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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I'm not saying we won't get our hair mussed ...

by digby

Jesus. Panetta:
Panetta: “You never tell your enemy what the hell you’re going to do…It is important for our military leaders to know that they have to be able to use every possible option on the table in order to be able to succeed in that area.”

Building the GOP bench: no girls allowed

by digby

How surprising:

[A]ll 11 state lawmaking chambers that flipped to Republican control in this month’s elections –- six senates, five houses or assemblies — will be led by men. In 10 of the 11, the new Speaker or Senate President (or President Pro Tempore, depending on the state’s particular quirks) has been chosen; in the other, all the reported contenders are male.

But give the GOP some credit where it’s due. Republicans in Montana and Wisconsin have selected Debby Barnett and Mary Lazich to the top state senate posts, joining Susan Wagle of Kansas and Tonya Schuitmaker of Michigan to put women in charge of four of 35 Republican-controlled state senates next year. That’s 11 percent (for you women, who I hear are not so good at math); not great, but not as bad as it could be, considering that women make up just 15 percent of all GOP state senators in the country.

Women hold closer to 18 percent of all lower-chamber Republican seats, but there the boys are definitely in charge. Republicans will control 33 state houses and assemblies now, including five they’ve just taken over, and 10 more where they’ve just chosen a new Speaker. All 15 of those newly crowned leaders are men. It appears that the only female Republican Speaker in the country will be Beth Harwell of Tennessee — assuming she withstands a reported challenge. That’s one woman and 32 guys, a 3 percent/97 percent gender split.

Barring some possible late developments, it appears that men will hold the top post in 93 percent of all GOP-led house legislative chambers — the exact same percentage as before these elections, but now covering more than two-thirds of all the country’s lawmaking bodies.

There's a lot of talk about what a great "farm team" the Republicans have in the states compared to the Democrats. Maybe so. But they certainly aren't grooming any women for the big leagues.

Perhaps they subscribe to the Turkish president's belief that women need "equal respect rather than equality." That was, as Rick Perlstein reminded me, one of Phyllis Schlafly's main arguments for rejecting the Equal Rights Amendment. And Schlafly won that one. It looks as though she's still winning.

Ain't it the truth?

by digby

Troll 'o the day: An alien from another planet

by digby

The other creepy congressman named King:
“I think it would be very helpful if President Obama went and met with the police officer, or invited him to the White House and said, ‘You’ve gone through four months of smear and slander, and the least we can do is tell you that it’s unfortunate that it happened and thank you for doing your job,’” the New York Republican told Fox Business on Tuesday.

And maybe afterwards they could wave the confederate flag and sing Dixie.

I love the fact that he thinks the president should thank the officer for killing an unarmed teenager. Even Prosecutor McCullough had the decency to call the whole thing a tragedy and say that they should try to take steps that it never happens again.

These people are sick.

Rodney, Trayvon and Michael

by digby

I did a little meditation on Ferguson for Salon this morning. As I watched the broadcast last night and listened to the rambling statement of the prosecutor, it reminded me of an earlier incident:
I remember the night the Rodney King video first surfaced on Los Angeles television like it was yesterday.  In those days you didn’t see videos of police beatings unless a news camera happened to catch it  — video cameras were bulky items that people didn’t carry around with them. That footage of those police beating a man mercilessly, grainy and distant as it was, sent a shock wave though this city and in a very short period that shock wave was felt around the world. But at the time I think that most of white America probably either thought that this man must have “deserved” what he got or, if they were appalled by what they saw, believed the justice system could not ignore such vivid evidence and would have to punish these officers. Black America knew better, of course, but they too held out hope that the video proved what they had been saying for years. 
We all know how that turned out. 
It was one of those stunning events that makes you question some of your basic assumptions.  I thought we had decided as a society that we were not going to allow the police to beat suspects senseless. Yes, people had complained about it and I knew that it happened.  The streets of L.A. were hardly peaceful. But I thought that by the end of the 20th century if the police were caught doing it red-handed there was simply no way they could be exonerated. 
The day the verdict came back everyone in my office gathered around the TV in shock.  And as we looked outside the windows of our high rise building over the next few days we watched plumes of smoke all over South LA multiply by the hour until the mayor finally told everyone to go home and stay there as the city came under Martial Law. I watched Reginald Denny get beaten mercilessly on live TV. The 7-11 on the corner of an apartment I lived in for years was burned to the ground. It felt like L.A. was coming apart.
It didn’t.  
But it didn’t exactly come together either... 
read on ...

The police trial in the Rodney King case was thought to be a slam dunk --- and when it came back not guilty this city exploded. There was, obviously, a lot of pent-up rage that could no longer be contained. I think people thought if you can't even convict officers of abuse with a video tape showing the abuse then what's the point?

The Trayvon Martin case was initially like the Brown case--- they didn't even arrest George Zimmerman at first. But the prosecutors wisely decided to indict him and hold a trial to sort out the evidence in public and let the system work to best of its ability (which isn't all that great, but it's better than nothing.) Trayvon's parents deserved that. Certainly any unarmed citizen who is gunned down deserves that. When the verdict came down, a lot of people weren't happy. But they at least knew that the system hadn't been rigged by a prosecutor who didn't want to prosecute. It's not much, but it's something that both Rodney King and the Martin family got, as unsatisfying as it was.

Michael Brown's family and the community of Ferguson didn't even get that much.

We're going backwards, people.


Celebrating tragedy with snark and idiocy

by digby

Salon collected a few of the choicer wingnut tweets from last night. It's amazing how people's true colors, so to speak, come out at times like these. I must say that I'm a little shocked by Brit Hume joining in the fun. He's a wingnut but I didn't think nasty snark was his thing:

I don't know what "facts" or "science" they think we are supposed to accept but that's not really at issue here, is it?  There is "evidence" and testimony presented to a Grand Jury without any adversarial testing in a court of law by both sides  or a judge to determine its relevance and there is a decision not to indict.  This isn't CSI with some kind of forensic determination of guilt in the final scene.  But hey, it was a cute line by a couple of bigfoot conservatives who clearly have an ax to grind. Too bad they're full of shit.

Keep in mind that these people are celebrating the fact that someone who shot and killed an unarmed teenager whose alleged crime was jaywalking and stealing a box of cigarillos was not even indicted. Even if they thought the officer was justified it's a tragedy that it happened and a travesty that there was no public trial.  Decent people who think that this was a good decision should be decent enough to keep quiet about it right now. There's nothing to celebrate here.

And, by the way, I think that when it comes to criminal justice it's fairly clear on what side of the "libertarian" fence the Republicans will fall don't you? The only time they ever give a damn about police power is when it's federal or when somebody attempts to take a gun. Other than that they're with the cops all the way.  If you like authoritarian police power --- at least when it comes to killing unarmed citizens --- you'll love being in the GOP.

Enough is Enough: An "Open Rebellion Caucus" forms in the Senate

by Gaius Publius

As regular readers know, I've been a fan of an "Open Rebellion Caucus" among progressive office-holders and insiders — the principled and conscience-led — for a long time. For example, in a pre-election piece titled Are Democratic Leaders Already "Tea Partying" The Progressives? I noted at the end:
"Open Rebellion Caucus" ... a group that says No and openly defies corporate Democratic leadership. I believe I've seen one forming in the House already. Next time I'll give an example of a golden opportunity to form an Open Rebellion Caucus in the Senate, an opportunity that was not taken. Stay tuned. 
I'll come back to the situation in the House another time. That Senate "golden opportunity," which was lost, occurred in January 2013 when progressive Senators proposed strong filibuster reform — and voted for weak reform — because that's what the "bipartisan moderates" wanted. (Note: It's not the progressive loss that I'm calling out; it's the way pro-reform progressives voted.)

Why does Open Rebellion matter?

Why rebellion — progressive insurgency — against billionaire-controlled Democrats matters could become an essay in itself, and someday it will. But simply put, it matters for two main reasons. One, because conscience matters — yes, that — and two, because there are already cracks in all three layers of the progressive movement buried within the Democratic Party:

▪ Democratic voters have arguably rejected neoliberal, corporate, billionaire-serving Democrats in 2014. The country is ready for change, and the day Democrats offer one, they'll win elections by the bucketful.

▪ Democratic activists and writers are desperate for something better from their party. Their cris de coeur are private for now, said amongst themselves, and those cries are not cried by all. Nevertheless, a great many progressive voices and hands are done, have had it, with the Mark Warners and Pryors of the world, and very vocally so.

▪ Some Democratic insiders are similarly ready to rebel. There are pockets of donors, strategists and office-holders who "get it" — get that they can't be principled (that word again) and support the Geithners, the Pritzkers, and the Orszags. And if they can't support the Geithners, how can they support a White House that regularly coughs them out for consideration?

Cracks within all three groups are visible if you're looking for them. I spent a week in Washington recently, selectively and explicitly looking for them. The intra-party war within the first two groups isn't fully formed, yet, but it could be; the rumbles are loud enough. But among voters, the results appear to be in. When progressive policies are wildly popular as ballot measures, and corporate Democrats are rejected as "no solution at all," the crack in the base is wide as a canyon and deep as a fracking well.

Now that widening crack is spreading to office-holders.

The "Hell No" caucus targets billionaire-serving Democratic leaders

Our first look at office-holders who refuse to play "follow the neoliberal leader" starts in the Senate. POLITICO noted the formation of a "Hell No" caucus led by people like Sen. Jeff Merkley, but carefully couched it as an anti-Republican group (my emphasis everywhere):
Liberal ‘hell no’ caucus rises

The defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline in the Senate marked a major show of muscle for next year’s new hell-no caucus: liberals. ... [R]ed-state Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska are on their way out, and liberals like Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Sheldon Whitehouse — with Elizabeth Warren leading the way on messaging — may cause as many headaches for Senate Republicans as tea partyers caused Democrats in the past four years. ...
Here's that "Hell No" caucus in action, but with a different target. Elizabeth Warren, writing recently at Huffington Post, has this to say about Antonio Weiss, an Obama nominee for a senior post at the Treasury Department. As you read, tell me who she's taking on, Republicans or her own billionaire-led party leaders:
Enough Is Enough: The President's Latest Wall Street Nominee

I believe President Obama deserves deference in picking his team, and I've generally tried to give him that. But enough is enough.

Last Wednesday, President Obama announced his nomination of Antonio Weiss to serve as Under Secretary for Domestic Finance at the Treasury Department. This is a position that oversees Dodd-Frank implementation and a wide range of banking and economic policymaking issues, including consumer protection.

So who is Antonio Weiss? He's the head of global investment banking for the financial giant Lazard. He has spent the last 20 years of his career at Lazard -- most of it advising on international mergers and acquisitions. ...
There's so much more in Warren's piece, and I'll come back to some of it. But she's taking on the (yes, neoliberal) president of her party, two weeks after an election in which her party lost the majority in her house of Congress to the hated Republicans, and one week after the Republicans said they would up their game against that very president. Has Warren joined the nominal enemy (Republicans), or has she taken the fight to the real enemy that controls both parties — the "billionaire class"?

Warren's indictment of Obama's appointment reads like this:
The second issue [with the Weiss nomination] is corporate inversions. Basically, a bunch of companies have decided that all the regular tax loopholes they get to exploit aren't enough, so they have begun taking advantage of an even bigger loophole that allows them to maintain their operations in America but claim foreign citizenship and cut their U.S. taxes even more. No one is fooled by the bland words "corporate inversion." These companies renounce their American citizenship and turn their backs on this country simply to boost their profits.

One of the biggest and most public corporate inversions last summer was the deal cut by Burger King to slash its tax bill by purchasing the Canadian company Tim Hortons and then "inverting" the American company to Canadian ownership. And Weiss was right there, working on Burger King's tax deal. Weiss' work wasn't unusual for Lazard. That firm has helped put together three of the last four major corporate inversions that have been announced in the U.S. And like those old Hair Club commercials used to say, Lazard isn't just the President of the Corporate Loopholes Club -- it's also a client. Lazard moved its own headquarters from the United States to Bermuda in 2005 to take advantage of a particularly slimy tax loophole that was closed shortly afterwards. Even the Treasury Department under the Bush administration found Lazard's practices objectionable.

The White House and Treasury have strongly denounced inversions, and rightly so. But they undercut their own position by advancing Mr. Weiss.
Notice the word "exploit" above. Warren, here and elsewhere, correctly sees the "billionaire class" as predators, and she's willing to call out the leaders of her party when those leaders advance predator interests.
[T]here's the larger, more general issue of Wall Street executives dominating the Obama administration, as well as the Democratic Party's, overall economic policymaking apparatus. I wrote about this problem a couple of months ago on The Huffington Post in more detail.

Here is what I wrote then:
Just look at the influence of one mega-bank -- Citigroup -- on our government. Starting with former Citigroup CEO Robert Rubin, three of the last four Treasury secretaries under Democratic presidents held high-paying jobs at Citigroup either before or after serving at Treasury -- and the fourth was offered, but declined, Citigroup's CEO position. Directors of the National Economic Council and Office of Management and Budget, the current Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. trade representative, also pulled in millions from Citigroup. ...

Shortly before the [Eric] Cantor episode, another former member of Congress -- Democrat Melissa Bean -- took the same senior job at JPMorgan Chase previously held by Democrat Bill Daley before his recent service as White House Chief of Staff. Yes -- this is just a single position at JPMorgan Chase, evidently reserved for the latest politician ready to cash in on Wall Street. ...
In recent years, President Obama has repeatedly turned to nominees with close Wall Street ties for high-level economic positions. Jack Lew, who was a top Citigroup official, now serves as Treasury Secretary. The President's choice for Treasury's highest international position, Nathan Sheets, also comes from Citi. For the number two spot at the Federal Reserve, the President tapped Stanley Fischer, another former Citigroup executive. A Bank of America executive, Stefan Selig, was put in charge of international trade at the Commerce Department. The President's two recent picks for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission -- including his choice for Chairman -- are lawyers who have spent their careers representing big financial institutions.
Please do read the whole thing. The phrase "piling on" was invented for exercises like these. Notice that she makes "the President" personally responsible. She closes where she began, by referencing her only other No vote on an Obama nominee and implying strongly that Weiss will be treated the same:
Enough is enough.
Indeed. This is a fight to watch.

Will the "Hell No" caucus declare Open Rebellion against Weiss? Will they extend their reach?

Back in the POLITICO article, progressive Senators Merkley, Sanders and frequently-progressive Sen. Whitehouse were named as part of their fancifully named "Hell No" caucus — meaning "hell no" to Keystone and Republicans. But Keystone is a billionaire-led Democratic favorite as well, one which senators like "No-to-Reid" Claire McCaskill supports. Without really saying so, POLITICO has found the crack in the Democratic Senate. Will an Open Rebellion Caucus (my own fanciful naming) work to widen that crack?

I earnestly hope so. If you're in my camp, or just interested in watching this battle, here are three things to notice:

1. Watch what happens to the Weiss nomination. Especially, watch the vote. Weiss is Money-to-the-core — the billionaire's next nominee for Treasury — so he'll get Republican Yes votes. But he's Obama's nominee, so he'll draw Republican No's as well.

If the nomination fails, every Democratic No has joined with Warren and become an Open Rebellion candidate going forward. Voting No in a winning cause will take real courage — "I decline to follow the leader" courage — and every man and woman who does so deserves your praise and support. The crack in the Democratic caucus will widen and the insurgency will grow.

But if the nomination succeeds, Democratic No votes could be real or just for show ("It's safe to vote No, 'cause he's gonna pass anyway"). Any No vote in a losing cause is always suspect, because there's no way to tell who's sincere and who's been given "permission" to vote against the rest of the caucus "for the folks back home."

2. Watch what Harry Reid does. In my travels I heard a number of mixed reports about Harry Reid. Those opposed to or concerned about his past Senate leadership consider him unreliable — good on issues like TPP, but too willing to compromise elsewhere in order to "keep the caucus together." But I also spoke with several close observers who say that Reid-in-opposition — a Reid who no longer has to hold his majority together with anti-progressive decisions — may prove a strong progressive ally. 

Which Reid is the real one? Only the deep insiders know for sure. But if better-Reid is on the horizon, now is the time to show it — with deeds that can be seen and understood from outside the Beltway. Watch carefully. The Weiss nomination, if it moves through the lame duck Senate to conclusion, could make an interesting test of which Reid we'll have in the next two years — progressive-ally Reid, or party-first Reid.

I'm eager to see which Reid raises his head. A true progressive insurgency in the Senate, if it solidifies, will have to go forward through Reid or with Reid. Going through Reid is obviously the harder course. Going with Reid, in my opinion, will benefit both Reid and Democrats. Saying No to billionaires is the path back to the majority as I see it, and I believe the 2014 losses confirm that observation.

3. Watch the nomination of Loretta Lynch for Attorney General. If Elizabeth Warren thought Antonio Weiss was bad, consider Loretta Lynch. Yes, she'd be the first African-American woman Attorney General. She's also deep in the Eric Holder mold — no Wall Street crime is too criminal to prosecute. She's a "white shoes" lawyer who signed off on the white-washed HSBC settlement:
According to a Matt Taibbi blockbuster in Rolling Stone, HSBC, indirectly and directly, laundered hundreds of millions of dollars for entities that included Mexican drug cartels, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Russian gangs, Iran, and North Korea.
"Money laundering" means "being a banker" for people who cut people's heads off (click; it's the Mexican cartels I'm talking about). I mentioned "conscience" above; this settlement is conscienceless. As the article notes, it was "an exclusively financial settlement without criminal prosecution." About Lynch as AG, lawyer Mike Papantonio says in the video below:
She's going to make the lives of Wall Street criminals a cake walk, not a perp walk.
Cake walk, not a perp walk. That's your next Attorney General unless our nascent, Warren-inspired "Open Rebellion Caucus" is willing to partner with other Democrats and Republicans to stop it. I will take courage for Democrats to do this — one of today's themes. Not only will they be partnering with the hated Republicans, they'll go against many prominent liberal cheerleaders.What will they do, act on the principle already demonstrated by Ms. Warren in the Weiss case, or ... fold?

Courage and conscience — who has it and who doesn't?

We live in times that test us. Sad that, but it can't be helped. I would not want to be a Clinton — a triangulating billionaire-serving Democrat — as the day's issues grow more stark and the bright lines more clear. And I'm not sure I'd want to be a party-loyal, on-the-fence progressive either. Yet that way victory lies, the way of courage.

Just look who won and who lost in the last set of fights. Marriage equality won — because gays went toe-to-toe with Obama and defied their own "triangulating" organizations, like Human Rights Campaign. Immigration reform is winning — because immigration activists pushed La Raza to call Obama the "deporter-in-chief" and he didn't like it.

Courage and conscience. Do progressive Senators have what it takes? Does Harry Reid have what it takes to support them? I can't wait to find out. Here's that Papantonio–Loretta Lynch video. It's short; enjoy!

By the way, Thom Hartmann's The Big Picture makes a great pre-MSNBC watch. Check it out when it returns to Free Speech TV. Just a thought.


Big black hulk

by digby

Last night on twitter as the reaction to the Grand Jury decision came in I got lots of pushback from wingnuts about the fact that I claimed the problems wasn't "mistrust of the police" as president Obama but that it was the police killing unarmed citizens. Most of the tight wingers claimed that Michael Brown was armed --- with his big body --- and therefore Wilson was justified. Apparently, it was so big that it was a lethal weapon even when it was 20 feet from the police car.

Anyway, here's how Darren Wilson described Brown in his testimony:

“I go to open the door and I say, hey, come here for a minute to Brown. As I’m opening the door he turns, faces me, looks at me and says, “What the fuck are you going to do about it,” and shuts my door, slammed it shut. I haven’t even got it open enough to get my leg out, it was only a few inches.

I then looked at him and told him to get back and he was just staring at me, almost like to intimidate me or to overpower me. The intense face he had was just not what I had expected from any of this…

And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.”

Wilson testified that Brown punched him twice through the patrol car’s door, and he was nervous that a third punch “could be fatal.” After his gun fired twice during the encounter, Brown ran away. Brown did not get on the ground, Wilson recounted, as per his order. Instead, he started to charge back toward Wilson:

“At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots. Like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And the face he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way.”

"Bulking up to run through the shots?" It seems he saw him literally as The Hulk.

This is not an excuse for shooting an unarmed man. It is the sign of an immature, unqualified police officer with issues.

When you hear testimony like that you have to wonder what it would have been like if a real trial could have been held with a real prosecutor. I'd guess that statements like that might have been challenged.


No indictment

by Tom Sullivan

Still processing last night's Ferguson, MO press conference by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch. CNN's legal expert, Jeffrey Toobin, called the decision to announce the grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson at night "clueless." Grand jury documents are available in several places including here.

If nothing else, McCulloch's color commentary on public and social media reaction to the killing was unnecessary and inappropriate. Ben Casselman at FiveThirtyEight observes, "Grand juries nearly always decide to indict." Unless the cases involve police officers.

Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

Casselman continues:

... But newspaper accounts suggest, grand juries frequently decline to indict law-enforcement officials. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County, Texas, for example, grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment. Separate research by Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson has found that officers are rarely charged in on-duty killings, although it didn’t look at grand jury indictments specifically.

Meanwhile, Ferguson, MO caught fire and protests erupted across the country after the presser:

In Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver and elsewhere, protesters blocked intersections with “die-ins,” throwing themselves on the pavement, some outlining their bodies with chalk, to symbolize Brown and other unarmed people who died in encounters with police. They lay on the ground for four-and-a-half minutes to represent, they said, the four-and-a-half hours Brown’s body was left in the street after he was shot and killed. Choruses of “hands up, don’t shoot” and “black lives matter” rang out as protesters shut down bridges, freeways and major thoroughfares.

There was a poetry and a sad sort of symmetry to many of the protests that found their way to major highways. Brown died on a neighborhood street, not far from his home, after defying Wilson’s orders to stop walking in the middle of it, as Wilson testified before the grand jury.

One has to wonder what sort of dynamic led from asking two men to walk on the sidewalk into a deadly shooting. For now, it's back to the transcripts to look for answers.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Police: try love

by digby

Fingers crossed that everything stays calm.
QOTD: Turkish president Erdogen

by digby

He's just telling it like it is:

"You cannot put women and men on an equal footing," he told a meeting in Istanbul. "It is against nature."
Mr Erdogan has previously urged women to have three children, and has lashed out against abortion and birth by Caesarean section.

His latest remarks were delivered at a women's conference in Istanbul.

"In the workplace, you cannot treat a man and a pregnant woman in the same way," Mr Erdogan said, according to the Anatolia news agency.

Women cannot do all the work done by men, he added, because it was against their "delicate nature".

"Our religion regards motherhood very highly," he said. "Feminists don't understand that, they reject motherhood."

He said women needed equal respect rather than equality.

That's clever. I wonder why some of our more "traditional" Americans haven't thought of using that rationalization?

Lyin' Ryan's at it again --- tax reform for dummies

by digby

I hear good old Paul Ryan is upset with the president. He thinks he's being awfully foolish to strike the hornets nest because now it won't be as easy for them to come together in bipartisan comity to solve the crisis of high taxes for corporations and rich people. Darn it all. Anyway, I wrote about it for Salon today:
Today everyone says the Grand Bargain is dead. It certainly does not appear at this point that President Obama is going to put Social Security back on the chopping block, although it’s always possible. But what about that last piece of the bargain, “tax reform”? Well, this is one zombie that hasn’t died even in this age of total obstruction. And guess who’s talking it up?
Rep. Paul Ryan, the incoming chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, laid out an expansive agenda Wednesday for 2015, including a GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act and a fix for the looming shortfall in the federal disability insurance program.

An overhaul of the nation’s tax laws will also rank high on the agenda when Ryan (R-Wis.) takes the helm of the tax-writing panel in January.

Paul Ryan used to be considered a potential White House partner in the Grand Bargain. He had a reputation as a Very Serious policy guy who wasn’t an ideologue and could be persuaded to work with Democrats. This was despite his extremist Ayn Rand philosophy and his penchant for fudging numbers and misleading statistics. Over time it became clear that he was a flim-flam artist and his image took a hit. And then he signed on as Mitt Romney’s side-kick and that was the end of that. But Ryan’s new position as Chairman has put him back in play and it’s unknown if the White House has any interest in playing with him on tax reform. It is to be fervently hoped at this point that they are not.
Read on to find out what Lyin' Ryan is up to now ...
How the Republicans do oversight

by digby

No, they don't challenge any National Security initiatives backed by the CIA, NSA or Pentagon or question funding for every last toy the Police and Military Industrial Complex wants.  Those are sacrosanct. But when it comes to "wasting money" on science, they are on it:
Four times this past summer, in a spare room on the top floor of the headquarters of the National Science Foundation (NSF) outside of Washington, D.C., two congressional staffers spent hours poring over material relating to 20 research projects that NSF has funded over the past decade. Each folder contained confidential information that included the initial application, reviewer comments on its merit, correspondence between program officers and principal investigators, and any other information that had helped NSF decide to fund the project.

The visits from the staffers, who work for the U.S. House of Representatives committee that oversees NSF, were an unprecedented—and some say bizarre—intrusion into the much admired process that NSF has used for more than 60 years to award research grants. Unlike the experts who have made that system work so well, however, the congressional staffers weren’t really there to judge the scientific merits of each proposal. But that wasn’t their intent.

The Republican aides were looking for anything that Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), their boss as chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, could use to support his ongoing campaign to demonstrate how the $7 billion research agency is “wasting” taxpayer dollars on frivolous or low-priority projects, particularly in the social sciences. The Democratic staffers wanted to make sure that their boss, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), the panel’s senior Democrat, knew enough about each grant to rebut any criticism that Smith might levy against the research.

The peculiar exercise is part of a long-running and bitter battle that is pitting Smith and many of his panel’s Republican members against Johnson and the panel’s Democrats, NSF’s leadership, and the academic research community. There’s no end in sight: The visits are expected to continue into the fall, because NSF has acceded—after some resistance—to Smith’s request to make available information on an additional 30 awards. (Click here to see a spreadsheet of the requested grants.)

And the feud appears to be escalating. This week, Johnson wrote to Smith accusing him “of go[ing] after specific peer-reviewed grants simply because the Chairman personally does not believe them to be of high value.” (Click here to see a PDF of Johnson’s letter and related correspondence from Smith and NSF.)

Smith, however, argues he is simply taking seriously Congress’s oversight responsibility. And he promises to stay the course: “Our efforts will continue until NSF agrees to only award grants that are in the national interest,” he wrote in a 2 October e-mail to Science Insider.
I've written before about the fact that a lot of this was enabled by the "Fleecing of America" crapola that came out of the reform movement of the 70s and was taken up by the media for decades as a sexy topic for their news magazines. It's true that the procurement system in the Pentagon was/is a disgrace and there are always going to be some scandals. But it ended up being the catch-all excuse for the conservatives to demagogue anything they don't like about government --- which is pretty much everything but police and military. This is a perfect example.

All these people who like to say "I'm not a scientist" as a way of excusing their servile fealty to the energy plutocrats are always right up in women's privates with junk science about fetal heartbeats and whatnot --- and now they've got their interns doing "research" on what scientific studies are "valuable." Talk about fleecing America ...

Senator Inhofe waits for the bridegroom

by digby

More polling, this time on climate change and religion:

Poll results released by the Public Religion Research Institute on Friday showed that sixty-nine percent of Americans believe there is solid evidence that Earth’s temperatures are increasing. This is good news, as so far this year has been the hottest ever recorded, despite the recent chill covering the United States. But the pollsters also asked about the cause of recent natural disasters, and the responses from some religious people could impact how America responds to climate change.

While 62 percent of total respondents ascribed the cause of recent natural disasters to climate change, 49 percent also thought biblical “end times” were the cause. For white evangelical Protestants, these numbers basically reversed — 77 percent pointed to the apocalypse, and just 49 percent attributed extreme weather to climate change (the numbers add up to more than one-hundred because people could offer more than one cause).

This fatalistic view of the impacts caused in part by burning fossil fuels could influence the national policy responses to the problem. More than half of the total respondents (53 percent) thought that God would not intercede if humans were destroying the Earth, while 39 percent said that God would step in.

People can believe what they want to believe. Unfortunately, this belief is held by some very important people in the most powerful nation on earth. Like the new Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee who said this:

“[T]he Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.’ My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

I don't know about Inhofe, but it's important to remember that many Christian fundamentalists welcome this event joyfully. It's not scary to them at all. I'm once again reminded of this post I did a few years back when the Middle East was erupting for the umpteenth time and everyone was being well ... apocalyptic about it. This was how a group of fundamentalists greeted the news:

Is it time to get excited? I can't help the way I feel. For the first time in my Christian walk, I have no doubts that the day of the Lords appearing is upon us. I have never felt this way before, I have a joy that bubbles up every-time I think of him, for I know this is truly the time I have waited for so long. Am I alone in feeling guilty about the human suffering like my joy at his appearing some how fuels the evil I see everywhere. If it were not for the souls that hang in the balance and the horror that stalks man daily on this earth, my joy would be complete. For those of us who await his arrival know, somehow we just know it won't be long now, the Bridegroom cometh rather man is ready are not.


If He tarries, I will just have time to get my hair and nails done (you know let all I come into contact with know of my Bridegroom and what He has/will do). So i am all spiffied up for Him when He does arrive to take me home. No disappointment, just a few last minute details to take care of to be more pleasing to look at.


I too am soooo excited!! I get goose bumps, literally, when I watch what's going on in the M.E.!! And Watcherboy, you were so right when saying it was quite a day yesterday, in the world news, and I add in local news here in the Boston area!! Tunnel ceiling collapsed on a car and killed a woman of faith, and we had the most terrifying storms I have ever seen here!! But, yes, Ohappyday, like in your screen name , it is most indeed a time to be happy and excited, right there with ya!!


Can you imagine being a hate filled person that "preaches" tolerance but really really hates Christians when the rapture does happen. It must be sad to live like that. I feel sorry for them and feel we should pray for them. Their tolerance doesn't include anyone but themselves, and all they preach is hate.

These folks are a small minority in the country. And as I said, they have a perfect right to believe what they want to believe. But how do they differ from the incoming chairman of the Senate Environmental Committee?

Poll 'o the Day: stupid voters speak

by digby

This should be good news. Unfortunately, nobody really cares what the people think about anything so I'm not sure it's relevant. Still:
Voters respond favorably by an overwhelming 39-point margin to executive action by President Obama that would focus immigration enforcement efforts on threats to national security and public safety while allowing some illegal immigrants to stay and work in the United States (67% favorable, 28% unfavorable). Support is broad, incorporating a majority of voters in every region of the country, among both men and women, and in states won by both Barack Obama (67% favorable) and Mitt Romney (65% favorable). Younger voters under age 35 express particularly strong support (72%), but more than 60% feel favorable in every age cohort.

Executive action receives support from 91% of Democrats and 67% of political independents. While a narrow 51% majority of Republicans oppose executive action (41% favor), this is driven mainly by a 34-point margin of opposition among Tea Party Republicans (30% favor, 64% oppose). Among non-Tea Party Republicans opinion is more divided, with 47% in favor and 45% opposed.

o Description of executive action: The action would direct immigration enforcement officials to focus on threats to national security and public safety, and not on deporting otherwise law-abiding immigrants. Immigrants who are parents of children who are legal US residents could qualify to stay and work temporarily in the United States, without being deported, if they have lived in the United States for at least five years, pay taxes, and pass a criminal background check.

Ø Many individual elements of the executive action are very popular with voters:

o Allow undocumented immigrants who are parents of children or young adults living legally in the United States to stay in the United States without being deported (66% favorable, 28% unfavorable);
o Expand the DACA program that provides temporary legal status and work permits to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children (63% favorable, 27% unfavorable);
o Provide temporary work permits to qualifying immigrants (76% favorable, 21% unfavorable);
o Shift more security resources to the Mexican border (79% favorable, 16% unfavorable).

Ø Republican leaders are challenging President Obama’s legal authority to take this executive action aggressively. The survey results show that Democrats have the better of this debate, with voters agreeing by a 10-point margin (51% to 41%) that the president does have legal authority to act. Independents agree that the president is acting lawfully by an 18-point margin (54% to 36%).

Sadly, the Tea Party --- also known as hardcore conservatives --- run the GOP. The leadership encouraged them, created them. And now they have tremendous power.

On the other hand, the Republicans are all about stoking controversy and ginning up scandals. Political theater is what they substitute for governing. Their tactics often work. So, it's a mistake to believe they cannot benefit from their position here, especially in the short run. Still, important to note that the public wasn't scandalized by the President's allegedly tyrannical move when they first heard about it.

I'm going to guess the conservatives are simply blaming the voters for being stupid.

Confront the bullies and look what happens

by digby

Look what happens when you defy the Republicans. Why, it turns out it leaves them reeling so much that they don't know if they're coming or going:

All of those gathered had reason to be angry: Here was the president pretending, absurdly, that he hadn’t just had his butt whipped in the midterms, and defying the biggest GOP House majority-to-come in more than 80 years. Almost exactly a year before, some in the room had been among the most vocal Republicans pushing for a government shutdown as a legislative strategy against Obama.

But now came a stern message from Boehner: The GOP shouldn’t take the bait this time. And as discussion moved around the table, there was little desire for another shutdown, even from the conservatives, over the president’s executive action on immigration. No one wanted to let Democrats off the mat and hand them a political win — especially not now, barely two weeks after the GOP’s historic midterm victory. “There was definitely a sense that they didn’t want to do that [the 2013 shutdown] again,” said an aide to one of the participants.

Outwardly, Republican rhetoric toward the president hasn’t softened much, especially since Obama’s speech Thursday night. The consistent meme is that he is behaving like an unconstitutional monarch.

“The president has taken actions that he himself has said are those of a ‘king’ or an ‘emperor’ — not an American president,” Boehner said in a statement the morning after the speech. “With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek. And, as I told the president yesterday, he’s damaging the presidency itself.”

What has changed is the underlying balance of power in the party and, perhaps, the terms of debate within the GOP over how to deal with the Democratic Party and its surprisingly aggressive leader. Obama might be behaving like a usurping monarch without a mandate, in the eyes of the newly powerful GOP, but no one is seriously threatening to impeach him — as Republicans have repeatedly done in past years. Nor, despite the angry rhetoric, does there seem to be a serious possibility of government shutdown.

Now it's true that the immigration issue is unique in that the Democrats believe it will benefit them politically and hurt the Republicans politically in the long run. Of course if you believe in your policies and are halfway decent at politics that should always be the case, no? But you rarely see this situation because the Democratic Part rarely directly confronts the GOP quite this openly.The Republicans don't know what to do. Perhaps the Democrats should take advantage of it.

There's a lesson in this somewhere.

Meanwhile, for all the talk of the Party taming it's loonies, and putting the grown-ups back in charge, there's this:

Iowa Rep. Steve King, one of the GOP’s most divisive figures on immigration, is approaching a moment of maximum impact. And Republicans looking to improve the party’s standing with Latinos are nervous about what that could mean.

Throughout next year, Republican hopefuls will face a litmus test: seek approval from King, who represents a wide swath of caucus-goers, and risk being tethered to his views on immigration; or ignore him and risk King using his bully pulpit against them.

So far, some major names among the potential GOP 2016 contenders are seeking King’s approval, a worrisome development to party leaders eager to broaden the GOP’s appeal with immigrants and Spanish-speaking voters. King has already spoken privately with about 10 potential presidential candidates, he told POLITICO in an interview last week, pressing them to detail their views on immigration.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie held an October fundraiser for King and pledged he’d be a supporter of the congressman “for as long as he continues to be in public life.” And most of the potential Republican presidential field has been invited to King’s first “Iowa Freedom Summit” in January, co-hosted by Citizens United; so far, three prospective candidates — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — have accepted.

You don't get any loonier than Steve King. And they're calling him a Kingmaker ... I think that says it all.



Never say inevitable

by Tom Sullivan

Hillary Clinton's New York troops are figetting, waiting for a formal declaration, yet still organizing. Meanwhile, writes Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker, their "candidate" remains silent. On the Keystone pipeline. On NSA reform.

But, despite the clear remarks about Ferguson and immigration, Clinton’s views on many crucial issues remain opaque. She seems to be repeating the same mistake that she made in 2008, when the inevitability of her candidacy overwhelmed its justification.

At the Ready for Hillary festival, Mitch Stewart, one of Obama’s top organizers in the 2008 contest, suggested that Clinton needed to be careful to develop a message and stick to it. He noted that she had failed to do that in the 2008 primaries. “Every six weeks, there seemed to be a new slogan, and there was nothing people could wrap their arms around,” Stewart said.

Mainstream Democratic candidates have a thing for repeating mistakes. Like the many that ran away from their president and their own brand a few weeks ago and lost big. Like Al Gore did in 2000. Eight years we endured George W. Bush.

Paging George Santayana. Or at least a campaign adviser who knows who the hell he is.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The hysterical ninny protocol

by digby

So I'm sure you recall Chris Christie's hysterical reaction to the ebola threat a few weeks back. He ordered Nurse Kaci Hickox into isolation and lectured her to stop whining about being inconvenienced. Eventually she went to Maine where she lived and that was that.

But Josh Marshall at TPMs wondered what happened to Christie's plan to isolate anyone who had been in the affected countries and found out that it doesn't exist. In fact, the state public health official are monitoring over 70 people for symptoms and they are all at home doing their normal thing and just taking their temperature twice a day. You know, the scientific protocol as opposed to the hysterical ninny protocol.

But get a load of this:

The state paid more than 500 hours of overtime during a three-week period to Human Services police officers who were stationed around the clock at a former psychiatric hospital in Hunterdon County after it was identified as a location to quarantine West African travelers who had contact with Ebola patients, NJ Advance Media has learned.

So far, Gov. Chris Christie's administration has not needed to use the former Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital in Lebanon Township as a quarantine area. Only Doctors Without Borders Nurse Kaci Hickox has been quarantined in New Jersey after arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport, and she was held at an isolated tent at University Hospital in Newark from Oct. 24-27.

But once the state Department of Human Services decided to use Hagedorn to temporarily house “asymptomatic” travelers, department officials decided to deploy police to the location, Human Services spokeswoman Nicole Brossoie said.

“As we were surveying the building for appropriateness, there was media and community interest/trespassing so we did have two officers on rotating shifts to provide perimeter and building security,” Brossoie said in a email.

The number of officers who were assigned — and how many were paid at the overtime rate — is in dispute.

Brossoie said the payroll office logged 1,080 hours at Hagedorn, with 557 of them paid at the time-and-a-half overtime rate. The 23-day assignment ended Wednesday. She said she did not have an accounting of the labor costs.

PBA Local 113 Attorney Stuart Alterman said two officers and a supervisor were assigned to Hagedorn, and they were all paid at the overtime rate.

Human Services police officers on average earn in the high-$70,000 range and sergeants in the $80,000 range, according to state payroll records.

Alterman called the Hagedorn assignment “an impulsive way to deal with an acute situation that was neither planned very well or executed very well.” He said officers in the 94-member police force were concerned and frustrated they were provided no training to respond in the event a quarantined person become ill.

Yes, it was impulsive allright. And a good test of leadership for the macho Christie as he runs for president. If you want a panic artist at a time of crisis, he's your man.

Oh, and just to make sure you understand the totality of the fuck-up-edness, Christie was going to lock up people who were not sick in an old psychiatric hospital. Talk about optics ...

Meanwhile, at least his priorities are straight:

he security detail at Hagedorn coincided with the Nov. 15 disbanding of a 23-member unit within the 92-member Human Services police department whose officers accompanied child welfare workers to dangerous neighborhoods and to search for missing children. The unit was disbanded to cut down on runaway overtime expenses.

Now this is scary looking

by digby

[A]lthough the black seadevil seems menacing as its swims towards the camera, it is only about 3.5 inches long.

Little is known about the fish. Male black seadevils have a much shorter life span than females and are much tinier in comparison. Their sole purpose is to attach themself to a female, living as a parasite.

Pretty sure I've known a few human male sea-devils. They're not that rare on land.

QOTD: It's Giuliani time

by digby


"It is the reason for the heavy police presence in the black community," he said. "White police officers won't be there if you weren't killing each other 70 percent of the time."

Yes, that's what he said. The "black on black" crime is a very big thing on the right but this is the first time I've heard a big shot Republican say that all these white cops wouldn't be having these little "mishaps" if African Americans weren't "killing each other 70 percent of the time." Even the unarmed ones, apparently.

And those of you who've been around a while know by the title of this post that old Rudy should be careful about this sort of thing. He has a history.


Who are the liberals who trust Fox News?

by digby

That's my question after looking over these charts:

Not at the bottom that the liberal group has been growing over the past 20 years while the conservative group is ... not. Unfortunately, I'll guess that at least some those "liberals" who think Fox is on the up and up are voting for Republicans. And a good portion of the others will vote for an incumbent conservadem over a liberal challenger because of name recognition etc.

Still, it's an interesting look at how these people all get their news. It appears that the entire media landscape except for Fox, Beck, Drudge and a couple of others are sell-out commies which the Real Americans tune out so they don't get brainwashed.

Sunday Funnies

by digby

Tom Tomorrow Via Kos:

Brian McFadden Via NYT:

Huckleberry to the rescue

by digby

It was kind of a surprise that the House Benghazi! ™ inquisition failed to turn up anything scandalous  You could tell they were a little bit embarrassed by it since they dropped on late on a Friday before Thanksgiving. It's kind of a no-no to ever let a Clinton scandal go ---

But leave it to Huckleberry Graham to keep the flame alive:
“I think the report is full of crap,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The House Intelligence Committee released a report on Friday evening, which took two years to compile, that found there was no outright intelligence failure during the attack, there was no delay in the rescue of U.S. personnel and there was no political cover-up by Obama administration officials.

After Graham was asked whether the report exonerates the administration, he initially ignored the question, and then eventually said “no.”

The House Intelligence panel, Graham said, is “doing a lousy job policing their own.”

Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning ...


Cesspits of bad behavior

by Tom Sullivan

In business today, too often integrity is an afterthought.

The San Francisco Chronicle quotes from the blog, Both Sides of the Table, by investor Mark Suster, "I believe that integrity and honesty are very important to most venture capital investors. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that they are required to make a lot of money."

In a piece that might be titled, "The Real Jerks of Silicon Valley," Alyson Shontell examines how many rising stars in Silicon Valley tend to be "--holes". (The construction pops up frequently in the piece.) The rogues gallery is expansive, including Uber's Travis Kalanick. He's had a particularly bad week. Still,

"Sometimes," one acquaintance said of Kalanick, "--holes create great businesses."

What's remarkable is how acceptable this has become, even expected. Shontell quotes Atlantic's Tom McNichol:

The ease with which people can possess astonishingly contradictory qualities is one of the mysteries of human nature; indeed, it's one of the things that separates humans from, say, an Apple computer. Every one of the components that makes up an iPad is essential to the work it produces. Remove one part and the machine no longer performs its job, and not even the Genius Bar can fix it. But humans are full of qualities that are in no way integral to their functioning in the world. Some aspects of personality have little or no bearing on whether a person performs well, and not a few people succeed in spite of their darker qualities.

Andre Spicer at the Washington Post observes the same on Wall Street:

There is something in the culture of banking that lends itself toward making otherwise fairly good people do bad things. That’s the finding of a new study published in the journal, Nature. And it may simply confirm the suspicions of many following endless news of bankers being outed for bad behaviour.

Economists at the University of Zurich, Michel Maréchal, Alain Cohn and Ernst Fehr found that bankers are more likely to lie and cheat when primed to think of themselves as bankers than as "everyday people". Members of other professions did not exhibit the same bad behavior. There's something wrapped up in the banker identity that makes them "such cesspits of bad behavior."

Cheating was also not simply the result of people thinking that everyone else was doing it and so it was OK. What seemed to prompt bankers to cheat on this test was when they thought of themselves as bankers.

What is more, it is not just that people who identify as bankers tend to lie and cheat more than the general population. In fact, the study showed that this behavior was expected of them by others. This can be seen when participants were asked how often they thought bankers would cheat on this test (when compared to other interest groups). Respondents tended to think that bankers would cheat more than prison inmates on the test. This says something for what expect of the people we trust with our money.

In the end, says Spicer, changing the perception of what it means to be a banker might be required:

... Things like “Greed is good” and associations with winning at any cost might be downplayed. Other characteristics, such as being trustworthy and having integrity could be played up. Over time this would hopefully lead to bankers thinking about their collective identity in a different way. And the result would, hopefully, be that when they are faced with a situation where no one is looking, they do the right thing — like the rest of the population usually does.

Pie in the sky. Hopefully, right (twice). When the financial incentives are so high — in Silicon Valley, on Wall Street, and in corporate boardrooms elsewhere — enforcement lax to nonexistent, and punishments limited to slap-on-the-wrist fines for the company and not individuals, who is going to play up trustworthiness and integrity?

When the country can be suckered into chasing phantom felons at the ballot box (a high risk, low reward crime) while firms and CEOs who took the world to the brink of collapse defraud homeowners, investors, and courts get bailouts and walk, and with Congress controlled by "a weird amalgam of straight up feudalists and insane libertarians," don't hold your breath for a cultural Road to Damascus experience anytime soon.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies

Let's get lost again: Low Down and Mike Nichols

By Dennis Hartley

I will admit being unfamiliar with jazz pianist Joe Albany prior to watching Jeff Preiss' fact-based drama Low Down, yet the late musician's career trajectory seems depressingly familiar. Credited as a be-bop pioneer, he made his bones in the 1940s, accompanying the likes of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Unfortunately, he suffered an early "lost period" due to a heroin addiction, and spent most of the 50s and 60s chasing the dragon and collecting ex-wives. He came out of seclusion in the 70s, recording a number of albums through the decade (still battling smack). He died alone, in 1988. Oddly enough, that was the same year trumpeter Chet Baker died. Baker, whose career was beset by similar woes, was profiled in Bruce Weber's outstanding 1988 documentary Let's Get Lost. One of its most compelling elements was the moody, noirish cinematography...by a Mr. Jeff Preiss.

Preiss' film (which marks his feature-length directing debut) covers a 3-year period of Albany's life in the mid-70s, when he was living in a seedy Hollywood flophouse with his teenage daughter Amy (Elle Fanning). Albany (John Hawkes) is struggling to stay focused on the work, jamming with his trumpet-playing buddy Hobbs (Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, giving us a taste of his first instrument). Amy is cheerleading for her Dad, doing her best to keep him on track. Speaking of tracks, a surprise visit from his parole officer reveals Dad isn't quite holding things together, and he's whisked off to stir. Amy goes to stay with her grandmother (Glenn Close) until Joe is released. Dad still has issues. Amy tries to keep sunny, but it's tough to be Pollyanna when your social circle is surging with hookers, junkies, drug dealers and, er, porno star dwarves (Peter Dinklage!).

The screenplay (by Amy Albany and Topper Lilien) is based on Albany's memoir recounting life with her father. Albany's recollections about the extended family of eccentrics she encountered during this period inject the film with a Tales Of The City vibe at times. The naturalistic performances and Preiss' cinema verite approach also recalls Jerry Schatzberg's 1971 drama, Panic in Needle Park, a gritty, episodic character study about a community of junkies. Some may find the deliberate pacing stupefying, waiting for something to "happen", but as John Lennon once sang, "life is just what happens to you, while you're busy making other plans." Taken as a slice of life, Low Down just lets it happen...improvising on grace notes while keeping it all in perfect time.

...and one more thing

Mike Nichols 1931-2014 

Mike Nichols passed away earlier this week. Perhaps more than any other film director I can think of, his catalog (stretching from 1966 to 2007) encapsulates the crucial paradigm shifts in America's social mores (and to some extent, changes in the political landscape) over the past 50 years. I would also consider him one of the progenitors of the modern film "dramedy", which stemmed from his background in improvisational comedy (he was one of the key players in an early 60s troupe that would later morph into Second City) and in later years, his experience as a theater director. He was, in all senses of the term, an "actor's director", clearly evident from the iconic performances that he coaxed from the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. I don’t think he ever made what I would consider a “bad” film, which makes it difficult to narrow down favorites…but I’ll highlight my top three:

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  - If words were needles, university history professor George (Richard Burton) and his wife Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) would look like a pair of porcupines, because after years of shrill, shrieking matrimony, these two have become maestros of the barbed insult, and the poster children for the old axiom, “you only hurt the one you love”. Nichols’ 1966 directing debut (adapted by scripter Ernest Lehman from Edward Albee’s Tony-winning stage play) gives us a peek into one night in the life of this battle-scarred middle-aged couple (which is more than enough, thank you very much). After a faculty party, George and Martha invite a young newlywed couple (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) over for a nightcap. It turns out to be quite an eye-opener for the young ‘uns; as the ever-flowing alcohol kicks in, the evening becomes a veritable primer in bad human behavior. It’s basically a four-person play, but these are all fine actors, and the writing is the real star of this piece. Everyone in the cast is fabulous, but Taylor is the particular standout; this was a breakthrough performance for her in the sense that she proved beyond a doubt that she was more than just a pretty face. It’s easy to forget that the actress behind this blowsy, 50-ish character was only 34 (and, of course, a genuine stunner). When “Martha” says “Look, sweetheart. I can drink you under any goddam table you want…so don’t worry about me,” you don’t doubt that she really can.

The Graduate  - "Aw gee, Mrs. Robinson." It could be argued that those were the four words in this 1967 Nichols classic that made Dustin Hoffman a star. With hindsight being 20/20, it's impossible to imagine any other actor in the role of hapless college grad Benjamin Braddock...even if Hoffman (30 at the time) was a bit long in the tooth to be playing a 21 year-old character. Poor Benjamin just wants to take a nice summer breather before facing adult responsibilities, but his pushy parents would rather he focus on career advancement immediately, if not sooner. Little do his parents realize that in their enthusiasm, they've inadvertently pushed their son right into the sack with randy Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), wife of his Dad's business partner (and the original cougar!). Things get more complicated after Benjamin meets his lover's daughter (Katharine Ross). This is one of those "perfect storm" artistic collaborations: Nichols' skilled direction, Calder Willingham and Buck Henry's droll screenplay, fantastic performances from the entire cast, and one of the best soundtracks ever (by Simon and Garfunkel). Some of the 60s trappings haven't dated well, but the incisive social satire has retained its sharp teeth.

Silkwood- The tagline for this 1983 film was intriguing: “On November 13th, 1974, Karen Silkwood, an employee of a nuclear facility, left to meet with a reporter from the New York Times. She never got there.” One might expect a riveting conspiracy thriller to ensue; however what director Nichols and screenwriters Nora Ephron and Alice Arden do deliver is an absorbing character study of an ordinary working-class woman who performed an act of extraordinary courage which may (or may not) have led to her untimely demise. Meryl Streep gives a typically immersive portrayal of Silkwood, who worked as a chemical tech at an Oklahoma facility that manufactured plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods. On behalf of her union (and based on her own observations) Silkwood testified before the AEC in 1974 about ongoing health and safety concerns at her plant. Shortly afterwards, she tested positive for an unusually high level of plutonium contamination. Silkwood alleged malicious payback from her employers, while they countered that she had engineered the scenario herself. Later that year, on the last night of her life, she was in fact on her way to meeting with a Times reporter, armed with documentation to back her claims, when she was killed after her car ran off the road. Nichols stays neutral on the conspiratorial whisperings; but still delivers the goods here, thanks in no small part to his exemplary cast, including Kurt Russell (as Silkwood’s husband), and Cher (who garnered critical raves and a Golden Globe) as their housemate.

Also recommended: Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, The Day of the Dolphin, Working Girl, Primary Colors, Angels in America, Charlie Wilson’s War (my original review).

Previous posts with related themes:

Angel-headed hipsters on celluloid: Top 5 Jazz Movies

Saturday Night at the Movies review archives
Feeling safer?

by digby

It seems to me that this sort of thing should be far more terrifying than the prospect of immigrants coming over the border and making us all eat beans and tortillas against out will:
The admiral fired last year as No. 2 commander of U.S. nuclear forces may have made his own counterfeit $500 poker chips with paint and stickers to feed a gambling habit that eventually saw him banned from an entire network of casinos, according to a criminal investigative report obtained by The Associated Press.

Although Rear Adm. Timothy M. Giardina's removal as deputy head of U.S. Strategic Command was announced last year, evidence of his possible role in manufacturing the counterfeit chips has not previously been revealed. Investigators said they found his DNA on the underside of an adhesive sticker used to alter genuine $1 poker chips to make them look like $500 chips.

Nor had the Navy disclosed how extensively he gambled.

The second in command of America's nuclear arsenal was a gambling addict. What could go wrong?

The case is among numerous embarrassing setbacks for the nuclear force. Disciplinary problems, security flaws, weak morale and leadership lapses documented by The Associated Press over the past two years prompted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Nov. 14 to announce top-to-bottom changes in how the nuclear force is managed that will cost up to $10 billion.

It's just nukes. Nothing to worry about. Let's freak out about Obamacare instead.

Where at least we know we're free

by digby

This review of Laura Poitras' Citizen Four  by David Bromwich in the New York Review of Books is well worth reading. In fact, it's essential if you care to understand Poitras' work and the meaning of it. He discusses this film in detail but also puts it in the context of her earlier work which is something I haven't seen anyone else do.

The whole thing is very thought provoking but I think this is a very keen observation:

The president handed the work to an inside legal team and eventually a commission or two and did not sack the heads of intelligence who took us far on a questionable path and lied about it. Meanwhile, the attorney general indicted Snowden on a charge of treason. In their self-protective understanding of the duties of high office in the national security state—in their refusal to face up to and reform the ungoverned exercise of power that Snowden revealed—Obama and Holder acted in a way that showed them to be profoundly unfree. So, too, did the generals, Keith Alexander and James Clapper, when they spoke under oath to Congress with so little regard for the importance of truth in a system that depends on informed consent.

The strangest revelation of Citizenfour may therefore be this: Snowden, in his hotel room with his journalistic confidants Greenwald and Poitras and MacAskill, affords a picture of a free man. It shows in his posture, and in a sense of humor touched by self-irony. He is not haunted by any fretful concern with what comes next. He is sure he has done something he chose, and sure that someone had to do it. He acted in obedience to a principle; and it was right that the actor should disappear in the action. Citizenfour, by simply using the real-life actor as a way to consider the nature of freedom, honors the premise that moved Snowden to take his unique and drastic step. “The final value of action,” wrote Emerson, “is, that it is a resource.” It is up to other Americans now, the uncertain end of Citizenfour says, to rouse ourselves and find the value of Snowden’s action as a resource.

This tracks with what I see as the fundamental problem of the National Security State and America's military empire: it has a life of its own and operates on its own logic. It goes all the way back to the immediate post-WWII period and has built itself up over time to the point at which it lives beyond our ostensibly democratic system. Politicians, bureaucrats and Generals are doing its bidding as much as the other way around. And it's no more obviously illustrated than in this cynical piece by Michael Hirsch in the Politico. Basically he jadedly declares that nobody cares so whatever. But it isn't that people don't care. They care profoundly. But they quite logically understand that they are powerless --- unfree --- to do anything about it. Like this comment from back in 2008 which I referenced in my Salon piece about rethinking our approach to reforming the surveillance state.
“The FISA bill is obviously imperfect, but I do not believe that a serious Presidential candidate can afford to vote ‘no’ on legislation that is intended to help prevent terrorist attacks. If Obama were to oppose the bill as a whole, he would be handing McCain — who didn’t even bother to show up and vote today — a huge opening to scare voters and paint Obama as weak on terrorism.”
Waddaya gonna do? People hear the fearmongering, they see the cynicism among the elites, they watch their world grow ever less private and they feel impotent. You can't really blame them. So they just ... accept it. Then they can be proud to be Americans where at least they know they're free.


The passion of St Reagan

by digby

I guess he wanted to destroy the American way of life too:

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