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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Saturday, August 01, 2015

Saturday Night at the Movies

Death by Cocoa Puff: That Sugar Film ***

By Dennis Hartley

Coconut fudge really blows down those blues. On the downside, it also leads to metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease, a fatty liver, and type II diabetes. Well, the coconut fudge itself is not The Devil, per se, but rather a toothsome delivery system for the actual culprit. And ye may not recognize him; for his name is legion, and they are many: Agave nectar, barley malt syrup, cane juice crystals, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, lactose, molasses, sorghum or (my favorite) treacle. Yes, the correct answer is: “Sugar”.

So, if you don’t want to die from metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease, a fatty liver, or type II diabetes, the answer is obvious, right? As Marlene Dietrich wryly advises the corpulent Orson Welles in Touch of Evil: “You should lay off those candy bars.” While a good place to start, that’s not necessarily The Answer. That is, if you believe everything that Damon Gameau has to say in his documentary, That Sugar Film.

As Morgan Spurlock did for his 2004 fast food expose, Super Size Me, Gameau donates his (living) body to science, in the interest of public health. Also like his predecessor, Gameau is a (usually) health-conscious individual who sets out to attempt what some might consider an act of nutritional suicide, and to document his experiment for posterity.

Spoiler alert…he lives to tell his tale (but you knew that). Whereas Spurlock scarfed (and barfed) nothing but McDonald’s fare for a month, Gameau super-sizes his study, ingesting the equivalency of 40 teaspoons of sugar daily for two months. While that seems excessive (and undoubtedly is, from a health perspective), Gameau was simply only replicating the daily teenage average consumption of sugar in his native Australia.

The twist is that Gameau did lay off those candy bars. And cookies, and cake, and ice cream. So how did he get all that sugar in his system? He ate healthy…as in “healthy” foods like low-fat yogurt, granola, and Jamba Juice smoothies (he conducted part of his experiment grazing in the U.S.). These are foods laden with “hidden” sugars that many of us (much less teenagers) shovel down our gullets daily. That’s a scary enough thought to process, but by the time Gameau shares that 80% of our processed foods contain sugar, it’s downright depressing (I immediately consoled myself with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s).

The effects of these 60 days of sugary self-abuse on Gameau’s overall health prove similar to Spurlock’s physiological (and psychological) deterioration following his fast food diet: weight gain, an alarming proliferation of fatty tissue in his liver, lethargy, mood swings, and pre-diabetic symptoms (all confirmed by attendant doctors and psychologists). Perhaps the most startling revelation is that Gameau’s daily caloric intake remained nearly identical to his pre-experiment numbers; the difference being that his normal diet consists of healthy fats and proteins (it’s those empty calories that kill you!).

But is any of this really news to anybody? After all, everyone from concerned nutritionists to tyrannical Socialist first ladies have been touting the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits, nuts, veggies and lean protein to the ‘murcan public for some time now. Yet diabetes remains at epidemic levels, and heart disease is still America’s #1 killer. So I suppose most of us must have our heads too firmly implanted in the stuffed-crust pizza.

And know that I am just as guilty as the next rube. I know ice cream is “bad” for me…but it tastes so fucking good! I know I shouldn’t eat sugary cold cereal for breakfast every morning…but I’m too goddam lazy to cook. But that’s a “PP” (personal problem), so what about society at large? The problem, Gameau posits, may go deeper than behavioral issues of self-control, or kicking sugar addiction. He digs into sociopolitical factors, including a parallel study between sugar-related health crises in two economically depressed backwaters; an Aboriginal settlement in Australia and a town in Appalachia.

And then there’s the other “P” word. Profits. The sugar industry (for obvious reasons) has a keen interest in keeping consumers hooked on the sweet stuff, and Gameau delves into some of the more insidious manipulations they routinely engage in, from buying off scientists to pass off puff pieces as “official studies” to the (inevitable) lobbying tactics.

While visually “busy” and distractingly frenetic at times (the film is edited and color-timed like a Katy Perry video) I think the substantive message will be absorbed by viewers. It’s possible that Gameau infused his film with broad theatricality (e.g. hammy cameos by Hugh Jackman and Stephen Fry) to soften the blow. I mean, who really wants to be told they’re digging their grave with an ice cream scoop, or that jolly old Captain Crunch is in reality the Antichrist, in a tri-corner hat? Hey, I know…who wants Trident?

(In limited release and available on VOD).

-Dennis Hartley

Ugly Americans

by digby

It's impossible to catalog all the reasons the world might hate Americans, but for my money, this should be at the top of the list:

American tourists -- wealthy ones, given the high costs involved -- account for the majority of lions killed for sport in Africa. A 2011 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that between 1999 and 2008, Americans brought home lion "trophies" -- heads, pelts and whatnot -- representing 64 percent of all African lions killed for sport during that period. And that number is rising: "Of these trophies, the number imported into the U.S. in 2008 was larger than any other year in the decade studied and more than twice the number in 1999," the report found.

We worship guns and we worship violence and we worship killing. And we insist on taking our blood sacrifice rituals all over the world.

The rich aristocrats are also members of the extremist right

by digby

Here are some very sobering numbers:
Fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.

The vast majority of the $388 million backing presidential candidates this year is being channeled to groups that can accept unlimited contributions in support of candidates from almost any source. The speed with which such “super PACs” can raise money — sometimes bringing in tens of millions of dollars from a few businesses or individuals in a matter of days — has allowed them to build enormous campaign war chests in a fraction of the time that it would take the candidates, who are restricted in how much they can accept from a single donor.

A New York Times analysis of Federal Election Commission reports and Internal Revenue Service records shows that the fund-raising arms race has made most of the presidential hopefuls deeply dependent on a small pool of the richest Americans. The concentration of donors is greatest on the Republican side, according to the Times analysis, where consultants and lawyers have pushed more aggressively to exploit the looser fund-raising rules that have fueled the rise of super PACs. Just 130 or so families and their businesses provided more than half the money raised through June by Republican candidates and their super PACs.

130 families out of more than 300 million people are financing the GOP campaigns so far.

I've been wondering why in the hell that nutball Ted Cruz was invited to the Koch-fest this week-end and I guess we now know the reason --- very, very wealthy people love this nutball:

I urge you to go and look at all the graphics of the donations. It's frightening. These hugely wealthy people are giving gigantic sums to Republican candidates. And not just any Republican candidates, true freakshow candidates like Ted Cruz.

We don't know how all this money is going to eventually affect races. It's possible that it reaches a saturation point and simply ends up turning a bunch of consultants into multi-millionaires. Maybe it's just their version of economic stimulus.

But if it does have a substantial effect, it seems to me quite dangerous that these extremely wealthy aristocrats are willing to write such big checks to these far right weirdos. They are no different than the big money guy who's actually running: Donald Trump. It shows they are extremists --- extremists who have been given even more power to do something crazy than they've ever had before.

When we talk about the far right base of the Republican party, it includes all these billionaires. They aren't "grown-ups".  That should make us all very nervous.

Trump makes headway among the elites

by digby

Great. Now David Frum is on the anti-immigrant bandwagon making Trump's illogical, idiotic argument about immigrant criminals. Because, you know, if it weren't for all those immigrants ... we'd still be awash in homegrown violence the likes of which one only exists in countries like Somalia. This is facile, xenophobic,nonsense. And it's the most degrading, dehumanizing, dare I say fascist, argument against foreigners there is. It has a very long and notorious pedigree.

By the way, Frum is an immigrant.  And Billmon makes an excellent point:

There are crimes and then there are crimes. Considering that Frum is the author of the "axis o' evil" speech (not to mention this crime against intellectual integrity) Maybe he should be a little bit more circumspect.

Freeway propaganda

by digby

Across the country, motorists can purchase specialty license plates to show their support for state-approved groups or institutions, such as public universities, firefighters, veterans, and … anti-abortion activists? Twenty-nine states offer anti-abortion “Choose Life” license plates. Among them, 15 states explicitly route the proceeds to anti-abortion organizations or crisis pregnancy centers, nonprofits that advise pregnant women against abortion. CPCs have been caught lying about the physical and mental health risks of abortions, and many of them are affiliated with religious organizations.
You have to wonder why it never occurs to all these "pro-lifers" who are surrounded by so many liars, hoaxters and cheats that they might be the real marks.



Fight or flight?

by Tom Sullivan

Eric Garner: selling loose cigarettes
John Crawford: shopping at Walmart
Tamir Rice: playing in a park
Walter Scott: burned out brake light
Freddie Gray: running from police
Sandra Bland: failure to signal lane change
Sam Dubose: not displaying a front license tag

The first three were on foot. Police stopped Freddie Gray for running when he saw them. Police stopped the other three for minor traffic violations. All African American and all dead after the encounters.

In 45 years of driving while white, I recall being pulled over for something as trivial as failure to signal a lane change exactly once. How many times had Sandra Bland at age 28 been stopped for minor offenses before being dragged from her car on July 10, 2015?

In the case of Sam Dubose, a grand jury this week indicted Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing for murder over the July 19 shooting. The (ironically named) Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph Deters called the shooting "the most asinine act I’ve ever seen a police officer make, totally unwarranted.”

Watching the body-cam video, it seems that Dubose wanted to get away when the white officer asked him to step out of the car. Imagine that.

Imagine you are an African American stopped for a traffic violation as trivial as a missing front license plate and, based on recent events, consider the possibility that in moments you might die. What does raw instinct demand? Fight or flight?

Except choosing either (as if instinct is a choice) is proof for the warrior cop of something much more threatening than an expired tag. Fleeing imminent death becomes proof of malice, the way drowning once proved an accused witch innocent.

According to Deters, Sam Dubose died over "chicken crap stuff" and Tensing "never should have been a police officer." One wonders how many others fall into that category.

Friday, July 31, 2015

RIP Rowdy Roddy Piper. His film, "They Live" was a Documentary 

by  Spocko

'Rowdy' Roddy Piper, WWE legend, dead at 61
    - CBCNews Saskatchewan 

One of my favorite films in the 80's was "They Live." Not just because of the science fiction aspect of it, but because of the biting satire.

On the surface it's a standard "Aliens take over Earth" story, but underneath that it showed how some in the media and government really see Americans and what they want us to do.

When our heroes put on special glasses they could see the messages that were embedded in our media, all in black and white. (Video link)

Frank: What do these things want?
Gilbert: They're free-enterprisers. The earth is just another developing planet. Their third world.

The main character, Piper, comes to town looking for work. He is directed to a camp of other men and women looking for work. His interview:

Female Interviewer: Last place of employment?
Nada: Denver, Colorado. I worked there for ten years and things just seemed to dry up. They lost fourteen banks in one week. So, well...
Female Interviewer: There's nothing available for you right now.

This movie came out in 1988, at the end of the Reagan years. Homelessness and yuppies existed side by side. It was an awkward juxtaposition for people with empathy.

During that time many people figured, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! Even if it meant having no empathy for others. Look out for number One, especially if he looks like you!  Get that BMW and Rolex! If people have a problem getting work it was their fault, not the power structure or the system.

What kind of people would act this way? Certainly not good Christians given what that guy Jesus said in the parables in the New Testament. It was hard to believe that decent humans could act this way. Therefore they must not be themselves. So that is what the filmmakers did, made greedy, selfish people into actual ugly aliens.

Yes it's a simplistic metaphor, but the movie creator then went beyond it to include humans who weren't aliens, but who believed in the alien "values."  Let's call them "aspirational aliens." 

Drifter: What's wrong with having it good for a change? Now they're gonna let us have it good if we just help 'em. They're gonna leave us alone, let us make some money. You can have a little taste of that good life too. Now, I know you want it. Hell, everybody does.
Frank: You'd do it to your own kind.
Drifter: What's the threat? We all sell out every day, might as well be on the winning team.

Join the winning team! Why associate with the poor, even if they are like you. Don't be a loser!  Outsource the jobs at your company and you get a cut of the profits. Get that juicy government contract, then bitch about welfare for, "those people." Winner!

Frank: The steel mills were laying people off left and right. They finally went under. We gave the steel companies a break when they needed it. You know what they gave themselves? Raises.

One of the themes of the movie was how the aliens in the media helped the aliens in the government. The media amplified the messages of consuming goods and obeying authority. Meanwhile, the aliens literally sent our wealth away from Earth. 

Some of the people who Piper wanted to join him in the struggle against the aliens had to be forced to see the truth. (This involved a classic alley fight scene with Piper and Keith David video link

When Keith David finally sees what is happening, the scope of the alien's power and control is stunning.  

Together they do the best they can to fight the aliens and their human collaborators. They become hunted criminals in the process.  Who can they turn to for help? Who are their allies? Not the media, they had profits to make.

The media attacked the people handing out the glasses that let everyone see the truth for themselves. It's easier to write the truth tellers off as nuts. Fortunately, some in the media were still human, and helped.

The heroes' crime was trying to open people's eyes to what was hiding behind media and government fronts.  Does any of this sound familiar?  Have you heard a story like this lately?

Today the actor Rowdy Roddy Piper is dead, but "they" live.

We have always had greedy humans selling out fellow humans for profit, demanding everyone submit to their authority and obey, no questions asked. But we need to keep fighting them in our life and within our fiction.

Let's listen to Piper give the inspiring words of screenplay author John Carpenter 

It's 2015 America, and I'm all out of bubblegum.


You're welcome

by digby

A great man and some puppies:

Now that is the best thing you've seen all week, guaranteed.

Challenging his "right to rise"

by digby

So Clinton said something critical about Jeb!'s "super-PAC" today and the New York Times thinks she's a real battle-ax: "stomping", "biting" and using his big Super PAC as a "verbal spear":

In a biting pre-emptive attack delivered as Mr. Bush, the former Florida governor, waited backstage here at the annual convention of the National Urban League, Mrs. Clinton portrayed him as a hypocrite who had set back the cause of black Americans.

Mrs. Clinton, a Democratic candidate for president, latched onto Mr. Bush’s campaign slogan and the name of his “super PAC” — “Right to Rise,” his shorthand for a conservative agenda of self-reliance and hope — and turned it into a verbal spear.

“People can’t rise if they can’t afford health care,” Mrs. Clinton said to applause from conventiongoers, a dig at Mr. Bush’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

“They can’t rise if the minimum wage is too low to live on,” she said, a jab at his opposition to raising the federal minimum wage.

“They can’t rise if their governor makes it harder for them to get a college education,” she said, a critique of Mr. Bush’s decision as governor to eliminate affirmative action in college admissions.

When Mr. Bush reached the lectern, declaring, “I believe in the right to rise in this country,” the scent of political gunpowder was still in the air.

It was an unexpected moment of campaign theater that seemed to presage Mrs. Clinton’s general-election strategy should she prevail in her party’s primary contest: an elbows-out, cutting approach to her Republican rival. And it was all the more striking because the Bush and Clinton families make a point of highlighting their friendly ties: Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush appear on this week’s cover of Time magazine.

Aides to Mr. Bush could barely hide their disgust over Mrs. Clinton’s speech, which they spoke of, bitterly, as uncivil and uncalled-for.

On Twitter, Tim Miller, Mr. Bush’s communications director, called it a “Clintonesque move to pass over chance to unite in favor of a false cheap shot.”

Allie Brandenburger, another spokeswoman for Mr. Bush, followed up with an email saying, “The Urban League deserved better.”


It's just so darned mean of her to criticize Jeb's wonderful "conservative agenda of self-reliance and hope" like that. Why you'd think she was running against him for president or something! It's just not nice at all.  And I'll bet her husband felt like a real heel seeing her treat his good buddy George's brother so disrespectfully.  How could she embarrass him like that in front of his friends? What a bitch.

You know, if this criticism of his agenda upset Jeb this much he's obviously too delicate for presidential politics. He might want to think about dropping out and becoming one of those Christian florists who refuse to arrange flowers for gay people.

One third of all American women are like Nazis

by digby

According to Huckabee:
GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is open to the idea of using federal troops and the FBI to stop women from having abortions.

"I will not pretend there is nothing we can do to stop this," Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and an outspoken social conservative, said Thursday at a campaign stop in Jefferson, Iowa.

Huckabee addressed abortion again at his next stop in Rockwell City, Iowa, where a reporter asked him whether stopping abortion would mean using federal troops or the FBI.

"We'll see if I get to be president," Huckabee said, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

"All American citizens should be protected," he added.

The Huckabee campaign did not immediately return a request for more comment on what deploying troops or using the FBI to stop women from having abortions would look like.

Huckabee has long spoken out against abortion, and last year, he suggested that the issue was worse than the Holocaust.

"If you felt something incredibly powerful at Auschwitz and Birkenau over the 11 million killed worldwide and the 1.5 million killed on those grounds, cannot we feel something extraordinary about 55 million murdered in our own country in the wombs of their mothers?" he asked.
By their mothers. Who are obviously exactly like Waffen SS.

Hey, Scott Walker thinks kindergarten teachers are like ISIS so is this really that different?

Update: Erick Erickson believes that before we bring out the troops to stand guard between every pregnant woman's legs, we can certainly try something less drastic:


Week-end auditions for the center ring

by digby

[T]he Kochs are not going to officially anoint their choice but their big checks, and those of their billionaire buds, are being closely watched for signs of who the “smart money” is betting on to come out on top. The current frontrunner Donald Trump was not invited, and according to this article is being actively blocked by the Koch network. Obviously, they think the eventual winner will be one of those four candidates (plus Carly Fiorina, for some reason.) Think about that for a moment. There are some extremely rich Republicans out there who think that Ted Cruz has what it takes to be president.
That in mind, let’s take a look at Cruz’s latest, shall we? In a blatant attempt to make Trump and Huckabee look like loser moderates, the Texas bomb thrower said the following earlier this week about the Iran nuclear non-proliferation agreement:
“If this deal is consummated, it will make the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism. Billions of dollars under control of this administration will flow into the hands of jihadists who will use that money to murder Americans, to murder Israelis, to murder Europeans.”
If that isn’t an illustration of just how hard it is for this crop of GOP hopefuls to out-demagogue one another, I don’t know what is. Chamberlain to Hitler to radical Islamic extremist. There’s nothing left for Lindsey Graham to fulminate about except Satan.
One big money guy did call Cruz on the carpet for his hyperbole:

But the show must go on, and what kind of Big Top circus would it be without a first class ringmaster? With all the major conservative stars from every medium to choose from — from Megyn Kelly to Sean Hannity to Rich Lowry to Eric Erickson — it appears that the Kochs have gone in a different direction for their weekend soiree:
Politico’s chief White House correspondent Mike Allen has been booked to emcee part of an event set up by a group funded by the Koch brothers designed to connect Republican presidential candidates with wealthy donors, according to Politico.
Keep in mind that this is not a presidential debate for the public. It isn’t an issues forum or a town hall for voters and constituents. This is a meeting for big Republican donors to decide which candidate to give gigantic, unlimited campaign contributions thus putting their thumbs on the scale of democracy. And a highly respected establishment journalist is helping them do it. 

Money and immortality

by digby

Mike Konczal informs us of yet another sign that our society is rapidly devolving into feudalism:

It’s a common-sense notion that society’s wealth shouldn’t be governed by ghosts. “Our Creator made the earth for the use of the living and not of the dead,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. (Also: “One generation of men cannot foreclose or burthen its use to another.”) But in our new age of inequality—the top 10 percent now own nearly 80 percent of all wealth—old concerns about wealth and inheritance are coming back from the dead.

Americans have, historically, had a simple approach to dealing with wealth after its holder dies: You can do whatever you want with your property, but not for very long. Rich people can disinherit children. They can put extreme conditions on how their successors can inherit, like requiring marriage. They can build monuments to themselves or give everything to their pets. But they can only do it so long. Eventually, time catches up with them and their estates dissolve. 
Or at least that’s how it used to be. Remember that the dead can’t actually do any of this themselves because they are, in fact, dead. Instead, a trust is empowered to carry out the last wishes of the deceased. A trust is simply a legal entity that contains property; people tell a trust what they want to do, and the trust acts like a ghost, enforcing their wishes beyond the grave. But there’s a safeguard built in to prevent abuses: Trusts have been governed by something called the rule against perpetuities, which places a roughly 100-year limit on how long they can exist. This prevents people with no connection to the living world from putting restrictions on our country’s wealth. 
In recent years, the safeguard of time has been eroded. As the tax expert Ray D. Madoff documents in her 2010 book Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead, we are experiencing a rapid rise of dynasty trusts, which massively expand the power of the dead over the wealth of the living. 
To take advantage of a change made to the tax code in the 1980s, states started to radically diminish or outright remove the rule against perpetuities in the 1990s. This resulted in a race to the bottom, with states competing to see which could most effectively restructure their laws to benefit the rich. By 2003, states weakening these rules received an estimated $100 billion in additional trust business. Now, 28 states allow trusts to live indefinitely, or nearly so, creating what are called perpetual dynasty trusts.

For many people, being rich is the purpose of life. Once they have achieved it the only thing they can do it try to perpetuate their wealth beyond their death by leaving it to their heirs. This is how aristocracies are created. Property rights are the fundamental  raison d'etre of conservatism, it supersedes all other notions of freedom and liberty,  which means that is it ultimately a feudalistic ideology. All the church going and pork rinds and NASCAR races are just window dressing.

Evil doers

by digby

Ed Kilgore caught Erick Erickson laying down the law:

Pope Erick Erickson has announced that no one is allowed to think differently than he does about the [Planned Parenthood]videos:

We have passed the point where Nazi comparisons are inappropriate. In the latest video about Planned Parenthood, if you want to watch it, you will see an admission that some of the children are born alive before being killed and carved up — their bodies being sold essentially for scrap.

If Republicans are not willing to make this their hill to die on and even see the government shutdown to stop this, the Republican Party needs to be shut down.

The Party of Lincoln that rose from the ashes of a whig Party that would not stand up to slavery must stand up to this evil. The American public is staring evil in the face and it looks a lot like them. It must end.

If Abraham Lincoln’s party will not fight to stop a practice that defends itself with the same arguments used by proponents of slavery, it is time for a new party….

You will be made to care about this. You will not be allowed to sit by and make excuses. You will be not be allowed to say it is tissue, goo, or innocent. These are human beings. These are the future of this country harvested for their organs. They are being killed. The arguments in support of it are the arguments in support of slavery. This is evil and you must care.
Well, evil is in the eye of the beholder.
For five years, I watched my best friend die of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a terrible disease that causes one’s muscles to waste away. First he struggled to walk, then to speak, then to breathe. One tube pushed air into his lungs; another pushed nutrients into his stomach. Toward the end, he could only move his eyes. ALS does not affect the brain; through it all, he remained perfectly aware of his slow-motion torture. After years of suffering, he died of respiratory failure, his body skeletal and ravaged, his mind alert to his suffocation until the last moments of life.

There is currently no cure for ALS. There will be some day. And that cure may very well be derived from stem cells taken from aborted fetuses.

I can’t help but remember that fact when I watch the videos, taken by undercover anti-abortion activists, of Planned Parenthood technicians discussing how to preserve fetal tissue to be donated for research. The graphic images of aborted fetuses are meant to disgust me, to convince me that abortion is a barbaric act of killing. But I don’t see death in these videos. I see hope.

ALS kills people by causing their motor neurons to degenerate. These neurons go from the brain to the spinal cord, then travel from the spinal cord to muscles throughout the body. When they degenerate, you lose the ability to control voluntary muscle movement. Eating, talking, swallowing, breathing: All of these functions rely, to some extent, on healthy motor neurons. When you can no longer move a muscle, it atrophies. Eventually, your respiratory muscles can no longer contract, and you suffocate.

Stem cells hold terrific promise for the treatment—and, eventually, the defeat—of ALS. The most useful stem cells are found in fertilized embryos and fetuses, where they haven’t yet developed into specialized cells. (Scientists can also reprogram adult cells to act like embryonic stem cells, but these reprogrammed cells, while useful for research, have not been shown to be therapeutically safe.)

A woman’s decision to donate her aborted fetus to medical research is deeply commendable. The first Food and Drug Administration–approved clinical trials to treat ALS with fetal stem cells are already underway. Any treatment derived from fetal tissue is many years away at best, but the early research has been a success. Stem cells injected into ALS patients’ spinal cords have survived for years and have caused few side effects. The cells seem to protect diseased motor neurons, stimulating their survival. With motor neurons restored to health, muscle atrophy slows or ceases. The experimental treatment slowed or reversed the progression of the disease in several patients in a small Phase I clinical trial.

One patient, whose muscles had degenerated to the point that he couldn’t walk without a cane, abandoned his cane months after the trial began. He later participated in a 2.5-mile walkathon. That was in 2011. He remains alive and well today. The treatment also effectively halted disease progression in the other five patients still in the early stages of ALS. It was a stunning leap forward in ALS treatment. A Phase 2 trial, with new patients, further demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of the therapy; symptoms improved in seven of 15 patients.

One of the many discoveries researchers made in preparing for the first trial was that fetal stem cells seemed to be the best stem cells for ALS treatment. After extensive animal testing, researchers found that embryonic stem cells sometimes turned into cancer cells. Fetal stem cells, on the other hand, are older—and thus on their way to an identity. For their trial, researchers used stem cells that were beginning to develop into nerve cells. They didn’t develop into cancer. Instead, they seemed to support dying neurons and restore motor function.

I know about this trial because my friend applied to participate in it. He was turned down: His was deemed too atrophied to be helped. He died shortly after the trial began.

This research might have been advanced enough to include him if Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush hadn’t banned federal funding for research on fetal tissue from abortions. (The research progressed once Bill Clinton reversed the ban.) More recently, fetal stem cell research has been less controversial than embryonic stem cell research. That may be because fetal stem cells are taken from fetuses that have no more potential for life. Embryonic stem cell research, which generally requires the destruction of the embryo that could theoretically be implanted and develop, has lately drawn much more debate and political attention. Now activists have shifted the attention back to fetal tissue donations, which allows them to show gruesome images of aborted fetuses—a time-worn and very effective anti-abortion strategy.
It seems pretty evil to me to not give a damn about living, breathing, sentient humans like the man below in order to protect a potential life that is not living, breathing or sentient from being used to save him.

They have lost all perspective on what life actually is.


The Rorshach Candidacy of Hillary Clinton

by Gaius Publius

Thom Hartmann on Donald Trump's other strong appeal to Republican voters (hint: Think Ross Perot). People who like Trump for this reason are potential Sanders voters. Mainstream Democratic trade policy, another party problem, is discussed below.

Schedule note: This will be the last piece from me for a few weeks. Writing will resume the third week of August. Happy summer, all!

It's been clear for a while that from the left, the biggest criticism of Hillary Clinton is her close relationship with holders of big money. One could argue that she may or may not have agreed with Bill Clinton's strategy of incorporating the interests of "big money" into the Democratic Party. But it's nevertheless clear that her current relationships, and those of the people around her, show a strong and current interest in maintaining the interests of wealth. More on that below.

This suspicion (on the part of some) and certainty (on the part of others) that Clinton will "take care of" her well-heeled friends while also (and sincerely) trying to mitigate the damage done to ordinary Americans — these form much of the reason the Sanders campaign is surging among Democratic voters. (Our own brief looks at Clinton's relationship with "money" are here and here and here, among other places. Or just click here and scan the list of titles.)

Now come a series of news stories that add to that larger story.

Hillary Clinton Will Not Reinstate Glass-Steagall

From Robert Reich, former Clinton labor secretary, on Clinton's unwillingness to reign in Wall Street banks (my emphasis everywhere):
Hillary Clinton’s Glass-Steagall

Hillary Clinton won’t propose reinstating a bank break-up law known as the Glass-Steagall Act – at least according to Alan Blinder, an economist who has been advising Clinton’s campaign. “You’re not going to see Glass-Steagall,” Blinder said after her economic speech Monday in which she failed to mention it. Blinder said he had spoken to Clinton directly about Glass-Steagall.

This is a big mistake.

It’s a mistake politically because people who believe Hillary Clinton is still too close to Wall Street will not be reassured by her position on Glass-Steagall. Many will recall that her husband led the way to repealing Glass Steagall in 1999 at the request of the big Wall Street banks.

It’s a big mistake economically because the repeal of Glass-Steagall led directly to the 2008 Wall Street crash, and without it we’re in danger of another one.
Why does reinstating Glass-Steagall matter? Reich again:
Under the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, banks couldn’t both gamble in the market and also take in deposits and make loans. They’d have to choose between the two.

“The idea is pretty simple behind this one,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said a few days ago, explaining her bill to resurrect Glass-Steagall. “If banks want to engage in high-risk trading — they can go for it, but they can’t get access to ensured deposits and put the taxpayers on the hook for that reason.”

For more than six decades after 1933, Glass-Steagall worked exactly as it was intended to. During that long interval few banks failed and no financial panic endangered the banking system.

But the big Wall Street banks weren’t content. They wanted bigger profits. They thought they could make far more money by gambling with commercial deposits. So they set out to whittle down Glass-Steagall.

Finally, in 1999, President Bill Clinton struck a deal with Republican Senator Phil Gramm to do exactly what Wall Street wanted, and repeal Glass-Steagall altogether.

What happened next? An almost exact replay of the Roaring Twenties. Once again, banks originated fraudulent loans and sold them to their customers in the form of securities. Once again, there was a huge conflict of interest that finally resulted in a banking crisis.

This time the banks were bailed out, but millions of Americans lost their savings, their jobs, even their homes.
Two ideas — first that big banks are too big to be allowed to fail, so they must be bailed out, and second, that banks can gamble with government-insured customer deposits — add to this state of affairs:
  • All banks will be allowed to continue to gamble on the riskiest of investments.
  • All gambling ("investment") profit goes to the banks.
  • Large gambling ("investment") losses go to taxpayers for reimbursement via FDIC deposit insurance or Fed and congressionally managed bailouts, like TARP.
If you're a Wall Street bank, it's impossible to lose money in this scheme (a scam or racket, actually). And if you "own" everyone who matters in government, the scheme will never end.

Clearly the not-so-secret formula for ending the hostage relationship between the public's money and Wall Street banking is to (a) reinstate Glass-Steagall and (b) break up "too big to fail" (TBTF) banks so they can ... well, fail ... when their business plan brings them to grief (because, capitalism, right?).

Hillary Clinton, according to Reich and others, will not reinstate Glass-Steagall, the first part of our solution, even though, according to Reich, "Hillary Clinton, of all people, should remember." There's a lot more in Reich's piece; it's a good informative read.

"Bernie Sanders backs big bank breakups, in contrast with Hillary Clinton"

Now let's look at the second piece of our "too big to fail" solution — break up the big banks so the public is never forced by their size to bail them out again. We have a pretty clear indication from the Clinton campaign that she would not pursue that policy either, and a clear indication from Sanders that he would.

Bernie Sanders backs big bank breakups, in contrast with Hillary Clinton

Bernie Sanders is backing a bill to break up big banks after advisers to presidential rival Hillary Clinton made clear earlier this week she will not support reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act.

Noting that he’s long supported reimposing a firewall between investment and commercial banks, the Vermont senator said he’s officially rejoining an effort led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to break up the big banks, saying, “If we are truly serious about ending too big to fail [TBTF], we have got to break up the largest financial institutions in this country.”

“Allowing commercial banks to merge with investment banks and insurance companies in 1999 was a huge mistake. It precipitated the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of the world. It caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, homes, life savings and ability to send their kids to college,” said Sanders, who said that change in the financial world “substantially increased wealth and income inequality.”

Earlier this week, a Clinton campaign adviser told Reuters that “you’re not going to see Glass-Steagall.” Clinton was also interrupted by a heckler on Monday who challenged her to revive the depression-era policy, though she did not answer the question.

By moving quickly to reassert his support for a proposal from liberal superstar Warren, Sanders is highlighting the differences between his platform and Clinton’s more centrist [in DC and NY] positions on financial regulations, a major issue among progressives. Sanders actually cosponsored a version of the bill in 2013, well before he began challenging Clinton for the Democratic nomination, and in a press release reminded reporters of a speech he gave in 1999 as a House member.
I realize that the statement "you’re not going to see Glass-Steagall" is the same one that Reich uses, and is about Glass-Steagall only. Is Politico being unfair to Clinton in saying she would not back a Sanders-Warren–style breakup policy? I don't think so, since of the two "not-so-secret solutions" I listed above, reinstating Glass-Steagall is by far the milder from a Wall Street standpoint.

And now the third news story in this story.

Hedge Fund Titans Choosing Hillary Clinton Over Top Republicans

It's hugely rewarding to Hillary Clinton professionally to maintain money-friendly policies like these, independent of whether you think she's personally aligned with the interests of "big money" and "the one percent," or whether you think she's disgusted by their behavior but feels somehow forced to go along. Either way, it looks like she's taking their money and planning to advance their interests.

It looks like they think so too. About that "taking their money" part, here's Bloomberg:
Hedge Fund Titans Choosing Hillary Clinton Over Top Republicans

Hillary Clinton received donations from some of the biggest names in the hedge fund industry, including Paul Tudor Jones, even as the presidential candidate wants to boost their tax rate.

Jones, the billionaire founder of Tudor Investment Corp., Jamie Dinan, who started York Capital, and Neil Chriss, who runs Hutchin Hill Capital, each contributed the maximum $2,700 to Clinton’s bid for the White House, according to Federal Election Commission filings for the second quarter.

Clinton, who’s made closing the wealth gap the centerpiece of her campaign, lured more donations from boldface industry names than Republican candidates 16 months before the election. Hedge fund managers, their employees and family members donated at least $54,000 to Clinton, a Democrat, according to the FEC. Republicans Jeb Bush got at least $27,000, Marco Rubio took in at least $10,800 while Carly Fiorina received at least $4,200.

“Something is wrong when CEOs earn more than 300 times than what the typical American worker earns and when hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than truck drivers or nurses,” Clinton said in May.

The candidate’s populist rhetoric didn’t dissuade many managers from supporting her. They include Frank Brosens, co-founder of Taconic Capital Advisors, Mitchell Julis, co-founder Canyon Partners, David Shaw, the billionaire founder of D.E. Shaw & Co., BlueMountain Capital Management Managing Partner James Staley, Jake Gottlieb, who runs Visum Asset Management, and Richard Perry, who heads Perry Capital.

Bush, Rubio and Fiorina drew a smaller cohort of top hedge fund managers.
Note that this story merges two elements. The first, that even though Clinton speaks against income inequality (not the same as speaking against wealth inequality, by the way) ...
“Something is wrong when CEOs earn more than 300 times than what the typical American worker earns and when hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than truck drivers or nurses,” Clinton said in May.
... the big money people are financing her anyway ...
The candidate’s populist rhetoric didn’t dissuade many managers from supporting her.
You can draw a number of conclusions about why this is happening. In that sense, the "Clinton and money" story is a kind of Rorschach test — you can see in this picture what you're looking for.

The Rorschach Candidacy

Put these stories together and ask yourself what this means to you. You could end up in a couple of places.

If you're Clinton-resigned — If you're a Clinton fan who was really "ready for Warren," resigned rather than eager, you may see someone who cares about people but has to deal with "big money" to get elected. She doesn't like what many are calling "rule by the rich," but like many of her supporters, she's also resigned. The way of the world is regrettable, but the exclamation point at the end of "Jeb!" is a dagger to be avoided at all costs. No Republicans; vote Clinton anyway — even in the primary so she comes out strong.

If you're Clinton-quite-hopeful — If you're an eager Clinton fan, you're much more positive. In a Clinton presidency, you may expect strong advocacy for "Black Lives Matter," maybe even with DoJ prosecutions of murdering police and corrupt departments. You may expect to see executive-mandated immigration reform with even more teeth. And you certainly would anticipate that all of the issues faced by women, from abortion rights to pay rights, will certainly find an eager and effective friend. All of this offsets for you whatever damage her "friends of money" bargaining may entail.

And if you're very hopeful, you're convinced that her presidency could be far to the left of the other Clinton presidency, even on money matters. After all, there's no proof yet that this hopeful analysis is wrong. If this is your picture, your primary choice is easy — it's Clinton all the way.

If you're Clinton-appalled — But if you see "capture by wealth" as the root of almost every evil in this country except our deep-seated racism, and especially if you see that the climate crisis will reach multiple additional tipping points and are certain a carbon-captured Clinton would be a disaster ... well, what's a Democratic primary voter to do?

I'll put that differently. The Clinton-appalled (on the left) see a candidate who's threading the progressive needle while trying not to anger her moneyed friends, or at least not undo their expectations that this "rein in the rich" stuff is just campaign talk. Her critics on the left see one who does care about people, but also one who sees her role as confirming the current order, with better mitigation for the suffering worst among us.

They also see someone who will take us into a fossil fuel–heavy future — again with mitigation for the suffering worst, but with no loss of profit for the wealth-heavy carbon industry. For example, this is former Secretary Clinton speaking in 2013 at Hamilton College in upstate New York's Oneida County:
Late into the lecture portion of Clinton’s Oneida County appearance, she referenced a report that the U.S. in on track to surpass Russia in domestic oil-and-gas production.

That’s good news, Clinton said.

“What that means for viable manufacturing and industrialization in this country is enormous,” she said to the crowd of 5,800 in Hamilton’s athletic field house.
For the Clinton-appalled and carbon-aware, it means "we're cooked," literally, and sooner than anyone expects — because this crisis is always moving faster than anyone expects, or publicly claims to expect. (You should know that in private, a great many climate scientists are, frankly, freaking out, and not metaphorically. They know that what no one is saying is nevertheless true.)

In other words, the full awareness of the damage we've handed ourselves — the wide-eyed Wile E. Coyote "nothing beneath me" moment — will likely come on a President Clinton's watch, and she and Obama will get the blame for not being more aggressive, for being too wealth-serving.

Wile E. Coyote considers his climate future.

And that's just the "Clinton, money and carbon" piece of the story. The "Clinton, money and banking" piece says the next financial meltdown will also come on Clinton's watch, that the next bailout may be a "bail-in" (a bailout using depositor funds) as is being done in Europe, and in either case, the economy is screwed — but only for people who aren't good friends of "friends of money."

So what will hit first under a money-friendly (but better-than-Republican) presidency — climate or the next banking bailout? How about an aggressively pursued endless war that truly "comes home," the way European and Middle East wars have always come home? How about environmental disaster after environmental disaster caused by exploding oil trains, frack-poisoned ground water, burst pipelines, and oil spill after oil spill?

Or how about even more exported American jobs under a bipartisan (but decidedly Democratic) "trade" regime? Want to go worse? How about imported foreign contract labor being fast-tracked into the country when the deadliest of the coming trade deals, TISA, is signed by the next wealth-serving Democrat? The just-passed Fast Track law — the discussion of which Clinton's campaign wanted to "go away" — hands, to this president and the next, six years' worth of job-destroying, global investor–enabling power.

If you're this appalled, what's a primary voter to do? Avoid damaging Clinton so no Republican can win? Cheer all the wonderful things that a progressive Clinton might do? Or vote for Sanders and if he loses, walk away?

I'm hearing all three cases being made, and the voices are getting louder. Who's right? Of course, only time will tell.

Leaving It to the Voters to Decide

You can look at the Clinton candidacy and see what you want by adjusting what's foreground and what's background in your mental image. Is Clinton a woman who deserves much better than being trashed by the constant misogyny of the troglodyte Right? You can see that person.

Is Clinton a bright Sixties rebel who now wants a chance to do the best she can to fix a wealth-dominated world? You can see that person.

Is Clinton a person who's long bought into "rule by the rich" — rule by the class she hangs with, the class that knows better than us how to run things that matter — but thinks their regime can use some tweakage so the "most vulnerable" are protected? You can see that person too.

I guess this is why we are leaving it to voters to decide, and not to the few of us who pay early attention. Because if the voters choose wrong, they will pay the price, but at least they will have done it to themselves.

Unless there's friends-of-money mischief afoot, of course. Like this perhaps?
DNC Chair Says Candidates Must Meet 'Threshold' For Debates, Though Criteria And Dates Still Unclear

Democratic presidential candidates will have to meet a certain “threshold” to participate in the party’s six scheduled primary debates, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Thursday, though she did not specify which criteria, such as state or national polling, will be used to determine who qualifies.

“It’ll be a threshold that’ll be expansive and allows for the maximum inclusion of our major party candidates," Wasserman Schultz told MSNBC’s Ari Melber. She said the DNC hasn’t “quite finished formulating the details” for the debates, including specific dates, locations and media sponsors.

The lack of clarity has been frustrating to both campaigns and major TV networks, the latter of which produce the debates and need to book venues and handle logistical details well in advance.

In May, the DNC announced plans to hold six primary debates, four of which would be held in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The DNC said debates would begin in "the fall of 2015," though didn't specify when. 
Kind of a Rorshach news announcement, right? Starting with how you see Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.) 



Facebook's aerospace team

by Tom Sullivan

Now there's a phrase to give one pause. This just came in over the transom:

MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) — Facebook says it will begin test flights later this year for a solar-powered drone with a wingspan as big as a Boeing 737, in the next stage of its campaign to deliver Internet connectivity to remote parts of the world.

Engineers at the giant social network say they've built a drone with a 140-foot wingspan that weighs less than 1,000 pounds. Designed to fly at high altitudes for up to three months, it will use lasers to send Internet signals to stations on the ground.

Facebook's engineers at engineers at Connectivity Lab are designing a laser-based communications system to deliver the Internet to remote regions of the world the NSA cannot currently monitor from ‎Fort Meade or Bluffdale.

The plan calls for using helium balloons to lift each drone into the air, Parikh said. The drones are designed to climb to 90,000 feet, safely above commercial airliners and thunderstorms, where they will fly in circles through the day. At night, he said, they will settle to about 60,000 feet to conserve battery power.

Each drone will fly in a circle with a radius of about 3 kilometers, which the engineers hope will enable it to provide Internet service to an area with a radius of about 50 kilometers.

Facebook drones at 90,000 feet. Amazon delivery drones below 400 feet. Large military drones in between — commingled with your Aunt Millie's flight to Omaha. Amateur idiots anywhere, anytime. And one FAA NextGen air traffic control system to rule them all. (They're only having a little trouble meeting the September 2015 deadline for writing those rules.) And c'mon, Zuckerberg, right? No worries. Not until one takes down an airliner or crashes into a school.

Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should. — Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park (1993)
And instant communications. Anywhere. Anytime. It's been a dream of techies since at least George Orwell.

But, you know, all that hardware to maintain. So much needless expense. TPC had a better idea for handling that little problem back in 1967:

(h/t Barry)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Huckabee and Huckleberry have Hitler on their minds

by digby

They just can't quit him. You heard Huckabee's "oven remark." Here's Lindsay Graham:

"I don't question President Obama's motives. That's where Mike has gone down the wrong road," Graham said at the time. "I like Mike Huckabee, but this is about the most sensitive subject matter I can imagine."

But during his Thursday interview on Newsmax TV's "The Steve Malzberg Show," Graham went with a Hitler reference anyway.

"The Munich deal would have made sense if Hitler just wanted German-speaking people under the German umbrella. Munich partitioning Czechoslovakia, and giving him more power and reenforcing his belief that the West was weak, was a terrible deal. He in fact, wanted to kill the Jews and have a master race," Graham told the Newsmax host. "This is a bad deal because the Ayatollah gets more money and more weapons and a clearer path to the bomb. Here’s what the deal does: It gives him a bomb, a missile to deliver and the money to pay for it. What would he do with a missile and the bomb? Does he feel compelled by his religion to attack Israel and destroy democracies like ours? I say yes."

So much for that sensitive subject matter ...


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