Monday, April 27, 2015

"A growing sense of powerlessness in our lives is convincing most people the system is working only for those at the top" (Robert Reich)


"As I travel around America, I’m struck by how utterly powerless most people feel."
-- Robert Reich, in a new blogpost, "Why
So Many Americans Feel So Powerless

by Ken

The former labor secretary beings with three cases he diagnoses as examples of people feeling powerless:
A security guard recently told me he didn’t know how much he’d be earning from week to week because his firm kept changing his schedule and his pay. “They just don’t care,” he said.

A traveler I met in the Dallas Fort-Worth Airport last week said she’d been there eight hours but the airline responsible for her trip wouldn’t help her find another flight leaving that evening. “They don’t give a hoot,” she said.

Someone I met in North Carolina a few weeks ago told me he had stopped voting because elected officials don’t respond to what average people like him think or want. “They don’t listen,” he said.
Why does this make people feel powerless? Because we are.
The companies we work for, the businesses we buy from, and the political system we participate in all seem to have grown less accountable. I hear it over and over: They don’t care; our voices don’t count.
In good part, he says, because "we have fewer choices than we used to have. In almost every area of our lives, it's now take it or leave it."

In the workplace, where once upon a time "a third of private-sector workers belonged to labor unions," which gave them bargaining power that in fact extended to many non-union workers:
Companies are treating workers as disposable cogs because most working people have no choice. They need work and must take what they can get.

Although jobs are coming back from the depths of the Great Recession, the portion of the labor force actually working remains lower than it’s been in over thirty years – before vast numbers of middle-class wives and mothers entered paid work.

Which is why corporations can get away with firing workers without warning, replacing full-time jobs with part-time and contract work, and cutting wages. Most working people have no alternative. 
As consumers too we're mostly helpless, with the "muting" of the consumer movement that arose in the '60s "demand[ing] safe products, low prices, and antitrust actions against monopolies and business collusion." He cites the consolidation of the airline industry into just a handful of major carriers, little competition among Internet providers and digital platforms, giant health insurers and hospital chains.
All this means less consumer choice, which translates into less power. Our complaints go nowhere. Often we can’t even find a real person to complain to. Automated telephone menus go on interminably.
And finally, he says, "as voters we feel no one is listening because politicians, too, face less and less competition." In federal, state, and local elections there are fewer competitive "battlegrounds," and in those battlegrounds "so much big money is flowing in that average voters feel disenfranchised." Gone are the days, he says, when "political parties had strong local and state roots that gave politically-active citizens a voice in party platforms and nominees." Our two big parties "have morphed into giant national fund-raising machines."

No, he doesn't pull a rabbit out of a hat at the end. No convenient solution. I sure don't have one. But as always, to have any shot at finding solutions, you have to figure out what the problem is.
Our economy and society depend on most people feeling the system is working for them.  But a growing sense of powerlessness in all aspects of our lives – as workers, consumers, and voters – is convincing most people the system is working only for those at the top.

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As CT ex-Gov. Rowland heads back to the slammer, his replacement as radio host isn't another right-wing talker


Former CT Gov. John Rowland was beset by reporters as he left U.S. District Court last month after being sentence to another 30 months in prison for consultant-fee scamming. What's interesting is how he's being replaced as an afternoon radio talk host.

by Ken

More news from our radio guru Jack, who has been intrigued by the situation at Hartford (CT) station WTIC, where former Gov. John Rowland, who has already done time for corruption, has now become a two-time loser for repeat felonizing -- at the same time that he was doing an afternoon drive-time show for WTIC -- in connection with attempted laundering of off-the-books political consulting fees (which he seems to have been trying like mad to line up, with not a lot of takers, for reasons that may not be entirely mysterious) through nonpolitical companies.

Now there's nothing new about the station of a right-wing radio host running into trouble of one sort or another with their right-wing on-air talent -- if it's not a money scandal, it's a sex scandal. (Hey, didn't right-wingers used to be stern law-'n'-order types?) It's not even new waving bye-bye to Governor Rowland on his way to the pokey.

Here's the March 19 Tom Taylor Now report Jack passed on detailing the former governor's -- and the radio station's -- awkward situation:
Ex-WTIC Hartford (1080) host John Rowland is blasted by a judge for “shameless use of his radio talk show.”
In passing sentence, Judge Janet Bond Arterton said she’s unsure why the former Connecticut governor – convicted a decade ago on earlier corruption charges – did it this time. She speculated it might be “lust for influence” in the state he once governed. The trial brought out not one but two attempts by Rowland to work for political candidates and have his off-the-books fees laundered through an unrelated business. The first time was in 2010, when Rowland asked for more than $500,000 in consulting fees to be run through a non-profit animal shelter managed by the candidate. The candidate declined, but in 2012, Rowland found a taker. She agreed to route Rowland’s fees through a nursing home chain she owns with her husband. That’s the deal that blew up, while Rowland was hosting afternoons on CBS-owned news/talk WTIC. His former co-host Reverend Will Marotti was one of the people who spoke up for Rowland at the sentencing hearing. The Hartford Courant says Rowland got a sentence of 30 months in prison, but plans to appeal. There’s more bad press for WTIC in a Courant editorial, where the paper says Rowland “used his talk show to promote [the 2012 client’s] candidacy and disparage her chief opponent.” It’s been a year of bad P.R. for WTIC radio, the state’s longtime news/talk leader.
Apparently the ex-governor, who note is still planning an appeal, isn't going to be able to do his show from the slammer, or maybe WTIC isn't eager to wait and see. Which brings us to the new development, which is almost more interesting than yet another right-wing hate-talker doing the walk of shame. It has to do with how WTIC is filling the vacated time slot, with something completely different. From Tom Taylor Now today:
How do you replace a disgraced and jailed ex-governor as your afternoon drive talk show?
If you’re CBS Radio’s news/talk WTIC Hartford (1080), you start all over and introduce an all-sports show for the 3-7pm daypart. As Dom Amore says at the Hartford Courant, “The show, obviously, will feature plenty of Red Sox-Yankees banter, with Hartford along the line that unofficially divides the territories of the ancient baseball rivals.” WTIC will represent both sides of the partisan line with Andy Gresh (most recently of CBS sister “Sports Hub 98.5” WBZ-FM Boston) and Joe D’Ambrosio. Joe’s been part of WTIC for 23 years and has worked the basketball and football games of the UConn Huskies, among other chores. He gets to hold up the New York-centric part of the argument – as former WTIC afternoon host John Rowland prepares to serve his second stretch in prison, on corruption charges. A federal judge sentenced Rowland to 30 months behind bars and blasted the “shameless use of his radio talk show” on WTIC (March 19 NOW Newsletter).
Say what? Right-wing talk being replaced by sports talk? This is interesting, no?

One of the points I've made in response to the braying of the Dump Rushers every time their guy, whose day undoubtedly seems to be fading, suffers another lineup setback is that even if the airwaves could be purged of him, that doesn't mean there won't be a grasping Rush wannabe waiting in the wings. But maybe developments like this one in Hartford really suggest that hate talk is becoming not such good business. That is something.

I don't think there's any less right-wing hate out there. But if it becomes less profitable, the Right-Wing Noise Machine may have to scramble a bit to keep its captive zombies, er, "informed."

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Warren Tells Obama To Put Up Or Shut Up On Trade


by Gaius Publius

Your Open Rebellion Caucus at work, featuring Dem-on-Dem violence on trade. As usual, the press is enjoying this, and those opposed to TPP appreciate the spotlight. Thanks are due to President Obama for being so obvious about what he wants, and for not downplaying Sen. Warren's fierce objections to this next-NAFTA job-killing "trade" deal.

First, the setup — President Obama has been unusually aggressive with members of his own party on trade and his eagerly sought TPP deal. My ongoing coverage of TPP is here; click if you'd like some background. Now the latest, per Zach Carter at Huffington Post (my emphasis):
Elizabeth Warren Tells Obama To Put Up Or Shut Up On Trade

Progressive Democrats have been hoping to see a showdown between Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton for years. Instead, they're getting a public feud between the senator from Massachusetts and President Barack Obama.

Obama accused Warren and congressional Democrats on Friday of being "dishonest" and spreading "misinformation" about the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- a trade pact the administration is negotiating among 12 nations. The overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress oppose TPP, while Republican leaders support it.

It was an unusually aggressive attack for the president -- accusing members of his own party not of having misplaced priorities, but of actively working to deceive the public. Obama is rarely so severe even with his Republican opponents. Obama said that the Democratic criticism that "gets on [his] nerves the most" is the notion that his TPP pact is "secret," and went on to insist that the terms of TPP will help American workers.
As many have recently discovered, perhaps to their surprise, when Obama really wants something, he really tries to get it. (Does this give the lie to progressive excuses, that the president wants more progressive policies than he settles for, but is too timid to negotiate for them? I'll let you decide.)

The current battle is between Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, the once-again leaders of "open rebellion" in the Senate — in-your-face rejection of pro-wealth policies pushed by Democratic Party leaders. Warren and Brown's position? Mr. Obama, you say the TPP deal isn't a "secret." Put up or shut up — show the public the treaty before we vote on Fast Track. Or, as Huffington Post put it:
On Saturday, Warren and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) responded with a letter essentially telling Obama to put up or shut up. If the deal is so great, Warren and Brown wrote, the administration should make the full negotiation texts public before Congress votes on a "fast track" bill that would strip the legislative branch of its authority to amend it.

"Members of Congress should be able to discuss the agreement with our constituents and to participate in a robust public debate, instead of being muzzled by classification rules," Warren and Brown wrote in the letter obtained by The Huffington Post. ...

"Your Administration has deemed the draft text of the agreement classified and kept it hidden from public view, thereby making it a secret deal," the letter reads. "It is currently illegal for the press, experts, advocates, or the general public to review the text of this agreement. And while you noted that Members of Congress may 'walk over ... and read the text of the agreement' -- as we have done -- you neglected to mention that we are prohibited by law from discussing the specifics of that text in public."
Obama has been aggressive in defending this billionaires' dream, perhaps because of this:

Obama’s Presidential Library as envisaged by the Chicago firm HOK (view 1). Like Star Fleet Academy, but with corporate funding. (Discussed here.)

Regardless, the next move is his. If past is prologue, it will be coming soon. His robotic OFA forces (that's not an unfair characterization on this issue, unfortunately) are out in number, throwing up Obama's disingenuous defense of this treaty in many progressive forums. (For a prime instance, see comment threads like this at Daily Kos. There are many such examples of OFA pushback in progressive discussion spaces.)

A question for OFA defenders of TPP: You've shown your loyalty — it's to Obama and his future earnings, not your own as progressives in the "Warren wing" of the Democratic Party. What will you do when Obama is off living his future, and you're left behind to seek your own among the progressives you're now disingenuously attacking? Do you think they'll remember you the way Ro Khanna is remembered, for example?

Did "progressive" ex-OFA media shop 270 Strategies help Ro Khanna craft this message? (Click to enlarge; source)

Dem-on-Dem Violence: What Will Happen in the Senate?

Fast Track is coming to the Senate floor. Regardless of what Obama does, Democratic senators are going to have to show, once again, who they stand for — the richest of the rich, or American workers, small business, and, yes, national sovereignty. We've seen a lot of these opportunities for the Democratic Party to define itself. Fast Track is yet another.

Here are your corporate Democrats so far, based on their pro–Fast Track votes in the Senate Finance Committee:
  • Ron Wyden — Ranking Member and lead perp
  • Michael Bennet — former head of DSCC
  • Maria Cantwell
  • Ben Cardin
  • Tom Carper
  • Bill Nelson
  • Mark Warner
The current Senate holds 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and 2 Independents (Sanders and King, the latter of whom often votes "corporate"). One Republican, Richard Burr (N.C.), voted No on Fast Track in committee. Let's assume all remaining Republicans vote Yes, and Burr holds firm as a No. That makes 53 Republicans plus seven Democrats voting Yes — so, 60 votes for Fast Track on the floor. Enough to break a filibuster, with zero margin for error or defection.

Your questions of the remaining Democrats:
  1. Who will join the filibuster and vote No on cloture, when the TV lights are off?
  2. Who will vote No on the floor vote, when the TV lights are on?
  3. Who will vote both ways — Yes to help end the filibuster, but No in a public-but-losing attempt to prevent the inevitable passage?
The real vote will be on cloture, a vote to end the Warren- and Brown-led filibuster. Any Democratic senator who votes to end the filibuster (where the threshold is 60 votes), yet votes No on the bill (where the threshold is 51 votes) ... is not your progressive friend. A Yes to end the filibuster means a No on the floor vote is "for show." Watch the voting, then make a list.

Watch also for Democrats voting with Republicans even when their votes aren't needed to pass Fast Track. Those could be early applications for corporate funding in their own next election.

After this, the circus moves to the House, where the Paul Ryan–led Ways and Means Committee takes up the Fast Track bill. In the House, many Republicans are opposed. Will it pass? Stay tuned.

What About Wyden?

In my humble estimation, Wyden needs to be dealt with, whether TPP ultimately passes or not. Some votes are regrettable but forgivable, some are very regrettable but forgivable, and some, like this one, should never be forgiven. Similar to NAFTA, TPP will devastate American workers (and line CEO silk pockets) for the next 20 years, after your children have children.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the designated Democratic perp on TPP

Wyden's seat is up in 2016. Many progressives in Oregon will not vote for Wyden, even in the general election. Others are actively looking to replace him in the primary. Care to tell Ron Wyden which side of either of those fences you're on? Here where to send a message:

Senator Ron Wyden
221 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C., 20510
tel (202) 224-5244
fax (202) 228-2717

Be polite, but be honest. And if you're from Oregon, tell him you vote.


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The Patriot Act-- Back For Another Go-Round


The intrinsically embarrassing nature of the Patriot Act came front and center again with the appearance on the national scene of NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden. This is a mature democracy? And for Obama... how did he shift from a senator so eloquently critical of unconstitutional surveillance practices to a chief proponent of expanding them? In his book The Edward Snowden Affair, Michael Gurnow looked at how Obama was forced to make a fuss about the Patriot Act once Russia granted Snowden political asylum.
The first is "reforms to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act" even though "[I]t does not allow the government to listen to any phone calls without a warrant. But given the scale of this program, I understand the concerns of those who would worry that it could be subject to abuse." Obama stated adjustments will be made to these two laws to ensure "greater oversight, greater transparency, and constraints on the use of this authority."

He then proposed FISC oversight in the form of a legal representative being present to review request orders, because the court currently "only hears one side of the story, may tilt it too far in favor of security, may not pay enough attention to liberty." Obama, a Harvard lawyer, acknowledged a kangaroo court was in effect because no defense attorney was present to represent those whom the U.S. government was attempting to target.

...The impact of the international disclosures-- especially those pertaining to China, Germany and the EU-- was obvious during the conference. The president very gingerly acknowledged, "[ ... ] how these [surveillance] issues are viewed overseas [is important] because American leadership around the world depends upon the example of American democracy and American openness, because what makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation; it’s the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process." He went on to state, "[ ... ] to others around the world, I want to make clear once again that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people. "
By now you have surely heard of a new Senator from Arkansas by the name of Tom Cotton. He was a 37-year-old congressman who won the Senate seat formerly held by conservative Democrat Mark Pryor in 2014. Cotton took the Senate by storm penning one of the most embarrassing documents ever written by a sitting Senator and then getting the entire GOP Senate caucus to co-sign it-- the infamous Iran Letter.

Undaunted by this humiliation, the Republican Party has decided that Cotton is the man to lead them into the future on national security issues. And unfortunately, he's decided that his next mission will be to lead the Republican charge to extend certain provisions of the Patriot Act which are set to expire this June. They've even added some new powers for the NSA, just to make things interesting.

There was a lot of talk at one time about a new coalition of civil libertarian Republicans and civil libertarian Democrats coming together to reform these programs now that the nation is aware of what they're actually doing. Sadly, the number of civil libertarians in the Republican Party can fit in a small Smart Car and the civil libertarians in the Democratic Party are not a majority. And with über-hawk Tom Cotton waving the “national security” banner we can be sure the Republicans are intent upon squelching any thoughts of reform. This is why it's so important for Democrats to elect more real progressive civil libertarians to Congress. We cannot count on this tiny faction of libertarian Republicans, led by their hypocritical grandstanding leader Rand Paul, to ever provide the numbers required to roll back the surveillance state. Hawkish national security and authoritarian police policies are in the modern GOP's DNA.

This is going to require a majority progressive Democratic Party led by people like Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who is now running for the Maryland Senate seat currently held by retiring Senator Barbara Mikulski. Edwards has been consistent on these issues throughout her career in congress. For instance, in 2014 she voted against the USA Freedom Act, originally conceived as a reform measure, but which was later gutted by the Republicans in committee. She issued this statement at the time:
“After much deliberation I opposed the USA Freedom Act because I continue to believe it doesn’t strike the necessary balance between protecting our national security and protecting our 4th Amendment rights. Without question, national security issues are critically important, and I applaud all those who work at the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and others for their dedication to duty and professionalism. We must provide them with the means to gather the information necessary to keep America safe. However, we cannot allow the pursuit of that goal to infringe on the civil liberties that we, as Americans, hold sacred and fought so hard to defend.”
She will bring that same principled clarity to the Senate.

Last week the House passed yet another Republican surveillance bill. Blue America's slate of progressive civil libertarians voted against, while all the usual suspects supported it.

Blue America primary candidate Alex Law, who is challenging New Jersey Congressman Donald Norcross, gave this statement:
Yet again we have a clear difference between myself and my opponent in the Democratic primary in NJ-01. Today, Donald Norcross voted in support of the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, a bill that is a surveillance bill disguising itself as a cyber-security bill. This bill gives companies a significant expansion in their ability to monitor customers' online activities. It allows them to share vaguely defined 'cyber threat indicators,' which then automatically go to the NSA. The NSA is then authorized broad law enforcement rights that could stretch beyond cyber-security. This chain of events is a slippery slope. I totally disagree with the structure of this bill. We must stand up for individual privacy. What we have in this bill is a wolf in sheep's clothing, and if I were in Congress, I would have voted against it like other progressives such as Alan Grayson and Judy Chu.
The provisions of the Patriot Act which are set to expire in June should not be extended. We don't know for sure if they will. The USA Freedom Act ultimately died in the Senate when the Democrats who were in the majority at the time added a few safeguards and then couldn't overcome a filibuster. (Yes, the GOP ultimately filibustered the bill for being too weak ...) The Republicans are now in charge and Tom Cotton is working overtime to give the NSA every last item on their wish list. Perhaps we'll get lucky and gridlock will work in favor of freedom once again. But I wouldn't count on it.

There are simply not enough principled, progressive civil libertarians in Congress to stop these abuses. We must elect more of them. Please give what you can to stalwart civil libertarians like Donna Edwards and Alex Law.

Then, give your current representatives a call and tell them you want them to vote against any extension of the Patriot Act.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Urban Gadabout: Is Jane's Walk Weekend coming up where you are? Plus some additional NYC-centric gadding notes


No, you can't click on anything here, or type anything in. But you can by going to

by Ken

Just some quick updating, mostly occasioned by the upcomingness of a favorite weekend of the year in this space, Jane's Walk Weekend. For us in New York it means, once again, a generous calendar of incredible walks (and also some bicycle rides) -- free events -- overseen by the Municipal Art Society, which knows a thing or two about walking tours, except that this year the calendar includes a pretty full schedule on Friday as well as Saturday and Sunday, May 1-3.

New Yorkers can go directly to the New York City page. In theory there are filters that should enable you to sort the total schedule to fit your particular needs and wishes. I guess it's my contrariness that make those filters really not terribly helpful for my purposes, making it necessary to scan repeatedly through the whole schedule. But then, wouldn't I have wanted to peruse the whole schedule anyway? (New Yorkers may also check out the recent MAS blogpost, "Jane's Walk Weekend Is Back -- and Bigger than Ever.")

I know we're getting close to the actual dates. All the more reason to find the appropriate Web page for your locality and see what whets your exploring appetite. It's a great tribute to that great urbanist Jane Jacobs, one of the foremost champions of cities and one of the most revealing students of the way cities work, or don't.


One other Urban Gadding note I can pass on is that urban geographer Jack Eichenbaum, the Queens borough historian, has scheduled a new edition of what he calls his "signature" tour, The World of the #7 Train, an all-day extravaganza that consists of six mini-walking tours along with an exploration of the #7 train from Manhattan to its terminus in Flushing, Queens. Here's how Jack describes the outing on the "Public Tours" page of his website:
Saturday, June 13, 2015, 10am-5:30pm

This series of six walks and connecting rides along North Queens’ transportation corridor is my signature tour. We focus on what the #7 train has done to and for surrounding neighborhoods since it began service in 1914. Walks take place in Long Island City, Sunnyside, Flushing, Corona, Woodside and Jackson Heights and lunch is in Flushing’s Asiatown. Tour fee is $42 and you need to preregister by check to Jack Eichenbaum, 36-20 Bowne St. #6C, Flushing, NY 11354 (include name, phone and email address) The full day’s program and other info is available by email: The tour is limited to 25 people.


As it happens, I've just done a couple of MAS tours with Jack: a couple of weeks ago a fascinating walk along Woodside Avenue in Queens, and just yesterday the East Side version of his Manhattan "Conforming to the Grid" tour, which focuses on the disruptions to the Manhattan grid created in the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 caused by pre-existing development of the area north of present-day Houston Street between Broadway and the Bowerie. Jack will be doing Part 2, the West Side version, looking at the grid disruptions caused by the pre-existing settlement of then-"suburban" Greenwich Village along the Hudson River, is coming up Sunday, May 31, at 11am. The day before, Saturday, May 30, Jack will be doing Part 2 of his MAS series "What's New (and Old) in Long Island City.

For more information on both, and to check out the rest of the current MAS schedule, go to and click on "Tours" -- or this link will take you directly to the "Tours" page. Right now MAS is coming up on the final month of the current March-May MAS schedule. Watch for the announcement of the next schedule -- which one might guess will cover June-August -- sometime in mid-May. It's worth checking for the new schedule in a timely fashion, because for some time after it's announced, it's possible to register for any darned tour you want, including the ones that are "never available." Well, they're not available if you wait till they're filled!


Registration has already begun for non-members as well as members for the Transit Museum's busy summer schedule. For more information go to the "Programs" page of the Transit Museum website, and click through to the link for any date that looks interesting to you to see what the current availability is.

I was going to recommend the two additional outings of a tour that Mike Morgenthal offered for the first time in the last schedule, "Ghosts of the Elevated: A Walking Tour," a walk through the Lower Manhattan risings of the old Second and Third Avenue els, which I enjoyed enormously. But I see that both dates are sold out! On the plus side, this suggests that the tour will continue to be offered!

One thing you know will be available is the Transit Museum's 2015 schedule of ever-popular "Nostalgia Rides," which happen on tenderly cared-for vintage equipment from New York City Transit's collection. Two outings are scheduled for summer: "Beach Bound: Coney Island," on Saturday, July 18, and "Orchard Beach by Rail and Bus," on Saturday, August 8. I can recommend both from personal experience, and may do the Orchard Beach outing again, hoping for better weather than we had the last time we set out there. In addition, we have advance news of another outing I can recommend from personal experience, a fall "Evening Ride to Woodlawn Cemetery," on Saturday, October 24.


Again there's a new schedule in progress, but there are still a lot of terrific-looking programs to come: "Summer Mansions of Astoria" (Saturday, May 9, 10am-12:30pm), "Kleindeutschland in the East Village" (Saturday, May 16, 1-4:30pm), "An Offbeat Day in Staten Island: Tottenville and Conference House" ("by ferry, foot, and overland railway," to the southern tip of Staten Island; Sunday, May 31, 9:15am- 3:30pm, "possibly later"), and two of Justin's famous grand bus outings: "Hyde Park: Val-Kill, Springwood, FDR Library, and Vanderbilt Mansion" (Sunday, June 7, 6:45am-7:30pm) and "New Paltz and Hurley: 17th and 18th Century Stone Houses of the Hudson Valley" (Saturday, July 11, 7:45am-6:30pm).

I'm doing all of the above except the Tottenville excursion, and that's only because of a schedule conflict. The first tour I ever did with Justin was a version of the all-day Tottenville outing he did for MAS some years ago, in admittedly dreadful weather -- looking out over the Arthur Kill, which separates southern Staten Island from New Jersey, we could barely make out the city of Perth Amboy opposite. What's more, we weren't able to go inside Conference House itself, which has now been refurbished and just been reopened to the public.

But my abiding memory of the Tottenville trip is that as soon as Justin got our group safely organized on the Staten Island Ferry he started talking, and about eight hours later, on the return trip, he took a breath. My official policy became that if Justin thinks there's something worth seeing someplace, I'm going, as long as I don't have a schedule conflict. In the case of the above-mentioned "Summer Mansions of Astoria" tour, I'm going even though I had a schedule conflict. As I've mentioned I've been reading Edith Wharton, including the Old New York quartet of novellas, and I'm not going to miss that!

Download the Spring 2015 Wolfe Walkers brochure for more information, including the registration form.

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TV Watch: "Mad Men"'s Sally Draper then and now


Look who's back! Last week Sally (Kiernan Shipka) got an unexpected visit from old pal Glen (Marten Weiner), in No. 3 of the final seven episodes of Mad Men. No. 4 airs tonight.)

by Ken

It must have been at the Museum of the Moving Image's Mad Men exhibition that I ran into someone I know fairly slightly, and on seeing something related to Don and Betty Draper's (or should I say "Don Draper's and Betty Francis's"?) eldest offspring, daughter Sally, and my acquaintance commented how fortunate the producers had been in the way actress Kiernan Shipka had grown up over the course of the show's many years, and of course I had to agree.

This is of course a basic fact of life in a show with kids which has an extended run. You can audition till you're blue in the face to get just the right kiddies for Season 1, but you have no idea what, or rather who, you're going to be dealing with if you're lucky enough to get to a Season 5 or 6 or 7. And while I don't doubt that the Mad Men creative team would have done an excellent job of developing the character of Sally Draper to fit whatever sort of young woman Kiernan grew into, they've taken splendid advantage of the treasure they lucked into in the original casting.

The fact is that Kiernan herself has been a really fine actress at all the ages she has passed through these eight years. I remember being really knocked out by the Season 3 episode (No. 4, "The Arrangements") in which Sally gets close to her creepy Grandpa Gene and then deals with his death. The quality of Kiernan's work has enabled the Mad Men team to do with and for her what the best TV writers always do: incorporate the actor into the evolution of the character. In last week's episode the team had the inspiration to bring back Sally's old pal Glen Bishop, and revealed to us that Sally and Glen have been in close contact all this time. (It can't have been a strain for the casting people to locate the actor who played Glen, since he's creator-showrunner Matthew Weiner's son Marten. He sure looked different, though! And no, that thing between Glen and Betty wasn't forgotten either.)

It made for an obvious time for the AMC blog team to do a new interview with Kiernan, and they had the new interview ready to roll right after the episode aired.

Sally now: Kiernan Shipka in last week's episode of Mad Men

Kiernan Shipka, who plays Sally Draper on AMC’s Mad Men, talks about saying goodbye to her on-screen parents and Sally’s reunion with Glen.

Q: You basically grew up onscreen. Do you still remember your first day on set and that scene with Betty’s dry cleaning bag over your head?

A: I do! I remember it very vividly. I’m lucky – I was six when I started – and all my memories early on are very vivid and I’m so glad I have them.

Q: Sally has certainly gotten sassier over the years and lots of fans love her for that! Where does that sass come from?

A: I think the fact that Sally’s sassy is because she’s a very smart girl and I don’t think she likes to put up with a lot. I think that’s where it stems from and I think it’s heightened usually when she’s frustrated with someone or just having fun. She’s witty.

Q: What was it like to reunite with Marten Weiner in Episode 710? What do you make of Sally and Glen’s friendship?

A: It was great. I love working with Marten. He’s the best. I’ve known him for a really long time. It’s crazy [how] we’ve both grown up so much and he’s at real college now, so that [episode] was cool to do because it felt like a lot of time had gone by. Sally and Glen’s friendship throughout the years has always been a really special thing to both of them because they were there for each other. Sally never really had an adult to confide in or lean on and trust. She loves both her parents, but she doesn’t really feel that comfort to talk to them like she could always talk to Glen. This is such an emotional time for her. She was mad at him, but also sad for herself. She was really losing her best friend.

Q: Sally mentions not wanting to be like Don or Betty, but do you see any similarities that she shares with them?

A: I think that Sally is in some ways like her parents, but I think in general, she’s very much her own person. As an individual, I really just see her as Sally and not a reflection of either of her parents.

Q: Speaking of Don and Betty, how did you say goodbye to your on-screen parents?

A: The last day on set was very crazy and sad, for sure. Throughout the day, the cast members were all making their speeches and it was definitely somber. After everything wrapped, we hung out for a little bit and played Catchphrase and all sorts of other games. That was really fun and it did feel, in a way, like a last hurrah.

Q: We went back and reread your interview when we first spoke to you almost six years ago…

A: Oh my god! [Laughs]

Q: [Laughs] You predicted Sally would go to college and have a family, but now she seems pretty unsure about her future and career goals. If you could offer her any advice, what would it be?

A: I have faith in Sally. I would probably just tell her to do her thing because I think she’s pretty great and very smart and really on the right track. She’s going places.

Q: If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing professionally?

A: I always said I would want to be a food critic. I love eating so much and I love writing, so I thought it would be a perfect combination. It would definitely be something artistic.

Q: Are you still planning to have that full Mad Men series viewing marathon when all the episodes are over?

A: I couldn’t wait! I already did it. It was awesome. It’s really nice because the scenes that I was in are very nostalgic and just watching them as a whole is very special. Seeing the whole picture was nice.

Q: Have you gotten to keep anything of Sally’s? What do you treasure the most?

A: I got to keep Sally’s “SBD” necklace. I was very happy I got to keep that because I feel like it’s a very vital part of her character and her style – which is also something that I really love – and it’s also really cute, so I can wear it.


Since our friends at AMC provided the link, we took a peek back at Kiernan's Season 2 interview.

Sally then: Here she is back in Season 2.

Over the course of Season 2, Sally Draper grew up and got into trouble. She visited Sterling Cooper, tried smoking, received a pair of riding boots, and even mixed cocktails. spoke with Kiernan Shipka, the articulate 9-year-old actress who plays the Draper daughter.

Q: Sally Draper has a lot of personality. Do you relate to her personally?

A: I love playing Sally. She is a quintessential girl of the 1960s. People come up to me and say how much they relate to my character. It conjures up a lot
of memories for them.

Q: Did you study the ’60s to learn what it was like?

A: I talk to my mother and get her advice about what she was like as a girl.

Q: What’s it like working with your TV parents, Jon Hamm and January Jones?

A: They are great. We have fun, and then sometimes, we’re very serious.

Q: The costumes you wear as Sally are quite different from what kids wear today. Do you like her clothes?

A: Sally’s wardrobe is so pretty. I get advice from my fittings all the time! Sometimes I wear clothes that are like Sally’s.

Q: Sally also practices ballet. Do you dance?

A: I love dancing. I dance about 20 hours a week. I play piano, too, but it’s not serious yet. It’s mostly playing around.

Q: In Season 2, your character gets to order room service. Have you ordered room service before?

A: I love ordering room service. It’s my favorite thing to do when I stay in a hotel.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to order?

A: I’m pretty hooked on the French onion soup right now.

Q: At the end of Season 2, your character gets her own pair of riding boots. Do you ride horses?

A: I loved the riding boots. They were really beautiful. I ride Western and English. I would like to do it more.

Q: What do you think Sally will be when she grows up?

A: She could grow up in her mom’s footsteps and go to college and have a family, or I think she could be a dance instructor.

Q: What is your favorite thing about being on Mad Men?

A: I love the cast and crew. They are delightful to be around.

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Sunday Classics snapshots: The sound of aging, Verdi-style (1)


An aging Renato Bruson sings "Di Provenza" (to a here unseen Alfredo) at Ravenna in 1991.
[Some noise is heard outside.]
ALFREDO: There's someone the garden. [About to go out] Who's there?
[A MESSENGER appears at the door.]
MESSENGER: You're Monsieur Germont?
ALFREDO: I am, yes.
MESSENGER: Here's a note from a lady for you. I said I'd bring it. Her coach drove off for Paris.
[He gives ALFREDO a letter and leaves.]
ALFREDO: From Violetta! But why am I so nervous?
Does she want me to join her in Paris?
I'm trembling! O God! Have courage!
[He tears the letter open and reads aloud.]
"Alfredo, as soon as you have read this letter --"
[Turning, he finds himself face to face with his father. ALFREDO falls into his arms.]
Father, father!
GERMONT: Alfredo! I know you're suffering!
Come, no more sorrow!
Return and cheer your father, beloved Alfredo!
[ALFREDO, in despair, sits down and buries his face in his hands.]
GERMONT: In Provence, your native land,
we still long for your return.
We still long for your return.
in Provence, your native land.
Oh, how happy you once were --
not a trace of grief or pain!
Not a trace of grief or pain --
oh, how happy you once were!
For you know that only there
peace will shine on you again.
For you know that only there
peace will shine on you again.
God hear my prayer! God hear my prayer! God hear my prayer!

How we missed you, dearest boy,
you will never, never know!
You will never, never know
how we missed you, dearest boy!
How we hung our heads in shame
when you left without a word.
When you left without a word,
how we hung our heads in shame!
But I've found you once again,
and I will not let you go
If your honor still can claim
to instruct you what do do!
Now I've seen you once again,
I will never let you go!
God led me here! God led me here!
God led me here! God led me here!
-- singing translation by Edmund Tracey
(used in the ENO recording)

[in English] John Brecknock (t), Alfredo Germont; John Kitchiner (b), Messenger; Christian du Plessis (b), Giorgio Germont; English National Opera Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded Aug.-Oct. 1980

[from "My son"] Riccardo Stracciari (b); piano. Fonotipia, recorded 1906

by Ken

In the booklet for RCA's 1960 recording of Verdi's La Traviata with Anna Moffo, Richard Tucker, and Robert Merrill, then Met Assistant Manager and prized raconteur Francis Robinson tells this story about a celebrated Merrill Germont from 11 years earlier:
The elder Germont is the first role Robert Merrill undertook at the Metropolitan. His performance is recorded as having been "polished and powerful" but he was soon to face an ordeal more grueling than a Metropolitan debut. He was chosen by Arturo Toscanini for the historic broadcasts of La Traviata, a performance happily still available on RCA Victor records.

At one of the early rehearsals the Maestro fixed Merrill with a scathing eys.

"Have you ever been a father?" he demanded.

"No, Maestro," Merrill stammered.

"It sounds it," the old man said.

When Merrill did become a father the first telegram went to Toscanini, but before the Maestro had finished with him he was singing Germont with the compassion of a distressed parent.


Read more »

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Wall Street Eager To Finance Patrick Murphy's Senate Campaign


The NRSC has been lying about Patrick Murphy, insinuating his rich Republican father and daddy's shady collection of cronies and friends are the only source of funds for Patrick's campaign for the open Rubio Senate seat. And, although it is true that his father's contributions are, once again, his main source of cash, Patrick knows where else to go for money-- his pals on Wall Street.
The family money that fueled Rep. Patrick Murphy (D., Fla.) in former campaigns and is responsible for his personal wealth is flowing into his Senate campaign early and often, according to his most recent campaign disclosure filing.

Murphy, who formally launched his campaign in March, reported $1.3 million in campaign contributions in the first quarter of 2015-- $484,300 of which Murphy received from PACs.

Also contributing to the large haul are Patrick Murphy family donations and the Coastal Construction Group, which is owned by his father and serves as the family business.

The Coastal Construction Group was the single largest donor to Murphy’s campaigns in both 2012 ($76,750) and 2014 ($50,300), according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics... He has not been able to run away from his father’s support. Financial disclosure statements show that a gift from his father at least tripled Murphy’s net worth in just one year.

Murphy was making $98,050 annually at Coastal Construction and had a net worth of between $136,000 and $320,700 in 2011, but in 2012 received stock in the company from his father worth between $1 million and $5 million.

“My dad is the primary shareholder, along with my brothers and some other family members, so (it’s) a family business,” Murphy explained in 2013. “And, like many family businesses, my dad’s getting older and gifting some of that to his children and relatives.”

The campaign finance disclosure also shows that Murphy’s campaign is quickly spending its money early on in the campaign, already spending more than 25 percent of the money it has raised.

Spending at that pace so early in a campaign is not considered wise campaign strategy.

Justin Barasky, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, recently criticized the campaign for Ohio Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld for having a first-quarter “burn rate” of 20 percent of his campaign cash.

When asked about the spending rate, a Republican campaign operative agreed, saying the report “will certainly trouble his donors.”

“It’s a very bad sign for a campaign to have such a high burn rate and it will certainly trouble his donors,” the operative said. “It seems that Patrick is treating his campaign account the same way he treated Daddy’s credit card.”
Murphy knows he can afford to spend now because Chuck Schumer has jumped into the primary on his side-- which means even more Wall Street money than Murphy had a right to expect. Murphy is exactly the kind of lazy, shallow conservative careerist Schumer always likes getting behind. The irony this time is that when the current chair of the DSCC, Jon Tester (D-MT), was first running for the Senate in 2006, he was a grassroots populist and Schumer, then DSCC chairman, recruited a Murphy-like figure-- John Morrison, an Establishment Wall Street shill-- to run against him in the primary. Tester, with help from grassroots and netroots activists, vanquished Morrison (and Schumer)... and then took exactly 5 seconds to utterly sell out and abandon any and all principles and values to join the boys' club.

With the help of Tester, Reid and Schumer, Murphy is scooping up tremendous amounts of Wall Street cash. The people who are threatening to stop funding Senate races for the Democrats if they don't shut Elizabeth Warren up are the exact same people financing Murphy. He raised $750,000 within a week of declaring his candidacy, much of it from "a host of Wall Street banks and financial-services leaders." Announcements like this on CNN doesn't endear politicians to actual votes... at least not actual Florida voters:

In his most recent filing alone, Murphy received money from a who's who of banking PACs: $5,000 from the American Bankers Association, $2,000 from Bank of America, $1,000 from Branch Banking & Trust Co., $10,000 from Capital One Financial Corp., $2,500 from Charles Schwab, $7,500 from Citigroup, $5,000 from the Community Financial Services Association, $1,000 from Compass Bancshares, $2,500 from the Consumer Bankers Association, $2,500 from Credit Suisse Securities, $1,000 from H&R Block, $5,000 from JP Morgan Chase Co., $2,500 from the Managed Funds Association, $5,000 from the Mortgage Bankers Association, and $5,000 from New York Life Insurance Company.

Going into 2016, officials from some top banks have said Democrats could lose that cash if the party doesn't soften its tone toward Wall Street, according to a Reuters report. Citigroup in particular reportedly said it would withhold donations to the DSCC for fear the party would promote more leaders like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Such threats prompted outrage from liberal groups, including the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, who are now calling on candidates to reject contributions from Wall Street in the 2016 cycle.

That these groups would shell out for Murphy is no surprise. Before the last election, Politico reported that the 11 freshman members on the House Financial Services Committee, including Murphy, each raised about $100,000 more than the average House freshman in large part because of Wall Street backers. Throughout his first term, Murphy and his financial-services colleagues-- including now-Sen. Tom Cotton-- led in fundraising among their freshman House colleagues, building up parts of the profiles that made both men attractive recruits for the Senate.

"It's the biggest reason people disengage. Those with the money have the power, and we know the impact Wall Street has had on our economy over the last seven or eight years," said Susan Smith, president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. Smith's group released a letter to Murphy and other Florida candidates asking them not to take Wall Street money going forward from mid-April.

"Some of Murphy's votes, his vote to weaken Dodd-Frank concerned us, his vote on Keystone, his comments on Social Security … and when you look to see that the banks are giving him money, we called for him to stop taking Wall Street money from this point forward," Smith continued.

Neil Sroka, a spokesman for the progressive group Democracy for America, said in an email that, "if Democrats want to prove that they're not owned by Wall Street bullies, that starts by making clear that they can't be bought, something that's exceedingly difficult when you're taking in money hand-over-fist from banking-industry PACs."

Both the Florida progressive group and DFA have said they would support Rep. Alan Grayson if he decided to challenge Murphy for the nomination. Smith said her group would also ask Grayson, who is independently wealthy and has gotten major support from small donors in the past, to take a pledge against Wall Street money.

...Grayson, who has also served on House Financial Services Committee and received some Wall Street money in the past, told National Journal in an interview that he would take the pledge if he got in the race. He sought to draw a contrast with Murphy on the issue.

"If you're on the Financial Services Committee and you take Wall Street money, it's not necessarily the fact that you're taking Wall Street money that matters, it's what you're doing in return. Are you, for instance, trying to water down the Dodd-Frank bill?" said Grayson. "When Wall Street lobbyists would see me walking down the hallway, they would turn and run the other direction. These are people who understand I'm not on their side, I wasn't going to do them any favors, and my vote was not for sale."

Help draft Alan Grayson-- here

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

History Watch: As Dr. Henry Chickenkisser* said so famously, "History is just one damned thing after another"


"For more on Robert Grossman's should-be-legendary character Dr. Henry Chickenkisser and his should-be-legendary quote, check out this April 2007 post.

by Ken

I've mentioned before the free writing workshop for seniors offered on Wednesday afternoons by the New York Transit Museum in association with the New York Writers Coalition, and I couldn't resist the new session in the spring-summer program calendar," which started this week. Hey, it beats most anything else I could be doing these Wednesday afternoons. Like sitting at my desk, to pick a not-quite-random example.

(So far for spring it's a small group, so there's still room for newcomers for the session, which runs seven more weeks, through June 10, at the Transit Museum in Downtown Brooklyn. If you're interested, call Elyse at the Transit Museum, 718-694-1867. You can tell her Ken suggested you call, but she'll be just as nice to you if you don't. And if you have questions about how the Transit Museum is defining "senior," talk to Elyse. The thing is, it really is free, no strings attached. And the writing doesn't have to be transit-themed. The museum itself is there to inspire us if we choose to be so inspired -- we usually write in an ancient IRT car with wicker seats which is part of the museum's collection.)

For the first session Eileen, our instructor from the NY Writers Coalition, in keeping with the transit theme, passed around a bunch of photos from the 1964-65 World's Fair, and invited us to take off from that in any way we wished -- or, if we preferred, to ignore the prompt altogether. As it happens, with last summer marking the 75th anniversary of the 1939-40 fair and the 50th anniversary of the 1964-65 one, over this past year I've done a scad of tours looking at what's left of the two fairs, trying to conjure up what was once there, and of course exploring Flushing Meadows Corona Park itself. So that was my point of departure for this half-hour meditation, I guess, on history.

Since I had to type the thing up anyway, I could hardly resist the temptation to make a few tiny improvements and some amplifications, but this is pretty much what I wrote in pencil on Wedneday. (We're not allowed to use pens in the irreplaceable subway cars housed at the Transit Museum.) I realize this is kind of like posting the thing on my refrigerator, but I don't have any refrigerator magnets anyway.
Everything could have been different

Maybe if I had gotten to the World's Fair, everything that came after would have been different. No, not the 1939-40 fair -- how old do you think I am? Yes, I know that the 1964-65 one wasn't really a world's fair. It wasn't sanctioned by whichever sanctioning body sanctions world's fairs (say, I wonder how you get a job on one of those commissions; that sounds like an easy enough gig), and the Soviet-bloc countries steered clear, and so, I think, did most of the Third World ones. Still, that's the fair I could have gone to, the 1964-65 one, if it hadn't been such a long schlepp from Brooklyn. That excuse got me through the summer of 1964, and by 1965 I didn't need an excuse to not do anything.

I have, however, paid multiple visits to the site today, in the world of 2015, which you'd think would be the "World of Tomorrow" that was celebrated in 1964-65. It isn't, though -- either onsite or in the world at large. Even Shea Stadium, which was built at the same time as the home of the New York Mets, is no longer part of the World of Tomorrow. We have Citi Field instead, and that's just as good, I guess. Soon, if the developers have their way, we'll have a shopping mall -- right there on land that's actually part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park (as was Shea Stadium and as is Citi Field). Yessiree, a shopping mall on NYC parkland -- is that the World of Today or what? Will it also be the World of Tomorrow? Care to guess?

The old Corona Ash Dump
Of course, the fact that we have Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a truly great park, is owing to the 1939-40 fair -- the real world's fair. That's when Robert Moses, who presided over both fairs, cleared the giant ash heap that we all remember from The Great Gatsby, drained and filled a lot of marshland, and did much other rejiggering of the landscape and waterways, with a view to leaving a big new park behind when the fair was done. That was the good side of Robert Moses, who wore, among his dozens of hats, that of NYC parks commissioner. Both the good and the bad sides of Robert Moses played a crucial role in shaping the real World of Today, not to be confused with the World of Tomorrow from back in the day.

No, we're not so good at predicting the future. But I read just recently a piece that argued that we're not much good either at predicting the present based on the past, which the piece argued is what historians do. Even having all that past laid out for them, and knowing how it all turned out, at least so far, historians can't agree on why it all happened or what might have changed those outcomes.

So I feel perfectly entitled to speculate that everything would have been different for me if I'd gotten to the 1964-65 fair. I'll bet I would have enjoyed those Belgian waffles that were the runaway hit of the show, which are certainly part of the World of Today, thank goodness. I would have enjoyed them, that is, provided the lines weren't too bad. I don't remember what I've heard about lines at the 1939 or 1964 fair, but we know that there were especially popular pavilions, and I expect that they involved pretty substantial lines. How many things are there that are really worth enduring long lines for? I mean, apart from the things where you have no choice -- like the truly horrible old days of the Department of Motor Vehicles, where doing a routine license renewal could be an all-day project.

The DMV has actually fixed that, though, with License X-Press. It's not nearly so bad now; it can be almost easy. That's a World of Tomorrow we can believe in. But, even knowing that transportation was a favorite subject at the 1964-65 fair, and that given Mr. Moses's predilections, "transportation" meant cars, when it wasn't planes or other flying craft, I'm doubtful that there was an exhibit devoted to a revolutionary new way, in the World of Tomorrow, to renew your driver's license.

Now, addressing the world of 2065, I can say confidently, how the heck would I know? I wish I were more optimistic, but maybe there are people working now, or people who will come along soon, to make the prospects look less grim. One thing I know is that I could go for one of those Belgian waffles.

In April 2014, former Staten Islander Martha Flynn Winecki e-mailed this photo of herself eating a Belgian waffle at the 1964 New York World's Fair to the Staten Island Advance from Cambridge, England.

No, not the actual posting

After we'd read and commented on our writings -- always supportively, focusing on "what's working for us" -- we had 15 minutes left in the session, so Eileen suggested a five-minute effort taking off from a posting she'd seen somewhere around town by a 60-ish gentleman, with a suitably unglamorous picture, who declared himself "Looking for Love," which had touched her with its apparent sincerity in declaring a wish to eschew games and blah-blah-blah -- you know, all the things that are said by people who post postings purporting to be looking for love. As always, we could take this any way we liked, including perhaps just a list of words that were suggested to us by it, or write something else entirely.

Not all of us were as touched as Eileen by the plea from our gentleman poster, to whom she had given the name "Albert." What I wrote. It got a couple of laughs. Here it is.
Yeah, Albert, we're all looking for something. Only we don't all deface public property as part of our quest. Or were you planning to remove those goddamn postings yourself? As for love, you appear to have been around the block once or twice, at least. Am I guessing correctly that in all this time nobody has stepped up to the plate yet? Is there maybe a lesson in that? Thanks for sharing.

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Mike Honda Has A Transgender Granddaughter; She's Lucky She Wasn't Born Into A Republican Family


Frank Townsend Bow was born the same day as me-- February 20-- but half a century earlier. He served as a conservative Republican congressman from northeast Ohio's 16th District from 1951 until he died in 1972. When he died, Richard Nixon wrote that he was--
deeply saddened to learn of the death of Representative Frank Bow of Ohio. In over 20 years of outstanding service in the Congress, Frank Bow earned respect as a man of energy, principle, and dedication. As ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Committee, he was a strong voice for fiscal responsibility, repeatedly taking his stand against excessive Government spending.
I never met Bow. But I knew his grandson, Michael Bow, very well. Just before the Congressman died, I returned to Amsterdam after a couple years in India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka... I found a job in the meditation center de Kosmos. And I met Michael. De Kosmos' world and Michael Bow's world couldn't have been more different. Back to that is a second.

Today I heard Rep. Mike Honda on Chris Matthews' MSNBC show talking about respecting transgender children-- like his own granddaughter. Honda is 73 and has virtually nothing in common with Frank Bow. Where Bow was obsessed with lower taxes on the wealthy, Honda is a steadfast progressive who has been working to make the lives of ordinary working families better. Honda was on TV celebrating his transgender granddaughter. Frank Bow and his family paid Michael Bow an annual stipend to stay out of Ohio and out of the U.S. so that the congressman wouldn't be embarrassed. 

Michael was gay-- really gay. He presided over a trashy gay salon, a kind of polar opposite of my meditation center. Michael and a bunch of Americans and Brits, some of whom took women's names (Michael was Michelle Le Bow, for example), behaved outrageously. They wore clothes that were at least as much women's clothing as men's clothing. It was a fascinating subculture and a shock for someone wrapped up in the relatively strait-laced world of meditation as a lifestyle. Michael's dad was a senior executive at Chrysler. He didn't want Michael around Ohio either. The checks that came from home supported not just Michael but 4 or 5 friends. There were candles everywhere and red and black fabrics hanging from everything. Shabby chic is probably how best to describe the setting.

Once or twice a week I took a break from my life in the meditation center and hung out with Bow and his crew. Sometimes I went with them on free trips around the Mediterranean, where a London-based sugar daddy owned tourist villa developments (and a plane). I don't know what the Republican grandfather and father thought of Michael-- although I can imagine-- but they were willing to pay him a very substantial amount of money to stay away. He was anything but closeted-- the only state of being Republicans find acceptable for gays-- but as long as he was thousands of miles away from Canton, Ohio, no one had to worry about it. Very different from Mike Honda's family situation.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) made headlines in February for the seemingly simple act of tweeting a message of love for his grandchild, an 8-year-old girl who happens to be transgender. Now Honda's daughter and son-in-law, Travis Phillips and Michelle Honda-Phillips, are telling others about the experience of raising a transgender child.

"Her name wasn't always Malisa," Honda-Phillips told NBC Nightly News. "She chose her name when she was very young. It just felt right to her."

Honda-Phillips said she and her husband noticed something unique about their child at just 18 months old. "She always wanted to role-play as the girl," Honda-Phillips recalled to NBC. "All her toys and all her presents were always from the girls' section, you know, everything was pink. Her self-portraits have always been with long hair and as a princess. She's always wearing a dress in her self-portraits."

The parents always accepted their child for who she is, even though doing so wasn't always easy. "It's a hard thing to go through, because... you want to be supportive of your child, let them do what they want, explore, express themselves," Phillips admitted. "But at the same time, you think, 'Okay, what are other people going to think, right? How are they going to react?'"

"It was a challenge to get there, to not care about what people thought," Honda-Phillips affirmed. Rather than act defensively or combat their daughter's wishes, the parents chose to educate themselves instead. Eventually, Honda-Phillips said, "it all clicked."

  The couple likely learned that being transgender was not a "phase" for their daughter, but rather-- as studies confirm-- a consistent gender identity. And allowing their daughter to express her gender identity made a world of difference for the whole family.

"They didn't understand at first, then they started to understand and let me be who I was," 8-year-old Malisa told NBC.

"It was almost like night and day," Phillips recalled of his daughter's transition. "She became who she is on the outside and everybody is now recognizing that. She felt so much better because now that weight is lifted, that stress, that frustration."

Their only regret, Honda-Phillips admitted, was the thought that their daughter "lived so long as someone she didn't feel she was inside. We never wanted our children to be anything other than who they believe they are."

Today, they are living proof that when every member can be the most authentic version of themselves, the entire family benefits. As Phillips put it to NBC, "She's a happy kid and that's the biggest thing I know I want, is for her to be happy."

Malisa's situation is unfortunately not the norm: As many as 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT, for example, largely due to the rejection of their family. Malisa and her family are showing what it looks like to accept transgender children for who they are, and setting an incredible example for what will hopefully one day be the norm.
After I left Amsterdam and moved back to the U.S., I never did see Michael Bow again, although I've been back to Amsterdam several times and have run into several of his old crew and other acquaintances. And I can't find anything online about him. I hope he's as well-adjusted as Malisa appears to be, but that probably isn't too likely. Conservatives, and who people immersed in conservative values, never are. Take conservative Republican transgender person Bruce Jenner.
The more shocking revelation for many, however, was Jenner's admission that in addition to identifying as a woman, he also identified as a conservative Republican.

"Are you a Republican?" a stunned Sawyer asked the former patriarch of the Jenner-Kardashian household. "Yeah," Jenner reticently responded. "Is that a bad thing?"

"Neither political party has a monopoly on understanding," Jenner told Sawyer, who advised him to ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner for help championing the cause of transgender people.

"I would do that, in a heartbeat," Jenner retorted. "Yeah, why not?"

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So what happened to the Comcast-TWC deal? Not enough lobbying, or not good enough lobbying?


"They talked a lot about the benefits, and how much they were going to invest in Time Warner Cable and improve the service it provided, but every time you talked about industry consolidation and the incentive they would have to leverage their market power to hurt competition, they gave us unsatisfactory answers."
-- an unnamed senior Senate staff aide, quoted by the NYT's Eric Lipton regarding Comcast's massive lobbying efforts for its takeover of Time Warner Cable

"No amount of public-interest commitments to diversity would remedy the consumer harm a merged Comcast-Time Warner would have caused to millions of Americans across the country."
-- CA Rep. Maxine Waters, who had "offered reserved support for [Comcast's] NBCUniversal deal after playing a leading role in pushing for concessions by Comcast to promote diversity in its programming"

"This merger would have further enhanced this company’s incentive, its means and its history of abuse of market power."
-- CT Sen. Richard Blumenthal, an early critic of the deal

by Ken

As a Time Warner Cable customer, and thus hardly a disinterested observer, I have so far resisted the impulse to dance a jig over the announcement that Comcast has abandoned its effort to swallow TWC. I can't help thinking that great minds will yet knock heads together and come up with something worse.

Still, it's a relief. My only problem with TWC is that they charge too damn much. Whereas those Comcast people -- they're devils.

So what happened? "Ultimately," says the NYT's Eric Lipton in his post mortem, "Intense Lobbying Failed to Assure Comcast's Deal," the deal to amalgamate the country's top two cable operators "collapsed because of clear signals that federal regulators were preparing to block it."

Eric leads off with this tale:

David L. Cohen, the master salesman who runs the Comcast Corporation’s lobbying efforts, stood before a room full of Latino House lawmakers one morning in early December trying to convince them that they should embrace his $45 billion deal to acquire Time Warner Cable.

But as Mr. Cohen continued to talk — taking up much of the time set aside for the closed-door session — at least some of the assembled lawmakers began to wonder if his highly polished pitch was falling short.

"He was smothering us with attention but he was not answering our questions," said Representative Tony Cárdenas, Democrat of California, who said that in the early stages of the deal he was open to supporting it if his questions were addressed satisfactorily. "And I could not help but think that this is a $140 billion company with 130 lobbyists — and they are using all of that to the best of their ability to get us to go along."
So we're talking, what, not enough lobbying? Or just not good enough lobbying?
"The warning signs," says Eric, "were already present from the muted reception [the deal] had received on Capitol Hill."
Despite the distribution of $5.9 million in campaign contributions by the two companies during the 2014 election cycle, and the expenditure of an extraordinary $25 million on lobbying last year, no more than a handful of lawmakers signed letters endorsing the deal. By contrast, more than 100 signed letters of support in 2010 when Comcast was pushing its merger with NBCUniversal.

Congress has no direct power to approve or disapprove any merger, but endorsements, particularly if they come from black and Hispanic leaders, can send a subtle but important message to regulators that the deal is in the public interest and should be cleared. It was not that many lawmakers spoke out against the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal — it was just that many of them remained silent.
And it's not as if Comcast hasn't been to this rodeo before. Eric notes that the company, "at least until this deal, had a near-legendary reputation in Washington for leveraging its connections."
Its connections?
In 2013, President Obama stopped by Mr. Cohen’s Philadelphia home for a fund-raiser, and Mr. Roberts was envied for having played golf with President Obama that same year in Martha’s Vineyard.
Oh, its connections.
The company carefully assigned members of its sprawling lobbying team to different lawmakers at both the federal and state levels, based often on their ethnicity or past relationships, company officials acknowledged in an interview shortly after the Time Warner Cable transaction was proposed in February 2014.

Comcast, for example, assigned Juan Otero, a former Department of Homeland Security official who serves on the board of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and now works as a Comcast lobbyist, to be the point person to work with Mr. Cárdenas.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Stewart, an African-American lobbyist on the Congressional Black Caucus Institute board, was assigned to work with Marc Veasey, Democrat of Texas, who is also black. She personally appealed to Mr. Veasey’s staff, urging that he not sign a letter last August questioning the deal, according to an email obtained by The New York Times, citing the company’s work on behalf of the minority community. (Mr. Veasey still signed a related letter.)

Comcast also asked Jordan Goldstein, a former official at the Federal Communications Commission who is now a Comcast regulatory affairs executive, to work with [Connecticut Sen. Richard] Blumenthal’s office. Mr. Goldstein had previously developed a working relationship with Joel Kelsey, a legislative assistant in charge of reviewing the matter for the senator, who is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee.

At the state level, it also hired at least two former state attorneys general — Patrick C. Lynch of Rhode Island and Walter W. Cohen of Pennsylvania — to reach out to state officials, who in many cases have their own antitrust powers, to try to remove impediments to the deal’s approval.
Senator Blumenthal, Eric has already pointed out, "was critical from the deal from the start." He says now, ""There are limits as to how effective even the best advocate can be with a losing case, as this merger would have further enhanced this company’s incentive, its means and its history of abuse of market power."

Oh my.
Lawmakers cited a variety of reasons as to why Comcast’s elaborate pitch failed to gain traction this time: The miserable customer service ratings the company earns, for instance, made politicians leery of helping it out. In addition, there were much more substantial antitrust concerns associated with this deal, and some members of Congress said they thought Comcast had failed to live up to its promises in the NBCUniversal deal, and so could not be trusted this time.

Other lawmakers and staff members on Capitol Hill, in interviews Friday, cited Comcast’s swagger in trying to promote this deal. They said they felt that Comcast was so convinced in the early stages that the deal would be approved that it was dismissing concerns about the transaction, or simply taking the conversation in a different direction when asked about them.
"The miserable customer service ratings the company earns made politicians leery of helping it out"? And members "thought Comcast had failed to live up to its promises in the NBCUniversal deal and so could not be trusted this time"? Oh my.

Comcast itself isn't talking much.
Comcast did not offer on Friday its own post-mortem on the deal’s collapse. "Today, we move on," the Comcast chairman and chief executive Brian L. Roberts said in his short statement. A Comcast spokeswoman declined to comment further.
We learn, though, that "in some cases, lawmakers like Mr. Cárdenas and Mr. Blumenthal had private conversations with Thomas Wheeler, the chairman of the F.C.C., to express their reservations." Oh my. And Senator Blumenthal "also spoke directly with Mr. Cohen," the master lobbyist, "who visited the senator’s office for a chat." The senator, however, "said he came away from the meeting unconvinced."

So did "others on Capitol Hill who had similar conversations," like the two quoted at the top of this post, the "senior Senate staff aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly," and Rep. Maxine Waters."

Meanwhile Comcast is "mov[ing] forward." Watch out in case it comes too close. Unless you're already one of its customers, in which case God have mercy on your soul. And we TWC customers are left to wonder what's in store for us next.

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