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Saturday, June 30, 2012


Saturday Night at the Movies

Summertime Blus: Best BD reissues of 2012 (so far)

By Dennis Hartley

Since we’re halfway through the year, I thought I’d offer my picks for the top ten Blu-ray reissues (so far) for 2012, and take a sneak peek at notable upcoming releases. Most titles are still being released concurrent with a standard DVD edition, so if you don’t have a BD player, don’t despair. As per usual, my list is in alphabetical, not preferential, order…

Chinatown - There are many Deep Thoughts that I have gleaned over the years via repeated viewings of Roman Polanski’s 1974 “sunshine noir”. Here are my top five:

  1. Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water.
  2. Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.
  3. You may think you know what you’re dealing with, but, believe me, you don’t.
  4. He owns the police.
  5. She’s my sister AND my daughter.

Of course, I’ve also learned that if you assemble a great director (Polanski), a killer screenplay (by Robert Towne), two lead actors at the top of their game (Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway), an ace cinematographer (John A. Alonzo) and top it off with a perfect music score (by Jerry Goldsmith), you’ll likely produce a film that deserves to be called a “classic”, in every sense of the word. Paramount’s Blu-ray has a beautiful transfer, and ports over the extras and commentary track from their previous SD edition.

The Deer Hunter- “If anything happens…don’t leave me over there. You gotta promise me that, Mike.” 1978 was a pivotal year for American films dealing head on with the country’s deep scars (social, political and emotional) from the nightmare of the war in Vietnam; that one year alone saw the release of Boys in Company C, Go Tell the Spartans Coming Home, and Michael Cimino’s shattering drama, which was (perhaps arguably) the most intensely affecting of the four. Cimino’s sprawling 3 hour film is essentially a character study about three blue collar buddies (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and Jon Savage) from a Pennsylvania steel town who enlist in the military, share a harrowing P.O.W. experience in Vietnam, and suffer through P.T.S.D. (each in their own unique fashion). I still remember the first time I saw this film in a theater. I sat all the way through the end credits, and continued sitting for at least five minutes. I literally had to “collect myself”, and no film has ever affected me like that, before or since. Amazing performances from the aforementioned players, as well as from Meryl Streep, John Cazale, Chuch Aspegren and George Dzundza. The film has been long overdue on Blu-ray, and Universal’s hi-def transfer really showcases the exemplary Oscar-nominated lens work by Vilmos Zsigmond (the film did end up winning in five other categories, including Best Picture and Director). It’s a little skimpy on extras, but still worth owning.

Forbidden Zone- Picture if you will: an artistic marriage between John Waters, Max Fleischer, Busby Berkeley and Peter Greenaway. Now, imagine the wedding night (I’ll give you a sec). As for the “plot”, well, it’s about this indescribably twisty family who discovers a portal to a pan-dimensional…oh, never mind. Suffice it to say, any film that features Herve Villechaize as the King of the Sixth Dimension, Susan Tyrrell as his Queen and soundtrack composer Danny Elfman channeling Cab Calloway (via Satan), is a dream for some; a nightmare for others. Directed by Danny’s brother Richard. Arrow Videos’s Blu-ray includes a “making of” feature, plus a choice of seeing the film it its original B&W or colorized version. Either way you look at it, it’s deliriously over the top.

Godzilla - It’s no secret that the “king of the monsters” was borne of fear; the fear of “the Bomb” as only the Japanese could have truly understood it back in 1954 (especially when one considers it was released only 9 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki). It’s also important to distinguish between Gojira, the original Japanese cut of the film, and the relatively butchered version released in the U.S. in 1956 as Godzilla, King of the Monsters. That is because the original Japanese cut not only has a more haunting and darkly atmospheric quality, but carries a strong anti-nuke message as well (it’s an American H-bomb test that awakens the long-slumbering beast from his deep-sea hibernation). The U.S. cut downplays this subtext (replacing cut footage with inserts featuring Raymond Burr). This is why American audiences remained oblivious to the fact that the film was inspired by a real 1954 incident involving a Japanese fishing vessel (“The Lucky Dragon”). The boat was in an alleged “safe zone” near one of the Bikini Atoll bomb tests conducted by the U.S. Many crewmembers received serious burns, and one of the injured eventually died of radiation sickness. Criterion’s Blu-ray includes both the original 1954 Toho version (the first and the best of what was to ultimately become a silly franchise) and the U.S. cut. Needless to say, the films have never looked better. Insightful commentary tracks and a plethora of fascinating extras make this one a winner.

Harold and Maude- Harold loves Maude. And Maude loves Harold. It’s a match made in heaven-if only “society” would agree. Because Harold (Bud Cort) is a teenager, and Maude (Ruth Gordon) is about to turn 80. Falling in love with a woman old enough to be his great-grandmother is the least of Harold’s quirks. He’s a chronically depressed trustafarian who amuses himself by staging fake suicides to freak out his patrician mother (the wonderful Vivian Pickles). He also “enjoys” attending funerals-which is where they Meet Cute. The effervescent Maude is Harold’s diametric opposite; while he wallows in morbid speculation how any day could be your last, she seizes each day as if it actually were. Obviously, she has something to teach him. Despite dark undertones, this is one “midnight movie” that actually manages to be life-affirming. The late Hal Ashby directed, and Colin Higgins wrote the screenplay. The memorable soundtrack is by Cat Stevens (a disc extra features a recent interview with the reclusive musician, who for the first time talks about how all the songs came together). Criterion’s transfer is outstanding.

Notorious - It’s really a tough call to name my “favorite” Hitchcock movie (it’s like being forced to pick your favorite child). Now, if you want to throw in qualifiers, like say, which of the Master’s films would I consider his sexiest…then that makes it a little easier. Or at least I would narrow it down to three: North by Northwest , To Catch a Thief (see my review below), and this superb 1946 espionage thriller (no, I don’t have a man-crush on Cary Grant…not that there would be anything wrong with that). To be sure, Grant makes for quite a suave American agent, and Claude Rains is a fabulous villain you love to hate, but it’s Ingrid Bergman who really, erm, holds my interest in this story of love, betrayal and international intrigue, all set in exotic Rio. Bergman plays her character with a seemingly counterintuitive mixture of worldly cynicism and unselfconsciously sexy vulnerability that to this day, few actresses would be able to sell so convincingly. To be honest, MGM’s Blu-ray was not quite what I had hoped for, vis a vis the picture quality (it’s only a marginal improvement over Criterion’s out-of-print SD edition), but it is the best looking print currently available, and it’s relatively inexpensive.

The 39 Steps- Along with The Lady Vanishes, this 1935 gem represents the best of Alfred Hitchcock’s pre-Hollywood period. In fact, many of the tropes that would come to be known as “Hitchcockian” are already fomenting in this early entry: an icy blonde love interest, a meticulously constructed, edge-of-your-seat finale, and most notably, the “wrong man” scenario. Robert Donat stars as a Canadian tourist in London who is approached by a jittery woman after a music hall show. She begs refuge in his flat for the night, but won’t tell him why. Intrigued, he offers her his hospitality, but imagine his surprise when he awakens the next morning, just in time to watch her collapse on the floor, with a knife in her back and a mysterious map clutched in her hand. Before he knows it, he’s on the run from the police and embroiled with shady assassins, foreign spies and people who are not who they seem to be. Fate and circumstance throw him in with a reluctant female “accomplice” (Madeleine Carroll). A suspenseful, funny, and rapidly paced entertainment. Criterion’s new Blu-ray transfer is as good as a 77 year-old film is going to look. The biggest improvement is in the audio quality, which has been problematic in previous DVD versions. A highlight amongst the extras is a 1966 TV interview, wherein Hitchcock shares some amusing backstage tales about his early career.

To Catch a Thief- This is one of those rare Hitchcock films that’s really more about the romance, the scenery and the clever repartee than it is about the chills and thrills, but that certainly makes it no less entertaining. Cary Grant is perfectly cast as “retired” cat burglar John Robie, an American ex-pat and former Resistance fighter living on the French Riviera. Life is going quite swimmingly, until a string of high-end jewel thefts (all resembling his M.O.) put the police on Robie’s back and raise the ire of some of his old war buddies. As Robie goes to work to clear his name and help smoke out the real culprit, his life becomes more complicated when a love interest enters the picture (an achingly beautiful Grace Kelly). To be sure, it’s pretty lightweight Hitchcock, but holds up well to repeated viewings, thanks to the sexy chemistry between Grant and Kelly, intoxicating location filming and the delightful supporting performances (particularly from Jessie Royce Landis, who steals all her scenes as Kelly’s mother). The witty, urbane screenplay is by John Michael Hayes (who also scripted Rear Window , The Trouble with Harry and the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much ). MGM’s Blu-ray transfer is sparkling, doing full justice to Robert Burks’ colorful, Oscar-winning cinematography.

Tokyo Drifter - The key to understanding what makes this existential hit man thriller from Japan’s Nikkatsu studios so uniquely entertaining…is to not try to understand it. Don’t get hung up on silly conventions like “narrative coherence”; just turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. If that sounds like the reassuring counsel someone might give to a friend who is taking their first acid trip…you’re right. Because when this film was made (1966), an awful lot of people were taking their first acid trip, including director Seijun Suzuki (at least that’s my theory). The “drifter” of the title is a yakuza with a strong personal code (and really cool Ray-Bans) who is trying to go legit…but of course, “they pull him back in”. But as he does not wish to dishonor his boss/mentor, who is also trying to get out of the game, he splits the big city to wander Japan and let the chips fall where they may, as members of various rival gangs dog his every step. Highly stylized and visually exhilarating, this is a real treat for lovers of pure cinema. Suzuki’s wild mash-up of genres, which quotes everything from French New Wave to James Bond and westerns to film noir, was pretty bold stuff for its time, and it’s obvious that postmodernists like Tarantino have watched it once or twice. Criterion’s Blu-ray transfer dazzles the senses.

Yellow Submarine - This is a new one for me…a Blu-ray viewing completely turning my opinion around on a film. Despite being a die-hard Beatles fan, over the years I’ve felt somewhat ambivalent about this 1968 animated feature “starring” the Fab Four; or rather, their cartoon avatars, voiced over by other actors. While I adored the music soundtrack, I never quite “got” what all the fuss was over the “innovative” animation (which could be partially attributable to the fact that I never caught it in a theater, just on TV and in various fuzzy home video formats). But, being the obsessive-compulsive completist that I am, I snapped up a copy of Capitol’s new Blu-ray version, and found it to be a revelation. The restoration for the 2012 transfer was apparently done by hand, frame-by frame (an unusually artisan choice for this digital age), and the results are jaw-dropping. The visuals are stunning. The audio remix is superb; I never fully appreciated the clever wordplay in the script (by Lee Minoff, Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn and Erich Segal) until now. The story itself remains silly, but it’s the knockout music sequences (“Eleanor Rigby” being one particular standout) that make this one worth the price of admission.

…and here are some more noteworthy Blu-ray reissues, due out in the near future:

Previous posts with related themes:


Where is the Tea Party?

by digby

I'm sure you are dying to know:

Tea partiers told TPM this week there was some chatter following the decision about a national rally to pressure Congress to overturn the health care law — but grassroots activists and corporate-funders alike seem to agree that’s a bad idea.

FreedomWorks, the Koch brothers-funded group responsible for many of the tea party’s largest rallies, is hosting a strategy call Saturday afternoon with tea party activists to plan the initial next steps of the grassroots health care fight. Group campaign organizing director Brendan Steinhauser told TPM that FreedomWorks plans to target key battleground states with big organizing efforts. The federal holiday next week is the big kickoff.
That should take us through the dog days of August.The Kochs will undoubtedly come through with some advertising to support their message. Rumors are that they and Ameican crossroads have bought up just about every minute of available airtime in swing states. It's already a hot summer and it looks as though they want to make it as miserable as possible.
Tea Party Patriots urged its members to find out where their members of Congress will be while on recess next week and flood “every parade, town hall, civic speaking engagement they plan to attend.”

It’s an old tea party tactic reminiscent of the town hall battles of 2009. It’s clear the Tea Party Patriots want to recapture that spirit, starting on July 4.

“When you see them, ask them 2 questions ON VIDEO: a. ‘If elected will you repeal government-controlled health care in full in early 2013 so that the taxes increases are not implemented and we maintain control of our doctor-patient decisions?’” reads the email. “b. ‘If elected will you vote to balance our budget in 5 years without raising taxes and actually have the fortitude to stick to the budgeted spending?’”
I think we should show up too and start yelling incoherently like their martyred hero:

Here's the chant for you to memorize:
Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! You are freaks and animals! You're freaks and animals! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Behave yourself! Learn to behave yourself! Stop raping people! Stop raping people! Stop raping people! Stop raping people! Stop raping the people! You freaks! You filthy freaks! You filthy filthy filthy raping murdering freaks!
Catchy, ain't it?


I am human and I need to be loved. Just like everybody else does

by digby

Via Salon and Alternet, I see that the godless atheists are under attack again:

In a widely disseminated and discussed opinion piece, Anglican minister Rev. Gavin Dunbar made an interesting and even compelling argument that grief is necessary for love and humanity… and then went on to argue that, unless you believe in God, you have no reason to care whether the people you love live or die, or even to love them in the first place.

Again: I wish I was joking. I quote:

The new atheists proclaim their gospel with the fervour of believers: God is dead, man is free, free from the destructive illusions of religion and morality, of reason and virtue. But then a someone dies, suddenly and cruelly, like the young man known to many in ..[this] parish [in [Eastern Georgia] who was killed in a freakish accident last weekend. And his death casts a pall of grief over his family, his friends, their families, his school, and many others. Yet if he was no more than an arrangement of molecules, a selfish gene struggling to replicate itself, there can be no reason for grief, or for the love that grieves, since these are (we are told) essentially selfish survival mechanisms left over from some earlier stage in hominid evolution. Friendship is just another illusion. But of course we do grieve, even the atheists. And in so grieving, they grieve better than they know (or think they know).

The grieving atheist cannot provide any reason why he grieves, or why he (rightly) respects the grief of others.

Read the whole thing for an explanation of what the "new atheists" really do believe, which is quite interesting. But for me the answer to the question is fairly simple. Everyone grieves because they are going to miss having the person in their lives. It's the loss to themselves that makes them so sad.

However, if one must take it to another, more philosophical or spiritual level, it seems to me that the atheist has far more cause to grieve than the believer. After all, the atheist believes that's the end of the line, curtains, fade to black. The believer, on the other hand, should not just not grieve, he should be happy. They believe their loved one is in heaven, where everything is perfect.

I've actually often thought it was somewhat selfish of believers to grieve with such energy when according to their beliefs, the person they purport to love is in a better place. (In fact, one could even make the argument that there's little point in life itself, when the big payoff lies beyond the grave. It's the atheists who value life --- it's all they've got.)

Anyway, I'm being somewhat flippant and will probably regret it. Read the piece, it's very serious about all this. But it's true that the religious folks who believe that atheists don't have any cause to grieve or care about love or life don't know what they're talking about. Atheists and believers may not agree on much when it comes to the existence of God or an afterlife, but they are all human. They should be able to at least agree on that much.

QOTD: from the black kettle files

by digby

"Nancy Pelosi is a dingbat."

-- Sarah Palin, in an interview on Fox News.

No, that is not a joke.

Very cogent critique, as usual.

"Who is gonna make it? We'll find out in the long run"

by digby

Krugman quoting DeLong

Of course, we historically-minded economists are not surprised that they were wrong. We are, however, surprised at how few of them have marked their beliefs to market in any sense. On the contrary, many of them, their reputations under water, have doubled down on those beliefs, apparently in the hope that events will, for once, break their way, and that people might thus be induced to forget their abysmal forecasting track record.

I would guess that people who are secure in the knowledge that they suffer no professional sanctions, loss of reputation or discomfort in their own lives by simply waiting for "the market" to eventually right itself, however cruel and painful that is for most people don't feel any pressure to admit wrong.


The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is past the ocean is flat again.

Will the health care reforms sell themselves?

by digby

Ezra explains why the White House isn't going to run on its health care accomplishment:
If the Affordable Care Act is ever going to become the popular piece of law that its supporters hope it is, it’s not going to be because Democrats finally figure out the magic jingle necessary to sell it. It’s going to be because it sells itself by providing insurance to 30 million Americans. But it doesn’t really start doing that until 2014. The question for the law’s supporters is how to keep it alive until then. And the answer, at least in the White House, is simple: Reelect Obama.
I see the logic from a political perspective. Mitt Romney will surely do his best to dismantle the reforms if he wins, therefore, to protect the reforms it's important to have Obama in office when they are slated to take effect. And since the "plan", to the extent people understand it, which isn't very much, is unpopular, I'm guessing the Republicans will do whatever they can to ensure the people continue to be as misinformed as possible.

There are several problems with this. The first is that implementation is only 2 years away now and a large portion of the people who are going to be immediately affected --- the working poor and those who currently don't have health insurance, don't have a frigging clue about what they'll need to do and what effect this law will have on them. At some point someone's going to have to tell them. Maybe this outreach is being left to the exchanges which don't exist yet, but I'm guessing that it's only in certain places where that they're going to be up to speed to inform the public of the plan. I hope they're working on it all over the country or we're going to have a very lousy buy-in in 2014 and that could result in some very unhappy people and some unpleasant headlines on April 15th 2015.

I don't think anybody's asking the White House for "magic jingles", but somebody is going to have to explain this thing. In order for it to "sell itself" we need millions of people to sign up for Medicaid (if their states decide to accept it, that is) and many others to buy health insurance who don't already have it. And then we need for the entire country to be aware of this and happy for all those people who are now on Medicaid and government subsidies.

Even though the vast majority will see no positive or negative change they will hear a constant drumbeat from the right that the thing is bankrupting the country and every problem with the insurance company it will now be the government's fault. And many of them will see someone benefiting from the reforms, see nothing for themselves, and assume it's at their expense. It will be very easy to turn health care into welfare in many of these people's minds.

Here's where public opinion stands today, after the ruling:

( I suppose that the 27% of Democrats who want to repeal all or part of the law are single-payer or public option advocates. That's almost a third of the party. Not insignificant ...)

Perhaps the American people will all settle down about this in 2014 when they see how wonderful the plan is working for those who didn't have insurance and now have it. It would be pretty to think so, anyway. But I'm guessing those numbers are only going to harden until it can be demonstrated to most people that they aren't losing anything, not that they didn't gain. With Republicans out there screaming about parasites and welfare queens and the largest tax increases in history, I don't think it's going to be as easy as people think it is.

This will be a battle for perceptions among the majority who are covered under their employers or have Medicare, not reality. Their stake in this is abstract and that abstraction can be defined just as easily in a negative way as a positive way. One of the main reasons that Social Security and Medicare worked was that every last person was in it and once they were in it they didn't want to lose it. This plan does not feature that sort of buy-in. I really think it's a huge, huge mistake for the Democrats to be sanguine about this plan selling itself.

Maybe the president can't produce a "magic jingle" to sell this thing, but somebody needs to. (I vote for Will.I Am.)


Saturday morning music, courtesy Bach and Respighi

by David Atkins

A little change of pace for everyone this Saturday morning to lift the mood and spirit, courtesy of J.S. Bach and Ottorino Respighi. Below are two versions of Bach's famous and extraordinary Passacaglia in C Minor.

A "passacaglia" is an old Spanish musical form best noted for its use of ostinato, or sequentially repeated melody, usually in the bass line. Bach's famous C Minor passacaglia repeats this melody with variations no less than 21 times, with 12 variations on a related fugue theme interlaced as well.

The first version here is played masterfully by Ton Koopman as Bach originally wrote it for solo organ. It's one of the greatest pieces ever written for the organ. Listen for the simple 16-note melody that begins the piece, and for the mesmerizing repetition of that melody line again and again even as the higher treble notes increase in rhythmic and melodic complexity.

It's such a powerful piece that numerous later composers arranged it for a full orchestra. Probably the most famous of these orchestrations was created by Ottorino Respighi, commissioned by Arturo Toscanini. Respighi's orchestration is magnificent and somewhat more accessible to a modern ear than Bach's original, while still capturing the beautiful simplicity of the passacaglia form.

Here it is:

I've had Bach's ostinato base line from the Passacaglia as an earworm for the last several days, but I don't mind. It's a gift worth sharing. Enjoy your Saturday!


Friday, June 29, 2012


by digby

Anti-abortion zealot Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America:

"Women want to make their own decisions when it comes to their health care, with the support of their families and their doctors. It's preposterous to suggest the government would do a better job at deciding what is best for us and our loved ones."

I'd be impressed if I thought she was doing it consciously. But I honestly think she's an idiot.

What now?

by digby

In the wake of the ACA decision, Howie featured a great dialog yesterday on DWT with several progressive congressional candidates who also happen to be doctors, David Gill, Lee Rogers, Sayed Taj and Manan Trivedi. The entire discussion is well worth reading, but I thought I'd just share one part of it --- the "what do we do now" part of it:

Dr. Taj:
The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate means that those of us that support reform of our health care system must now act to build on what has been done and improve it. For one, health care costs are a major contributor to the federal deficit that must be reigned in if we’re to put our nation on a stable fiscal foundation. The individual mandate is the centerpiece of the ACA and projected cost reductions would have been impossible without a larger insurance pool. It would have meant increasingly less take-home pay for middle class families to pay for the same or worse coverage. There's a lot we must do to improve the legislation.

The decision gives us the opportunity to keep reforming and designing a better system. Polls have shown widespread public support for a universal health care system and this is the window of opportunity for our leaders to act. A recent report by economist Gerald Friedman shows that this would “save as much as $570 billion now wasted on administrative overhead and monopoly profits.” While there are costs involved with insuring millions of uninsured and underinsured we’d save much more by eliminating middlemen and simplifying the system as a whole, especially by eliminating the incentive to deny care for larger profits. Even with its virtues, the ACA doesn't do nearly enough to bring down long-term costs or correct the deeply rooted problems of our health care system.

Dr. Rogers:
I think the whole panel would obviously agree that we need doctors at the table making healthcare decisions. Not bureaucrats or lawyers. This decision draws attention to the good parts of Obamacare and the bad parts. Most of us can agree that eliminating pre-existing conditions to qualify for insurance, allowing adult children to stay on parents insurance, and extending coverage for preventable diseases are good things. Where Republicans and Democrats disagree is how to pay for it. Healthcare is so important for the well-being of our nation, that it should be a high priority. We're wasting a lot of money on a war which we already won, on military aid to wealthy nations, on redundant nuclear weapons systems when we could already destroy the planet multiple times over, on putting nonviolent drug offenders in prison instead of in treatment, giving away billions in subsidies to big oil companies, and many other things that should take a back seat to making sure our citizens have access to quality, affordable care.

The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government has the Constitutional authority to regulate nearly all aspects of healthcare including a provision that requires citizens to purchase health insurance. People who have benefited from the law will continue to benefit. That's the good part. The bad part is that the law still needs to be fixed. No law is perfect, but this one benefits the big insurance companies like no other. It mandates you purchase a product but has no cost controls on that product. We need to put patients first, not big insurance companies.

Dr Trivedi:

The problem with the ACA was that it was too complicated and did not do enough to rein in healthcare costs or hold the insurance companies accountable. The SCOTUS decision still allows for an opportunity to pursue a much more simplified system, like a Medicare buy-in, which would provide competition in the marketplace and provide patient consumers public and private choices. This coupled with a much greater focus on comparative effectiveness research, so we can better figure out what works and what doesn't work, would be a system that covers everyone, brings costs down and improves the quality of healthcare for everyone.

Dr. Gill, direct and to the point:

We need to once again push for Improved Medicare for All.

It would be helpful to have these people in the congress, don't you think?

You can contribute to Blue America candidates Gill and Rogers, here.

From the bipartisan deathwatch files

by David Atkins

Another day, another reminder that the partisan divides in our politics aren't some artificial result of dueling political parties, but rather a reflection of our deeply divided electorate:

Increasingly, the 2012 presidential election appears to be dividing along a pair of fault-lines.

The first is demographic: old versus new America.

President Obama’s reelection depends increasingly on a coalition of minorities and younger voters, the same groups that helped put him in office. Their overall numbers are increasing, but the president’s ability to turn them out this year at anywhere close to 2008 levels remains in doubt (at least among Latinos and younger whites; the black vote is virtually certain to be there again for Obama). Their potential explains why Democrats have sought to portray the election as the future against the past.

Mitt Romney, meanwhile, is likely to become president only if he can improve on John McCain’s performance among whites, who represent a declining share of the U.S. population. The GOP candidate’s recent campaign swings have been through areas where whites make up a disproportionate share of the population — including portions of the old Midwest Rust belt and southwest Virginia. A potential key to mobilizing conservative whites: voter drives by Christian organizations to sign up millions of unregistered evangelicals; one of Romney’s biggest advantages over Obama, according to the Gallup Poll, comes from religious whites, who favor the Republican by better than 2-to-1. But Latinos have yet to warm to the GOP candidate, favoring Obama by 2-to-1 in several polls.

The other divide of surpassing importance in this year’s presidential election is geographic: it's the gulf between a relative handful of “battleground” states, which are already getting pounded by campaign commercials, and the rest of the country, where most of America lives and which has largely been spared.
America isn't so much a country as an uneasily balanced melange of two very distinct cultural tribes, each with its own norms, entertainment and assumptions about the basic facts of the world. And while many people find that scary, it shouldn't be. The rising demographic is the one with a better morality and a better sense of objective reality.

What is more disconcerting is that presidential politics increasingly plays out in only a handful of states that don't truly reflect the national experience. It's long past time to fix that.

Critical thinking for dummies

by digby

Meanwhile, back in the states:

The 2012 Texas Republican Party Platform, adopted June 9 at the state convention in Forth Worth, seems to take a stand against, well, the teaching of critical thinking skills. Read it for yourself:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

As a top commenter on a Reddit thread wrote about the language, "I was absolutely sure this had to be an elaborate fake ... ." It's not.

We at Teacher think this may be a kind of first. While the push for accountability via standardized testing—which the current Democratic administration has stood behind—has frequently been characterized as potentially undermining instruction in critical thinking, blatant opposition to teaching students to think deeply has not often (ever?) been a part of the policy conversation.

But it's been the implicit goal of authoritarians forever.

Cornhusker Kickback and the opt in/out shuffle

by digby

Speaking of Senator Nelson, remember when everyone was shocked when Justice Scalia referred to the "Cornhusker Kickback" which wasn't in the legislation?

JUSTICE SCALIA: All right. The consequence of your proposition, would Congress have enacted it without this provision, okay that's the consequence.

That would mean that if we struck down nothing in this legislation but the -- what you call the corn husker kickback, okay, we find that to violate the constitutional proscription of venality, okay?

The Cornhusker Kickback was supposed to give Nebraska 100% federal funding for Medicaid forever in return for Nelson's vote. He ended up there when he couldn't get enough votes for his preferred "opt-in" on the Medicaid expansion. Ironically, Justice Roberts and the majority, by allowing the states to "opt-out" without suffering any penalty, accomplished what Senator Nelson couldn't.

It probably means nothing, but it makes you wonder what these guys were talking about among themselves doesn't it?

The liberal jewel in the ACA crown: Medicaid

by digby

One of the reasons I resist getting all giddy about every Obamacare victory is because I know it's never going to end. They will be fighting this long after I am dead. (After all, they're still trying to end Social Security after 75 years). So everyone should just hunker down and assume that the battle is ongoing. A "win" is never final. In fact, it's usually the beginning.

But after reading reams of analysis over the past 24 hours I do think it's worth pointing out again that this case was not joined by any of the Medical Industrial Complex players. They sat it out, quite happy to enjoy a big surge in healthy customers fueled by billions in government subsidies. For that reason, it's very hard for me to see this mandate being repealed or the subsidies being cut back, even though they will stage a Grand Kabuki pretending that they will. It's just too good for business.

The Medicaid expansion, on the other hand, was always going to be the real political football.(Sometimes I thought it was meant to be.) This is where the battle will be joined in earnest, at least in the short run. Places like California will try to implement the new scheme and may succeed for a time. But if the deficit hawks have their way and put us on a harsher austerity path and/or the Republicans eventually succeed in changing the ACA Medicaid provisions to a block grant or something else, that part of the reforms will wither. And more immediately, we may see some obstinate zealots in the state houses and governors mansions who will take Justice Roberts up on his offer to reject the funding for the ACA.

And you know what that means. Here's Dday:

I was just on a conference call where Governor Martin O’Malley (D-MD) was asked whether he thought Republican governors might opt out of the Medicaid expansion in light of the Supreme Court’s ACA ruling yesterday. He replied, “I don’t know. Some of our colleagues would like to get out of being members of the Union.” I think that’s the right way to look at it. These are an ideologically extreme set of characters, and they’re not going to go quietly, meekly accepting funds that expands health care for poor people. That goes against their worldview.
It’s not logical or rational in the short term. But it’s pretty clear that will be their perspective. Especially because those who would be left on the other side of the divide, in the event of rejecting the Medicaid expansion, would so clearly be on the side of the “other”:

For people of color, the impact of the mess that the court just rolled down Pennsylvania Avenue and out into the country cannot be understated. Blacks, Latinos and Asians are up to three times less likely to have insurance than whites. Half of the nation’s uninsured are people of color.

The Center for American Progress estimates that this racial gap in health care coverage costs the country $415 billion a year in lost productivity.

For black and brown America, affordable, quality healthcare is key to closing a wider economic gulf [...]

Medicaid is a mitigating force in this lopsided system. Blacks and Latinos are enrolled in Medicaid at twice the rate of whites. Half of those in the program are children. As the Kaiser Family Foundation has bluntly concluded, “Medicaid enables Black and Hispanic Americans to access health care.”

The recession has made this more true than ever. Three out of four people who lose their job, also lose their insurance. As a result, the number of people in Medicaid has soared to 60 million.

60 million people.

During the Health Care negotiations when we were all obsessed with the public option, I recall speaking to a progressive congressman about whether or not they were willing to form a bloc and kill the bill since the PO had been tossed. He said to me that he would love to but he couldn't walk away from this expansion in Medicaid, it was just too important to the working poor. I supported the bill for the same reasons. I thought we could do a lot better than this crazy set-up for the private insurance market, but the Medicaid expansion was getting through without much controversy, which I thought was a miracle worth taking and running with.

But I never thought the centrists and conservatives wouldn't try to fuck with it every chance they got. For the reasons Dday outlines above, it will be the new "welfare" with all that that implies.

The Medicaid expansion was the liberal piece of the reforms, government funded health care for the working poor. In my view that's where progressives should focus their energies and get out ahead of the inevitable conservative onslaught.

Update: By the way, let's not forget who brought up the Medicaid "option" in the first place:

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) has announced that Senate Democrats would have to allow states to “opt-in” to the Medicaid expansion to secure his vote for the Senate health care bill. In a letter to Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, who has previously raised concerns about the provision in the Senate bill that would expand Medicaid to 133% of the federal poverty line (FPL), Nelson wrote “In your letter you note that the current Senate bill is not in Nebraska’s best interest. I agree. That is why I continue to work to change it,” Nelson wrote. “Under my proposal, if Nebraska prefers not to opt in to a reformed health care system, it would have that right.”

I'm just saying: don't count on the Democrats to automatically protect this from the vultures.

The best f#&king news team on television

by digby

Says it all ...

Densification: another positive progressive trendline

by David Atkins

To say that demographic trends are against conservatives would be an understatement. From progressive attitudes among the nation's youth to decreasing religiosity to the rise of Latinos as a percentage of the general population, time is definitely not on the side of the Fox News crowd.

Now we can count densification among those trends:

For the first time in a century, most of America's largest cities are growing at a faster rate than their surrounding suburbs as young adults seeking a foothold in the weak job market shun home-buying and stay put in bustling urban centers.

New 2011 census estimates released Thursday highlight the dramatic switch.

Driving the resurgence are young adults, who are delaying careers, marriage and having children amid persistently high unemployment. Burdened with college debt or toiling in temporary, lower-wage positions, they are spurning homeownership in the suburbs for shorter-term, no-strings-attached apartment living, public transit and proximity to potential jobs in larger cities.

While economists tend to believe the city boom is temporary, that is not stopping many city planning agencies and apartment developers from seeking to boost their appeal to the sizable demographic of 18-to-29-year olds. They make up roughly 1 in 6 Americans, and some sociologists are calling them "generation rent." The planners and developers are betting on young Americans' continued interest in urban living, sensing that some longer-term changes such as decreased reliance on cars may be afoot...

"The recession hit suburban markets hard. What we're seeing now is young adults moving out from their parents' homes and starting to find jobs," Shepard said. "There's a bigger focus on building residences near transportation hubs, such as a train or subway station, because fewer people want to travel by car for an hour and a half for work anymore."

Katherine Newman, a sociologist and dean of arts and sciences at Johns Hopkins University who chronicled the financial struggles of young adults in a recent book, said they are emerging as a new generation of renters due to stricter mortgage requirements and mounting college debt. From 2009 to 2011, just 9 percent of 29- to 34-year-olds were approved for a first-time mortgage.

"Young adults simply can't amass the down payments needed and don't have the earnings," she said. "They will be renting for a very long time."
It's easy to look at this glass half-empty and assume this is all due to lack of economic opportunity. Part of that is no doubt true. But it's also a cultural phenomenon.

Many younger people today simply don't want the big yard, the picket fence and the suburban tract home landscape without mixed use walkability. It's already well-documented that the Millennial generation would rather make a little less money while working fewer hours on more meaningful tasks with shorter commutes. Living in apartments and condos in close proximity to others isn't such a problem for Millennials as it has been for previous generations. My wife and I are prime examples of this: we work mostly from home and could choose to live almost anywhere. But we choose apartment life in a medium-size city within easy walking distance to public transportation and a downtown full of shops and restaurants. All this because we choose to, not because we're forced to. The addition of children will change the dynamic somewhat, but not much.

This is a good thing. City life and densification have almost always led to greater progressivism: it's harder to be a libertarian when the importance of social services is incredibly clear all around you, and it's harder to be a bigot when there are people of varying races, orientations and lifestyles living all around you mostly without incident.

Short-term trendlines are scary for progressivism in a number of ways right now to be sure. The power of money in politics, the financialization of the economy, and the far-right lurch of the Republican Party are all deeply problematic.

But the playing field is gradually tilting against them. Assuming we don't allow civilization itself to collapse over the next few decades or fail utterly to slow the process of climate change, the future looks fairly bright over the long term given current trends.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Virtually speaking tonight with Chris Hayes

by digby

Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) MSNBC host of the weekend talkshow Up With Chris Hayes (hashtag #uppers) joins Jay to talk about his new book, Twilight of the Elites.

Click the link above to listen online.

John Roberts' Long March

by digby

So now John Roberts is a liberal. Ann Coulter has spent the entire day tweeting "I told you so." Or he is the victim of nefarious Kenyan blackmail. And apparently, he changed his mind (or at least some people are parsing that from wording in the decision) after originally voting to strike down the mandate.

I don't suppose we'll ever know what made him vote the way he did. But I personally wouldn't be surprised if he was worried about the court's legitimacy --- and therefore its power --- if they were to strike this down. There's been an awful lot of talk about the loss of faith in institutions and the destruction of democratic norms in recent times, some of which was perpetrated by the court itself. Bush vs Gore was a blight that cannot be erased and Citizens United was the latest in a series of rulings that are threatening our democracy in a very fundamental way. To strike this down in a 5-4 decision in this political climate (even if it were legally reasonable) could very well have sealed the belief that the Court is a partisan power tool. I would guess Roberts prefers to have his era be thought of as a legitimate conservative juris prudential revolution than as mere hackish devotion to the parochial political concerns of the day. He's willing to take the time to build that slowly, one precedent at a time.

And keep in mind that there's conservative and then there's conservative. Here's Stephanie Mencimer:

The ever-powerful US Chamber of Commerce, whose legal eagles are in the midst of one of the most amazing runs of success in Supreme Court history, did not oppose the law. Like the insurance industry, the Chamber did not take a position on the individual mandate or other parts of the law. Instead, it merely urged to court to act quickly to settle the outstanding legal issues. Like AHIP, the Chamber argued that the fate of the mandate should be bound to that of the other insurance reforms—if one went, the other would have to be scrapped, too. Other business groups also avoided the fight or signed up for the other side. The hospital industry supported upholding the law's Medicaid expansion. The pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying arm, PhRMA, which timidly supported the original bill, didn't weigh in at all.

So business wasn't really a part of the anti-Obamacare coalition. Instead, the primary legal challenges to the ACA came from states headed by right-wing (and often unpopular) ideological governors, and the states' outside support came from equally ideological advocacy organizations, such as the Family Research Council and fringe physicians' groups. But their lack of support from the business community is notable, and it may be the one reason why Justice John Roberts decided the case the way he did.

Roberts is conservative, but not in the same way as Justices Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas. He's more of a white-shoe law firm kind of guy, which is fitting for someone who was a partner at the corporate law firm Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells). As such, he's got some of the pragmatism of a corporate lawyer, and his sympathy for the business community's arguments has been plain from the time he was first confirmed. (See: Citizens United.) If the US Chamber of Commerce didn't see fit to argue that the ACA was unconstitutional, it's not surprising that Roberts didn't, either.
Unlike his right wing brethren on the Court, it would appear that Roberts is ideological to the extent that ideology serves money. Most of the time that makes a majority with Thomas, Alito, Scalia and Kennedy. In this case, due to the nature of the law and its goals, it swung the other way. But Roberts wasn't being inconsistent. He delivered.

The Supreme Court is where the real conservative revolution --- the corporate revolution --- is going to be taking place over the next several years. Today Chief Justice Roberts went a long way toward ensuring that it will have the legitimacy to get that done.

I'll be very anxious to see how striking down the mandate under the commerce clause plays out --- I suspect Roberts is being very clever there. And, as I have always feared, the Medicaid expansion is the weak link. Everyone seems to think that the wingnut Governors won't be able to resist the free money, but they've been pretty willing to forego filthy Planned Parenthood and Unemployment Insurance cash, so I'm not totally convinced. Perhaps more importantly, the mechanism that Roberts came up with (signed on to by 7 justices) is one that could have a very serious effect on the future ability of the federal government to manage national social programs. So we'll have to see what the reverberations will be down the road.

At this moment, on this day, I'm not inclined to carp too much. It happens to be a law that will extend health insurance to some number of people who wouldn't have been able to get it before and that's a big fucking deal. But there's also no doubt in my mind that it came at a price.

Say what you will about Chief Justice Roberts, but he's not a liberal in sheep's clothing --- he's very smart and that he's playing a very long game. Lifetime appointments are good for that sort of thing. The good news is that in the course of enacting his long term agenda today he has helped some average people. We take what we can get.


Balls and strikes

by David Atkins

Dave Dayen riffs on a strange catch by Brad DeLong today, who noticed that Scalia refers to Ruth Bader Ginsburg's majority opinion as a "dissent" at least nine times. There's currently an argument about whether Scalia's reference to dissent in this case was an error, or if he refers only to Ginsburg's minority view on the legitimacy of the Commerce Clause to decide the point.

Whether or not Roberts did flip at the last minute, however, there is still the issue of why he separated himself from his fellow conservatives in the first place.


Without that shift – if there was one – the entire Affordable Care Act would have been struck down, based on a reading that the individual mandate was both not a valid regulation of interstate commerce and also essential to regulating health care, such that the entire framework of the law, including Constitutional provisions, would have had to have been struck down. The claim for this is that the act’s other statutes would not have been enacted without the mandate, an effort by the Court’s four dissenters to read the minds of the White House and Congress.

But I’m more interested in what, if anything got to Roberts. Was Scalia’s opinion initially the majority ruling? Why did Roberts flip? It’s worth pointing out that Roberts’ opinion does invalidate the mandate under the Commerce Clause. That is a brand new piece of jurisprudence, and there are widely varying opinions from legal scholars over how much that will matter, i.e. whether it merely confines itself to the peculiar case in health care of “regulating inactivity” or not. So it could be that Roberts is chipping away at progressive governance post-New Deal and setting limits on federal power by inches at a time, or that he just couldn’t contemplate the invalidation of the entire law and opted for judicial restraint, or that he was moved by the impending attack on the legitimacy of the Court in the event of taking down the law, or even that he wanted to preserve a forced market for insurance companies and stave off the only option in the event of a full elimination of the law, a move to publicly-dispensed universal health insurance.
If Scalia did not make an error in calling the majority opinion the "dissent" in this case because he was referring solely to the issue of the commerce clause, then it's possible that Roberts never did flip.

Regardless, it's impossible to know what actually went through Roberts' mind in deciding against his fellow conservatives here. It's important to remember that people in positions of power are still people in all their glorious complexity, and I have cautioned before against applying the Snidely Whiplash theory of politics to everything under the sun. It could be that he was playing a long game, adding a bulwark to the Court's legitimacy while giving the Court more power to invalidate federal laws in the future. But that argument is as persuasive to me as other arguments involving eleven-dimensional chess. Besides, if Roberts were sneaky enough to see that angle, why not convince at least Justice Kennedy of the same? Why, if DeLong is right, change his mind at the last minute?

I think it's likeliest that Roberts' key concern was for the legitimacy of the Court as an institution. But if that is the case, why (if DeLong is correct) switch at the last minute? The issue of Court's legitimacy would have been obvious from even before the Court took up the case.

I suspect that many books will be written about how and why this decision came down as it did. But it seems likely that one of two things happened: either last-minute pressure swayed Roberts against his own judgment, or a more complicated and deliberative man than Kennedy and the three conservative firebreathers burnt a lot of midnight oil weighing the competing interests of his conservative ideology and the Court's legitimacy and ultimately decided in favor of preserving the Court as an institution.

Either way, one thing is undeniable at this point: there is a difference between Roberts and Alito, and Democrats were right to put up more of a fight against the latter than the former. This was a momentous case with high stakes, and the balls and strikes were called correctly at least this once.

There they go again: The sky has been falling for 50 years

by digby

Let's take a little trip down memory lane, shall we? The socialists have been destroying our freedom by forcing health care on us for half a century. And yet, somehow, we survive:

But hey, even Ronnie (very famously) hedged, years later, in a 1980 presidential debate:

CARTER: Governor Reagan, as a matter of fact, began his political career campaigning around this nation against Medicare. Now, we have an opportunity to move toward national health insurance, with an emphasis on the prevention of disease, an emphasis on out-patient care, not in-patient care; an emphasis on hospital cost containment to hold down the cost of hospital care far those who are ill, an emphasis on catastrophic health insurance, so that if a family is threatened with being wiped out economically because of a very high medical bill, then the insurance would help pay for it. These are the kinds of elements of a national health insurance, important to the American people. Governor Reagan, again, typically is against such a proposal.

MODERATOR: Governor?

REAGAN: There you go again. When I opposed Medicare, there was another piece of legislation meeting the same problem before the Congress. I happened to favor the other piece of legislation and thought that it would be better for the senior citizens and provide better care than the one that was finally passed. I was not opposing the principle of providing care for them. I was opposing one piece of legislation versus another.