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Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday Night at the Movies

Play it again: Casablanca and I, Claudius reissued

By Dennis Hartley

The Germans wore gray; you wore Blu

What is the best criterion for determining a “great” film? One is likely to elicit as many differing opinions as the number of folks one might ask; if we’re talking movies, subjectivity is the name of the game, and “all the world’s a critic”. However, in the last 120 years or so that the medium has existed, a handful of films have emerged that professional critics (you know, people who actually get paid to express their opinions) and movie audiences have reached a mutual consensus on proclaiming among the greatest of all time (at least since Eadweard Muybridge set his Horse in Motion in 1878). One of them is Michael Curtiz’s 1942 treatise on love, war and character, Casablanca, which is available in Warner’s new Blu-ray 70th Anniversary Limited Collector's Edition.

It certainly could be argued that Casablanca did not necessarily achieve its exalted status by design, but rather via a series of happy accidents. Warner Brothers bought the rights to a (then) unproduced play called Everybody Comes to Rick’s (written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison) for $20,000, which at the time was considered an exorbitant investment for such an untested commodity. The script went through a disparate team of writers. Brothers Julius and Philip Epstein initially dropped out to work on another project, eventually returning to resume primary authorship (after much of replacement Howard Koch’s work was excised) and then they were joined by (non-credited) Casey Robinson for daily rewrites. Even producer Hal Wallis put his two cents worth in with last-minute lines (most notably, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”). Despite too many cooks, a now iconic (and infinitely quotable) script somehow emerged.

And would it have been the same film without the palpable onscreen chemistry generated by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as the star-crossed lovers at the heart of the story? Bogart, while certainly a rising star at the time, had not been previously considered as a romantic lead in Hollywood; the studio had some initial trepidation about his casting. Also, Curtiz was in actuality the ‘second choice’ director. Wallis had originally wanted (the unavailable) William Wyler. And perhaps most significantly, the film did not exactly set the world on fire upon its initial release; certainly no one was touting it as a “classic”.

And yet, for whatever the reason(s) may be, it is now considered as such; although it’s possible that it is in reality more “beloved” than “admired” (and there is a considerable difference between those two designations). For me, it’s a true “movie movie”…the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. In other words, it doesn’t have to “make sense” on every level, in order to make sense as a perfect entertainment. Whether it is 100% believable as a World War II adventure, or whether the characters are ultimately cardboard archetypes, or whether it looks like it was all filmed on a soundstage, or whether certain elements are un-PC (nee “dated”) really become moot issues in a “movie movie”. What matters to me is the romance, exotic intrigue, Bogie, Ingrid Bergman, evil Nazis, selfless acts of quiet heroism, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, Rick’s Café, Claude Rains rounding up the usual suspects, Dooley singing “As Time Goes By”, the beginning of a beautiful friendship, the most rousing rendition of “La Marseille” you’ve ever heard, that goodbye scene at the airfield, and a timeless message (if you love someone, set them free). What’s not to love about this movie-lover’s movie?

As for this latest home video incarnation (preceded by several SD DVD editions/upgrades and one previous Blu-ray version) it is hands-down the cleanest and most gorgeous print of the film I have ever seen, with deep, rich blacks, crisp contrast with no visible artifacts or DNR. The transfer is 4K, which is a noticeable upgrade in quality from the previous Blu-ray (if you want to geek out). The mono audio is crystal clear and well-equalized; nicely highlighting Max Steiner’s rousing score. The hours of extras (which I haven’t had the time to completely plough through yet) are boggling. All of the features from the previous “ultimate” edition (yeah, I know-pure marketing) are carried over, plus two brand new entries. You will need to clear a little space; the fully loaded edition is in a bit of an oversized box for my liking (and I’m not sure I really needed the set of 4, erm, coasters they threw in there), but the hardback 62-page art production book is a nice bonus, as well as a full-size replica of the original movie poster. If you truly love the film, it’s worth the investment. Otherwise…we’ll always have Paris.

She prays like a Roman with her eyes on fire

Political questions, if you go back thousands of years, are ephemeral, not important. History is the same thing over and over again.”

-Woody Allen

Thirty-five years ago (best to my hazy recollection), I was living in a house in Fairbanks, Alaska with 4 or 5 (or was it 6 or 7?) of my friends. Being twenty something males, ragingly hormonal and easily sidetracked by shiny objects, it was a rare occasion when all the housemates would actually be congregated in one room for any extended period of time. But there was one thing that consistently brought us together. For about a three month period in the fall of 1977, every Sunday at 9pm, we would abruptly drop whatever we were doing (sfx: guitars, bongs, Frisbees, empty Heineken bottles and dog-eared Hunter Thompson paperbacks hitting the floor) and gather in a semi-circle around a 13-inch color TV (with rabbit ears) to rapturously watch I, Claudius on Masterpiece Theatre.

While an opening line of “I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus…” could portend more of a snooze-inducing history lecture, rather than 11 hours of must-see-TV, the 1976 BBC series, adapted from Robert Graves’ 1934 historical novel about ancient Rome’s Julio-Claudian dynasty, was indeed the latter, holding U.S. viewers in thrall for its 12-week run. While it is quite possible that at the time, my friends and I were slightly more in thrall with the occasional teasing glimpses of semi-nudity than we were with, say, the beauty of the writing, the wonder of the performances and historical complexity of the narrative, over the years I have come to the realization that I think I learned everything I needed to know about politics from watching (and re-watching) I, Claudius.

It’s all there…the systemic greed and corruption of the ruling plutocracy, the raging hypocrisy, the grandstanding, glad-handing and the back-stabbing (in this case, both figurative and literal). Seriously, over the last 2000 years, not much has changed in the political arena (this election year in particular finds us tunic-deep in bread and circuses; by Jove, what a clown show). Although it’s merely a happy coincidence that a newly minted 35th Anniversary Edition of the series was released on DVD this week by Acorn Media, the timing couldn’t be more apt. I’ve been finding it particularly amusing the past few days to zip through the nightly network newscasts on the DVR, then immediately follow it up with an episode of I, Claudius so I can chuckle (or…weep) over the parallels.

Kawkinkydinks with the ongoing decline of the American empire notwithstanding, the series holds up remarkably well. In fact, it still kicks major gluteus maximus on most contemporary TV fare (including HBO and Showtime). What’s most impressive is what they were able to achieve with such austere production values; the writing and the acting is so strong that you barely notice that there are only several simple sets used throughout (compare with Starz’s visually striking but otherwise distressingly chuckle-headed Spartacus series). It’s hard to believe that Derek Jacobi was in his mid-30s when he took on the lead role; not only does he convincingly “age” from 20s to 60s, but subtly unveils the grace and intelligence that lies behind Claudius’s outwardly afflicted speech and physicality. Another standout in this marvelous cast is Sian Phillips, with her deliciously wicked performance as Livia (wife of Augustus) who will stoop to anything in order to achieve her political goals (Machiavelli’s subsequent work was doo-doo, by comparison). George Baker excels as her long-suffering son, Tiberius, as does Brian Blessed, playing Augustus. And John Hurt’s take on the mad Caligula is definitive, in my book. The new transfer on the Acorn release is excellent, making this DVD set well worth your denarius.


The Secular Sharia Scrolls revealed

by digby

The Ten Commandments of the Judeo-Christian tradition supplied the foundation for the American political experiment. As George Washington said, "Of all the disposition and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports."

By "Religion," Washington meant Christianity, and by "morality," he meant the Ten Commandments. In other words, according to the Father of our country, it is impossible to have political prosperity without building on the platform of the Christian religion and Christian morality.

Well that's that. Would you like to know what our 10 Commandments of Secular Sharia are so you can print it out and carry it with you at all times?

1. "Government, not Yahweh, is God." Secular fundamentalists want us to look to government for everything we we were once taught to look for from God. Government is all knowing, all powerful, all wise, all caring. You know, all the things God used to be.

2. "You shall have no gods, period." The goal of secular fundamentalists is the extermination of any and all mentions of God and Christ in the public arena. The only exceptions to the "no god" rule will be for Gaia and Allah. Gaia is to be worshiped, and any blasphemy against her, by plundering her for such things as the fuel on which the world runs, will be met with the severest punishment and condemnation.

3. "You shall not take the name of the homosexual agenda or Islam in vain." If you do, we will land on you like a falling safe. Profanity, blasphemy, vulgarity, obscenity, pornography, all are fine. Criticize homosexual conduct, on the other hand, and we will cause the wrath of our god to descend upon you as a consuming fire. You will be silenced, marginalized and treated as a leper. We secularists have freedom of speech but you cretinous conservatives do not. If you have a problem with sexually deviant behavior, you are by definition a homophobic hatemonger and we don't have to listen to you.

4. "Observe Halloween, Labor Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as holy days. Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, on the other hand, must be wiped off school calendars as if they never existed."

5. "Honor your father and mother — by which we mean liberal politicians, since they have turned government into your mommy and your daddy." No husband, no problem: government will be the head of your home. No father, no problem: government will be your provider and raise your children for you.

6. "You shall not murder — unless it's a defenseless baby in the womb."

7. "You shall not commit adultery — unless it's with another man's wife. Fornication and sodomy without repercussions and penalty are okay too. And we're working on polygamy and pedophilia." Anyone who disagrees, and says anything remotely critical of such behaviors, will be subject to the wrath of the holy and righteous prophets of secular Sharia in the out-of-the-mainstream media, who will call down fire and brimstone on those who dare to challenge the sexual orthodoxy of leftist libertines.

8. "You shall not steal — unless it's to plunder from the producers what they have earned to give to the non-producers what they have not earned." Anyone who complains about this involuntary transfer of wealth will be judged by the secular mullahs as evil, greedy capitalists and silenced. Right after they have been ripped off.

9. "You shall not bear false witness — unless it is to tell blatant lies about the Constitution, American history, the economy, unemployment figures and drilling for oil." As long as you are lying to advance the power and reach of government, or get a leftist politician reelected, it's okay. Secularists have their own version of taqqiya, just like the Muslims do.

10. "You shall not covet anything — as long as it belongs to people who are poorer than you. If they have more money than you, they are evil oppressors who must be plundered of their ill-gotten wealth by our government overlords so it can be redistributed to the lazy, shiftless and irresponsible."

That's exactly correct. I just want to know who gave him access to the Super Secret Secular Scrolls. We weren't supposed to let those out until after the revolution. Oh well ...

Bryan Fischer, by the way, isn't some fringe lunatic howling into the void at 2 in the morning. He's a big wheel in Tea Party, religious right circles. Here he is with Rick Santorum a week or so ago:
Bryan Fischer may have spent the last several days defending Rush Limbaugh from the "secular Sharia" that forced him to apologize and attacking Sandra Fluke as slut who has been "sleeping with so many guys she can’t keep track [and] doing it three times a day" but, as we have noted before, Fischer's long record of unmitigated bigotry has never stopped leading Republicans and presidential candidates from joining him on his program for an interview.
Just last month, Fischer was gushing over Rick Santorum and praising him for sounding just like the hosts on American Family Radio ... and so it was no surprise that today Santorum found the time to join Fischer for a discussion of his presidential campaign.

During the interview, Santorum declared that President Obama does not think that he is bound by the Constitution and "believes he is more of an emperor than a president".

Fischer and Santorum are smack in the middle of the Republican mainstream.

Don't Freak Out or Anything

by David Atkins

Try not to panic, because that would be bad:

The world is close to reaching tipping points that will make it irreversibly hotter, making this decade critical in efforts to contain global warming, scientists warned on Monday.

Scientific estimates differ but the world's temperature looks set to rise by six degrees Celsius by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to rise uncontrollably.

As emissions grow, scientists say the world is close to reaching thresholds beyond which the effects on the global climate will be irreversible, such as the melting of polar ice sheets and loss of rainforests.

"This is the critical decade. If we don't get the curves turned around this decade we will cross those lines," said Will Steffen, executive director of the Australian National University's climate change institute, speaking at a conference in London.

Despite this sense of urgency, a new global climate treaty forcing the world's biggest polluters, such as the United States and China, to curb emissions will only be agreed on by 2015 - to enter into force in 2020.

"We are on the cusp of some big changes," said Steffen. "We can ... cap temperature rise at two degrees, or cross the threshold beyond which the system shifts to a much hotter state."

Six degrees Celsius. What does six degrees Celsius mean? Oh, nothing much:

If two degrees is generally accepted as the threshold of dangerous climate change, it is clear that a rise of six degrees in global average temperatures must be very dangerous indeed, writes Michael McCarthy. Just how dangerous was signalled in 2007 by the science writer Mark Lynas, who combed all the available scientific research to construct a picture of a world with temperatures three times higher than the danger limit.

His verdict was that a rise in temperatures of this magnitude "would catapult the planet into an extreme greenhouse state not seen for nearly 100 million years, when dinosaurs grazed on polar rainforests and deserts reached into the heart of Europe".

He said: "It would cause a mass extinction of almost all life and probably reduce humanity to a few struggling groups of embattled survivors clinging to life near the poles."

Very few species could adapt in time to the abruptness of the transition, he suggested. "With the tropics too hot to grow crops, and the sub-tropics too dry, billions of people would find themselves in areas of the planet which are essentially uninhabitable. This would probably even include southern Europe, as the Sahara desert crosses the Mediterranean.

"As the ice-caps melt, hundreds of millions will also be forced to move inland due to rapidly-rising seas. As world food supplies crash, the higher mid-latitude and sub-polar regions would become fiercely-contested refuges.

"The British Isles, indeed, might become one of the most desirable pieces of real estate on the planet. But, with a couple of billion people knocking on our door, things might quickly turn rather ugly."

It's obvious that our biggest political problem in America right now is too much government spending, overly high tax rates on financiers, and a President who won't approve the Keystone Pipeline and more oil drilling. So don't panic.

I gotcher Progressive candidates for ya rightcheah

by digby

As I'm sure most of you already know from your stuffed email box, today is the end of the fundraising quarter. Blue America doesn't usually do a big push for these deadlines because it tends to feed into the distorted notion that money is everything. But hell, at this point it's hard to argue that it isn't.

So, if you had planned to donate to any of our Blue America progressives, today's a good day to do it. This is a year of redistricting and the deck is scrambled in a way it won't be for another decade. The Tea Party bloom is off and their Presidential Robot candidate will have no coat tails. There are some real possibilities for progressives in this election.

I wrote the other day about how important it is to elect hardcore ideological progressives in deep blue districts so that we can have some long term, committed movement leadership. Howie talked about one of them today:

This week Glenn Greenwald made the case for 3 of the most spectacular candidates running for Congress, anywhere, Franke Wilmer (MT), Cecil Bothwell (NC) and Norman Solomon (CA). If you're a DWT reader you already know all three and if you've been on the Blue America page this year, you've probably noticed that Blue America was the first national political action group to endorse each one of them and raise money for all three. Today, the last day of their fundraising quarter, would be a great day to contribute to 3 candidates who could make a substantial difference in the festering and dangerous cesspool that Washington, DC has become...

Let me concentrate on Norman today. Here are excerpts from two letters he sent northern California voters this week. The first was about the so-called "Patriot Act."
In a letter to the U.S. attorney general two weeks ago, Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall declared: "We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act. As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows."

I refuse to believe that Uncle Sam should be Big Brother.

...There's a lot of talk about how members of Congress should learn to compromise. But I will not compromise when the Bill of Rights is at stake.

On the campaign trail, I continue to denounce the National Defense Authorization Act. Signed into law three months ago, it violates precious civil liberties such as habeas corpus, due process and the right to legal representation.

I know the difference between appropriate compromise and odious capitulation.

...Civil liberties are at the core of American society. I will stand up for them no matter who is president.

This is absolutely not the messaging the DCCC is using to pasteurize and homogenize Democratic candidates across the country. Civil liberties is not an issue in their universe. They want "their" candidates to talk about jobs and Medicare and the Ryan Budget-- but not the way Norman does. This is what he sent voters in Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties Thursday.

For three days this week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about the new healthcare law. Much of the legal and media debate focused on the merits of requiring Americans to obtain health insurance.

But healthcare is a human right. And as long as profit-driven insurance companies are at the center of healthcare, that right will remain unfulfilled-- while the cost curve keeps bending upward, and while countless patients and their families suffer needlessly.

That's why so many of us have marched, rallied, petitioned and lobbied for single-payer -- also known as enhanced Medicare for all-- the only healthcare solution.

For several years, I've co-chaired the national Healthcare Not Warfare campaign with Donna Smith of the California Nurses Association and Congressman John Conyers, the main sponsor of the single-payer bill H.R. 676.

One of the reasons U.S. Rep. Conyers has endorsed me in this race for Congress is that he knows the depth of my commitment to guaranteed, high-quality healthcare for all-- and he wants to work with me in the House of Representatives to achieve that goal.
Easy to see why progressive leaders like Conyers, Raul Grijalva, Dolores Huerta and Phil Donahue are urging Californians to elect Norman-- as are groups like DFA, SEIU, PDA and, of course, Blue America-- nor why party bosses in Washington are very nervous about it.
And that brings us back to Greenwald's post at Salon, in which he flatly states that Norman "is about as close to a perfect Congressional candidate as it gets."

It's true. if there's one candidate who every faction in the progressive grassroots and netroots can agree upon it's Norman. Watch this all the way to the end to see him in action:

Solomon is in as liberal a district as exists in this country. And contrary to popular belief, liberals are entitled to representation in the US Congress too.

Once again, here's the Blue America page . You know what to do.


The Democrats' indian summer

by digby

Here's a nice concise history of the last decade in politics, by Linda Hirshman:
With this week’s Supreme Court hearings — which will end, liberals worry, with the justices overturning healthcare reform — we are nearing the apotheosis of conservative power. Let us recount how we got here: In 2000, a mob of conservative thugs stopped the vote recount in Florida. And that was before the court got involved, the five conservative justices seizing the election and handing the White House to George W. Bush. Secure in the tenure of their undemocratically selected president, the two older conservative justices, William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Connor, retired from the bench. Bush replaced them with two young conservatives, destined, by constitutional design and the miracles of modern medicine, to dominate the court into the foreseeable future. At the Supreme Court, it’s always winter (and never Christmas).
The stunningly inept performance by the Bush administration unforeseeably produced the first Democratic federal government since 1994. Immediately thereafter, the conservative Supreme Court majority ruled that the GOP’s wealthy sponsors could spend an unlimited amount of the money putting conservatives in office. Now, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, appointed, in part, by the conservative president they put in the White House, is preparing to wipe from the statute books the only piece of meaningful progressive legislation in the last half century, passed during the brief Indian summer of a two-year Democratic majority.

And it’s not just the federal government. In 2010, fueled, in part, by the money the conservative justices unleashed, the conservatives took over state legislatures across the country. In power, they enacted a series of measures that should make Hosni Mubarak blush. They redrew the legislative maps to guarantee that they would hold a majority of the legislatures, state and federal, regardless of whether they failed to gain a majority of actual votes. (The design of the Senate, favoring sparsely populated rural states, already way overrepresents the Republicans.) Using a panoply of legislative strategies, they made it infinitely harder for the Democrats to register their supporters and for the Democratic voters, even if registered, to vote. Voters must be reported within 24 hours of being registered or penalties will be levied on the laggard registrars. Would-be voters must produce a fistful of identity documents, notoriously more common among old white (Republican) voters than the youthful and nonwhite Americans likely to support the Democrats. If they run the registration gauntlet, they must again verify their identity on Election Day, with the same culturally skewed set of papers. In the swing state of Florida, the New York Times reports, the activists have given up registering new voters: Too perilous.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg, really. There's the rise of the right wing media, their think tanks, the coordinated legislative strategies all over the country on a state and local level.

She doesn't let the Democrats off the hook. They are described as faithless and confused and portrayed as being well ... undisciplined and stupid, which they are. But it's important to note the corruption as well. There is a large Democratic faction that is addicted to corporate money and defense contract kick-backs. You can excuse them by saying that "money in politics" has made this necessary, but there's a chicken or the egg question about that which ends up as a nice bipartisan chicken sausage omelette. (And there is just no excuse for the mainstream media, but that's another story.)

Still, when you see the march of the Right over the last decade distilled like that into a few short paragraphs, it is ... clarifying. I think Hirshman is right: what many people thought was a liberal spring back in 2006 and 2008 was an Indian summer. And that's chilling.


Why do they hate America so much?

by digby

So you think there isn't a real political, ideological tribal divide in America? Ask yourself if this rings true:

Fairness Meets Federalism In One Obama Campaign Chart. Supporters say: “Equality and fairness!” Opponents say: “Hey, what happened to all those state lines?”

Perhaps liberals should reframe their arguments: "are you an American first or do you identify as a Texan, a Floridian or an Alaskan?"

It's legitimate, I suppose, to do that. But please spare me the flagwaving patriotic bullying next time you want to gin up a war, ok? Until a foreign country declares war on Mississippi, I don't want to hear from you. You're either an American or you aren't.


Jonathan Alter and the butterfly effect

by digby

I expect Villagers to blame the liberals for everything, but this one by Jonathan Alter --- honestly --- just floored me:

Oh, Ralph. If Ralph Nader hadn’t gotten under Lewis Powell’s skin, we wouldn’t be having these arguments over whether the individual mandate in Obamacare is unconstitutional.

And “stand your ground” laws — like the one at issue in the Trayvon Martin case — wouldn’t stand a chance in the rest of the country.

And free market conservatives would not be unconsciously defying police and doing the bidding of the National Rifle Association.

Yes, like Edward Lorenz’s “butterfly effect” (where the course of a tornado can be traced all the way back to the flapping of a butterfly’s wings thousands of miles away), it’s all connected, and in ways that should make us more conscious of how we associate ourselves with other political insects.

Of course. The liberals killed Trayvon. If we hadn't been out there agitating for change in the 60s there wouldn't have been a backlash and there wouldn't be any racism or gun violence today. Why didn't I think of that?

I have another theory. Alter goes way back to he 1970s to blame Nader for the consumer movement which allegedly scared Lewis Powell into writing his famous memo that inexorably led to the NRA and ALEC --- and Trayvon's death. But he doesn't need to go back that far to feel the butterfly effect. There was a more recent insect buzzing around that led directly to our country becoming more a more violent, paranoid extremist state.

That insect's name is Jonathan Alter, who wrote this in the wake of 9/11:

In this autumn of anger, even a liberal can find his thoughts turning to... torture. OK, not cattle prods or rubber hoses, at least not here in the United States, but something to jump-start the stalled investigation of the greatest crime in American history. Right now, four key hijacking suspects aren't talking at all.

Couldn't we at least subject them to psychological torture, like tapes of dying rabbits or high-decibel rap? (The military has done that in Panama and elsewhere.) How about truth serum, administered with a mandatory IV? Or deportation to Saudi Arabia, land of beheadings? (As the frustrated FBI has been threatening.) Some people still argue that we needn't rethink any of our old assumptions about law enforcement, but they're hopelessly "Sept. 10"--living in a country that no longer exists...

Actually, the world hasn't changed as much as we have. The Israelis have been wrestling for years with the morality of torture. Until 1999 an interrogation technique called "shaking" was legal. It entailed holding a smelly bag over a suspect's head in a dark room, then applying scary psychological torment. (To avoid lessening the potential impact on terrorists, I won't specify exactly what kind.) Even now, Israeli law leaves a little room for "moderate physical pressure" in what are called "ticking time bomb" cases, where extracting information is essential to saving hundreds of lives. The decision of when to apply it is left in the hands of law-enforcement officials.

For more than 20 years Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz has argued to the Israelis that this is terribly unfair to the members of the security services. In a forthcoming book, "Shouting Fire," he makes the case for what he calls a "torture warrant," where judges would balance competing claims and make the call, as they do in issuing search warrants. Dershowitz says that as long as the fruits of such interrogation are used for investigation, not to convict the detainee (a violation of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination), it could be constitutional here, too. "I'm not in favor of torture, but if you're going to have it, it should damn well have court approval," Dershowitz says.

Not surprisingly, judges and lawyers in both Israel and the United States don't agree. They prefer looking the other way to giving even mild torture techniques the patina of legality. This leaves them in a strange moral position. The torture they can't see (or that occurs after deportation) is harder on the person they claim to be concerned about--the detainee--but easier on their consciences. Out of sight, out of mind.

Short of physical torture, there's always sodium pentothal ("truth serum"). The FBI is eager to try it, and deserves the chance. Unfortunately, truth serum, first used on spies in World War II, makes suspects gabby but not necessarily truthful. The same goes for even the harshest torture. When the subject breaks, he often lies. Prisoners "have only one objective--to end the pain," says retired Col. Kenneth Allard, who was trained in interrogation. "It's a huge limitation."

Some torture clearly works. Jordan broke the most notorious terrorist of the 1980s, Abu Nidal, by threatening his family. Philippine police reportedly helped crack the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (plus a plot to crash 11 U.S. airliners and kill the pope) by convincing a suspect that they were about to turn him over to the Israelis. Then there's painful Islamic justice, which has the added benefit of greater acceptance among Muslims.

We can't legalize physical torture; it's contrary to American values. But even as we continue to speak out against human-rights abuses around the world, we need to keep an open mind about certain measures to fight terrorism, like court-sanctioned psychological interrogation. And we'll have to think about transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies, even if that's hypocritical. Nobody said this was going to be pretty.

If you haven't read that in a while, or if it's your first time, read it again to make sure you get the full effect of what this man was saying.

I honestly don't know any other liberals whose thoughts automatically "turned to torture" after 9/11. But in the Village he is what passes for one, so his endorsement of this heinous and immoral practice went a long way toward legitimizing it. And so, by his own logic, the paranoia that has permeated our society ever since, including the lax gun laws we now have in 38 states, should then be laid at his feet.

The idea of blaming Ralph Nader's work to keep cars from blowing up and killing your children for right wing extremism is a new low. Lewis Powell was a paranoid and repulsive man who saw millions of Americans in the streets, including African Americans, and feared that the elites were under seige and needed to band together to preserve their privilege. Alter might as well have blamed Martin Luther King for Trayvon's tragic killing and saved Pat Buchanan the trouble. After all, King was no friend of the wealthy elite either.

Update: This transcript of Alter on TV, years later, failing to admit his personal call for torture as everyone was blaming the Bush administration says everything you need to know about the Village "liberals."

Update II: Alter has taken to twitter to say:
Irony, anyone? In Bloomberg View column I wasn't saying Nader actually caused RW craziness any more than the butterfly caused the tornado.

Hmmm. What's "ironic" about this, do you suppose?

"it’s all connected, and in ways that should make us more conscious of how we associate ourselves with other political insects."

Romney's Big Lie

by David Atkins

It's not news that Mitt Romney lies constantly, about big things and little things alike. But the biggest lies, the most nefarious, are the lies of narrative. They're the lies that Mitt Romney and his conservative allies get away with, because the narratives are never challenged in the press.

Case in point: a fundraising letter I got in the mail from the Romney campaign. It's filled with lies of omission and commission, of course, but I want to focus on this bit especially:

President Obama has mortgaged our future, increased the budget by more than 20% and allowed our debt to skyrocket. In fact, by the end of his term he will add nearly as much debt as all the previous presidents combined. That's right...all the previous presidents COMBINED.

Simply put, President Obama's policies created a deeper recession and delayed the recovery. The consequence is soaring numbers of Americans enduring unemployment, foreclosures, and bankruptcies. The way I see it, this is a moral tragedy. Unemployment is not just a statistic...nearly 13 million Americans unemployed is not just a number.

Unemployment means kids can't go to college. That marriages break up under the financial strain, that young people can't find work and start their lives, and men and women in their 50s, in the prime of their lives, fear they will never find a job again.

Liberals should be ashamed that they and their policies have failed these good and decent Americans!

Without a paycheck, you can't take care of your family. Without a paycheck, you can't buy school books for your kids, keep a car on the road, or help an aging parent make ends meet. Without a paycheck, it can feel like there is no hope.

But there is hope--if we change course before it's too late. America--quite literally--cannot afford another four years of fiscally irresponsible leadership in the White House.

Now, there are innumerable easily answerable "small" lies here. The Bush Administration did far more to increase the deficit than the Obama Administration. The stimulus did lower unemployment. Foreclosure rates are down, not "soaring". To say nothing of the fact that it's Romney who wants to foreclose on as many people as possible, and Romney who wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, thus ensuring increasing numbers of medical bankruptcies. The list goes on and on.

But the biggest lie isn't any of these. It's the narrative. Romney is suggesting that President Obama's "fiscal irresponsibility" has "deepened the recession and delayed the recovery." Let's ignore all the little lies that go into that claim for a moment. Let's pretend that the stimulus did nothing to curtail unemployment. Let's pretend that the President did seriously increase the deficit more than his predecessor. And let's pretend that Romney's preferred policies would not, in fact, do untold damage to the economy and the middle class.

The big lie still remains: under no circumstances whatsoever has the spending or the deficit hurt economic recovery. There's not even a coherent argument based in economic fantasy to claim such a thing. In order for spending to hurt an economy, it would have to do so by causing a deficit. Spending alone has zero negative impact on an economy, unless it comes theoretically at the cost of increased taxes--also not harmful in the right proportions, but irrelevant since the President has actually lowered taxes since taking office.

So spending isn't a problem. What about the deficit? Well, deficits are only a problem if they lead to inflation and if they make it harder to borrow money--the latter only a problem because it causes forced austerity measures which weaken an economy (I needn't mention that these would be the same austerity measures Mr. Romney would like to impose on us in advance.) The country doesn't have a serious inflation problem (as Paul Krugman has been noting incessantly), and despite S&P's bogus downgrade of U.S. debt, the Treasuries market hasn't suffered. Not only has it not suffered, but one hedge fund manager "earned" (a word I'll use very loosely) $3.9 billion last year mostly from investments in U.S. treasuries.

So we have low taxes, low inflation, and a strong Treasuries market. Under those circumstances, it is quite literally economically impossible for government spending to have "deepened the recession and delayed the recovery." At worst it had no impact--and nearly every economist agrees that that itself is also untrue. Government spending had a considerable effect on lowering unemployment.

Sometimes it's so tempting and so easy to get caught up in refuting all of Romney's factual claims, that it's easy to lose sight of the big lie that is his narrative. It would be nice if members of the press would call him or his conservative friends out on this whopper. But that might be difficult, as they've all been telling the same big lie in their way for years.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday night adorable animal post

by digby

Some time ago Panchita was caught up in a net, which left deep cuts all over her body. She managed to make it to this hotel where animal advocates nursed her back to health for 3 months. Every day she returns to rest after being out to sea. She is now pregnant and expecting within a month.

I'm reminded of the summer there was a "red tide" problem in and around Santa Monica bay and a bunch of sea lions got sick and came on shore to rest. There were rescuers everywhere and many were rehabilitated.

Unfortunately, even though there were signs all over the place with instructions to leave the sea lions alone, people would pester them --- and sometimes worse. And too often, foolish people with their hearts in the right place would do exactly the wrong thing by trying to push them into the water when they were just trying to rest on the shore.

The moral of the story is that when you see a sea lion on the beach, tell a lifeguard. They're probably just taking a nap, but the lifeguards can call the marine rescue people to keep an eye on them. Stupid humans present their greatest natural danger in that situation.

Pre-existing Pizza toppings

by digby

If you thought the questions before SCOTUS about government mandated broccoli were simple-minded and bizarre watch this libertarian pile of nonsense:

Evidently, libertarians think that everyone knows in advance what diseases they are going to get and boys should pay for boy diseases and girls should pay for girl diseases. They quite clearly don't understand how insurance or markets work which is odd since they worship them as avatars of their "freedom."

But then, they are very, very silly when it comes to economics. It's more of a faith based thing.

Yes, the pesticides are killing the bees. Surprised?

by David Atkins

Mother Jones reporting:

It's springtime, and farmers throughout the Midwest and South are preparing to plant corn—and lots of it. The USDA projects this year's corn crop will cover 94 million acres, the most in 68 years. (By comparison, the state of California occupies a land mass of about 101 million acres.) Nearly all of that immense stand of corn will be planted with seeds treated with neonicotinoid pesticides produced by the German chemical giant Bayer.

And that may be very bad news for honey bees, which remain in a dire state of health, riddled by large annual die-offs that have become known as "colony collapse disorder" (CCD).

In the past months, three separate studies—two of them just out in the prestigious journal Science—have added to a substantial body of literature linking widespread use of neonicotinoids to CCD. The latest research will renew pressure on the EPA to reconsider its registration of Bayer's products. The EPA green-lighted Bayer's products based largely on a study funded by the chemical giant itself—which was later discredited by the EPA's own scientists, as this leaked memo shows.

I think what this proves is that the EPA is an out-of-control environazi organization that needs to be eliminated so that the job creators can make more money selling pesticides. If the bees all die off, well, that's the price of economic growth and freedom. Do you love bees more than you love jobs and freedom? I didn't think so.

Tom Philpott at Mother Jones asks the right question:

This accumulation of disturbing science raises a vital question: Does the Obama EPA have the backbone to take on the agrochemical industry during an election year and ban Bayer's lucrative chemicals? The long-term status of the United States as a healthy habitat for bees, wild and cultivated alike, may hinge on the answer.

Call me crazy, but I would expect that anyone even the slightest bit open to voting for the President would understand banning a pesticide that is causing widespread death of bees. This one shouldn't be a tough call, even in an election year.

Single minded extremism

by digby

Today's assault on women is brought to you by ... Kansas!

A bill aimed at giving Kansas health care providers more legal protection if they want to avoid any involvement in abortions is moving toward House passage.

The House gave the bill first-round approval Wednesday on a voice vote. A final vote is set for Thursday, and the measure is expected to pass and go to the Senate.

Supporters brushed aside criticism that the bill is broad enough to let doctors and pharmacists refuse to provide birth control.

Kansas already has a law that says that no one can be forced to participate in an abortion or penalized for refusing. This year's measure says health care providers couldn't be required to refer patients for abortion care or to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs.

You really can't have too many laws making it impossible for women to exercize their constitutional rights. If you care about liberty anyway.

Why do I feel that we are all being just a little bit too complacent about all this? Yes, there was a big outcry over Komen and Rush. And Virginia and Idaho did think better of the rape wand. But overall these insane restrictive laws are still being enacted all over the place. If I didn't know better I'd think that conservatives in this country don't really care much about a bunch of women and liberal men being upset about what they're doing. Imagine that.

h/t Randall Gross
So much for the reality based community

by digby

See, This is the problem: the overarching --- and very obvious --- belief in their own unique abilities. Even the Reagan hagiographers (mostly) waitited until he was out of office to say this sort of thing:
Biden, who has said he’s the last man in the room with Obama before a tough call, often attests that his boss has a “backbone like a ramrod.”

And today he said that mettle — and the “serious problems” Obama faced upon taking office — put the president in a class of his own.

“I think I can say … no president, and I would argue in the 20th century and including now the 21st century, has had as many serious problems which are cases of first-instance laid on his table,” Biden said. “Franklin Roosevelt faced more dire consequences, but in a bizarre way it was more straightforward.”

The vice president claimed that the complexity of the 2008 financial crisis presented challenges in a way the Great Depression of 80 years ago did not

The only way this makes sense is if he believes that the "challenges" are that Obama's domestic opposition is far stronger than that faced by Roosevelt. And that might even have some basis. I think it could be a good argument. But to imply that the problems Obama faced on a policy level were more complicated --- not to mention the scope of the problems --- is just cracked. I think we can all agree that the Great Depression and Hitler were just a little bit more difficult than dealing with this recession and Mitch McConnell. Nobody's saying those aren't tough problems, but let's keep this in perspective.

I know it's Biden and he's given to hyperbolic blather so it's not a good idea to attach too much significance to it. But as I wrote yesterday, I think they really believe this --- have believed it since the 2008 campaign and it's their Achilles heel. This overconfidence in the face of am extremely close primary campaign and now a very mixed record is a characteristic of the team and I don't think it's served them well. It's one thing to believe in your own abilities and be willing to shut out criticism. I'm sure that's necessary to reach these exalted positions of power. But it's also clear from all the evidence that's come out about the inner working of the administration (and the results, I'm afraid) that it's weakened them strategically against the Republicans.

Yes, today's GOP is pretty much stark raving mad. But a good part of the problem is the White House and the Democratic Party's consistent surprise when they act crazy --- and their ongoing confidence that it can't happen again.

Fraudulent recordings? It's just how they roll

by digby

A conservative lawyer learns that the RNC is a lowdown, dirty, organization that, like most conservative organizations, will engage in fraud and deceit as a matter of routine, even when they don't need to. Welcome to reality, sir:

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act and the Obama Administration really could not have had a better week. They did a tremendous job framing their constitutional argument against the statute to the public, the lawyers on their side were brilliant, and it appears that they had a receptive Supreme Court majority. It was an eleven on a scale of one to ten.

Now this. The RNC released an advertisement (embedded in the story linked below) with audio from the halting beginning to Don Verrilli’s oral argument on the individual mandate to make the point that (as the ad’s title says) “ObamaCare: It’s a tough sell.” So far as I can tell, it is less a real ad that would actually run than a stunt intended to draw attention – no less a stunt than the DNC surely has done in lots of other contexts.

But Bloomberg News had the good sense to actually compare the actual argument audio with what the RNC distributed. It turns out to have been materially doctored. As the Bloomberg piece says, “A review of a transcript and recordings of those moments shows that Verrilli took a sip of water just once, paused for a much briefer period, and completed his thought, rather than stuttering and trailing off as heard in the doctored version.”

I’ve been in practice for seventeen years, and the blog has existed for ten, and this is the single most classless and misleading thing I’ve ever seen related to the Court. It is as if the RNC decided to take an incredibly serious and successful argument that has the chance to produce a pathbreaking legal victory for a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, drag it through the mud, and vomit on it.

Well, that is their specialty.

Sadly, I doubt that this will have the effect that this delightfully naive fellow thinks it will. Nobody cares. Lying right wing operatives have no limits and can literally get away with anything. They couldn't care less about "serious arguments." They don't need them. It'll be fine --- it's just red meat for a slavering base that is addicted to it.

I have to wonder why this person isn't more concerned about the fact that at least three of the Supreme Court justices seem to be among those who are demanding a piece of that bloody carcass. They certainly seemed to have absorbed all the Tea party talking points. (Of course, one of the Justices is married to a major Tea Party organizer, so I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised.)

If he has a problem with the Republican Party losing its grip, he really should check out this Chris Mooney post (which David also referenced below) and ask himself how it could have happened:

For a while now, I’ve been aware of a powerful new paper that directly tests the central argument of my 2005 book The Republican War on Science—and also validates some key claims made in my new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality. I’ve had to keep quiet about it until now; but at last, the study is out—though I’m not sure yet about a web link to it.

The research is by Gordon Gauchat of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and published in the prestigious American Sociological Review. In the study, Gauchat uses a vast body of General Social Survey data to test three competing theses about the relationship between science and the U.S. public:

1) the cultural ascendancy thesis or “deficit model” view, according to which better education and engagement with science lead all boats to rise, and citizens across the board become more trusting of scientists and their expertise;

2) the alienation thesis, according to which modernity brings on distrust and disillusionment with science (call it the “spoiled brat” thesis if you’d like); and

3) the politicization thesis—my thesis—according to which some cultural groups, aka conservatives, have a unique fallout with science for reasons tied up with the nature of modern American conservatism, such as its ideology, the growth of its think tank infrastructure, and so on.

The result? Well, Gauchat’s data show that the politicization thesis handily defeats all contenders. More specifically, he demonstrates that there was only really a decline in public trust in science among conservatives in the period from 1974 to 2010 (and among those with high church attendance, but these two things are obviously tightly interrelated).

And not just that.

Gauchat further validates the argument of The Republican War on Science by showing that the decline in trust in science was not linear. It occurred in association with two key “cultural break” points that, I argue in the book, heightened right wing science politicization: The election of Ronald Reagan, and then the election of George W. Bush.

This one figure from the paper really, really says it all:

This isn't really much of a mystery. Pay attention people.

Little white slip-up redux

by digby

Poor Rick. I'm almost 100% sure that this isn't what it sounds like. But he does seem to have something of a problem when it comes to sounding like he's about to say something very racist:

This one was a little bit less questionable:

It makes you wonder what politicians were saying before Youtube, doesn't it?

Update: Watertiger has a different theory.

Free Market Magic

by David Atkins

I'm shocked, shocked:

Hedge funds have endured a rough year. Tumultuous markets. Tighter regulations. An insider trading crackdown.

But despite the lackluster environment, the top managers still took home $14.4 billion in 2011.

Even when returns suffer, the largest hedge funds can collect big paychecks, thanks to the fees they charge pensions, endowments and wealthy individuals to manage money.

Paul Tudor Jones II charges a 4 percent management fee and takes 23 percent of any profit. So he made $175 million in 2011, although his main fund tracked the returns of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. Steven A. Cohen, whose firm, SAC Capital Advisors, keeps 50 percent of the profit, earned $585 million.

“The industry’s fees and performance are so out of whack it’s unbelievable,” said Bradley H. Alford, who invested in hedge funds while he was at the Duke Endowment in the late 1990s but today oversees a lower cost mutual fund firm that competes with them. “Fifteen years ago, you got double-digit performance for those returns, but last year, the S.& P. was positive and hedge funds were negative. There’s no alignment with the fees.”

I'm sure that's nothing a little more free market magic won't fix if only we get rid of those pesky regulations hampering their success. Remember Rand Paul:

Instead of punishing them, you should want to encourage them. I would think you would want to say to the oil companies, “What obstacles are there to you making more money?” And hiring more people. Instead they say, “No, we must punish them. We must tax them more to make things fair.” This whole thing about fairness is so misguided and gotten out of hand...

“We as a society need to glorify those who make a profit,” Paul concluded.

Now, Rand Paul was admittedly talking about oil companies, not hedge funds. But what's the difference? They're jahhb creators.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Razing Arizona

by digby

Did I say something the other day about sanity in Arizona? Well, not so much:

The Arizona bill, (HB 2036), passed in the state Senate on Thursday and will now go before the house. Like the proposals before it, Arizona's legislation is modeled on the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" designed by the National Right to Life Committee. And like the other bills, it states that abortion would be banned 20 weeks into a pregnancy. But reproductive rights advocates point out that Arizona's law would actually be more restrictive than others, as the bill states that the gestational age of the fetus should be "calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman."

Not to go all middle-school health on you, but that's not exactly the same as the actual date the egg and the sperm hooked up. Figuring out that exact point one became pregnant can be tricky. Most women ovulate about 14 or 15 days after their period starts, and women can usually get pregnant anywhere between five days before ovulation and a day after it. Arizona's law would start the clock at a woman's last period—which means, in practice, that the law prohibits abortion later than 18 weeks after a woman actually becomes pregnant.

The American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project has called Arizona's proposed law the "most extreme bill of its kind," one that would be more restrictive than any others currently in force in the US. Although it includes exceptions if the pregnancy poses a threat to the life of the woman, there are no exceptions if, for instance, the fetus is found to have a life-threatening condition or other severe impairment. Banning abortions at the 18-week mark would also preclude women from obtaining information about the condition of the fetus, as many medical tests are either not performed or are not conclusive at that early date.

The bill doesn't stop there. Under this law, if a doctor performs an abortion after that 18-weeks, he or she can be charged with a crime, have his or her license revoked or suspended, and can be held liable for civil penalties if the father of the fetus decides to pursue legal action. The bill also requires a mandatory ultrasound for anyone seeking an abortion at any stage of pregnancy (hello, transvaginal probes) and mandates that a doctor offer to show a pregnant woman the ultrasound, describe it to her verbally and provide her with a photo of "the unborn child." It would also require a woman to wait 24 hours after the ultrasound before she can obtain an abortion.
This is just sickening. Why don't these people just force all women to watch porno movies with their eyes propped open like Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" as a form of sex aversion therapy? It would be less cruel. Or they could just lock them all up until childbirth(and then abandon both the woman and the child, as usual.) That'll teach 'em.


Whose freedom is it anyway?

by digby

Reader sleon asks a very important question:

If the Tea Partiers - to the extent that they believe they are not corporate shills - really think the Health care battle is about freedom, why won't they accord the rest of us the freedom they crave? In other words, if they don't want government healthcare and the mandate to buy insurance, fine. Here's the deal...we'll eliminate the mandate in exchange for people being able to buy into Medicare for All.

Then they can choose to go without insurance - and be refused care they can't pay for - or buy private insurance where 40% of their premiums will go to overhead and profit, while the rest of us can choose buy into a plan where only 3% goes to overhead and there is no profit. If you want to be "free" to choose, I should be too.

Why shouldn't I be allowed to choose Medicare if I want to? I feel that my freedom as an American is being infringed. How come these people are all forcing me to buy private insurance against my will. What is this, Communist China?

Sure, it's a stretch. But of it infringes on someone's freedom for insurance companies to make contraception part of a preventive care package, then it sure as hell infringes on my freedom to be denied the opportunity to buy insurance through Medicare.

Who are these people who would deny me the right to buy what I want to buy! This is America!