy programs.

In light of all that, the IPCC's recent report makes clear that failure to act today is already having costly consequences, and will be very bad for everyone's self-interest tomorrow:

The latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the effects of a warming world are not in the far-off future, but are happening right now.

And they’re taking a toll on humans as well as natural systems. Rain and snow patterns are changing. Glaciers are melting. Water supplies appear to be shrinking, and animals on land and in the oceans are shifting their ranges.
“There’s clear evidence of climate impacts today,” said Michael Prather, a UC Irvine climate researcher and lead chapter author for the U.N. panel. “Some are really obvious, some are more subtle. The issue is what the future looks like.”
Climate change appears to be reducing crop yields in some places, and extreme weather – droughts, floods, cyclones – is exposing humanity to disruptions in food production and perhaps even increased illness or death.
While some effects of climate change may be irreversible, the report has a modest silver lining: People are beginning to adapt to the changes, with governments in many places, including North America, factoring climate change into long-range planning.

But the risks to people and nature are high, especially at the higher end of estimates of potential warming in the decades to come.
The one silver lining to rule by oligarchic elites is supposed to be the ability to turn policy on a dime and to enact long-term solutions. We're not even getting the "trains running on time" out of the bargain. The top tenth of one percent are simply living in as high a style as possible and letting the world burn in the process.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Little intruder

by digby

From the WSJ:
There's a new guest at the White House. Unlike most people who pass through the presidential residence, he wasn't invited. But in cutthroat Washington fashion, he saw weakness and took advantage. Now he rests and plays uninhibited at the seat of power.

He also has pointy ears and a bushy tail.

The little red fox, who hasn't been named, turned up on the White House grounds in the weeks before the government shutdown in October. After many White House groundskeepers were furloughed, the fox settled in. Months later, the furry little conundrum has left officials who sort through some of the world's most complex challenges scratching their heads.
They actually accompanied the story with one of these:

Luckily they have vowed not to kill the little guy. I just hope they don't catch him and send him to one of these barbaric places.
Maybe we should rethink Clinton's inevitability?

by David Atkins

Yes, it's a Fox News poll so take with a slight dose of salt (Fox News polls tend to skew to the right somewhat, but not hugely). But this is interesting:
Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating has hit a six-year low, according to a new Fox News poll.
At 49 percent, just under half of Americans view the former secretary of state favorably, while 45 percent see her unfavorably, the poll, released Thursday, said. This is the first time Clinton’s approval rating has fallen below 50 percent in a Fox survey since April 2008 — during the Democratic presidential primaries — when 47 percent viewed her favorably.

The poll’s results also mark a 7 percentage point drop within the past year for Clinton, about whose potential 2016 bid there is wide speculation. Fifty-six percent viewed the former first lady favorably in Fox News’s previous poll, conducted in June 2013.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s approval ratings have remained consistent, as 45 percent view him favorably and 51 percent view him unfavorably. This is a 1 percentage point change from his 46/52 favorability split in 2013.
The biggest argument for Clinton's candidacy in 2016 is her popularity, combined with overwhelming name recognition. The idea is that since voters already know a great deal about her, her favorability won't decline after GOP attacks.

If this poll is accurate, it appears that argument may not be as valid as many thought.

Clinton tried to coast on inevitability in 2008, and her campaign failed miserably after a huge head start. Yes, she made some tactical errors shortly before the Iowa caucuses, but the election should never have been close in the first place. The Obama campaign was a juggernaut to be sure, but the race was Clinton's to lose. She lost it by assuming inevitability, and even more so by her refusal to acknowledge the error of voting for the war in Iraq.

Many of my friends on the Democratic side don't believe that Clinton will be vulnerable in 2016 because there's no Obama-like candidate on the horizon. That would be a mistake that understates Clinton's weaknesses and overstates Obama's strengths.

If Clinton doesn't fight harder for public support and do more to appeal to the progressive base, she can easily lose again in 2016.

I guess these folks don't have any cows

by digby

So I haven 't heard any big outcry about the men with guns confiscating this property under forfeiture laws. It's the State of Texas not the Federal Government so perhaps that makes the difference. It's ok if Texas does it just not Washington. But it also strikes me as something that one might expect the Christian Right to see as an intrusion into religious liberty:
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which raided the Eldorado, Texas, ranch in April of 2008, said in a statement released on Thursday that the walled compound has been entered by law enforcement officers and “the residents have agreed to vacate the property.”
Jeffs was convicted of sexual assault in 2011. 
The statement noted that the state on January 6 secured a forfeiture judgment from the 51st Judicial District Court. Efforts to seize the property were initiated in 2012 by the Attorney General’s Office. 
“Law enforcement personnel are working with the occupants of the ranch to take all reasonable actions to assist with their departure of the property, to preserve the property, and to successfully execute the court order,” the DPS said. 
The DPS didn’t say how many people were still living on the 1700-acre compound with a gleaming white temple building in the center, located about 200 miles west of Austin. At one point, Jeffs held sway over some 700 followers on the ranch, where he and other leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, took young girls to be their “spiritual brides.” 
There are similar FLDS communities in Utah and Arizona. 
Jeffs, 58, is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in the Texas prison system. He was convicted of sexual assault relating to what his sect called “celestial marriages” to two underage girls at the religious compound.
Obviously, I hold no brief for this fundamentalist religious sect. (Liberals aren't usually big defenders of such institutions and I think most of the convenient claims of "religious liberty" are a right wing crock.) But I do find it interesting that none of those who are protesting legal forfeiture when it comes to cows says a peep when the cops come and kick this congregation off their land and seize their property. And since the man who perpetrated the crimes is in jail, wouldn't you expect the religious libertarians to defend the rest of them to stay on their land?

I understand why people would find it distasteful to defend these folks. But that's what principles are supposed to be all about.


You'd just better hope that wealthy elites want the same things you want

by digby

It's a coincidence if your preferred government policies are adopted. And that's becuse the government is doing the bidding of the wealthy --- if they want what you want it's all good. If they don't, you're out of luck. That's the finding of the new Princeton study everyone's chattering about:
Asking "[w]ho really rules?" researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," they write, "while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."

As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first.
Imagine that:
"Ordinary citizens," they write, "might often be observed to 'win' (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail."
And, by the way, the Supreme Court's recent rulings are just making it official. This study is based on data going back to 1980.

You remember 1980, don't you? When Ronald Reagan won by telling everyone that the government wasn't the solution, the government was the problem? Yeah, that worked out for us.

Update:  Be sure to read Kathy G's informed take on all this. Fascinating.

Torquemada was not a whiner

by digby

What ever happened to the old saying "never complain, never explain?" Today manly men who believe they need to be sadists for the greater good whine like little babies because nobody understands them:

The psychologist regarded as the architect of the CIA's “enhanced interrogation” program has broken a seven-year silence to defend the use of torture techniques against al-Qaida terror suspects in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

In an uncompromising and wide-ranging interview with the Guardian, his first public remarks since he was linked to the program in 2007, James Mitchell was dismissive of a Senate intelligence committee report on CIA torture in which he features, and which is currently at the heart of an intense row between legislators and the agency.

The committee’s report found that the interrogation techniques devised by Mitchell, a retired air force psychologist, were far more brutal than disclosed at the time, and did not yield useful intelligence. These included waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation for days at a time, confinement in a box and being slammed into walls.

But Mitchell, who was reported to have personally waterboarded accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, remains unrepentant. “The people on the ground did the best they could with the way they understood the law at the time,” he said. “You can't ask someone to put their life on the line and think and make a decision without the benefit of hindsight and then eviscerate them in the press 10 years later.”

The 6,600-page, $40m Senate report is still secret, but a summary of its 20 conclusions and findings, obtained by McClatchy News, alluded to the role Mitchell and another psychologist under contract to the CIA, Bruce Jessen, played in the torture program.

The committee's chair, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, has said the report “exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation”. She added: "It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”

Mitchell said: “I’m skeptical about the Senate report, because I do not believe that every analyst whose jobs and promotions depended upon it, who were professional intelligence experts, all them lied to protect a program? All of them were wrong? All of these [CIA] directors were wrong? All of the people who were using the intel to go get people were wrong? And 10 years later a Senate staffer was able to put it together and finally there’s clarity? I am just highly skeptical that that’s the truth.”

They were all wrong. Sorry. Just because they followed the directives of their superiors who told them torture was legal doesn't absolve them of their crimes. We had a process a long time ago and came to a conclusion about this issue. It was called the Nuremburg Trials. And one of the guiding principles was this:

Principle IV states: "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him".

This principle could be paraphrased as follows: "It is not an acceptable excuse to say 'I was just following my superior's orders'".

A moral choice was available to all of these people. They could have said no and they would not have been put before a firing squad. I'm not sure they even would have lost their jobs. They could have easily walked away.

So yes, I'm sorry that they failed to listen to some top members of the FBI and others who were clear about the inefficacy of torture and walked away rather than participate. And it's a shame that they are people who have a dearth of basic human decency, but they are. There is no excuse for torture. We didn't excuse it in WWII when the entire world seemed to have gone mad and we certainly can't condone it in this situation. In fact, it's insulting that these people are even trying. 9/11 was a terrible thing but it wasn't a license cast off all civilized norms. It wasn't War of the Worlds.

Who is Eric Cantor's intellectual mentor? Ayn Rand? Milton Friedman? Nope. It's the Queen of mean, Ann Coulter.

by digby

In my piece at Salon today I took a look at Eric Cantor's shift on immigration reform. And I look at why he might have done it:
If you are curious as to whom the Republican leadership truly respects and listens to about the proper policies for the party to follow, the answer might surprise you. Certainly one would expect that they’d listen to their strategists and pollsters. And it’s well known that they grant their donors the kind of fidelity one would normally only expect of 12th century knights of the realm. But if one is to judge by their approach to immigration, they are following the advice of the great oracle of wingnuttia, Ann Coulter.

Yesterday Democrats lamented the fact that the Senate immigration bill, passed over a year ago, still languishes in the House. The president made a mild comment suggesting that the American people are “ahead of the House Republicans” in this matter and would like to move ahead. He later called House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and they had a discussion of the issue after which Cantor released a pouty press release whining that the president is a big meanie.
Read on to see Ann Coulter's counterintuitive take on immigration reform ---echoed by other right wing commentators like Laura Ingraham --- which says that the Republicans will forever be in the minority if they pass it. It's quite interesting. Whether Cantor is literally following her advice is unknown. But the effect is the same. He's using the "a" word (amnesty) again. Which is exactly what Coulter ordered.

You be the judge.


Grandma Clinton

by digby

Some of the more startling insults I read about Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign weren't sexist, surprisingly. They were ageist. ("Yuck. Her neck looks like a folded quilt." "She's the Joan of Arc of the dry pussy demographic." ) And no those weren't from right wingers.  Which is not to say that the right didn't join in the fun.  Rush Limbaugh was very concerned for her:
[M]en aging makes them look more authoritative, accomplished, distinguished. Sadly, it's not that way for women, and they will tell you. (interruption) Well, Snerdley, you're just sitting there thinking I'm on the precipice of the cliff here without a bungee cord. I'm not. I am trying to be... Look, if I'm on the edge of the bungee cord, then I'll take the leap. The bungee cord will save me. I'm just giving an honest assessment here of American culture. Look at all of the evidence. I mean, I've just barely scratched the surface with some of the evidence, and so: Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis? And that woman, by the way, is not going to want to look like she's getting older, because it will impact poll numbers. It will impact perceptions.
It's accompanied on his website with a hideous picture of Clinton, naturally.

So now, Chelsea Clinton has announced that she's pregnant and what's the first thing people are doing? They're calling Hillary "Grandma Clinton" and launching into a big discussion of whether she can be a grandmother and a candidate at the same time. Apparently, they're serious about this:

In the Christian Science Monitor, writer Linda Feldmann quickly went all out, musing, “How, if at all, might the news affect whether Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016?… Perhaps it’s sexist even to ask the question – how will a grandchild affect her decision – but until she announces either way, it will be out there…. As anyone who’s had children knows, there’s often nothing like the bond between mother and daughter when the first grandbaby is on the way. If we had to guess, we’d say that Hillary Clinton will be a tad less interested in running for president now that she’s about to be a grandmother.”

But the Wall Street Journal helpfully surmised that “Mrs. Clinton’s status as a new grandmother could prove helpful, softening the image of a veteran politician who is often seen through a partisan lens.” Politico mused, “The armchair thinking goes, having a grandchild may make the Iowa State Fair a less appealing place to spend the summer of 2015. Why beg donors for money at dozens of events a month when there’s a happy baby to spend time with in New York?” but speculated, “In the vernacular of cable television, becoming a grandmother can only ‘humanize’ Clinton, who has long been critiqued for her aloof demeanor and rigid personal discipline.”

Washington Monthly, meanwhile, declared “Nana for President,” and observed, “Becoming a grandmother offers another particular advantage: it will give her the space to create a new public image. One that is softer. Cuddlier. More relatable. More real. And that’s exactly what Hillary needs.”

I suppose she could ask some of the other presidential candidates who were grandparents at the time for some advice about how to handle this. There have been a boatload of them. But we know that being a "grandmother" as opposed to a "grandfather" is a very different thing, don't we? Rush explained why that is for you in gruesome detail.

Obviously, it's absurd to think that Chelsea being pregnant or Hillary being a grandmother will impact her job as candidate or president. I think everyone will be functioning as they normally do. But the subtext in all this chatter about "Grandma Clinton's" new status and how it will affect her campaign is just a more polite version of those ageist insults from 2008 --- she's an old hag who is too unpleasant to look at to be president. And yes, it's sexist as well. Was there even one story in 2012 about Mitt Romney's vast horde of grandchildren? Actually, there were passing mentions of them. I don't recall anyone wondering if old Mitt might need to spend so much time with his grandkids that he wouldn't have time for the presidency, though.

I realize that Chelsea has been in the public eye for 20 years and so it's of interest that she's pregnant. But there is no need for anything beyond a simple congratulations to Hillary Clinton since it  has no bearing on her ability or desire to run for president. It's ridiculous on its face. But it does give a bunch of commentators a hook with which to characterize her as an old woman past her prime. And that's both ageist and sexist, that special sweet spot in American life reserved for all of us women who manage to get to the other side of 50. Just ask Rush. He explains it very well.

Update: John Amato surveyed the fever swamps and found out that the right thinks this whole thing is a liberal plot. Of course it is.


Californians support reform of Proposition 13 corporate giveaways

by David Atkins

The Field Poll is one of the most reliable polls in California. One of its latest findings shows enormous support for changing California's Proposition 13 as it relates to commercial properties, a reform known as "split roll":

A majority of Californians favor tweaking Proposition 13, the state’s landmark restriction on property tax increases, as it applies to business and commercial properties, according a poll released Thursday.

The Field Poll found that 69% of registered voters favored changing tax laws to ensure that commercial and business properties are reassessed when they change ownership, which would trigger a higher property tax rate.

Prop. 13, the 1978 ballot initiative that transformed property taxes in California, restricts yearly property tax increases on homeowners – but once a home changes ownership, the tax rate is reset based on the new reassessed value.
Because of the complexities of the law, however, commercial and business properties are not always reassessed when they change ownership. The poll found strong bipartisan support for changing Prop. 13 to include those properties.
Real estate and taxation experts have estimated that the loophole costs the state tens of millions of dollars a year in revenue, and has shifted more of the state’s tax burden onto homeowners.
It's arguable that something did need to be done to prevent taxes on homes from increasing beyond the ability of people to pay. But Proposition 13 was a drastic, overreaching step that led inevitably to overinflation of real estate prices in California.

Proposition 13 also essentially constitutes a massive giveaway to baby boomers and early Xers at the expense of later generations. Houses purchased in 1985 for $50,000 are often worth ten times their original purchase price today, but the property taxes on them have barely increased. That same house if sold to a new homebuyer would have its property tax reassessed at the current value--and there is absolutely no chance that a $500,000 house today will be worth $5 million or even $1 million in twenty years, simply because wages aren't keeping pace with the rise in home values. Taxes to fund schools, infrastructure and social services decreased, home prices increased beyond reason, and a fairly narrow band of people received the benefits at the expense of their children. People like to pretend that isn't so because they're under the delusion that the home and stock price increase of 1975-2008 was anything but a perverted, unsustainable aberration created by artificial asset inflation at the expense of the public square and workers' wages. Wages and assets will find a more sustainable equilibrium, one that will inevitably lead to a well-deserved downturn in asset values.

Even worse, however, is the situation with commercial property. That situation has two key problems. First, many commercials simply never change hands. Disneyland pays little more than 1970s-era property taxes. Second, many commercial properties can be "gifted" through inheritance and other means in such a way that it doesn't constitute a "transfer" under state law.

While far too many of the Californians who actually vote continue to receive the benefits of the homeowner provisions of Proposition 13 (a situation that may change as the number of less entrenched voters who are so priced out of the real estate market that they can only afford to rent becomes ever larger), most Californians are very clear that corporations are making off like bandits off rules designed to protect homeowners.

That bodes well for California's finances, and for a greater degree of tax fairness.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

The GOP should have gone RTL instead of NRA.  Bad call.

by digby

Greg Sargent has a story about the GOP starting to have a wee problem in their districts over Obamacare:
Asked by a constituent why he thinks repealing Obamacare’s protections is a good idea, Rep. Ross replies: “I don’t.” Though Ross has repeatedly voted to repeal the law, he cites his own health reform alternative – which includes well known Republican ideas like HSAs and mechanisms for “temporary” coverage for people with preexisting conditions – and laments that the GOP has not coalesced behind a comprehensive alternative. He says:
“I think one of the most unfortunate things my party did the last three years was not offer an alternative to health care…I wish we had an alternative. For the next six months, we’re going to go into an election, knowing that we’re not going to do anything to address health care. Because we’ve gone so far in the last few years saying No, that we don’t have an alternative to say Yes to. And I think that the American public, when they go to vote, are going to look at credibility before they look at substance.”
They made a mistake. They adopted the NRA all or nothing strategy when they should have adopted the "pro-life" death-by-a-thousand-cuts strategy. If they had just chosen a few elements to deride instead of barking about 'repeal" every five minutes they'd have something to work with. After all, many elements of the reforms are things they should, by all rights, be in favor of. Since they are not required to set forth any policies or programs that make any sense or have the possibility of working the way they say they will they could have initiated a strategy of picking it apart while still being in favor of "reform."

In fact, that's undoubtedly where they will go with all this. After all, refusing the Medicaid expansion has been a huge success.  They can be the instruments that hurt poor people while telling them that it's Obamacare's fault. Win, win.

Probably the smartest thing the president's team did was adopt their pejorative "Obamacare" as their own. That made the right wingers lose their heads --- how could they accept any part of the ACA if it had Satan's name attached?


Never say they take their eyes off the ball

by digby

Bernie Sanders reminds us this little historical fact:
It is not widely known that David Koch was the Libertarian Party vice-presidential candidate in 1980. He believed that Ronald Reagan was much too liberal. Despite Mr. Koch putting a substantial sum of money into the campaign, his ticket only received 1 percent of the vote. Most Americans thought the Libertarian Party platform of 1980 was extremist and way out of touch with what the American people wanted and needed.

Fast-forward 34 years and the most significant reality of modern politics is how successful David Koch and like-minded billionaires have been in moving the Republican Party to the extreme right. Amazingly, much of what was considered "extremist" and "kooky" in 1980 has become part of today's mainstream Republican thinking.

Let me give you just a few examples:

In 1980, Libertarian vice-presidential candidate David Koch ran on a platform that called for abolishing the minimum wage. Thirty-four years ago, that was an extreme view of a fringe party that had the support of 1 percent of the American people. Today, not only does virtually every Republican in Congress oppose raising the $7.25 an hour minimum wage, many of them, including Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell and John McCain, are on record for abolishing the concept of the federal minimum wage.

In 1980, the platform of David Koch's Libertarian Party favored "the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs." Thirty-four years ago, that was an extreme view of a fringe party that had the support of one percent of the American people. Today, the mainstream view of the Republican Party, as seen in the recently passed Ryan budget, is to end Medicare as we know it, cut Medicaid by more than $1.5 trillion over the next decade, and repeal the Affordable Care Act. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "Under the Ryan plan, at least 40 million people -- 1 in 8 Americans -- would lose health insurance or fail to obtain insurance by 2024. Most of them would be people with low or moderate incomes."
There's more. And it's chilling.

So is this:
Charles and David Koch hit a milestone on Wednesday, as a $1.3 billion boost to their collective fortune sent their net worth above $100 billion, according to Bloomberg News.

The brothers are majority stakeholders in Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the U.S., after Cargill Inc. They are now the fifth- and sixth-wealthiest people in the world.
They had half of that --- still an obscene amount of money --- just three years ago.

They could easily spend 50 billion dollars on politics and still be among the 10 richest people in America. And they are just the kind to do it. They are radical, true believers who have only one big mission in life. I think you can see by their "platform" what that is.

The Wingnut Welfare Monarchy

by digby

Can you believe this?  It's not as if Limbaugh and company wouldn't do this for free. Or that they aren't already millionaires hundreds of times over. They're just giving them money because ... well, because:
A POLITICO review of filings with the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission, as well as interviews and reviews of radio shows, found that conservative groups spent nearly $22 million to broker and pay for involved advertising relationships known as sponsorships with a handful of influential talkers including Beck, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh between the first talk radio deals in 2008 and the end of 2012. Since then, the sponsorship deals have grown more lucrative and tea party-oriented, with legacy groups like The Heritage Foundation ending their sponsorships and groups like the Tea Party Patriots placing big ad buys.
It's the sheer amount of money they have that always astounds me.

Atrios is holding a fundraiser and as one of the last remaining founding prog-blogs, he needs your support:
12 years ago I started this sucky little blog, mostly because this "blog" thing seemed to be taking off and it was dominated by conservative assholes and eventheliberals, like every other medium at the time. I figured I could be a liberal asshole on the internet well enough. About that time lots of other people joined in - I'm not really claiming to be a pioneer here. And of course there were the protoblogs, such as the long missing Media Horse and the sadly departed Bartcop.

I can't say this "job" is "hard" relative to the shit most people put up with, but there is something about the constant stress of having to come up with a post every couple of hours. I hit publish and immediately start thinking of what to post next. Yes I know I have a reputation for not writing anything, but writing is the easy part. Having something to say is the hard bit.

Thanks to the community for keeping it interesting. "Internet commenters" have a bad reputation - often deservedly - but they're generally the most interesting part of an interesting site. Without commenters here I would have bored myself to death years ago.

12 years ago I was 30. I am not 30 anymore. It's been a long strange trip!

Consider a wee contribution to keep this going a bit longer. Hopefully we've managed to help change things for the better, just a bit anyway.

We don't have rich assholes throwing millions at us, I can tell you that. Without you readers we will disappear. And then you can read Ann Coulter and Jonah Goldberg and listen to Joe Scarborough and Rush Limbaugh. They don't have to hold fundraisers.

Click over and throw a few bucks his way.

Update: Driftglass reminds us that the Queen of all Wingnuttery, Ayn Rand, approved the welfare back when little Paulie Ryan was a mere twinkle in her eye. (Well, that might have been the Dexies, but you know what I mean ...)

Clive Bundy needs to read the Nevada Constitution

by digby

The Atlantic had an interesting take on the latest right wing hero Clive Bundy. He claims to be a big States' rights guy, naturally:
Well, you know, my cattle is only one issue—that the United States courts has ordered that the government can seize my cattle. But what they have done is seized Nevada statehood, Nevada law, Clark County public land, access to the land, and have seized access to all of the other rights of Clark County people that like to go hunting and fishing. They've closed all those things down, and we're here to protest that action. And we are after freedom. We're after liberty. That's what we want...
In another interview he said:
"I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada," Bundy said in a radio interview last Thursday. "I abide by all of Nevada state laws. But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing."
Except he doesn't abide by Nevada state laws. In fact the Nevada constitution makes a mockery of everything these "states' rights" zealots are saying today:

Here it is:
All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair, subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States. The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existence, and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.

I don't think it can be any clearer. This man is defying the laws of the United States of America and the clear constitutional directives of the State of Nevada. He does not have a leg to stand on.

I'm sure he'll declare that he's following Biblical law or some such nonsense if confronted This isn't about law, it's about the right wing's conviction that the United States doesn't really exist.

Unless they want a war in which case they'll be waving the flag so hard it will cause a hurricane. Consistency isn't their strong suit.

But then, he's obviously a silly fool.
From the "who me?" fiiles

by digby

I don't know how a person goes through life with so little self-awareness:

I wonder.

That, from the fellow who  wrote this:

The Right Man is the first inside account of a historic year in the Bush White House, by the presidential speechwriter credited with the phrase axis of evil.David Frum helped make international headlines when President George W. Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address linked international terrorists to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. But that was only one moment during a crucial time in American history, when a president, an administration, and a country were transformed.

Update: You wonder why people are always bringing up Orwell?  Check out Frum's latest piece at The Atlantic. The headline:

We Need More Secrecy

Why government transparency can be the enemy of liberty

Also too: war is peace


The Bizarro World's greatest pundit strikes again

by digby

Dick Morris is the worst pundit in America, everyone knows that. In my latest piece for Salon I examine his latest jihad against the Interstate Compact allowing states to use the national popular vote for president in the electoral college which is unwittingly hilarious. Basically, he comes right out and admits that if they allow the popular vote to determine the winner, Republicans will lose:
Morris is best understood as the top pundit in DC Comics’ The Bizarro World of Htrae, a cube shaped planet in which everything is opposite of what we know as reality here on Earth (opposite of Htrae, get it?)Take his latest offering in upside-downism: he claims that in their latest nefarious vote fraud scheme, George Soros and his Democratic minions are preparing to steal elections from Republicans by having states adopt the national popular vote to determine electors in the electoral college.

Yes, you read that right. Using the national popular vote to determine who wins the presidency would be stealing elections. Let that sink in for a minute.

Read on. It's fun.

* Correction: Marvel Comics changed to DC Comics. I regret the error. Deeply.

How many people did we torture anyway?

by digby

In case you missed this last week with all the exciting developments in the ongoing search for Amelia Earhardt, here's an update on the Torture Report from McClatchy:
A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.

The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”

The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.

Here's the good news. We can totally believe the secret intelligence agencies now when they assure us that they aren't doing anything illegal, unconstitutional or immoral.

So let's just settle down about all that spying on everyone. They told us they weren't using the information for any purposes beyond keeping us safe from the terrorists. We can trust them. Absolutely.


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