Sunday, March 29, 2015

You probably think this picture is a mistake. That's how much you know. It's hip contemporary design!


You're probably figuring that the person who cropped this photo for publication was either thinking about something else at the time, or maybe drunk, or just plain stupid. Well, surprise! Apparently this is "contemporary design." (I know I shouldn't have centered it here, but old habits die hard.)

by Ken

Awhile ago, as some of you may remember, I got myself enmeshed in a profiile of defrocked plutocrat Russian Mikhail Khokorkovsky, by Julia Ioffe, which appeared in the January 12 New Yorker. Accompanying that profile was the above, er, photo. Maybe I should say "image," since I have to wonder whether it qualifies any longer as a photo.

Okay, I get what's going on here. This is new and hot. It's artisitc, creative. Images that are centered or symmetrical -- feh! How old-fashioned! Why, it's as if the person publishing the photo thought he had something to, you know, show the reader -- rather than dazzle or more likely hornswoggle the poor bugger.

I don't mean to single out The New Yorker, because now that I've crawled out of my tightly constrained little media world, I see that I had somehow missed this trend. Now I see that it's all over. (Let's make it clear: I do mean to ridicule and despise the perpetrators at The New Yorker. Just because they're hardly the worst offenders doesn't mean they shouldn't be humiliated and fired -- and also the people who hired them. And oh yes, it's nothing personal. It's just business.)

In case you haven't seen much of it yourself, it started with eccentric croppping of photos, losing most everything from mid-forehead up and from about bottom chin down. Then it leapt to ppositioning of images, such that the nominal subject of a photo an image is scooted way the hell off to one side, or top or bottom, or corner, in addition to being bizarrely cropped so as to render the nominal subject more or les beyond recognition. And this is supposed to be chic, with it, hip as hell. Oh jeez.

In many years in and around publishing I've known a heap of art editors, art directors, graphic designers, or whatever they're calling themselves now. Some of them were brilliant, and I learned an unbelievable amount from them about how the eye "works" a page and how visual elements can serve and enhance that. They also produced a lot of damn fine images. Interestingly, they were also the ones who cared most about what the editor(s) involved were looking for in the design, what we were hoping to communicate. They were awesome.

Many more of those so-called designers, alas, were pompous hacks, producing more and more elaborate design garbage as the software enhanced their physical, but not artistic, capabilities. I saw "design," or just plain "graphics," take over magazines and even newspapers. I guess it has something to do with the prevailing assumption that so-called readers don't read, or apparently even attempt to receive information. They just look randomly and blindly.

Still, I was surprised by this new wave of graphic imbecility. Me, when I insert a picture or other graphics in these posts, it's 'cause I hope I have something to show you, and maybe to make the space look a little nicer. Nevertheless, here I thought I was beyond being surprised by this crap like this. Well, surprise!

I don't suppose there's any point in asking if somebody can make this stop.


Take that, Mikhail, and that! You arty boy!


Garry Wills, contemplating Pope Francis and his critics, says there are "two forms of Christianity now on offer" -- and it's up to Catholics to choose


A homeless man uses an umbrella to shield himself from the water from the system installed by SF's Archbishop Sal "The Faucet" Cordileone to drench riffraff attempting to sleep under the overhang of St. Mary's Cathedral. Done in the name of Jesus, of course.

"I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal the wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds."

by Ken

By the above standard, the pope should have a place toward the top of the list for the rampaging American so-called Christians who are waging a war of terror against, well, anyone who doesn't agree with them, to preserve their God-give right to do unto anyone they fucking well please. (Hey, man, Jesus did say something about doing unto others, didn't he?) You know, the kind of people Indiana Gov. Mike Pence says are afraid they're being picked on, and so need Right to Discriminate laws to be able to stick it to their goddamn prevert enemies.

In the depths of their delusions and just plain prevarications, and considering the threat they pose to decent folk, aren't these people among the world's most grivously wounded, mentally and morally?

In a new NYRB blogpost, "The Pope Is a Christian!," Garry Wills tells us about a man who asked him, at a recent talk he gave about the pope, "Why do more non-Catholics like the pope than Catholics do?" In fact, Wills says,
A Pew poll two months ago found that 90 percent of Catholics like what the pope is doing—and the number is even higher (95 percent) among the most observant, Mass attending Catholics. The percentage of non-Catholics who view the pope favorably does not get above the 70s.
"Yet the question was understandable," he says. Because the Catholic naysayers are really noisy, and "extremists get more press coverage than blander types."
[S]ome Catholic bloggers have suggested that the pope is not truly Catholic. They are right to be in a panic. They are not used to having a pope who is a Christian. They call Francis a radical because he deplores the sequestration of great wealth for a rich few and deprivation of the many poor. But Francis is a moderate. Jesus was the radical.


At least they really don't like real talk about Jesus, which is to say talk about what he actually believed, taught, and did. The Jesus they like to talk about, or maybe pay lip service to, is more of a mental and moral defective created in their own image. It's not as if they lack role models.

So are we ready for Jesus the radical?
“How hard it will be for the wealthy man to enter the kingdom of God….It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:23,26). In the Gospel of Luke (16:19-31), when the rich man (Dives) calls for succor from hell, Abraham, holding the poor man (Lazarus) in his bosom, answers: “All the good things fell to you while you were alive, and all the bad to Lazarus; now he has his consolation here, and it is you who are in agony.”
Not only rich people, but not-so-rich people who identify with the rich people and in their own way fund the churches that demand the right to do unto others, never enjoy hearing about that camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle being a better bet than that rich man entering the kingdom of God.

Jesus must have been misquoted. Or maybe quoted out of context.

"Some right wing Catholics," Wills says, "would haul Dives up and enshrine him in the one percent of rich men who trickle wealth down on the rest of us."
They are also descendants of those Pharisees who tried to keep people away from Jesus because “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2). The modern Pharisees try to refuse the Eucharist to politicians who do not meet their doctrinal tests. Pope Francis’s response to this patrolling of the communion line is in his major statement so far, The Joy of the Gospel (No. 47):
The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.
And just to make it worse, there's that damned Jesus mouthing off for a change, saying, "It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick; I did not come to invite virtuous people, but sinners."

At which point you'd think those right-wing Catholics would have the practical sense to wave their arms and shout, "Ooh, ooh, sinners! Pick us!"


We've already seen Pope Francis's "battle" image, wherein he "see[s] the church as a field hospital after battle." "Some 'traditional' Catholics," says Wills, "also see the church as a battlefield; but they go out after battle to shoot the wounded."
Archbishop Sal "The Faucet"
Some “traditional” Catholics also see the church as a battlefield; but they go out after battle to shoot the wounded. They are typified by hierarchs like Cardinal Raymond Burke, who says Catholics who remarry outside the church are like murderers, living defiantly in public sin. Or like Cardinal Salvatore Cordileone, who issued a guide for teachers in the Catholic schools of San Francisco, requiring them to oppose—in the classroom and in their private lives—abortion, contraception, artificial insemination, same sex marriage, adultery, fornication, masturbation, and pornography. He also installed a water system in the overhang at Saint Mary’s Cathedral to soak homeless people who were trying to sleep there. Every hour or half hour, for 75 seconds, the pipes would gush down on those below and flush them away like human refuse.
I bet Jesus would just laugh, and laugh, and laugh some more. Pope Francis, not so much. "Contrast that," says Wills, "with the reaction of Pope Francis when he found that homeless people were sleeping at the entrance to the Vatican piazza."
Pope Francis
He sent bedrolls out to them, set up showers for them to use in the morning, and sent four hundred more bed rolls to be distributed to the homeless around Rome. The difference between flushing people away and comforting them recalls one of the pope’s favorite parables, that of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). A man wounded almost to death lies by the road. A Temple priest and a member of the priestly (Levite) tribe pass him by so as not to be polluted by a corpse. But a Samaritan (whom Jews thought of as an outcast) rescued the man and paid for his healing. The pope also loves the story of the prodigal son, who wastes his patrimony but is welcomed back by his father, though the prodigal’s elder brother resents this treatment of a sinner.


"It may be more fitting," Wills suggests, to think of the "Catholic right" as "the defenders of Dives, or the Pharisees who do not want people to eat with Jesus, or the flushers of the homeless, or the priestly Levites, or the prodigal’s elder brother," and "their opposites" as "the lovers of Lazarus, or the sinners who eat with Jesus, or the bedroll people, or the 'outcast' Samaritan, or the prodigal's father."

"These are the two forms of Christianity now on offer," he concludes. "Let Catholics make their choice."

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Sunday Classics snapshots: Count Almaviva goes a-wooing, then and now


Urged on by Figaro (Ross Benoliel), "Lindoro" (Luigi Boccia as Count Almaviva) identifies himself to Rosina (Stephanie Lauricella), with Enrico Granafei playing the guitar and Jason Tramm conducting, at New Jersey State Opera, June 2012. (For English text, see below.)

by Ken

I'd like to think we established the premise well enough in last week's "snapshots" post, "Rosina I and Rosina II," where we heard aural snapshots of young Rosina first as the spitfire being wooed by the supposed poor student Lindoro in the opera Rossini fashioned from the popular Beaumarchais play The Barber of Seville, and then, a mere three years later, as the desolate, pretty much emotionally abandoned Countess Almaviva in the opera Mozart fashioned from Beaumarchais's equally popular sequel, The Marriage of Figaro.


Read more »

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Does Patrick Murphy's Voting Record Make It Impossible For Him To Win A Statewide Democratic Primary?


Patrick Murphy has a penchant for switching positions, parties, beliefs, values... everything

Patrick Murphy represents a swingy district-- the 18th district (all of Martin and St. Lucie counties and a chunk of northern Palm Beach County. Obama beat McCain there in 2008, 51% to 48% but lost to Romney in 2012, 52-48%. Obama won the state of Florida-- albeit narrowly-- in both elections. There are plenty of areas in the state where Obama is as desisted and reviled as he is in any of the worst and most disloyal, bigoted parts of the Old Confederacy. In 2012 Obama was able to cobble together a statewide win with victories in the big counties: 62% in Miami-Dade, 62% in Osceola, 61% in Leon, 67% in Broward, 53% in Hillsborough, 59% in Orange, 58% in Palm Beach, 52% in Pinellas, and 54% in Murphy's St. Lucie County. But Obama is absolutely hated in the reddest and most backward parts of the state. Look at these 2012 county totals in the half dozen worst-performing Florida counties for Obama:
Holmes- 15%
Baker- 20%
Lafayette- 20%
Walton- 23%
Santa Rosa- 23%
Okaloosa- 25%
They're all small counties, mostly in the rural panhandle, with tiny populations that elect very right-wing and very ignorant Republicans. Obama hatred runs high in those counties and another half dozen just like them. But those are counties where statewide elections are NOT won and lost. Only just over 8,000 voters went to the polls in Holmes County, quite a few less than the nearly 900,000 who voted in Miami-Dade or the over 700,000 who voted in Broward.

And yet, ironically, Patrick Murphy's statewide strategy-- he wants to win the Democratic nomination to run for the Senate seat Marco Rubio is presumably giving up-- seems to be to cater to these anti-Obama voters. In terms of backing Boehner's agenda, Murphy has the 4th worst voting record among House Democrats this session. His ProgressivePunch Crucial Vote score is abysmal: 31.25, the same as conservative Republican Walter Jones'! He's best know for being a lock-step shill for Wall Street and working with the GOP to give predatory banksters a free hand to game the financial system again. But he's also on board with the Republicans whenever Boehner wants to be able to run to the press and tell them the extreme right legislation his party passes in the House has "bipartisan" support. Murphy is, more often than not, that "bipartisan" support.

Last year, the House passed a Resolution condemning-- that was the word they used-- President Obama for trading 5 Taliban hostages for an American prisoner of war, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The shockingly partisan resolution passed 249-163. Every single Republican voted for it, of course. But so did 22 of the least courageous, sniveling worms who call themselves Democrats-- like Murphy.
The vote castigating Obama came at a crucial moment for the administration as it sought to rally international and congressional support for steps to combat the rising threat of Islamic state militants in Iraq and Syria. The debate and vote coincided with a White House meeting in which the president was to discuss his strategy with House and Senate leaders. It also came on the eve of Obama’s address to the nation.

“What poor timing for a resolution,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., suggested that the House vote on the measure less than two months before the election was simply an effort to appease core Republican voters.
There were no African-American Democrats who voted to condemn the president and I found it a little ironic that Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, recognizing what was behind that vote, decided to endorse Murphy this week. I think African-American voters in Florida will be less likely to overlook Murphy's decision to join the Republican decision condemning Obama. Maybe he thinks he can make up for it in Holmes County. Democrats have an alternative. Alan Grayson is mulling a run for that Senate seat and Blue America is asking for you to help us draft him into the race.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Dilbert Watch: The fall and rise of Wally -- When one door closes, maybe some crazy window opens?


DILBERT by Scott Adams -- Thursday, 3/19

When last we left Wally . . . (Click to enlarge)

by Ken

I've already admitted that Dilbert's coworker ("friend" seems kind of a stretch in Dilbert's world) Wally is a personal hero and role model, and when last we left him, it was Thursday of the second seeke of the stirring saga of his mentoring by the company's CEO, and as you can see above, he was, er, riding high! As, of all things, a vice president! Since it was, after all, Thursday, I wrote: "Which leaves us (presumably) with two days to follow."

It's a good thing I stuck that "presumably" in, because it turned out that the whole thing would become unstuck in morely one more day:

DILBERT by Scott Adams -- Friday, 3/20

(Click to enlarge)

Oh well, easy come, easy go. And you never can tell, being a vice president might at some point have entailed (shudder) work, and we know that Wally doesn't readily go there. But imagine the surprise when this very week some mighty strange developments developed? (Such a coincidence! You don't suppose ol' Scott has maybe slipped some reruns in here on us?)


It all started, well, perplexingly enough:

DILBERT by Scott Adams -- Wednesday, 3/25

(Click to enlarge)

And then the thing just sort of gathered momentum:

DILBERT by Scott Adams -- Thursday, 3/26

(Click to enlarge)

DILBERT by Scott Adams -- Friday, 3/27

(Click to enlarge)

DILBERT by Scott Adams -- Saturday, 3/28

(Click to enlarge)



Thinking about the "Godfather" films in the spirit of "the one-dot theory of history"


Can we imagine The Godfather without Brando? Or Coppola?

"History is the prediction of the present. Historians explain why things turned out the way they did. Since we already know the outcome, this might seem a simple matter of looking back and connecting the dots. But there is a problem: too many dots. Even the dots have dots. Predicting the present is nearly as hard as predicting the future."
-- Louis Menand, in "Thinking Sideways: The one-dot
theory of history
," in the March 30
New Yorker

by Ken

And I wonder whether what Louis Menand has in this wonderful piece to say about the inherent difficulties of writing history also apply to fictional history (not to mention the history of fiction).

Anyway, it's interesting approaching, or should I say re-approaching, the Godfather films (or at least the two great ones, I and II) with Menand's mediation on history fresh in mind. You really need to experience for yourself the way he uses the "too many dots" image to explain why none of the many ways we've devised for looking at history prove "wholly persuasive."

Here's just a taste:
No historian lines up all the dots. Every work of history is a ridiculously selective selection from the universe of possible dots. What the historian is claiming is that these are the particular dots that lead us from there to here, or from time step 1 to time step 1.1. Lots of other stuff happened, the historian will agree. But, if these things hadn’t happened, then life as we know it wouldn’t be, well, as we know it.

This can be an existentially entertaining thought—that, but for some fluky past event, experience would be entirely, or at least interestingly, different. We tend to imagine our own lives that way, a story of lucky breaks, bullets dodged, roads diverged on a snowy evening, and the like. Speculating about sparks that failed to ignite versus sparks that did and contingencies that failed to materialize versus contingencies that did is one of the reasons people like to write history and like to read it. There is even, to appeal to this taste, the subgenre of counterfactual history, in which Napoleon conquers Russia, or the Beatles give “The Ed Sullivan Show” a pass.
The problem: just too many dots. Which perhaps explains the appeal of the the "single dot," or "the x that changed the world" form, where everything that followed is explained according to the single person or event or year championed by the explainer of the moment. It's a form that Menand suggests is not only the most enjoyable kind of history to read but probably the most enjoyable to write.
They try to make the course of human events turn on a single phenomenon or a single year. Recent works in the single-phenomenon category include books on bananas, fracking, cod (that’s correct, the fish), the Treaty of Versailles, pepper, the color mauve, and (hmm) the color indigo. (All right, who’s the baddest color?) In the single-year category, we have books on 33, 1492 (huh?), 1816 (long story involving a volcano), 1944, 1945, 1959 (even though, without going to Wikipedia, you probably can’t come up with two important things that happened in 1959), 1968, 1969, and 1989.
This is part of Menand's way of leading up to writing about W. Joseph Campbell’s 1995: The Year the Future Began (California), "a worthy, informative, and sporting attempt to convince us that the world we live in was crucially shaped by things that happened in 1995" -- to which he adds parenthetically: "Campbell insists that there is a distinction between 'the x that changed the world' books and his own 'the year the future began' book, although it's hard to grasp."

"The book is not completely persuasive," Menand writes, "but that's not important. None of the 'x that changed the world' books are completely persuasive, for the reason that all dots have dots of their own." After all, "Whatever happened in 33 or 1959 or 1995 never would have happened unless certain things had happened in 32, 1958, and 1994. And so on, back into the protozoic slime. All points are turning points." Nevertheless, he argues, the valuable books of the single-dot genre are valuable because the make us look more closely at people, events, or whatever that we might not otherwise.

So how does this apply to the Godfather films? Well, only vaguely, since there are, after all, many fewer dots to connect in this species of history. Mostly it applies because this afternoon and evening I'm headed for screenings of both Godfather and Godfather II at the Museum of the Moving Image, in a series called See It Big, which in the case of these pictures I haven't in quite a while, and am really eager to. Only, to say that I haven't "seen them big" recently doesn't mean that I haven't seen them recently. In fact, I've never stopped watching them. I had them, and regularly watched them, on VHS and then on Laserdisk and now on Blu-ray -- and also the clever VHS Godfather Chronicles, which rearranged I and II in chronological format, gathering the "prequel" portions of II and placing them before I and gathering the "sequel" portions and placing them after.

For the record, I also have Godfather III on VHS, Laserdisk, and Blu-ray, and I'm here to tell you that I can actually watch the thing (though somehow I don't believe I've quite gotten around to watching the Blu-ray yet). As I've written here before, there are interesting things in it. But for our present purposes let's just say that in Godfather II Francis Ford Coppola made maybe the greatest sequel to anything ever, and then in Godfather III he didn't.

In case you hadn't detected it, I'm a little nervous. Am I possibly just a bit Godfather-ed out? I guess I'll find out.

Possibly by way of mental distraction, I found myself pondering a side question, which it occurred to me later is of the "single-dot" variety: Would the whole Godfather kaboodle have been what it was without Brando?

There is, of course, a vast literature about the Godfather films, which I've mostly tried to avoid dipping into. But I know enough to know that Paramount fought Coppola on almost all of his casting choices for I, generally preferring nice, safely bankable Hollywood types, and was prepared to dump him from the project over his fascination with Brando, of whom they were scared stiff, seeing him as a has-been who would make it impossible to get the picture made.

Honestly, I suppose there were any number of actors who could have made the part work. In much the same way that when Coppola went looking for an actor play the young Vito Corleone in Godfather II, with no "young Brando" available, he found Robert De Niro. There might even have been other actors who would have made the Godfather himself memorable. But, I'm thinking, not "Brando-memorable." And just think how much his presence saturates the Godfather films in which he didn't appear.

At some point in my idle speculations I found myself inadvertently bumping back into the question, what would the Godfather film(s) have been without Francis Ford Coppola? Certainly the first film would have been made, and with whatever version of a script Mario Puzo would have written for another director (I find it interesting that, for all my Godfather obsession, I've never been impelled to read Puzo himself), it probably would have been successful, maybe even very successful. But would it have achieved anything like the stature of the film Coppola made? And even if it had been successful enough to spawn a sequel, is it possible to imagine one of the quality of the one we got?

Which is all the more intriguing if we look at the rest of Coppola's filmography, where the closest thing there is to a point of interest is the mess that is Apocalypse Now. Hmm. What can I say except that in the grand scheme of thigns, when you make films of the quality of Godfather I and II, you really don't owe anyone any explanations or excuses.

And you know, it's been a long time since I looked at the Godfather Chronicles version. Yeah, I've only got it on VHS, but still . . . .

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What GOP Primary Voters Need To Know About Scott Walker. Part I


Zach Wisniewski is DWT's new Wisconsin expert. He's a husband, a father, a public servant, a blogger, a proud liberal, and a fourth generation union member. A lifelong resident of Wisconsin, he talks about how proud he is to have been born and raised in a state that produced progressive icons like Bob La Follette, Bill Proxmire, Gaylord Nelson, and Russ Feingold, and he's going to help us understand the fight against the regressive policies of Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican allies. His first post for us, as Scott Walker surges among GOP primary voters in Iowa, explains how Wisconsin's middle class has shrunk more under Walker than any other state in the nation and emphasizes just how miserable Walker's record has been on job creation, the middle class, and the economy.

Scott Walker's Biggest Success: Shrinking Wisconsin's Middle Class
by Zach Wisniewski

As noted by CapTimes reporter Mike Ivey, a new report by the Pew Charitable Trust showed Wisconsin with the largest decline in the nation in the percentage of families considered to be middle class.
If you feel like you're working harder for less money, it's not your imagination. Wisconsin ranks worst among the 50 states in terms of a shrinking middle class, with real median household incomes here falling 14.7 percent since 2000, according to a new report. The Pew Charitable Trust report showed Wisconsin with the largest decline in the percentage of families considered "middle class," or those earning between 67 and 200 percent of their state's median income.

In 2000, 54.6 percent of Wisconsin families fell into the middle class category but that has fallen to 48.9 percent in 2013, according to U.S. Census figures compiled by Pew.

All other states showed some decline but none as great as Wisconsin's 5.7 percent figure.
The results of the Pew report should come as no shock to those of us here in Wisconsin who've felt the full weight of Gov. Scott Walker's attack on the middle class thanks to Act 10. After all, a vast majority of public employees are middle class wage earners, and the provisions of Act 10 empowered Gov. Walker and his Republican allies in the Legislature to further cut the take-home pay of public employees beyond the cuts those public employees had endured thanks to furloughs under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. In fact, I know a number of public employees whose take home pay is less now than it was nearly ten years ago (in some cases by nearly ten percent), and many of those solidly middle class public employees could ill afford a cut in their take home pay.

While Gov. Walker's main purpose in "dropping the bomb" that was Act 10 on public employees may have been to weaken public employee unions politically, one of the most destructive side effects of Act 10 was the weakening of Wisconsin's middle class. It's widely accepted that a strong middle class with plenty of disposable income grows the economy far better than the trickle down theory of giving tax cuts to the richest individuals and corporations, and here in Wisconsin we're seeing that fact borne out in the struggles our state's middle class are facing.

It's my hope that at some point during the 2016 Republican presidential primaries Gov. Scott Walker is going to have to answer for his absolutely miserable record on job creation and growing Wisconsin's economy. As proof of Gov. Walker's absolutely miserable record, one needs not look very far, whether it's his record of creating more low-wage jobs than middle-wage jobs, or the fact that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the quasi-public job creation agency created by Gov. Walker, sent millions of tax dollars to companies that outsourced jobs to foreign countries. And don't overlook the fact that Gov. Walker's job creation corporation also failed to track whether 99 businesses were repaying a total of $8 million in past-due loans over the course of a year. The $8 million in overdue loans the WEDC lost track of constituted 16% of that agency's $51 million loan portfolio.

That's not the kind of job creation record I'd want to have if I were running for president, and given the fact that Republicans control all three branches of government in Wisconsin, Gov. Walker has no one to blame but himself for his absolutely miserable record on job creation and the economy. However, Gov. Walker has been quite successful in shrinking Wisconsin's middle class, which no doubt will play well with with folks like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, who are the very people who may decide which Republican will be that party's nominee in 2016.

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Expanding Social Security


Thursday night-- actually Friday morning at 2:30-- Eizabeth Warren and a handful of allies managed to get an important amendment voted on in the Budget debate. Although it lost, 42 to 56,it now has almost every senator on record for wanting to either expand or cut Social Security. Politically, it was a momentous vote. Only two arch-conservative Democrats, corporate whore Tom Carper (D-DE) and political coward Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) voted with the Republicans against expanding Social Security. Every other Democrat is now on record for expanding Social Security.

The amendment was introduced by Warren, along with Joe Manchin (D-WV), Patty Murray (D-WA) Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Brian Schatz (D-HI). "Our country," explained Senator Warren, "faces a growing retirement crisis. Two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for most of their income in retirement, and for 15 million people, Social Security is what stands between them and poverty. We need to keep our promises to America’s seniors, and that means strengthening and expanding Social Security."

If she's the most liberal Democrat in the Senate, Joe Maanchin is usually thought of as the most conservative, although conservative and somewhat populist in a very West Virginia kind of way. He said that it's "time this Congress sets our priorities based on American values. In my eyes, the highest priority should be the seniors who belong to the greatest generation who helped build this nation into what it is today. We must make it clear that for those seniors, Social Security is a promise they can count on. This amendment begins the process of putting differences aside in order to keep our promises to our seniors by protecting Social Security beneficiaries while working to ensure the long-term solvency of this vital program. Senator Warren and I are committed to making sure the Social Security Trust Fund remain permanently solvent so that this great promise will be available for generations to come."

Before the vote, the only senators on record for expanding Social Security were Warren, Brown, Merkley, Schatz and Hirono. Now there are 42. and it's a good argument for not recruiting Democratic candidates from among congressmen with unreliable records on protecting Social Security, like Chris Van Hollen in Maryland and, far worse, Patrick Murphy in Florida. We need more like Elizabeth Warren and fewer like Tom Carper and Heidi Heitkamp. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Alan Grayson (D-FL) with have been the 43rd and 44th yes vote on this amendment.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Remember how last night we were talking about right-wing zillionaires and energy giants buying control of our cash-hungry nonprofits?


Do you want to know who made this lovely little documentary about Serge Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes possible?

by Ken

This is another of those stories you couldn't make up.

Last night I wrote a post called "'Why are science museums in bed with science deniers?' (actor-activist Mark Ruffalo)," which I had finished far enough ahead of time (an hour, and maybe even a few minutes more) that by the time it was posting, I was enjoying an episode of DCI Banks on my local PBS station. Somehow I had never seen an episode of DCI Banks. That was nice.

Afterwards, though, I figured that was enough lolligagging. It was time to dip back into the real world, or at least my version thereof. That meant dragging myself back to the computer. Sigh.


In last night's post, I noted that not only actor-activist Mark Ruffalo but everyone else who asks, "Why are science museums in bed with science deniers?" --
knows the answer: $$$$. That's right, almight dollars. Right-wing plutocrats have 'em, and nonprofit orgs of every stripe need 'em, more often than not desperately.

And the lucky-ducky institutions that cash those checks are quick to assure us that the money doesn't influence the way they perform their functions, no sir! And with that assurance we can all rest easy, right? Except that pretty much every day we read new, usually well-documented charges that, on the contrary, nonprofit institutions and media are giving their right-wing zillionaire donors quite a bit of "consideration."
I proceeded to recall my horror at the renaming of Lincoln Center's longtime New York State Theater as the David H. Koch Theater, even as I understood why somebody was more than happy to pocket the truckload of Koch cash that came with the deal. Then I wrote:
Considering how big a business the "development" (i.e., fund-raising, not to be confused with the "development" of anything actually cultural or artistic) arm of the nonprofit world has become -- one often gets the feeling that the "development" teams have become more important at many orgs than the teams that actually do stuff -- it's not hard to understand the appeal of free-floating $$$$. Small orgs, no matter how high-minded, are in a terrible position to turn away any potential donor, and large orgs now have such an overwhelming need for $$$$ that they feel they have no choice but to go where the $$$$ are.


One last thing I did before rechaining myself to the computer: I checked to see what might be on the tube -- something I could leave on in the background while I pecked away at the computer. I noticed that as a post-DCI Banks filler, to get them up to 11:00, Channel 13 had some sort of little show about the legendary dance impresario Serge Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. I guess because it was a mere half-hour thingie (some sort of documentary, I assumed, but a half-hour documentary?) that I didn't immediately pay much attention. But after a bit more searching I decided to just let the thing, Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music, narrated by Tilda Swinton, run while I pecked away.

Now dance isn't my field, but music is, and because of the composers Diaghilev collaborated with, Ballets Russes was approximately as important to 20th-century music as to 20th-century dance, and again, since dance isn't my field, I figured I could stand to know more about him and his company, and also to see what there might be to see. Given the half-attention I was paying while pecking, I had the feeling that it was in fact quite a terrific 26-minute production -- I only wished I'd watched more carefully, and maybe somehow had the presence of mind to record it.

I did at least have the presence of mind to be watching at the end, for the credits -- to find out just what this thing was, with maybe a view toward tracking it down somewhere, somehow. Imagine my surprised to ciscover that it was a film made in conjunction with an exhibition that was presented at the National Gallery of Art from May to October 2013, called (what else?) Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music. Later, armed with this information, I was able to track down the YouTube version of the film atop this post.

I learned one other thing from the credits -- that the thing was made possible by ExxonMobil and Rosneft (which I discovered is described on Wikipedia as "the leader of Russia’s petroleum industry and the world’s largest publicly traded petroleum company"). Now I'm not saying this is a bad thing, necessarily. I'll bet it was a swell exhibition, "organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art, Washington."

Why, look just at the film that the exhibition left behind. (Yes, go ahead, look at it!) And I'll bet the exhibition wasn't cheap to put on. Do we really think it could have been, or at any rate would have been, put on without access to somebody's deep pockets? A quick show of hands, people. Everyone who would have picked up the check for the project, raise your hand.

Now that we've taken care of business, feel free to enjoy the film if you haven't already done so. Courtesy of you-know-who.

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Do Electoral Considerations Sometimes Trump Party Ideology? They Sure Did In Yesterday's Paid Sick Leave Vote


Johnson found something else to stick to his guns over

The Senate has been debating the 2016 budget for the last few days. Actually, what they've been doing is voting on amendments. Yesterday, for example, the rejected Bernie Sanders' amendment that would have raised the minimum wage. It failed 48-52, every single Democrat voting YES and all but two Republicans-- Susan Collins (ME) and Rob Portman (OH)-- voting NO. I guess Republicans figure their voters don't care about the minimum wage.

Almost all the Democratic-sponsored amendments were defeated. Almost. Patty Murray introduced one that passed pretty handily, despite dogged opposition for hard core right-wingers like Ted Cruz and most of the Confederates. Murray's amendment establishs a deficit-neutral reserve fund for legislation to allow Americans to earn paid sick time. After some vote switching from Republicans who will have to face the voters in 2016, it passed 61-39. Again, all the Democrats voted YES, but this time, they were joined by 16 Republicans. Some of those 16 are from blue and blue-leaning states where the sick leave legislation is very popular. It may be contrary to Republican "values," but several endangered senators who will be facing the voters next year, crossed the aisle and voted with the Democrats.

That list included Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mark Kirk (R-IL), John McCain (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Pat Toomey (R-PA). Hilary Clinton is looking a huge wins in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, a very good chances to score in Ohio, and competitive races in Arizona and North Carolina. Toomey and Johnson actually voted NO and then switched their votes! Other Republicans who may have a tough time with reelection battles in 2016 but who stuck with GOP anti-worker ideology included Roy Blunt (R-MO), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Dean Heller (R-NV). And all the senators talking about running for president in 2016 voted NO-- Ted Cruz (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Hillary Clinton backed the legislation. “The absence of quality affordable childcare is a very big factor in limiting and sometimes ending women’s participation in the workforce," said Clinton. "The absence of paid leave is a strong signal to women and particularly mothers that the society and our economy don’t value being a mother... If we did more for childcare and we did more on paid family leave, particularly for new mothers, we would be sending the right signals." Tough argument to debate outside of backward areas of The South!

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Oil Trains: Industry Lobbies for Weak Rules While Derailment Fires Rage


A CSX Corp train burns after derailment in Mount Carbon, West Virginia pictured across the Kanawha River in Boomer, West Virginia February 16th, 2015. Photograph: REUTERS/Marcus Constantino (click to enlarge; source)

by Gaius Publius

I made a comment recently, with respect to Obama's legacy "wants" coming into office, that one of them was:

3. Plentiful oil and gas, along with passage of the Keystone Pipeline (KXL).

and that the Keystone part of that was mooted "by the many mini-Keystones and by oil trains." (You'll notice, at least for a while, that this "want" has been achieved — that the U.S. has plenty of domestically produced carbon, ready to be turned into emissions. That won't last long.)

Here's more information about those oil trains. If you live near a town with train tracks (who doesn't), and especially if you live near the tracks themselves, you may want to check this out.

Top 10 Questions About Oil Trains

Todd Paglia at Huffington Post Green has an excellent explainer and "uptodate-er" about oil trains, including how often they explode, how safe the new "safer" cars are, and what it takes to put out the fires. He starts (my emphasis):
On Friday, March 6, while an oil train explosion in Illinois was still sending flames and black smoke into the air, railroad agents were in Washington, DC lobbying to weaken new train safety standards. Safer brakes are "extremely costly..." they told White House officials, and explained in great detail why speed limits are impractical. Like the auto industry resisting seatbelts, the rail industry is on the wrong track when it comes to safety.

In the last month, there have been six derailments of crude oil trains in the U.S. and Canada -- three of them ignited, sending flames and mushroom clouds hundreds of feet into the air. Luckily, these were in relatively remote locations and no one was killed.

These disasters are not an aberration -- oil train traffic is skyrocketing, which means more derailments and more explosions. The oil and rail industries hope to increase further the amount of crude oil barreling down the tracks in the coming years. Before that happens, ForestEthics has some questions we'd like to see the Obama administration ask the army of lobbyists who are trying to push the bar on safety even lower than it already is[.]
Some of those questions, with the writer's answers:
When did trains start exploding?

Rail transportation of crude oil is growing rapidly and dangerously -- from fewer than 10,000 carloads in 2008 to nearly half a million in 2014 -- for two reasons: Bakken oil from North Dakota and Canadian tar sands. The North American boom means oil companies are trying to frack and mine more of this extreme oil, crude that is high in carbon, difficult and expensive to produce, and dangerous to transport.

Are cities and towns with rail lines safe?

With the exception of Capitol Hill (the rail industry seems to be sparing Washington, DC) most routing is done specifically throughout cities and towns. No, the oil and rail industries are probably not purposely targeting us, it's just that the rails in populated places tend to be better maintained and rated for heavier cargoes. The sane thing to do would be to stop hauling crude oil if it can't be transported safely. A far distant next best is to make these trains as safe as possible and require rerouting around cities and water supplies.

What is the government doing?

Not nearly enough. While 100-plus car trains full of an explosive crude roll through our towns, the U.S. government is barely moving, bogged down by nearly 100 of Washington's most expensive K-Street lobbyists. In fall 2014, ForestEthics, Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club sued the Department of Transportation to speed up new safety standards on oil trains. We called the trains an imminent danger to public safety. The federal government responded by once again delaying their decision on new rules that have been in the works for years.

What is the slowest speed at which an oil explosion could happen?

An oil tank car can catch fire and explode in an accident at zero miles per hour. Assuming a slightly raised rail bed, an oil car that tips over while standing still (this can and has happened on poorly maintained rails) will strike the ground going approximately 16 miles per hour -- more than fast enough to breach the tank, spark, and ignite if it hits a rock, a curb, any hard protrusion.
Other questions he answers are:
  • Do firefighters know when and where oil trains are moving?
  • How do you extinguish oil train fire?
  • The older oil cars are definitely unsafe, what about the newer ones?
  • We know that Bakken crude explodes; does tar sands explode?
  • Do I live in the Blast Zone?
  • What's the solution?
Of the rest, you might definitely want to click through to read about those Blast Zones. You can also check out your town's exposure at this link.

Oil Trains, the Future of Carbon Transport, Are Everywhere

Oil trains are more and more prevalent. I recently traveled from Chicago to Detroit by rail to attend Netroots Nation. It seemed we were stopped every half hour so that an oil train could pass — we could see the long line of tanker cars as they moved next to us before going ahead. As bad as Keystone (and all the mini-Keystones) are, an expanding network of exploding oil trains is no safe alternative.

Can we burn our way to energy security? (source)

Obama's, Hillary Clinton's (yes), and the nation's determination to "drill ourselves to energy security" — a false security, by the way — guarantees more and more spills, explosions, fires and fracking-caused disasters. Maybe someday we should just ... stop.

Nellis Solar Power Plant at Nellis AFB (source)

After all, we have that technology too, don't we?


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Patrick Murphy Isn't Enough Of A Democrat To Get The Florida Senate Nomination


I had an interesting call from an old friend at the DSCC this week. DSCC Chair Jon Tester and his top staffers wondered if they could get Alan Grayson to back down from a primary against Patrick Murphy. The meeting, though, went in an entirely different direction. "He's certainly a more impressive figure than Murphy." No one even tried talking him out of running. "Listening to him made me dream of a Senate with more than just one Elizabeth Warren." Grayson is exploring his options; he may run but hasn't decided yet. Blue America started a Draft Alan Grayson ActBlue page this week.

Patrick Murphy isn't fit to get the Democratic Senate nomination in Florida. He hasn't done anything for anyone other than for Wall Street since he beat Allen West. Murphy is an overly-entitled, spoiled brat from a wealthy Republican family and was a Republican his entire life-- though an opportunistic one who saw a shot to switch parties and get into Congress by taking on the very polarizing Allen West. Since his election, he's consistently been one of the worst Democrats in Congress across every issue. Right now, according to ProgressivePunch's crucial vote score for the current session, he's tied with Blue Dog Collin Peterson for 4th worst-voting Democrat in the House. The only Democrats with worse scores than Murphy are Brad Ashford (another "ex"-Republican, now a Nebraska Blue Dog), Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX, Bush's favorite Democrat), and the odious Gwen Graham (D-FL).

Its not easy to run statewide in Florida is you're not a big supporter of Social Security and Medicare. Murphy has been an enemy of both programs and is frantically scurrying to cover his tracks and try to paint himself as a champion of seniors. One of the very first things he did after beating West was to co-found the right-of-center United Solutions Caucus, which pushes the GOP agenda under the guise of bipartisanship. Murphy's top priority in the caucus was to gather naive sign-ons for a letter indicating a willingness to cut Social Security benefits as part of some anti-working family "Grand Bargain." His pitch was to tell colleagues that CURRENT seniors on Social Security would be safe and that the cuts would only effect future recipients.

Ironically this was going on at the same time that Alan Grayson was circulating the Grayson-Takano letter that in no uncertain terms pledged to oppose any budget deal that cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, current or future. Here's the best of example of Patrick Murphy's leadership since being elected-- the bipartisan letter to wreck Social Security:
The United Solutions Caucus was formed by freshmen members of the 113th Congress as a bipartisan call to address our country's great fiscal challenges and end governing by crisis. Today, as the government is shut down and the debt limit looms ahead, we renew our call for Congress to address our challenges head on and solve this crisis with a long-term solution.

...United Solutions Caucus Statement of Principles:

The 113th Congress House Republican and Democratic new members are troubled by the fiscal crisis facing the country, with burdensome debt and trillion dollar annual deficits, which affect economic growth for all and healthcare assurances for our seniors. Members of our class implore the President and Congress to address this serious challenge now. In recent years, Congress has lacked the political will to come together and find solutions. The freshman members of the 113th Congress believe now is the time to work together.

We call upon leadership to no longer accept piecemeal solutions and to work toward finding long-term solutions to avoid financial collapse like Greece and other European countries. The bi-partisan freshmen members, as noted below, come to the table with mutual understanding and without personal agendas or political gamesmanship.

We affirm the following actions to secure the fiscal health of our nation: 

Strengthen and Preserve Medicare and Social Security-- While protecting current recipients and seniors, we must reform the Medicare and Social Security’s long-term financial obligations by addressing rising health care costs and changing demographics. The goal is to make sure these essential programs meet our obligations to our seniors and ensure that these bedrocks are available to future generations, while reducing our long-term deficit and debt issues.

  ...Cutting spending-- While some spending cuts have already been made, we must look for additional savings moving forward to further reduce spending, while seeking to protect the programs that are crucial to our future health as a nation.

  ...We believe that a bipartisan effort encompassing these needed reforms will yield a prosperous future for our country, while making good to today’s seniors who are counting on the federal government to fulfill its obligations. We are committed to a new era in Congress where bipartisan solutions are the norm. We are dedicated to working with leadership to help bring these solutions to reality. The common good of the country demands good faith negotiation, compromise, and immediate and significant action.
Murphy consistently votes with Boehner on a nearly all contentious core issues. If he wants to run for Marco Rubio's Senate seat, he should run in the Republican Party where he won't have to sugar coat his reactionary ideas. Democrats have a perfectly good optioning Florida for this race-- Congress' best Member: Alan Grayson. If you'd like to encourage him, please do so on this page.

Yesterday, Grayson questioned several generals at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee regarding the cost, lack of exit strategy, and use of overwhelming force in the fight against ISIS. He seems to have gotten one of them to admit there is no exit strategy, something no other Member of Congress has been able to accomplish. Murphy doesn't question authority figures at committee hearings; he doesn't know how. In fact, the only things he's shown any aptitude for is golfing and sucking tainted money out of lobbyists and Wall Street banksters.

UPDATE: Fishing... For Dolphins

Patrick Murphy is hosting a 2-day fundraiser for fat cats in Miami starting tonight. The itinerary includes two fishing trips tomorrow. That's nice-- except Murphy says they will be fishing for dolphins. You can change your party registration but some things about being a lifelong Republican can never be washed away!

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