Friday, September 30, 2011

Sunday Classics refresher: In which we take another listen to Dvoŕák's Symphony No. 8


Klaus Tennstedt (1926-1998)

DVOŘÁK: Symphony No. 8 in G, Op. 88:
i. Allegro con brio

London Philharmonic Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt, cond. BBC Legends, recorded live in the Royal Festival Hall, Apr. 2, 1991

by Ken

When we heard Dvoŕák's Eighth Symphony week before last ("From bucolic depths to blazing glory: Dvořák's Symphony No. 8"), you may recall that the "A" group of recordings I initially plucked off the shelves for consideration mysteriously vanished. They reappeared, of course; it turns out they were cunningly camouflaged by having the Tennstedt-EMI CD of Beethoven overtures (which I used for the Egmont Overture post) sitting on top. Now a number of those discs/sets also included the Dvoŕák symphony we're going to hear on Sunday, and so those distinguished conductors -- George Szell, Christoph von Dohnányi, Václav Neumann, Rafael Kubelik, and Mariss Jansons -- will be represented then along with some distinguished colleagues Carlo Maria Giulini, Leonard Bernstein, and Zdeněk Košler.

However, with regard to the other conductors in that "A" group, either they didn't record the Dvoŕák symphony we'll be adding to our "repertory" Sunday or I don't have their recording, at least on CD. So I thought tonight we would refresh our memory of the Dvoŕák Eighth with their able assistance.

For the lovely first movement we've just heard that glorious live performance -- grandly scaled, brimming with delight -- by Klaus Tennstedt. (To be honest, this wasn't really in the missing "A" group. At the time I had forgotten about it, since it's contained in a BBC Legends four-CD "Portrait of a Legend" set.) In the click-through we'll have our old friend Bruno Walter conducting the haunting Adagio and the great Czech conductor Václav Talich conducting a decidedly "grazioso" performance of the Scherzo. Finally, we finally get to hear Herbert von Karajan raise the roof in the Finale in his great 1961 Decca recording.


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Seeing James Spader in top James Spader form is reason enough to watch the current incarnation of "The Office"


The incomparable James Spader dazzled last season as the visionary genius, or perhaps megalomaniacal crackpot, Robert, interviewing for the old job of Michael Scott (Steve Carell) as manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin.

by Ken

Since I try really hard to avoid media promotion that will "give away" stuff I plan to watch, I don't know whether James Spader has landed for the season as the new boss of The Office (I think back to Will Ferrell's unexpectedly and amusingly short tenure at the end of last season), and I don't want to know -- I'd rather take it in as it's dished out. What I can say is that so far that the writers are writing for Spader in a way that allows him to do, you know, all that stuff that I've never seen any other actor do, that sense of being powered by an inner power plant that generates power and heat and vision and confidence and . . . well, I have no idea how to describe it. I can't even say whether the writing for him is really that good, or good-for-him, or he's able to animate anything he sees on a page in front of him.

Another thing I can say is that seeing Spader as new Dunder Mifflin Sabre CEO Robert California reminded me with a jolt of the Spader deprivation I've been feeling since the demise of Boston Legal.

Spader was part of the queue of improbable celebrity guests who appeared in last season's "search" episodes as Dunder Mifflin Scranton and parent company Sabre sought a permanent replacement for departed Scranton manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell). There he was as Robert California, with that familiar Spader aura of visionary genius that might possibly be crackpot megalomania, and the obvious assumption was that he was wildly overqualified for such a humble job, which seemed to be his opinion too.

As we learned from Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) in last week's season opener, "The List." Robert was indeed offered the job, but he was already on his way to Florida, where he persuaded Jo, the CEO of Dunder Mifflin parent company Sabre (a hilarious recurring guest role for Kathy Bates, who of course has gone on to a show of her own) to hire him, not as Scranton branch manager of Dunder Mifflin but as CEO of Sabre -- yes, as Jim underscored, he persuaded her to give him her job!

At the moment, two episodes into the new season, Robert has the office in a state of generally terrified anxiety, hanging on his every utterance, and even every hint about his intentions, as with that "list" from last week's episode --

Now the thing about that state of terror among the staff is that it's totally believable. When Robert opens his mouth, I get a little scared too. Hey, he doesn't even have to open his mouth. One look from him -- a look of disapproval, or doubt, or scorn, or whatever -- says more than most actors can say in a five-minute speech.

So it was totally understandable that the staff was on pins and needles following the surreptitious discovery of a list Robert had made of all the employees separated into two groups. And it was, well, very James Spader-ish when, after Robert tried to insist that the list was merely the result of his habit of doodling, that the two columns represented "winners" and "losers"! But then, there was eventually a classicaly Spader-esque twist in terms of Robert's understanding of those designations. Similarly, when Robert finally did his version of an office pep talk, explaining to the staff that really a small paper company like Dunder Mifflin should have no reason to exist at the present time, the actor invested the character's explanation with such calm conviction and far-seeing wisdom that it was easy to believe their overwhelmed reaction.


I would have liked to show you a clip with Spader's Robert, and it's possible that there is such a thing on the NBC Office webpage, but I gave up trying to find it. The website, which appears to be operated by somebody's idiot nephew, seems to function on the principle that even if you manage to figure out where you'd like to go, it will take you where it feels you might want to go, even if you've managed, against all odds, to figure out where you'd at least like to try to go. The one certainty is that when you get where the website takes you, there will be two commercials to watch. Eventually the combination of exhaustion and futility did me in.

I was at it long enough, though, to notice that the clips I managed to find from this season seemed almost to go out of their way to not include James Spader as Robert. This represents either some transcendent marketing genius or a total lack of awareness at the Nothing But Chumps network what the show's hottest current asset is. Anyway, here's a clip. Based on my admittedly limited perusal, I'm gathering that Office clips can be counted on to include Dwight (Rainn Wilson).

The last candidate interviewed in last season's "Search Committee" double episode for a new manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin was this mysteriously camouflaged "mystery" man.

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太陽能 And The Far Right


Everytime I tell myself that after years and years of holding my nose and voting for crappy Democrats who don't represent me politically-- primarily because they're better than the far more odious Republican they're running against-- this will be the election I finally put a stop to it, two things cross my mind. First is a picture of one of those crazytown Republican debates and the prospect of Romney or Perry or Bachmann or any of those sociopaths being president (so, the old excuse I've been biting on since Lyndon Johnson ran against Barry Goldwater). And second, as big a disappointment as Obama has been-- of course, having followed his execrable career in the Senate I knew exactly how mediocre he would be-- he did do one thing I really owe him for... BIG. Solar energy.

My electric bill was between $1,000 and $1,400 a month; don't ask. So, largely thanks to Obama, I was able to put a huge solar array on my roof-- something like 40 panels-- and 75% was reimbursed by the federal and state governments. My electric bill is now zero. Actually, I'm getting credits for electricity I'm feeding back into the grid. They don't pay for it but if we ever have 40 days of no sunlight, I'll still have free electricity. So how big a creep would I have to be to repay Obama for that by not voting for him? Especially with the Oily Republicans cooking up yet another fake solar scandal against him. Drudge and deranged right wing propaganda sheet the Weekly Standard cooked up some far-fetched nonsense about a recent $737 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy to a solar energy company called SolarReserve. They insinuate that DoE approved the loan because Ronald Pelosi, brother-in-law of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, is "number two" at an investment firm that has an interest in SolarReserve.
It is true that Ronald Pelosi is an executive at Pacific Corporate Group, one of the private equity firms that has plugged more than $100 million into SolarReserve. But it is patently false that he will benefit from the loan (as Drudge asserts, although Weekly Standard only implies).

Ronald Pelosi joined PCG this past spring, whereas the firm first invested in SolarReserve three years ago. More importantly, Ronald Pelosi does not have a financial interest in the fund that houses SolarReserve. If the fund generates big profits on its investment, Pelosi gets nothing. If the fund's investment gets wiped out, Pelosi's bank account won't take a hit.

Moreover, a PCG spokesman insists that no member of the firm had any contact with the White House about the SolarReserve loan.

By the end of the day, Drudge took down the post entirely... disappeared, like so many manufactured right-wing lies they get called out on. But as long as we;re talking about solar energy, there is a scandal: China. They're gaining an inordinate foothold in the U.S. market. The 40-some-odd panels on my roof were all made in the U.S.A. But China is determined to take over the European and American solar markets. American Public Media's "Marketplace" ran a mini-feature on it yesterday. Here's the transcript:
China is far outpacing the U.S. in solar panel manufacturing-- a fact American producers say is in part due to a violation of global trade rules.

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Here at home, American solar panel manufacturers are reportedly preparing a trade complaint against China. They say subsidies from the Chinese government violate global trade rules, and make Chinese imports artificially cheap. The case could be one of the largest trade cases targeting China in years.

From Shanghai, here's Marketplace China bureau chief Rob Schmitz.

ROB SCHMITZ: For years, the rule of thumb for many U.S. companies has been design your product at home, make it in China.

Ben Santarris is a spokesman for SolarWorld, the largest U.S. solar panel manufacturer based in Oregon.

BEN SANTARRIS: We don't want to go to China. We live here. We believe it's very important to have a source of renewable energy and technology in the United States.

These days, remaining loyal to the U.S. can hurt. Yesterday, SolarWorld laid off 150 people. Santarris says Chinese solar companies have taken over the U.S. market. He says Chinese companies can sell panels below what it costs to make them. That's because the companies are propped up with a seemingly endless stream of Chinese government money-- twenty times what the U.S. government gives American companies.

And Santarris says it's not just about subsidies.

SANTARRIS: We have environmental and safety and labor and quality standards that we, as a society in the United States, think are right for our system. And yet we're allowing producers from countries that don't hold those standards to flood our markets with their products.

Just how bad is it? At this summer's North American solar panel convention in San Francisco, Santarris says China had 45 exhibitors. The U.S.? Four.

We'll have to ask Miss McConnell, John Boehner, Ron Johnson and Pat Toomey-- four well-paid agents of the Chinese government-- about how the China they love and admire so deeply could possibly be doing business like that.

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Health Care Reform-- Prairie Populist Style: Montana


In the midst of the right-wing jihad to do away with the social safety net and turn America into an-only-the-strong-survive kind of Jungle, you may have heard the presumptive GOP presidential nominee whining to Sean Hannity this week about how the individual mandate in the health care reform bill was not just his idea, but a conservative idea. It's certainly the least popular piece of the fatally compromised legislation-- especially among conservatives and teabaggers-- and needs to be replaced with a sane, single-payer approach.
Mitt Romney described the individual health mandate as a “conservative idea” yesterday afternoon on Sean Hannity’s radio show, just as the federal government asked the Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of the provision in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

“The idea for a health care plan [in Massachusetts] was not mine alone,” Romney explained. “The Heritage Foundation-- a great conservative think tank-- helped on that. I’m told Newt Gingrich, one of the very first people who came up with the idea of an individual mandate, did that years and years ago.”

It is a conservative idea, a crappy conservative idea that Obama and pathetic and weak conservative Democrats used to compromise away working families' futures. Many progressive state governments have already started moving beyond this foot-dragging, fifth rate approach to health care. And yesterday the Billings Gazette announced that Montana may be the next in line. Governor Brian Schweitzer has gotten the ball rolling with a universal health care proposal for the state.
Like Republicans who object to the federal health care law, the Democratic governor also argues it doesn't do enough to control costs and says his state should have more flexibility than the law allows. But Schweitzer has completely different plans for the Medicare and Medicaid money the federal government gives the state to administer those programs.

The popular second-term Democrat would like to create a state-run system that borrows from the program used in Saskatchewan. He said the Canadian province controls cost by negotiating drug prices and limiting nonemergency procedures such as MRIs.

Schweitzer said the province's demographics and economy are similar to Montana in several ways - yet its residents live longer while spending far less on health care.

...Schweitzer told a federal official Wednesday that he will be asking for a waiver allowing the state to abandon the federal programs in favor of one the state will design itself. Schweitzer said details would be coming in the next few months when the request is complete.

State Rep. Franke Wilmer is running for the congressional seat being abandoned by Tea Party Caucus member Denny Rehberg and part of her populist campaign is based on her strong support for universal health care. She's consulted with Gov. Schweitzer on this and is very enthusiastic about Montana finding a better solution than Congress did. This is what she told me last night:
Americans pay 100 percent more for health care-- twice as much-- than any other industrialized country. We still rank 37th in quality and outcomes. An estimated 14,000 Americans lose health insurance coverage every day. In the big economic picture, overspending on health care is siphoning off capital that could be put to more productive use. Wages and income flat-lined in the 1990s mostly because employers who offer health insurance benefits faced skyrocketing costs. Studies show that our overly complex and fragmented payer system weakens the demand side of the market and inflates administrative costs. Walmart's vision center tells insured customers that "we accept over 1,800 plans." It doesn't make market sense; it doesn't make capitalist sense. Absolutely states should be allowed to set up their own universal health care systems.

Her two Republican opponents-- the job exporter and the KKK organizer (they have a primary)-- both oppose Medicare, Medicaid and, in a general sense, health care for the non-wealthy. If you'd like to help her get elected, you can do it here

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Will DCCC Recruitment Of Conservative Candidates Turn Off Enough Democrats To Win The 2012 Elections For The GOP? Probably


Locking in a Republican majority in the House

Last year it drove me crazy that the reactionary Blue Dog Caucus was able to jump start an election campaign for a turgid conservative Democrat, Lori Edwards, for Adam Putnam's open Florida seat east of Tampa (Polk and Hillsborough counties). Two years previous, with Obama fighting McCain to a virtual tie, progressive Democrat Doug Tudor gave entrenched incumbent Putnam his strongest challenge ever-- garnering 137,465 (to Putnam's 185,698). With Putnam moving on to state office, Tudor felt he had a real shot to defeat the zombie replacement the GOP was putting in to replace Putnam, Dennis Ross. But the Blue Dogs stepped for anti-healthcare conservative Edwards, pumped up for fundraising with corrupt Beltway lobbyists for the primary and got the DCCC to back her against the legitimate grassroots Democrat, Tudor. Of the 137,465 FL-12 voters who had come out for Tudor in 2008, only 87,769 bothered voting for Edwards in 2010. And now the district is represented by a {{Dennis Ross}} who has a 2.65 ProgressivePunch score (that's 2.65 out of 100). He's been a lockstep voter for a domestic fascist agenda pushed by Boehner, Cantor and Ryan. Thanks, DCCC.

Of course, Lori Edwards wasn't the only Blue Dog Democrat voters decided to reject last year. They rejected the entire Blue Dog worldview, defeating over half the members, including all the leaders, and frightening many of the others into retiring this year-- like arch-conservative corporate shills Dan Boren (OK) and Mike Ross (AR). Heath Shuler (NC) is negotiating a job as a gym teacher in Tennessee, and if he can squeeze enough money out of them, we'll be rid of him too. Democratic voters didn't come out to vote, not for Lori Edwards, not for the Blue Dogs and, because of the spillover effect, not for real Democrats around the country as well. But the DCCC hasn't learned their lesson. Led by "ex"-Blue Dog Steve Israel, they'll follow the Blue Dogs into another disaster for next year. Yesterday Gallup reported that once again base-catering Republicans have inspired their base while base-hating Democrats have turned their base off. Democratic and left-leaning independent voters will be doing in 2012 just what they did in 2010-- staying home and sending a message to the Steve Israels and Debbie Wasserman Schultzes that they won't vote rather than vote for conservatives wearing blue T-shirts.
The difference between Democrats' enthusiasm and Republicans' enthusiasm can be summarized by plotting the difference in the two groups' net enthusiasm scores-- that is, the percentage of each group saying they are more enthusiastic minus the percentage less enthusiastic.

Democrats' net enthusiasm (+1) now trails Republicans' net enthusiasm (+28) by 27 percentage points. By contrast, Democrats held the advantage on net enthusiasm throughout 2008-- on several occasions, by better than 40-point margins. Democrats occasionally trailed Republicans in net enthusiasm in 2004, but never by as much as is seen today. The current balance of enthusiasm among Republicans and Democrats is similar to what Gallup found in the first few months of 2000.

...Gallup's initial-- and early-- reading on Republicans' and Democrats' enthusiasm for 2012 indicates the emotional climate surrounding that election could be quite different from the climate in 2008, when Democrat Barack Obama won, partly owing to supermajority support from several groups. Democrats' current enthusiasm about voting is not only lower than it was in 2008, but lower than in 2004, when Republican George W. Bush won re-election.

And yet the DCCC continues recruiting conservative shills who turn off the base and make people wonder what the difference is between the two parties. As we've been warning all year, instead of embracing Albuquerque's most progressive and popular state senator, Eric Griego, for the open Democratic seat in NM-1, the DCCC seem hellbent on losing it by recruiting hated corporate shill Marty Chavez to run against him in a primary. Of course the DCCC claims to be staying out of the primary. But they're lying. They keep helping Chavez and secretly undermining Griego, who has been endorsed by dozens of unions, civic groups and progressive organizations, Blue America included.

Tomorrow Blue America is formally endorsing Ohio progressive Mary Jo Kilroy, and she'll be joining us for a live chat at Crooks and Liars (2pm ET). But even before we jumped into the race, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison endorsed her. That was great news and very encouraging. In the past it was almost only the Blue Dogs jumping into early primary fights and pushing their conservative shithead candidates (like Lori Edwards). Just as exciting, yesterday Grijalva sent out an e-mail to his own supporters urging them to back Griego in Albuquerque.
As John Boehner and Tea Party Republicans wage class war against working families, Progressives in Congress are fighting back. But we need help. We need more bold progressives fighting by our side.

That's why I endorse State Senator Eric Griego for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District open seat.

Eric Griego believes that "the last thing we need to send to Washington is a Democrat who's a kinder, gentler version of the Republicans." I agree. Democrats must fight for a government that works for all people, not just those with deep pockets and fancy titles.

Eric fought to get corporate money out of politics as an Albuquerque City Councilor, where he passed one of the strongest local campaign finance reforms in the nation. As State Senator, he took on the Big Oil companies and put middle-class workers first by passing a green jobs bill into law.

Eric is supported by leading progressive groups and major labor unions-- and he is the only candidate in the race to have a lifetime 100% rating from Conservation Voters New Mexico.

I need Eric Griego fighting by my side in Congress. To make that happen, he needs your help.

You can rally to Griego's cause here at the Blue America ActBlue page. Hopefully the Progressive Caucus will start regularly endorsing progressives in tough primary battles with conservatives and support progressives fighting Republicans as well. I noticed that in the new Democratic-leaning district in Riverside County, a district Obama would have won with something like a 20% margin, the progressive Democratic candidate, Mark Takano, is up against a conservative Republican, John Tavaglione, beloved by developers, business interests, fat-cat Republicans and... both corrupt Republican zombie Ken Calvert, who used to represent the area, and the conservative Democratic mayor of Riverside, Ron Loveridge. That's another race where Grijalva could do some good.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Do the OccupyWallStreet folks really have to formulate a bullet-pointed position paper that like position papers generally would be ignored?


This photo accompanies Matt Stoller's interesting post "OccupyWallStreet Is a Church of Dissent, Not a Protest"

by Ken

My concern about the OccupyWallStreet confrontation in Lower Manhattan's Financial District has been mostly the unqualified outrageousness, disproportionality, and illegality of the official response, presumably representing government's collusion with or capituation to (choose one) the financial-industry oligarchy. As I wrote the other night:
We can talk more some other time about the nature and justice of the action and its tactical workability. But for now they're irrelevant. The government isn't entitled to an opinion of any of that. Those people's right to protest is as close to absolute as anything that exists in U.S. law.

I confess that I haven't been keeping close tabs on OccupyWallStreet, and until the other night I had no idea what or where John Zuccotti Park (oops, I see that's the old name, before it became Liberty Plaza Park -- I thought it was the other way 'round; I certainly remember John Zuccotti from his years in city government as the consummate inside technocrat, though I've lost track of him as he's become a nabob in the world of those quasi-public development and oversight corporations that have increasingly usurped the functions of government) was. That's the designated haven for the protesters, and I discovered on checking the Google map that it's just a few blocks from my office.

That night after work I undertook the heroic project of walking whole blocks out of my way just to see what-and-where. Actually, it wasn't that far out of my way, or hardly at all if I just continued the couple of blocks up Broadway to the Fulton Street station of the A train. So now I know where the whatever-it's-called park -- really more of a plaza than a park -- is. And I felt for the protesters.

A representative expression of the view that the protesters have no business protesting unless they can enunciate a clear point-by-point program was a recent column, "Gunning for Wall Street, With Faulty Aim," by the NYT's new "Big City" metro columnist Ginia Bellafante, which generated much hysterical reaction from OWS sympathizers. I recall one piece denouncing the piece as reading more like an op-ed piece than a news report, the writer being apparently unaware that it wasn't a news report but a column. (This demonstrates alarmingly poor newspaper-reading skills, but then, maybe it also reflects on the amount of actual news reporting the NYT has done on the subject.)

Bellafante has apparently just switched over from service as a NYT TV critic (I qualify this only because recent-ish TV reviews have appeared, but perhaps those were her last efforts wearing that hat), and from a quick glance at some of her screeds she was a cosmically, screechingly horrible critic. But we can't necessarily hold that against her. After all, when Frank Rich made the switch to op-ed, he was a grindingly horrible drama critic. And in Bellafante's inaugural "Big City" column, on September 16, "Steps Away but Worlds Apart in New York," she not only staked out some interesting editorial turf --
If this column has an agenda, it is, in part, to actively record the incongruities and hypocrisies that so easily attach to life in this city — to document, substantiate and contextualize them, to observe the lives and mechanisms of New York from their various and discordant vantage points.
but interestingly spotlighted geographic flashpoints in the city, like the intersection of Park Avenue and 96th Street in Manhattan, where a visitor can witness the extremes of our economic-class gaps.

NYT caption, accompanying the September 16 Ginia Bellafante "Big City" column: "Class collisions in downtown Brooklyn, top row and bottom right. In Manhattan, bottom left, expensive condos sit beside public housing."

Nevertheless, I'm not terribly sympathetic to the notion that it's the responsiblity of the protesters to come up with a position paper like the bilge that think tanks produce, or political consultants manufacture for their candidates, usually with no intention whatever of giving any of it a second thought if they can buy their way into office. As I wrote Tuesday:
If your vantage point is, say, Bloombergian Billionaire, where mere millionaires are regarded as low achievers and people who scrape by on mere six-figure incomes are regarded as working stiffs, the notion that ordinary Americans have the right to gather just to voice anger and pain, to demand that the now-settled policy of ignoring them be reopened, can be seen as a mortal threat. Okay, a pathetically anemic mortal threat, but when you're a lonely billionaire, you're very likely no stranger to paranoia.

For a more reasoned look at the stakes for the protesters, I can recommend a post by Matt Stoller on Yves Smith's "Naked Capitalism" blog, which begins (links onsite):
OccupyWallStreet Is a Church of Dissent, Not a Protest

Last weekend, I spent a few days with the protesters downtown near Wall Street, and it was an eye-opening experience. The people there want something, but it’s not a list of demands, and it is entirely overlooked by the media and most commentators on the protest.

If all you read are news stories and twitter feeds about #OccupyWallStreet, the most trenchant imagery that will stick in your mind is that of police brutality, and the politics of Wall Street greed. The debate seems to be organized around whether the protest will be “successful” or not, how the protesters are stupid or a new American Tahrir Square, or rhetoric designed in a media sphere that maximizes attention. Glenn Greenwald suitably demolishes the sneering commentariat. But I think there’s something to add about what exactly this protest is, what it is doing, and most of all, what the people there “want”. They don’t have a formal list of demands.

And it’s obvious that this isn’t just about Wall Street, nor is it really a battle of any sort. There are political signs there attacking Fox News, expressing anger about Troy Davis, supporting the Iranian revolution, urging the Federal Reserve be reigned in, and demanding rich people pay their taxes. There are personal signs about debt, war, and medical problems. And people are dressed in costume, carrying lightsabers, and some guys are driving around a truck with a “Top Secret Wikileaks” sign on the side. I asked if they were affiliated with the site, and one of them responded with “That’s what the Secret Service asked”. Most of all, people there are having fun. . . .

Finally, as is often the case, Ian Welsh has an especially interesting take on his blog:
The reason many liberal and progressive elites . . .

by Ian Welsh

. . . hate the occupy wall street folks is simple: they have bypassed the old left leadership. The old left is not making any money off this, is not leading it, so they hate it because it challenges them.

The old left exists to bring in money and keep paying themselves. This is as true of union leadership as it is of the majority of environmental organizations. The leadership of almost all of these organizations is deeply corrupt. All they care about is whether they can fundraise off of something. If they can’t, they despise it. They will, and do, regularly sell out of the interests of their own supposed constituents, in order to make their personal lives easier, to get richer, and to keep hobnobbing with important people.

Movements which bypass the old left, like Occupy Wall Street or Wikileaks, or Anonymous, are MORE of a threat to the old left leadership than the right wing, the Tea Party or the Republicans. Those forces are all good for the old left, they use fear of them to drive donations, and to convince their followers to vote Democratic, for which they are then rewarded with access, pats on the back and small amounts of money. A genuine left wing alternative to the old left leadership is an existential threat to them, and thus they attack them.

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Hungry... Food... Eat... Listeria... Wall Street... Conservatives


Long before our universe was ruled by collateralized debt obligations, derivatives, credit default swaps, hedge funds, REITs and REMICs or any other financial instruments designed entirely as a quasi-legalistic means of separating naive consumers from their money, there was... food. Farmers grow food and consumers buy it and eat it. Simple, huh? No, not at all. Just an extremely small percentage of the cost of food has anything whatsoever to do with mere farmers. Almost all the money goes to middlemen-- packagers, wholesalers, transporters, retailers, marketers and advertisers... and, obviously, Goldman Sachs (and other assorted well-connected Wall Street bloodsuckers). Goldman Sachs has driven up the price of food-- again, nothing whatsoever to do with farmers or weather or soil or any of that stuff-- and people all over the world are starving to death. But who cares, as long as robber barons get richer and our political class gets its cut?
In 1991, Goldman Sachs had an idea that changed commodity-trading forever.

J. Aron & Co., Goldman’s commodities trader, wanted to enter into a swap with a pension fund that wanted to add commodities to its portfolio. Raw goods were looking attractive at the moment. Inflation had risen more than 6 per cent the previous year, and the economy was in the recession that, in 1992, would elect Bill Clinton president.

The pension fund wanted to buy into commodities to manage its financial risk, which Congress had said it could do [Alarm! Alarm! Someone's getting paid off!]. Goldman was willing to do the deal, but as a speculator that didn’t rely on producing or using physical goods for its business, J. Aron could only do so much before it bumped up against Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) limits on positions-- that could be held by a speculator. Position limits, put in place to prevent market corners and manipulation, date to the Commodities Exchange Act of 1936.

The pension fund didn’t want to invest in a single commodity-- corn, or wheat, or natural gas have too many individual quirks-- but it did want to benefit from commodities as an asset class, buying into oil, natural gas, corn, wheat, and other goods. So, Goldman created an index that would track prices of a predetermined selection of commodities, allowing index-fund buyers a way to speculate in physical goods. That let the pension fund manage its risk, often backing that index by buying up the actual futures of the foods, fuels, and metals the index covered.

To make sure futures holdings matched the investment, Goldman asked the CFTC for an exemption from speculative limits on crop futures under a loophole Congress had opened in the 1980s. The CFTC granted the request. [Another alarm bell should have rung at that moment... loudly.]

Investment banks could buy crop contracts, just like a wheat merchant. Food no longer made for just a balanced diet. It balanced portfolios too, opening the doors for millions of investors to have a personal stake in food and energy markets beyond their groceries and gas tanks.

Goldman’s innovation didn’t instantly change trading. Shifts in political winds posed a danger to any bank getting overly involved in commodities. Bush’s CFTC could give an exemption, but someone else's could take it away. The stock market was about to begin nine straight years of gains. Corn, thanks to the productivity of U.S. farmers and stable world markets, couldn’t compete with that.

The year 2000 was a turning point. The Commodity Futures Modernization Act, passed by Congress as Clinton was leaving office, largely exempted over-the-counter derivatives from regulation. George W. Bush’s election as president ensured that the CFTC would favour deregulation. For free-market advocates, the creative power of modern markets would be unleashed-- just as crops, energy, and metals were about to look better than ever as an investment.

A quarter-century of stock-market triumph was ending. The Dow Jones Industrial Average reached 11,750 on January 14, 2000, more than 12 times its value 20 years earlier. Corn that day closed at $2.19 a bushel-- down exactly 70.25 cents from where it stood at the end of the 1970s.

The new decade wouldn’t be like the previous two. The dot-com bubble burst, starting a recession that began before September 11, 2001, terror attacks and lingered beyond it. Stock markets bottomed out in 2002 after the Dow lost 39 percent of its value. Real state was the next bubble. The housing boom took markets to new heights-- then, as prices collapsed, to another plunge and an even deeper recession-- this time a 54 percent drop from October 2007 to March 2009.

Investors accustomed to scarcely interrupted stock-market gains needed something that could restore a semblance of balance to their [and, let's face it-- the world does revolved around them] financial lives. Low interest rates made parking money in a bank account unattractive. Real estate that was supposed to rise forever, didn’t. But everyone needs to eat. Investors wanted a save haven from a stock-market boom gone bust.

...[R]esearch doesn’t let speculators off the hook, finding that prices of publicly traded commodities linked to index funds are moving increasingly in lockstep, indicating that commodities have become financialised as an asset class. Still more papers argue that the introduction of multibillion index funds that are holding onto futures for decades regardless of immediate circumstances-- the elephants in the kiddie pool-- makes futures prices less likely to fall and more likely to rise, since the funds will buy a futures contract expecting it to increase over the longer term, even when shorter-term prospects aren’t clear.

The research debate is of intense interest to CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton, who emerged during the 2008 food crisis as the panel’s top critic of the role investors may play in driving up food costs. Early in 2011, he was staying more quiet on regulation-- 'I’m keeping my powder dry,' he joked-- because the price and political situation was different in 2011 than in 2008.

The second food shock saw stock markets rising with commodities prices as the global economy grew, a classic story of supply and demand. Real-world explanations for price gains-- China, oil, weather-- were more up-front the second time around.

The CFTC, led by Gary Gensler, an Obama appointee and 18-year Goldman Sachs veteran, was at its most willing to regulate big-bank trading since the Clinton administration. The Dodd-Frank bill, named for its Senate and House sponsors, tightened limits on how many crop futures a speculator could hold even as it continued to exempt buyers of actual physical commodities, called end-users, from limits. It also brought under regulation many trades done outside exchanges, and it expanded the agency’s ability to collect information on exactly who was doing what in which commodities markets.

The legislation inevitably attracted a swarm of lobbyists to the once-quiet CFTC building on M Street. In 2010 the commission met with 199 different lobbying clients, according to records examined by the Washington-based Center of Responsive Politics-- the highest since the centre began tracking the records in 1998, 90 per cent more than in 2009 and 165 per cent more than in 2008.

Chilton said he met with the same lobbyist, representing three different companies, in the space of two weeks. Each time, the attorney argued that his client was exempt from the law, or that implementation ought to be put off. Financial interests called for caution and gained new allies from Congress, as Republicans sceptical of government regulation took control of the House of Representatives and eroded the Democratic majority in the Senate.

The voices urged restraint, for fear that wrong moves could actually drive trading from U.S. markets, sending them to less-regulated areas overseas.

"It is critically important that the implementation of these complicated reforms be done in a manner that avoids disruption and allows continuing access to derivative instruments," said Steve Bunkin, a managing director at Goldman Sachs, before the committee.

The rest of the world watched the United States and worked on its own rules. European markets-- the ones to which U.S. capital would allegedly flee should speculators be reined in too tightly-- would put their own limits in place to ensure that flights of capital across the ocean wouldn’t occur, said the European’s Union’s financial services commissioner, Michel Barnier.

The rising economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa called volatile prices a threat to their growth and asked for greater global regulation of derivatives markets. The academic speculation debate remained unresolved. By the middle of 2011 the CFTC was delaying new regulations, needing more time to complete them. Chilton predicted that in the end new rules would make markets less vulnerable to wild swings than before.

"The limits will decrease volatility both up and down, and keep swings from being wider," he said. "I think we’re going to get to the right point, ultimately," he said.

And while one set of malevolent conservatives-- Republicans plus their Blue Dog and DLC allies-- are working to further weaken already far too weak regulations on financial chicanery by their predatory Law of the Jungle campaign donors, another set of malevolent conservatives-- Republicans plus their Blue Dog and DLC allies-- are working on specifically further weakening regulations governing consumer food safety. They'll have to put their efforts on hold for a couple weeks 'til people forget all the deaths from that inconvenient listeria cantaloupe thing. But in 2009 when the House attempted to pass the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 (H.R. 2749) only 50 Republicans supported it-- "it" being food safety-- while 127 of them followed Boehner, Cantor, McCarthy, Ryan, Issa in opposing "it." And now that they're in charge and driven by teabagger extremism, they're much worse. Much worse... listeria or not:
Even as these outbreaks occur, however, the Republican Party is continuing its efforts to gut food safety laws aimed at protecting Americans from these types of food-borne illnesses. In June, House Republicans attempted to kill the first significant upgrade in the nation’s food safety laws in more than 70 years, saying the private food industry sufficiently self-policed itself. Last week, presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) called for an end to food safety laws that she claimed were stifling job creation:

“That’s part of the problem, the overkill,” Bachmann told reporters during an appearance in which she posed with huge slabs of beef. “And when they make it complicated, they make it expensive and so then you can no longer stay in business.”

As Pat Garofalo has noted, one in six Americans is sickened by food-borne illness each year, and more than 3,000 die. And while the GOP cites the cost of new regulations, the annual cost of food illnesses is $152 billion, according to Georgetown University’s Produce Safety Project, and the cost of not overhauling outdated food safety laws far exceeds the cost of implementing the new policies the GOP opposes. House Republicans, however, refuse to approve the funding necessary to put those policies in place, all but ensuring that deadly and costly food outbreaks will continue to occur all too frequently.

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The Solar Thing Makes Sense to Some Conservatives... Even In Mississippi


Blue America is doing its due diligence in the campaign to replace Montana's one congressman, Denny Rehberg, a corrupt multimillionaire who, laughably, joined the House Tea party Caucus headed by Michele Bachmann. He's leaving the House to run against for Jon Tester's Senate seat. The Republican Party is grappling with replacing him with either someone from the Hatred and Bigotry wing of the party (KKK & GOP organizer John Abarr) or someone from the Greed and Selfishness wing (Steve Daines, a millionaire job exporter). Any Democrat would be better than either of them. But the DCCC is, naturally enough, leaning towards a corporate Democrat from the Max Baucus wing, while two family-oriented populists, state Representative Franke Wilmer and Dave Strohmaier, are also running.

We've been very impressed with Franke and she penned a guest post for us last week. This week we wrote to every Blue America donor in the state asking for feedback on the race. Responses are still coming in but there is plenty of enthusiasm for Franke. One of her supporters in Billings sent me this OpEd she wrote last year, Scientific Illiteracy Clouds Climate-Change Politics along with his endorsement. Franke wrote it nearly two years ago but it sounds like it was written today. It's certainly worth reading today.
The most disappointing thing about the small number of political leaders denying the science of climate change is that it reveals the extent of scientific illiteracy in America. Today big businesses that profit from our failure to halt CO2 emissions deny the science of climate change the same way that big tobacco challenged science that linked smoking to lung cancer decades ago.

Everyone with a high school education should know that skepticism-- research aimed at disproving findings substantiated by rigorously researched hypotheses-- is built into the process of scientific inquiry. The best science aims to disprove or “falsify” a strong hypothesis-- almost none of our scientific knowledge has a 100 percent probability of being true. Statistically, findings with probabilities above 95 percent are treated as knowledge that should be acted on as true.

Scientific knowledge where probabilities affect human health and safety is routinely used in engineering and medicine. Building safe bridges means knowing the probability that based on engineering science, a structure will safely hold a certain amount of weight. Medical patients are told their chances of surviving cancer with different treatment alternatives, none with 100 percent certainty of success.
Statistical probability
The International Panel on Climate Change concluded, with a statistical probability of 99 percent, that most of the earth’s land base will continue experiencing more warmer and fewer colder days. With statistical confidence of 90 percent the IPCC predicted increasing frequency of heat waves and heavy precipitation. Bozeman temperatures now average 7 degrees higher than in 1950, 26 glaciers remain of 150 that were in Glacier National Park in 1850, and pine beetles killed 17 million more trees on 2 million to 3 million acres.

Over 90 percent of the world’s scientists agree that we are experiencing effects of human-induced climate change, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences, American Geophysical Union, World Meteorological Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, World Federation of Public Health Associations, American Institute of Physics, and 69 other national and international science organizations. Only six scientific organizations take a noncommittal position. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists, once the lone dissenting scientific organization, rescinded its dissent in 2007 to become the sixth organization adopting a noncommittal position.

Deniers claim a scientific conspiracy but fail to identify any motive for climate researchers to mislead the public. It’s easy, on the other hand, to see a motive for denial-- short-term profit from continuing to produce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Most Montanans wouldn’t mind a slightly warmer climate, but that’s not what the science is about. It’s about the extinction of species that, according to Nobel Laureate Dr. Eric Chivian of the Harvard Medical School, may provide medically valuable knowledge, like treatments for peptic ulcer disease affecting 25 million Americans, end stage renal disease that kills 80,000 Americans a year, osteoporosis that kills 70,000 Americans a year, Type 2 diabetes killing a quarter of a million people each year, and arrhythmias.
90% of scientists agree
It’s about the economic and geo-strategic impact of regional climate change on agriculture and energy. It’s about migrations of species like bark beetles and their impact on forestry and wildfires. In impoverished countries it’s about more death and suffering from increases in malaria and water and air-borne diseases. It’s about increased radiation and corresponding increases in skin cancer and melanoma, particularly in higher altitudes.

Knowing that 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in men and 80 percent in women are caused by smoking, most of us don’t smoke and encourage our loved ones to quit. When 90 percent of scientists agree that the effects of climate change put us all at risk, and that there is a high probability that failure to change our behavior by 2015 will make those effects difficult or impossible to reverse, we should take that just as seriously as other scientific facts regarding risks to our health and lives that we routinely accept and, accordingly, change our behavior.

You can contribute to Franke Wilmer's campaign for Congress here.

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Who's On First? Perry? Christie? The Mormon?


The most talked about political column in the last week, New York's In Praise of Extremism doesn't need such a provocative title to ask the question about the uselessness of Obama's determined bipartisan muddle. From the very beginning of his Administration the Dark Forces-- Emanuel, Messina-- have operated under the premise that liberals would have nowhere else to go so Obama could appeal ever rightward. They were counting on the Republicans nominating something so grotesquely outside the mainstream that even a mediocre Obama could scrape together a mediocre reelection. No one's imagination conjured up an image of an America where a bipartisan consensus was no longer achievable-- something Obama (perhaps delusional in his faith that “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America, there’s the United States of America”) has been really, really, really either slow to recognize or slow to act on. "From the moment Obama arrived at the White House," writes Rich, "the Beltway elites have been coaxing him further down the politically suicidal path of appeasement and inertia even as his opponents geared up for war."
The election is still thirteen months away, but in certain coastal circles, the quadrennial wailing has erupted right on schedule: “If that man gets in the White House, I’m moving out of the country!” This time that man is Rick Perry, who might have been computer-generated to check every box in a shrill liberal fund-raising letter: a gun-toting, Bible-thumping, anti-government death-penalty absolutist from Texas. And this time the liberals’ panic is not entirely over-the-top. Perry isn’t a novelty nut job like Michele Bachmann. He’s the real deal. It’s not implausible he could win his party’s nomination and prevail in enough swing-state nail-biters to take the presidency. He could do so because the times and the politician are in alignment. A desperate and angry country is facing the specter of a double-dip recession with zero prospects of relief from a defunct Washington. Perry is the only viable declared candidate-- as measured by organizing savvy, fund-raising prowess, poll numbers, and take-no-prisoners gubernatorial résumé-- hawking an unambiguous alternative to the failed status quo.

...This is the harsh reality Obama has been way too slow to recognize. But in his post–Labor Day “Pass this jobs plan!” speech before Congress, the lip service he characteristically paid to both Republican and Democratic ideas gave way to an unmistakable preference for Democratic ideas. Soon to come were his “Buffett rule” for addressing the inequities of the Bush tax cuts and a threat to veto any budget without new tax revenues to go with spending cuts. When he tied it all up in a Rose Garden mini-tantrum pushing back against the usual cries of “class warfare,” it was enough to give one hope. No, not 2008 fired-up hope, but at least the trace memory of it. Should Obama not cave-- always a big if with this president-- he might have a serious shot at overcoming the huge burdens of a dark national mood and flatlined economy to win reelection.

So why can't the Republicans coalesce around a candidate? Romney is that compromise/compromised candidate Bachmann (and his wing of the party) keep warning about. And-- although no one mentions it in polite company-- he's a Mormon that large bigoted swathes of the Republican coalition will support on the same day they decide to support Satan. Perry has proven himself not just too extreme but too unprepared for prime time. Yesterday, his wife-- a woman who reportedly caught him porking Texas Secretary of State Geoff Connor-- was in Iowa trying desperately to fight back against a developing media narrative that Perry is toast. She... wasn't helpful to his cause.
The wife did acknowledge her husband’s lackluster debate performance.

“I think he would tell you that the other night was not his best performance,” she said. “But he’s only going to get better.”

“I think when you have seven arrows being shot at you, and you’re the one person in the middle, then 30-seconds rebuttal doesn’t give you a lot of time.”

Meanwhile, Perry also tried to allay any concern over the governor’s stances on illegal immigration. The Texas chief executive, his wife said, stands against illegal immigration, favors a “boots on the ground” approach to stem it along the U.S.-Mexican border and has fought against the flow of drugs and weapons across the border.

But the governor’s defense of a Texas law that provides in-state tuition rates to the children of illegal immigrants has irked many conservatives.

On that, the wife set about “setting the record straight.”

“Some have attacked Rick on this issue. I want you to be armed with the facts,” she said. “In Texas, we only offer in-state tuition to residents of our state who have attended a Texas school for a minimum of three years and have earned a high degree. Children in the country illegally must be pursuing their citizenship in order to get an in-state rate. It is not a subsidy.”

Perry continued: “When Washington has failed to secure the border, has shown no sign of dealing with the millions that are here illegally, states like Texas are left with one of two choices: either we take care of those populations or they get on welfare which is a greater cost to our taxpayers. Or we give them the opportunity to graduate from a Texas school the opportunity to be a contributing member of society.”

And that brings us to the newest great white hope-- yeah, Herman "the Hermanator" Cain lasted about a minute and a half-- New Jersey loudmouth and bully Chris Christie who knows, if few Republicans know, that his record (on immigration and half a dozen other factors) would never hold up to the bloodthirsty fascist mob that boos and cheers like the crowd at a Roman gladiatorial circus. This Christie:

Is he really "reconsidering?" The Koch Brothers-- who can finance him and probably think they can reprogram the teabaggers in their deep pockets-- are sure he is.
When Texas Gov. Rick Perry, currently the front-runner in the Republican presidential nomination contest, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made a pilgrimage in June to a Colorado gathering of wealthy right-wing donors convened by billionaires Charles and David Koch, one man clearly impressed the brothers much more than the other.

Introducing Christie, who delivered the keynote address to the Koch Industries gathering, David Koch gushed. "With his enormous success in reforming New Jersey, some day we might see him on a larger stage where, God knows, he is desperately needed," said Koch, according to secretly recorded audio files of the event obtained by Brad Friedman of the Brad Blog.

...Uniting a small group of big-money donors, dubbed the "Draft Christie Committee" by New York Times reporter Nicholas Confessore, are two things: a hatred for labor unions and a desire for a Republican win in November 2012, something they seem unconvinced that either Perry or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney can deliver.

There's little doubt that Christie is reconsidering his earlier decision to stay out of the presidential race. "It's real," former N.J. Gov. Thomas Kean told Robert Costa of the National Review Online. "He's giving it a lot of thought. I think the odds are a lot better now than they were a couple weeks ago." Kean, says Costa, is an "informal adviser" of Christie's. Yesterday, Christie hit the stump on behalf of Republican candidates-- something he does a lot-- in addition to traveling to California to deliver what was billed as major speech in Simi Valley last night.

When, during the question-and-answer session that followed the speech, an audience member asked Christie if he was running for the Republican presidential nomination, the governor first chided the audience for not getting to the subject until the second question, but refused to say he wasn't running.

He pointed them to the video above at Politico-- which is captioned that... he's reconsidering. Yesterday's Washington Post bit, pointing out that if he "isn’t a candidate for president or at least considering it, he’s doing a great impression of someone who is." They were impressed that he took a direct swipe at Perry-- and at a place he's most vulnerable among the right-wingers who have propelled him to frontrunner status-- going after Perry’s contention that anyone who opposes in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants is “heartless."

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New From Alan Grayson... And Frank Luntz


I find myself agreeing with Alan Grayson on just about everything in the political sphere. And who else have I ever found who loves weird places like Mali, Afghanistan and Paraguay as much as I do? And when it comes to music, we're both Joni Mitchell fanatics. But yesterday he sent out the lyrics to a Harry Chapin song I had never heard, "What Made America Famous." I have to admit that this is a new one on me. I was never a Harry Chapin fan beyond, perhaps, "Cat's in the Cradle," and a song taken from a Broadway musical in the early 70's (when I was living in India) wasn't something I'd ever listened to-- until I got Grayson's suggestion this week. It was a different letter than any I got from any other candidate. And more thought-provoking.

Today he followed it up with one less off the beaten path and more politically intuitive. It's about how GOP operative Frank Luntz twists words and phrases to twist minds... and viscera.
If you have been hearing the term “job creators” a lot lately, it’s because Frank Luntz wanted you to.

As PBS put it, Luntz’s expertise is “testing language and finding words that will help his clients sell their products, or turn public opinion on an issue or a candidate.” In other words, propaganda.

Here are some actual examples of Luntz’s fine work:

Don’t say “oil drilling.” Say “energy exploration.”

Don’t say “inheritance tax.” Say “death tax.”

Don’t say “global warming.” Say “climate change.”

Don’t say “healthcare reform.” Say “government takeover.”

And don’t say “greedy, soulless multinational corporations who don’t give a damn about you.” Say “job creators.”

Luntz is like a serial killer of the English language.

As soon as I heard the term “job creators,” I said to myself, “that sounds like Frank Luntz talking.”  And sure enough, it’s right in there in Frank Luntz’s latest book, Win: The Key Principles to Take Your Business from Ordinary to Extraordinary. Here are Luntz’s exact words: “You don’t create jobs by making life difficult for job creators.” That’s under the heading “The Ten Rules for 2012: What Americans Really Want to Hear from Their Representatives.”

Here is Luntz’s list of what we all “really” want to hear in 2012:

1. I will never accept the status quo.

2. I will never apologize for America.

3. I will find at least one penny of waste to cut from every dollar of spending.

4. I will never raise taxes in a recession.

5. You don’t work for me. I work for you.

6. I will fight for the public’s right to know the cost and consequences of every piece of legislation and regulation.

7. I will always prioritize American rights over the rights of those who wish to do us harm.

8. I will work with anyone who will work with me.

9. I will always support freedom.

10. I still believe in the American principle: of the people, by the people, for the people.

Note the absence of anything even resembling a policy, a program, or a solution to anyone’s problems. So, for instance, the Luntzified Republican Party’s health care plan really is, “don’t get sick.”

And leaving Ron Paul aside, doesn’t that Luntz list sound like every single Republican candidate for President? And almost every Republican Governor? And almost every Republican Senator? And, of course, Sarah Palin?

Which suggests this startling possibility: If they all read Luntz’s book, then they all know how to read.

But that’s all they ever need to do. It must be so easy to be a Republican elected official. You never have to think at all. You just let Frank Luntz do all your thinking for you.

I look forward to the day when Frank Luntz prescribes a haircut. Then they’ll all have the same haircut.

I wish that, just once, Frank Luntz would goof on them, and tell them that what Americans really want to see in their representatives is a little, tiny moustache, just covering the upper lip, like, like...

Like Charlie Chaplin. You know, like in the movie The Great Dictator. Whom did you think I was going to say?

Here are some more Luntzisms that I just made up:

Vampires are “blood recyclers.”

Space aliens are the “differently specied.”

Plagues are “immune system strengtheners.”

Cancer is “internal genetic diversity.”

Death is “spiritual-corporeal differentiation.”

And nuclear war is “1000 points of light.”

But here’s the really sad thing about Luntz’s propaganda. Like most propaganda, it’s just not true.

FACT: In the last ten years, the population of the United States has grown by 27 million people.

FACT: There are one million fewer private sector jobs in America today than there were ten years ago.

So much for job creation. In fact, judging by employment, if the private sector were an employee, we’d have to fire him. For incompetence.

But you can count on 2012 Republican candidates all over the country repeating ad nauseam “jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators jobcreators.”

As far as they’re concerned, it’s Frank Luntz’s world. We just live in it.

Alan is running for Congress again in central Florida. Blue America was proud to endorse him again. If you can, please help us reelect the best Member of Congress we've had around here in too many decades. You can do it right here at our Blue America ActBlue page.

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Friends, it looks like we WILL have Jack Abramoff to kick around some more!


Product Description [from Amazon]

The name Jack Abramoff is synonymous with Washington scandal, but the fascinating facts of his case are either largely unknown or wildly misunderstood. His memoir will serve as a corrective -- an engrossing, informative work of political nonfiction that is also a gripping real-life thriller. The biggest surprise twist comes in the form of Abramoff himself, a smart, funny, charming, clear-eyed narrator who confounds every expectation of the media's villainous portrait. He's a perfect bundle of contradictions: an Orthodox Jew and upstanding family man with a staunch moral streak, caught in multiple scandals of bribery and corruption with an undercurrent of murder. Abramoff represented Indian tribes whose lucrative casinos were constantly under threat from proposed changes in law; though he charged the tribes many millions, he saved them billions by ensuring votes to support the livelihoods of their reservations. Much of Jack's share was funneled not into his own coffers, but to charities. Abramoff on the front pages could not be further from the Jack Abramoff who's ready to tell his honest and compelling story.

by Ken

What, you say you're still breathlessly turning pages in Dick Cheney's tome of crap? Well, shake it, friend, because November 14 is closing in on us. That's the date when WND Books dumps this turd on an all-too-deserving public. Learn about Casino Jack's "Staunch moral streak." Hear how he got "caught in multiple scandals," apparently the way you or I might get "caught" in an unexpected thundershower, or "caught" in unexpectedly heavy traffic. Understand how whatever he did, if by chance he happened to do anything (have you already forgotten about that "staunch moral streak"? and he sure didn't fleece those Native American tribes, nossirree!), was done for the benefit of charities.

Well, heck, it's worth a shot on his part, isn't it? I mean, after all, it isn't as if he corrupted the entire Congress -- most of those bozos were precorrupted or ready to take the plunge before our Jack worked his, er, magic on them. Although now we know it was in the interest of saving livelihoods on the reservations. Is it possible that the country has so little memory that he could actually get away with this crock?

Wait, what did I just ask? "Is it possible that the country has so little memory that . . . ?" Sorry, I don't know what I was thinking.

Anyway, here's our WaPo "In the Loop" pal Al Kamen's take:
Large scandal, extra cheese

Former pizza-parlor worker Jack Abramoff has a new dish to serve: He’s hawking a book.

Abramoff, who might as well add the phrase “disgraced superlobbyist” to his legal name, has written a tome that promises to be, according to a publisher’s blurb, a “corrective” account of his much-chronicled scandal, our colleague Emily Heil reports.

Publishing sources say Abramoff had been shopping around a first-person telling of his rise to the top ranks of the Washington influence game — and his epic fall, which included a stint in federal prison for fraud, corruption and conspiracy. After several major houses passed on the project, Abramoff finally found a publisher in WND Books, which turns out a number of fine titles, including “Where’s the Birth Certificate: The Case that Obama Is Ineligible to Be President” and “Climategate: a Veteran Meteorologist Exposes the Global Warming Scam.”

Well, why not? After all, it seems we’ve heard Abramoff’s story from everyone but the ex-lobbyist himself. The oeuvre, in addition to countless media articles, includes books such as Peter Stone’s “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” which was turned into a hilarious 2010 movie starring Kevin Spacey in the title role.

But the Abramoff-penned book — “Capitol Punishment” — is said to offer new details to set it apart from the well-trod ground in the existing accounts.“The fascinating facts of his case are either largely unknown or wildly misunderstood,” the blurb on Amazon teases (you can pre-order now, but the publishing date isn’t until Nov. 14).

Abramoff has been keeping a low profile since leaving federal prison in June of last year after serving three and a half years. Post-clink, the once highflying Abramoff lived in a halfway house and worked at a kosher pizza joint in North Baltimore.

We’re guessing he’ll have to ditch the low-key routine once he hits the book-signing circuit.

Oh, I think so, Al. Our Jack'll be on the tube selling books with anyone who'll have him, displaying that "staunch moral streak." Let me know when it's over.

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Guest Post-- John Waltz (D-MI)


Seems these days wherever there's some kind of Republican hypocrisy explosion, we're finding Michigan SuperCommittee hereditary multimillionaire Fred Upton. So it didn't take long for Jed Lewison at Daily Kos to expose Upton's role in the Republican Party's trumped up attempt to politicize the Solyndra bankruptcy. Lewison makes the point that Upton "not only supported the program under which Solyndra received aide, [he] lobbied on behalf of companies in [his] district to receive the exact same sort of assistance... Upton not only helped pass the law, but he also used it to help his constituents. There's nothing wrong with that, but in light of his current scandalmongering, it's worth noting that less than two years ago, he was praising the Obama administration." Blue America has enthusiastically endorsed New Deal Democrat, John Waltz, for the MI-6 congressional seat that Upton thinks belongs to him. Please consider helping his campaign at our Blue America ActBlue page. We asked him to help explain a pattern of behavior by Upton in this matter.

Upton's Babies

by John Waltz

While our nation continues its economic struggles, Fred Upton has decided to distract everyone with a witch hunt. As soon as news broke of Solyndra going bankrupt, Upton went on to blast the program saying that Obama is trying to pick winners and losers. Without digressing into all the details of what happened with Solyndra, the real story is that Upton has no problem with our government picking winners and losers as long as they are his ‘winners’.

Among many of Upton’s ‘winners’ include heavily subsidizing the oil industry, securing nearly a billion dollars for factories, and his penchant for nuclear energy. The biggest federal grant request Upton asked for was $4 billion to expand the nuclear loan guarantee program. He knows the private sector would not even attempt building a nuclear facility without the full support of the government. 

This is another hypocritical play by Upton, where as long as it’s his ‘winner’ then it’s just ‘okie dokie’, but if Democrats ask for the same then it must be bad. I bet the millions he has received from energy companies helped sway this decision.

Republicans like Upton love to invest in the past by subsidizing fossil fuels and nuclear energy, which are obviously bad for the environment and do not help our nation progress to green energy. We have seen many times where nuclear power has created some of the worst disasters in history such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and in Japan after the earthquakes.

Just this week though in Michigan’s 6th Congressional District, we had a brush with disaster at the Palisades Nuclear Facility in South Haven. After an electrical accident, the plant had to vent radioactive steam into the air to stop a meltdown from happening. This accident came five short days after the plant had to shut down due to a leak in the plant’s cooling system.

It is bad enough the Kalamazoo River had a massive tar sand oil spill in July 2010, now we have to deal with the unknown effects of nuclear steam being pumped into our air? When will Upton get a clue? Being a Congressman is about representing the interests of your constituents, not a game where you are willing to sell us out to the highest corporate bidder to fill your campaign coffers. I guess if Upton had his way and dismantled the EPA then pesky nuclear accidents wouldn’t be an issue.

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What Do Reactionary Plutocrats Do In Blue States... Like California?


Norman Solomon won't accept any corporate cash... period

You're probably aware of Blue America's ongoing war against conservative Democrats who, as a matter of political DNA, sell out the values and principles-- not to mention working families-- at the root of the Democratic Party. We even have an ActBlue page dedicated to Blue Dog eradication. Wealthy special interests pour millions of dollars into the campaign warchests of Blue Dogs and other ConservaDem outfits, like Harold Ford's and Joe Lieberman's DLC, and they're all funded by the same folks who fund the Republican Party. That's because they're not about red t-shirts and blue t-shirts; they're about gaining advantages for their interests regardless of which party is temporarily in office. They try to make sure conservatives are always in office. And they've been highly successful at doing just that-- nationally and state by state. This week the Sacramento Bee exposed a trio of sleazy multimillionaires making another attempt to undermine and capture the California Democratic Party.

The new right-wing operation is calling itself Govern For California and it's funded by David Crane, a Schwartzenegger advisor who calls himself a Democrat, Ron Conway-- a straight up GOP money bags-- and Greg Penner, a WalMart Board of Directors member who didn't register with either party and gives to conservatives in both parties. The objective of the group is to elect anti-worker state legislators who will do the bidding of wealthy donors.
The three founders also plan to form and help fund an independent expenditure committee that will act "in support of courageous candidates regardless of party and from any part of the state" in the upcoming elections.

"In the case of Democrats, courage means the nerve to stand up to government employee unions whose demands take funding from other programs and penalize private-sector job creation. In the case of Republicans, courage means the nerve to stand up to those unions as well as to corporations and no-tax groups who, even when presented with all the reforms they seek, refuse to acknowledge that sometimes more revenue for the government can be a good thing. And in the case of all legislators, courage means an unshakeable dedication to honest budgets, truthful accounting, open government and governing for the general interest," Crane wrote in a letter announcing the group's formation.

So bought-off legislators standing up against working men and women who have formed unions is what defines courage when plutocrats get together in their private clubs and on their private planes? These guys are even worse than the DCCC which, like in past years, is still promoting worthless Blue Dogs in congressional races as though they were actual Democrats. I knew Nancy Pelosi was making a grievous error when she appointed "ex"-Blue Dog and sleazy corporate shill Steve Israel the head the DCCC. He's already blowing the Democrats' opportunity to take back the House by favoring the kinds of conservative candidates who find favor in the eyes of right-wing big donors but who Democratic voters don't want to go out and vote for.

The worst example so far is in Albuquerque, where state Senator Eric Griego, the most progressive member of New Mexico's legislature, is running against the worst Democrat in the state, anti-union/anti-environment corporate whore Marty Chavez, who was recruited by... Steve Israel.

Saturday Griego sent an e-mail to his constituents in Albuquerque that encapsulate the uphill slog progressives face when dealing with conservatives and corporate whores in both political parties.
The people of New Mexico are hurting for more jobs. They’re looking for leadership from our elected officials to create jobs, not play political games. Yesterday, the State Senate rejected a bold job creation bill with bipartisan support that I spearheaded with encouragements from both business and labor communities. If passed, it would have created thousands of new jobs throughout the state rebuilding public buildings like senior centers and repairing roads and bridges through projects such as a new interchange at Paseo del Norte and Interstate 25.

Instead, the Senate had to settle for a weaker bill because some members were more interested in scoring political points than passing a real job creation bill. I was left shaking my head at the political game that doesn’t serve the good of the people and our state.

I have always fought for what I believe to be for the good of New Mexico’s working families: creating good jobs, strengthening public services, promoting a clean and healthy environment, making government more transparent and accountable.

Steve Israel and the DCCC have something else in mind, not unlike what shady plutocrats like David Crane, Ron Conway and Greg Penner have in mind. If you can, please consider giving Eric a hand at the Blue America ActBlue page.

Can New Deal Democrats who don't take blood money from corporate PACs and shady conservative groups bring in enough money to compete? Griego is giving the special interests who finance Chavez's shameful career a run for their money. Ilya Sheyman, a former DFA and MoveOn organizer is rockin' the small donor base. And yesterday Norman Solomon reported taking in over $200,000 without a cent from a corporate PAC. It's all grassroots, good-government contributions. “The large corporations giving big bucks to candidates are not engaged in philanthropy-- they’re buying influence,” Solomon said. “Candidates for Congress routinely take money from Wall Street and say it’s necessary. I say it’s undermining democracy, and I don’t want any part of it... I don't want their money. I want to be accountable to voters, not Wall Street. We need to invigorate democracy, not sell it off to the highest bidders... We hear a lot about shared sacrifice in these difficult economic times but the vast majority of us are being sacrificed to the financial benefit of big banks and large corporations. Congress has acted in the financial interests of the rich instead of the public. That must change.” And, yes, he's on the same page as Eric Griego.

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Eric Schneiderman Time


Over the years Ken and I have written a lot about Eric Schneiderman. He used to be Ken's state senator and we were both enthusiastic supporters of his bid for the Attorney General job in New York. Early in 2008 we pointed out that he's far from a "checklist liberal" and had attracted the animus not just of Republicans, but also of the conservative Democratic Establishment. At the time then Senator Schneiderman wrote in The Nation "Transformational politics has been a critical element of American political life since Lincoln was advocating his 'oft expressed belief that a leader should endeavor to transform, yet heed, public opinion'."
In 1977 most Americans didn't think government was the problem. Neoclassical economics was not our national faith. A serious presidential candidate couldn't denounce the theory of evolution. The profound changes in public opinion on these and other issues were brought about by the conservatives' excellent work at transformational politics. And they didn't just do it. They honored it. They celebrated it. And an entire generation of Democratic consultants made millions by advising their clients to stay away from it.

Think about the transformation of America's ideas about taxes over the past thirty years. There has never been any credible evidence that "supply side" policies promote growth, but the relentless advocacy of this peculiar theory has radically shifted most Americans' basic view of taxes. The history of Grover Norquist's antitax crusade is well-known. It features all the essential elements of transformational politics: identify a set of assumptions that control the public's understanding of an issue; develop a language and message to shift those assumptions; maintain a sustained, disciplined effort to bring about that change over a period of years. From the Laffer curve to the Americans for Tax Reform's Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which all candidates were asked to sign--regardless of whether they would actually have to vote on tax reform anytime soon--Norquist mobilized a bipartisan phalanx of elected officials to preach the gospel of tax cuts. And lo and behold, what had once been considered "politically impossible" became inevitable.

Now let's compare the honors and "access" heaped on Norquist and his colleagues with the way most Democrats have treated transformational work. In 1980 a young Senator Al Gore held the first Congressional hearings on global warming. He challenged the fundamental framework for debates about environmental policy, which too often went something like "clean air and water versus faster economic growth." He offered a new way to think about the relationship between progressive economic policies and the environment. Virtually every Democratic official backed away.

Eric was proposing that committed progressives hold Democratic politicians' feet to the fire and prove their claims to being committed to our values, principles and issues. He's doing the same thing today-- on the widest stage of all as he goes after the most powerful and influential Wall Street career criminals. Over the weekend he was dubbed America's most powerful liberal by sneering Beltway hacks and then lauded as someone who Obama should model himself on by Nina Burleigh in Salon.
Schneiderman, like Obama, comes from the low-drama school of political presentation. He doesn't get red-in-the-face mad. He doesn't seduce. He's earnest and self-effacing and pedagogical. But unlike the president, he has a steady refusal to back down and a ready willingness to fight. He is the antihero that boiling mad progressives hope can manacle and perp-walk those responsible for the financial crisis.

Schneiderman may not disappoint. In an interview with Salon in his office, Schneiderman refused to get specific about criminal or civil, jail time or fines. But he made clear that he has committed time and staff to an investigation with goals that go well beyond extracting $20 billion in exchange for release from prosecution, the deal that his fellow state attorneys general have tossed onto the table down in Washington, and which the Obama administration would like to see him sign.

"The people who caused this crash have to be held accountable and I don't detect any diminution in the desire of the people of New York for that basic kind of justice to be done," he said. "Part of this [investigation] is to air this out and expose it so we can make sure it never happens again."

What everyone wants to know, of course, is can he play to win in the contact sport of Wall Street litigation? If, as he says, his time in the New York Assembly taught him that politics was "a contact sport," it was football. The Wall Street game is more extreme, Thai boxing, maybe. I asked him if he thought he had what it might take-- the starch, the fight and the clean trou with which to wade into battle. I asked, or rather told him, his fight was "dangerous."

"Well, we'll find out, won't we?" he shrugged.

...For all his mildness, Schneiderman disdains the current discourse of Washington.

"One of the things that concerns me right now is this effort to rewrite history, to move us away from the fact that it was bad deregulatory moves and greedy, risky conduct that caused this to happen and that it wasn't the fault of the teachers and cops and firefighters who now seem to be the targets of this effort to cut spending. The markets didn't crash because we were paying too much to teachers."

Nice words to hear from someone with subpoena power on Wall Street. But in June, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller booted Schneiderman off the 50-state AG's committee that's been trying to make its own deal with the banks over mortgage servicing. Miller's spokesman in Des Moines said Schneiderman's desire to go after the big fish-- the investors and banks-- would hurt consumers.

"We are trying to focus on homeowners, not investors," said Geoff Greenwood of the Iowa AG's office.
"We are focused on foreclosure, servicing. We are not trying to address everything under the sun in connection with our financial crisis and we think that by including securitization we are definitely stalling the case, broadening beyond homeowners and potentially pitting homeowners against investors."

Schneiderman responds that he'd rather not "get into a tit for tat" over what happened with the Iowa AG, but insisted that their tack is too narrow. So, he's pursuing a New York-based investigation, which may or may not lead to a separate and better deal, leveraged with depositions and subpoenaed documents revealing facts about the mortgage servicing issues that affect consumers, and also the so-called securitization issues-- the mortgage-backed securities and CDOs, investor products that actually led to the economic crash still playing out on the shabby streets and foreclosed homes of Main Street America.

"The sense of public confidence has been eroded so badly," he says. "People still haven't gotten over the crash and the bailout… and people are not going to be satisfied until they have a sense that those responsible have been held accountable. This was a man-made catastrophe."

Schneiderman said his office is "digging into" earlier phases of the mortgage-backed securities era. "Origination, the pooling of loans by the banks, the securitization, sale," he said, and activities after 2004, when the housing bubble started filling with air, and the numbers of mortgages dropped. "That's when things started to shift and you can see this whole process of-- making money of these securitizations was so profitable, that it didn't stop when it should have stopped."

Around the same time, he noted, investors began scrutinizing MBS more carefully, and diverting money into the more complex but also troubled collateralized debt obligations. As everyone knows in hindsight, the quality of mortgages deteriorated, the quality of securities deteriorated, and it all collapsed. "We are looking at what caused that to happen and what people were doing and what people knew," he said.

A big supporter of Schneiderman's I know attacked Elizabeth Warren as someone who could potentially break the last unbroken progressive heart left in Obama's America. Burleigh ends her piece by warning progressives that Schneiderman doesn't share their discontent with Obama. "I think that he is doing the best he can with a party on the other side that will do things that are really bad for the country just to beat him. We haven't seen this kind of politics in my lifetime. It's the kind of thing you expect in less developed countries." Schneiderman and Warren are taking on the full brunt of the determined forces of domestic fascism. I hope their progressive followers won't break their hearts.

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