Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Breaking news from Tom Tomorrow's ticker: Muslims are scary!

>

It's Your Action McNews Network
This just in: Muslims are scary!
by TOM TOMORROW


by Ken

Remember how I pointed out the other day -- in a post called "Which came first, the dim viewers or the dim bulbs?" -- that it was only in Digby's hilarious recounting of an MSNBC colloquium on the economy, featuring three unimaginably dim bulbs, that the episode was in any way humorous? Digby confirmed this, you'll recall by saying of this conversation, which NBC's Chief Political Dim Bulb Chuck Todd was passing off as "eye-opening"" "It was eye-opening all right. In the same way that watching a car wreck is eye-opening."

I'm inclined to think that this ability to make something truly appalling genuinely funny is a mark of genius. It struck me, for example, that when people complained about the Kramer character on Seinfeld being merely ripped off from the real-life Kenny Kramer, they missed a crucial distinction: Where the real Kramer was probably one of the unfunniest people on the planet, and very likely an ongoing nightmare for the people unlucky enough to have him in their lives, the TV Kramer was sublimely hilarious.

I suppose it's an obvious observation to point out that among the numerous strains of genius that come together in Tom Tomorrow's work, this is the one that makes that work so indispensable. And right now, on the subject of this nexus between hate and feat that, in combination with the muck of the economic meltdown, has swept the country and seems at present to be defining the reality of the 2010 and possibly 2012 elections, a grain of humor is often the only way I can bear it.

As it happens, for the last week I've been on the periphery of a heated discussion among some pretty smart people of the extent to which we whining malcontents of the Far Left are responsible for the political woes of the Obama administration and Democrats nationally. Given such an odious discussion topic (I trust I don't have to spell out where we here at DWT stand on this subject, but for the benefit of new visitors, let me just say that we generally blame the political woes of the Obama administration and the Democrats in trouble on the Obama administration and the Democrats in trouble), there have been surprisingly thoughtful, rational contributions -- all, of course, from people who also blame the political woes of the Obama administration et al. on the Obama administration et al.

Could we have anyone more poorly equipped to cope with the craziness overtaking the land than the clowns and rogues of the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership? As poorly equipped as they are to deal with the economic crisis that seems to have legitimized the New Craziness, which is now threatening to take down people who don't deserve it -- people like Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer. It's a foregone conclusion, of course, that the electoral rout, when it comes, will be blamed by the gutless, brainless worms of the sievelike Obama administration (so much for its vaunted hatred for leaks) on those crazy Far Left malcontents in an endless stream of leaks to the Village media. Hmm, I do notice that the more the administration apologists scream at us, the more unapologetically Ioathing I feel toward that pack of creepy, cretinous right-wing doodyheads.

As for the New Craziness, I'm also thinking more these days that it differs only in degree from the ongoing Old Craziness, and that craziness is probably the norm rather than the exception in American civics. Indeed, if you looked at American history this way, I'm thinking you could make a case that the craziness of the Teabaggers and the assorted other parties to this New Craziness isn't even different in degree from all sorts of other sieges of intense craziness that have been more the norm than the exception. Maybe we need to do some rethinking of the way we teach and learn our history.

Meanwhile, thank goodness for both Digby and Tom Tomorrow.
#

Labels: , , , ,

Is Joe Miller More Of A Crackpot Than Palin, Angle & Aqua Buddah?

>


As you know, Sitka Mayor/Democratic Senate nominee Scott McAdams will be the Blue America guest at Crooks and Liars this coming Saturday. You can contribute directly to his campaign here. And with the Alaska Libertarians having withdrawn their offer to allow corporate shill Lisa Murkowski to run on their line, this is looking like a head-to-head race between a populist Democrat and a... well... I can't think of a word that works better to describe Joe Miller than "crackpot," although I guess "extreme right-wing ideologue" works too.

As TPM pointed out, Miller washes up better than kooks like Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, Kent Buck, Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Ron Johnson, but he's at least as far off the mainstream as they-- or any of the Jim DeMint candidates-- are.
Among Miller's views: He wants to eliminate the Department of Education, believes the government shouldn't pay for unemployment insurance and says of climate change on his campaign site that it "may not even exist." Among the more mainstream GOP positions he's taken: Miller would cut welfare; eliminate health care for the poor by scrapping Medicaid; and the Anchorage Daily News reported that he has called for sweeping cuts to Medicare and Social Security with a goal of phasing them out entirely in favor of total privatization... Miller is backed by the Family Research Council and opposes abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, a view far to the right of the mainstream of the GOP.

... Miller told ABC's TopLine in July that he wants to look at the constitutionality of the government paying for unemployment benefits. He's also said he would repeal health care reform entirely, a view differing from most GOP leaders who want to just repeal the unpopular parts and keep the rest.

"I don't think Alaskans are that crazy, and Miller is very fringe," an Alaska Democrat backing Democratic nominee Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams told TPM in an interview. The source added that McAdams is "not a flaming liberal" and can appeal to sensible members of both parties, adding a predication that because Murkowski supporters are mainstream, they will flock to McAdams in November.

Another source who has worked in Alaska Democratic politics said Miller is "radically outside of the mainstream" and "makes Sharron Angle and Rand Paul look normal."

That may be stretching the point since it would take a lot more than a picture of Joe Miller crawling around on all fours on a dark Alaska night scraping up the permafrost to bury guns in his backyard to make Angle or Mr. Aqua Buddah ever look "normal." Nonetheless, yesterday's Anchorage Daily News carried a very damaging report on Miller's calls for Alaskans to ween themselves off federal subsidies. I suspect a lot more Alaskans like the theory of no government handouts and no pork than who actually want to see America's biggest welfare recipient and pork state go without. His call for actual "belt tightening" might not have the same ring when Alaskans start thinking about what he's talking about.
Miller holds that position, articulated throughout his campaign against incumbent GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, despite Alaska's historic reliance on federal resources, needed to develop the vast territory of the young state.

"The government is going bankrupt. I don't think anybody can deny it," he said in an interview on CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday. "I think the answer to this is to basically transfer the responsibilities and power of government back to the states and the people. That is really the only answer, I think, out of this crisis."

Meanwhile, Miller is showing himself to be delusional and paranoid by running around insisting that John Cornyn of the NRSC is trying to steal the election for Murkowski. He's come pretty close to saying that if Murkowski is declared the winner-- an unlikely event in any case-- it will only be because of fraud and he'll go dig up the guns he buried in his yard. This guy is really... well, like I said, a crackpot.

Labels: , ,

Boehner and Lungren... Sittin' In A Tree

>



With a crew of corrupt extremists like Gary Miller, Ken Calvert, Jerry Lewis, Dana Rohrabacher, Brian Bilbray, Wall Herger, Tom McClintock, David Dreier, Buck McKeon, Elton Gallegly, Dan Lungren, Darrell Issa and John Campbell, how the hell do you figure out who the worst congressman from California is? We've spent time investigating each one of these loons and there isn't a decent human being between them. Dan Lungren, however does stand out as particularly foul even in this bunch. After his original congressional district in Long Beach proven to be inhospitable to Lungren's brand of reactionary politics mixed with standard racism and bigotry, a brief stink in Sacramento attracted him to the smell of pork in that area and the former Gingrich lackey carpetbagged his way into the House district that represents most of the Sacramento suburbs.

Lungren is a doctrinaire right-winger-- so far right that he only managed to get around 38% of the California vote when he ran against Gray Davis for governor. And so far right-wing that in 2008 he challenged John Boehner for the Minority Leader position. At the time he wrote a letter to every Republican in Congress whining that the GOP is headed in the wrong direction and would continue to face electoral defeats unless major changes are made. “If we don’t admit our difficulties and address them aggressively, we not only run the risk of becoming a permanent congressional minority but we will do a disservice to our nation,” Lungren wrote. “If we choose by inaction to ignore the real challenges we face, then paraphrasing President Reagan, we deserve to be regulated to the trash heap of history.”

This year Lungren is facing being dumped on the trash heap of history once more-- this time by ascendant Democratic challenger Ami Bera. And who's trying to bail him out? Well, John Boehner, of course, who needs every Republican vote he can muster in his desperate bid to replace Nancy Pelosi as Speaker. Besides, when most Republicans were fleeing in terror from Bush's no-strings-attached Wall Street bailout, who did Boehner find to help him bring the TARP bill back from the dead? Yes, corrupt Wall Street darling Dan Lungren.

I hope Boehner gets back to Ohio to see the new billboard down the road from his gated golfing community McMansion

Boehner, who seems to have forgotten he's supposed to be representing a hard-pressed district in southwest Ohio still reeling from his championship of Big Business' trade policies-- like NAFTA and CAFTA and all kinds of concessions to China that he helped usher through Congress-- is scurrying around the country raising money for crooks like Lungren. Next Thursday, September 9, the two of them will be hobnobbing with the rich local Republicans at the Carmichael home of crooked real estate developer, Angelo Tsakopoulos, who was fined by the EPA for violating the Clean Water Act, took the case all the way to the Supreme Court before being forced to pay up. Tsakopoulos and his family and their shady companies have dumped millions of dollars into campaign coffers on both sides of the aisle. He doesn't seem to care as much about ideology as about corruptibility and that would explain a particular affinity with the likes of John Doolittle, Rudi Giuliani, the DCCC, Richard Pombo, Jerry Lewis, and, of course, Dan Lungren.

For the super-rich there's an exclusive reception at 6pm where you can get your picture taken with the Orange golfer for $1,000. The hoy polloy are admitted at 7pm ($250 a pair). You're supposed to rsvp to Lindsey Seitchik-- (916) 476-5240 (Lindsey@SeitchikHQ.com). Or you can just show up and say you're with John Boehner or Howie Klein, Boehner's Special Assistant. The address is 7380 Nob Hill Drive, Carmichael, CA 95608.

Labels: , ,

David M Rivera-- Posterboy For The Florida Republican Party

>

Beating up women is no laughing matter

Even after CBS exposed the bizarre episode that had David Rivera personally ramming a mail truck to prevent the shipping of a damaging flier from a Republican primary opponent, Rivera is still lying to voters about his erratic and violent behavior. Sunday's Naples Daily News discredited Rivera's sleazy attempts to coverup the incident and his domestic violence case-- which he seems to expect voters to believe were about another unknown "David M. Rivera" at his address.
LIE: Rivera told the Naples Daily News that the incident took place on an exit ramp in a pre-arranged meeting to remove his own fliers from the mail van.

FACT: According to the Sunday Naples Daily News a Florida Highway Patrol report clearly states that "the accident" occurred in the middle of Miami's Palmetto Expressway (S.R. 826), a mile north of the N.W. 25th Street exit.

LIE: Rivera claimed he was with a campaign staffer who removed fliers from the van.

FACT: Again, the Daily News reports that the Florida Highway Patrol report listed Rivera and the truck driver as the only two people involved; no additional passengers were listed as being in the vehicles and Richard Sierra, president of Dodd Communications which now owns the mail van service, told both the Miami Herald and CBS 4 that Rivera's version of events isn't true. Sierra said "the company truck did not voluntarily pull off the highway and we did not remove any fliers. Whatever was on the truck was mailed."

This is what was mailed, the Republican flier Rivera's campaign manager threatened to sue DWT for running:




"David Rivera's efforts to cover-up domestic abuse allegations are beyond troubling, especially to women," said Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Eric Jotkoff. "Rivera has lied to South Florida's families about everything-- from denying he knows the victim in the case, to contradicting the facts within the 'Truckgate' police report. The last thing we can afford is another scandal-plagued career politician in Washington who will say and do anything to get elected-- especially when it involves shameless lying and reckless behavior."

Labels: ,

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ever wonder why companies tend to give their existing customers such crappy service? Let's ask James Surowiecki

>

"Companies end up thinking that their efforts are adding up to a much better job than they really do. In a recent survey of more than three hundred big companies a few years ago, eighty per cent described themselves as delivering “superior” service, but consumers put that figure at just eight per cent."
-- James Surowiecki, on his New Yorker "Financial Page"
this week (Sept. 6), "Are You Being Served?"

by Ken

It's fascinating how widespread the acclaim was for flight attendant Steven Slater -- you know, the fellow who had it up to here with those damned passengers and made that dramatic exit from his plane via the exit chute. As New Yorker "Financial Page" columnist James Surowiecki notes this week, "Everyone knows that the contemporary customer is mad as hell, too—fed up with inept service, indifferent employees, and customer-service departments that are harder to negotiate than Kafka’s Castle."

And why are we all so damned mad? As Surowiecki points out, "C.E.O.s routinely describe service as essential to success, and they are well aware that, thanks to the Internet, bad service can now inflict far more damage than before; the old maxim was that someone who had a bad experience in your store would tell ten people, but these days it’s more like thousands" -- or even millions, he notes, as in the case of Dave Carroll, who had his guitar broken by United Airlines baggage handlers and had the song he wrote in response, "United Breaks Guitars," "has garnered more than nine million views on YouTube." However,
customer service is a classic example of what businessmen call a “cost center”—a division that piles up expenses without bringing in revenue—and most companies see it as tangential to their core business, something they have to do rather than something they want to do. Although some unhappy customers complain, most don’t—one study suggests that only six per cent of dissatisfied customers file a complaint—and it’s tricky to quantify the impact of good service. So when companies are looking for places to cut costs it’s easy to justify trimming service staff, or outsourcing. The recession has aggravated the problem, as companies have tried to cut whatever they could—the airlines, for instance, have trimmed payrolls by sixteen per cent since 2007—but even in more prosperous times there was a relentless emphasis on doing more with less. That’s how you end up with overworked flight attendants, neglected passengers, and collective misery.

Unfortunately, customer service doesn't lend itself to any of the productivity enhancers that have transformed the workplace in recent decades.
Modern businesses do best at improving their performance when they can use scalable technologies that increase efficiency and drive down cost. But customer service isn’t scalable in the same way; it tends to require lots of time and one-on-one attention. Even when businesses try to improve service, they often fail. They carefully monitor call centers to see how long calls last, how long workers are sitting at their desks, and so on. But none of this has much to do with actually helping customers" --

[with the result quoted at the top of this post]

Is it all our fault as consumers, for having become so demanding of lower prices? "Low prices usually mean small payrolls and cheap wages." Still,
there are companies that have managed to use superior service to distinguish themselves from their competitors and still deliver reasonable prices: the employees of the online shoe retailer Zappos.com are famous for going to exceptional lengths to keep customers happy. Doing this, though, requires an investment in service that most companies aren’t willing to make.

As usual, Surowiecki is holding a theory in reserve.
The real problem may be that companies have a roving eye: they’re always more interested in the customers they don’t have. So they pour money into sales and marketing to lure new customers while giving their existing ones short shrift, in an effort to minimize costs and maximize revenue. . . . [A] company’s current customers are often the ones who experience its worst service.

This doesn't seem to make economic sense, since "it's more expensive to acquire a new customer than to hold on to an old one," and "these days, annoyed customers are quick to take their business elsewhere." There's a "but," though.
[B]ecause most companies are set up to focus on the first sale rather than on all the ones that might follow, they end up devoting all their energies to courting us, promising wonderful products and excellent service. Then, once they’ve got us, their attention wanders—and Dave Carroll’s guitar gets tossed across the tarmac.


David Carroll's "United Breaks Guitars": As of my visit tonight, it's at 9,079,065 views -- not counting the song's two sequels.
#

Labels: , ,

Ritual Sacrifice in the Garden State- A Guest Post From Tod Theise (D-NJ)

>


Tod Theise is the intrepid Democrat in northernmost New Jersey taking on the most conservative Republican left in the Northeast, Wall Street shill Scott Garrett. We started covering his race last May and when I was trying to wrap my head around the colossal compounding series of infantile blunders being made by New Jersey's governor I turned to Tod for some help understanding exactly what happened. One thing I saw clearly was that Christie's arrogance is simply amazing. He screws up then blames Obama. When that won't fly, he blames his own Education Secretary, the guy with credibility inside the far right. Christie was already is on thin ice with conservatives in New Jersey, so why would he can one of their genuine icons?  All in all, it looked like a very good week for Democrats in the Garden State. Let's let Tod take it from there: 

- by Tod Theise

Call me a glass-half-full kind of guy, but I actually expected New Jersey Governor Christie to demonstrate a modicum of leadership by taking responsibility for the epic blunder that robbed New Jersey schools of $400 million of federal education funds. In submitting the application for Race to the Top funding, Christie’s administration made a “clerical error” that lowered the application’s score. New Jersey’s loss was Ohio’s gain as the Buckeye State edged past Jersey to garner the tenth and final funding slot.

As the news spread of this debacle, Christie was faced with the first real crisis of personal character of his governorship. He could accept responsibility for this screw-up and ask forgiveness of the people whose interests he’d sworn to protect. Or he could pursue the course taken by your garden variety toddler caught in the act by an angry parent and throw a self-aggrandizing tantrum to deflect culpability. Well, so much for my cockeyed optimism. The Governor formerly referred to by George W. Bush as “Big Boy” proceeded to pitch a fit, attempting to assign blame first to the New Jersey Teachers Association (”NJEA”). Ironically, Christie had wrested the application process from the NJEA as part of his continuing efforts to score political points by pummeling teachers for every evil under the sun.

When this tactic wore thin, he maladroitly turned his sites on the Obama administration. Christie maintained that the President was duty bound to inform Christie’s administrators that they had botched the insertion of rudimentary date information on the application. This flea-bitten dog failed to hunt and Christie was running out of victims to toss on his ritual pyre. The last refuge for Christie’s cowardice proved to be the scapegoating of his handpicked Education Secretary Bret Schundler. Christie’s appointment of Schundler as Education Secretary was hailed by conservatives as a stroke of genius. Bret had built much of his street cred as a leader of Jersey’s right wing based on his support for education reforms such as charter schools. His appointment by Christie served to solidify Big Boy’s support with those on the right who had never quite accepted him as one of their own.

Christie decided to unceremoniously fire Schundler. I knew Bret Schundler back in the day when I was
a Republican. Whether you agreed with Bret or not, he has always been a man of impeccable character and has a heart for people rarely seen in politics. He readily bonded with a young Cory Booker when Booker was a Councilman in Newark and a rising star in the Democratic heavens. Despite his strong conservative leanings, he invariably treated those with whom he disagreed with respect and sought common ground on many issues with his political opponents. He didn’t deserve to be thrown under the bus by an ill-tempered adolescent masquerading as a Governor incapable of taking accountability for his own inexcusable mistake.

This incident isn’t about partisanship or ideology. It’s about right and wrong. And what Governor Christie did to Bret Schundler was incalculably wrong.

Rachel Maddow's perspective in the context of Obama Derangement Syndrome, something from which Christie cerianly suffers... mightily:




UPDATE: Christie And Schundler In A Hot Debate Over Who Lied More

This is ugly and getting uglier. TPM looked into the charges flying back and forth between Christie and Schundler, while people in New Jersey are just dazed that these two ego-maiacs lost them $400 million in education funding.

Schundler now says he made it clear to the the governor that he did not try to provide additional information to the Department of Education officials because the rules don't allow states to correct or add to their applications after they are submitted. He told TPMMuckraker that he told Christie prior to the press conference not to say that Obama was at fault or suggest that his office wasn't to blame. But Schundler has also said that he may have made a mistakenly told the Governor that the conversation with a reviewer about the missing data took place during the official presentation when it actually happened after the camera was turned off.

In addition, this week Schundler admitted that he, not a mid-level staffer, apparently edited out the crucial data this week that caused the state to lose out on the funding. Schundler has said that the federal Education Department recently found a draft of the Race to the Top application that has edits in Schundler's handwriting which remove the data federal officials requested.

Labels: ,

There's A New Dance Craze Among Florida Republicans-- The Tallahassee Twist

>


Statewide, Florida voters have been rejecting corrupt, right-wing ideologue Bill McCollum for many years. After two decades of disgracing himself in the House-- he was one of the leaders of the attempted coup against President Clinton-- he ran, unsuccessfully, for the Senate against Bill Nelson in 2000 and, in the GOP primary, against Mel Martinez in 2004. This month he was the favored candidate of the Tallahassee Establishment to replace Charlie Crist as governor. He lost again-- and not just lost; he lost to Rick Scott, a former Missouri donut maker who went on to national fame as a career criminal, defrauding Medicaid and Medicare of millions of dollars and incurring $1.7 billion in fines. He was kicked out of his company but somehow managed to avoid prison. He beat McCollum 47-43% in the primary and will now face one of Florida's most respected and well-liked political leaders, state CFO Alex Sink.

An aside before we get into Rick Scott. This morning Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice wrote on the futility of McCollum's immigrant bashing even in the Republican primary. Florida's not Arizona and it's not buying the hate. The bare bones:
Attorney General Bill McCollum was the favorite in the GOP gubernatorial primary, with a moderate record on immigration and strong support from Latino Republicans. His opponent Rick Scott, a political newcomer and self-funded multi-millionaire, decided to make a name for himself by riding the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment so popular with a segment of the Republican base. He emphasized his strong support for an Arizona-like immigration law in Florida and painted McCollum as soft on illegal immigration. Still, once McCollum started attacking Scott as a shady businessman, he regained the lead and was expected to win.

In what proved to be the fatal move of his campaign, McCollum introduced his own version of an Arizona-type law less than two weeks before the primary. McCollum called on the Florida state legislature to enact it in September and bragged that the bill was tougher than Arizona’s.

Turns out, McCollum’s strategy of trying to outflank Scott on immigrant bashing backfired. McCollum rapidly lost support from Latino leaders, and faced a backlash in the press.  On Tuesday, many Latinos in Miami-Dade County stayed home. Turnout in what was expected to be a McCollum stronghold was less than 17%, while statewide turnout was 21%. Scott raced over the finish line and pulled off the come-from-behind upset.

When Scott, the much-despised billionaire, first announced his intention to run against the colorless and plodding McCollum, the Tallahassee GOP Establishment was dismissive, then mortified-- and finally, pissed off. It was widely held that the tarnished image of the Florida Republican Party would be irreparably damaged by a crook-- and an extremist crook at that-- like Scott at the head of the ticket. The Republican elite rallied around McCollum and in many cases attacked Scott with more venom then they use even against Democrats. Current state party leaders, chairman John Thrasher, state Senator Mike Haridopolos, and state Representative Dean Cannon, helped fund vicious attack ads against Scott. This was a particularly appropriate ad that the next Republican House Speaker, Dean Cannon, funded to the tune of almost three quarters of a million dollars:



Although McCollum is still bitter, still grousing and still refusing to back Scott, the rest of the party developed instant amnesia and jumped onto the Rick Scott teabagger bandwagon, though not with much gusto. Let's help some of the more prominent of them remember what they had to say about the gubernatorial nominee they'll all embracing now.

After Jim Greer, the last Republican Party Chairman, was caught stealing, arrested and hauled off to jail, his replacement, John Thrasher wasn't shy about pointing out how Scott was smearing the entire GOP with Greer's criminal behavior. "Over the last several weeks and in an escalated manner this weekend," Thrasher wrote in an August 23rd press release, "Rick Scott has orchestrated a multifaceted campaign of misinformation in an effort to mislead Florida voters and confuse the facts surrounding the arrest and indictment of Jim Greer as well as the Party's financial situation and preparedness to support our candidates as we move towards the November election." That didn't work and he and Scott are posing as BFFs now.

State Senate leader Mike Haridopolous criticized Scott for being afraid "stand up in front of people and take questions." He then funneled contributions to the Florida First Initiative for a television ad attacking "Rick Scott, on his tenure as CEO of Columbia/HCA, the largest for-profit hospital chain in the U.S." The ad featured "former U.S. Attorney A.G. (Alec) Alexander III, who from 2002 to 2010 was an Assistant United States Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, focusing primarily on health care fraud."



According to the June 29th issue of the Jacksonville Observer Dean Cannon "steered money from his Florida Liberty Fund to the Florida First Committee, which earlier this month ran a $600,000 weeklong statewide television spot accusing McCollum rival Rick Scott of profiting from the 'largest Medicare fraud in American history.' All told, Cannon has poured $727,000 ... into the committee."

Other Florida Republicans now sucking up to him include ex-Punta Gorda state Rep. Lindsay Harrington who told the Sarasota Herald Tribune in July that Scott's "candidacy is based on monies that could have been defrauded from the United States government." And Broward County's Republican State Committeeman Ed Kennedy told the Ft Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel two days later that Scott is "dangerous to vote for." A prominent Hillsborough GOP activist, Angela Panezza apparent agrees: "If it comes down to it, I've got to say that I probably would vote for Alex Sink." Gary Lee head of the Lee County Republican Party put it another way to the News-Press: "About all I know is what I have heard about a shady past, running a company that was fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud."

And then there's a Republican who really understands fraud better than most. Rudi Giuliani chimed in with an exceptionally unflattering description of Scott a few days before the vote explaining that Scott is "someone who was fired from his company" after it engaged in a multimillion-dollar fraud.

Scott is hoping to keep a low profile and just use his personal wealth to flood the Florida airwaves with TV and radio ads and brainwash an easily brainwashed electorate. He's unlikely to accept Alex Sink's challenge to five debates. He had refused to appear on TV with McCollum in any debates and most Tallahassee Republicans say he's either unaware of the issues or unwilling to share his views on them with the voters. As Lake County GOP Chairman Joseph Rudderow told the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel late in July, "He's become more like a product the consumer is going to pull off the shelf." Nancy McGowan, a vice president of the Republican Women's Club of Duval County put it another way: "No one knows who he is or what he stands for." And a few days before the primary Jack Furnari, Assistant Vice Chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party told the Sun-Sentinel "...I think he's demonstrated an appalling lack of respect for the voting public." 

On the other hand, he put $50 million of his own money into the race so he doesn't much care what any of these pipsqueaks have to say. And at least he isn't David M. Rivera.

Labels: , , ,

Koches, Singers, Murdochs... The Vultures Move In For The Kill (We're The Kill)

>


Yesterday we started the day here at DWT with a report on the People For the American Way candidates' pledge regarding a constitutional amendment ending corporate dominance of our electoral system. Frank Rich's NY Times column dealt with the billionaires bankrolling the idiot, drooling teabaggers. He dealt with what's behind the curtain, what he calls the "one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the 'death panel' warm-up acts of last summer."
Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.

Their self-interested and at times radical agendas, like Murdoch’s, go well beyond, and sometimes counter to, the interests of those who serve as spear carriers in the political pageants hawked on Fox News. The country will be in for quite a ride should these potentates gain power, and given the recession-battered electorate’s unchecked anger and the Obama White House’s unfocused political strategy, they might.

All three tycoons are the latest incarnation of what the historian Kim Phillips-Fein labeled “Invisible Hands” in her prescient 2009 book of that title: those corporate players who have financed the far right ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down F.D.R. You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal “socialism” of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on J.F.K. and Medicare to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our “socialist” president.

Only the fat cats change-- not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government “handouts” to the poor, unemployed, ill and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred, was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of “a takeover” of America in which Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.” That rant could be delivered as is at any Tea Party rally today.

Last week the Kochs were shoved unwillingly into the spotlight by the most comprehensive journalistic portrait of them yet, written by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. Her article caused a stir among those in Manhattan’s liberal elite who didn’t know that David Koch, widely celebrated for his cultural philanthropy, is not merely another rich conservative Republican but the founder of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which, as Mayer writes with some understatement, “has worked closely with the Tea Party since the movement’s inception.” To New Yorkers who associate the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center with the New York City Ballet, it’s startling to learn that the Texas branch of that foundation’s political arm, known simply as Americans for Prosperity, gave its Blogger of the Year Award to an activist who had called President Obama “cokehead in chief.”

The other major sponsor of the Tea Party movement is Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, which, like Americans for Prosperity, is promoting events in Washington this weekend. Under its original name, Citizens for a Sound Economy, FreedomWorks received $12 million of its own from Koch family foundations. Using tax records, Mayer found that Koch-controlled foundations gave out $196 million from 1998 to 2008, much of it to conservative causes and institutions. That figure doesn’t include $50 million in Koch Industries lobbying and $4.8 million in campaign contributions by its political action committee, putting it first among energy company peers like Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Since tax law permits anonymous personal donations to nonprofit political groups, these figures may understate the case. The Kochs surely match the in-kind donations the Tea Party receives in free promotion 24/7 from Murdoch’s Fox News, where both Beck and Palin are on the payroll.

And on Friday night Eric Lichtblau reported on another far right billionaire willing to pony-up nearly unlimited funds to influence the outcome of elections to enrich himself and his cronies, Wall Street predator Paul Singer. The publicly available list of direct contributions Singer has made to the GOP, right-wing politicians and right-wing causes is breathtaking-- and investigators say it is just a small fraction of what he's dumped into the far right indirectly. If you search "Singer, Paul" in New York, "all cycles," at Open Secrets, you come up with five pages of reported contributions led off by $200,000 to the NRSC on October 7, 2002. $140,000 to the NRSC on July 12, 2000, $100,000 on June 4, 1998 to a GOP committee, another $80,000 on August 27, 1999 to the NRSC and $80,000 more to the same folks on December 4, 2001. Local Republican party operations in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, Colorado, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc were flowing at the same times-- as were hefty checks to all the worst and most corrupt right wing political hacks in America: Marco Rubio ($3,142 + $742), Mitch McConnell ($4,600 + $2,300 +$1,000 +$1,000). Rob Portman ($2,400 + $742), Eric Cantor ($2,400 + $2,400 +1,000) Joe Lieberman ($10,500), Jim DeMint ($2,400), Mark Kirk ($2,400 + $2,400), Roy Blunt ($2,400 +$1,000 + $742), Richard Burr ($2,000), David Vitter ($2,000), Carly Fiorina ($1,800), John Boehner ($1,000), Pat Toomey ($2,400 +$742)... five pages, nearly a million and a half dollars, thousands more to McCain, Bush, Giuliani, Cornyn and dozens of equally disreputable characters (including, I might add, Chuck Schumer).

Singer is a hedge fund manager of the worst sort, the vulture fund. Robber baron doesn't begin to describe what he is. In more rational societies he would have been locked up as a danger many years ago. His worst nightmare is a muscular government working to protect society from the financial machinations of ruthless, greed-obsessed sociopaths like himself.
He has become one of the biggest bankrollers of Republican causes, giving more than $4 million of his money and raising millions more through fund-raisers he hosts for like-minded candidates who often share his distaste for what they view as governmental over-meddling in the financial industry.

The same day in June that the House gave final approval to the sweeping overhaul of financial regulations, Mr. Singer had a fund-raiser at his Central Park West apartment, netting more than $1 million for seven Republican Senate candidates who had opposed the bill. His hedge fund, Elliott Management, is the biggest source of money to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

...In April, he gave $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association, along with smaller donations this election cycle to more than two dozen other conservative campaigns.

At his June fund-raiser, Mr. Singer voiced frustration not only over financial policies in Washington, but also on national security and foreign policy, particularly what he saw as the Obama administration’s inadequate support for Israel, according to a friend at the fund-raiser who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not comfortable speaking publicly about his guarded associate.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Add "Rubicon" to "Mad Men" and the crowded list of other quality Sunday-night cable shows

>

Am I the only one whose stomach churns now every time Betty Draper (January Jones) appears on Mad Men? Nobody's going to nominate ex-husband Don (Jon Hamm) as father of the year, but even if the Draper kids manage to survive their childhoods undamaged physically -- not at all a sure bet, given how wacko Betty has become -- can you imagine the future therapists' bills piling up for the three of them?

by Ken

We'll come back to Mad Men, which has become more and more disturbing, but first I want to say a few words bout AMC's Rubicon. I watched the sneak preview of this show about a small Lower Manhattan think tank (or think-tank front?) tied into U.S. intellligence awhile back, and really enjoyed it, but didn't quite know what to do when regular episodes started rolling on my crowded Sunday-night cable schedule.

For the summer, in addition to there's been AMC's Mad Men (and Breaking Bad when it's in season), Lifetime's Army Wives, TNT's Leverage, HBO's Entourage and Hung, TBS's My Boys, Food Network's Next Food Network Star . . . whew! And every now and then PBS throws in something interesting on Masterpiece Classic or Masterpiece Mystery, which one of my PBS stations runs on Sunday night. I tell you, it takes some serious juggling of the DVR, and wouldn't be possible without those endless cable repeats.

Before attacking the DVR-stockpiled Rubicon episodes, by odd coincidence I had just stumbled on a repeat of the final episode of HBO's The Pacific, and so I now had James Badge Dale's Robert Leckie fresh in mind when I returned to Rubicon He plays the central character, a super-smart young intelligence analyst who stumbles onto a mysterious conspiracy that seems to thread through the upper reaches of the intelligence world. Will, in addition to being the smartest person in most any room he's in, is in a state of extreme social withdrawal, which we finally learned is the result of the loss of his wife and daughter on 9/11. I don't know how smart Dale is, but on-screen he really does read as super-smart, as the repeat glance at his Bob Leckie in The Pacific reminded me, and I've found that he gives Rubicon a really solid, involving center.

And the rest of the cast of think-tank folk is also solidly involving. The producers went all out for the first episode, engaging the always-fascinating (if almost always unlikable) Harris Yulin for basically one scene before he shoots himself, and even better, Peter Gerety as Will's father-in-law (and thus also grieving the loss of a daughter and granddaughter) and immediate superior, in a performance so quirkilyl warm and charming that I at least was totally beguiled, and prepared to surrender myself to the aftereffects of the character's fate in that episode.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT MAD MEN . . .

Sure, I was shocked when Betty hauled off and walloped little Sally (Kiernan Shipka). Shocked, but not surprised. It was already pretty clear at the end of last season that Betty is now so securely walled into her Fortress of Entitlement, Resentment, and Confusion that she has degenerated into Monster Mom, as I've previously referred to her. This moment in the above clip is now my idea of a standard Betty Draper Moment:
DON: You didn't have to hit her.
BETTY: You're right. [Shouting up the stairs after SALLY.] It doesn't do any good!

The rage is now so close to the surface, and so out of control, that I'm really scared to think what she might be capable of. It was interesting to see how shocked replacement husband Henry was when Betty unloaded on Sally -- interesting but hardly relevant, since Henry (Christopher Stanley), wallowing in his own mommy issues, seems to have no strategy for dealing with his lovely new wife but giving in to her. Any plot line that involves Betty and especially the children now instantly sets my stomach churning.

Following last week's Great Masturbation Incident, there was some hope in Sally being hustled off to a child therapist, who seems relatively well-intentioned. And it didn't take her more than 15 or 20 seconds' worth of conversation with Betty to understand how urgently in need of help she is. The Jezebel blog had some sharp coverage of the masturbation plot line -- cf. Margaret Hartmann's Sally Draper's Sexual Revolution and Sadie Stein's "Have You Been Caught Masturbating? Do Tell," inviting readers to share their own caught-in-the-act stories.

There's also a sort of interesting piece by AlterNet's Don Hazen on the reflexively mysognynistic behavior of the men in Mad Men: "The 7 Worst Men of Mad Men: Do They Have to Be Such Jerks?." The question that seems to engage Don Hazen is the authenticity of its depiction of the advertising world as it was being transformed in the early 1960s. Mad Men's rendering of this period has been sharply criticized in Playboy by advertising legend George Lois, "an eminence grise of the creative forces that transformed advertising in the 1960s," who "thinks the show gets it all wrong."

The show's creator and principal writer, Matthew Weiner, counter-insists on the authenticity of his depiction, pointing out that the various incarnations of the Sterling Cooper agency are notably not in the vanguard of the profession. It's an issue worth thrashing out, but one thats' really of interest mostly to those who watch Mad Men as a piece of documentary rapportage on the evolution of the advertising industry and its attitudes toward women. in this issue of literal authenticity. Since this is a work of fiction, and a brilliant one, I'm more concerned with the internal coherence and human believability of its characters and situations, and while I do sometimes feel that the degree of male cluelessness is overstated, I'm by no means sure even of that, and even if it is, I can see that some exaggeration, or perhaps spotlighting, is useful for seeing that kind of unthinking misogyny clearly.

In the early seasons, Betty's pathetic dependence on male definitions of her and her role in life was sad, even heart-rending. Even her attempt to get help via therapy backfired, because the therapist was a prisoner of those same gender assumptions, even falling casually into cahoots with Don in controlling her therapy. But it's important to remember that Betty absorbed those attitudes from her departed helpless-goddess mother, and understandable as it is how she deteriorated into the hopeless, even dangerous psychological mess she's become, at some point people do have to take responsibility for their own behavior. Even now she refuses to see how much poison she absorbed from her father (whom we got to know in a really chillingly compelling performance by Ryan Cutrona).

Hint, Betty: It wasn't just your husband your dad hated. Your insistence on naming the baby after him wasn't just an act of aggression against Don. It was a sign of how far out of touch with reality you are.
#

Labels: ,

Meet Scott McAdams, Alaska Populist

>


Did I ever love Michael Chabon's book, The Yiddish Policemen's Union! And until this week, that's all I-- or most Americans from the Lower 48 who haven't cruised Alaska-- knew about Sitka, Alaska. I know a lot more now because Sikta's mayor, Scott McAdams, won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by super-corrupt ex-Senator/Governor Frank Murkowski's appointed daughter Lisa. (Yeah, ole Frank appointed her when he left the Senate to become governor.) Anyway, the Beltway Democrats didn't think much about Alaska because they figured Lisa had a lock on the seat. Bob Menendez at the DSCC had been absolutely wrong about everything since he started running that show and, right now, it looks like Murkowski was defeated by radical right teabagger Joe Miller-- the Sarah Palin candidate who ran on an anti-Choice platform (with an anti-Choice referendum on the ballot to pull he loons out to the polls). We won't know who won the GOP nod until Tuesday, when the dog sleds bring the last of the ballots in for counting but Miller is around 1,700 votes ahead of Murkowski and Murkowski is threatening to run as a Libertarian spoiler. Which means this is now a key race.

So while the DSCC wonders if they can somehow maneuver perennial loser Tony Knowles onto the ticket instead of McAdams-- or perhaps the brilliant Menendez can figure out how to get Cal Cunningham to be the candidate-- actual Alaskans are uniting behind McAdams with great enthusiasm-- and for all the same reasons the DSCC is so uninterested. He isn't a conservative corporate shill and isn't interested in enriching himself at the public's expense. The DSCC doesn't know how to deal with that kind of candidate. Grassroots Alaskans do. Our most dependable correspondent in Alaska, Phil Munger, has been raving to me about McAdams for months. And this week I finally spoke with him on the phone. He seemed committed to a kind of economic populism that results in winning campaigns in the West. In other words, Scott McAdams is more interested in solving real problems real American families face than in staking out ideological positions. So while his half-crazed probable opponent, nutty Mr. Miller, runs around burying guns in his backyard, Scott is talking with Alaska voters about jobs, the economy, the environment, energy and housing. Next weekend he'll be the Blue America candidate at Crooks and Liars (Saturday 11am, PT). I hope you'll come by to say hello and hear what he has to say. Meanwhile, if you want to help him get his message out, we added him to our Senate Candidates Worth Fighting For page. And if you want to prepare for next week's session, here's an extensive interview with Mayor McAdams that was done on Mudflats early in June.



Joe Miller was on Face The Nation today. I'm not sure if he's just terribly ignorant-- on a Sarah Palin level-- or a boldfaced liar, but his vision for America could arguably work if he figures out how to turn back the clock to the 17th or perhaps 18th Century. The Law of the Jungle just won't do in the 21st-- not even in Alaska, not even if we were all to follow his lead and start digging up the permafrost and burying guns in our backyards. This guy is clearly in a category of dangerous Know Nothings right up there with Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson and Marco Rubio-- the whole anti-USA Jim DeMint crowd of sociopaths and nihilists, who want to abolish Social Security, let Wall Street and Big Business "regulate" themselves, and make little things like healthcare, safe food and water and education the exclusive realm of the wealthy.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday Classics: The piano-and-orchestra Liszt -- the orator meets the poet

>


Here's the first part of the Second Piano Concerto played by Alfred Brendel, with Eliahu Inbal conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony. (The performance concludes here. There's an interesting video performance by pianist Yakov Fliere, from 1974, with Maxim Shostakovich conducting -- part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.)

by Ken

We've heard a sampling of Liszt the orchestral virtuoso (in the form of the best-known of his 13 symphonic poems, Les Préludes, Friday night) and of his virtuosic but equally poetic keyboard wizardry (performances by Sviatoslav Richter, Georges Cziffra, and Aldo Ciccolini last night, along with a video performance of the First Piano Concerto).

We've talked before about the emergence in the West of the roster of great Soviet musicians long prevented from performing here by the Stalinist and immediately post-Stalinist regimes. When Emil Gilels, by any standard one of the century's great pianists, caused the predictable furor, he told interviewers that the pianist they really needed to hear was Richter, who was still being kept under wraps. Rather amazingly, he lived up to the hype.

In 1961 in London Richter played both Liszt piano concertos and the Hungarian Fantasia for piano and orchestra with his compatriot Kiril Kondrashin and the London Symphony, and happily Philips recorded the concertos, for a disc that remains a phonographic landmark -- recorded, incidentally by the Mercury "Living Presence" team of producer Wilma Cozart Fine and engineer Robert Fine, though the tapes have for decades now rested exclusively in the hands of the sonically more conservative Philips technical people. It's a pity the two concertos made such a convenient LP, which is presumably what discouraged Philips from recording the Hungarian Fantasia, which turns out to be quite a loss when we hear the live performance. True, notes get spilled all over the place when all hell breaks loose, and this would have been fixed in a studio recording, but my goodness, is it possible not to be blown over by the hurricane force of this outburst?

LISZT: Hungarian Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra


Sviatoslav Richter, piano; London Symphony Orchestra, Kiril Kondrashin, cond. Live performance, 1961

Jorge Bolet, piano; Symphony of the Air, Robert Irving, cond. Everest, recorded c1959

Michel Béroff, piano; Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Kurt Masur, cond. EMI, recorded June 1979

Liszt wrote his two piano concertos (and indeed most of a third, only in modern times come to light) at basically the same time, which allowed him to pursue markedly different expressive agendas; the two are so different, and yet so complementary, that they have flourished in each other's company since early LP days. The First Concerto, as you may gather from the video clip we saw last night, is in large measure the Liszt of Les Préludes: grandiose, sweeping, a robust treat. While the Second Concerto indeed builds to a wonderfully grandiloquent march finale, the wonder of this piece is the gentle songfulness of its opening theme, and the way it evolves into that finale.

The piece is basically a theme-and-variations set, in a single movement, though with significant changes of tempo -- and, more significantly, and deliciously under-conspicuously, a slide from triple meter, first to 6/8 duple meter (at the Allegro agitato assai), then briefly back to the 3/4 of the opening (Tempo del Andante) before switching to good old-fashioned square-jawed 4/4 at the Allegro moderato -- the very tempo we're going to need (even with a brief return to the still-duple-meter 6/8) for the outbreak of the Marziale. (And when the Marziale finally breaks out, you really shouldn't have any difficulty hearing in it the lovely original theme.)

We're going to hear the 1961 Richter-Kondrashin studio recording I mentioned above, and also a performance by the highly poetic Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman, whom we heard playing the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto, also with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony, and finally Alfred Brendel's first recording (for Vox).

On a technical note: CD programmers naturally enough treat some (and some cases all) of the tempo changes in the Liszt A major Concerto as appropriate points for tracking; of course on a CD we don't hear those track points. Since in our format I have no way of creating seamless track switches, we're going to hear the piece somewhat broken up, and not identically broken up, so that in the Richter-Kondrashin recording we hear the buildup to and outbreak of the Marziale un poco meno allegro, whereas in the Zimerman-Ozawa the Marziale gets its own track point, and the Vox recording has a slightly different breakdown.

LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 2 in A:
Adagio sostenuto assai; Allegro agitato assai Allegro moderato Allegro deciso; Marziale un poco meno allegro; Allegro animato


Sviatoslav Richter, piano; London Symphony Orchestra, Kiril Kondrashin, cond. Philips, recorded 1961

Krystian Zimerman, piano; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa, cond. DG, recorded April 1987

Alfred Brendel, piano; Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Michael Gielen, cond. Vox, recorded 1975
#

Labels: , ,

People For the American Way Wants A Pledge-- And So Do The American People

>


A few weeks ago People For the American Way sent a letter to men and women running for Congress calling their attention to a fundamental, even existential, threat to our Democracy. The 5 right-wing corporate justices on the Supreme Court have basically upended the entire thrust of electoral fairness by unleashing a tidal wave of corrupt corporate cash into the electoral system. Americans of all political persuasions are unhappy about it but it's Congress that needs to act. Not as in "play act," but to do something about it. No one's talking about lining the 5 judges up and shooting them, but a Constitutional Amendment to prevent a corporate take-over-- not to mention a foreign big money take over-- of our fragile electoral system is what's called for. This is the simple, straightforward letter PFAW sent out:
Dear Candidate,
 
Early this year, the Supreme Court dealt a dangerous blow to our democracy. In Citizens United v. FEC, the Court overturned laws and its own precedent to confer free speech rights to corporations equal to those enjoyed by individuals. Under the ruling, neither Congress nor the states can restrain corporations from spending unlimited amounts of money from their corporate treasuries to directly support or attack candidates.
 
The threat posed by this ruling is difficult to overstate. For example, in 2008 Exxon Mobil Corporation reported profits of $45 billion. If this one company had devoted even two percent of those profits to the political process, it would have outspent both major presidential candidates combined. With so much money involved, Americans can't have confidence that elected officials will protect the public interest over corporate interests.
 
Several polls have documented nearly universal opposition to the Supreme Court's misinterpretation of the First Amendment granting corporations a constitutional right to flood our elections with corporate funds. Americans from across the political spectrum overwhelmingly want their lawmakers to reject Citizens United by enacting a new amendment to the Constitution. State and local governments have already begun drafting resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to restore the ability of government to regulate corporate spending in our elections.
 
We ask you, along with every other candidate for Congress, to sign a pledge affirming your commitment to amending the Constitution to repair the damage done by Citizens United.
 
That pledge reads as follows:
 
Pledge to Protect America's Democracy:

The Supreme Court's flawed decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts to influence election outcomes endangers our democracy and threatens to drown out the voices of individual citizens. I pledge to protect America from unlimited corporate spending on our elections by supporting a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision giving corporations the same First Amendment rights as people.

Friday they announced that their initial outreach has been successful with dozens of candidates pledging their support. Thirteen candidates for the Senate and 35 running for the House have already signed on. “Americans are fed up with government that responds to corporate money, not the needs of ordinary Americans,” said Michael B. Keegan, president of People For the American Way. “The depth of feeling is palpable. We’ve already seen that candidates who want to serve their constituents have been eager to sign onto this campaign. More are signing on every day, and we’re confident that pace will only increase.”
 
Added Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, the organization partnering with PFAW in the effort, “Corporations already rule the roost in Washington. Witness the oil industry’s free pass to drill offshore without adequate environmental scrutiny or the health insurance industry’s enormous influence over the outcome of the health care debate, to name just two of countless examples. The Supreme Court’s decision threatens to make a bad situation exponentially worse. We applaud candidates who stand up and say that this must be stopped.”

At PledgeForDemocracy.org, voters can use an interactive map to learn who has taken the pledge-- and who hasn’t. Here's the full list. You'll notice that among the more high-profile names are current and former Blue America endorsees like Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Roxanne Conlin (D-IA), Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. John Hall (D-NY), Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH), Justin Coussoule (D-OH), Bill Hedrick (D-CA), Fred Johnson (D-MI), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), Elaine Marshall (D-NC), and David Segal (D-RI). These are names you can count on to represent us in what Alan Grayson was talking about when he described us and them. And if you missed it, Friday afternoon, Ed Schultz and Justin Coussoule, one of the first to take the PFAW pledge, went after Washington's worst coin-operated political hack, John Boehner:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy



Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Please... Give Us Liberty/Give Us Dick

>

John Amato and Dave Neiwert wrote a totally cool book, Over The Cliff-- How Obama's Election Drove The American Right Insane. I'm old fashioned and love reading books and this is definitely one I'm enjoying to the max and definitely recommend. BUT... if you're new fashioned and don't read books, this ad for another book is like the Cliff Notes version of Over the Cliff. You'll certainly get many of the insane parts. Take a look:

Labels: , , ,

Sunday Classics preview: Liszt the keyboard dervish

>


Actually, we're not going to hear Liszt's First Piano Concerto tomorrow, so let's listen tonight to the first part played by the titanic Martha Argerich in November 1999 with the Toho Music School Orchestra under Chikara Iwamura. (The performance concludes here.)

by Ken

Last night we heard the orchestral Liszt in full cry in that grandest of all symphonic poems, Les Préludes. Today we sample the keyboard Liszt, the composer who was the greatest pianist of his and possibly any time.

We start with two "concert études," from two different sets, as chosen and of course played by the amazing Sviatoslav Richter. In "Un sospiro," it's hard enough to sustain the melting beauty of the melodic line without reckoning on all the embellishment Liszt piles on -- this is a study, after all, a piece centrally concerned with technical mastery.

"Gnomenreigen" is a killer. Oh, lots of pianists can bang out all those percussively attacked notes, but then to realize them with such beauty of tone and continuity of line?

LISZT: Concert Etudes

"Un Sospiro" ("A Sigh") (No. 3 of Three Concert Etudes, S. 144)

"Gnomenreigen" ("Gnomes' Round") (No. 2 of Two Concert Etudes, S. 145)

Sviatoslav Richter, piano. Philips, recorded live, 1988


Now we have Liszt as musical landscape artist, in one of the best-loved pieces from the year devoted to Italy in his wonderful set Years of Pilgrimage (Années de pèlerinage). The Hungarian-French pianist Georges Cziffra was a maddeningly eccentric and unpredictable pianist (I don't dare say "erratic," or the Cziffra True Believers will come yelling and whooping out of the woodwork), but the tone-painting here seems to me pure magic.

LISZT: "Les Jeux d'eau dans la Villa d'Este" ("The Play of Water at the Villa d'Este") (No. 8 of the Second Year, Italy, of the Années de pèlerinage, or Years of Pilgrimage)

Georges Cziffra, piano. EMI, recorded c1960s


Finally, while we don't have the kind of morbidly bass-obsessed performance the funereal "Funérailles" can handle -- in this instance I might say that that lyrical master Aldo Ciccolini, who played Debussy so beautifully for us, is a little too tasteful -- I think we still get a good feeling for a whole other, darker dimension of LIszt's creative personality.

Arthur Rubinstein's 1953 recording isn't quite what I'm groping for either, but it's closer. And I'm throwing it in because I was so relieved to find the CD, which had turned up missing from its jewel case when I was mapping out the music for this post. (I hate when that happens.) It finally occurred to me to check in a CD player I hardly use, and sure enough there it was!

LISZT: "Funérailles" (No. 7 of Harmonies poétiques et religieuses)

Aldo Ciccolini, piano. EMI, recorded Apr. 9-10, 1990
Arthur Rubinstein, piano. RCA/BMG, recorded Oct.-Nov. 1953


IN TOMORROW'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST --

What else? The orchestral Liszt and the keyboard Liszt come together. We'll hear the rocking Hungarian Fantasia and the Second Piano Concerto.
#

Labels: ,

Oliver Sacks opens a window, personally, on the condition of "face-blindness"

>

Neurologist Oliver Sacks has had a personal route to,
and a personal stake in, understanding face-blindness.

"It is with our faces that we face the world, from the moment of birth to the moment of death. Our age and our gender are printed on our faces. Our emotions, the open and instinctive emotions that Darwin wrote about, as well as the hidden or repressed ones that Freud wrote about, are displayed on our faces, along with out thoughts and intentions. . . . Crucially, it is by our faces that we can be recognized as individuals."
-- Oliver Sacks, in "Face-Blind," in the August 30 New Yorker
(only an abstract is free online; for an audio link, see below)

by Ken

It was just recently that I read for the first time about "face-blindness," or prosopagnosia, and at first it seemed not just an arcane but a vaguely comical and minor affliction. Clearly, the first objective of Oliver Sacks (author of such books as Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) in this new New Yorker piece is to communicate its nature and seriousness.
At two and a half months, babies respond to smiling back. "As the child smiles," Everett Ellinwood writes, "it usually engages the adult human to interact with him -- to smile, to talk, to hold -- in other words, to initiate the processes of socialization. . . . The reciprocal understanding mother-child relationship is possible only because of the continual dialogue between faces." The face, psychoanalysts consider, is the first object to acquire visual meaning and significance.

But there's another storyline here. It's used as way of ushering us into the world of prosopagnosia, and the question of what other kinds of memory either are functionally identical or work similarly enough to be considered with it. However, it's also a revelation on the part of this gentle guide to so many of the brain's malfunctions. It's news to me, anyway, that the British-born Sacks, resident in this country since 1965 (and now a much-honored professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical School), is himself a lifelong sufferer from prosopagnosia.
I have had difficulty recognizing faces for as long as I can remember. I did not think too much about this as a child, but by the time I was a teen-ager, in a new school, it was often a cause of embarrassment. My frequent inability to recognize schoolmates would cause bewilderment, and sometimes offense -- it did not occur to them (why should it?) that I had a perceptual problem. I usually recognized close friends without much difficulty, especially my two best friends, Eric Korn and Jonathan Miller. But this was partly because I identified particular features: Eric had heavy eyebrows and thick spectacles, and Jonathan was tall and gangly, with a mop of red hair. Jonathan was a keen observer of postures, gestures, and facial expressions, and seemingly never forgot a face. A decade later, when we were looking at school photographs, he still recognized literally hundreds of our schoolmates, while I could not identify a single one.

It was not just faces. When I went for a walk or a bicycle ride, I would have to follow exactly the same route, knowing that if I deviated even slightly I would be instantly and hopelessly lost. I wanted to be adventurous, to go to exotic places -- but I could do this only if I bicycled with a friend.

And at 77, Sacks writes, "despite a lifetime of trying to compensate, I have no less trouble with faces and places." What recognition he is able to manage depends overwhelmingly on the combination of pronounced identifying characteristics like those he mentions above and, crucially a context in which he can connect them. What's lacking is a whole system of brain function that extends from recognition and identification of kinds of visual detail to an ability to store and then retrieve and connect those details. As so often happens in brain functions that we take for granted, it's vastly more complex than we realize until we really break it down and examine it -- and the potential for dysfunction is correspondingly wider.

The revolution of recent decades in understanding of which parts of the brain are involved in which activities, and which functions can be replicated elsewhere in the brain, has led to an overwhelming appreciation of how few functions are accomplished in single places in the brain. This is good news in that many functions can be farmed out to other locations in the event of disability in one; the not-so-good news, apart from the fact that many functions don't appear to be capable of such outsourcing, all those functions that involve multiple areas of the brain also require large quantities of coordination. To put it another way, in my strictly lay understanding, the more complex brain function turns out to be, the more vulnerable it is to breakdown.
Above all, the recognition of faces depends not only on the ability to parse the visual aspects of a face -- its particular features and their over-all configuration -- and compare them with others but also on the ability to summon the memories, experiences, and feelings associated with that face. . . .

Recognition is based on knowledge and familiarity is based on feeling, but neither entails the other. The two have different neural bases and can be dissociated; thus, although both are lost in tandem with prosopagnosia, one can have familiarity without familiarity in other conditions
And the opposite occurs too, Sacks notes -- "in people with Capgras syndrome, for whom faces, though recognized, no longer generate a sense of emotional familiarity."

Sacks explains that a key to understanding that he wasn't just "very bad at recognizing faces, as my friend Jonathan was very good at it," came when he traveled to Australia to visit his older brother Marcus, whom he hadn't seen in 35 years, "and discovered that he, too, had exactly the same difficulties recognizing faces and places," and "it dawned on me that this was something beyond normal variation, that we both had a specific trait, a so-called prosopagnosia, probably with a distinctive genetic basis."

He not only became more aware of the dimensions of his own situation but collected case histories of other sufferers.
As I continued to receive more and more letters from people with prosopagnosia or topographical agnosia [the apparently related difficulty recognizing places], it became clear to me that "my" visual problem was not uncommon and must affect many people around the world.

Face recognition is crucially important for humans, and the vast majority of us are able to identify thousands of faces individually, or to easily pick out familiar faces in a crowd. A special expertise is needed to make such distinctions, and this expertise is nearly universal, not only in humans but in other primates. How, then, do people with prosopagnosia manage?

In the past few decades, we have become very conscious of the brain's plasticity -- how one part or system of the brain may take over the functions of a defective or damaged one. But this does not seem to occur with prosopagnosia or topographical agnosia -- they are usually lifelong onditions that do not lessen as one grows older. People with prosopagnosia, therefore, need to be resourceful and inventive in finding strategies for circumventing their deficits: recognizing people by an unusual nose or beard, for example, or by their spectacles or a certain type of clothing.

This may mean features like "voice, posture, or gait," and as noted, context is crucial. Sacks offers examples such as neighbors he is able to recognize when they're with their distinctive dogs; without the dogs, the women are visual strangers. Between his own experiences and those of an assortment of fellow sufferers who have described theirs, it's a window to an understanding of an area of brain function that most of us probably have never been aware of. The good doctor also makes clear how much he has depended on his longtime assistant, Kate. With some amusement, for example, he recalls spending weeks in 1988 with the "memory artist" Franco Magnani and writing a piece about him for The New Yorker, only to have then-editor-in-chief Robert Gottlieb reply --
"Very nice, fascinating -- but what does he look like? Can you add some description?" I parried this awkward (and, to me, unanswerable) question by saying, "Who cares what he looks like?"

"Our readers will want to know," Bob said. "They need to picture him."

"I will have to ask Kate," I said. Bob gave me a peculiar look.

For anyone with any curiosity about the mysterious if not actually preposterous workings of our brain (such a bizarre apparatus that, as a number of scientists have pointed out, it's hard to imagine as the product of an especially intelligent "intelligent designer"), the piece is indispensable. For anyone with any appreciation of the job Oliver Sacks has done in guiding us through some of those mysteries, it's also a deeply moving read.

THERE IS, AS NOTED ABOVE, AN AUDIO LINK --

that can be played online or downloaded, in which Dr. Sacks talks to newyorker.com editor Blake Eskin about prosopagnosia. He estimates that two to three percent of the population suffers from a serious version of it, and talks about how their plight can be eased by society, as that of dyslexics has been, starting with simple recognition of the condition.
#

Labels: , ,