Monday, April 30, 2012

Jonathans Chait And Weisman Dissect The Legendary Paul Ryan... In Great Detail


The new issue of New York features a "photo-illustration" of Wall Street's and the One Percent's favorite up-and-coming politician of Reaction, Paul Ryan, by Jesse Lenz... and it gets very close in style to Pierre et Gilles. I think Jesse knew exactly what he was doing. Parisians Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard produce highly stylized art pieces that have become part of popular culture. At Warners we used them to do album covers for Marc Almond, Erasure and, eventually, Madonna. Jesse may have actually been given Chait's manuscript for inspiration. What artistic heights could an opening like this inspire you to?
The implosion of the Newt Gingrich presidential campaign-- the first implosion, before the weird resurrection and inevitable second implosion-- came because he used four words: right-wing social engineering. He used the phrase, last May, to describe the Republican budget designed by GOP icon Paul Ryan. It was as if he had urinated on Ronald Reagan’s grave. Party leaders rounded on him. In Iowa, an angry voter cornered him and fumed, in a video captured by Fox News that quickly went viral, “What you did to Paul Ryan was unforgivable … You’re an embarrassment.” Gingrich quickly apologized to Ryan, pledged his fealty to the document, and then, lending his confession an extracted-at-NKVD-gunpoint flavor, announced, “Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood.” It was no use: Despite years of diligent service, his support among Republicans collapsed, his fellow partisans holding him in the low regard ordinarily reserved for liberals.

Ryan’s rise occurred so rapidly that an old hand like Gingrich hadn’t yet fully grasped the fact that he had become unassailable, though most (and, by now, virtually all) of his fellow Republicans had. Ryan’s prestige explains, among other things, the equanimity with which movement conservatives have reluctantly accepted the heresies of Mitt Romney. They may not have an ideal candidate, but they believe Romney could not challenge Ryan even if he so desired.

“Now, we are truly at an inflection point, between the Barack Obama and Paul Ryan approaches to government,” National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote recently, treating the elevation of the chairman of the House Budget Committee over the presidential nominee as his party’s standard-bearer as so obvious it requires no explanation. “We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget,” says anti-tax enforcer Grover Norquist. “Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.” In any case, Romney has shown no inclination to challenge Ryan, praising him fulsomely and even promising him, according to the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes, he’d enact Ryan’s plan in the first 100 days. Republicans envision an administration in which Romney has relegated himself to a kind of head-of-state role, at least domestically, with Ryan as the actual head of government.

Chait then veers off into an analysis about why the Village loves Ryan in a way it never embraced Newt or even Reagan in their heydays. And at the same time Chait had the Ryan phenomenon under his microscope, Jonathan Weisman was engaged in the same task over at the NY Times. Ryan listens to Rage Against the Machine on his iPod. But Ryan is the voice of the Machine... always has been, although it's only recently most people are listening. And Weisman reminds us "That is not bad for a man who was once just another minion on Capitol Hill, working for a research group, then for a member of Congress, and moonlighting as a waiter at the Hill hangout Tortilla Coast and as a personal trainer at a gym. Co-workers at the conservative policy group Empower America admonished him for hanging his workout clothes out to dry at work rather than laundering them." From that to undoing the New Deal.

Weisman is probably unaware that Dave Obey, Wisconsin's top-dog Democrat protected and even nurtured Ryan's political career and made sure he would never be seriously challenged for reelection even though he represents a swing district filled with Democrats, a district Obama won in 2008. Obey, who was forced into retirement from Congress after voting for the Stupak Amendment, has an obvious man crush on the much younger Ryan. Weisman uses Obey as an example of how "those who know him cannot seem to dislike him."
“I’m stunned by how oblivious he is to the pain his policies would cause people,” said David R. Obey, a Democrat from Wisconsin who jousted often with his downstate colleague before retiring from the House at the end of 2010. “What amazes me is that someone that nice personally has such a cold, almost academic view of what the impact of his policies would be on people.”

No one ever asks Obey about the notorious Obey Pact that protected all Wisconsin incumbents; convenient. Of course Obey isn't the only member of Washington's Conservative Consensus with a man crush on Paul Ryan's. Notorious GOP closet case, Aaron Schock from Peoria is completely smitten who gushes his homoerotic admiration for the older Ryan. Schock, who's ditched his pink belt and lavender shirts to blend in better with the straights, tells Weisman that Ryan is “in kick-butt shape."

Paul Krugman has long decried Ryan as a fraud and a flimflam man and it's driven him to distraction that an even less serious Beltway media has conferred upon Ryan some kind of mantle of seriousness and wonkishness... and, worse yet, wisdom. Ryan's a Wall Street special interest hack, bought and paid for in the hopes of installing him one day in the White House, the way MCA and organized crime did with Reagan. Ryan's fame-- at least outside the Beltway-- rests in his plan, a redistribution of wealth plan (from bottom to top) masquerading as a deficit reduction plan. Chait puts it at the center of the Ryan legend:
The centrist political Establishment, heavily represented among business leaders and the political media, considers it almost self-evident that the budget deficit (and not, say, mass unemployment or climate change) represents the singular policy threat of our time, and that bipartisan cooperation offers the sole avenue to address it. By casting his program as a solution to the debt crisis, by frequently conceding that Republicans as well as Democrats had failed in the past, and by inveighing against “demagoguery,” Ryan has presented himself as the acceptable Republican suitor the moderates had been longing for.

Whether Ryan’s plan even is a “deficit-reduction plan” is highly debatable. Ryan promises to eliminate trillions of dollars’ worth of tax deductions, but won’t identify which ones. He proposes to sharply reduce government spending that isn’t defense, Medicare (for the next decade, anyway), or Social Security, but much of that reduction is unspecified, and when Obama named some possible casualties, Ryan complained that those hypotheticals weren’t necessarily in his plan. Ryan is specific about two policies: massive cuts to income-tax rates, and very large cuts to government programs that aid the poor and medically vulnerable. You could call all this a “deficit-reduction plan,” but it would be more accurate to call it “a plan to cut tax rates and spending on the poor and sick.” Aside from a handful of exasperated commentators, like Paul Krugman, nobody does.

The persistent belief in the existence of an authentic, deficit hawk Ryan not only sweeps aside the ugly particulars of his agenda, it also ignores, well, pretty much everything he has done in his entire career, and pretty much everything he has said until about two years ago.

In 2005, Ryan spoke at a gathering of Ayn Rand enthusiasts, where he declared, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” Ryan has listed Rand’s manifesto, Atlas Shrugged, as one of his three most often reread books, and in 2003, he told the Weekly Standard he tries to make his interns read it. Rand is a useful touchstone to understand Ryan’s public philosophy. She centered libertarian philosophy around a defense of capitalism in general and, in particular, a conception of politics as a class war pitting virtuous producers against parasites who illegitimately use the power of the state to seize their wealth. Ludwig von Mises, whom Ryan has also cited as an influence, once summed up Rand’s philosophy in a letter to her: “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: You are inferior and all the improvements in your condition which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.”

Ryan now frequently casts his opposition to Obama in technocratic terms, but he hasn’t always done so. “It is not enough to say that President Obama’s taxes are too big or the health-care plan doesn’t work for this or that policy reason,” Ryan said in 2009. “It is the morality of what is occurring right now, and how it offends the morality of individuals working toward their own free will to produce, to achieve, to succeed, that is under attack, and it is that what I think Ayn Rand would be commenting on.” Ryan’s philosophical opposition to a government that forces the “makers” to subsidize the “takers”-- terms he still employs-- is foundational; the policy details are secondary.

...In 2001, Ryan led a coterie of conservatives who complained that George W. Bush’s $1.2 trillion tax cut was too small, and too focused on the middle class. In 2003, he lobbied Republicans to pass Bush’s deficit-financed prescription-drug benefit, which bestowed huge profits on the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. In 2005, when Bush campaigned to introduce private accounts into Social Security, Ryan fervently crusaded for the concept. He was the sponsor in the House of a bill to create new private accounts funded entirely by borrowing, with no benefit cuts. Ryan’s plan was so staggeringly profligate, entailing more than $2 trillion in new debt over the first decade alone, that even the Bush administration opposed it as “irresponsible.”

Goal Thermometer When Democrats took control of Congress in the 2006 elections, they reimposed a budget rule requiring that any new spending or tax cuts be offset by new revenue or spending cuts. Ryan opposed it, preferring to let new spending or tax cuts go on the national credit card. Instead, he continued to endorse Bush’s line that tax cuts were leading us to a glorious new era of prosperity and budget balance. “Higher revenues flowing into the Treasury, as a result of economic and job growth, have given us a real chance to balance the budget,” Ryan announced in 2007. “The president’s budget achieves the important goal of balancing the budget in the near term-- without raising taxes,” he wrote in August 2008.

So Ryan's a fraud? Isn't that what we've been telling you for 6 years? Yes, he's a fraud. And in his own district that fraudulence has never been examined by voters. Is Rob Zerban up to the task? We think so. Blue America has endorsed him. We're raising money for him on a Stop Paul Ryan page which is what that thermometer leads to. And, we have an Independent Expenditure Committee we can use to really go after Ryan ourselves... if we can raise enough money. Right now we have a billboard up on the I-94 at the Ryan Road exit just south of the Milwaukee Airport. If you want to help, perhaps we can do a lot more than that between now and November.

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The American Prospect's Ringside Seat asks, "Will the MSM ever call Republicans out on their extremism?" -- and two intrepid op-ed writers do


The bipartisanship scam: Would you buy a leaky, vermin-infested ship from self-proclaimed bipartisans like this?

"The elder statesmen of nonpartisan political analysis, Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann, took to The Washington Post op-ed pages over the weekend to lay down a challenge for every political reporter: Quit this evenhandedness malarkey and start calling out Republicans as the extremists wrecking American government."
-- in "Call Them Out," from The Americn Prospect's Ringside Seat

by Ken

Around these parts "bipartisanship" is a dirty word, regrettably but inevitably. Regrettably, because surely there ought to be a range of issues on which sincere, reasonable people of widely diverse philosophical bent can come together to forge compromises that benefit the general welfare. Inevitably, in the here and now that's mere theory, because of the absence of sincere, reasonable people at the right and center extremes of the political spectrum.

(And yes, I do mean to target the "center extreme," because what passes as "centrism" nowadays is usually a form of corporate dictatorship almost as extreme in its way as, and usually far more corrup than, the wackadoodle out-beyond-Pluto extremism of the latter-day Right.)

The American Prospect's Ringside Seat has done a swell takeoff from the much-talked-about WaPo op-ed, "Let's just say it: The Republicans are the problem," by a pair of actually credible nonopartisans, Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein. The Mann-Ornstein piece begins with a shrewd take on a nutty episode that Howie chronicled here:
Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates.

It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

In their takeoff from the Mann-Ornstein op-ed, the TAP writers manage to hit two of my favorite subjects: (1) the infotainment noozemedia's deadly practice of "evenhandedness" between two sides where one is lost in space out on the far reaches of the galaxy, and (2) the implacable obstructionism of the Republicans -- carried, as a matter of daily practice, to the extreme of not only accepting but welcoming further devastation of an already beleaguered American people as long as it furthers the power play of the extremists.

Take it away, Ringside Seat!


The elder statesmen of nonpartisan political analysis, Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann, took to The Washington Post op-ed pages over the weekend to lay down a challenge for every political reporter: Quit this evenhandedness malarkey and start calling out Republicans as the extremists wrecking American government. It's a message that tickled our hearts at The Prospect; we've tried to hammer the point home over the past few years as the GOP becomes increasingly dominated by its loony fringe, a sect of anarchists dressed in politicians’ clothing who have no interest in serving as governing partners but would rather watch the whole institution (save the Pentagon) burn to the ground. But the mainstream media has hesitated to point out the unprecedented abuse of the filibuster, anonymous holds on appointments, and general hostage-taking in Congress that Ornstein and Mann highlight.

Unfortunately, their message didn't inspire journalists to recalibrate their framing overnight. Today Roll Call published a piece trumpeting a revival of bipartisan lawmaking in the Senate. "Don’t call it a comeback, or even a detente, but a strange thing is happening in the Senate: Democrats and Republicans are working together to pass legislation," the article opened. The evidence? A transportation bill, the Violence Against Women Act, and postal reform. Left unsaid is why Senate Republicans have the freedom to occasionally cooperate with their Democratic colleagues. They no longer need to oppose every single initiative favored by the president; they can shift that responsibility to the reliably intransigent Republican House majority.

If Senate Republicans had any true interest in crossing the aisles, they would have cooperated during the first two years of President Obama's administration, when they didn't have the safety net of a House populated by rightwing ideologues. Instead, just three voted for the stimulus, another three for financial reform, and not one for health care reform. Even during this current burst of newfound friendship, the Senate GOPers are as resistant as ever when it comes to the confirming Obama's appointees, the one area where they can't fall back on the obstructionist House. The truth is, Republicans on both sides of Congress are still operating from their plan from day one, as articulated by Representative Kevin McCarthy: "We've gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign." Let's hope a few reporters will listen to Ornstein and Mann and begin to take note.

I should perhaps add that "the Republicans" aren't "the problem" in the sense that they're the only problem. We can all cite voluminous chapter and verse of issues and initiatives where gutless and/or corrupt Dems have happily provided the margin of disaster. It seems to me, nevertheless, that Ringside Seat's banner question remains absolutely fair:

"Will the MSM ever call Republicans out on their extremism?"

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Tough Times Don't Last-- Tough People Do


There isn't a single Caucasian student in the class my pal Roland teaches. There wasn't one last year either. Or the year before. No wonder Republicans-- and let's face it, would anyone choose to be a Republican if they weren't racist on a profound level?-- don't want to continue paying for public education! Roland tells me the Mexican students are almost universally respectful and eager to learn and that the parents are super-involved in the education process and recognize that upward mobility comes through education. A friend of mine in Georgia, one of the most oppressive states in many ways, immigration included, sent me the above video. It was made by some talented high school kids in his daughter's school. They're not allowed to go to Georgia's public universities but some of gotten full scholarships-- based on merit-- to some of the most prestigious private universities in America. University of Georgia's loss. Georgia Tech's loss. Georgia's loss. And Georgia is far from the only state working itself into a racist frenzy of repression over immigrants coming here from Latin America. People of Color Organize blogs about the attack on Mexican culture itself in Arizona.
There have been 71 reported deaths on the US-Mexican border in Arizona since October 1, 2011. This isn’t the full story though. Tucson hit the national news again earlier this year when the Tucson Unified School District voted to ban Mexican American Studies and had the books removed while classes were in session. Now John Huppenthal, a state official involved in the ban is reported to be targeting the department of Mexican-American studies at the university and other college-level programs.

I believe these sorts of attacks on Mexican culture, in conjunction with xenophobic legislation such as SB 1070 has created the sort of environment where the April 8 shooting deaths of two Latino immigrants in a wash that is part of the migrants’ trail near Eloy are a natural extension of government actions, especially since this occurred just after what has been reported to be the largest series of immigration raids ever.

Author Amy Greene wrote an inspiring OpEd in yesterday's NY Times, God and Man in Tennessee that gets to the root of the miseducation and enforced ignorance in backward bigoted states, states that prove the premise of Chris Mooney's latest books, The Republican Brain and The Republican War on Science.
Earlier this month state senators in Tennessee approved an update to our sex-education law that would ban teachers from discussing hand-holding, which it categorizes as “gateway sexual activity.” The bill came fast on the heels of a new state law that effectively allows creationism to be taught in our classrooms. Though he voiced misgivings, our governor, Bill Haslam, refused to veto it.

It’s election season, and there’s no doubt these politicians are pandering to Tennessee’s conservative Christian majority. They’re right in one sense: most of us, myself included, are faithful Christians. But by politicizing our faith, they are ignoring Tennessee’s true religious roots and threatening the liberties they claim to protect.

Our governor, like many of our state’s political leaders past and present-- from Estes Kefauver and Cordell Hull to Howard Baker and Lamar Alexander-- was born and raised here in East Tennessee, and he knows well how deep-rooted our spirituality is in Appalachia.

But he seems to have forgotten where it comes from.

The first Scots-Irish settlers to move into these mountains, the ones who saw the fog lying thick between the trees and called them the Smokies, were religious dissenters. They refused to live under the Penal Laws that forced them to accept Christianity as the English defined it. The churches they established rejected formalized, state-sanctioned religion and embraced diversity and individualism.

...I fear that these bills, written to give us what they think we want, will have the opposite effect. By legislating our Christianity, what they’re really doing is taking it away from us.

It's inconceivable to me that my pal Roland would ever think to mention God in his classroom, let alone presume to teach his students anything about religion. He teaches them how to read, how to do math, how to behave in society. He leaves religion to their pastors and their parents. They're grow up to be better Americans that way, regardless of where they or their parents were born.

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Hard To Compete With The Koch Brothers' Billions But We Have Guitars And Other Collectible Swag For Social Justice


The other day, after reading about our Filter guitar giveaway on behalf of Ken Aden's Run 2 End Hunger II, a correspondent asked me if I have a lot of guitars and if I play them. I once had a lot of guitars; I never played any of them. Before I was a blogger I ran a record label-- or three, a small indie label in San Francisco, 415 Records, then Sire here in Los Angeles, where I was general manager, and finally Reprise, where I was president. It was a nice run and I wound up with closets filled with memorabilia. Actually, rooms filled with memorabilia... like the guitars. I'm not a musician. They were souvenirs for me-- signed guitars by the artists I worked with. Years ago I decided I needed to find a way to give them away to people who would get some pleasure out of them. I started donating them to auctions for worthy causes-- the guitars and some of the dozens of gold and platinum award discs that used to thrill me so much when I was a kid.

In two hours, we're going to randomly pick a name from among the 400 people who have expressed an interest in "winning" a beautiful Fender Stratocaster guitar signed by all them members-- yes, Steven Page included-- of the Barenaked Ladies. It was one of those guitars in an upstairs closet. The band endorsed my idea of using it to help advance the cause of democracy. So "expressing an interest" meant contributing to our If I Had A Million Dollars ActBlue page or even just sending us a note without any money involved. One person was entered who said she has no money to spare but that she is praying for victories for Norman Solomon and David Gill. She wasn't even a fan of "If I Have A Million Dollars" but another Barenaked ladies song, "One Week," was played at her daughter's wedding party and she fell in love with the song. Anyway, whether someone contributed $5 to be split between Norman and David or $500-- or just let us know they were sending their prayers-- all the names are in a box and at noon (PT) one name will be randomly selected and that person will get the guitar. We'll announce it in an Update on the bottom of this post.

We gave our friends at the Courage Campaign a beautiful, customized TLC platinum and gold award for the 1992 debut album, Ooooooohhh... On The TLC Tip, which sold 4 million copies and included the big hit Aint 2 Proud 2 Beg. They're using the award plaque to fight homophobia in North Carolina this week by funding a grassroots effort filled with TLC to defeat Amendment One. Please consider helping that at that last link-- whether you want the award or not... you can always donate it back if you win it or give it to another charity of your choice (and even get a tax deduction!).

Meanwhile, we're just ramping up another guitar giveaway, this one, which will go to support Ken Aden's efforts to end hunger in Arkansas. This one is a Squier Telecaster and it was signed-- back in 2002-- by all the members of Filter, riding high on their smash hit, Hey Man, Nice Shot. Before becoming a candidate for Congress, Ken, an Iraq and Afghanistan War vet was immersed in running a non-profit community-based self-help group in Arkansas, Residents 4 Arkansas, Inc. Last month he was honored by the White House for his community service and met with President Obama and members of his cabinet to talk about the role of volunteerism in America. Ken has been awarded the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Achievement Medal, the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Multinational Force and Observers Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Parachutist Badge. Right now he's in the middle of a 253 mile, 7 day run across his district (ending May 5) to raise awareness and to raise cans of food for families who are hungry in Arkansas. When he ends his run, Blue America will thank one of the supporters of Ken's candidacy with the Filter guitar. Supporters can contribute here or send a check-- or even just a note-- to PO Box 27201, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Everyone will have an equal chance to "win" the guitar, regardless of how much you contribute-- or even if you just let us know you're praying for Ken or rooting for him.

Some may see Ken as a "do-gooder" but he's a tough as nails progressive running in the reddest district in Arkansas. Rather than shrink away from a fight as others in his state have done, this Army Combat Veteran is taking it to the streets and standing up for equal rights for all. As you've probably guessed by now, the main part of his campaign focus is on community service work-- as well as renewable energy technology, veterans rights, and the protection of Social Security and Medicare. In a recent quote he said that "if you even think of cutting Medicare and Social Security you ARE a criminal! The time for corporate prostitution has come to an end!"

As we mentioned on the Act Blue page, we were chatting with Ken last week and he told us about a woman he met while out campaigning the weekend before. She considered herself an independent, and was a supporter of Ken's very right-wing opponent-- Wal-Mart's personal Congressman, Steve Womack-- back in 2010.

"I wish I would have met you back then, because I never would have voted for him," is just what she told Ken on Saturday.

We liked that, because it is the opening lyric of Filter's "Hey Man, Nice Shot," we figured that would be the perfect guitar for Ken's campaign. (Not to mention that Ken is a huge fan of Filter's music himself.) What Ken's doing is so important that we wanted to encourage all of our friends to help. But, since we know we can't ask you to send canned food through the mail even though we are 100 percent in support of our brothers and sisters at the APWU, we thought we'd ask you to pledge to donate $25.30 to Ken's race-- that's one dime for every mile that he'll be running across the district. Of course if you can't donate that amount any help would be greatly appreciated. And if you want to contribute more... please don't hesitate.

And, for every person who makes a contribution through this page for Ken's campaign, you will be entered in a random drawing to win a guitar signed by every member of Filter as a "thank you" from Blue America. Everyone has the same shot, whether you contribute one dollar or 1,000 dollars-- or even if you just send us a note to PO Box 27201, Los Angeles, CA 90027.

So don't delay-- please make your contribution to Ken's campaign today, and by doing so, you'll have a direct hand in ending the plight of impoverished families today. GO KEN GO!!

Here's another Filter song-- this one a cover of an old hit by Harry Nilsson, "One [Is the Loneliest Number]," a song I always thought summed up the right-wing world view summed up by Ayn Rand. Three Dog Night, Al Kooper, Aimee Mann, Dokken, Mastodon and the Chainsaw Kittens all did versions of the song as well. Filter's version was on the soundtrack of The X-Files: Fight The Future, an apt GOP slogan that Ken Aden is battling against.

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Patricia McKeon’s Finance Report-- As Queer As A $3900 Bill


If you've been following our coverage of the exciting Buck McKeon-Lee Rogers congressional race (25th CD-- Simi Valley, Santa Clarita, Porter Ranch, Antelope Valley in northeast L.A.) you probably know that Buck’s supremely unqualified wife, Patricia, is also running for state Assembly, a move that is angering many local Republicans. In fact the Republican Party in the district has been torn apart, ole Buck has drawn two GOP primary opponents and barely a day goes by without a high profile Republican pledging to support Dr. Rogers. Oh, yes, the Cook Report and DCCC back in Washington might not figure this out until the first Wednesday of November but the Assembly race is having a sizeable impact on the congressional race. The Assembly district is located almost wholly within the congressional district. McKeon is getting so nervous, he sent his campaign manager, his deputy chief of staff, an intern, and a video tracker to record Rogers at a recent press conference to call out McKeon on a quid pro quo for a government land transaction.

McKeon’s former district director, Scott Wilk is the other Republican candidate. He's very well liked and respected among Republicans in the area. By running his wife for no apparent reason other than to create future employment for their hopelessly incompetent sons and to funnel corporate campaign cash into their household, Buck has created a bitter, intractable GOP family feud that could well bring about his own political doom.

Salon has reported the influx of war industry contributions to Patricia's Assembly campaign-- the only state legislative campaign any of these armaments manufacturers and war contractors are donating too. And the congressman-- who just happens to be the chair of the House Armed Services Committee and the biggest recipient of war industry bribes of any Member of Congress, can't seem to give anyone a straight answer about what this is all about.

What is not expected is that one of these contributors is a gay anti-defamation activist. Paul Morabito, co-chair of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) advisory board, gave a maximum donated of $3,900 to Patricia McKeon for Assembly. The McKeons are outspoken and virulently anti-LGBT gay-discriminators. Buck donated $5,000 from his own campaign committee-- in other words, his donors’ money-- to promote California Proposition 8, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry. The McKeons, who are Mormon, helped coordinate the Mormon church’s efforts in California to support the same-sex marriage ban.

Buck McKeon’s has one of the worst records on LGBT rights in Congress. He voted for Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, a constitutional ban on marriage equality, a ban LGBT adoptions in the District of Columbia. He voted against the repeal of DADT, the 2009 hate crimes bill, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He has a 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign. Last year, he tried to write language into the National Defense Authorization Act prohibiting military chaplains from officiating same-sex weddings on federal property, even after the repeal of DADT. Defeating him has been a priority on the Act Blue Worst Homophobes in Congress page.

The McKeon’s use their office and donors’ money to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Why would Paul Morabito, a co-chair of the GLAAD board, support Patricia with a maximum donation? He lists his occupation/employer as investor/self on her report, but he is listed as a lobbyist with the US Senate for USHF Communications Company, LLC. shows a relatively new PAC with $20,000 in cash and no dispersements and lists their industry as “unknown business.” But, apparently Patricia McKeon had dinner with Paul Morabito in January and discussed homeland security-- an area where she would have little knowledge and no influence... but her husband has immense influence, influence he routinely uses to push the special interests of his campaign donors.

It's obvious that McKeon is taking advantage of his position for personal gain. He runs his campaign committee like a family business, employing members of his family at above market rates. He pays his wife up to $100,000 per year to be his treasurer. She pays her campaign treasurer $450 per month. Before he became the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, he voted with the defense industries 25% of the time. In 2011, he voted in agreement with their lobbying 100% of the time and his defense contributions increased 444%. He took a dicey home refinance loan from Countrywide at a discounted interest rate and without fees. His new house won't be worth so much money; we heard he had all the mirrors removed because he just couldn't look at himself any longer.


Rich Ferraro, a publicist for GLAAD let us know that the organization no longer has any connection to Morabito. He told us that "The GLAAD Board of Advisors-- which Paul Morabito sent a release out about a few years ago-- does not currently exist. It was planned, but did not come to fruition and GLAAD never issued a press release about it." Meanwhile we're learning an awful lot about the shady connections between Morabito and the McKeons. There's even a question if Buck violated any laws by soliciting a contribution from a paid lobbyist for his wife's campaign.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Terrorists? Titans Of Wall Street?


Yesterday Digby turned me on top an old quote from the 2009 version of El Presidente that I had missed. He was talking about Jamie Dimon and the other Wall Street banksters:
“It’s almost like they’ve got-- they’ve got a bomb strapped to them and they’ve got their hand on the trigger,” President Obama said on Thursday of the banks he’s chosen to bail out. “You don’t want them to blow up. But you’ve got to kind of talk [to] them, ease that finger off the trigger.”

I guess his meaning is up for interpretation but... well, as his supporters never tire of telling us-- and not without merit-- President Obama, unlike Bush-- knows how to deal with terrorists. Bush just bragged about how he would get them, then used them as an excuse for taking away civil liberties from Americans and invading an oil rich country on behalf of big Republican Party corporate contributors. Obama has been killing them-- Osama bin-Laden and most of the top leadership of al-Qaeda. At some point-- early on-- Rahm Emanuel explained told Obama to stop talking like that. He did. And, worse yet, that class of terrorist was never prosecuted for their crimes, even though their crimes have been far more devastating to the lives of most Americans than anything al-Qaeda ever did.

Last week Paul Krugman ruminated about the American tendency toward amnesia, specifically in how they look at the second coming of George W. Bush, Mitt Romney.
Romney constantly talks about job losses under Mr. Obama. Yet all of the net job loss took place in the first few months of 2009, that is, before any of the new administration’s policies had time to take effect. So the Ohio speech was a perfect illustration of the way the Romney campaign is banking on amnesia, on the hope that voters don’t remember that Mr. Obama inherited an economy that was already in free fall.

How does the campaign deal with people who point out the awkward reality that all of the “Obama” job losses took place before any Obama policies had taken effect? The fallback argument-- which was rolled out when reporters asked about the factory closure-- is that even though Mr. Obama inherited a deeply troubled economy, he should have fixed it by now... [A]ccusing Mr. Obama of not doing enough to promote recovery is a better argument than blaming him for the effects of Bush policies. However, it’s not much better, since Mr. Romney is essentially advocating a return to those very same Bush policies. And he’s hoping that you don’t remember how badly those policies worked.

...This is especially true if you focus on private-sector jobs. Overall employment in the Obama years has been held back by mass layoffs of schoolteachers and other state and local government employees. But private-sector employment has recovered almost all the ground lost in the administration’s early months. That compares favorably with the Bush era: as of March 2004, private employment was still 2.4 million below its level when Mr. Bush took office.

Oh, and where have those mass layoffs of schoolteachers been taking place? Largely in states controlled by the G.O.P.: 70 percent of public job losses have been either in Texas or in states where Republicans recently took control.

Which brings me to another aspect of the amnesia campaign: Mr. Romney wants you to attribute all of the shortfalls in economic policy since 2009 (and some that happened in 2008) to the man in the White House, and forget both the role of Republican-controlled state governments and the fact that Mr. Obama has faced scorched-earth political opposition since his first day in office. Basically, the G.O.P. has blocked the administration’s efforts to the maximum extent possible, then turned around and blamed the administration for not doing enough.

But you already knew that. If you've already read Joshua Holland's book, The Fifteen Biggest Lies About The Economy, you know everything you need to know about the arguments over the economic and fiscal questions behind the 2012 election cycle. I want to single one particular question out for this evening though, one that has confounded many of us in the aftermath of the Bush economic catastrophe and the ensuing pillaging of the American economy by his family and friends: were the titans of finance really too big to fail? Holland deals with the question in "A Closer Look" at the end of his chapter about how banksters-- like the aforementioned Jamie Dimon Obama correctly compared to a terrorist-- whine about being victims, something the GOP and Hate Talk Radio have taken up as some kind of demented clarion call.
As they sifted through the wreckage of our economy following the financial crash of 2008, regulators and lawmakers were faced with a conundrum. Would they let the big banks that had gone out on a limb with those newfangled debt-backed securities take a beating, as the “logic” of the free market would dictate?

The received wisdom was that the really big financial services firms couldn’t be allowed to simply crash and burn, no matter how appropriate that outcome might have been. They were “too big to fail”; we were told that their demise would halt the flow of capital throughout the economy, depriving it of its lifeblood. Panic was running through the capital markets, and the “credit crunch” could only be alleviated with a massive government bailout-- hundreds of billions to “recapitalize” the banks and restore liquidity to the system.

That was a highly debatable proposition. Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota crunched some numbers and found that lending between banks at the time had been “healthy” and “bank credit [had] not declined during the financial crisis.” The Minnesota Fed’s economists saw “no evidence that the financial crisis has affected lending to non-financial businesses.” The researchers called on lawmakers to “articulate the precise nature of the market failure they see, [and] to present hard evidence that differentiates their view of the data from other views.”

The Minnesota Fed’s conclusions were backed up by a study of Treasury Department data by Celent Financial Services, a consulting firm. According to Reuters, Celent’s researchers concluded that the “data actually suggest world credit markets are functioning remarkably well.” Rather than a widespread banking problem, Celent found that the rot was limited to “a few big, vocal banks and industries such as car manufacturing, which would be in difficulty anyway.”

There was no question that banks had been writing far fewer loans and money wasn’t flowing, but some economists pointed out that Americans had lost millions of jobs, several million homes, and trillions of dollars in stock market wealth, and as a result fewer people were looking to finance new big-ticket purchases. And businesses, seeing their customers tighten their belts, weren’t terribly eager to borrow money to expand. In other words, Washington was focused on Wall Street as if its problems were disconnected from the immense pain being experienced in the brick-and-mortar economy.

Others, however, noted that the financial services sector-- banking and insurance-- employed more than 6 million people. Not all were rich traders; there were secretaries and janitors, too. In late 2008, CitiGroup announced it would lay off 53,000 employees, the second-largest workforce cut by a single company in U.S. history. That brought the number of people who lost finance jobs to 180,000 that year, and those people would spend less and pay fewer taxes, and many would have trouble paying their own mortgages. The sector’s unemployment rate rose from 3.9 percent to 4.6 percent in just four months in late 2008. Could Washington really let the financial services industry decline even further in the midst of a recession?

While this debate about “too big to fail” played out, a very relevant point was lost in the furor: there was scant discussion of the fact that our financial sector had become bloated during the previous decade and was swimming in capacity the rest of the economy didn’t need.

Here’s a fun fact about the finance industry. Historically, it grew and contracted with the business cycle. When the economy was going gang-busters and businesses were expanding, it was there to provide capital and insurance and connect investors with entrepreneurs and innovators. Then, when the business cycle took an inevitable downturn, it would contract. Financial firms would stop hiring. The number of bankers and insurers would shrink.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the financial meltdown. As the Associated Press noted, “When the Internet bubble burst in 2000, the [financial] sector never stopped growing. Instead, it ballooned over the past eight years to around 10 percent of the U.S. economy, puzzling economists.” It’s not such a puzzle, though. In large part, the continued growth of the sector was based on the explosion in derivatives—high-value vapor-- rather than on anything connected to real growth in the “nuts and bolts” economy.

When the recession of 2001 began, the financial services sector employed 5.7 million people. At the time, the total value of derivatives held by U.S. commercial banks was thought to be around $42 trillion.6 By the third quarter of 2007-- before the crash-- the financial sector was employing almost 6.2 million people, and the estimated value of derivatives held by U.S. banks had skyrocketed to almost $170 trillion-- almost three times the value of the entire world’s economy. During the intervening period, the “real” U.S. economy was in the doldrums: from 2000 to 2007, the economy added jobs at the lowest rate in the post–World War II era.

“The financial sector,” wrote Dean Baker, “has nearly quadrupled as a share of the private sector, yet it provides no obvious benefit that was not available 30 years ago”:
Finance is an intermediate good; like trucking, it provides no direct benefit in itself. Rather, its benefit is in its support for the productive economy. If we had four times as many employed in trucking (relative to the size of the economy) as we did 30 years ago, people would be very concerned about our grossly inefficient trucking sector.

It was this incredibly bloated sector of the economy providing “an intermediate good” that we had to rescue-- keep that in mind.

When the Financial Tail Wags the Corporate Dog

The financial sector’s size isn’t the only issue to consider. Its influence on the behavior of the rest of our corporate culture is something that we take for granted, but maybe we shouldn’t.

Consider for a moment how often you’ve heard that “the markets” are happy-- or unhappy-- about something that is occurring? You know, “The markets reacted with enthusiasm to an announcement by the Fed today...” Not enough people ask the very logical question “Just who are these markets and why the hell should I care if they’re enthused?”

“Markets,” in this sense, means how owners of stocks and bonds feel about their prospects of making a nice return on their investments down the road. And because we’re talking about owners of stocks and bonds, we’re talking about America’s economic elite. According to economist Edward Wolff, those in the top 1 percent of the population controlled almost half of our financial wealth in 2007 (excluding tangible assets like homes, boats, and cars). The top 5 percent owned 72 percent; the top 10 percent of the distribution were holding onto 83 percent of the nation’s financial wealth, and so on. The bottom 80 percent-- eight out of ten Americans-- owned just 7 percent of the nation’s financial wealth.

In America’s executive suites, “the markets” are all-powerful, but it wasn’t always so. The modern system of finance developed during the progressive era-- from the late 1890s through the 1920s-- and its creation was heavily influenced by prevailing anger at the power of huge private trusts. Dispersed ownership and new forms of finance-- through stocks, corporate bonds, and other securities-- were seen as an antidote to the influence of the robber barons, that handful of dynastic families who controlled large swaths of the U.S. economy.

Since then, the original function of the financial markets-- to link investors’ capital with innovative firms-- has been turned on its head. Today, says Lawrence Mitchell, a professor of business law at George Washington University, corporate behavior is very much dictated by the financial markets-- quarterly earnings, stock prices, and the like-- and not the other way around. That’s not a good thing. [But it very much is a Mitt Romney thing.]

In his book The Speculation Economy, Mitchell cited a recent survey of CEOs who run major U.S. corporations. It found that almost 80 percent of them would have “at least moderately mutilated their businesses in order to meet [financial] analysts’ quarterly profit estimates.”
Cutting the budgets for research and development, advertising and maintenance and delaying hiring and new projects are some of the long-term harms they would readily inflict on their corporations. Why? Because in modern American corporate capitalism, the failure to meet quarterly numbers almost always guarantees a punishing hit to the corporation’s stock price.

And corporate managers’ own fortunes are tied to their companies’ share prices through bonuses, stock options, and other incentives. The desire to make the financial sector happy often dwarfs other imperatives; Mitchell calls it “short-termism” and suggests that making a company’s balance sheet look good, quarter to quarter, also drives CEOs to sacrifice values such as worker safety, environmental protection, and other social goods.

This dynamic, too, was completely absent from the debate over whether the Titans of Wall Street were really “too big to fail.”

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Do GOP pols know about Frank Luntz's "Five myths about conservative voters"? (How about Dem pols?)


It should be interesting to see how political strategists of both parties respond to Frank Luntz's "five myths about conservative voters."

"[W]hile big names such as Rush Limbaugh and Larry Kudlow may defend 'capitalism,' my polling indicates that conservatives would rather embrace 'economic freedom.' The former represents big business and Wall Street; the latter evokes small business and Main Street."
-- GOP pollster-strategist Frank Luntz, in a WaPo
"Five myths about conservative voters"

by Ken

I approached this WaPo op-ed by Frank Luntz, "Five myths about conservative voters," with trepidation, because Luntz has seemed to me the best strategist the Right has had in the modern era. Because he has a bad habit of being right about messaging and the way American voters respond to issues, I'm fraidy-scared of him, but even more afraid to ignore what he has to say.

The piece turns out to be unexpectedly interesting, the only peculiar thing about it that it seems to be cast as a debunking of blood libels against conservative voters perpetrated by ill-willed and ill-informed left-wing commentators. In fact, though, it's properly directed at the entire power structure of the political Right and the Republican Party. Because they're the people who believe all the things Luntz is debunking.

GOP pols almost without exception at least claim to believe all the things Luntz attacks. And I think the whole economic-predator wing of the party in fact believes them utterly and absolutely. Maybe in pussy-footing around this central fact he's being tactful about the people who pay most of the party's (and the Right's) bills, and I'm inclinded to assume provide most of his income as well. This is something we've written about for ages: the way the Republican elites toss the red meat of crackpot ideology at all those right-wing voters they delight in treating as brain-dead turds, counting on them to support, or at least not organize to oppose, the campaign of economic rape, pillage, and plunder they've been wreaking on the country for several decades.

But let's get to what Luntz claims are those "myths about conservative voters," right after we take note of his opening sentence: "We may be six months away from Election Day, but I’ve already racked up nearly 100,000 miles this year crisscrossing the country and listening to voters in more than 20 states."

This is important, I think, because this mode of working may have something to do with why Luntz tends to be better informed about what his voters are thinking than, say, most Democratic strategists. Check out, for example, Howie's dozens of posts deriding the cluelessness of the DCCC.

Naturally there's a lot in Luntz's presentation that I would disagree with. For example, when he says that conservative voters "rallying behind the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) not simply because it cuts the size of government, but because it cultivates accountability," it really ought to be pointed out that the idea that Paul Ryan believes in accountability is appalling nonsense," and can only be said by someone who is either a moron or a liar. But the finding from a poll Luntz did that "self-identified conservatives" care considerably more about effectiveness than about size of government is interesting indeed as a reading of the state of mind of the portion of the electorate he calls home.

Similarly, Luntz's claim that "the big difference between left and right" on income inequality is "the difference between opportunity and outcome," that "conservatives want to increase opportunity, giving everyone the freedom and tools to prosper, so that the poor may someday become rich," while "liberals want to redistribute income, making the rich -- quite simply -- less rich," contains more lies and arrant nonsense than you'd think would be possible to cram into a single sentence. Still, the news that, according to a poll Luntz took in January, "fully 66 percent of conservatives consider the growing gap between the rich and the poor a 'problem,'" and "21 percent call it a 'crisis,'" should open a lot of eyes.

Frank Luntz's "Five myths about conservative voters"

1. Conservatives care most about the size of government.
2. Conservatives want to deport all illegal immigrants.
3. They worship Wall Street.
4. Conservatives want to slash Social Security and Medicare.
5. Conservatives don’t care about inequality.

I'm going to leave it to you to check out Luntz's discussions of each of these "myths." I think you'll be startled enough to hear such a respected pollster insisting that commanding numbers of conservative voters don't believe these propositions, which are established as bulwarks of official conservative dogma. You would have had difficulty, for example, finding any challenges to any of them by any of the clowns who threw their wigs into the presidential race this cycle.

I wonder how the Republican establishment will react to what seems to me a bombshell. For that matter, I wonder how the Democratic establishment will, since the Dem power structure seems almost as wedded to these "myths" as its Republican counterpart.

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Conservatives Would Like You To Pick Between Healthcare And Education So They Can Give Away Subsidies To Big Oil


Friday I noticed a tweet from disingenuous New Hampshire teabagger, Frank Guinta about how he voted to keep interest rates low for students, a topic we took up a few days ago. Carol Shea-Porter, Guinta's progressive opponent, who really is concerned with working families and student indebtedness released a statement within minutes of Guinta's deceitful posturing.
"Congressman Frank Guinta and his party first refused to vote to keep student interest rates at 3.4% for college students. Political pressure from Democrats, students, and middle class families became too great, so Congressman Guinta raided the preventive health fund, that pays for screenings for breast cancer and cervical cancer among other things, to make up for the money that would have been collected from higher interest rates. Congressmen Frank Guinta and Paul Ryan, instead of taking away tax loopholes for millionaires, are shifting resources from health screenings to students, hoping voters won't notice. Voters already have noticed."

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, also noticed-- and she slammed right-wing anti-education Republicans like Guinta and Ryan as well.
“Higher education is a down payment on a lifetime of success and future earnings, so we are glad the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives finally decided to support keeping the interest rate on federally subsidized Stafford student loans from doubling. However, the Republican House majority chose a scheme to pay for the cost of keeping the interest rate at 3.4 percent by robbing billions of dollars from the prevention and public health fund in the Affordable Care Act.

“It is unconscionable to solve the student loan problems by undercutting healthcare to women, children and others most in need of assistance. A wiser option to prevent higher loan rates would be to end unfair tax loopholes that benefit wealthy individuals and corporations. 

“College students are graduating with record levels of debt and facing a precarious job market, so it hardly could be a worse time to raise student loan interest rates. Snatching public funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings, child immunizations and community health centers, while refusing to require wealthy individuals and corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, is just plain wrong.”

When the Democats offered a Motion to Recommit instructing the committee to go back and rewrite the bill in a way that would "protect health insurance benefits for women and children by prohibiting the underlying bill from reducing coverage or raising costs for healthcare benefits offered by insurance companies, including benefits such as contraception, mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, childhood immunizations, and health screenings for newborns," it was defeated 178-231 100% of the Republicans voting against it and even the most rot-gut Blue Dogs sticking with the Democrats for a change. In the end 30 Republicans voted against the actual bill-- but they were the radical teabagger fringe who oppose public education in general (freaks like the John Birch Society's Paul Broun, Justin Amash, Jeff Flake, Tom McClinton, Joe Walsh (who just hates children in general and is still refusing to pay his child support), Tom Price, Scott Garrett... the real bottom of the barrel. There were also 13 putative "Democrats," all Blue Dogs and Blue Dogs allies, who voted with Boehner and Cantor, giving them the right to call the bill "bipartisan." It passed 215-195.

Guinta and the rest of the Republicans had just voted for the Ryan budget a week ago-- a budget that absolutely raises the interest rate on student loans from 3.4% to 6.8%-- quite a bit steeper than loans the banksters routinely give each other... and quite a bit steeper than the rates the banksters pay to use taxpayer funds. The hostage that the Republicans are holding in return for allowing the rate to remain low-- something Boehner refers to as a "slush fund" which is meant to do this:
$143 million for breast and cervical cancer screenings

$107 million for programs to address birth defects, including screening of newborns for hearing loss and congenital heart defects

$72 million for childhood vaccinations

So, the GOP wants to turn their war against students, back to their unending war against women. These people are sick-- as are the Blue Dogs who support them and vote with them. Amy Brundage posted about this outrageous anti-social behavior by these conservatives on the White House blog.
Eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund would have a devastating effect on women’s health and our work to prevent disease and illness. Eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund would mean:

• Hundreds of thousands of women could lose access to vital cancer screenings.   Prevention Fund resources are expected to help more than 300,000 women be screened for breast cancer in 2013 and more than 280,000 be screened for cervical cancer. 

• Programs that help to prevent congenital heart defects, prevent fetal alcohol syndrome, and promote early identification and intervention efforts for children with developmental delays and disabilities could be eliminated. 

• Tens of thousands children could lose access to immunizations.

These are just a few of the important ways the Prevention and Public Health Fund will help keep millions of Americans healthy. Keeping college affordable for America’s students should not come at the expense of putting women’s health at risk.

The Senate will soon vote on a more viable solution to keep interest rates low and provide students a fair shot at an affordable education, by closing a loophole that allows people making more than $250,000 a year to avoid paying payroll taxes. Congress should find a bipartisan solution to keep rates low without hurting Americans’ health or increasing the deficit. There’s no good reason for interest rates to double for over 7 million students. But Republicans in Congress must prove that they’re serious about setting aside the political fights of the past and actually getting this done.

This is only going to stop if voters are willing-- come November-- to stand up against conservatives, of either party, and kick them out of office. It isn't just Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor... it's all the Republicans-- every single one of them-- and all the Blue Dogs. Time for a clean sweep. Sweep here.

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Sunday Classics: Some mighty angry Israelites and Philistines -- the opening scene of "Samson et Dalila," part 3


Here's a minute's worth of Samson's first solo (picking up at "Oui j'entends dans mon coeur une voix élevée" ("Yes, in my heart an elevated voice"), sung by Plácido Domingo.

by Ken

We've been working our way ever so gradually through the opening scene of Act I of Camille Saint-Saëns's Samson et Dalila, witness the transformation of the enslaved Hebrews from abject servility to . . . well, today we're going to see what exactly to.

When last we left our downtrodden Israelites, enslaved by the conquering Philistines ("Part 2: Let's hear how Samson rallies his people"; there's a listing of the complete series in the click-through), young Samson, after much exhorting, had rallied them from pathetic whining to a readiness to take action. As I ponted out at the time, it was clear from the very last music we heard then that something was about to happen. This week we meet that something,

There are just two short scenes remaining to complete the opening scene of Act I of Samson, each beginning with a rage-filled entrance. We're going to first sample three dramatic highlights, starting with the entrance of one angry Philistine satrap.

With Samson finally rousing the Hebrews to defiance,
Abimélech, the Philistine satrap of Gaza, storms in

Act I, Scene 2, Abimélech, "Qui donc élève ici la voix?"
("Who then raises his voice here?")

ABIMÉLECH: Who then raises his voice here?
Again this vile herd of slaves,
always daring to flout our laws
and wanting to break their shackles!
Hide your sighs and your tears,
which try our patience;
instead invoke the clemency
of those who were your conquerors!

Ezio Flagello (bs), Abimélech; Metropoolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. RCA, recorded 1958

Simon Estes (bs-b), Abimélech; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded February 1989

Samson's exhortations to his fellow Hebrews
reach their absolute maximum level of intensity

Act I, Scene 2, Samson, "Israël, romps ta chaîne!"
("Israel, break your chains!")

SAMSON: Israel, break your chains!
O people, rise up!
Come and slake your hatred!
The Lord is within me!
O thou, God of Light,
as in the days of yesteryear,
hear my prayer
and fight for thy laws!

José Luccioni (t), Samson; Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris, Louis Fourestier, cond. EMI, recorded September 1946

Mario del Monaco (t), Samson; Metropoolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. RCA, recorded 1958

The uprisen Hebrews rout Abimélech, leaving his
body to be discovered by the High Priest of Dagon

Act I, Scene 3, High Priest, "Maudite à jamais soit la race des enfants d'Israël" ("Accursed be forever the race of the children of Israel!")
HIGH PRIEST: Accursed be forever the race
of the children of Israel!
I want to erase all trace of them,
to soak them in bile!
Accursed be the one who guides them!
I will crush underfoot
his broken bones, his parched throat,
without a shake of pity!

Paul Cabanel (b), High Priest of Dagon; Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris, Louis Fourestier, cond. EMI, recorded September 1946

Renato Bruson (b), High Priest of Dagon; Orchestre de Paris, Daniel Barenboim, cond. DG, recorded July 1978



Usually it's automatic, since the post necessarily refers back to the preview. This week, however, the preview wasn't for this week's Sunday post but for some unspecified post, or rather posts, in the future. And I want to remind everyone that I offered what I might be prepared to defend as "the most beautiful recording ever made."

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Voters May Not Care About Gridlock & Dysfunction In DC But Will They Punish Republicans For Economic Sabotage?


I thought it was Bush that made me hate Washington so much and made me want to stay away. But I don't feel any more warmly towards the city now that he's gone. I avoid the place like the plague and sit on endless conference calls rather than show up personally for meetings of committees and boards on which people I like and admire are doing vital work. I've told Ken Aden and Nick Ruiz I'd be there for their swearing in ceremonies-- both being longshots-- but I've also told Alan Grayson the same thing... and that means I probably will be making a trip there in January. Yesterday, in a much discussed OpEd in the Washington Post, Thomas Mann (political scientist at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution) and Norm Ornstein (resident scholar at the rabidly right-wing and corporatist American Enterprise Institute) asserted that the Republicans are the problem for what's wrong in Washington. They purposefully create gridlock and dysfunction and they want not just Obama to fail-- they want government to fail. Despite Paul Ryan's pious, desperate attempts to disassociate himself from the right-wing icon Ayn Rand, her dark, dystopian, corporate vision is now synonymous with the Republican Party. There is no longer any escape short of burning down the whole rotten party and starting over again. And that's up to the voters. Will most voters in, for example, the Old Confederacy, even care about something like this by two Beltway scholars:
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

They assign much of the blame to two transparent hustlers, both right-wing prophets of Randian greed and selfishness, Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. "In the face of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the party’s leaders and their outside acolytes insisted on obeisance to a supply-side view of economic growth-- thus fulfilling Norquist’s pledge-- while ignoring contrary considerations... Rank-and-file GOP voters endorse the strategy that the party’s elites have adopted, eschewing compromise to solve problems and insisting on principle, even if it leads to gridlock. Democratic voters, by contrast, along with self-identified independents, are more likely to favor deal-making over deadlock."
Shortly before Rep. West went off the rails with his accusations of communism in the Democratic Party, political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have long tracked historical trends in political polarization, said their studies of congressional votes found that Republicans are now more conservative than they have been in more than a century. Their data show a dramatic uptick in polarization, mostly caused by the sharp rightward move of the GOP.

If our democracy is to regain its health and vitality, the culture and ideological center of the Republican Party must change. In the short run, without a massive (and unlikely) across-the-board rejection of the GOP at the polls, that will not happen. If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections.

Ornstein and Mann despair of GOP voters, brianwashed beyond reason by subversive propaganda and primal, divisiveness from Hate Talk Radio and Fox, seeing their way to do the right thing for the country and they end their essay with a plea to their lazy and easily a- bought-off and b- intimidated media colleagues to stop giving right-wing extremism Broderistic cover. Sappy and unsatisfying ending to an important problem. But.. maybe this chart and this NY Times column from Krugman points to a more reasonable ending.

He explains the chart on his blog with a look at the devastating nature of right-wing Austerity economics and how these policies have led to Norquist's dream of drastically shrinking the government. "Obama," he points out, more in resigned disappointment than anger, "far from presiding over a huge expansion of government the way the right claims, has in fact presided over unprecedented austerity, largely driven by cuts at the state and local level. And it’s therefore an amazing triumph of misinformation the way that lackluster economic performance has been interpreted as a failure of government spending." Do you think voters are savvy enough to blame this on the destructive obstructionism of Miss McConnell and John Boehner and on the Koch-funded Republican governors and legislatures in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Indiana and Michigan? If America is going to move beyond economic morass and the steady whittling away of democracy itself, they have to. The alternative is a government of varying degrees of fascists, from Paul Ryan to Allen West.
For the past two years most policy makers in Europe and many politicians and pundits in America have been in thrall to a destructive economic doctrine. According to this doctrine, governments should respond to a severely depressed economy not the way the textbooks say they should-- by spending more to offset falling private demand-- but with fiscal austerity, slashing spending in an effort to balance their budgets.

Critics warned from the beginning that austerity in the face of depression would only make that depression worse. But the “austerians” insisted that the reverse would happen. Why? Confidence! “Confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery,” declared Jean-Claude Trichet, the former president of the European Central Bank-- a claim echoed by Republicans in Congress here. Or as I put it way back when, the idea was that the confidence fairy would come in and reward policy makers for their fiscal virtue.

The good news is that many influential people are finally admitting that the confidence fairy was a myth. The bad news is that despite this admission there seems to be little prospect of a near-term course change either in Europe or here in America, where we never fully embraced the doctrine, but have, nonetheless, had de facto austerity in the form of huge spending and employment cuts at the state and local level.

So, about that doctrine: appeals to the wonders of confidence are something Herbert Hoover would have found completely familiar-- and faith in the confidence fairy has worked out about as well for modern Europe as it did for Hoover’s America. All around Europe’s periphery, from Spain to Latvia, austerity policies have produced Depression-level slumps and Depression-level unemployment; the confidence fairy is nowhere to be seen, not even in Britain, whose turn to austerity two years ago was greeted with loud hosannas by policy elites on both sides of the Atlantic.

None of this should come as news, since the failure of austerity policies to deliver as promised has long been obvious. Yet European leaders spent years in denial, insisting that their policies would start working any day now, and celebrating supposed triumphs on the flimsiest of evidence. Notably, the long-suffering (literally) Irish have been hailed as a success story not once but twice, in early 2010 and again in the fall of 2011. Each time the supposed success turned out to be a mirage; three years into its austerity program, Ireland has yet to show any sign of real recovery from a slump that has driven the unemployment rate to almost 15 percent.

However, something has changed in the past few weeks. Several events-- the collapse of the Dutch government over proposed austerity measures, the strong showing of the vaguely anti-austerity François Hollande in the first round of France’s presidential election, and an economic report showing that Britain is doing worse in the current slump than it did in the 1930s-- seem to have finally broken through the wall of denial. Suddenly, everyone is admitting that austerity isn’t working.

The question now is what they’re going to do about it. And the answer, I fear, is: not much.

For one thing, while the austerians seem to have given up on hope, they haven’t given up on fear-- that is, on the claim that if we don’t slash spending, even in a depressed economy, we’ll turn into Greece, with sky-high borrowing costs.

Now, claims that only austerity can pacify bond markets have proved every bit as wrong as claims that the confidence fairy will bring prosperity. Almost three years have passed since the Wall Street Journal breathlessly warned that the attack of the bond vigilantes on U.S. debt had begun; not only have borrowing costs remained low, they’ve actually fallen by half. Japan has faced dire warnings about its debt for more than a decade; as of this week, it could borrow long term at an interest rate of less than 1 percent.

And serious analysts now argue that fiscal austerity in a depressed economy is probably self-defeating: by shrinking the economy and hurting long-term revenue, austerity probably makes the debt outlook worse rather than better.

But while the confidence fairy appears to be well and truly buried, deficit scare stories remain popular. Indeed, defenders of British policies dismiss any call for a rethinking of these policies, despite their evident failure to deliver, on the grounds that any relaxation of austerity would cause borrowing costs to soar.

So we’re now living in a world of zombie economic policies-- policies that should have been killed by the evidence that all of their premises are wrong, but which keep shambling along nonetheless. And it’s anyone’s guess when this reign of error will end.

This November or January, 2013? You can help make it so... really.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Conservative Democratic Legislators Deserting ALEC


Looks like we helped stir up a little storm last month by pointing out that the anti-democracy corporate lobbying group, ALEC, has more than a few right-wing, corrupt Democrats as members and associates. I mean it's overwhelmingly a Republican Party front operation but, where is the DCCC and the Blue Dogs and New Dems going to find reliable new members if there are no Democrats in ALEC? Now that they've been exposed, the DCCC and Blue Dogs are panicking and they even forced their extreme right shill candidate for the SC seventh congressional district, state Rep. Ted Vick, to resign. You gotta give Steve Israel and Joe Crowley credit, though. It's not easy coming up with such blatantly anti-worker, anti-Choice, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-consumer candidates who call themselves Democrats and who want to run for Congress!
State Rep. Ted Vick (D-Chesterfield) has gotten a lot of good press this week for publicly resigning from the shadowy special interest group ALEC, which uses corporate money to push right-wing legislation through statehouses across the country. But Vick’s Democratic opponent in the race for South Carolina’s new congressional seat is asking why it took so long for Vick to leave the group, calling the move “too little, too late.”

Vick, who’s running in the Democratic primary for SC-7 in the Pee Dee area, has been a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council since being elected to the State House in 2004. The congressional candidate said his reason for leaving ALEC this week is that the group has become “too partisan and too extreme,” citing a recent keynote speech by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal which attacked President Obama and the Democratic Party.

But ALEC has been openly partisan for much longer than that, which Vick’s opponent says doesn’t seem to have troubled Vick until he began running for higher office. “Now that Ted Vick is running in a Democratic primary, he is following the pack and renouncing his membership to ALEC,” commented attorney Preston Brittain, Vick’s Democratic opponent in the SC-7 race. “But this is too little, too late.”

Ethics reports show ALEC gave Vick $1,360 in travel costs for an ALEC conference in Philadelphia back in 2007. According to a Cheraw Chronicle article (which reads remarkably like a copied-and-pasted press release) about Vick’s attendance at the conference, some of the featured speakers included former President George Bush, former Sen. Fred Thompson, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Gov. Mike Huckabee.

In other words, this group which is only recently supposed to have drifted to the right held a conference five years ago featuring a Republican president, two 2008 GOP presidential candidates and a former Republican Speaker of the House. Is there really any question which way ALEC was leaning even then?

Be sure to keep contributing to the DCCC-- if you want a complete takeover of the Democratic Party by corrupt corporate conservatives like Vick. Of course, as we noted last month, Vick is far from the only scumbag Democrat who joined ALEC. Now that a bright light is being pointed in their direction, though, they're fleeing like cockroaches when someone turns the light on them! As of Friday Zaid Jilani of Republic Report was pointing to nearly two dozen Democratic legislators who had already left this month aside from Vick. Among the reactionary Democrats who are trying to disassociate themselves from ALEC are Georgia state Senator Nan Orrock, who claims she was just in it to, essentially, spy on them, Missouri state Senator Mike Colona, New Mexico state Sen. George Muñoz, Nebraska state Senators Danielle Conrad, Health Mello and Jeremy Norquist, and a bunch of state Reps, including 11 just from Texas-- Alma Allen, Armando Martinez, Dawnna Dukes, Hubert Vo, Harold Dutton, Chente, Quintanilla, Eddie Rodriguez, José Menéndez, Ruth Jones McClendon, Eric Johnson, Tracy King, and Ryan Guillen. Other conservative Democrats who want out are Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (WA), Rep. Harry Readshaw (PA) and Rep. Jennifer Selig (UT). I wonder why none of them didn't just resign from the Democratic Party and reveal themselves as Republicans.

Meanwhile the DCCC was actually boasting about how fabulous it is that Vick left... while never addressing questions about why a Democrat would be in such a fascist-oriented organization to begin with-- or why they would be pushing his congressional candidacy while he was still a member in good standing! See the candidates on this page? That's the anti-ALEC candidates' page.

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