Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sunday Classics preview: Gianni Schicchi does it all for the young lovers


Woody Allen directs soprano Laura Tatulescu (Lauretta), tenor Salmir Pirgu (Rinuccio), and young Sage Ryan (Gherardino) in Gianni Schicchi at Los Angeles Opera in 2008. (For that production of Puccini's Il Trittico, the well-known film director William Friedkin took on Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica.)

by Ken

We tried this trick last night with Act I of Puccini's Tosca -- just jumping to the end. Maybe we can get away with it again with the one-act romp Gianni Schicchi.

We've been focusing, you recall, on the now nearly inescapable "O mio babbino caro," with a view to appreciating the brilliant and hilarious scene of which this amazingly beautiful aria is the hub. I've already advanced the argument that without hearing what leads into the aria, and what comes out of it, it is falsified into sappy sentimentality. And tomorrow we're going to try to nail down the musical and dramatic context.

For now I thought we'd hear the aria one more time, albeit with a bogus orchestral intro tacked on like the one we heard last week in the recording by Renée Fleming. Here, though, once the soprano opens her mouth, we're in the heat of the dramatic moment. I'm guessing that this singer doesn't require any further introduction.

PUCCINI: Gianni Schicchi: "O mio babbino caro"
O my dear little daddy,
I like him. He's lovely, he's lovely.
I want to go to the Porta Rossa
to buy a wedding ring!
Yes, yes, I want to go there!
And if I were to love him in vain,
I would go to the Ponte Vecchio,
but to throw myself in the Arno!
I'm pining and I'm tormented!
O God, I'd like to die!
Daddy, have pity, have pity!
Daddy, have pity, have pity!

Maria Callas, soprano; Philharmonia Orchestra, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. 15-18, 1954

Just to review the situation, it's 1299, you'll recall, and in the Donati house in Florence the relatives assembled to grieve their just-deceased kinsman Buoso, following a frantic search, have found a revised will that confirms the terrible rumor that Buoso left his most valuable possessions to the monks. The love-besotted young Rinuccio is still hoping somehow to persuade his formidable Aunt Zita to allow him to marry his beloved Lauretta, the daughter of the wily Gianni Schicchi.
ZITA, LA CIESCA, NELLA: Isn't there any way . . .
SIMONE, BETTO: To change it?
ZITA, MARCO: To get around it?
GHERARDO: To soften it?
MARCO: O Simone, Simone!
ZITA: You're the oldest.
MARCO: You've also served as mayor of Fucecchio.
[SIMONE makes a gesture as if to say that it's impossible to find a remedy.]
RINUCCIO: There's only one person who can advise us, perhaps save us.
RINUCCIO: Gianni Schicchi.
ZITA: About Gianni Schicchi and his little daughter
I don't want to hear anything more ever said.
And you better understand.
LITTLE GHERARDINO [running in]: Here he is coming.
GHERARDINO: Gianni Schicchi!
ZITA: Who called him?
RINUCCIO: I sent for him,
because I hoped --
ZITA: Ah, enough! If he comes up,
I'll fling him down the stairs!
GHERADO [to Gherardino, spanking him]: You should obey only your father. There! There!
SIMONE: For a Donati to marry the daughter of a peasant!
ZITA: Of someone who's descended on Florence from the countryside!
To be related to this new class!
I don't wish him to come!
I don't wish it!

RINUCCIO: You're wrong.
He's crafty, astute.
Every trick of the law and the codex
he knows through and through.
A wag! A joker!*
[*The Italian is the improbable five-syllable words "motteggiatore" and "beffeggiatore."]
Is there some new and rare practical joke going around?
It's Gianni Schicchi who's set it in motion.
Shrewd eyes light up with laughter
his strange face,
and his big nose throws a shadow
that's like an old ruined tower.
He comes from the countryside? Well, so what?
Enough of this petty, small-minded prejudice!

Florence is like a flowering tree,
which has its trunk and branches in the Piazza dei Signori,
but its roots bring in new strength
from the fresh and fecund valleys.
And Florence grows, and to the stars
rise solid palaces and slim towers.
The Arno, before running to the sea,
sings kissing the Piazza Santa Croce,
and its song is so sweet and sonorous
that streams have come down in chorus to join it.
In this way those gifted in arts and sciences have joined
to make Florence richer and more splendid.
And down from the castle of Val d'Elsa
has come Arnolfo to build his beautiful tower.
And Giotto has come from leafy Mugel,
and the courageous merchant Medici.
Enough with this these narrow-minded hates and these spites!
Long live the new class and Gianni Schicchi!
[There's a knock at the door.]
It's him!
[The door opens; GIANNI SCHICCHI enters, followed by LAURETTA.]

Giuseppe di Stefano (t), Rinuccio; Cloë Elmo (c), Zita; Virgilio Lazzari (bs), Simone; et al.; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Giuseppe Antonicelli, cond. Live performance, March 12, 1949

Roberto Alagna (t), Rinuccio; Ewa Podles (ms), Zita; Enrico Fissore (bs), Simone; et al.; Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Bruno Bartoletti, cond. Decca, recorded 1991

We're going to fill in some of the blanks tomorrow, but when Schicchi is verbally abused by Zita, despite a final desperate plea by Rinuccio, he swears in a rage that he will do nothing to help such people. And Lauretta swings into action with her famous aria. When she finishes her loaded-to-the-hilt entreaty, her dear daddy finally grumbles, "Give me the will." After several false starts, he comes up with the germ of an idea. He has the notary sent for and then, impersonating the late Buoso, dictates a new will, leaving those prized possessions . . . to his good friend Gianni Schicchi!

After the notary leaves, the Donati relatives rise in righteous wrath.
[SCHICCHI and the Donatis hurl imprecations at each other. As SCHICCHI tries to hustle them out of what is now his house, they loot everything they can carry. Finally they head out and down the stairs. SCHICCHI runs after them, rushing down the stairs. The window opens slowly, and Florence appears, bathed in sunlight; the two young lovers appear, embracing, on the terrace.]

RINUCCIO: My Lauretta, we shall always stay here.
Look! Florence is golden. Fiesole is beautiful.
LAURETTA: There you swore your love to me.
RINUCCIO: I asked you for a kiss.
LAURETTA: The first kiss.
RINUCCIO: Trembling and pale, you turned your face.
LAURETTA and RINUCCIO: Florence in the distance seemed to us like Paradise!
[GIANNI SCHICCHI returns climbing the stairs, loaded with stuff that he throws to the ground.]
GIANNI SCHICCHI: The gang has fled!
[He sees the lovers, smiles, and turns to the audience]
Tell me, folks,
if Buoso's money
could have finished up better than this.
For this prank
they sent me to hell,
and so be it;
but with the permission of the great father Dante,
if this evening you've been entertained,
grant me [makes the gesture of applauding] extenuation.

Leo Nucci (b), Gianni Schicchi; Mirella Freni (s), Lauretta; Roberto Alagna (t); et al.; Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Bruno Bartoletti, cond. Decca, recorded 1991

In the 1949 Met production the Schicchi, Italo Tajo, delivered the final address to the audience in English (of a sort).

Italo Tajo (bs), Gianni Schicchi; Licia Albanese (s), Lauretta; Giuseppe di Stefano (t), Rinuccio; et al.; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Giuseppe Antonicelli, cond. Live performance, March 12, 1949


We pin down the musico-dramatic place of "O mio babbino caro," and hark back to the young lovers Puccini pays homage to, in Verdi's Falstaff.


The current list is here.

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OK, Let's Get To The Bottom Of L'Affaire James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010


Take a look at the now famous-- and lionized-- Anthony Weiner outburst on the House floor yesterday and then let me start this conversation in the most benign possible way. Although I got at least two dozen formal campaign e-mails about this today, including from Weiner's reelection campaign-- the best one came from Bill Hedrick:
On Thursday, Congressman Ken Calvert, representing residents in Riverside an Orange counties, cast a vote against providing health coverage for the heroes of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

With most other Republicans, Calvert voted against the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which focused on 9/11 first responders, such as police, paramedics and firefighters. The bill would have ensured health care for those that fell ill from the toxic dust and debris from the falling World Trade Center towers and would have been paid for by closing tax loopholes on foreign businesses operating in the United States.

"This is just another typical example of Congressman Calvert placing the demands of his party bosses before the needs of the American people, in this case the heroes of 9/11," said Kristopher Daams, Communications Director for the Bill Hedrick for Congress campaign. "Apparently, providing care for those who responded to the deadliest terrorist attack on our nation's soil is nothing more than a 'massive new entitlement program' to Ken Calvert, but bailing out Wall Street isn't."

House leadership put the bill up for a vote without opportunities for amendments, requiring a special rule requiring a 2/3 vote in support for passage.

Sounds perfectly reasonable, right? It is. Nancy Pelosi went for it too, but that's where I started feeling a little queasy about the whole thing and started thinking about it as a kind of stunt.
Tonight the House considered the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act (HR 847) under suspension of the rules to provide medical monitoring and treatment to responders and survivors of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. It also reopens the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund to provide monetary compensation for those physically injured by the 9/11 terrorist attacks or by response activities and debris removal... The final vote was 255-159 in support of the bill, short of the 2/3 majority needed for passage under suspension of the rules. 155 Republicans voted against the legislation.

"155 Republicans voted against the legislation" with a total of 159 opposed only means one thing: Democrats crossed the aisle. It turns out, so did some Republicans. In fact-- for all Weiner's and Pelosi's yelping about Republicans-- three times more Republicans (12) crossed the aisle to vote with the Democrats on this, than the shameful 4 conservative Democrats crossing in the other direction to join forces, as they often do, with Boehner and Cantor to oppose it.

So, of course, the culprits are all corrupt ConservaDems on their own ego trips: Melissa Bean (IL), leader of Rahm Emanuel's Chamber of Commerce owned New Dems, and 3 mangy old Blue Dogs, Jim Cooper (TN), Bobby Bright (AL) and Obama-hater Marion Berry (AR), drunk as usual. But Weiner just screamed "Republicans" and so did Pelosi and so are all the Democrats making hay out of this today. And what kind of punishment will be meted out to these Boehner Boys? The same kind that was meted out to Democrats who opposed healthcare reform, or Wall Street reform or who voted against women's Choice or who opposed including gays in Hate Crimes legislation. They wind up on the DCCC Front Line list and are given hundreds of thousands of dollars in TV advertising to trick unsuspecting Democrats in their home districts into thinking they actually vote for the Democratic agenda. If you give one dollar to the DCCC, almost every cent of it will go towards supporting ConservaDems who vote against the reason we elect Democrats in the first place! They just announced they would be doing twenty some odd million dollars in campaign ads for most of the worst "Democratic" members of Congress but managed to leave out Alan Grayson.

So two things: don't give the DCCC any money; donate it to Alan Grayson and other progressives instead. And keep in mind that when the Inside the Beltway crew sets something like this up and gets hysterical about "Republicans," they should really be talking about conservatives-- and that's a bipartisan disease. Don't fall for this crap! The money you give them goes to characters like Bobby Bright who voted with the GOP Weiner and Pelosi were railing against on the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010:

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Blue America Welcomes David Segal (D-RI)


Rhode Island's first congressional district, the eastern and northern parts of the state, including most of Providence, is an open seat this year because of the retirement of Patrick Kennedy. It's one of the safest Democratic districts in the country and McCain barely managed to scrape together a third of the vote. In 2008 Kennedy was re-elected with almost 70%. It's safe to say that whichever Democrat wins the September 14 primary will be the next Rhode Island congressman. There are 4 Democrats running: today's guest and the newest Blue America endorsee, state Rep. David Segal, Providence mayor David Cicilline, conservative businessman Anthony Gemma, and Bill Lynch, the Establishment candidate, a former Democratic Party state chairman and the brother of the state's Attorney General.

There are no actual John Barrows or Bobby Brights or Parker Griffiths among the Democrats. And although David Segal stands head and shoulders above the rest on every single policy issue without exception, the reason Blue America has decided to endorse in this race has more to do with his leadership potential. Everyone is always telling John and Digby and I that we need more Members like Alan Grayson in Congress. They don't grow on trees-- but we found one.
David Segal is one of us. He was elected to the Providence City Council in 2002 as a Green, and is now a lefty Democratic state Rep for Providence and East Providence. He has a very clear path to victory and he can win-- and if he does, he'll be among the strongest voices for progressives in the halls of the Capitol.

David's worked on the meat-and-potato issues: Jobs, the environment, housing, progressive taxes, all with success. He's successfully pushed for expanded renewable energy, more affordable housing, against predatory lending, and for foreclosure prevention measures.

But he's never shied away from the really controversial issues: He's been a vocal leader on criminal justice reform, standing up for the rights of immigrants and for gay rights, and has pushed as hard as one can from the state level against war spending. He's an ardent supporter of gay marriage, and was the sponsor of the last year's bill, which was passed over the Governor's veto, to allow gay partners to plan each other's funerals.

He's a co-sponsor of marijuana decriminalization, and just convinced the Governor-- after two years of vetoes-- to allow a bill to become law that ensures due process for people on probation.

He's sponsored the "Bring the Guard Home" legislation, and his first act on the City Council was to pass a resolution against the war in Iraq.

But, most importantly, he's an organizer at heart, who is committed to joining the Progressive Caucus-- and making it function better. Here's an excerpt from an interview with David Swanson:
"[I]n Rhode Island I've tried to develop alternative structures for legislators to lean on when the leadership makes such threats. I am the lead organizer for our progressive caucus. I founded a political action committee to support members of our progressive caucus so that if funding from sources dries up at leadership's request because something was done to offend them, that we would have at least some, some degree of money to fall back on to help fund our campaigns nonetheless. We funded ten, twelve races relatively modestly in the last cycle and hopefully we'll be able to do something in the forthcoming cycle."

Last week, many of us were disappointed as 148 Democrats, including Patrick Kennedy, joined Boehner, Cantor and 158 other Republicans to vote for more unjustifiable billions of dollars to throw down the Afghan sewer. The disgraceful supplemental demanded by the Military Industrial Complex passed 308-114, more Republicans voting for Obama's proposal than Democrats! Among the candidates running in RI-1, only David Segal came out publicly to say he would have voted NO.
I've been against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning. My first act on the Providence City Council in Providence was to sponsor an antiwar resolution in 2003, which of course was not going to end the war in its own right, but it was an opportunity for Providence to assert the negative impact of the war on the city’s ability to function-- to fund municipal services and education.  

I don’t think there’s any indication that we’re preventing future terrorism by keeping our presence in Afghanistan right now. The CIA’s made it clear that the drone attacks there present a real risk of destabilizing the Pakistani government, which possesses nuclear armament and should be a grave concern to all of us.

I think that it’s unfortunate but it’s the case that our involvement in Afghanistan is effectively a quagmire right now; there is no neat and tidy way to get out and tie it all up in a bow wrap everything up and leave it neat and pristine and I think it’s time to recognize that and bring the troops home.
I am the only candidate in the Democratic primary for CD 1 in Rhode Island who has pledged that the only Afghanistan war funding I will approve is the funding necessary to safely and expeditiously bring our troops home.

That's the kind of straight forward answer we always look for from our candidates and it's part of the reason we endorsed Segal today, why we've asked him to join us over at C&L today at 2pm (ET) for a chat and why we're asking you to dig deep and help him run his grassroots campaign, a campaign that accepts no corporate contributions. And it's also why Segal has also been endorsed by the PCCC, PDA, DFA, the Rhode Island American Federation of Teachers & Healthcare Professionals and why we'll be hearing some interesting endorsements this week from other organizations that will comes as a bit of a shock to the Democratic Establishment.

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Happy 45th Anniversary, Medicare


Who you gonna believe, Rand Paul, David Vitter and Sharron Angle... or Andy Griffith?

Actually, the 45th anniversary of Medicare was yesterday... but we can still celebrate today. Like all social progress-- from the Declaration of Independence, to public education, to freeing the slaves, women's emancipation, child labor laws, weekends, the right of workers to bargain collectively, to Social Security-- Medicare was violently opposed by conservatives. And they're still opposing it-- and still trying to turn back the clock, still letting their selfishness and greed run rampant and declaring that the poorest among us should go die in the streets rather than the wealthiest pay their fair share-- or even any-- taxes.

When Medicare, H.R. 6675, passed the House on April 7, 1965, 313-115, 48 conservative (mostly Southern) Democrats joined 68 right-wing Republicans to oppose it. On July 9th of that year it passed the Senate 68-21, 13 mostly moderate Republicans voting with 57 Democrats for it while 7 arch-conservative Democrats voted with the GOP majority against it. Today there are slightly fewer conservative Democrats-- most of the worst of the Southern racists have found a new home in the GOP-- but there are virtually no moderate Republicans left any longer. Passing any kind of sweeping progressive change legislation is nearly impossible to do in a bipartisan manner. In fact one of the most fringy of the GOP candidates, Russ Feingold's opponent, Ron Johnson, is campaigning on privatizing Medicare. And as Tula at the AFL-CIO pointed out yesterday, "nine Republican candidates would end Medicare, think it’s a mistake or believe it is Soviet socialism. They are: Sharron Angle in Nevada; Rand Paul in Kentucky; Dan Coats in Indiana; David Vitter in Louisiana; Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, John Boozman in Arkansas, Roy Blunt in Missouri and Jane Norton and Ken Buck in Colorado." Is that really possible? Well, let's let these Republicans speak for themselves about why-- aside from wealthy campaign contributors' demands-- they want to do away with Medicare.

The Las Vegas Review Journal is basically a Republican newspaper. Last October after an interview with Sharron Angle they reported that she believes in phasing Medicare out. “As for Medicare, she (Angle) said the entitlement program popular with seniors will eventually grow too costly to maintain… ‘We need to phase it out,’ she said.” Rand Paul went even further. A Courier-Journal review of Paul’s prior statements found he had compared Medicare to Soviet socialism. “Advancing his belief that health care prices should be set by the marketplace, Paul also has attacked having government set Medicare reimbursements for doctors. The fundamental reason why Medicare is failing is why the Soviet Union failed-- socialism doesn't work," Paul said on Kentucky Tonight on June 16, 1998. "You have ... no price fluctuation.” (Interestingly more than half of Rand Paul's income-- he's an uncertified eye doctor-- comes from Medicare.)

There are nearly a million Hoosiers getting Medicare but Dan Coats, the likely next senator from Indiana, who isn't generally thought of as insane as Angle or Paul, is taking his lead on this from Ayn Rand extremist, Paul Ryan, a blithering imbecile from Wisconsin who the morons in the mass media keep repeating is the smartest Republican out there-- although admitting privately that they can't make heads or tails out of his nonsensical arguments. In July 2010, Coats praised Ryan’s ideas for "entitlement reform" and vowed to work with him on passing them if elected. He said, “Paul Ryan has come up with some very sensible ideas, I have talked personally with Paul I have read his materials and there are many many things in there that I agree with and want to work with him on. Uhhh it basically says we are out of money and we are deeply in debt. And if we are going to have a future in this country for our children and our grandchildren and going to have jobs available and be the country of opportunity and be the country that can lead the world and the economy we have to come up with some reforms. And Paul has come up with some very constructive ideas and so have other Republicans.” Fact of the matter is, Ryan's ill-conceived and sketchy "roadmap," put together by a gaggle of K Street lobbyists for him, would eliminate traditional Medicare, most of Medicaid, and all of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), converting these health programs largely to vouchers that low-income households, seniors, and people with disabilities could use to help buy insurance in the private health insurance market.

David Vitter is already in the U.S. Senate-- when he's not chasing prostitutes-- and he believes his route to re-election is to take the most negative, extreme and hysterical positions on every issue. That kind of approach seems to have a lot of resonance in Louisiana for some reason probably relating to the state of the state's dramatically failed education system. Last September Vitter endorsed a report from the conservative Pelican Institute that promoted ending the employer-based health insurance system. According to the Times-Picayune, “Vitter has endorsed a new study from a conservative think tank that calls for scrapping the nation’s employer-based health insurance system in favor of individually owned policies and converting the Medicaid program into vouchers for private insurance.” Although he's a backbencher with virtually no influence and commands less respect from his colleagues than any other member of the Senate, Vitter managed to make himself the recipient of $311,718 in thinly veiled bribes from Big Insurance. His pronouncements may ill-serve the working families of Louisiana but they are exactly what the insurance industry expects from the whores they dole out their cash to.

And the aforementioned Ron Johnson, the clown who wants to replace Feingold, is even more radical than Vitter. In May Johnson praised Ryan’s privatization plan. He said, “You know, in his 'Roadmap for America,' [Paul Ryan] starts laying out some possibilities, I think some common-sense approaches, on you know, recognizing the fact that, I mean, when these programs were implemented, life expectancy was far shorter. You know, so, life expectancy has gone on. So I mean, you have to recognize that reality and start making adjustments to the program to figure out how you can keep these things sustainable so they’re around for people.”

As you know, Blue America hasn't exactly been a bastion of support for conservative Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln-- and if I were living in that state I would be voting for Mayor John Gray of Greenland, the Green Party candidate-- but Rep. John Boozman is even worse than Lincoln. He's another clod who goes along with whatever Wall Street dictates to Ryan and, of course, not only followed Ryan into voting for Bush's 2008 no-strings-attached Wall Street bailout, but also voted for Ryan's 2009 alternative budget that called for scrapping Medicare and replacing it with a privatized voucher system. And so did Congress' most corrupt member, Roy Blunt (R-MO), currently running for the open Missouri Senate seat. Blunt, who failed as Boehner's healthcare spokesperson before the portfolio was given over to Ryan, thinks the government should never have gotten involved with healthcare-- basically the GOP approach-- and Big Business'-- to everything. During a radio appearance on Eagle 93.9 in St Louis (July 10, 2009), he cited Medicare and Medicaid as examples of government intervening in the health care business “in a big way,” proof in the dystopian Hobbesian world he lives in that government should never have gotten in the health care business.
HOST MIKE FERGUSON: What is the proper role of government, and what are the potential impacts of the direction that we're going right now?

BLUNT: Well, you could certainly argue that government should have never have gotten in the health care business, and that might have been the best argument of all, to figure out how people could have had more access to a competitive marketplace. Government did get into the health care business in a big way in 1965 with Medicare, and later with Medicaid, and government already distorts the marketplace.

During a July 2009 campaign event in Hannibal, Blunt said Medicare had never done anything to make people healthier. "We've had Medicare since 1965, and Medicare has never done anything to make people more healthy. If there's any opportunity for more healthy activity, it's going to be, again, a private, competitive industry..." Blunt has taken $2,051,921 from the Medical Industrial Complex and another $695,332 from Big Insurance. He has nearly 3 million reasons to claim Medicare hasn't done anything to make anyone healthier, although I suspect that the 992,968 who currently use Medicare would disagree.

And in Colorado the Republican Party is running dueling freaks, Jane Norton and Ken Buck, eagerly trying to outdo each other in their anti-Medicare approach. In January Norton was already stirring up anti-Medicare fever in the GOP base: “Health care needs real, common-sense reforms. A government mandated, and government controlled, health care system is not the solution… If you agree that the government shouldn't be in the health care business, show your opposition by signing this petition today.” Buck, whose whole approach to winning the primary is to claim the Tea Party mantle-- despite calling them a bunch of assholes when he thought no one was listening-- decided to tack to the right of Norton. At a GOP campaign event in March, he posited that "The idea that the federal government should be running health care or retirement or any of those programs is fundamentally against what I believe. And that is that the private sector runs programs like that far better.”

Yesterday Stephanie Cutter, an assistant to the President, went on the record about GOP attempts to distort Medicare.
As we worked to pass the Affordable Care Act, seniors were the target of a major misinformation campaign that was designed to scare and confuse older Americans about the real impact of reform. False rumors about death panels and cuts in benefits made the rounds. We are committed to correcting the record and ensuring seniors have the information they need  and get the high-quality care they have earned and deserve... We know seniors will see tremendous benefits from the new law. Under the Affordable Care Act:

• Seniors guaranteed Medicare benefits will remain the same.

• Medicare beneficiaries who hit the prescription drug “donut hole” will receive a one-time, $250 rebate check. Hundreds of thousands of seniors have already received their check. And the donut hole will be closed completely by 2020.

• Preventive care services like colorectal cancer screenings and mammograms and an annual physical will be provided free of charge.

• Medicare pays Medicare Advantage insurance companies over $1,000 more per person on average than Original Medicare. These additional payments are paid for in part by increased premiums by all Medicare beneficiaries-- including the 77% of seniors not enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. The new law eliminates these overpayments and starting in 2014, Medicare Advantage plans will be required to spend 85% of every dollar they receive on health care, not profits, overhead or administrative costs.

• By 2018, seniors will save an average of $200 per year and $200 in co-insurace compared to what they would have paid without reform.

• The new law extends the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by more than a decade.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Sunday Classics postscript: Cheating our way to the end of Act I of "Tosca"


The "Te Deum" in the famous Arena di Verona: Scarpia "reawakens as if from a dream" -- from imagining his plan to entrap both the fugitive Angelotti and the beautiful Tosca -- and joins in the singing.

by Ken

Last week we looked at just the opening 10 minutes of Act I of Tosca. We haven't even linked up yet with the great Tosca-Cavaradossi scene, which we investigated a bit way back when. The whole act runs about 45 minutes, and we've barely scratched the surface of its musical and dramatic brilliance and depth.

Maybe it will be seen as merely waving a white flag, but going to skip now to a scene I mentioned last week, in the final minutes of the act: the Te Deum that has been quickly organized in the church of Sant' Andrea della Vale to celebrate the defeat of the invading (and to republican sympathizers potentially liberating) Napoleon III. Baron Scarpia, the tyrannical master of the Roman police, has figured out that his escaped prisoner Angelotti, the deposed consul of the short-lived Roman Republic, whom we met at the opening of the act, is being harbored by a known republican sympathizer, the painter Cavaradossi. He has also figured out that he can use the jealous insecurity of Cavaradossi's lover, the beloved singer Floria Tosca, to capture -- in different ways -- both Angelotti and Tosca.

While preparations continued for the Te Deum, which is to be blessed by no less than the Cardinal, Scarpia planted in the highly suggestible mind of Tosca the suggestion that Cavaradossi has been cheating on her, and she has rushed out of the church, leaving Scarpia to instruct his faithful flunky Spoletta.
SCARPIA: Three cops . . . a carriage . . .
Quickly, follow her wherever she goes.
Without being seen -- be careful!
SPOLETTA: Very well. The meeting place?
SCARPIA: Farnese Palace [i.e., the setting for Act II].
[As SPOLETTA leaves.] Go, Tosca!
In your heart Scarpia nests.
[The Cardinal and his cortege make their way to the high altar. Swiss guards clear the way for the procession by dividing the crowd on either side of an aisle.]
Go, Tosca!
[Occasional firing of cannon begins.]
Scarpia has unfettered
the falcon of your jealousy.
How much promise
in your ready suspiciousness!
In your heart Scarpia nests --
go, Tosca!
[SCARPIA bows and prays as the Cardinal passes. The Cardinal blesses the crowd, which also bows in reverence.]
THE CHAPTER [i.e., the canons of the church, specified in the score as 12 basses]: Adjutorum nostrum in nomine Domini.
THE CROWD: Qui fecit coelum et terram.
THE CHAPTER: Sit nomen Domini benedictum.
THE CROWD: Et hoc nunc et usque in saeculum.
SCARPIA: Toward a double target I stretch my will;
nor is the head of the rebel the more precious.
Ah, those conquering eyes --
I would love to see their flame dim
in spasms of love.
The one to the gallows,
the other into my arms.
[He stands staring into space. The crowd turns toward the high altar; many kneel.]
THE CHAPTER and THE CROWD: Te Deum laudamus:
te Deum confitemur!

SCARPIA [reawakening, as if from a dream]: Tosca, you make me forget God.
[He kneels and joins fervently in the singing.]
ALL: Te aeternum Patrem omnis terra veneratur.

Tito Gobbi (b), Scarpia; Angelo Mercuriali (t), Spoletta; Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Victor de Sabata, cond. EMI, recorded August 1953

I'm not going to rehash my problems with this "classic" recording, best known as the first Callas Tosca recording. This bit can't in any case be compared directly with the corresponding bit of the EMI stereo "remake," also featuring Callas in the title role and Tito Gobbi as Scarpia, if only because the pacing is so much quicker. (I've already expressed my minority opinion that even with the vocal toll taken on both Callas and Gobbi by those intervening 11-plus years, I much prefer the later recording. Note, by the way, that in this CD edition EMI has placed the track point right at Scarpia's "Tre sbirri . . . una carrozza," rather than at the more logical orchestral run-up to this moment, as in our other performances.)

Tito Gobbi (b), Scarpia; Renato Ercolani (t), Spoletta; Chorus of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra, Paris Conservatory Orchestra, Georges Prêtre, cond. EMI, recorded Dec. 1964-Jan. 1965

Going in the other direction, I described Karajan's 1962 version last week as "for me the most audaciously and most beautifully conducted Tosca on records." He stretches this great scene about to its limits, but rouses his great orchestra and fine Scarpia (Giuseppe Taddei) to a shattering culmination of the act.

Giuseppe Taddei (b), Scarpia; Piero de Palma (t), Spoletta; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. RCA/Decca, recorded September 1962

Finally, I thought it would be fun to hear how this scene plays with Scarpia sung by a baritone of the size, weight, upper-range thunder, and general tonal juice of the 1962-vintage Cornell MacNeil. In a performance that featured Leontyne Price and Franco Corelli in their stupendous vocal primes as Tosca and Cavaradossi (we heard Corelli's "Recondita armonia" from this performance in last Saturday's preview), I have a feeling that as audience members filed out for the first intermission, the voice ringing in their heads was MacNeil's.

Cornell MacNeil (b), Scarpia; Paul Franke (t), Spoletta; Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Kurt Adler, cond. Live performance, Apr. 7, 1962 (mono)


We return to Gianni Schicchi and Puccini's affectionate portrayal of the young lovers Lauretta and Rinuccio, with a look back at their Verdian forebears, Falstaff's Nannetta and Fenton. Then in Sunday's post we finish up with the scene from Gianni Schicchi in which "O mio babbino caro" is a crucial component.

UPDATE: As it turned out, it worked better to focus on Puccini's relationship to his pair of young lovers in Saturday's preview, and save the backward glance at Verdi's for the main post Sunday.


The current list is here.

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About Cordoba House: Either we believe in tolerance and diversity or we don't (Hint: Religious bigots don't)


by Ken

I'm having trouble forcing myself to perform the necessary thought-gathering and source-dismembering to give you the now long-promised second part of my post on the Washington Post's "Top Secret America" series. In Part 1, you'll recall, I tried to explain why you absolutely have to read the WaPo series, but with it was promised the explanation of why you'd be absolutely nuts to read the WaPo series. Since it's giving me trouble, and since I find it hard to imagine anyone whose life is being put on hold during the delay, and especially at these pay rates, I've decided that rather than make myself crazy . . . okay, crazier, I'm just going to wait till it's ready to be written.

Meanwhile, as long as we're dealing with stuff that's obviously true but that an awful lot of people don't/won't want to deal with or acknowledge in any way, I'm grateful (once again!) to J Street for staking out an obviously correct position that is nevertheless not only not widely acknowledged in the American Jewish community but is often denounced. There are many regrettable things about the way so much of the American Jewish community, especially the traditional official organs, has taken on the role of lockstep defender of the increasingly vile and hateful Israeli far right, but perhaps the saddest is the delusion those people have taken on that they are somehow vindicated or bolstered by the support of the loathsome crackpots of the American far right, the political bloc I like to think of as Anti-Semites for Israel. Man, are they kidding themselves.

J Street has done a lot to relieve the discomfort of being Jewish in America, and being "spoken for" by those professional bigots and haters. No matter how they and their supporters on the anti-Semitic right try to obfuscate the issue of the Muslim cultural center (apparently not even including an actual place of worship) planned near the World Trade Center site, they are once again lying with every cell of their poisoned souls.

Just by way of reminder, the Cordoba Initiative website offers this description of the project:
Why the Cordoba House?

Cordoba House is a Muslim-led project which will build a world-class facility that promotes tolerance, reflecting the rich diversity of New York City. The center will be community-driven, serving as a platform for inter-community gatherings and cooperation at all levels, providing a space for all New Yorkers to enjoy.

This proposed project is about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture. Cordoba House will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form - compassion, generosity, and respect for all.

The issue is a simple one for any fair-minded Jew, and of course for any fair-minded American. Of course, there are people who genuinely don't believe in either "tolerance" or "diversity." They believe in rigid orthodoxy -- their own poisonous orthodoxy, of course -- with no tolerance for any deviation therefrom. It's no wonder that they get the heebie-jeebies at the very idea of "promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture."

Statement on Cordoba House Controversy
Posted by: Amy Spitalnick | July 30th, 2010 1:40 pm

Today, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami released the following statement:
The principle at stake in the Cordoba House controversy goes to the heart of American democracy and the value we place on freedom of religion. Should one religious group in this country be treated differently than another? We believe the answer is no.

As Mayor Bloomberg has said, proposing a church or a synagogue for that site would raise no questions. The Muslim community has an equal right to build a community center wherever it is legal to do so. We would hope the American Jewish community would be at the forefront of standing up for the freedom and equality of a religious minority looking to exercise its legal rights in the United States, rather than casting aspersions on its funders and giving in to the fear-mongerers and pandering politicians urging it to relocate.

What better ammunition to feed the Osama bin Ladens of the world and their claim of anti-Muslim bias in the United States as they seek to whip up global jihad than to hold this proposal for a Muslim religious center to a different and tougher standard than other religious institutions would be.

Thank you, J Street!

Interesting observation from a colleague: "Shameful that not a single House or Sen Dem from NY has spoken up against this kind of bigotry." I hadn't thought of that, but I agree absolutely.

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More GOP Civil War: Anti-Choice Extremists Hang Lindsey Graham In Effigy On Capitol Hill


Lunatic fringe wingnut Randall Terry, a longtime flickering star in the Republican firmament, was down in South Carolina hanging Lindsey Graham effigies after Graham said he would vote to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, one of 4 Republicans to publicly do so thus far. But even in Greenville, an extremist bastion in a pretty extremist state, most people were more disgusted with Terry's stunt than with Graham's position.
The anti-abortion activist filmed two skits while in downtown. One of them involved Randall's employee constructing gallows to hang the mannequin with Graham's picture on it.

The other skit involved a stick and a piñata. The workers hit the piñata, which had a picture of Graham on it, until plastic babies fell out of it... A few on-lookers expressed their disgust with Terry's performance.

Yesterday Terry turned up on Capitol Hill for the same publicity stunt. The police rolled their eyes, told him how far he could go-- playing with dolls is ok but burning or beating one with a stick was a no-no (although slapping the effigy was allowed)-- and the crowds just ignored Terry.
[T]he attention-getting tactic can backfire. Hanging and burning effigies can turn away potential supporters, lead to legal action, and prompt concerns about mob violence.

Many of the people who walked by Terry's display outside a Senate building Thursday morning turned away. Media reports of similar actions earlier this week in South Carolina mentioned similar reactions there.

That's why many advocacy groups stay away from the tactic.

During the health care debate last summer, members of Americans for Prosperity attended an unaffiliated protest where a man hung an effigy of Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-Md.). The AFP activists quickly left to ensure their group would not be tied with the act.

The incident has become a legendary example among the group's activists of what not to do at a protest.
"When something like that happens, the media doesn't pick up on the message," Dave Schwartz, the group's state director, said. "They pick up on someone crazy doing something stupid."

...Outside the Senate building, Terry was careful to say that it was the senator's political career-- and not the man himself-- that he wanted to see hung.

"We don't want Senator Graham to fear for his safety," he said. "We want him to fear for his political career."

And Graham would have to be crazy not to. He's been outed as a closet case (again) and he's watched mainstream conservative allies like Bob Inglis and Gresham Barrett go down to ignominious electoral defeat this year at the hands of angry, riled up teabaggers, while another conservative ally, Henry Brown was forced to retire rather than face defeat. Maybe Terry picked Greenville because Greenville for his stunt because Graham had already gotten into a serious tussle with right-wing activists there before, warning that he had no intention of abandoning the Republican Party to fringe radicals like Ron Paul.

Terry was barnstorming against Graham over his support for a moderate judge he perceives will be pro-Choice. Other radical right activists hate Graham because he's perceived as being insufficiently anti-immigrant, too open to that whole Enlightenment thing and science, in favor of figuring out a rational way to deal with Climate Change. And, of course, because he's a homo. It would be hard to imagine Graham winning a Republican primary in South Carolina again. After he was defeated, Bob Inglis let loose on the GOP extremists, racists, and teabaggers for his own defeat.
Too many Republican leaders are acquiescing to a poisonous "demagoguery" that threatens the party's long-term credibility, says a veteran GOP House member who was defeated in South Carolina's primary last month.

While not naming names, 12-year incumbent Rep. Bob Inglis suggested in interviews with the Associated Press that tea party favorites such as former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and right-wing talk show hosts like Glenn Beck are the culprits.

He cited a claim made famous by Palin that the Democratic health care bill would create "death panels" to decide whether elderly or sick people should get care.

"There were no death panels in the bill ... and to encourage that kind of fear is just the lowest form of political leadership. It's not leadership. It's demagoguery," said Inglis, one of three Republican incumbents who have lost their seats in Congress to primary and state party convention challengers this year.

Inglis said voters eventually will discover that you're "preying on their fears" and turn away.

"I think we have a lot of leaders that are following those (television and talk radio) personalities and not leading," he said. "What it takes to lead is to say, 'You know, that's just not right.'"

Inglis said the rhetoric also distracts from the real problems that politicians should be trying to resolve, such as budget deficits and energy security.

"It's a real concern, because I think what we're doing is dividing the country into partisan camps that really look a lot like Shia and Sunni," he said, referring to the two predominant Islamic denominations that have feuded for centuries. "It's very difficult to come together to find solutions."

Inglis' refusal to join in on the Obama-bashing of the far right played a big role in his landslide defeat on June 22. Leading up to the election, he frequently challenged voters who questioned the president's citizenship or patriotism. At one town hall meeting, he was jeered for saying that Beck, a Fox News Channel host, is a divisive fearmonger.

In his primary runoff against prosecutor Trey Gowdy, Inglis failed to break 30 percent, an improbably low result for a sitting incumbent not embroiled in scandal.

Things can change in politics and 2014 is a long ways away, but... Graham will be a relatively young 59 when he has to decide if he wants to face the same humiliating defeats that Inglis and Gresham faced. My guess is he'll opt for an Executive appointment by either second term Obama or first term Romney.

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Does Pat Toomey Deserve A Spot In The Video Of Crazy, Destructive Republicans?


A few days ago Blue America and our pals at the Americans For America PAC launched the first in a series of videos about how extreme and out-of-step the Republicans are. The video is above and it focuses on 3 well-known and especially unsavory characters, Palin, Boehner and Ron Paul's nutty son. There are so many left out that we're putting together a contest so you can vote on which Republicans we should include in the next one. I mean, do you want religious fanatic Michele Bachmann, obsessed homophobe Virginia Foxx or sex predator and real estate swindler Ken Calvert? What about Big Oil shill Joe Barton or "You Lie" kook Joe Wilson? There are so many. In fact, one we left off this week, really needs some consideration. Wall Street derivatives trader Pat Toomey is running against Joe Sestak for the open U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania. If the interview he gave to AP yesterday is any indication, this guy would be as bad a senator as Jim DeMint is or as Sharron Angle wishes she could be.

Toomey was a radical right congressman and then head of the lunatic fringe Club For Growth (that even conservatives mistrust and hate). Now he's trying to pass himself off as "mainstream" or even "moderate," which is a laugh. He must have gotten carried away during his A.P. interview and allowed his mask to slip off. I don't think Pennsylvania voters are going to feel all that thrilled when Toomey admits he's willing to "consider" dismantling Social Security, starting with raising the retirement age to 70. And, like everyone on the far right, he said he supports giving younger workers the option of taking a portion of the payroll tax they pay and putting it into a Wall Street managed account, the GOP euphemism for privatizing it. Yesterday, responding to demands from Republicans like Boehner and Toomey, that Democrats let them start cutting up Social Security and Medicare and dismantle what's left of the safety net, Speaker Pelosi articulated an approach that most Americans share:
[T]here are many ways, whether it is increasing revenue, reducing spending, establishing priorities, eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, duplication, obsolescence, harshly subjecting every federal dollar to the harshest scrutiny. But let’s not start by raising retirement age, balancing the budget. A deficit was created by giving tax cuts to the wealthiest people in America. A deficit that was created by having these unpaid wars. A deficit that was created by having a laissez faire recklessness on Wall Street that [de]creased the revenue stream to the Treasury enormously, which reduced the wealth in America by $17 trillion. Think of what that means in terms of consumer capacity and confidence to spend or to invest or to save. So how did we get here in the first place? Let’s unravel that and let’s understand what Social Security means to us and not say because we gave tax cuts to the rich we have to raise the retirement age.

Toomey's assertions about Social Security are age-old right-wing myths and the same tired, anti-family propaganda the right has been screaming about since FDR first got it passed. Toomey also admitted he opposes health care reform, banking and Wall Street reform and the stimulus programs. He says he wants to give corporations an even "freer hand," which is the GOP dog-whistle term for the same kinds of deregulation agenda that brought on the Great Depression and almost landed us in a second one-- and is certainly behind the Gulf oil spill. What B.P. did in the Gulf, could never happen in Britain because there is reasonable regulation of oil companies there.

Yeah, Pat Toomey is... on the table. In the next few days we'll be rolling out our contest to see who you think deserves to be in the next video.

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Senate GOP Strikes A Major Blow Against Small Businesses While House Continues To Try To Clean Up Bush/Republican Economic Mess


Early yesterday every single Republican senator-- including the 3 from New England who the mainstream media has gotten into the habit of calling "moderates"-- joined a filibuster of the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act. Their congressional caucuses are doubling down on their strategy of destroying the economy from the inside. They are in ritual opposition to every attempt Obama makes to clean up the mess that decades of conservative misgovernance have left us with. The bill-- Barney Frank's H.R. 5297-- passed 241-282 in the House on June 17. When she found out that Burr was one of the Republicans filibustering the desperately needed bill. North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall issued this statement:
After 16 years in Washington, Senator Richard Burr still needs to get his priorities straight. People are losing jobs, businesses are struggling and he's playing politics. If he's not willing to give small businesses the support they need to create jobs, it's time for him to give up his.

She pointed out that several Republican lawmakers helped write the bipartisan bill, which was backed by traditional Republican Party allies like the National Federation of Independent Business and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Republicans complain that the legislation-- which eliminates capital gains taxes for investment in small firms, creates a Small Business Lending Fund to underwrite loans through community banks, and creates a credit initiative for small business to help meet state budget shortfalls-- gives too much money to family farmers. And they're also angry because they haven't been allowed to present a bunch of partisan, election year amendments. I see Reid voted NO, which means he intends to bring it up again so, presumably, he'll let the nasty little children get some time to grandstand on a bunch of amendments that have no chance of passing.

So while Republicans were running their games in the Senate, Barney Frank's House Financial Services Committee voted to approve the Shareholder Protection Act, which will require corporations to receive permission from a majority of shareholders before spending money on political campaigns, and will require all large election-related expenditures to be disclosed to shareholders and the public. No doubt the Senate Republicans will be eager to filibuster this one as well. Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way explained why this bill should not be filibustered and why it's so crucial that Congress enact it and the President sign it:
“In approving the Shareholder Protection Act, the House Financial Services Committee has taken an important step towards making corporations accountable to their shareholders and our government accountable to its voters. The Citizens United decision handed corporations the power to use unlimited amounts of money from their treasuries to influence elections-- without so much as checking with individual shareholders before spending their money, or telling them that they have done so.
“The only way to truly undo the damage of Citizens United is to pass a Constitutional Amendment reversing it. But until then, voters at least deserve to know which corporations are attempting to influence elections and shareholders deserve to know which elections their money is influencing. Yesterday, the Senate GOP united against the DISCLOSE Act, another measure to ensure transparency in corporate political activity. This time, I hope that the GOP will choose to listen to voters, rather than kowtowing to corporate interests.”

And speaking of stocks, there's an interesting teachable moment working itself out in the Wisconsin Senate race, pitting iconoclast and reformer Russ Feingold against shady GOP multimillionaire Ron Johnson. Johnson has been pushing a Big Oil agenda-- a bailout for B.P., drilling in the Great Lakes, more tax breaks and special treatment for Big Oil and big polluters-- and the it turns out that he owns a small fortune in B.P. stock, something he hadn't disclosed when he was pushing their case, a case that would make him even richer. Even as dense an Insider as Chris Matthews saw through Johnson's serial flip flopping on this major conflict of interest:

Multimillionaire Ron Johnson reversed himself again Monday, saying he now wasn’t certain whether he would sell his BP stock, after previously telling supporters and the media that he planned to sell the stock “to help pay for his campaign.” The initial flip-flop came after Johnson’s campaign initially said he would keep the stock.
Johnson also opposes the BP compensation fund for the victims of the Gulf oil spill-- calling it “Bad for America.”  As reported by the Capital Times: "Johnson climbed in bed with BP. The wealthy candidate derided the Obama administration's efforts to get money to pay for claims that are all but certain to exceed $20 billion ‘very troubling.’"
“Ron Johnson is misleading voters with his intentions. First he was going to keep the stock, then he decided to sell, now he's waiting for the right moment so he can turn a buck to fund his campaign. It appears the only thing Johnson is consistent on is changing his position,” said Mike Tate, Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. ”Wisconsin voters deserve better than a walking special interest whose positions on the issues shift depending on what his stock portfolio is doing. It’s time for Ron Johnson to stop playing games and sell the BP stock he hid from the public-- and give the money to support the BP Victims' Compensation Fund.”

But it turns out Russ Feingold has stock too-- and backs the company he has the stock in! Is he as corrupt and sleazy as Johnson. Uhhh... no. According to Wednesday's Market Place Magazine, Feingold pressed the FCC to “make it easier for residents living in northern and western Wisconsin to receive Wisconsin-related television programming, including in-state news, weather, sports and entertainment”-- including Green Bay Packer games. And he owns stock in the Packers! Unfortunately," said Feingold Thursday, "I will be unable to attend today's Green Bay Packers annual shareholder meeting. However, I want to make it clear that I will not be divesting my one share in the Packers. Not because it's the only stock I own, or because market conditions predict a Super Bowl, but because I am a committed Packer fan whether they are up or down."

All kidding aside, Big Business, lead by the far right Chamber of Commerce, is making a concerted effort this year to help the Republicans win back both houses of Congress. And they are pouring tens of millions of dollars into defeating Democrats, especially non-Blue Dog type Democrats.
The latest blatant signs of hostility come from coal executives who are considering starting up their own political operation to work against candidates they deem unfriendly to their interests. Their first three targets are all Democrats [Ben Chandler, Nick Rahill and Jack Conway].

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has already vowed to invest $75 million in the mid-term elections. And health insurers are also planning to play big in November, although the specifics remain in flux. Both groups are hedging their bets by aligning themselves with some moderate or conservative Democrats in case Republicans don't win control of Congress.

UPDATE: That Was Fast... Small Business Bill Passes

Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but it looks like late yesterday Reid called the Senate back into session and they voted on the Small Business bill again and... it passed 70-23, only a handful of freaks and America-haters like DeMint, McCain, Cornyn and Vitter voting NO.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

The concept of a "culture of inclusion" really isn't that complicated. Home Depot's spokesman explains it simply and elegantly


One of the great things about Home Depot's refusal to knuckle under to AFA's homophobic crusade is the obvious corollary that the "culture of inclusion" the company believes in isn't just sane social policy, it's also good for business!

“To forbid our associates to have any involvement in pride festivals would run counter to the company’s culture of inclusion. We’re not going to discriminate against anyone because of race, religion or sexual orientation.”
-- Home Depot spokesman Stephen Holmes, quoted in the Hatewatch post "Religious Right Group Slurs Home Depot in Anti-Gay Attack"

by Ken

I just wanted to finish up on the Hatewatch report (link above) I referenced last night on Home Depot's pushback against a smear campaign by the infamous American Family Association, which included the above quote from spokesman Stephen Holmes, which continues to arouse my admiration and awe. It's amazing how simple the concept of a "culture of inclusion" is when you get down to it.

Now the AFA is not to be confused with the Family Research Council, whose current homophobic bullying in Michigan Howie wrote about this morning. But the organizations do share a determination common to the Christian Right: that the family can be used as society's fundamental breeding ground for ignorance and hatred, these groups' ever-reliable resources as well as specially cherished goals.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has long taken as its mission the tracking of hate groups in America, in particular those with links to violence, and it's indeed reassuring to see its estimable Hatewatch blog ("Keeping an Eye on the Radical Right"; today, for example, Hatewatch features a report by Heidi Beirich, "Neo-Nazi Official Patrolling Arizona Border Lauds Violence") targeting the AFA's campaign against Home Depot.

As I mentioned last night, the AFA crusade tries to conjure menace with the shocking revelation: "The Home Depot has chosen to sponsor and participate in numerous gay pride parades and festivals.” This is what Stephen Holmes was responding to in his lovely statement.

But as the Hatewatch post points out, the AFA goes to considerable lengths to manufacture the revulsion toward Home Depot it's hoping to arouse.
AFA’s announcement strongly implies – with clever wording and misleading “evidence” – that the home-improvement retailer is helping gay sexual predators stalk children.

A letter posted on AFA’s website and signed by its president, Tim Wildmon, declares that a photograph “taken during recent homosexual events sponsored by The Home Depot show[s] children being encouraged to visit gay sex websites.” In the photo, children presumably attending the Southern Maine Pride Festival and parade in June, are seen holding orange Home Depot cups with small red-and-white flags stuck in them. The AFA caption reads, “The flags in these Home Depot cups promote a gay website which proclaims itself as ‘the men’s social group for men who have sex with men.’” The caption goes on, “The cups were given to children by The Home Depot gay parade marchers, while homosexual activists followed up by introducing them to gay sex websites."

Hatewatch notes that AFA never actually accuses Home Depot of being involved with these scarifying flags. "But," the writers note, "AFA nevertheless concludes, 'The Home Depot has no problem aligning itself with gay activist groups who target children with a pro-homosexual message.'”

Hatewatch became curious about those dreaded flags, which the post reports are unreadable in the accompanying photo. What's more, "AFA conveniently never identifies the offending website -- and for good reason, as it turns out."
The flags, Hatewatch has learned, were distributed by an Augusta, Maine, group called Just Guys, which provides safe sex counseling, HIV testing, social support and other resources for gay men. Its meetings are on the calendar of MaineGeneral Health, Maine’s third-largest health care system. And just for good measure, the front page of prominently displays a warning:

“This website contains HIV/STD prevention messages that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Since HIV infection and Sexually Transmitted Diseases are spread primarily through sexual practices or by sharing needles, prevention messages and programs may address these topics. If you are not seeking such information or may be offended by such materials, this website may contain pages which you may not wish to visit. Thank you.”

Not exactly the hallmarks of drooling pederasts.

Just Guys director Lew Alessio acknowledged that his organization distributed the flags at the southern Maine festival. The message on the flags said simply, “Gay Pride, Safe Pride,” and then the web address – the promotional phrase AFA cited wasn’t on them. The obvious conclusion: AFA representatives went to the website to find the promotional phrase — and thus knew perfectly well that is not a “gay sex website,” and that it doesn’t target children in any way.

“All of our written material must be approved by the review board of the Maine Center for Disease Control,” Alessio told Intelligence Report. “While we gave out thousands of trinkets with various safer sex/gay pride messages on them, every single message was approved by the MCDC in advance of the event.”

A bit different from the impression the AFA screed was clearly trying to plant in readers' imaginations, of drooling preverts trying to lure good Christian children into visiting a gay porn site. You may or may not be surprised to learn: "A representative of the American Family Association, contacted by Hatewatch, said no spokespersons were available to comment."

The post also recalls a famous previous AFA crusade, when the group was still headed by Tim Wildmon's father, Donald: an attempted boycott of Ford for what the post describes as "similar pro-gay offenses." In the mind of the AFA's Bryan Fischer, whose title is "director of issue analysis for government and public policy," “Ford Motor Company eventually surrendered, and re-focused its energy on making automobiles instead of retooling American culture.” (Hatewatch notes that Fischer "has recently argued that homosexuality should be prohibited by law, that Muslims should be banned from the U.S. military, and that executing couples engaged in “sexual immorality” might help the nation renew its “commitment to follow God.” He has argued that Adolf Hitler was gay and that World War II Nazi stormtroopers were actually a sinister, elite gay fighting force.)

Unfortunately for Fischer, history doesn't support his bravado. Dispassionate observers agree that Ford weathered the campaign without compromising its corporate principles in the direction of that same culture of inclusion -- so abhorrent to people who think like the AFA. And then Hatewatch quotes a colleague who's one of my favorite people, one of the wisest people I know.
Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck Combs Communications, which specializes in marketing to gay consumers, said most anti-gay organizations have abandoned consumer boycotts as a strategy for a simple reason: They haven’t worked. Few other religious-right or anti-gay organizations have joined AFA’s call.

“To the best of my knowledge, no corporation has evidenced any drop or loss of revenue from boycotts of this sort,” Witeck told Hatewatch. To the extent they are still used, the primary goal seems to be assuring the boycotting organization’s base that their contributions are making a difference, he said. “You take a cause, you do it, then you declare victory and then everyone believes their money was well-invested.”

The real net effect of anti-gay boycotts, says Witeck, is like listening to “one hand clapping. They really don’t change corporate behaviors.”

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