Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thurber Tonight: An encore presentation of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"



I wrote a note about Thurber's considerable displeasure with the making of the film version, in connection with the obvious connection between the fable "The Unicorn in the Garden" and his other most memorable piece of short fiction, the altogether dazzling "The Catbird Seat" -- and I included a link to the complete text of "The Catbird Seat" online.

The opening of MGM's 1947 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, with Danny Kaye as the intrepid fantasist and Fay Bainter as Mrs. Mitty. Thurber, who was not a fan of the film, wrote in a 1949 letter: "The trouble with the Goldwyn picture was that you could see no difference between Walter's dreams and his accomplishments."

by Ken

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," which first appeared in The New Yorker of March 18, 1939 (and was subsequently collected in My World and Welcome to It and The Thurber Carnival), isn't anywhere near my favorite Thurber piece, but of course I love it. How could anyone not? I'm not sure Thurber ever reached more resolutely into readers' deep consciousness, nor have many other writers traveled there as confidently or fearlessly.

I've mentioned how disillusioned Thurber became during the writing of the screenplay for the film, which wound up being primarily a vehicle for Danny Kaye's broadest brand of humor (in the early stages of the project Thurber thought he might actually be a good piece of casting), a poor reflection of the author's funny and sad secret journey into these little-noted recesses of the quietly despairing everyday mind. But the film retained just enough contact to touch that secret place in a lot of moviegoers. Ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.



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Probably telecom dualopolists AT&T and Verizon now hate NYS AG Eric Schneiderman as much as the banksters do -- and the more corrupt state AGs


Iowa AG Tom Miller: He's shocked, shocked, that anyone could question his toughness with the banks after he raised hundreds of thousands of simoleons from the financial sector upon announcing his intent to "investigate" the banks, which he has done so, so hard. I bet the joke'll be on the banksters when Tom hurls all that filthy lucre back at their stinking feet! (Anytime now, Tom.)

by Ken

Before we descend to the hilarity of sleazebag of the week Tom Miller, let's make sure to get the news out -- and this is big news, regarding what was looking like an unstoppable takeover of T-Mobile by AT&T. From Bloomberg:
U.S. Files to Block AT&T, T-Mobile Merger

By Tom Schoenberg, Sara Forden and Jeff Bliss - Aug 31, 2011

The U.S. Justice Department sued to block AT&T Inc.’s proposed $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile USA Inc., saying the deal would “substantially lessen competition” in the wireless market.

The government is seeking a declaration that AT&T’s takeover of T-Mobile, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG (DTE), would violate U.S. antitrust law, according to a complaint filed today in federal court in Washington. The U.S. also asked for a court order blocking implementation of the deal, the largest announced acquisition of the year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“I don’t see any room to settle the case,” said Bert Foer, head of the American Antitrust Institute in Washington, in an interview. “They have clearly drawn a line in the sand.”

AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson’s proposed purchase of Bellevue, Washington-based T-Mobile, announced in March, would combine the second- and fourth-largest carriers to create a new market leader ahead of No. 1 Verizon Wireless. The new company would dwarf current No. 3 carrier Sprint Nextel Corp. (S), which argued against the deal.

“AT&T’s elimination of T-Mobile as an independent, low- priced rival would remove a significant competitive force from the market,” the government said in court papers. Dallas-based AT&T fell as much as 5.5 percent in New York trading after Bloomberg News broke the news of the lawsuit. . . .

Now I don't suppose the DoJ is likely to discuss how it reached the decision to intervene, but there's good reason to think that some role, and possibly a major one, was played by the office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Antitrust Bureau Chief Richard Schwartz issued a statement today saying that his boss "looks forward to reviewing the Department of Justice’s complaint to determine the best course forward on behalf of New York consumers and businesses."
Since March, Attorney General Schneiderman has played a major role in the review of the proposed AT&T, T-Mobile merger. Working in close partnership with the Department of Justice, this office has played a leadership role in a group of 26 states conducting interviews and gathering evidence central to this investigation. We have conducted numerous interviews of business enterprise customers throughout New York State and throughout the country to assess whether the merger would result in harm to competition to the business enterprise market, and closely analyzed the parties' claims that the merger would lower costs and improve service to consumers.

Attorney General Schneiderman remains particularly concerned that the proposed merger would stifle competition in markets that are crucial to New York's consumers and businesses. This includes concerns about vulnerable upstate communities, where concentration in some markets is already very high, and the impacts on New York City’s information-intensive economy, which is particularly dependent on mobile wireless services. Simply put, the impacts of this proposed merger on wireless competition, economic growth, and technological innovation could be enormous.
(The release notes that Schneiderman announced in March "that this office would conduct a comprehensive review of the proposed merger.")

It comes as something of a surprise to think that there are people with decision-making authority in the DoJ who might actually be listening to AG Schneiderman. The last we heard, he was being kicked off of the the coalition of state AGs' executive committee that's been exploring some sort of settlement with the big banks over their conduct in the collapsed mortgage industry, presumably out of pique over Schneiderman's outspoken opposition to the proposed "settlement," whereby the banksters would kick in some cash in exchange for being relieved of pretty much any further liability -- allowing them, in other words, to "move on" rather than being forced forever to "look back."

Which is apparently how we address all major problems in the 21st century. We just move on

To be sure, Schneiderman isn't alone among the state AGs. There's a small but hardy band (necessarily hardy, considering how they're regarded by most of their fellows) who also take their oath of office seriously. That number emphatically doesn't include the Big Cheese of the state AGs, Iowa's Tom Miller, the man who masterminded the "settlement" and the man who apparently gave Schneiderman the boot.

Miller meanwhile is feeling aggrieved. His longtime sidekick, Assistant AG Patrick Madigan, whined:
We’ve been accused of being in bed with the banks. To say that to a group of people who have spent the last seven to 10 years fighting mortgage abuses day in and day out is an insult of the highest order. It's just unreal.

Yeah, Pat, an insult of the highest order. Just unreal. I expect you and Tom were really insulted by the unreal Taibblog post Matt Taibbi wrote back in April, titled "Best Way to Raise Campaign Money? Investigate Banks," which began:
A hilarious report has come out courtesy of the National Institute of Money in State Politics, showing that Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller – who is coordinating the investigation into the banks’ improper mortgage dealings – increased his campaign contributions from the finance sector this year by a factor of 88! He has raised $261,445 from finance, insurance and real estate contributors since he announced that he was going to be coordinating the investigation into improper foreclosure practices. That is 88 times as much as they gave him not over last year, but over the previous decade.

This is about as perfect an example of how American politics works as you’ll ever see. This foreclosure issue is a monstrous story that is somehow escaping national headlines; essentially, all of the largest banks in the country have been engaged in an ongoing fraud and tax evasion scheme that among other things has resulted in many hundreds of billions in investor losses, and hundreds of thousands of improper foreclosures. Last week, the 14 largest mortgage lenders a group that includes bailout all-stars like Citigroup, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, managed to negotiate a settlement with the federal government that will mandate some financial relief to homeowners who have been victims of improper foreclosure practices. It’s unclear yet exactly what damages and fines will be involved in the federal settlement, or how many homeowners will be affected. But certainly there are some who believe the federal settlement was a political end-run around the states’ efforts to extract their own deal from the banks.

"If the banks had to pay what they actually owed" from their mortgage-related malfeasances, Taibbi wrote, "they would probably all go out of business."

In a dandy post on Tom 'n' Pat's Iowhining, Marcy Wheeler takes a closer look at this "fighting mortgage abuses" that, according to Pat, he and Tom have been doing day in and day out these past seven to ten years. (Doesn't that three-year spread leave a lot of days-to-days unaccounted for?) Notes Marcy:
As in the settlement they signed onto with Countrywide in 2008? The one that–according to NV Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Bank of America has basically blown off?
In her filing, Ms. Masto contends that Bank of America raised interest rates on troubled borrowers when modifying their loans even though the bank had promised in the settlement to lower them. The bank also failed to provide loan modifications to qualified homeowners as required under the deal, improperly proceeded with foreclosures even as borrowers’ modification requests were pending and failed to meet the settlement’s 60-day requirement on granting new loan terms, instead allowing months and in some cases more than a year to go by with no resolution, the filing says.

The complaint says such practices violated an agreement Bank of America reached in the fall of 2008 with several states and later, in 2009, with Nevada, to settle lawsuits that accused its Countrywide unit of predatory lending. As the credit crisis grew, the settlement was heralded as a victory by state offices eager to help keep troubled borrowers in their homes and reduce their costs. Bank of America set aside $8.4 billion in the deal and agreed to help 400,000 troubled borrowers with loan modifications and other financial relief, such as lowering interest rates on mortgages.
(See DDay for more on Masto’s complaint.)

Perhaps Madigan doesn’t understand this. But pointing to a settlement that, in retrospect, appears to have largely been a PR stunt as proof that you’re not in bed with the banks sort of proves the point that you are.

Back in April, Matt Taibbi ventured that the flow of cash from people in and around the mortgage industry to Tom Miller was "just something to keep an eye on," adding, "It would be interesting to see a similar analysis on the money these same characters have thrown at the Obama administration in the last year."

Interesting indeed -- I wonder if anyone ever did such an analysis. As he wrote of the bonanza Tom Miller created for himself by making noises about investigating the banks: "This is about as perfect an example of how American politics works as you’ll ever see."

At least for today, however, on the matter of the AT&T takeover of T-Mobile, the Justice Department has taken a different path. It's something.

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Lungren And Norquist-- Not The Most Popular Corporate Shills In The Sacramento Area


In 2008, the presidential election results in Dan Lungren's northern California district were very close. It was, in fact, Obama's closest margin of victory in the state. Unlike Gore or Kerry, he took CA-3, but just barely, 49-49%! And Dan Lungren, on of the state's most disliked incumbents scraped by with 50% of the vote. The following year Lungren drew a far better-financed opponent Ami Bera, who again held him down to 50%. After redistricting, Lungren will face Bera again-- and in a slightly bluer district. And next year Bera, a medical doctor, should have no problem making sure the district's hard-pressed seniors are aware that Lungren voted to replace Medicare with an inadequate voucher program. The Democratic staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has all the facts and figures. The Republican proposal Lungren voted for would have disastrous impacts on seniors and disabled people in the district who are currently enrolled in Medicare. Here's how; this is what it would do to residents of CA-3:
• Increase prescription drug costs for 7,900 Medicare beneficiaries in the district who enter the Part D donut hole, forcing them to pay an extra $77 million for drugs over the next decade.

• Eliminate new preventive care benefits for 109,000 Medicare beneficiaries in the district. The Republican proposal would have even greater impacts on individuals in the district age 54 and
younger who are not currently enrolled in Medicare. It would:

• Deny 570,000 individuals age 54 and younger in the district access to Medicare’s guaranteed benefits.

• Increase the out-of-pocket costs of health coverage by over $6,000 per year in 2022 and by almost $12,000 per year in 2032 for the 127,000 individuals in the district who are between the ages of 44 and 54.

• Require the 127,000 individuals in the district between the ages of 44 and 54 to save an additional $29.7 billion for their retirement-- an average of $182,000 to $287,000 per individual-- to pay for the increased cost of health coverage over their lifetimes. Younger residents of the district will have to save even higher amounts to cover their additional medical costs.

• Raise the Medicare eligibility age by at least one year to age 66 or more for 71,000 individuals in the district who are age 44 to 49 and by two years to age 67 for 444,000 individuals in the district who are age 43 or younger.

This district has 127,000 individuals who will enroll in Medicare for the first time between 2022 and 2032. Under the Republican plan Lungren backs and voted for, their cumulative out-of-pocket costs for Medicare coverage during their first 20 years of program eligibility would increase by $41.2 billion compared to their costs under traditional Medicare, an increase of 235%. And Lungren's Medicaid cuts would be catastrophic for district residents as well. Were Lungren's plan ever to become law, Medicaid’s guarantee of coverage would be eliminated, Medicaid would be turned into a block grant program, and the federal contribution to Medicaid would be reduced by nearly $800 billion over the next decade. Other changes voted for by Lungren would allow states to eliminate coverage for seniors, individuals with disabilities, children, pregnant women, and others currently enrolled in Medicaid. These changes would have a profound impact on Medicaid’s ability to provide health coverage to millions of Americans and in the 3rd CD, these provisions could:
• Reduce coverage for 17,900 dual eligible seniors and individuals with disabilities who rely on Medicaid to supplement their Medicare coverage or pay their Medicare cost sharing.

• Jeopardize nursing home care for 1,100 whose expenses are paid by Medicaid.

• Impair the health care of 63,000 children, including 2,300 newborns each year, who receive coverage under Medicaid.

• Cut payments to hospitals for 18,000 emergency room visits paid for by Medicaid each year.

• Cut payments to hospitals for 5,900 inpatient visits paid for by Medicaid each year.

• Reduce jobs and hurt economic growth by eliminating $1.5 billion in Medicaid spending.

But these are hardly the only reasons so many people in the district dislike and mistrust Lungren-- and why so many are ready to replace him. Many are uneasy about the dangerous, unsecured chemical facility in the area, the Dry Creek Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, which Lungren has helped out with numerous loopholes to prevent them from securing the facility, even though it puts his constituents at an unacceptable risk.
Lungren led House Homeland Security Committee Republicans in voting to kill amendments that would have closed security loopholes and required safer chemicals at the Dry Creek wastewater plant near his district.

Though he promised to return to Congress to keep the country safe from terrorism, Lungren’s primary accomplishment is a giveaway to chemical companies more interested in short-term profit than protecting the lives of Americans.

And, not unlike what happened last week to New York freshman congressman Chris Gibson, Lungren's constituents also told him they had had enough of his fealty to Grover Norquist instead of to them. Lee Fang:
On Wednesday, a constituent in a town hall meeting challenged Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) about his loyalty to Grover Norquist, an anti-tax activist and noted corporate lobbyist. Politicians who sign Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform pledge, a popular commitment among Republicans, promise never to vote for anything designated as a tax increase by Norquist’s organization.

During the meeting, held in the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael, a young woman asked Lungren why he took Norquist’s pledge when he should only pledge an “oath of office to the Constitution.” Lungren seemed dazzled, and first misinterpreted the comment as an accusation that he opposes the Constitution. The constituent asked the question again, only to hear Lungren sneer that she hasn’t “been reading the newspapers.” A few in the crowd yelled “answer the question!”

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Qaddafi, Libya... Some Other Sides Of The Story


Everybody's happy, happy, happy that the Qaddafi's have been overthrown, right? I mean, once it became public, however that happened, that he was personally behind the Lockerbie bombing-- like someone didn't already know that?-- he had to be deposed. And deposed he was, primarily by the CIA, the U.S. military and the NATO allies. Over the past couple weeks I've been trying to draw comparisons-- imperfect as they are-- between the U.S. overthrowing Qaddafi and the CIA activities that toppled legitimate governments "we" (meaning corporate America) disagreed with in Iran, Guatemala, Chile and Ecuador. I left out how the CIA toppled governments in Australia, Italy, Greece and even England. And now I see there are other people thinking along the same lines... like the fine folks at the Revolutionary Communist Party of the USA. Don't laugh.
Qaddafi's overthrow and the victory of the "rebel" forces is being presented by the U.S. rulers, their European imperialist allies-- including Britain, France, and Italy-- and their media mouthpieces as a big victory for the people, a triumph of "democracy" over tyranny, and a vindication of their "humanitarian" military intervention in Libya.  

As the anti-Qaddafi forces took over Tripoli, President Barack Obama stated, "The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator... The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people."

It is nothing of the sort. The unfolding events in Libya are primarily the result of a U.S.-NATO military, political, and economic assault on Qaddafi’s forces, stretching over months.  

The day the Tripoli fell to the anti-Qaddafi forces, the New York Times reported:

"Through Saturday, NATO and its allies had flown 7,459 strike missions, or sorties, attacking thousands of targets, from individual rocket launchers to major military headquarters. The cumulative effect not only destroyed Libya's military infrastructure but also greatly diminished the ability of Colonel Qaddafi's commanders to control forces, leaving even committed fighting units unable to move, resupply or coordinate operations." ("Sharper Surveillance and NATO Coordination Helped Rebels Race to Capital," August 22)

This assault has had not been about liberating Libya or ensuring self-determination for the nation of Libya. Instead, it has been aimed at strengthening imperialism's grip on Libya... [T]he day after Tripoli fell, the New York Times carried an article headlined, "Scramble Begins for Access to Libya's Oil."

It wasn't that big a war. I saw a CNN news crawl yesterday that said it's estimated that 50,000 Libyans died. And I guess that doesn't count the African workers who are all over the country who seem to be meeting a bad fate at the hands of "our" pals. Even a reporter who is totally buying into the "magnificence" (his word) of the battle to free themselves from the tyrant, observed that the whole enterprise has been marred by racism.
"This is a bad time to be a black man in Libya," reported Alex Thomson on Channel 4 News on Sunday. Elsewhere, Kim Sengupta reported for the Independent on the 30 bodies lying decomposing in Tripoli. The majority of them, allegedly mercenaries for Muammar Gaddafi, were black. They had been killed at a makeshift hospital, some on stretchers, some in an ambulance. "Libyan people don't like people with dark skins," a militiaman explained in reference to the arrests of black men.

The basis of this is rumours, disseminated early in the rebellion, of African mercenaries being unleashed on the opposition. Amnesty International's Donatella Rivera was among researchers who examined this allegation and found no evidence for it. Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch similarly had not "identified one mercenary" among the scores of men being arrested and falsely labelled by journalists as such.

Lurking behind this is racism. Libya is an African nation-- however, the term "Africans" is used in Libya to reference the country's black minority. The Amnesty International researcher Diana Eltahawy says that the rebels taking control of Libya have tapped into "existing xenophobia." The New York Times refers to "racist overtones," but sometimes the racism is explicit. A rebel slogan painted in Misrata during the fighting salutes "the brigade for purging slaves, black skin." A consequence of this racism has been mass arrests of black men, and gruesome killings – just some of the various atrocities that human rights organisations blame rebels for. The racialisation of this conflict does not end with hatred of "Africans." Graffiti by rebels frequently depicted Gaddafi as a demonic Jew.

...The dominance of relatively conservative elites and the absence of countervailing pressures skewed the politics of the rebellion. We hear of "the masses," and "solidarity." But masses can be addressed on many grounds-- some reactionary. There are also many bases for solidarity-- some exclusionary. The scapegoating of black workers makes sense from the perspective of elites. For them, Libya was not a society divided on class lines from which many of them had profited. It was united against a usurper inhabiting an alien compound and surviving through foreign power. Instead, the more success Gaddafi had in stabilising his regime, the more the explanation for this relied on the claim that "Gaddafi is killing us with his Africans."

A further, unavoidable twist is the alliance with Nato. The February revolt involved hundreds of thousands of people across Libya. By early March the movement was in retreat, overseas special forces were entering Libya, and senior figures in the rebellion called for external intervention. Initially isolated, they gained credibility as Gaddafi gained ground. As a result, the initiative passed from a very large popular base to a relatively small number of armed fighters under the direction of the NTC and Nato. It was the rebel army that subsequently took the lead in persecuting black workers.

Under different conditions, perhaps, unity between the oppressed was possible. But this would probably have required a more radical alliance, one as potentially perilous for those now grooming themselves for office as for Gaddafi. As it is, the success of the rebels contains a tragic defeat. The original emancipatory impulse of February 17 lies, for now, among the corpses of "Africans" in Tripoli.

At least they didn't infect them with syphilis. I mean who would ever do something like that? (The Washington Post story gets all the facts out there except that this was done by a gang of Nazis brought here by domestic fascists in the OSS straight from experimenting on Jews and other captives in the concentration camps. They did lots of experiments in the U.S. and for the U.S.) Off topic... let's get back to Libya. Actually we're going to turn to Africa News for a completely different perspective than the one we're hearing from corporate media cheerleaders for the Military Industrial Complex. I'm not claiming it's a more valid perspective; it's just another perspective to the one we all know-- or should know by now-- is completely compromised and devoid of anything beyond slick propaganda.
Libya's destruction, a victory for the west; a defeat for ordinary Libyans. The suffering of Libyans has just begun. For there can never be true liberation when your oppressor is the one who defines what your freedom should be. The ousting of Colonel Gaddafi, Libyan leader for 42 years, by the rebels backed western forces especially NATO is indeed a victory for the west whose fixation on Gaddafi's Libya has become worrisome.

It’s definitely not a victory for ordinary Libyans who would continue to suffer a lot of nervous strain and shock after the destruction. Neither is it a victory for the rebels who have been in excess jubilation since capturing Gaddafi’s official residence. “We are free,” they proclaimed in wild happiness.

But they have forgotten one important thing: that they are now slaves to all the countries that helped them kick out Gaddafi.

Apparently the rebels are not ordinary Libyan but a group of people who want the share of the oil with the help of foreign forces. Gaddafi’s main crime may be the fact that he refused to let the west control Libya’s resources, hence he must be eliminated by all possible means.

In their euphoria and in their haste to get rid of him, they forgot that none of the countries that backed them has the interest of Libyans at heart. Let them for once re-visit Iraq.

...Gaddafi should have known that neither America nor its allies forget and forgive. He should have known that the oil in his background is enough to eliminate him by all means. He should have learnt a lesson from Iraq, a nation destroyed by Obama's predecessor on the pretense that the late Iraqi leader possessed Weapon of Mass Destruction which turned out to be a ruse.

It was simply a ploy by Mr. Bush to invade the oil rich nation. There is always an excuse to invade certain countries especially when the rulers of such countries refused to be a stooge.

Earlier this morning author and investigative journalist Russ Baker was asking for some transparency about U.S. intervention in Libya. He's already written about the growing doubts about Libya's complicity in Lockerbie and looking at the American role in the "liberation" of the country... well, like many of us, he smells a rat.
It’s true that Qaddafi, like many-- perhaps a majority of-- rulers in his region, was a thug and a brute, if at times a comical figure. But one doesn’t need to be an apologist for him-- nor deny the satisfaction of seeing the citizenry joyously celebrating his ouster-- to demand some honesty about the motives behind his removal. Especially when it comes to our own government’s role in funding it, and thus every American’s unwitting participation in that action.

Let’s start with the official justification for NATO’s launch of its bombing campaign-- for without that campaign, it’s highly improbable the rebels could ever have toppled Qaddafi. We were told from the beginning that the major purpose of what was to be very limited bombing-- indeed, its sole purpose-- was to protect those Libyan civilians rebelling against an oppressive regime from massive retaliation by Qaddafi. Perhaps because of NATO’s initial intervention, the feared Qaddafi-sponsored, genocidal bloodletting never did occur. (At least, not beyond the military actions one would expect a government to take when facing a civil war:  after all, remember General Sherman’s “scorched earth” policy in the US Civil War?). However, protecting civilians apparently didn’t generate sufficient public support for intervention, so we started to hear about other purported reasons for it.  Qaddafi was encouraging his soldiers to…commit mass rape! And giving them Viagra! And condoms!

You can’t make this sort of thing up. And yet that’s just what the NATO crew did-- made it up. The media, always glad to have a “sexy” story, especially a sick sexy story, even a sick sexy story with no evidence to back it up, covered this ad nauseum, but never bothered to find out if it was true.

...Qaddafi should never be seen as a victim-- indeed, he has always been sleazy and monstrous in various ways. But the US and its allies appear to have cared little about this, while being deeply  troubled by his role as a fly in the geopolitical ointment. A look at the long and complex historical relationship between Qaddafi and the West begins to explain the true reason he had to go. It also dovetails perfectly with a growing body of indications that Western elites encouraged and even provoked the uprising-- while tapping into deep discontent with the dictator.

Qaddafi has long been a thorn in the side of the West’s oil industry and their national security apparatus. In the early 1970s he worked closely with Occidental Petroleum chairman Armand Hammer in thwarting the ambitions of the oil majors. He was a leader in the boycott of Israel and often cozied up to the Soviet Union.

...What the media has so relentlessly characterized as the “spontaneous uprising” of February 2011 was hardly spontaneous. It began even before the Arab Spring itself commenced in Tunisia during December of last year—and it was orchestrated by the West.

...Khalifa Hifter, a former Libyan army officer, had spent the past two decades living just down the road from CIA headquarters, with no apparent source of income.  In 1996, while a resident of Vienna, Virginia, he organized a Benghazi-based revolt that failed. When the current uprising was sputtering in March, CIA sent Hifter in to take command.

When the rebels were being routed, the United Nations Security Council approved a no-fly order for Qaddafi. The NATO bombing began almost immediately, under the “humanitarian” label.
Before long, other European countries had covert elements in Libya. The British paper, The Guardian, has just reported the role of British special forces in coordinating the rebels on the ground. This was denied by the UK government . But then another British paper, The Telegraph, cited UK defense sources saying special forces had been in Libya already for weeks, i.e., since early August.)

Hopefully they won't attack Algeria next-- for it's oil... I mean for giving the Qaddafi family shelter. Interesting video below, although the filmmakers seem a little hung up with the Rothschilds.

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Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) On The Role Of Government


As I've said before, when Democrats and left-leaning independents decided to show their disappointment in Obama's timidity to fight for working families and their anger with DEmocratic acquiescence for going along with right-wing framing that benefitted the ruling elites over ordinary Americans, dozens of conservative Democrats-- including more than half the slimy Blue Dog Caucus-- lost their careers. That wasn't a bad thing. Unfortunately, the tsnami also took down a handful of progressives who had been standing and fighting. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) was one of the good ones we lost. NH-1 is a 50/50 swing district and last year, New Hampshire swung way to the right. A worthless Tea Party sick-up, Frank Guinta, beat her 121,655 (54%) to 95,503 (42%).

Carol has originally beaten incumbent Jeb Bradley in 2006, also a midterm, with a close and unexpected 100,899 (52%) to 94,869 (48%) vote. In 2008, in a rematch with Bradley, Carol won reelection with 176,435 (52%) to 156,338 (46%), Obama winning the district with 53%. If you look at the numbers, what you see is Democrats and left-leaning independents staying how. BIG mistake. Republican turnout from 2008 dropped off by almost 35,000 votes, better than normal for them. Democratic fall off... fell off the cliff-- down almost 61,000 votes for Carol. Voters made their point but it was like cutting off their noses to spite their faces. The New Hampshire legislature is a far right extremist operation now that is horrifying voters (and stay-at-homes) and Guinta has been a lockstep, anti-family shill for Big Business, Cantor and Boehner across the board.

Carol is running for the seat again. You can contribute to her campaign here. This week she did an OpEd on the virulent and hihilistic Republican Party attack on government itself. Please take some time and read what a dedicated public servant-- unlike Rick Perry, Carol hasn';t enriched herself while working for the people-- has to say about the legitimate roll of government in the lives of American citizens.

Our Government, Ourselves

by Carol Shea-Porter

While political discourse has taken a dive in terms of civility and substance, actually something far more sinister and frightening is occurring. There are people who are attacking the basic structure of our government and our faith in it. A few are even talking openly about secession because they truly do not believe in our government and our way of life. (We have always had those people, but they were not politically powerful until now.) But most are being absolutely irresponsible, trying to foment--and gain from-- a deeper anger.

In our past, most politicians for office publicly supported our system of government, and believed we could stand together and solve severe problems. Candidates tried to inspire, or at least tried to be careful to attack the opponent or the platform, not the government.

That has changed.

The attacks are damaging an already fragile trust, and many Americans and the world have responded by becoming increasingly convinced that America’s best days are behind us. Confidence and faith in our ability to solve problems are absolutely essential if we are to move forward, but we have irresponsible politicians (and some media and special interest groups) tearing at that faith and trust. Incredibly, a couple of them are running for president.

Here are some examples of how leaders in the past talked about our country and our problems. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said at his First Inaugural, “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper … The only thing we have to fear is fear itself … which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It was a buoying remark, a call to hope and patriotism, helping people through the dark days of the Depression.

Remember George W. Bush’s talk to the nation after 9/11? “We have seen the state of our Union in the endurance of rescuers, working past exhaustion. We have seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers-- in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people …”

On Jan. 9, 1961, President-elect John F. Kennedy said, “Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us-- and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state, and local, must be as a city upon a hill-- constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities.”

Are these current politicians and influential public figures “aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities?”

One of New Hampshire’s members of Congress told the tea party that the federal government was taking away all their individual freedoms. And two tea party presidential candidates also have made inflammatory remarks about our government.

The Hill reported that Michele Bachmann “likened America to the sinking Titanic,” and said, “We have gangster government.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said, “When we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation … And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”

This is not responsible leadership. These are outrageous comments, meant to denigrate our federal government.

The interesting thing is Bachmann has sought and received earmarks and Stimulus Act money from the “gangster government” (that would be U.S. taxpayers) and Perry brags about all the jobs in Texas that came from United States Oil and United States defense dollars.

There are other reckless leaders. Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, got almost every single Republican in Congress to sign his no-tax pledge even though he was clear about his intention to hurt our ability to administer this great nation. “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

How can this great country recover and grow with this kind of attitude? How can we pay our bills and invest in technology, infrastructure, and medical research with this blind vision? How can we handle natural disasters like Katrina or attacks like 9/11 if we drown our government? How can we educate or defend ourselves, if we drown the major sources of government funding?

Harry Truman said, “No government is perfect."

We the people have to keep striving, but we need leaders who encourage progress, not defeat, and confidence, not despair.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thurber Tonight: An encore presentation of "Joyeux Noël, Mr. Durning"



[Note: It's largely on the strength of the "Ride with Olympy" connection that I chose "Joyeux Noël, Mr. Durning" over the other great Thurber "correspondence saga," "File and Forget." But since we're not going to be reprising the latter, at least not this week, I want to make sure everyone remembers about it. -- Ken]

Last night we made the acquaintance of Maria and Olympy Sementzoff via Thurber's 1938 account of the famous "Ride With Olympy" on Cap d'Antibes. Now we jump over World War II and several years beyond to this sort-of-sequel, which appeared originally in The New Yorker of July 2, 1949. -- Ken




An interview with the Saul Goodman of "Breaking Bad," and some remembrance of the OTHER (the "real"?) Saul Goodman


Sorry about the original title reference to "Mad Men"! Talk about stupid! -- Ken

Better Call Saul! In the AMC interview, Bob Odenkirk tells us that no, the decor of his own office is nothing like that of super-sleaze lawyer Saul Goodman -- whom he describes, by the way, as "nothing but layers of greed and ego."

"I think everything's a negotiation with Saul. A naïve way of looking at the world is that there are these rules in place and we have to follow them, but the truth is that everyone is constantly negotiating what they're doing and why and how much they're getting paid for it."
-- Bob Odenkirk, in the interview

by Ken

As I've mentioned a number of times, AMC's online crew pumps out some really neat material in support of its shows, including lots of interviews with the people both in front of and behind the cameras of its smash hits Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Now they've gotten to someone who is one of the favorites of most everyone I know, the amazing Bob Odenkirk, one of the wildest (and funniest) writers and comic actors in present-day showbiz -- otherwise known as Breaking Bad's super-sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman.

Bob O makes it clear in the interview that, beyond trying to stay on the writing team's good side, he wouldn't even try to influence the writing of Breaking Bad. And the writers have certainly given him lots of wonderful material to play with -- and he in turn has made that material shine. In the interview, I was also delighted that the interviewer brought up a point that stuck in my mind from the blog's recent interview with RJ Mitte, who plays Walter Jr.

Q & A - Bob Odenkirk (Saul Goodman)

Bob Odenkirk plays Walt's shady attorney Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad. In an exclusive interview with, the actor/comedian talks about his love of infomercials, his favorite Saul line of the season, and his fear of the Breaking Bad writers.

Q: You've done a lot of fake infomercials in the past, including for Breaking Bad. Are you a connoisseur?

A: I am not a connoisseur of crappy late-night infomercials, but I do love them. I feel like they're ripe for comedy because they're full of pathetic human behavior and con-jobs. I like the modern ones, the gadgets and things that are fixing problems that you don't actually have. "Are you sick and tired of something easy to do?" [Laughs] "Well, we have a slightly easier way . . ."

Q: [Laughs] Do you have a favorite infomercial?

A: There was a guy in Chicago where I grew up called Harry Schmerler, the singing Ford man. He'd sing a little snippet of a golden oldie song, and then he'd tell you about his used cars that were for sale and photographed in not the most attractive light. That popped right into my head when you asked me that. The favorite late-night infomercial that I've done was on Mr. Show. it was a guy who was just advertising to come over to your house and hang out. You think he's a lawyer -- "I'm not a lawyer!" His name is Don Pratt. It's just a fun, great idea. The guy, what is he offering? What is for sale there?

Q: What's your favorite Saul Goodman line from Season 4?

A: I watched Episode 4 last night, the one where Walter White says, "My brother-in-law is going to come after me," and I go, "Come after you in what, his Little Rascal?" [At the time, Walter's brother-in-law Hank was still totally unable to walk as a result of his near-fatal vehicular mauling. -- Ed.] That was a great one. It's so mean and unnecessary, but Saul can't help himself. I like how unrelenting Saul can be. He doesn't take no for an answer, at least the first four times.

Q: Do you think the average citizen has anything to learn from Saul?

A: I think everything's a negotiation with Saul. A naïve way of looking at the world is that there are these rules in place and we have to follow them, but the truth is that everyone is constantly negotiating what they're doing and why and how much they're getting paid for it. I think that's something you can learn from him.

Q: I really like Saul's office, particularly the Constitution-themed wallpaper. What's your own office like?

A: It's pretty barren because I'm sick of writing in my office. It's just kind of piles of stuff. I've got a picture of me and Chris Farley backstage at Second City. I've got a picture of me and Del Close backstage at Second City. I've got a picture of me and Fred Armisen. And then blank walls. It's just a writer's hovel.

Q: You've done a fair amount of writing and directing for various television shows, including SNL. Have you ever given the Breaking Bad writers any input?

A: You know, I go to the writer's room every year and hang out and I do not attempt to tell them how to do their job. Because what they do -- even though I've done a lot of writing -- is a mystery to me, and a mystery I'm a little bit afraid of. I go in their room and the walls are covered in little cryptic notes about the whole season and what characters are going to do. So much thinking has gone into it, and I have so much respect and fear of it. The cool thing about this role is that it is another level of writing. I do what they write for me, and I don't improvise -- I don't need to. I'd sure like to take credit for some of it, but I can't.

Q: RJ Mitte was asked in an interview if there was a character from the show that he would like to have a scene with. He said Saul Goodman.

A: Oh my god, that is like putting a scorpion in a cage with a baby chicken. That is so sad. [Laughs]

Q: [Laughs] Maybe RJ doesn't think Walt Jr. is a baby chicken?

A: Oh man. He's such an innocent. He's so naïve, he's so earnest, his heart's on his sleeve the whole time, and then you put him in a room with Saul Goodman, who is nothing but layers of greed and ego. [Laughs] I think I know who wins in that cage match. I think I know who climbs out: Saul.

What RJ said, by the way, was . . . well, here's that particular Q&A, which as I said for some reason really stuck with me too:
Q: Which of the actors on the show would you like to have a scene with that you really haven't had that much time on camera with?

A: I really want to have a scene with Saul. I love Bob, he's a great guy and he is amazing at his trade. I see him almost everyday on TV doing another character.


This Margaret Bourke-White photo was taken in 1938, 12 years into Saul Goodman's illustrious 46-year career as principal timpanist of the New York Philharmonic.

I assume that the reference isn't intentional, because I can't see what it could signify if it were intentional, but to me the name Saul Goodman inescapably refers to the other Saul Goodman, I'm tempted to say "the real Saul Goodman" (1907-1996), who was principal timpanist of the New York Philharmonic for the staggering period 1926-72, and taught a staggering number of timpanists who became principals all over the world.

Goodman succeeded Alfred Friese, with whom he had studied, and who was hired in 1909 by the Philharmonic's then-music director, Gustav Mahler, and Goodman was succeeded in 1972 by a onetime student of his, Roland Kohloff (seen at left in 1993).

Considering how well I remember the major event of Saul G's retirement and the Philharmonic accession of Roland K, I'm thrown a little to realize that in 2004 the latter retired following an illustrious 32-year Philharmonic tenure of his own, and in March 2006, at age 71, died of cancer.

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Obama And Poker-- We Lose


I first met Barack Obama when he was a lowly, cigarette-puffing state legislator with a reputation for being a convivial poker player with his Republican colleagues in Springfield, Illinois. In retrospect I realize that they liked him so much because they were probably taking him to the cleaners every day. Even Obama's most dogged defenders admit he's the world's worst poker player-- even if some of them disguise that as civic republicanism (small r)-- and keeps giving away the store to the economic terrorists and predators in his opening hand.
Obama believes in civic virtue, and in the idea that in a democracy it’s the duty of responsible leaders to reason together on behalf of something they all agree to call the common good. The fancy name for this theory of government in political-philosophy circles is civic republicanism: the “civic” part refers to action taken in the public sphere, while “republican” (a small-r republican and a big-R Republican are very different animals) signals a concern with tyrannical majorities and a faith that reasoned debate will produce a balanced result.

But is he dealing with "responsible leaders?" He understood how to deal with the "leaders" of al-Qaeda and Libya but what about with the Republicans who have publicly declared that their only real priority is to fuck up America so badly that he loses his reelection bid? Are those "responsible leaders" he thinks he can reason with?

Virginia sociopath Eric Cantor has dug in his heals and declared that he doesn't care if people die on the streets, there'll be no relief funding for Hurricane Irene victims unless the GOP gets to cut some programs that benefit working families. He may want to come across as less extreme and bizarre than Ron Paul (not to mention Michele Bachmann), but they're cut from the same anti-government cloth, a cloth that idealizes a Law of the Jungle/Caveat Emptor right-wing dogma, where the least powerful in the society have no protection and no peaceful recourse from the predatory instincts of corporations-- who are decidedly NOT people, having no souls, not even a teensy weensy shriveled Republican soul.

Is Obama going to sit down and reason with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) who is pushing a tax reform package with the Ryan plan rates, the ultimate goal of which is to further cut taxes on the wealthy and on corporations by approximately 30%, while raising them on already strapped middle class families. Obama's instinct will not be to offer to raise taxes on the wealthy by 50% and negotiate from there. Of course not. It will be to offer marginally smaller tax decreases for the rich and then "settle" by giving the Republicans even more than they were asking for. That's how he rolls. That's how he always rolls. That's why it's tragic that not a single Democrat has the guts to challenge him in a primary battle.

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Overturning Democracy... With Lots Of Cash


Yes, Mitt Romney is clueless

Below is an essay about Norman Solomon I found on the Campaign Watch Facebook page. Virtually every problem facing America today can be traced back to the sell-out of our democracy to plutocratic, corporate and fascist interests-- virtually identical-- since the forces of democracy ostensibly won, at least on the battlefield, World War II. I want to emphasize that when Blue America "vets" our candidates we want to make sure they stand for the same values and principles behind this statement. You can be sure that when you donate to Norman Solomon's campaign-- or to the campaigns of any of the Blue America-backed candidates-- you are voting for real campaign finance reform, the kind that will wrest our government out of the hands of, as George Bush put it, the evil doers... except, the real evil doers.

Big Corporate Campaign Contributions

A major problem that has crippled democracy in the U.S. is the unfair advantage that big-money corporations and individuals have in influencing political campaigns through large contributions to elected officials and candidates, as well as through their spending billions of dollars each year to lobby Congress and federal agencies. These special interests use their considerable wealth to influence the direction and scope of legislation and government regulations, at the expense of the rights and welfare of the rest of us.

Norman Solomon supports legislative efforts, such as government matching funds and public financing, to correct the problem of disproportionate funding of campaigns, reduce special interest influence on elections, and level the playing field in electoral politics. Norman Solomon supports legislative efforts to reduce the reliance of candidates for office on campaign cash and free them to spend time with constituents to learn about issues that matter to them. When the selected candidates enter office, they can consider legislation on the merits, without worrying about whether they are pleasing large campaign contributors and lobbyists. Norman Solomon wants a government that is of, by, and for the people-- not bought and paid for by big corporate campaign contributions.

Corporate Personhood

A central problem in campaign financing is that corporations are considered persons, and political spending is considered speech under the First Amendment. In January 2010, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which asserted that the Constitution bars Congress from limiting corporations to spend money, viewed as free speech, in independent political broadcasts in candidate elections. In the year after the ruling, corporations increased their role in our elections, and corporations and their CEOs have used non-profit groups to run multi-million dollar ad campaigns to influence elections and public policy without full disclosure of their financial interests. Norman Solomon stands with roughly 80% of Americans, including Democrats, Republicans and independents, who oppose to the Citizens United ruling.

Norman Solomon endorses the movement to reject the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, and to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights. We need to have a national conversation about what to do about the problem of corporations having too much influence in our politics and policies.

The doctrine of corporate personhood has allowed corporations to enjoy other constitutional rights that were intended solely for human beings. This allows corporations to evade democratic control of their actions. Based on the doctrine of corporate personhood, the Supreme Court has:

• prohibited routine inspections of corporate property without a warrant or prior permission, even to ensure public health and safety;

• struck down state laws requiring companies to disclose product origins, thus preventing us from knowing what’s in our food;

• prohibited citizens wanting to defend their local businesses and community from encroachment by corporate chain stores from enacting progressive taxes on chains;

• struck down state laws restricting corporate spending on ballot initiatives and referenda, enabling corporations to block citizen action.

Norman Solomon believes this form of corporate personhood corrupts our Constitution and must be corrected by amending the Constitution.

Norman Solomon agrees with the dissent of Justice Stevens in the Citizen United case that:

…The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case.

In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.

Norman Solomon is committed to take those measures “designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.”

Election Integrity

Free elections are a cornerstone of the American compact. Norman Solomon supports a national, uniform set of voting rules to make it easier to vote and easier to access ballots. Norman Solomon supports voter registration procedures which will create greater voter turnout, particularly among young people, such as registration on election day and convenient voter registration places like the local mall or supermarket. Norman Solomon supports alternative voting methods such as early voting and absentee voting.

Norman Solomon supports voting systems based on paper ballots that allow the voters to mark their own ballots and provide a permanent, visible record of every vote cast. Vote counting must be transparent and accountable to ensure every citizen’s right to vote. Norman Solomon supports ending the practice of contracting private corporations to carry out fundamental election functions, such as the maintenance of voter lists. In addition, Norman Solomon supports exit polling, complete sharing of data, statistical analysis and auditing to verify election results. Norman Solomon would support an initiative to make election day a national holiday, thereby increasing voter participation.

In addition, Norman Solomon supports organizations that track the influence of money on elections and public policy and make this information accessible to the public. As the influence of money becomes more transparent, Americans can become more informed about what their elected officials are doing and more involved in the process. As a consequence, government can become more accountable and responsive to the non-wealthy citizens of this country.

Judicial Accountability

Norman Solomon supports complete financial disclosure, disclosure of gifts, and recusal in the instances of actual and apparent conflict of interest for all federal judges, including Supreme Court Justices. There needs to be more transparency from all federal judges when their actions come under responsible criticism. Norman Solomon supports proposals to require justices to explain their decisions not to recuse themselves when parties file disqualification motions.

Agree? Please consider making a contribution to Norman's campaign-- or to the campaign of any of the Blue America candidates-- here on the 2012 congressional page. They've all enthusiastically agreed to co-sponsor John Larson's bill to take corrupt cash out of the driver's seat of politics.

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Is Perry Too Stupid To Win? Is Romney Too Detached?


Stoking the cravings of Republican primary voters' thirst for victimization of their heroes, Perry's team is encouraging stories like David Frum's wondering aloud whether their candidate is a moron or, like millions of Republican voters, intellectually mediocre. And of course, Frum isn't the only wonderer wondering. Yesterday Jonathan Martin came right out with the question of the day: Is Rick Perry dumb?

Basically, the answer is yeah, he's pretty dumb-- kind of just like Bush, but without the brains-- but, more important, it hasn't mattered in Texas politics, won't matter in the GOP primary and, to millions of voters, won't matter in a general election either. Look, this is the guy who's going after the segment of the population who have been conned by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity that Social Security is no good.
Doubts about Perry’s intellect have hounded him since he was first elected as a state legislator nearly three decades ago. In Austin, he’s been derided as a right-place, right-time pol who looks the part but isn’t so deep-- “Gov. Goodhair.”

...The Texan’s loyalists reject the suggestion, asserting that it owes to political bias and sour grapes, but Perry himself seems to welcome the low bar. He cracked on the campaign trail earlier this month that the difference between he and Bush was that he went to Texas A&M and the former president attended Yale.

But conversations with both Perry admirers and critics reveal a more complicated assessment about the mind of a politician who has never lost an election-- and ranks as the longest-serving governor in Texas history.

He is not an ideas man. Perry hasn’t spent his political career marking up the latest Cato or Heritage white papers or reading policy-heavy books late into the night. Advisers and colleagues have informed much of his thinking over the years.

“He’s not a guy who’s going to go up to the Aspen Institute,” said longtime Texas lobbyist Bill Miller, a Perry fan. “It’s not the way he’s made.”

Miller said Perry learns what is necessary to be effective.

“If he should know about John Locke, he’ll know about John Locke,” said Miller. “If it’s not on his schedule, it’s irrelevant to him.”

China policy, for example, has surely not been much on Perry’s mind during his time in Austin.

And that showed when, in an interview last week with Laura Ingraham, he responded to a question about whether a rising China is good for the United States with platitudes that prompted the conservative talk show host to complain that he was only offering “broad generalities.”

In the end, American voters don't mind mediocre minds who share their prejudices and promise to have good advisors. It worked for Reagan and Bush and it's done wonders for Perry. Besides, he was smart enough to figure out how to make himself a millionaire while working as a "public servant"-- and, more important, without winding up in prison for taking bribes.

Bachmann's call for oil drilling in the Everglades isn't going to hurt her in the Republican primary. And Perry's lack of intellect is actually going to help him more than it hurts him. Let's face it, how many intelligent people vote in Republican primaries? And then there's the bungling, stumbling, weird "front runner" who no one seems to like and who can't relate to the Fox-radicalized base of the Republican Party, Willard Romney.
Mitt Romney says he’s on the same page as tea party activists, but some national organizations affiliated with the movement say the GOP presidential candidate hasn’t made much of an effort to get to know them.

In fact, these tea party organizers say they can’t recall the former Massachusetts governor ever speaking at a tea party gathering, unlike nearly all of his primary opponents.

“To my knowledge, Mitt Romney has never requested to participate in one of our tea party events or rallies,” said Jacqueline Bodnar, a spokeswoman at FreedomWorks, the Washington, D.C.-based organization led by former House leader Dick Armey. The group helped organize events like the 9/12 March on Washington in 2009 and annual “tax day” rallies.

Bodnar said there has been very little contact between FreedomWorks and Romney. The group’s president, Matt Kibbe, briefly met with Romney during the 2010 election season, she said.

Another national figure in the movement, Mark Meckler, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, also said Romney “certainly never reached out to our organization, not that I’m aware of.”

...“Saying he is ‘in sync’ with the tea party movement is a huge stretch, especially considering his open support for government-run health care in Massachusetts and his wishy-washy views on cap and trade,” Bodnar said. “You can’t support those positions and then call yourself an advocate of limited-government in the same breath.”

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Thurber Tonight: An encore presentation of "A Ride with Olympy"



"A Ride With Olympy" first appeared in the New Yorker of April 30, 1938. It was collected in My World and Welcome to It (1942) and then appeared in The Thurber Carnival. As we'll see tomorrow night, there's a reason -- apart from the story's own considerable pleasures -- why we're visiting it. -- Ken




Annals of Anonymity: We can hardly expect a gov't official to talk on the record about kinfolk of a tyrant who faces a "delicate future"


Plus a final note of apology re. Hurricane Irene

From the HuffPost World report: "With its panoramic views and opulent furniture, the seaside home of Hannibal Gaddafi more closely resembles a luxury resort than a private residence. But a closer inspection of the home following Libyan rebels' ransacking has now revealed some of the unspeakable horrors to have allegedly taken place on its premises -- even among those trusted to take care of the colonel's grandchildren."

by Ken

Sometimes, faced with a tempting link of a NYT e-newsletter, I find myself trying to establish criteria for clickworthiness sort of the way Elaine on Seinfeld, faced with the impossibility any more than her current supply of her preferred contraceptive sponge, took to evaluating prospective male companions for "spongeworthiness." Worse still are the times I forget and impetuously click through without taking time for a proper evaluation of clickworthiness. (Luckily, the stakes are less portentous than those Elaine faced.)

So I can't really say that my interest level in the story reached true clickworthiness, but you can't take back a click once delivered, and there I was this afternoon looking at the story, "Qadaffi's Wife and 3 of His Children Flee to Algeria." No doubt I was primed from having earlier read an AOL-highlighted piece about the Ethiopian nanny of Colonel Qaddafi's son Hannibal's children, "whose wounds appeared to be in desperate need of medical attention" even as she whined about having been tortured by Aline (Mrs. Hannibal) Qaddafi for refusing to beat one of the young uns -- and, oh yes, having worked for a full year in family's seaside home, "with its panoramic views and opulent furniture," which "more closely resembles a luxury resort than a private residence," without being paid a cent.

As it turns out, the "3 of His Children" admitted into Algeria ("admitted through one of the more southerly crossing in the Sahara desert, arriving in a Mercedes and a bus" -- imagine Qaddafis reduced to fleeing the country by bus!) includes, as announced by the Algerian Foreign Ministry and confirmed by Algeria's U.N. ambassador, not just Colonel Q's daughter Aisha and two of his sons, Mohammed and the aforementioned Hannibal, but also their spouses and children! Oh, were you too thinking of the "children" in that headline as being, you know, children?

Oh, there were children packed on that bus -- "many children," according to Algerian U.N. Ambassador Mourad Benmehidi. But they're Colonel Q's grandchildren, not children. Presumably among the party were Mrs. Hannibal and their insufficiently beaten offspring. One can only hope that their new Algerian hosts will be able to provide referrals for a new nanny, though it may not be easy to find one who works as cheap as her predecessor.

Now this may or may not be of interest to you, but none of this is why I bring it all up. Well, not exactly. We have sort of grazed up against the delicate question of why exactly the Qadaffi party's Mercedes and bus were allowed into Algeria, and their occupants apparently given refuge in Algiers. In case you were wondering, the NYT report reports:
An Algerian Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of Colonel Qaddafi's future, said the members of his family who came to Algeria were all in Algiers, the capital. The official noted that none of them had been named in warrants issued by the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes charges, unlike Colonel Qaddafi himself, his son Seif al-Islam and his former intelligence chief. [Emphasis added.]

The person I associate most with the War on Anonymous Sources is Salon's Glenn Greenwald, and we've occasionally eavesdropped on some of his righteous screeds on the subject -- with which, let me say, I couldn't agree more. As Glenn has had far too frequent occasion to point out, the new habit among classier outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post of explaining why an anonynous source was granted anonymity hasn't so much curbed the practice as given it some fancy new window dressing. The Times policy appears to be that we won't grant you anonymity unless you can come up with a really entertaining reason, while the Post's policy appears to be that we won't grant you anonymity unless you ask.

But even by these, er, relaxed standards, my eyes underwent some major popping confronted with this specimen. Let's run this through one more time. The Algerian Foreign Ministry official was --
speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of (deposed Libyan dictator) Colonel Qaddafi's future.

Um, er, huh? "Because of the delicacy of Colonel Qaddafi's future"? What does that mean? (Suggestion to NYT Foreign Desk: Couldn't you have given us something more solid, like, say, "speaking on condition of anonymity on account of how it's a month without an 'R' in it"?)


Downtown Brattleboro, Vermont -- as the state suffers perhaps its worst flooding in 100 years. But gee, it's only Vermont, and in truth it's probably less than 100 years.

First, to those outside Irene's path, forced to put up with all our yammering: So sorry! I realize how tedious are impending natural disasters that may permanently change the lives of other people. And then when they turn out to be not such a big deal, well, jeez! (Though don't tell that to the folks in Vermont and upstate New York, suffering "Worst Flooding in 100 Years," but what's 100 years really? And heck, they didn't even get a hurricane, just a ratty tropical storm!)

And speaking of the hurricane turning out to be less big a deal than the worst-case scenarios, to those inside Irene's path who were dissatisfied by the outcome: Again, so sorry! What's the point of planning for those worst-case scenarios if they don't happen? This group, by the way, includes people who are offended by official "overreaction," like shutting down New York's transit system, which -- to add insult to injury -- then took hours and hours to begin to restart. Just because these folks are too stupid or too lazy to try to understand (a) why it was thought appropriate to shut the system down (and never mind all the damage that was done by the "disappointing" storm, or what would have happened if, say, populated subway trains had been trapped in flooded tunnels, or populated buses had been struck by some of those 600-plus trees that fell), (b), why the shutdown had to be announced so early and put into effect so long before the brunt of the storm was expected, and/or (c) why the system took so long to reboot (including, for example, the tiresome requirement that every foot of subway track be walked before the trains could be restarted), well, I truly am sorry.

Sorry, folks, next time we'll try to arrange a disaster that lives up to your exacting specifications -- and then just keep it to ourselves. So sorry!

ONE LAST NOTE: You may remember the expedition to Constitution Island, in the Hudson River opposite West Point, I was planning for Saturday but aborted thinking I could get up there as scheduled before the noon Metro-North shutdown but would have no way of getting back to the city from. It turns out that the great Reenactment Day festivities were canceled. The tour leader has called to my attention that there's still one more weekend opportunity to visit Constitution Island this season, on Saturday, September 24. I've got my Municipal Arts Society "Starchitecture" tour that day. I thought I might be able to slip up there in time for the tail end of the Constitution Island day, but as I read the schedules (hastily!), the earliest train I could catch would arrive at 3:02, two minutes after the last bus pickup from the station parking lot!

Oh well, as they say, wait till next year.

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A Catholic Sect Crazy Enough For The Teabaggers?


Authoritarian religion & fascism: a match made in Heaven

Although the right-wing/Know Nothing faction of the Republican Party has traditionally been not just Protestant but vehemently anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic, things have changed lately. Right-wing bigots in charge of the GOP and the Tea Party are happy for whatever support they can get-- including Jews and Catholics. In fact, conservative Catholics-- I mean really, really conservative Catholics-- couldn't be better suited for the anti-Science dogma at the heart of modern right-wing movements like today's GOP. Extremists in the Catholic Church are rewarded for the kind of mindless, faith-based devotion that any authoritarian or totalitarian agenda like the Republicans' is dependent on. Yesterday Manya Brachear reported in the Chicago Tribune not on Catholics in politics but on Catholics who are unable to accept any science-based reality whatsoever. The Society of St. Pius X, for example, rejects most of the modernizing reforms made by the Vatican II council from 1962 to 1965.
A few conservative Roman Catholics are pointing to a dozen Bible verses and the church's original teachings as proof that Earth is the center of the universe, the view that was at the heart of the church's clash with Galileo Galilei four centuries ago.

...Those promoting geocentrism argue that heliocentrism, or the centuries-old consensus among scientists that Earth revolves around the sun, is a conspiracy to squelch the church's influence.

"Heliocentrism becomes dangerous if it is being propped up as the true system when, in fact, it is a false system," said Robert Sungenis, leader of a budding movement to get scientists to reconsider. "False information leads to false ideas, and false ideas lead to illicit and immoral actions — thus the state of the world today.… Prior to Galileo, the church was in full command of the world, and governments and academia were subservient to her."

...[S]upporters contend there is scientific evidence to support geocentrism, just as there is evidence to support the six-day story of creation in Genesis.

There is proof in Scripture that Earth is the center of the universe, Sungenis said. Among many verses, he cites Joshua 10:12-14 as definitive proof: "And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, while the nation took vengeance on its foe... The sun halted in the middle of the sky; not for a whole day did it resume its swift course."

But Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., said the Bible is silent on geocentrism.

"There's a big difference between looking at the origin of the planets, the solar system and the universe and looking at presently how they move and how they are interrelated," Ham said. "The Bible is neither geocentric or heliocentric. It does not give any specific information about the structure of the solar system."

Just as Ham challenges the foundation of natural history museums by disputing evolution, Sungenis challenges planetariums, most notably the Vatican Observatory.

Crackpots? Well, sure, but well-financed, well--armed, determined and... you know what Bob Dylan said about people who are certain that they have God on their side. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the Society of St. Pius X a dangerous right-wing group that grew right out of Nazism. Founded by a psychotic French archbishop, Marcel Lefebvre in 1970, the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is one of the most reactionary, anti-democratic elements in French politics, advocating a restoration of an absolute monarchy while condemning the French Revolution and everything it stood for (Liberté, égalité, fraternité). Lefebvre himself is a dedicated fascist and pro-Nazi supporter of the Vichy government of Philippe Pétain and the neo-Nazi National Front of Jean-Marie le Pen (something like a French version of our own teabaggers). In fact Lefebvre urged his supporters to vote for le Pen based on le Pen's unambiguous opposition to women's Choice. And their disdain for women goes beyond health issues... and, of course, beyond France. (Remember, this is the anti-Semitic cult Mel Gibson finances.)

Kansas recently elected an extreme right Catholic Opus Dei governor with SSPX sympathies, Sam Brownback. He was born into a normal Protestant family, moved to extreme evangelicalism and finally discovered something far more reactionary, the Opus Dei/SSPX branch of Catholicism. But in Kansas? You bet! Here's a 2008 report from Topeka on Good Morning America:
Just minutes before she was scheduled to referee a boy's varsity basketball game at St. Mary's Academy, Michelle Campbell was told she would not be allowed to work the game because she is a woman.

St. Mary's Academy, near Topeka, Kan., is a controversial religious school that follows older Roman Catholic laws, but many argue that religious beliefs does not give the school the right to discriminate.

"The policy of the school was that they indeed do not permit female officials to officiate the boys athletic contests at their school," said Gary Musselman, executive director of the Kansas State High School Athletics Association.

The school's policy-- straight from the SSPX hymnal-- is to not allow women to have authority over men. Perhaps that's the mentality that was behind the total melting away of Michele Bachmann's Republican Party support within days of Rick Perry entering the GOP presidential race.

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