Thursday, February 26, 2015

News Watch: This may be the best promo I've ever seen


"In Season 2 he's changing everything up. . . .
Maybe he'll add a pony . . . a crime-solving pony.

Says John, "We were just assuming the show was going to be basically the same." The good news: He gets to keep his glasses.

by Ken

This promo was actually first posted about seven weeks ago, and we're already three weeks into the season it was promo-ing. But it's still maybe the best promo I've ever seen for anything. I don't know how many times I've seen it, but it delights me as richly as it did the first time.

At the end of the promo John expresses speaks rather forlornly about his hopes for this "one more year." After Episode 2 of the new season aired, HBO announced that Last Week Tonight will be around not just for the season-in-progress but for two more, of 35 shows apiece, in 2016 and 2017. Let's hand it to the HBO programming people for getting this call triumphantly right. The Last Week Tonight team has consistently managed to make the show among the funniest and the most informative broadcasts we've had.

Of course John was a pretty thoroughly known quantity by the time the show debuted, thanks to his years remarkable work on Comedy Central's Daily Show with Joh Stewart, including his well-deserved stint as substitute host during Jon's leave. What wasn't known was just what sort of show he and his people would be putting together at their new address.

The format they came up with is simple but durable; it just depends on the huge amount of work and wit it takes to stuff it with content. First there's a roundup of relatively short items plucked from the week's strange-but-true events. Then the latter two-thirds or so of the show is given over to a really extensive look at a single subject.

I would think that even the most casual observer can see how much research and screening and writing and rewriting and materials collection that half-hour broadcast entails. Still, the point seemed to be lost on Charlie Rose, as I discovered when, in order to see John, I broke my standard no-Charlie-Rose rule (which can be stated roughly, in case the point needs clarifying: "No Charlie Rose!"). Charlie, apparently genuinely surprised to hear John say that no, there's no way he could do LWT on a = nightly basis -- like, you know, The Daily Show. Of course it's possible that our Charlie, for all his seemingly sincere aura of fandom, had never actually watched either The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight. The fact remains that he seemed sincerely confounded by the idea that the way the shows are produced is different in any way except the number of times a week each is produced.

The big challenge for the LWT team, obviously, is the "big" segment of each show: finding subjects that lend themselves to their kind of treatment at 18-or-so-minute length, and then putting together a segment that fills those 18 minutes at peak news and comedy value. I think it's pretty extraordinary how many such subjects they've imagined and executed so successfully, coming up with an astounding array of information, most of which is genuinely shocking -- and side-splitting, often at the same time. One obvious result is that each episode of LWT has enduring rather than merely topical value.

I can't think of a better example than the "Tobacco" segment from this season's Episode 2.


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What Happened To Community?


Sometimes I have so many Tupperware containers piled up on the countertops that there's no room for anything else. That's because my wonderful neighbors keep bringing me meals while I'm flat out going through chemotherapy and its toxic side effects. I don't know what I'd do without them. Starve? Los Feliz, where I live, is a pretty upscale neighborhood, but evolving into a kind of gated-estate one that prohibits folks from dropping by-- and leaving healthy soup in a Tupperware container.

That kind of neighborhood, apparently, is disappearing in America's big cities. According to Alan Pyke's report in ThinkProgress yesterday, American cities are becoming more and more economically segregated. He focused on Austin. "Amid record high economic inequality," he wrote, "America’s wealthy aren’t just buying rare caviar and Hammacher Schlemmer hoverboats. They’re also purchasing physical separation from the rest of us, a new paper from University of Toronto researchers argues, resulting in higher and higher levels of residential segregation in American cities-- especially densely-populated large and mid-size metro areas where there are relatively few blue-collar jobs... Lists of the most unaffordable places to live in America, based on median rent and income, are generally topped by the largest cities in the country. But the residential segregation rankings look somewhat different. San Francisco, which typifies the housing affordability crisis and often tops lists like this one, ranks right in the middle of the pack here. Four of the 10 most economically segregated metro areas are in Texas. Midsize culturally liberal college towns like Austin, TX and Columbus, OH top the list, outdoing bustling metros like Houston, Los Angeles, and New York, where the cost of living is higher. Those cities are still relatively segregated compared to the country, ranking in the top 10 metro areas out of the 359 that the researchers examined."
The new work looks to advance previous research into economic segregation that was based primarily on income. The researchers combined measures of segregation by income with ones tied to educational level and to the type of job a person has, and created an index of overall economic segregation in hundreds of U.S. metro areas. The resulting rankings and comparisons yield a variety of conclusions, some surprising and some expected, but key among them is this: “the behavior and location choices of more advantaged groups” are driving the rise in economic segregation at least as much as the isolation and ghettoization of poorer families.

The segregation effects pop up along other divisions besides wealth, too. The researchers found that occupation and education-- which are correlated to a person’s earning power, certainly, but represent a more complex distinction than breaking the population down purely by income-- also exhibit the same self-isolating residential patterns. People with higher educational credentials tend to cluster, especially in densely populated metro areas, and members of the “creative class” tend to self-segregate into concentrated neighborhoods while people who work in service industries aren’t able to do the same and end up scattered.

Residential segregation is therefore driven primarily by the choices that wealthier, higher-earning people make about where it would be cool to live-- and as the Washington Post notes, the pattern amounts to “the well-off choosing to live in places where everyone else is well-off, too.”

The larger the share of blue-collar jobs in a local economy, however, the less intense both educational and occupational segregation are. Where it is possible to make a comfortable living from lower-skill jobs, neighborhoods are more diverse. The researchers note that residential segregation wasn’t always so intense, and point out that it has spiraling effects in a democracy: Previously, “the people who cut the lawns, cooked and served the meals, and fixed the plumbing [for the wealthy] used to live nearby–close enough to vote for the same councilors, judges, aldermen, and members of the board of education. That is less and less the case today.”

Economic segregation is harmful to those born into the resulting high-poverty neighborhoods. Growing up in poverty damages the brain in the same ways that severe trauma or going without sleep do. Even a child born into a family of means will have a harder time rising up the economic ladder if that family lives in a poor zip code. And everyone else in the country suffers too, as economic segregation and concentrated poverty create harder-to-see macroeconomic costs for the whole nation to bear.
This is an existential problem for American democracy itself, and it isn't one I see getting fixed or heading back into a manageable direction-- certainly not in cities like New York and San Francisco, where it's getting even worse. Former liberal bastions turning into... what?


Warren Comes Out Against TPP's NAFTA-Style "Trade Court"​


Without "Fast Track" Legislation, TPP can't pass.

by Gaius Publius

I've been writing, along with many others, in opposition to NAFTA-style "free trade" agreements in general and the upcoming TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) in specific. For one thing, these agreements have little to do with "trade" and more to do with unrestricted capital flow — they ensure that capital can flow anywhere it wants, seeking any profit it can, with no restrictions whatsoever, including from local or national governments. (For my recent thoughts on trade agreements, see here.)

The primary enforcement tool of "free trade" agreements like NAFTA is "investor-state dispute resolution tribunals" — in essence, courts outside the judicial system of any country, in which corporations ("investors") can sue "states" — countries, provinces and cities — for "unfairly" restricting the opportunity to make money. An example of "unfair" restriction — "buy American" programs, since they disadvantage foreign "investors." Another — tobacco packaging laws that encourage giving up smoking, since they preference local lungs over foreign profit. Another — removing dangerous additives from gasoline, since ... well, you get the idea. It's all about the dollars with these people.

In all of these cases, an affected "foreign" company — or the foreign affiliate of a domestic company — can sue for the future profit it "lost" if the restrictions were not in place. Future profit. The decisions of these "tribunals" — courts — cannot be appealed under the terms of these treaties.

A Dream for the Rich; a Nightmare for the Rest of Us

It should be obvious that TPP is a One-Percent dream and a nightmare for everyone else. Now Elizabeth Warren weighs in. From the Washington Post (my emphasis):
The Trans-Pacific Partnership clause everyone should oppose

by Elizabeth Warren

The United States is in the final stages of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive free-trade agreement with Mexico, Canada, Japan, Singapore and seven other countries. Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?

One strong hint is buried in the fine print of the closely guarded draft. The provision, an increasingly common feature of trade agreements, is called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS. The name may sound mild, but don’t be fooled. Agreeing to ISDS in this enormous new treaty would tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty
Also the sovereignty of every nation that signs it. Only the international super-rich would benefit. (See what I mean about world-wide wealth-captured government being the great evil of our time?) You would think this would get at least some right-wing voter attention, right? After all, this really is the "one-world government" they've been so frightened of since None Dare Call It Treason hit the stands.

Warren first goes where I went, looking at the power of these corporate lawsuits:
ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages. 
Then she looks at the tribunals themselves. Who are the "judges"?
If that seems shocking, buckle your seat belt. ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but it wouldn’t employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?
These tribunals ("courts") are only open to corporations; not, for example, citizens, countries or labor unions. Thus:
[I]f a Vietnamese company with U.S. operations wanted to challenge an increase in the U.S. minimum wage, it could use ISDS. But if an American labor union believed Vietnam was allowing Vietnamese companies to pay slave wages in violation of trade commitments, the union would have to make its case in the Vietnamese courts.
It's a rigged game, these agreements, all the way through. "Investor-state dispute tribunals" are a part of most trade agreements, bilateral (between just two countries) as well as broader ones. Warren writes:
Recent cases include a French company that sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company that sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and a Dutch company that sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned. U.S. corporations have also gotten in on the action: Philip Morris is trying to use ISDS to stop Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations intended to cut smoking rates.
We covered the Philip Morris case here; it's ugly (also funny, since John Oliver is our source; do click if you get a chance).

Your two takeaways (three if you haven't already figured out that TPP is a terrible deal): First, Warren will undoubtedly oppose "Fast Track" — the necessary TPP enabling legislation — in the Senate, and will likely join Reid and others in filibustering (my guess; no inside information here). Two, Warren is publicly opposing the deal, meaning her prominent and noticeable pulpit will have No Fast Track on it for all to see. Good all round. As she concludes:
This isn’t a partisan issue. Conservatives who believe in U.S. sovereignty should be outraged that ISDS would shift power from American courts, whose authority is derived from our Constitution ...
Yet another feather in her cap. Let's hope it's also a notch in her belt.


For those who watch the other side of the aisle, here's something. There's an interesting Lou Dobbsian segment of the right that's already opposed, and strongly. They're calling it Obamatrade and they hate it for all the right reasons (for a change). This is the kind of bipartisanship we need more of.

If you live in a Republican district, feel free to lobby your representative with a clean conscience. You don't need permission to call, just an interest in pushing your person in the right direction, letting them know you're watching. Talking points at the link — or in the Warren article above. Senate phone numbers here. House phone numbers here. And thanks!


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How Much Will Israel/Adelson Spend To Kill Rand Paul's Presidential Run?


Sheldon Adelson says he won't pick the GOP presidential nominee until next year. But that doesn't mean he and Miriam are sitting around clipping coupons now. As Israel's top political enforcer for the American Republican Party, Adelson's work is never done. Even if they haven't decided who to get behind for the presidency yet, they know one Republican Israel hates even more than Obama: Rand Paul. And Adelson isn't having any of it. Note: Paul would, in all likelihood, make an abysmal president, one of the worst imaginable. But that doesn't mean he's wrong about everything. In fact, many of the things Adelson and Israel fear the most from the Kentucky Republican are among the more alluring prospects around his campaign.

He doesn't buy into the rote right-wing tyranny and suppression of civil liberties that has become part and parcel of the dominant Adelson wing of the GOP. And, whatever else you can say about Paul, his primary loyalty is to the United States and the American people, not to Israel. Adelson is determined to nip this one in the bud-- and he has the money to do it-- and growing backing for an aggressive foreign policy from the Republican base  pushed, as usual, by our corporate yellow journalists.
Nearly three-quarters of Republicans now favor sending ground troops into combat against the Islamic State, according to a CBS News poll last week. And in Iowa and South Carolina, two early nominating states, Republicans said military action against the group was, alongside economic matters, the most important issue in the 2016 election, according to an NBC survey released last week.

...[T]he hawkishness now defining the early campaign could imperil the presidential hopes of Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the libertarian-leaning Republican who embraces a more restrained approach to American engagement with the world.

“The guy who’s now got the biggest challenge because of this is Rand Paul,” said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker. “The Rand Paul worldview, which I suspect will change, is just incompatible with reality.”

Though Mr. Paul will not formally announce his campaign until April, prominent Republican officials and groups are already organizing to undercut his approach. One of the party’s biggest donors, the Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, has told associates that he is open to underwriting an effort to stopping Mr. Paul, should he gain traction in the primaries.

At least two Republicans, John R. Bolton, the former United Nations ambassador, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are considering their own White House bids largely to draw attention to what they see as the need for a more muscular foreign policy.

One international affairs expert who has advised Mr. Paul and hails from a similar, more restrained school of foreign policy said the revival of terrorism as an issue would force the senator to explain his views more thoroughly.

“He’s got, to some extent, to be an educator in this process,” said the expert, Richard R. Burt, a former ambassador and State Department official under President Ronald Reagan. “He needs to talk through with primary voters the kinds of questions that need to be asked before we commit U.S. forces abroad: How we can’t just have a visceral reaction. How does this impact American interests and security?”

But Mr. Paul’s detractors are not going to make that easy.

“I think most of the Republican candidates or prospective candidates are headed in the right direction; there’s one who’s headed in the wrong direction,” said Mr. Bolton, suggesting that most Republicans would be “horrified” by Mr. Paul’s views on international affairs.

Mr. Bolton has formed three separate political groups to promote pro-interventionist Republican candidates. His newest effort, called the Foundation for American Security and Freedom, will be a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt group, meaning that it can accept donations from contributors who wish to remain anonymous.

Mr. Graham has formed a similar group, Security Through Strength, and has begun traveling to early nominating states to discuss what he calls “the threat of radical Islam” as he ponders a presidential run.

Mike Rogers, the former Michigan representative and the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is not considering a presidential bid, but he is trying to influence the 2016 race by creating an organization called Americans for Peace Prosperity and Security, which he said would support candidates “who understand the importance of American engagement.” His group is scheduled to host its first forum in Iowa in May and is considering holding a large candidates’ forum in the fall.

The combined efforts of these groups, along with the shift of rank-and-file Republicans toward hawkishness, could isolate Mr. Paul. This will be most vividly apparent once debates begin this year. With Republican candidates increasingly attacking Mr. Obama for what they see as his unwillingness to project American strength, Mr. Paul’s support for the administration’s policies on such issues as negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program will stand out-- and force him into some awkward situations.

...Mr. Paul and his backers have been conflicted about how to respond to the shift, and to the senator’s hawkish critics. They have courted them at times; Mr. Paul has aggressively sought out Republican Jewish Coalition donors and dropped by one of their events at a Washington steakhouse this year that Mr. Adelson attended. His team has even sought to flatter the neoconservative Washington Free Beacon, offering the site exclusives about Mr. Paul’s bill to eliminate American aid to the Palestinians (which the Free Beacon noted promptly came hours before he was to meet with Jewish donors).

But when challenged, Mr. Paul can also strike a pugilistic note. Referring to Mr. Bolton and other critics, Doug Stafford, Mr. Paul’s top political adviser, accused them of trying to promote their own political brand at Mr. Paul’s expense.

“Can you run for secretary of state?” Mr. Stafford asked. “They are going to lie about who Rand is and what he stands for. That’s what they do. We will be ready for them.”

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Culture Watch: Is this the end of the line for the NYC (or at least Manhattan) coffee shop?


Because the owner of the Waverly Restaurant, at Sixth Avenue and West 4th Street, owns the building, he doesn't have to deal with an insatiable landlord.

by Ken

Since the New York City coffee shop has been a disappearing institution for several decades, especially in Manhattan, it's hard to believe that it has reached a crisis point, but a rash of recent closings, leaving behind a lot of places hanging on for dear life, suggests that maybe this is the case.

In a sense this is the same story I wrote about Thursday in connection with the tenuous future of Greenwich Village's Caffè Dante ("In breaking news, this 100-year-old café either is or isn't closing -- and there's a "waitress with a big mouth" angle!"), which last year responded to a doubling of its rent by doing a major makeover, trying to become more of a full-service rather than a dessert eatery and to draw a more upscale crowd, without so far showing a lot of durability.

Sometimes we don't adequately consider the impact of rapidly rising fixed costs like real estate on the kinds of businesses you can operate on a particular patch of real estate. For example, I didn't hear a lot of mention of this factor in the fading fortunes of Radio Shack. Once upon a time it was a place you could go for all mannter of electronics parts, and it was invaluable as such.

Since those days it's not just that the demand for such goods has dropped off sharply, although it has, but that you have to sell an awful lot of dollar parts to pay those upwardly spiraling rents. Of course Radio Shack realized this ages ago, and tried to adapt. For a while it seemed to have found a niche of sorts in cell phones, but that market seems to have passed it by.

The same thing is true with food. If your business is dougnuts and you sell them for say a buck a pop, that's an awful lot of doughnuts you have to sell. This is a lesson that Dunkin' Donuts clearly absorbed, and while I'm sure they're happy to continue selling doughnuts, if that's all their customers were buying, they'd be going the way of Radio Shack.

This week's food-business-extinction scare involves a NYC standby, the coffee shop. I always think of the coffee shop" as an urban institution, but I never know about the regionality of these terms, or for that matter of the institution itself. (When I moved to New York at age 12 and was first sent by my mother on an errand to the "candy store," I went looking for a storefront with windows filled with chocolates and other candies. Wrong.) So I guess maybe I better define what I mean by a coffee shop.

No, it's not Starbucks or any of the still-newer breed of ever-more-wildly-overpriced coffee purveyors. It's a homey-type restaurant, usually with a large enough menu to accommodate widely diverse gustatory inclinations, where it's possible to hang out for a while over a cup of coffee and maybe something to munch on, and the whole thing is cheap -- or at least cheaper than the kind of joint we might more formally think of as a "restaurant." By way of illustration, I've dabbled in a number of the "restaurant makeover" shows, and the coffee shop emphatically isn't that. It's the tier below, the kind of place that Gordon Ramsey wouldn't even be caught dead in.

To return to our primitive "price point" model, as rent and other fixed costs soar, it can obviously make a big difference whether you're charging, say, $7.50 or $15 or $30 or $75 (or, God help us, more) for an entrée. And so the sit-down restaurants at the lower end of the spectrum, with prices necessarily rising, have clearly been having a tough time competing with the profusion of fast-food joints.

And that's one of the differences between the story we're about to look at regarding the current wave of coffee-shop closings and the ones that occurred piecemeal over recent decades, not to mention the kind of eatery represented by Caffè Dante. A lot of those businesses didn't so much lack for customers as they lacked for the kind of customer that could support their rapidly rising rents. In this story you'll note, however, that a common theme among the newly endangered establishments is an actual fall-off in business.

The other difference for me -- and this is probably entirely personal -- between this story and the Caffè Dante one is that places like Caffè Dante I've respected but never much patronized, whereas coffee shops once played an important role in my life, if only for the chance to get out of the house and relax while having somebody serve me. (I was always perfectly comfortable sitting at a counter, so as not to waste a seat at a table.) This applied especially to breakfast -- it was a frequent weekend treat, and not all that enormous an indulgence, to take the morning paper into a coffee shop for a nice basic breakfast. But your nice basic breakfast has been especially hard hit by those rising costs faced by local eateries. And over these same decades, as my rising costs have chomped away at my disposable income, I've pretty much stopped eating out, except for occasional takeout from the place across the street from me.

I realize we haven't talked here about the quality of the food. It varies (varied?) a lot from coffee shop to coffee shop, but if you patronized a particular place regularly, you learned the things it did more serviceably. On the whole I would much rather take my chances there than at what now passes for a "fine dining" establishment. From my very occasional experiences of such place, combined with accounts from the few friends whose judgement in such matters I trust, I'm scandalized by the quality of the swill served there. It's no wonder the reinvented restaurant industry depends so heavily on food novelty; their target patrons don't seem to know or care much about the quality of the food they're served.

One last point before we proceed: I think we need to deal with, if not actually resolve, some confusion that seems to have arisen with the term "diner," which I'm getting the feeling has sort of gotten mangled with "coffee shop." Once upon a time "diner" referred to a related but still distinct category of eatery, a place that, even if it wasn't actually located in a converted railroad diner car, had that look and feel. In my mind, though, it's still not the same thing. But it is true that over those same decades when coffee shops have been disappearing from the city, and in particular from Manhattan with its prevailingly higher rents, more places have taken to calling themselves diners.

You'll note that the head on our DNAinfo New York is "Classic Manhattan Diners Fear for Survival After Recent Closures," but the associated slide show is called "Survival of the Manhattan Coffee Shop" and "coffee shop" is the term used in the captions.
Classic Manhattan Diners Fear for Survival After Recent Closures

Jose Torres of the Viand Coffee Shop on Madison Avenue brings out a bowl of chicken soup.

by Rosa Goldensohn

MIDTOWN — Two traditional Manhattan diners, Cafe Edison and La Parisienne, have closed since December, along with the Upper West Side’s Three Star last year. The closures sparked fear that the city diner — the vinyl-boothed institution where regulars can nurse a coffee for hours — is endangered.

Managers and workers at some city standbys that are still hanging on told DNAinfo New York that business had declined over the years, and said they worried that rent hikes would drive them under as well.

“Landlords get greedy,” said Jimmy, the manager of the Applejack Diner on Broadway near West 55th Street, who like many employees interviewed for this story declined to give his last name. He feared that a bank or pharmacy could vie for the diner's spot and get the Applejack evicted. “Try to get a long-term lease before [the rent] goes up,” he advised.

Even better, be your own landlord.

The owner of the 55-year-old Waverly Restaurant on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village also owns the building, according to manager John Captan. Were it not for that, Captan said he doubted the diner would have survived.

“All I hear is that there is no diners in New York City anymore, that’s what people say,” Captan said from behind the cash register at the restaurant. “Less and less diners every year in New York. I think it’s because of the high rent.”

New York diners, where menus are huge and unchanging, are vulnerable “because they cook a lot,” Captan said. At the Waverly Restaurant, open 24 hours, everything is made in-house, Captan said, from soups to specials.

“We cut the steaks here,” he said.

The Waverly has five cooks on at a time. “Over here, you cannot hire just anyone," Captan said, "and when they know how to do the job, you have to pay them better than basics."

He said chain restaurants have lower payroll costs because many don't cook food from scratch. “All they do is warm it up," he said.

Captan said the restaurant has made some changes to keep up with the times, adding a credit card machine two years ago and accepting Seamless orders online.

But at the Viand on East 61st Street, the staff still only takes cash “and Rolex,” joked manager John. He said business had slowed over the years, but the restaurant was surviving without a major overhaul.

“Maybe that’s the secret,” John said. “Hasn’t changed here. The same. It’s like what they call stopped in time, something like that.”

An espresso machine brought in 20 years ago and the recent addition of soy milk were the only shifts John could recall.

Mary Callahan, a former Upper East Sider visiting Viand from Palm Springs, Calif., said she had been coming to the diner for decades.

“The ice cream is the best,” she said, adding that she used to buy up five chocolate sundaes at a time, then take them home and store them in her freezer. "But the tuna salad’s also good.”

Lynn, a waitress at the Applejack for the past 13 years, also saw few changes over the years.

“Nothing really,” she said. “Same old thing.”


Now DNAinfo New York is asking, "Which City Diners Deserve to Be Local Landmarks? (links onsite):
DNAinfo New York wants your nominations for your favorite local diners — the greasy spoons that you think excel at slinging hash and deserve to be protected so they can remain open.

Three classic city coffee shops shut down so far this winter, and some workers at those still standing say they fear a mass extinction of the classic New York diner. Many fear a rent hike could force them to close.

“All I hear is that there is no diners in New York City anymore, that’s what people say,” said John Captan, manager of the Waverly Restaurant in Greenwich Village. “Less and less diners every year in New York. I think it’s because of the high rent.”

We want to hear from you: Tell us about the diner you think deserves protection either in the comments or by tweeting to @DNAinfo.
I assume they don't mean literally "landmarks," because in the actual landmarking process, almost none of this would be relevant; the primary concern would be the historic and architectural value of the building, though some consideration of its use(s) is germane. Ironically, literal landmarking wouldn't protect the buildings' use as coffee shops -- just the buildings themselves. But I suppose there's no harm in soliciting readers' notions of which such joints deserve our patronage.

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Is it "good news" about science deniers that they've always been with us?


"We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge -- from the safety of fluoride and vaccines to the reality of climate change -- faces organized and often furious opposition. Empowered by their own sources of information and their own interpretations of research, doubters have declared war on the consensus of experts. There are so many of these controversies these days, you'd think a diabolical agency had put something in the water to make people argumentative. . . .

"The scientific method doesn’t come naturally -- but if you think about it, neither does democracy. For most of human history neither existed. We went around killing each other to get on a throne, praying to a rain god, and for better and much worse, doing things pretty much as our ancestors did."
-- Washington Post science writer Joel Achenbach, in the
National Geographic cover story (the reference to
"the safety of fluoride" will be become clear in a moment)

by Ken

Yes, I'm afraid the best news we're going to take away from the cover story in the March National Geographic, "Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?," is that science deniers have always been with us. Because the other major takeaway is that, it appears, they'll always be with us, and, it appears, there isn't a damned thing we can do about it, because they believe what they believe, and facts to the contrary only make them believe it harder.

And, oh yes, if you're thinking that they're more numerous, more powerful, and more dangerous than they've been before, nothing in the piece will disabuse you.

There's some good news in that the author of the piece is the Washington Post's wonderful science writer Joel Achenbach, and as anyone who has read him either in the paper or on the website knows, he's pretty much the ideal person for the job: smart, broadly knowledgeable, calm, and compassionate. I can't imagine a much better job on the subject for a general audience. It is, I think, a beautiful piece, and everyone should read it.

Which just makes the takeaways from it that much more depressing to, you know, take away.

At this point I think we could use a good laugh or two, so let's take a look at this classic scene from Dr. Strangelove, as the way-off-his-rocker Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), bunkered inside his sealed-off Air Force base while the preemptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union that he's engineered plays out, tries to "educate" the increasingly hysterical British RAF Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers). Trust me, this is the most fun we're going to have here.

Joel starts us off with a snatch of this gorgeous scene (beginning at about 1:41 of our clip):
RIPPER: Have you ever heard of a thing called fluoridation? Fluoridation of water?
MANDRAKE: Ah, yes, I have heard of that, Jack. Yes, yes.
RIPPER: Well, do you know what it is?
MANDRAKE: No. No, I don’t know what it is. No.
RIPPER: Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face?
Joel proceeds to point out that by the time Stanley Kubrick's "comic masterpiece," Dr. Strangelove, came out, in 1964, "the health benefits of fluoridation had been thoroughly established, and antifluoridation conspiracy theories could be the stuff of comedy." This, of course, is what makes General Ripper's obsession with it so funny. This, and the fact that, nevertheless, there were crazy people in 1964 who believed something not nearly far enough from what Jack D.R. did. What's more, Joel says,
you might be surprised to learn that, half a century later, fluoridation continues to incite fear and paranoia. In 2013 citizens in Portland, Oregon, one of only a few major American cities that don’t fluoridate their water, blocked a plan by local officials to do so. Opponents didn’t like the idea of the government adding “chemicals” to their water. They claimed that fluoride could be harmful to human health.

Actually fluoride is a natural mineral that, in the weak concentrations used in public drinking water systems, hardens tooth enamel and prevents tooth decay—a cheap and safe way to improve dental health for everyone, rich or poor, conscientious brusher or not. That’s the scientific and medical consensus.

To which some people in Portland, echoing antifluoridation activists around the world, reply: We don’t believe you.
It's at this point that Joel delivers the "We live in an age" lines I've quoted at the top of this post. Only now you can get the references to the safety of fluoride and to putting something in the water. Did I mention that Joel is a really gracious writer? Just a sweetheart to read.

Joel notes that the takedown of science has penetrated pop culture, as in the film Interstellar, where the schoolbooks of this "futuristic, downtrodden America" teach that "the Apollo moon landings were faked."


[Click to enlarge (a little).]
SQUARE INTUITIONS DIE HARD: That the Earth is round has been known since antiquity -- Columbus knew he wouldn't sail off the edge of the world -- but alternative geographies persisted even after circumnavigations had become common. This 1893 map by Orlando Ferguson, a South Dakota businessman, is a loopy variation on 19th-century flat-Earth beliefs. Flat-Earthers held that the planet was centered on the North Pole and bounded by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, and planets a few hundred miles above the surface. Science often demands that we discount our direct sensory experiences -- such as seeing the sun cross the sky as if circling the Earth -- in favor of theories that challenge our beliefs about our place in the universe. [National Geographic caption]

Looking at our worldwide epidemic of science denialism (I think it's a mistake to refer to it as "doubt," or to the people who engage in it as "doubters," when what they're about is denial), it's easy to think of it as a modern phenomenon, perhaps in reaction to what may seem to be a takeover of our lives by science.
In a sense all this is not surprising. Our lives are permeated by science and technology as never before. For many of us this new world is wondrous, comfortable, and rich in rewards—but also more complicated and sometimes unnerving. We now face risks we can’t easily analyze.

We’re asked to accept, for example, that it’s safe to eat food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because, the experts point out, there’s no evidence that it isn’t and no reason to believe that altering genes precisely in a lab is more dangerous than altering them wholesale through traditional breeding. But to some people the very idea of transferring genes between species conjures up mad scientists running amok—and so, two centuries after Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, they talk about Frankenfood.

The world crackles with real and imaginary hazards, and distinguishing the former from the latter isn’t easy.
And he engages in a splendid description of the kinds of problems we face in knowing who and what to believe and about who and what. But as the reference to Frankenstein may have hinted, he's here to tell us that the "doubters" have always been with us. And it comes in good part from deep confusion about what science is and tries to do, which is, essentially, to give us the tools to make decisions about those questions of who and what to believe, who and what to fear, based on rigorous and continuously evolving investigation of real-world evidence.

Now Joel has so much to say on this subject, or rather these subjects, that I feel particularly remiss in jumping over most of it -- how many times do I have to tell you to read the damned piece> -- but instead I'm going to refer you to the caption for the "Square and Stationary Earth" map above, and in particular to that last sentence: "Science often demands that we discount our direct sensory experiences—such as seeing the sun cross the sky as if circling the Earth—in favor of theories that challenge our beliefs about our place in the universe."


National Geographic caption: "A worker adjusts a diorama of a moon landing at the Kennedy Space Center." Aha! So this must be how they faked it!

They aren't gonna be fooled by fancypants talk that contradicts what they see and hear. Except that time and again what they think they see and hear is wrong, and as Joel carefully explains, even those of us who accept scientific precepts still tend to cling to "our intuitions -- what researchers call our naive beliefs." At the same time we don't like random or unexplained things ("our brains crave pattern and meaning"), and so we're awfully vulnerable to attempts to explain everything in terms consistent with those naive beliefs, and so we can be suckers for everything from flat-earth hogwash to the craziest of conspiracy theories, all the more so in a time that has bred distrust for smarty-pants "authority."

The conspiracies emphatically include Sen. James Inhofe's favorite one: global warming. Joel points out that the idea of a global-warming conspiracy is preposterous on its face: "The idea that hundreds of scientists from all over the world would collaborate on such a vast hoax is laughable—scientists love to debunk one another." (And it's "very clear," as he also points out, "that organizations funded in part by the fossil fuel industry have deliberately tried to undermine the public's understanding of the scientific consensus by promoting a few skeptics.")

What's more, Joel argues, it isn't just a "scientific communication problem." Research suggests that better-educated people not only are able to believe anti-scientific theories but tend to believe than even more strongly than less-educated people.

Because, as I think many of us have come to understand, facts don't have a lot to do with what people believe. People tend to believe what they want to believe, and that tends to be what the people they feel a shared identity with believe.
Science appeals to our rational brain, but our beliefs are motivated largely by emotion, and the biggest motivation is remaining tight with our peers. “We’re all in high school. We’ve never left high school,” says Marcia McNutt [a geophysicist "who once headed the U.S. Geological Survey and is now editor of Science, the prestigious journal"]. “People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.”
And as long as it's who we are that conditions what each of us believes about the universe that science is trying to give us tools to understand, reasoned argument doesn't stand to help us a lot.

"If you're a rationalist," Joel says, "there's something a little dispiriting about all this." After all, he says,
evolution actually happened. Biology is incomprehensible without it. There aren’t really two sides to all these issues. Climate change is happening. Vaccines really do save lives. Being right does matter—and the science tribe has a long track record of getting things right in the end. Modern society is built on things it got right.

Doubting science also has consequences. The people who believe vaccines cause autism—often well educated and affluent, by the way—are undermining “herd immunity” to such diseases as whooping cough and measles. The anti-vaccine movement has been going strong since the prestigious British medical journal the Lancet published a study in 1998 linking a common vaccine to autism. The journal later retracted the study, which was thoroughly discredited. But the notion of a vaccine-autism connection has been endorsed by celebrities and reinforced through the usual Internet filters. (Anti-vaccine activist and actress Jenny McCarthy famously said on the Oprah Winfrey Show, “The University of Google is where I got my degree from.”)

In the climate debate the consequences of doubt are likely global and enduring. In the U.S., climate change skeptics have achieved their fundamental goal of halting legislative action to combat global warming. They haven’t had to win the debate on the merits; they’ve merely had to fog the room enough to keep laws governing greenhouse gas emissions from being enacted.
Joel makes an excellent case that, contrary the hope of some environmental activists that scientists will become more engaged as policy advocates, the likely effect of this would be increase the perception that they're advocates rather than truth-seekers.
It’s their very detachment, what you might call the cold-bloodedness of science, that makes science the killer app. It’s the way science tells us the truth rather than what we’d like the truth to be. Scientists can be as dogmatic as anyone else—but their dogma is always wilting in the hot glare of new research. In science it’s not a sin to change your mind when the evidence demands it. For some people, the tribe is more important than the truth; for the best scientists, the truth is more important than the tribe.


Joel harks back to something said to him by geophysicist Maria McNutt -- that "scientific thinking has to be taught, and sometimes it’s not taught well."
Students come away thinking of science as a collection of facts, not a method. [Occidental College's Andrew] Shtulman’s research has shown that even many college students don’t really understand what evidence is. The scientific method doesn’t come naturally—but if you think about it, neither does democracy. For most of human history neither existed. We went around killing each other to get on a throne, praying to a rain god, and for better and much worse, doing things pretty much as our ancestors did.
"Now we have incredibly rapid change," Joel writes, "and it’s scary sometimes."
It’s not all progress. Our science has made us the dominant organisms, with all due respect to ants and blue-green algae, and we’re changing the whole planet. Of course we’re right to ask questions about some of the things science and technology allow us to do. “Everybody should be questioning,” says McNutt. “That’s a hallmark of a scientist. But then they should use the scientific method, or trust people using the scientific method, to decide which way they fall on those questions.” We need to get a lot better at finding answers, because it’s certain the questions won’t be getting any simpler.
Let me say again that I really haven't done anything like justice to Joel's piece. But one thing I don't think I've overlooked is any grounds for hope. In fairness, I did warn you that this wasn't going to be a lot of fun. Maybe we should have just watched Dr. Strangelove. That wouldn't have helped with the problem, but at least we would have had a good time.

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Rahm Emanuel: Epic Failure For An Epic Villain


Let's start with this morning's statement from Dan Cantor of Working Families Party after it was abnnounced last night that Emanuel's mega-money campaign failed to clear 50% in his reelection bid:
The next six weeks in Chicago will be the biggest fight of 2015 between the power of people and the power of big money. The good guys won round one. Forcing Mayor 1% into a run-off is a remarkable achievement. Along with the run-off, the progressive caucus on the Council is poised to make gains. Chicago is showing signs of the progressive wave that has washed over cities across America.
Please consider adding a nail-- even a small one-- to Rahm's political coffin here

Despised across the city, "Mayor 1%" is the first mayor in Chicago history to have ever been forced to face a runoff. Also wonderful, the seven progressive aldermen he tried to defeat at the polls either won their primaries outright or are the leading candidate in their impending run-off elections on April 7. As one well-placed Beltway Democratic consultant put it this morning, "Outside of Warren changing her mind and jumping in, nothing would change the presidential race more than Rahm losing. It would send serious shockwaves through Hillary's campaign."

As the Washington Post's Sean Sullivan reported last week, "The race crystallized some of the deep internal divisions in the Democratic Party as it prepares for the 2016 presidential campaign."
Garcia has emerged as a nothing-to-lose dissenting liberal voice who has channeled frustration with Emanuel’s rocky first term into an aggressive campaign against the mayor. The Chicago fight has become the latest front in a simmering nationwide battle between the establishment governing wing of the Democratic Party and a more restive, populist wing that is demanding a more openly liberal agenda.

Garcia, a Cook County commissioner, has picked up the torch of the economic populist movement embodied by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Emanuel is being cast as part of the establishment that includes Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton and has been accused of being too cozy with Wall Street and big banks at the expense of average Americans.

...In his campaign literature, Garcia has called Emanuel “Mayor 1%” while declaring himself a potential “mayor for all of us.” He has attacked Emanuel’s record on education, crime and wages, in an effort to brand him as being more devoted to the city’s wealthier residents than its working-class and poor constituents.
Yesterday's election sure didn't turn into the coronation Rahm was trying to buy. He raised over $16 million, primarily from a few super-wealthy donors whose special interests he has been serving as mayor. He put $7 million into TV ads alone, the vast majority dishonest negative-portrayals of his opponent and of his own record. Emanuel's SuperPAC also spent massively to wreck the careers and defeat all the most conscientious members of the City Council and replace them with his own corrupt corporate-subservient henchmen. The #1 target for Rahm's vitriol (and cash) was Alderman Scott Waguespack, who Emanuel attacked mercilessly but who beat his unfortunately named shill candidate Elise Doody-Jones 79.1% to 20.9%.

Again, all of Emanuel's City Council targets either have won outright or are positioned to win in the April run-off. These are the brave men and women who have taken the lead in fighting pernicious Rahm's corporate agenda:
John Arena- 45.5%- 39.7%
Toni Foulkes- 43.3%- 34.9%
Leslie Hairston- 52.5%- 19.6%
Rick Muñoz- 57.4%- 17.6%
Rod Sawyer- 56%- 26.3%
Nick Sposato- 53.5%- 16.2%
Scott Waguespack- 79.1%- 20.9%
Carol Felsenthal, writing for Politico, predicts Rahm will win, although to do so he will "roam the frigid, windy wards of Chicago eating many slices of humble pie during the six weeks between Tuesday, February 24, and Tuesday, April 7." And when he does win, she writes, "I’ll also predict that Rahm, not known for introspection or self-criticism, will become an even more arrogant and impatient version of the mayor who appears to think he is smarter, more energetic and more disciplined than any of the Chicagoans he governs-- or certainly than any of his opponents and their supporters." 

This would be a great time for Chicagoans-- and all Americans-- to band together and do their part to rid our system of the garbage that is and has long been Rahm Emanuel. You can do it here; you'll feel good.

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The Gerrymandering Of Aaron Schock Into A Permanent Seat


In 2010, Illinois Democrats found themselves in complete control of the state government again. Time to gerrymander the state? It certainly worked out well for Republican Aaron Schock.

Aaron Schock was supposed to represent a new breed of Illinois Republicans-- suitably reactionary, if not crazy-fanatic, on the inside but superficially kind of like a normal person. He's the first Member of Congress born in the 1980s and he used to be mentioned a lot as a future candidate for statewide office. But Illinois has gone from being a dependably red state after the Civil War to being a reliably blue state as the party of Abraham Lincoln perverted itself into a party of racism and anti-family values-- and with waves of Jewish, Polish, German, Irish, Greek and Italian immigrants moving into the state, as well as Blacks from the South and Mexicans.

Illinois doesn't have party registration stats but Chicago is so deeply blue that Democrats have managed to control state government in Springfield. In 2010, the state Senate had 40 Democratic members and 19 Republicans and the House had 71 Democrats and just 47 Republicans. And a Democratic governor. With Republicans gerrymandering up North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and half a dozen other states, Illinois-- along with Maryland-- were looked at as states that could help the Democrats gain some seats in Congress. The 112th Congress had 11 Republicans and 8 Democrats, with one seat disappearing. The Democrats in the legislature aimed to turn those numbers around by creating more blue-leaning districts. Illinois wound up sending the 113th Congress 12 Democrats (+4) and 6 Republicans (-2). One technique was to concentrate-- dump-- Republican voters in a few districts, giving them big majorities in fewer districts and leaving them unable to impact the results in more swing districts that could go either way. (Notice that the inner-city Chicago districts suffer from their ailment already, but in reverse.) These are the Illinois PVI's today:
IL-01- Bobby Rush (D)- D+28- Chicago's Southside
IL-02- Robin Kelly (D)- D+29- Southside + Kankakee
IL-03- Dan Lipinski (D)- D+5- Southwest + near western 'burbs
IL-04- Luis Guitierrez (D)- D+29- north and southwest
IL-05- Mike Quigley (D)- D+16- North Side
IL-06- Peter Roskam (R)- R+4- Western 'burbs, Wheaton, Palatine
IL-07- Danny Davis (D)- D+36- Downtown
IL-08- Tammy Duckworth (D)- D+8- northwest 'burbs, Shaumburg
IL-09- Jan Schakowsky (D)- D+15- North Side, Evanston
IL-10- Robert Dold (R)- D+8- near northern 'burbs
IL-11- Bill Foster (D)- D+8- Joliet, Auroura
IL12- Mike Bost (R)- even- East St Louis, Carbondale
IL-13 Rodney Davis (R)- even- Champaign, Springfield
IL14- Randy Hultgren (R)- R+5- Chicago exurbs, Kendall County
IL-15- John Shimkus (D)- D+14- southeast Illinois, Danville
IL-16- Adam Kinzinger (R)- R+4- North Central Illinois, Rockford
IL-17- Cheri Bustos (D)- D+7- Rock Island, Peoria, Rockford
IL-18- Aaron Schock (R)- R+11- suburban Peoria + Springfield, Quincy
The gerrymander-- with Rahm Emanuel's paw prints all over the lines-- was drawn specifically to make the seats held by Republicans Bob Dold, Bobby Schilling, Joe Walsh, Judy Biggert, Don Manzullo and Tim Johnson vulnerable. They all lost (although Dold regained his seat in 2014).

Lazy and unmotivated 2012 was a disaster for Illinois Dems anyway. The delegation shifted to 10 Democrats and 7 Republicans, with the GOP taking all the close seats and even as strongly a blue seat as the D+8 10th district from weak New Dem Brad Schneider. In 2016, with Hillary at the top of the ticket, Illinois Democrats hope to pick off the easy three, Bost, Davis and Dold, and will once again ignore slightly more difficult races (Roskam, Kinzinger and Hultgren) and totally ignore the two massive GOP southern redoubts represented by Shimkus and young Aaron.

So we have a situation now where Schock is a virtual shoo-in. He began political life as an eager-beaver/over-achiever Eddie Haskell type who ran for the local school board as a write-in candidate a few months after graduating from high school and at 19 became the youngest person to ever serve on an Illinois school board. At 23 he was elected school board president, and that same year he ran for the state legislature and won. A friendly face of "compassionate conservatism," he consistently voted against the interests of his working family constituents but still managed to win reelection. In 2008 he ran for Congress and won convincingly with 59% of the vote.

From the the beginning Schock has played fast and loose with campaign finance laws and has often been in trouble with the House Ethics Committee for unscrupulous fundraising activities. Local media has protected him from exposure as a closeted gay person, something that has been whispered about in the district and is pretty out in the open in DC. Yesterday, Jack Gillum and Stephen Braun, writing for the AP, took the Schock scandals to the next level, although, again, because of the heavily gerrymandered district, he is almost immune from repercussions from the electorate. The AP guys didn't delve into every little nook and cranny-- like Schock's lustful relationship with Adam Kinzinger and his straight-out-of-the-Mafia shenanigans with Michael Grimm. And they left out the potentially most damaging charges against him, his acceptance of a gigantic bribe from a Caterpillar donor whose company he does special favors for. The bribe came in the form of a huge purchase price for a house Schock owned-- the price being two or three times the assessed value of the property, a little trick that backfired on Duke Cunningham some years ago and helped land him in federal prison.
Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock, a rising Republican star already facing an ethics inquiry, has spent taxpayer and campaign funds on flights aboard private planes owned by some of his key donors, The Associated Press has found. There also have been other expensive travel and entertainment charges, including for a massage company and music concerts.

The expenses highlight the relationships that lawmakers sometimes have with donors who fund their political ambitions, an unwelcome message for a congressman billed as a fresh face of the GOP. The AP identified at least one dozen flights worth more than $40,000 on donors' planes since mid-2011.

The AP tracked Schock's reliance on the aircraft partly through the congressman's penchant for uploading pictures and videos of himself to his Instagram account. The AP extracted location data associated with each image then correlated it with flight records showing airport stopovers and expenses later billed for air travel against Schock's office and campaign records.

Asked for comment, Schock responded in an email on Monday that he travels frequently throughout his Peoria-area district "to stay connected with my constituents" and also travels to raise money for his campaign committee and congressional colleagues.

He said he takes compliance with congressional funding rules seriously and has begun a review of his office's procedures "concerning this issue and others to determine whether they can be improved." The AP had been seeking comment from Schock's office since mid-February to explain some of his expenses.

Donors who owned planes on which travel was paid for by Schock's House and political accounts did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment Monday.

Schock's high-flying lifestyle, combined with questions about expenses decorating his office after the TV show Downton Abbey, add to awkward perceptions on top of allegations he illegally solicited donations in 2012.

The Office of Congressional Ethics said in a 2013 report that there was reason to believe Schock violated House rules by soliciting campaign contributions for a committee that backed Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., in a 2012 primary. The House Ethics Committee has said that query remains open.

"Haters are gonna hate," Schock, 33, told ABC News after the Downton Abbey story broke in the Washington Post, brushing off the controversy by invoking a line from one of pop singer Taylor Swift's songs.

Lawmakers can use office funds for private flights as long as payments cover their share of the costs. But most of the flights Schock covered with office funds occurred before the House changed its rules in January 2013. The earlier rules prohibited lawmakers from using those accounts to pay for flights on private aircraft, allowing payments only for federally licensed charter and commercial flights.

Schock's House account paid more than $24,000 directly to a Peoria aviation firm for eight flights provided by one of Schock's donor's planes in 2011 and 2012. While the aircraft flies as part of an Illinois charter service, the owner of the service told the AP on Monday that any payments made directly to the donor's aviation company would not have been for charter flights.

Beyond air travel, Schock spent thousands more on tickets for concerts, car mileage reimbursements-- among the highest in Congress-- and took his interns to a sold-out Katy Perry concert in Washington last June.

The donor planes include an Italian-made Piaggio twin-engine turboprop owned by Todd Green of Springfield, Illinois, who runs car dealerships in Schock's district with his brother, Jeff. Todd Green told a Springfield newspaper that Jeff-- a pilot and campaign contributor-- and Schock have been friends for a long time.

The AP found that Green's plane traveled to at least eight cities last October in the Midwest and East Coast, cities where Schock met with political candidates ahead of the midterm elections. His Instagram account's location data and information from the service FlightAware even pinpointed Schock's location on a stretch of road near one airport before Green's plane departed.

Campaign records show a $12,560 expense later that month to Jeff Green from a political action committee associated with Schock, called the "GOP Generation Y Fund." That same month, the PAC paid $1,440 to a massage parlor for a fundraising event.

In November 2013, Schock cast votes in the Capitol just after Green's plane landed at nearby Reagan National Airport. Shortly after Green's return to Peoria, Schock posted a photo from his "Schocktoberfest" fundraising event at a brewery in his district. Schock billed his office account $11,433 for commercial transportation during that same, four-day period to a Peoria flight company, Byerly Aviation.

The AP's review covered Schock's travel and entertainment expenses in his taxpayer-funded House account, in his campaign committee and the GOP Generation Y Fund. Records show more than $1.5 million in contributions to the Generation Y Fund since he took office in 2009.

Schock used House office expenses to pay more than $24,000 for eight flights between May 2011 and December 2012 on a six-passenger Cessna Golden Eagle owned by D&B Jet Inc., run by Peoria agribusiness consultant and major Schock donor Darren Frye. While D&B is a private corporate aviation firm, it also flies with Jet Air Inc., an Illinois-based aviation firm licensed by the FAA for charter service.

Records show Schock used House funds to directly pay D&B instead of Jet Air for the eight flights. Under the old rules that previously allowed House funds to pay only for charter or commercial aircraft, Schock's office would likely not have been authorized to pay for private flights unless the House Ethics Committee approved it.

Harrel W. Timmons, Jet Air's owner, said in a telephone interview that any charter flights D&B flies through his firm are paid directly to Jet Air. "They've got their own corporate jet and pilot," he said.

House records also show that, since 2013, Schock has flown four times on a Cessna owned by Peoria auto dealer Michael J. Miller and businessman Matthew Vonachen, who heads a janitorial firm, Vonachen Services Inc. Schock's House office account paid nearly $6,000 total for the four flights, according to federal data published online by the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation.

Under current House rules, the payments for the private flights would be authorized if they paid for Schock's portion of each flight. It is not clear from records how many other passengers flew on the same flights. USA Today on Friday first reported potential issues with House ethics rules in revealing some of the flights.

Vonachen and his family donated at least $27,000 to Schock's campaigns, while Miller contributed $10,000 to the Automotive Free International Trade PAC. Schock has supported recent free trade agreements with South Korea and with several other countries, which the Automotive PAC-- a Schock contributor-- lauded.

Schock's reliance on donor-owned planes and on his government allowance to pay for the flights mirrors the use by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., of a private jet owned by a wealthy eye doctor and major donor. Prompted by an ethics investigation, Menendez reimbursed donor Salomon Melgen $58,500 for two flights.

GOP Generation Y paid more than $24,000 for tickets and festivals, including $13,000 to country music events, $4,700 in expenses to Chicago ticket broker, and $3,000 for a "fundraising event" to an organization that runs the Global Citizen Festival in New York.

"You can't say no when your boss invites you. Danced my butt off," one former intern posted on his Instagram account with a picture of Perry at her June 2014 show. PAC records show a $1,928 expense for the ticket service two months later, listing it only as a "PAC fundraising event."

Records show Schock also requested more than $18,000 in mileage reimbursements since 2013, among the highest in Congress. His office has previously said it was reviewing those expenses.
Even though young Aaron has nothing to worry about from his complacent Republican electorate or an utterly turgid DCCC, he is worried-- and doesn't want to wind up in a federal prison the way Cunningham did. He's lawyering up-- and it isn't Saul he figured he'd better call. On call so far: two prominent Washington defense attorneys, William McGinley and Don McGahn of Jones Day, and a public-relations firm led by veteran GOP communications operatives Ron Bonjean and Brian Walsh.
“After questions were first raised in the press, Congressman Schock took the proactive step of assembling a team to review the compliance procedures in his official office, campaign and leadership PAC,” a spokesman said. “The purpose of the review is to identify any areas that need improvement and to assist with designing and implementing any changes. The congressman takes his compliance obligations seriously which is why he took this proactive step to review these procedures.”

But his staff declined to answer more detailed questions about his activities.

Politico has repeatedly sought information regarding Schock’s trip in June 2011 to London. He stayed at Claridge’s, a five-star hotel where the least expensive rooms currently cost $500 per night. He was also scheduled to visit the city’s posh clothing stores, and dined at both Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, according to the documents.

Would Lindsey Graham and Patrick McHenry be flower girls at a wedding between Aaron Schock and British Olympic driver Tom Daley?

The trip, which included events organized by the nonprofit Prince of Wales Foundation, was not an official government trip and was not reported as a gift. Schock’s office would not say whether he paid for it. If he personally covered the cost of the trip, Schock would not be required to disclose it.

...If the trip was approved by the Ethics Committee, Schock would then have had to disclose the itinerary and who paid for it both to the ethics panel and on his annual financial disclosure form. Schock did not report the trip.

If it was a political excursion, Schock could have used campaign funds. However, the London itinerary does not appear to involve any congressional or political activities.

According to the documents, Schock flew from Washington to London’s Heathrow Airport on June 16, 2011. He was joined by Shea Ledford, a longtime friend who is now on Schock’s payroll as a district special assistant [thought to be one of Schock's lovers].

Schock attended the Royal Ascot, a world-famous steeplechase race, followed by drinks with the then-U.S. Ambassador to England Louis Susman and his wife. He also was slated to visit Moss Bros. on Regent Street, one of the most famous men’s clothing stores in Europe, according to his schedule.

Schock also participated in a “Patron Dinner” at the posh members-only club Annabel’s and was invited to formal dinners at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.

Schock missed two days of votes during the trip.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

TV and Movie Watch: Celebrating "Mad Men" and Matthew Weiner at MoMI -- and even if you can't get there


Escape from Grand Central: In North by Northwest (made only a couple of years before the dawn of the Age of Mad Men), as Matthew W reminds us, Cary Grant plays an ad man named Roger (seen here trying to slip out of NYC by train; the ticket agent with his bald head to us is that long-enduring character actor Ned Glass). We might add that Hitchcock's ad man named Roger has gotten through life trafficking heavily on his charm.

by Ken

After writing my Sunday Mad Men-themed post, as some readers may have noted from my initial updatings of the "On Demand" CC situation, I proceeded to zoom through Episodes 1-5 of Season 7, and last night I had to restrain myself from watching Episode 7 as well as 6, mostly in the interest of salvaging a bit more sleep than I'd managed Sunday night.

The reason I'm returning to the subject so soon is that time could be a factor for readers within striking range of NYC's Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria (Queens). As you'll see in a moment, there is one more day (Wednesday) left of members-only registration, before sales are thrown open to the general public, for an even that looks to be the biggest deal since that historic night when MoMI had David Chase on hand for a screening of the first and last episodes of The Sopranos, namely:


Our Matthew on-set with Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson)
Screening and Live Event: INSIDE MAD MEN:

A conversation with Matthew Weiner and a guest moderator (to be announced)

Part of Required Viewing: Mad Men's Movie Influences
Friday, March 20, 7pm

Matthew Weiner, the creator and showrunner of Mad Men, will discuss the influences and inspirations behind the series, talk about his creative and collaborative process, and give a look behind the scenes of the remarkable film series Required Viewing: Mad Men’s Movie Influences. Special guest moderator to be announced.

Tickets: $25 public ($15 members at the Film Lover, Dual, and Family levels / free for Silver Screen members and above).  Members at these levels may reserve tickets in advance.  Tickets will be made available to the public on Thursday, February 26 at 12:00 p.m.
The David Chase extravaganza not only sold out, but sold out a simulcast presentation, with large numbers of Sopranos fans still turned away. And despite the truly tumultuous storm that night, I think everyone left feeling that it had been a glorious, not-to-be-forgotten evening. NYC metro-area Mad Men fans who aren't already members may want to think about joining by tomorrow to assure themselves of members' access to tickets. (Yes, I'm pretty sure you can join and buy your ticket in the same operation.) What's more, members at the "Film Lover" level and above have free access to nearly all of the films (now with online registration access) being screened in the MoMI film series Required Viewing: Mad Men's Movie Influences, as chosen by Matthew Weiner himself -- about which more in a moment.


That guy standing all by himself way off to the left of the set is literally out of the picture.

As part of its celebration of the culmination of Mad Men, MoMI has an exhibition opening in a couple of weeks which looks to be at least as exciting as the museum's 2013 Breaking Bad exhibition, which I found pretty darned exciting.

March 14-June 14

This new major exhibition explores the creative process behind Mad Men, one of the most acclaimed television series of all time, now launching its final seven episodes on AMC. Featuring large-scale sets including Don Draper’s office and the kitchen from the Draper’s Ossining home, more than 25 iconic costumes, props, video clips, advertising art, and personal notes and research material from series creator Matthew Weiner, the exhibition offers unique insight into the series’ origins, and how its exceptional storytelling and remarkable attention to period detail resulted in a vivid portrait of an era and the characters who lived through it. The Museum’s exhibition marks the first time objects relating to the production of Mad Men will be shown in public on this scale. The Museum will also present An Evening with Matthew Weiner and a film series featuring movies that inspired the show, selected by Weiner.

The exhibition Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men will be joined by other initiatives around New York City celebrating the series. Mad Men’s final seven episodes will air on AMC on Sundays at 10:00pm ET/PT, from April 5 through May 17. Visit for more information. 

Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men is presented with generous support from AMC and Lionsgate.


Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in The Apartment, which "completely engaged my imagination as a representation of office and sexual politics at the time" and "blends humor and pathos effortlessly.

Central to MoMI's Mad Men celebration is a mini-festival of films chosen by Matthew Weiner himself as cinematic influences on the show.
With its richness of detail and depth of characterization, Mad Men has an artistic ambition that reveals many influences. Series creator Matthew Weiner drew from literature, cinema, fashion, photography, architecture, music, and more, to help create the world of the show. His goal was not just to give us a realistic depiction of the period, but to delve deeper, to take us into the inner worlds of the show’s characters, into the obsessions, desires, and dreams that lie beneath the surface. For this film series, Weiner has selected ten movies that had an important influence on the creation of Mad Men, movies that made a deep impression on him and were required viewing for people working on the show. The films in this series all played an important role in making Mad Men such a great accomplishment as a narrative of America in the 1960s.
The comments below are all Matthew W's own brief descriptions of how each film influenced him and Mad Men. Note that he'll be presenting The Apartment himself, at a separate event immediately following the "conversation and screening" event on March 20, and for that, everyone has to buy tickets, though MoMI members get a discount. All the other screenings are free for members at the "Film Lover" level and above. Advance reservations can be made online.

Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959). Saturday and Sunday, March 14 and 15, 5:30pm)
This film became an important influence on the pilot because it was shot in New York City, right around the time the first episode takes place. While more overtly stylized than we wanted to imitate, we felt the low angles and contemporary feel were a useful reflection of our artistic mindset. I had studied the film in depth at USC film school and absorbed much of its “ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances” narrative drive. It is worth noting that Cary Grant is playing an Adman named Roger, who is forced to assume another man’s identity.
Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960), with Matthew Weiner in person. Friday, March 20, 9:15pm
I had seen this for the first time in film school and was bowled over by the dynamic writing and the passive nature of its hero, Jack Lemmon’s C.C. Baxter. It is definitely a story of its times, firmly rooted in a Manhattan where seemingly regular men behave unscrupulously, and it completely engaged my imagination as a representation of office and sexual politics at the time. It blends humor and pathos effortlessly.
Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958). Saturday, March 21, 1:30pm, and Sunday, March 22, 4pm
Released to negative reviews, it now ranks for many as the greatest film ever made. I had not seen it before the show began, but finally caught it on a break after the first season. I was overwhelmed with its beauty, mystery, and obsessive detail. I remember watching the camera dolly-in on Kim Novak’s hair and thinking, “this is exactly what we are trying to do.” Vertigo feels like you are watching someone else’s dream.
David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1987). Saturday, March 21, 4pm, and Sunday, March 22, 7pm
Remarkably original for its time, this film had an impact on my generation that can’t be underestimated. I saw it as I was finishing college and applied to film school soon after. Indefinable in genre, Blue Velvet moves from murder mystery to film noir to black comedy to coming-of-age story, almost from scene to scene. With stylistic richness and psychological complexity, it celebrates the horror of the mundane and is filled with reference to a kitschy and ironic “’50s” milieu. This incredible observation informed much of the 1980s and became an inspiration for the series and its attempt to equally revise our mythical perception of the period.
Claude Chabrol's Les bonne femmes (1960). Friday, March 27, 7pm
I first saw this in film school and shared it to help the production design of the pilot because it was shot in the streets of Paris, with little embellishment, at exactly the time we were trying to recreate. The thematic aspects were valuable as well, as the film tells the everyday story of four bored working women led astray by their romantic fantasies. My favorite sequence, a kind of postscript to the whole film, is particularly relevant to the series as it features an unknown woman looking right down the lens at the audience.
Fielder Cook's Patterns (screenplay by Rod Serling, from his 1955 TV version; 1956). Saturday and Sunday, April 4-5, 4pm
I saw this film version as a child on sick day from middle school; it was originally written and produced for live television in 1955. Rod Serling ingeniously creates a boardroom passion play with a chilling first-person climax that I never forgot. We used it often over the life of the series to get a sense of the real offices and to see how virtue and ambition can clash when the older generation is pushed aside and ruthless business confronts humanity.
Delbert Mann's Dear Heart (1964). Saturday and Sunday, April 4 and 5, 7pm
Stumbling upon this film gave me the impetus to finally write the pilot. I was taken by this mainstream Hollywood film that reflected a very casual attitude towards sex, something that seemed uncharacteristic to my preconceptions of the era. With its glib bachelor hero and dowdy, conservative ingénue, it tells a tale of moral corruption and heartbreaking duplicity in the form of a light comedy. As Glenn Ford tries to change his ways and take responsibility for his meaningless romances in glamorous Manhattan, I found a jumping-off point for the series.
Delbert Mann's The Bachelor Party (screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, from their 1953 TV version; 1957). Saturday, April 11, 4pm
Originally written and produced for live television in 1953, this film reteams writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Delbert Mann, and reflects the painful realism of their previous collaboration, the Oscar-winning film Marty. The “swinging bachelor” was a trope of fiction at this time, but this film poetically undoes the clichés of male camaraderie and presents both the issues of fidelity and loneliness with an unflinching eye.
Jean Negulesco's The Best of Everything (1959). Saturday, April 18, 2pm, and Sunday, April 19, 3:30pm
A highly stylized and star-studded adaptation of Rona Jaffe’s 1958 best-seller, this film became part of the group mind-set for the pilot. Although I felt that it was a visually glamorized, and extremely melodramatic, I could see that its story was a well-observed representation of working women in New York at the time. The workings of the office, the romantic complications, and the living situations all smacked of the truth. Like many popular films of the time, it helped to inform our characters—they certainly would have seen it, and it would have had an impact on their real expectations.
Arthur Hiller's The Americanization of Emily (screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, 1964). Saturday, April 25, 2pm, and Sunday, April 26, 1pm
I saw this first in film school and was taken immediately with Paddy Chayefsky’s ironic and rhythmic dialogue and by its deep anti-war sentiment, which was shocking because it was rarely discussed in the context of the allies in World War II. James Garner’s portrayal of Charlie, a callow and glib womanizer who has given up on humanity and is then forced into heroism, influenced our attempt to recreate the mid-century male mindset and its relationship to existential absurdity.

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