Sunday, November 30, 2014

Kurt Vonnegut shows us how to be funny even "when speaking dismally of the future of mankind"


Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

"Like Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln, even when he's funny Kurt Vonnegut is depressed."
-- John Leonard, in "God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut" (2004),
included as the afterword to Vonnegut by the Dozen

"I am moved to suspect that most of our finest humorists, including Mark Twain, may have been not especially funny people who painstakingl learned their clowning only in order to seem insincere when speaking dismally of the future of mankind."
-- Kurt Vonnegut, in "Only Kidding, Folks?," an essay on
the Polish science-fiction novelist Stanislaw Lem

by Ken

Last week, in a post called "Looking back at and with Molly Ivins (including her terrible times at the NY Times)," after peeking inside The Nation's lovely little book gathering some of Molly Ivins's writings for the magazine, Molly Ivins: Letters to The Nation, I threw out the above quote from the great literary critic, commentator, and editor John Leonard as a tease for the companion anthology Vonnegut by the Dozen -- both edited by onetime Executive Editor Richard Lingeman -- I ventured that Kurt Vonnegut was "a great novelist, and in his own distinctive way as great and cataclysmic a political observer, and perhaps even more distressing."

"Perhaps even more distressing," I meant to suggest, because the bleakness of his vision isn't always as inescapably upfront in his novels, peopled as they are with such extravagantly, deliriously delicious characters, and filled as they are with the author's proprietary whimsy and funniness.

We'll come back to that funniness later, but in the matter of literary seriousness, John Leonard once again went straight to the heart of the matter in these excerpts from a speech he gave on the occasion of his friend Kurt's birthday in 2004, published as "God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut," an obvious play on the title of his 1965 novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Here Leonard recalls, from his days as editor of the New York Times Book Review, having asked Vonnegut to review Joseph Heller's second novel, Something Happened (1974) -- itself an inspired idea. Who could possibly have been better equipped to write about the author of Catch-22 (1973) than the author of Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)?

"This," Leonard recalled, "is how he concluded his essay."
I say that this is the most memorable, and therefore the most permanent variation on a familiar theme, and that it says baldly what the other variations only implied, what the other variations tried with desperate sentimentality not to imply: that many lives, judged by the standards of the people who live them, are simply not worth living.
In a speech Vonnegut delivered at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, published as "The Necessary Miracle" (1979), Vonnegut notes that he, like Twain, clearly an idol of his, was a religious skeptic, and notes that "religious skeptics often become very bitter toward the end, as did Mark Twain.
I do not propose to guess now as to why he became so bitter. I know why I will beome bitter. I wil finally realize that I have had it right all along: that I will not see God, that there is no Heaven or Judgment Day.
He has a great deal to say about the mythologizing at the heart of Twain's address to the reader, and does a take on the horrifically uncomical ending of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court {"Comically enough," he begins, "thousands of early attackers have already been attacked," and the mayhem escalates from there), and finally invites us:
Imagine, if you will, the opinion we would now hold of ourselves and the opinions others would hold of us, if it were not for the myths about us created by Mark Twain. You can then begin to calculate our debt to this one man.

One man. Just one man.

I named my first-born son after him.

I thank you for your attention.
We'll come back to Mark Twain in a moment as well.


Back to John Leonard.
The novelist himself tells us in Palm Sunday about seeing a Marcel Ophuls film that included pictures from the Dresden fire-bombing Vonnegut had lived through as a POW: "The Dresden atrocity," he then decides, "tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I'm in."
In fact, in one of the pieces included in Vonnegut by the Dozen, a 1980 conversation with Robert K. Musil (whose bio on the website of the Rachel Carson Council, of which he became president and CEO this past February, only its third head, says he "specializes in contemporary global sustainability, security, and health issues, as well as Cold War history, culture, and policy"), Vonnegut estimates his haul from the book in question, Slaughterhouse-Five, at "about $4 for each person killed."

I think all readers of the book, aware that Vonnegut, like his troubled time-traveling and galaxy-hopping hero Billy Pilgrim, had lived through the Allied fire-bombing of Dresden, understood that it was a subject the author had lived with for more than two decades but had always known he had to write about. In the conversation with Robert Musil, asked how long he had thought "about describing an experience like Dresden," he gave a surprising explanation of the process.
Well, it seemed a categorical imperative that I write about Dresden, the fire-bombing of Dresden, since it was the largest massacre in the history of Europe and I am a person of European extraction and I, a writer, had been present. I had to say something about it. And it took me a long time and it was painful.

The most difficult thing about it was that I had forgotten about it. And I learned about catastrophes from that, and from talking to other people who had been involved in avalanches and floods and great fires, that there is some device in our brains which switches off and prevents our remembering catastrophes above a certain scale. I don't know whether it is just a limit of our nervous system, or whether it's actually a gadget which protects us in some way. But I, in fact, remembered nothing about the bombing of Dresden although I had been there, and did everything short of hiring a hypnotist to recover the information.

I wrote to many of the guys who went through it with me saying "Help me remember" and the answer every time was a refusal, a simple flat refusal. They did not want to think about it. There was a writer for Life magazine -- I don't know how much he knows about rabbits and the nervous system -- who claimed that rabbits have no memory, which is one of their defensive mechanisms. If they recalled every close shave they had in the course of just an hour, life would become insupportable. As soon as they'd escaped from a Doberman pinscher, why, they forgot all about it. And they could scarcely affod to remember it.
Musil asks whether the details came back to Vonnegut personally.
After all, it was a city enormous in area and I was on the ground, and there was smoke and fire, and so I could scarcely see eight feet, and the only way to see it would be on area photographs taken with the beautiful equipment that planes had. And so it was finally British military historians who produced more and more information and finally an estimate of the casualties.

East Germany would not respond to my inquiries at all. They weren't interested in the problem. Probably the most curious thing, in retrospect, is that I'm the only person who gives a damn that Dresden was bombed, because I have run into flyers of one sort or another who were in on the raid. They were rather sheepish about it, and they weren't proud of it. But I have found no one who is sorry, including the people who were bombed, although they must surely mourn relatives. I went back there with a friend and there was no German to say, "Ach, how beautiful this used to be, with the tree-lined streets and parks." They don't give a damn.
Vonnegut reminds Musil that he was trained as a chemist, and that his brother Bernard was "a leading atmospheric chemist now" ("the flashiest thing he discovered was that silver iodide will make it snow and rain"), and so for Kurt it was terrible,
after having believed so much in technology and having drawn so many pictures of dream automobiles and dream airplanes and dream human dwellings, to see the actual use of this technology in destroying a city and killing 135,000 people and then to see the even more sophisticated technology in the use of nuclear weapons on Japan. I was sickened by this use of the technology that I had had such great hopes for. And so I came to fear it. You know, it's like being a devout Christian and then seeing some horrible massacres conducted by Christians after a victory. It was a spiritual horror of that sort which I still carry today.
And an abiding horror for Vonnegut was policy-makers' "willingness to lie" about the use of that technology -- "it being a normal part of politics to lie." He recalls something said by his friend Bernie O'Hare (by then "a district attorney in Pennsylvania"), with whom he went through the war.
We came home on a troopship together and got off at Newport News. I said, "All right, what did you learn from it?" meaning World War II. We were both privates. He thought a minute and said, "I'll never believe my government again."

During the '30s when we grew up, we did believe our government and were great enthusiasts for it because the economy was being reborn. We were such cooperative citizens that it turned out to be a rather minor thing that made us decide that we couldn't believe our government anymore -- that we had caught it lying. It was quite something to catch your government lying then

What it was all about was bombing techniques. They said we had these magnificent bombsights which would allow us to drop a bomb down a smokestack, and that there was all this microsurgery going on on the ground. Then we saw what it really was. They would send a cloud of airplanes over and bomb the shit out of everything. There was no use of bombsights whatsoever, there was simply carpet bombing. And that was kept secret from the American people: the nature of the air raids and random bombings, the shooting and the blowing up of anything that moved.
Hmm, does this sound at all familiar?


I promised we would come back to the subject of Kurt V's funniness, and to the subject of Mark Twain. Here goes.

The first piece in Vonnegut by the Dozen after editor Richard LIngeman's introduction is called "Only Kidding, Folks?," "a review of ten books by the Polish science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem."

Vonnegut notes that Lem, "one of the most popular science-fiction writers in the world," comes with a certifiable reputation for hilariousness : "tremendously amusing" (critic Leslie Fiedler), "fantastically humorous" (Russian cosmonaut Gherman Titov), "zany" (novelist Ursula Le Guin, herself a frequent sci-fi practitioner), "and so on." However, this isn't what he finds.
I myself find him a master of utterly terminal pessimism, appalled by all that an insane humanity may yet survive to do.

We are pollution.

He wants us to feel no pity for Homo sapiens, and so excludes appealing women and children from his tales. The adult males he sows us are variously bald, arthritic, sharp-kneed, squinting, jowly, rotten toothed and so on, and surely ludicrous -- save for his space crewmen, wo are as expendable as pawns in a chess game. We do not get to know anybody well enough to like him. If he dies, he dies.
Is there any common ground to found between these two hard-to-reconcile views? Maybe. Here's how it looks to our Kurt:
I do not think Lem would have as many readers as he does, including a boundlessly optimistic cosmonaut, if he did not go to such lengths to say, in effect, what bitter nightclub comics often say: "Only kidding, folks." When he predicts that our reason will soon be destroyed by mind-altering chemicals in careless hands (The Futurological Congress, Warsaw, 1971), or that many of our descendants will be spies or spy hunters in an underground Pentagon which has lost touch with the outside world (Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, Warsaw, 1971), or that, when we venture into space, we will become destroyers of all we cannot understand (The Invincible, Warsaw, 1967) or that our machines will soon be more intelligent and honorable than we are (the theme of tale after tale), he must be kidding, since, as Le Guin says, he is so "zany" all the time. I am moved to suspect that most of our finest humorists, including Mark Twain, may have been not especially funny people who painstakingly learned their clowning only in order to seem insincere when speaking dismally of the future of mankind.
Vonnegut guesses that Lem "is at his funniest when he has looked so hard and long at hopelessness that he is at last exhausted, and is seized by convulsions of laughter that threaten to tear him to pieces. It was during such a fit that he wrote The Futurological Congress, I am sure." He recommends this book to anyone who wants to sample Lem, pointing out that --

the hotel sheltering the congress is reduced to gravel by rioters and police, and the surviving futurologists wind up with the hotel staff in a sewer.

Laffs aplenty. Why not?
Editor Richard Lingeman, at the end of his introduction, after voicing thanks "for the mordantly funny writings assembled in this collection," adds: "Only he's not kidding, folks."


Even in such a slender book, here are just a few pieces I for sure meant to something about:

• a gorgeous tribute ("A Reluctant Big Shot") to the aggressively unassuming Walter Cronkite on his retirement from the CBS Evening News -- a man awash in "the raffsh gallantry of an old newspaperman."

• his own take -- as a nonbeliever, remember -- on what Jesus might actually have meant when he said, "The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me," suggesting that "perhaps a little something may have been lost in translation" from Jesus's Aramaic to Hebrew and on to Greek and Latin and archaic English, and hypothesizing that Jesus may have been telling a little joke, reminding us "that in translations jokes are commonly the first things to go." (Hint: The piece is called "Hypocrites You Always Have With You.")

• a charmingly low-key assessment of a leaked year's worth of minutes from the cabinet meetings of President Jimmy Carter ("Cabinet members, like first graders, it turns out," he writes, "sometimes refuse to bring anything to show or tell," and winds up suggesting "Subject for next week's cabinet meeting: 'What I Did Last Summer' ").

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Why Would Anyone Expect Farmer Fincher To Employ Someone Unlike Racist Hound Elizabeth Lauten



People who have known her say Elizabeth Lauten was always a goodie-two-shoes overachiever with a mediocre, inside-the-box mind; she still lists her 1580 SAT score from 2000 on her LinkedIn page-- along with the fact that she's been a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution since 2013. Before thrusting her racist ass onto the national stage last week with a typically nasty KKK Thanksgiving Facebook post about the president's two teenage daughters, North Carolina native Elizabeth Lauten was probably best known for her insipid reviews of episodes of The Bachelor and Miss Universe pageants for AskMissA, a magazine for white girls with pimples that she was entertainment editor of last year.

Inside the GOP Beltway, though, the sharp-tongued Lauten, who had been arrested for shoplifting in a mall when she was a teen-- and had quite the reputation among Camp LeJeune marines in her hometown-- was the vicious voice behind Joe Walsh's psychotic press releases. Before she came to work for the grotesquely hypocritical Farmer Fincher, she was Walsh's press secretary. From her LinkedIn page:
Press Secretary

U.S. House of Representatives - Rep. Joe Walsh (IL-08)

January 2011-- August 2011 (8 months) Washington D.C. Metro Area

Aggressive media outreach to secure interviews with publications and radio, as well as television appearances

Executed extensive day-to-day on-the-record and background communication with national and local reporters

Coordinated district communications outreach including direct/franked mailings and e-newsletters

Develop tactical messaging strategies to respond to a variety of issues related to public policy including the composition of talking points, opinion pieces and interview preparation materials

Managed Congressman’s social media accounts, including updating status and responding to messages

- Second largest Facebook following in the freshman class of the 112th Congress
- Ranked in top five most affective political Twitter accounts of the 112th Congress

Produced elaborate YouTube videos including filming and editing
Even though she's an employee of a congressional office-- albeit Fincher's-- and gets paid by the taxpayers, she has her own one-person lobbying and communications shop, Audeamus Communications, she runs simultaneously. She boasts of her self-declared skills in crisis communication and management: "Extensive experience, rapid response and excellent media relations skills have made Audeamus Comms’ crisis management practice a paradigm for the industry. We will work around-the-clock, if necessary, to craft strategy, draft the appropriate language and contact the media. We are acutely aware that unanswered 'bad' news-- whether true or false-- can inflict long-term damage in a very short time on an organization’s image or an individual’s character. We are highly skilled in quickly identifying the salient points that must be addressed and in determining the manner of delivery most likely to counter the crisis at hand. By disseminating the correct message to key journalists, we are able to help significantly reduce the intensity of a crisis so that an organization may return as swiftly as possible to its day-to-day business operations."

All those "best-in-class" state of the art skills she incongruously claims to be the master of, were put to the test this week, not on behalf of Farmer Fincher, the RNC-- she claims she "was responsible for day-to-day management and online political strategy development for the Committee, completing national interactive strategies using email, Facebook, Twitter and other channels"-- or ex-Congressman Joe Walsh. Today the boastful claims she makes about her mastery of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, are a smoldering wreck. Her social media sites are either all deleted or privatized. And, career-wise, she is toxic. Forbes' Elisa Doucette decided not to waste time on dissecting Louten's motivations for the ugly racist rant on Facebook. "I think we can all agree that when you write about a 13-year-old and a 16-year-old, calling them classless and telling them they look like they belong in a bar, you are simply not being a nice person," she wrote. She covered the crisis management state of the art non-apology apology instead.

I get it. This is the internet. We’re all  fast and furious at our keyboards, with the sinfully seductive appeal of immediately publishing our innermost thoughts for the world. We say things we regret. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but as soon as the trolls come screaming at your back door, you know you have done something you are going to have to be held accountable for.

When we do this, there is one simple statement that each and every prepared statement MUST include:

I’m sorry.

Not the “I’m sorry” Lauten stated at the end, to those she has hurt and offended.

First and foremost, to honestly offer an apology, one needs to suck up their ego and political leanings and any other baggage they are carrying.

Secondly, an apology needs to acknowledge the person (or people) who really deserves to hear the apology, and address them directly.

How does this change Lauten’s statement?


Instead of apologizing for a post about Malia and Sasha Obama, Lauten needs to treat them like they are human beings deserving of her compassion and respect, rather than puppets to dance around in political battles.

Her previous statement:
I wanted to take a moment and apologize for a post I made on Facebook earlier today judging Sasha and Malia Obama at the annual White House turkey pardoning ceremony:

When I first posted on Facebook I reacted to an article and I quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager. After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents, and re-reading my words online I can see more clearly just how hurtful my words were. Please know, those judgmental feelings truly have no place in my heart. Furthermore, I’d like to apologize to all of those who I have hurt and offended with my words, and I pledge to learn and grow (and I assure you I have) from this experience.
A better apology:
I wanted to take a moment and apologize to Sasha and Malia Obama for a post I made on Facebook earlier today judging them at the annual White House turkey pardoning ceremony:

When I first posted on Facebook I reacted to an article and I quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager. After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents, and re-reading my words online I can see more clearly just how hurtful my words were. Please know, those judgmental feelings truly have no place in my heart. Furthermore, I’d like to apologize to all of those who I have hurt and offended with my words, and I pledge to learn and grow (and I assure you I have) from this experience.
All the same words. Rearranged.

The first apology is what people who have been caught say. It carries this hard-to-shake implication that you are not REALLY sorry you did it, you are instead sorry that people are outraged by it.

The second apology is what people who truly feel badly about what they have said or done say. It carries the personal connection to say “I am a person, you are a person. In this situation I didn’t treat you as an equal, and that is not ok.”

Granted, the chances that Lauten knows the Obama sisters and chats with them frequently is unlikely. Yet if she is willing to “call them out” on the internet like she would a friend in a bar bathroom, she needs to extend the same familiar tone in her apology.

The second apology still has its many flaws, including apologizing to those you have hurt and offended-- again, implying she is not sorry she said it, but instead sorry that people are hurt and offended. Like those judgmental feelings MIGHT still have a place in her heart, she just won’t share them so publicly in the future if people are going to be so cranky about it.

...Treat the people you are apologizing to as if they are actual people, not pixels on a page. Say I’m sorry directly to them, acknowledge it was poor behavior, and promise to be better next time.

Then, make sure you do just that.
I bet the Bible thumpin', holier-than-thou, food-stamp cutting, corporate welfare-taking Fincher (R-TN) doesn't fire her tomorrow. Looks like her colleagues at AskMissA felt her vile attitude was a detriment to the magazine's charitable efforts:


I was wrong; Fincher pushed her out this morning. He has enough problems without this albatross around his neck. Let's see which clueless Republican hires her next.

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It's A Slow News Weekend But I Have Some Good Art So... Want To Read About Rick Perry's Presidential Fantasies?


Leave it to Politico to try to make something out of nothing. Nothing? Rick Perry is the governor of Texas, a big deal-- especially in Republican politics. But still... nothing; just watch the drug-addled closet case on the video above. In 2012, Perry came in fifth in the Republican Iowa caucuses-- between Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann. The new poll from Quinnipiac shows Perry with support from two percent of Republican voters-- behind Mitt Romney (19%), Jeb Bush (11%), Chris Christie (8%), Ben Carson (8%), Rand Paul (6%), Ted Cruz (5%), Mike Huckabee (5%), Paul Ryan (5%), Scott Walker (5%) and tied with also-rans Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich... but better than Rick Santorum.

But Politico's Ken Vogel reported yesterday-- with a perfectly straight face-- that Perry is rebuilding a presidential campaign infrastructure, "inviting hundreds of prominent Republican donors and policy experts to a series of gatherings next month that are intended to rebuild his damaged national brand and lay the foundation for a potential 2016 presidential campaign" starting Tuesday in Austin; mostly donors though. And there are hints-- "tip top health is how they phrase it-- that he's kicked his drug addiction.
Perry’s intensive month of foundation-building comes as other prospective Republican presidential candidates-- notably former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz-- are engaging with the wealthy Texans who for years have been among the GOP’s most significant sources of cash. As the heir to a political dynasty with deep Texas ties, Bush in particular could seriously cut into Perry’s financial base. Bush over the last few months has met with major Texas donors.

Perry has long enjoyed support from Texas’s biggest wallets for his state campaigns, but some of the donors remain skeptical of his presidential viability as a result of his bumbling 2012 run, during which some abandoned him in favor of eventual nominee Mitt Romney.

Perry had entered the race to much fanfare as the most formidable GOP foe to Romney. But his debate performances induced cringes, his anti-establishment tough talk prompted grumbles in the business community and he had only limited success expanding his fundraising base beyond Texas. When he dropped out not long after finishing fifth in the Iowa caucuses, Perry further alienated his party’s business wing by snubbing Romney and backing the long-shot rival campaign of Newt Gingrich.

While some in the party wonder if his star dimmed even further this summer when he was indicted on public corruption charges, Perry has nonetheless tried to remake his public image over the past year. In a series of high-profile interviews, the governor, sporting trendy new glasses that give him a more studious look, has admitted that he bungled 2012. He’s said the experience “humbled” him, and admitted he erred by jumping into the race without sufficient preparation and just six weeks after back surgery that left him in pain and unable to sleep.

Things would be different if he ran again, say sources who have interacted with the three-term governor, who is leaving the office after having held it longer than any other person in Texas history. They describe his health as “tip-top” and his policy expertise as light years ahead of where it was in the last presidential cycle-- all of which he intends to highlight in his December donor meetings.

...“If Gov. Perry is going to run, he’s going to be better prepared, and he’s going to have the resources necessary to compete,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican national committeeman who is helping plan for a Perry 2016 campaign and organizing next week’s donor sessions.

Several major donors and bundlers who supported Perry’s last White House run-- including some who have been invited to the Austin sessions-- were cautious or even skeptical when asked this week if they’d back a Perry 2016 campaign.

“I’m a huge fan of Gov. Perry’s and would do whatever I could to help, but other stars have emerged in the party, and I want to hear what they have to say,” said Matt Keelen, a GOP lobbyist who rallied Capitol Hill support for Perry’s 2012 campaign. Keelen specifically cited Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida as intriguing presidential prospects.

Fort Worth investor and GOP bundler Hal Lambert supported Perry in 2012. He described the governor as “very good at working crowds and talking to people, but he’s really going to have to pick it up on the debate side. Those debates really ruined his chances last time.” While he said he wasn’t ready to commit to Perry-- or anyone else-- in 2016, Lambert said he’ll bring an open mind when he attends a dinner with Perry at the governor’s mansion on Dec. 17.

“I’d need to hear what the overall strategy would be for victory,” he said.

A Washington lobbyist who supported Perry last time but has since cooled on him was more blunt, asserting that Perry “ran a crummy campaign in 2012” and hasn’t demonstrated that he’s figured out how to do things differently. Donors also are concerned about the unresolved corruption indictment hanging over Perry’s head, said the lobbyist. Perry has adamantly asserted his innocence in that case, and many across the political spectrum have rallied to his defense, calling the prosecution a witch hunt.

“None of the D.C. lobbyist crowd who were supporting Perry in 2012 are planning to support him this cycle,” said the lobbyist, who is considering supporting Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana or Scott Walker of Wisconsin should either run in 2016. “He is a good guy, but Perry’s time has passed.”

...A GOP fundraiser who has worked with Texas donors said some of the richest among them have been meeting with Jeb Bush in Texas, and that his brother, the former president-- and former Texas governor-- George W. Bush has been talking up Jeb to rich Texans. “Perry is responding to that, and a lot of these donors are caught in the middle,” the fundraiser said of Perry’s Austin meetings.

Lambert, however, said Jeb Bush’s primary reason for visiting Texas was supporting the successful campaign of his son, George P. Bush, for Texas land commissioner.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily been about meeting donors. He’s not going to have any problem there,” said Lambert, who conceded that Texas donors could have divided loyalties in 2016.

“Ted Cruz could compete as well,” Lambert said of the junior senator from Texas. Cruz is a favorite of the conservative grassroots, but he has struggled to win over GOP establishment donors, who view him as an impractical ideologue.

“There will definitely be a difference in the donor base, but I think he’s right in the mix,” said Lambert, who praised Cruz and added, “It will be a tough decision.”
Meanwhile, there's no vision beyond Hate Talk Radio bromides and no actual reason beyond lazy careerism for a Rick Perry presidential run. But GOP ideology folks are being brought in, between the donor calls, to tutor him on basic Republican policy agenda items so that he knows, if just vaguely, what's going on and how to answer pesky questions if anyone gets to ask him any.

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No, you still don't want to be anywhere near Chernobyl


"There was something serene, yet highly disturbing about this place," writes Danny Cooke in describing this drone-shot video he posted of the mostly abandoned city of Pripyat, which is closer to the crippled Chernobyl nuclear power plant than the mostly abandoned city of Chernobyl is.

by Ken

The date was April 26, 1986, and the event we know as "the Chernobyl disaster" remains, as Wikipedia puts it, "the worst nuclear power plant accident in history in terms of cost and casualties." (The closest challenger to date is the Fukushima disaster of 2011.)

The above video was posted by British freelance filmmaker, director, and editor Danny Cooke, who explains, "Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Chernobyl whilst working for CBS News on a 60 Minutes episode which aired on Nov. 23, 2014," with correspondent Bob Simon, produced by Michael Gavshon and David Levine. (The full report, he notes, can be viewed on the CBS News webstie.)

Cooke goes on to write:
Chernobyl is one of the most interesting and dangerous places I've been. The nuclear disaster, which happened in 1986; the year after I was born, had an effect on so many people, including my family when we lived in Italy. The nuclear dust clouds swept westward towards us. The Italian police went round and threw away all the local produce and my mother rushed out to purchase as much tinned milk as possible to feed me, her infant son.

It caused so much distress hundreds of miles away, so I can't imagine how terrifying it would have been for the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens who were forced to evacuate.

During my stay, I met so many amazing people, one of whom was my guide Yevgen, also known as a 'Stalker'. We spent the week together exploring Chernobyl and the nearby abandoned city of Pripyat. There was something serene, yet highly disturbing about this place. Time has stood still and there are memories of past happenings floating around us.

Armed with a camera and a dosimeter geiger counter I explored...
Follow me on twitter @dannycooke

Soundtrack 'Promise land' by Hannah Miller - licensed on

Shot using DJI Phantom 2 GoPro3+ and Canon 7D


CBS News's Bob Simon reports "Chernobyl: The Disaster That Never Ended," produced by Michael Gavshon and David Levine, on the November 23 edition of 60 Minutes.

Here's the introduction to the report from the complete script posted on the linked CBS News webpage:
Some tragedies never end. Ask people to name a nuclear disaster and most will probably point to Fukushima in Japan three years ago. The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl in Ukraine was 30 years ago, but the crisis is still with us today. That's because radiation virtually never dies. After the explosion in 1986, the Soviets built a primitive sarcophagus, a tomb to cover the stricken reactor. But it wasn't meant to last very long and it hasn't. Engineers say there is still enough radioactive material in there to cause widespread contamination. For the last five years a massive project has been underway to seal the reactor permanently. But the undertaking is three quarters of a billion dollars short and the completion date has been delayed repeatedly. Thirty years later, Chernobyl's crippled reactor still has the power to kill.

It's called the Zone and getting into it is crossing a border into one of the most contaminated places on Earth. The 20-mile no man's land was evacuated nearly 30 years ago. Drive to the center of the Zone today and you'll see a massive structure that appears to rise out of nowhere. It's an engineering effort the likes of which the world has never seen. With funds from over 40 different countries, 1,400 workers are building a giant arch to cover the damaged reactor like a casserole. It will be taller than the Statue of Liberty and wider than Yankee Stadium -- the largest movable structure on Earth. Nicholas Caille is overseeing the arch's construction. . . .


DJI describes its Phantom 2 "Quadcopter" drone as "lightweight, easy to carry" -- it measures roughly 11.4 x 11.4 x 7.1 inches and weighs a kilogram (a little under 2¼ pounds, presumably not including its assorted accessories).

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When Will Evangelicals Stop Hating And Start Following Jesus' Teachings Instead?


Despite the $762,885 in independent expenditures organized crime gambling kingpin Sheldon Adelson and his circle threw into the CA-33 race to elect a random Republican stooge, progressive champion Ted Lieu won the race handily-- and with a bigger turnout than any other Los Angeles districts-- 59.19% to 40.81%. Lieu significantly outperformed his predecessor Henry Waxman, who had another conservative trying to buy the seat in 2012. Waxman's margin against billionaire Bill Bloomfield was 53-47%. There were several reasons Lieu beat Elan Carr so decisively despite all the Adelson cash and the racist smear campaign Adelson directed. But Lieu's inspiring record of effective, courageous and cutting edge leadership in the state legislature was by far the most important. Lieu's political career has been increasingly about addressing tough issues that effect the real lives of Californians, from Climate Change, crooked mortgage banksters and the NSA's unconstitutional domestic spying to family issues like excessive pharmaceuticals forced on foster care children and forceful "reparative therapies" forced on LGBT children. When Alan Grayson endorsed Lieu, it was his successful battle against the harmful effects of conversion therapies that he singled out.

Today we find evangelicals from around the country having to confront the realities of the twisted, ugly, hateful religion they decided to join-- usually long before they discovered they had a gay child. From the Washington Post:
Rob and Linda Robertson did what they believed was expected of them as good Christians.

When their 12-year-old son Ryan said he was gay, they told him they loved him, but he had to change. He entered “reparative therapy,” met regularly with his pastor and immersed himself in Bible study and his church youth group. After six years, nothing changed. A despondent Ryan cut off from his parents and his faith, started taking drugs and in 2009, died of an overdose.

Now we realize we were so wrongly taught,” said Rob Robertson, a firefighter for more than 30 years who lives in Redmond, Washington. “It’s a horrible, horrible mistake the church has made.”

The tragedy could have easily driven the Robertsons from the church. But instead of breaking with evangelicalism-- as many parents in similar circumstances have done-- the couple is taking a different approach, and they’re inspiring other Christians with gay children to do the same. They are staying in the church and, in protesting what they see as the demonization of their sons and daughters, presenting a new challenge to Christian leaders trying to hold off growing acceptance of same-sex relationships.

“Parents don’t have anyone on their journey to reconcile their faith and their love for their child,” said Linda Robertson, who with Rob attends a nondenominational evangelical church. “They either reject their child and hold onto their faith, or they reject their faith and hold onto their child. Rob and I think you can do both: be fully affirming of your faith and fully hold onto your child.”

It’s not clear how much of an impact these parents can have. Evangelicals tend to dismiss fellow believers who accept same-sex relationships as no longer Christian. The parents have only recently started finding each other online and through faith-oriented organizations for gays and lesbians such as the Gay Christian Network, The Reformation Project and The Marin Foundation.

...The collapse of support for “reparative therapy” is also a factor, Shopland said. In June of last year, Alan Chambers, the leader of Exodus International, a ministry that tried to help conflicted Christians repress same-sex attraction, apologized for the suffering the ministry caused and said the group would close down. At a conference on marriage and sexuality last month, a prominent Southern Baptist leader, the Rev. Al Mohler, said he was wrong to believe that same-sex attraction could be changed. Baldock, The Marin Foundation and the Gay Christian Network all say Christian parents have ben reaching out to them for help in notably higher numbers in the last couple of years.

“If it doesn’t work, then parents are left with the question of what is the answer?” Shopland said. “If I can’t change my kid into being a straight Christian, then what?”

... Some evangelical leaders seem to recognize the need for a new approach. The head of the Southern Baptist public policy arm, the Rev. Russell Moore, addressed the issue on his blog and at the marriage conference last month, telling Christian parents they shouldn’t shun their gay children. Mohler has said he expects some evangelical churches to eventually recognize same-sex relationships, but not in significant numbers.

Linda Robertson said the mothers who contact her through her Facebook page usually aren’t ready to fully accept their gay sons or daughters. Some parents she meets still believe their children can change their sexual orientation. But she said most who reach out to her are moving away from the traditional evangelical view of how parents should respond when their children come out.

“I got a lot of emails from parents who said, ‘I don’t know one other parent of a gay child. I feel like in my community, I don’t have permission to love my child,’” she said. “They have a lot of questions. But then they’re going back to their churches and speaking to their pastors, speaking to their elders and speaking to their friends, saying, ‘We have a gay child. We love them and we don’t want to kick them out. How do we go forward?’”
Yesterday, I ran into Congressman Lieu. He had read the news report of the Robertsons as well. He told me that "Rob and Linda Robertson's son Ryan died because of the evil known as reparative therapy, a false and harmful theory that a human being can change his or her sexual orientation through quack therapeutical practices. But a more fundamental evil exists: that of churches telling people that God somehow does not love them because of who they are. I am a Christian and a Catholic. And until more of us speak up and tell our clerical leadership that the fundamental teaching of Jesus Christ is LOVE, not rejection, then more human beings like Ryan will keep dying." It wasn't just his constituents who got that kind of inclusive message from him. A few days ago he finished the congressional freshmen orientation week. His 20 colleagues all sized each other up and elected a class president-- Ted.

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Operation Pig


By Anonymous Operative

Yesterday, Chris Christie let all pigs know he is not on their side. And by Pigs, I don’t mean his Wall-Street campaign donors.

The New Jersey Governor vetoed a bill that would outlaw the transporting of pregnant pigs in small, debilitating crates. For good measure, he attacked the bill's supporters as "partisan politicians"... and they returned the compliment. This bill, created by veteran progressive state Senator Ray Lesniak, was created to protect these animals’ rights. Unfortunately, Pigs can’t vote in Republican primaries (or the Iowa caucus) thus it may have been in Chris Christie’s best interest to veto the bill.

While Christie vetoed this bill due to personal political needs, Ray Lesniak created this bill for political reasons too. He wants to be Governor when Christie either leaves office to gallivant around Des Moines and Sioux City or when his term expires in 2017. This bill is another bullet point on the aggressive, ongoing checklist Lesniak has created to make himself the progressive candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor. He is a working class progressive and understands the advantages for progressives in a closed Democratic primary.

While I’m sure the pig crates truly are cruel, like most Republicans I am no scientist and will leave that conversation to the animal rights community. I would rather discuss how the political desires of the two men involved in this legislative brawl need to be checked with reality.

Beltway pundits have soured on Christie’s ability to win early primary states due to his mainstreamish stances on social issues. (Unlike psychopaths like Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz, Christie has not gone so far as to call for overturning the results of the last century and a half of American history.) However, as usual, these Beltway stooges are incorrect in their analyses.

Christie cannot win the Iowa caucuses because he will have zero political clout in the state due to his crude style and bellicose manner. His biggest ally there is Governor Terry Branstad, but he alone cannot deliver the necessary endorsements. In order to win that state, a Republican candidate needs the endorsements of local (often rural) press and pastors. You can only imagine the individuals who work at these small town institutions. All they need is one repetition of Christie’s Jersey Shore "sit down and shut up" moment to write him off the endorsement list and ensure his demise in the state.

In the states of New Hampshire and South Carolina, the Governor’s Tony Soprano-esque style will not fly. The conversation will not even last long enough to begin the discussion of Christie’s policy stances before he curses out a Manchester, NH reporter with a libertarian streak or a Charleston, SC southern gentleman who would like to hear Christie’s opinions on whether or not Michael Brown was shot enough times.

At the end of the day, Christie will have the Rudy Giuliani issue from 2008. He will find himself in an unwinnable fight against the electoral calendar. Even Chris Christie can’t be mean enough to a calendar to make it change its ways.

But then, there is pig-loving, New Jersey state Senator Ray Lesniak. By all accounts, he is an outstanding legislator and prolific fundraiser. He often finds himself endorsing (and later winning) political fights against the corrupt NJ Democratic establishment. Recently, he has been hinting at a desire to run for Governor. He would probably be a good governor, but it will just never happen.

The current lineup for the Democratic nomination is full of establishment clout and cash. Former Goldman Sachs executive and Ambassador to Germany Phillip Murphy (Corzine 2.0) will have the personal wealth to go the distance (and buy endorsements from local, broke county parties). Jersey City Mayor Steve Fullop will have the out-of-state Wall Street contacts (from his days at Goldman Sachs) to fund his operation. And finally, corrupt South Jersey Senator (Senate President) Steve Sweeney will have the full backing of the corrupt/conservative money machine that is George Norcross III.

Most Democratic donors in New Jersey do not give to people they feel inspired by. They give funds on a transactional basis. There will be nothing for them to get from a Lesniak candidacy while there is a lot to lose by going against the party establishment. For Lesniak, in a state like New Jersey, there is just no path to victory.

What is feasible (and more practical) is for Lesniak to remain active in Senate politics so that he can have a good chance at becoming a progressive Senate President once Sweeney leaves office to do Norcross' bidding.

At least then, pigs would have a chance…

Write your own caption

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We revisit the maxim of Dilbert's PHB, "It isn't a problem if you can give it to someone else"


DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

by Ken

Sometimes readers leave comment that are too interesting to simply let pass into history. So it is with one I only recently noted, added to the post I wrote last Saturday, "When is a problem not a problem? Words to live by from Dilbert's Pointy-Headed Boss," taking off from that day's above-repeated Dilbert strip.
"It isn't a problem if you can give it to someone else."

My employer hosted a series of seminars, open to all who desired to attend, under the group title of "Pass The Monkey". It was literally how to make any problem you discover belong to someone else. In fact, it was strongly encouraged for finding someone else to blame for any problem you encounter.

This destroyed any unit cohesiveness and team behavior we once had in abundance. It became a jungle, where the slickest backstabbers rose in influence, while those who actually got the work done were ignored and derided. Turnover rose dramatically, and to make up for the shortfall, outsourcing and contracting became the norm.

It is only a matter of time before some huge -and of course, "unforseen"- problem causes some serious issues. It won't cause the company to close, but it will hurt when the shareholders are denied a dividend - AGAIN!
Did you get that? The subject of that series of seminars "was literally how to make any problem you discover belong to someone else. In fact, it was strongly encouraged for finding someone else to blame for any problem you encounter."

The only thing more mind-blowing than a company expressing this as a goal is the result described by our correspondent. Of course if you think about it, it's not surprising. But that doesn't make it much less mind-blowing.

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The Democratic Party Is At A Crossroads... Again


Yesterday, everyone-- or at least everyone who isn't already bored with the subject-- was buzzing about a Wall Street Journal piece by Peter Nicholas, Siobhan Hughes and Byron Tau, Democratic Rifts Surface in Wake of Midterm Election Defeat. And it went beyond the ire and tensions around the idiotic assertions of Chuck Schumer earlier in the week-- and beyond Obama threatening to veto an anti-family "compromise" tax extenders deal Harry Reid was working out with Mitch McConnell. The White House said the deal would help "well-connected corporations while neglecting working families," not a message Senate Democrats like seeing hurled their way-- but at the heart of the rampant careerism at the heart of Beltway politics, a careerism that trumps the Democratic Party's core policy agenda and even the party's brand itself.
The twin developments were among fissures within the party that, at their broadest level, show Democrats at odds over what economic message to present to voters ahead of the 2016 presidential race. Worried that they lacked a compelling position in the midterms, Democrats are split over whether to advance a centrist message or a more populist economic argument that casts everyday families as victims of overly powerful corporations and benighted government policies.

“You’re going to get a fight within the Democratic Party,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.), as the progressive wing of the party splits from centrists, who fear that liberal economic policy proposals are unpalatable to most voters. “There is a substantial disagreement coming up.”

...Schumer’s comments drew angry responses from Obama loyalists. They said Mr. Obama had promised to break from a politics-as-usual attitude in Washington, while echoing the president’s argument that making health care more widely available boosted many Americans’ economic security.

David Axelrod, a top strategist in both of Mr. Obama’s presidential races, said: “If your calculus is solely how to win elections, and that is your abiding principle, it leads you to Sen. Schumer’s position. But that’s precisely why big, difficult problems often don’t get addressed in Washington, and why people have become so cynical about that town and its politics.”
Conservatives, of whichever party, are the enemy of working families, always and forever

Through a spokesman, Mr. Schumer declined to comment.

The intraparty fight has touched on other elements of policy and strategy since it erupted soon after this month’s elections, which stripped Democrats of their Senate majority. David Krone, chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), publicly blamed Mr. Obama for Democratic losses. He said the president wouldn’t transfer millions of dollars in party funds to help save imperiled Democrats, and he told the Washington Post that “the president’s approval rating is barely 40%.… What else more is there to say?”

As is the case with Mr. Schumer, Mr. Krone’s comments were an unusual breach of protocol. It is rare for Democrats at senior levels to publicly criticize other Democrats—and rarer still for a legislative aide to chide a president from his own party. Mr. Reid’s office declined to make Mr. Krone available for an interview.

Addressing Mr. Krone’s comments, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said earlier this month that Messrs. Obama and Reid had “struck up a genuine friendship when the two men served together in the United States Senate, and that relationship has only been strengthened during the president’s time in the White House.”

Mr. Krone’s boss is having his own troubles with the White House. Sen. Reid is backing the tax-cut bill that drew a veto threat from Mr. Obama, because it doesn’t include a proposal backed by liberals to make enhanced tax credits for the working poor permanent, alongside tax breaks for businesses.

Adding to the deepening divide between Messrs. Reid and Obama is that the deal included a measure that would benefit Mr. Reid’s home state as the Nevada Democrat readies himself for a likely 2016 re-election bid. A presidential veto wouldn’t help his cause.

Tensions have also emerged between House and Senate Democrats. One flashpoint was immigration. Some House Democrats believe it was a mistake for Mr. Obama to wait until after the midterm elections to take executive action limiting deportations, a delay that the president agreed to at the behest of Senate Democratic leaders trying to protect vulnerable incumbents, such as Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas. The delay didn’t stop Mr. Pryor and other Senate Democrats from losing.

One senior House Democratic aide said many House Democrats believe the delay hurt Hispanic turnout, contributing to the defeat of Reps. Pete Gallegos of Texas and Joe Garcia in Florida.

“Hindsight is 20-20,” this aide said, “but there was all this effort to avoid anything Mark Pryor might be asked about. All that effort was for nothing. Clearly, that strategy failed.”

Part of the reason for Democratic feuding is Mr. Obama’s declining popularity as he enters the final quarter of his presidency. Various Democrats hope to emerge as the new center of gravity in the party.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears the logical choice, given that she is likely to run for president in 2016, and polls show her comfortably leading the field of potential Democratic rivals in the primaries. Yet for many liberals, it isn’t Mrs. Clinton who stokes the most passion, but the first-term senator from Massachusetts, populist firebrand Elizabeth Warren.

“She is someone who voters see as authentic and inspiring, as opposed to someone who is trying to play it safe and take no risks,” said Erica Sagrans, a former Obama campaign aide who is trying to entice Ms. Warren to run for president.

Mr. Schumer may also have designs on a more influential role in the party. He has long been seen as someone with an eye on the leadership spot now held by Mr. Reid. Some Democrats saw his speech as an effort to lay a course for the party that might position him for a spot higher in the party hierarchy.

In a sign of the emerging struggle over which direction to take the party, Senate Democrats met for four hours behind closed doors earlier this month to hash out what went wrong in the midterm elections and how they would operate next year, when they will be in the minority. Mr. Reid was reappointed Democratic leader, but a handful of moderate Democrats voted against him.

In a concession to the party’s liberal wing, members also created a new leadership post-- for Ms. Warren.
At the same time, Bill Barrow, writing for the AP, published a piece focusing in on Democratic Party efforts to rebuild in the blood-red South. Is me-too conservatism the only route? The most conservative Democratic incumbents in both the House and Senate, respectively John Barrow (GA) and Mark Pryor (AR), were just defeated-- and neither race was close. Barrow spent $2,789,010 to Richard Allen's $1,892,371 (and outside groups spent over $6,000,000 attacking and bolstering each side) leading to a 90,987 (54.8%) to 75,123 (45.2%) win for the Republican against the reactionary Blue Dog always called, incorrectly, "the last white Democrat in the Deep South." Pryor did even worse. He spent $13,484,442 to Tom Cotton's $10,200,248 (plus $38 million in outside spending between the 2 campaigns) and saw a 476,309 (56.5%) to 332,669 (39.5%) victory for the far right GOP extremist over the Democrat-- along with Joe Manchin and Mary Landrieu, also about to lose her seat-- who votes most consistently with the Republicans on crucial roll calls. Me-too conservatism clearly did not save John Barrow or Mark Pryor-- nor did it save right-of-center southern Democrats like Pete Gallego (Blue Dog-TX), Nick Rahall (Blue Dog-WV) or Joe Garcia (New Dem-FL), each of whom made a conscious effort to pander to a Republican agenda and vision and to values antithetical to progressive Democratic traditions and principles.
To rebuild in the conservative South, Democratic leaders say their party must become more aggressive advocates for the middle class in an effort to energize African-Americans and attract whites.

After the Republicans' success in the midterm elections, many say the Democratic Party should openly embrace government as a tool for lifting people out of economic hardship. They are advocating a return to party roots by emphasizing education and public works spending, stronger voting rights laws, tighter bank regulation and labor-friendly policies such as a higher minimum wage.

"It's time to draw a line in the sand and not surrender our brand," said Rickey Cole, the party chairman in Mississippi. He believes that candidates have distanced themselves from the last half-century of Democratic principles. "We don't need a New Coke formula," Cole said. "The problem is we've been out there trying to peddle Tab and R.C. Cola."

Even so, Cole and other Southern Democrats acknowledge divisions with prominent populists such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

A major challenge in the South is finding candidates who can win high-profile races now that Republicans dominate the leadership in state legislatures and across statewide offices.

Georgia Democrats thought legacy candidates were the answer. But Senate hopeful Michelle Nunn, former Sen. Sam Nunn's daughter, and gubernatorial challenger Jason Carter, former President Jimmy Carter's grandson, each fell short by about 8 percentage points despite well-funded campaigns and ambitious voter-registration drives.

Arkansas Democrats lost an open governor's seat and two-term Sen. Mark Pryor. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu led an eight-candidate primary but faces steep odds in a Dec. 6 runoff. Democrats' closest statewide loss in the South was North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan's 1.7 percentage point margin of defeat.

Exit polling suggests Democrats did not get the black turnout they needed and lost badly among whites. Nunn and Carter got fewer than 1 in 4 white votes, while Pryor took 31 percent and Landrieu 18 percent.

Should Landrieu lose, Democrats will be left without a single governor, U.S. senator or legislative chamber under their control from the Carolinas westward to Texas.

J.P. Morrell, a state senator from New Orleans, faulted a muddled message that began with candidates avoiding President Barack Obama. "You have to articulate why the economic policies we advocate as Democrats actually benefit people on the ground," Morrell said.

In Georgia, Nunn supported a minimum-wage increase and gender-pay equity, but her television ads focused on ending partisan rancor. Carter mostly accused Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of shortchanging public education. Nunn and Carter supported Medicaid expansion under Obama's health overhaul, but neither emphasized that argument in television advertising.

"No real economic message got through," said Vincent Fort, a state senator from Atlanta.

...While the party's positions on gay rights, minority voting access, women's rights and immigration are not wrong, Cole said, "those people who don't see themselves in those groups say, 'What have the Democrats got for me?'"

Unapologetic populism, he said, would "explain better that the Democratic Party is for justice and opportunity-- with no qualifiers-- for everyone."
Author and professor Joseph Palermo weighed in the day before on his own blog with a post worth reading in its entirety, The Incredible Shrinking Democratic Party. Here are some relevant excerpts:
Even in the best of times the Democratic establishment in Washington treats its base like a pariah. With the historic losses of 2014 the Democratic leadership appears to be slipping back to its familiar “scared of its own shadow” stance. Right now we are facing one of the worst configurations of unchecked corporate power, militarism, market fundamentalism, and environmental crisis than at any time in our history, and the messaging coming from congressional Democrats right now appears to be that becoming Republican-Lite is the smart path forward.

Facing Republican control of both chambers of Congress, Washington Democrats (even in the lame duck session) are already vying for the coveted spot as the corporate oligarchy’s second choice. Senate Democrats like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia couldn’t wait until the new Congress is sworn in this January to begin capitulating. The lame duck vote on the Keystone XL pipeline witnessed the spectacle of a bloc of Democratic Senators tripping over themselves to renounce environmentalism.

It might be a preview of coming attractions.

Come January, you can bet that every single “bipartisan” bill that makes it to the President’s desk well be in servitude of the interests of the giant corporations, big banks, and the wealthiest 1 percent. President Obama’s recent executive orders on immigration promise to make life a little more bearable for nearly five million people and it was a smart move politically-- except for the fact that he didn’t do it in October when it might have had an impact on the midterms.

The Republican-controlled 114th Congress will attempt to privatize everything from the U.S. Postal Service to Social Security. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his associates will try to gut every social program that benefits working people from Food Stamps to Medicaid. They’ll snuff out sustainable energy investments and plow ahead with expanding fossil fuels. They’ll figure out new ways to sell old wars. They’ll push austerity for anyone who can’t afford to attend a $30,000-a-plate fundraiser. They’ll push “free trade” deals that outsource jobs while leaving American workers holding the bag. They’ll slash unemployment insurance and other “entitlements.” And they’ll ensure that our economy continues to work for the benefit of the richest 1 percent.

The mainstream corporate media-- from MSNBC to Fox News, CNN to NPR-- will serve as enablers for the whole shitty process pretending to be journalists but asking all the wrong questions and offering all of the wrong political advice.

And don’t forget this fact: Everything-- and I mean EVERYTHING-- the Republicans do in Congress over the next two years will be done in the service of positioning the party to take the White House in 2016.

Unlike the Republicans, Democratic politicians seem to always neglect the care and feeding of their own base. They’re quick to turn against any organized movement from the Left-- be it Occupy Wall Street, the World Climate Movement, teachers’ unions, students’ organizations, environmentalists, or the protesters acting in solidarity with the African-American community in Ferguson, Missouri-- yet all the while they expect to win their votes.

In the early-1970s, “Democrats for Nixon” succeeded in splitting off a significant wing of conserva-Dems for the GOP. In the 1980s, Washington Democrats gave Ronald Reagan just about everything he wanted from sweeping reductions to social welfare spending to tax cuts for the rich. In the 1990s, the Democrats capitulated to Reaganomics when President Bill Clinton “triangulated” against the base to push through NAFTA and the WTO even when the labor unions were howling against them. Under Clinton the Democrats embraced “welfare reform” as if it were their idea, gutting New Deal programs like Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). They deregulated the world’s biggest banks and promoted neo-liberal economic policies across the board, beating up liberals and the working-class.

In the 2000s, the Democrats in Congress rolled over for George W. Bush giving him everything he wanted, voting for his disastrous war in Iraq, and going along with his domestic agenda all the way up to the brink of agreeing to partially privatizing Social Security, (which was on the table at the time Hurricane Katrina tanked Bush’s approval rating).

The Obama years saw many capitulations like cutting deals with Big Pharma in shaping the Affordable Care Act (while excluding single-payer advocates), bashing public school teachers and their unions, escalating the drone wars, jailing whistleblowers, institutionalizing the Bush era NSA abuses, pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and so on.

And today, if the lame duck vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline is any indicator, Washington Democrats are poised to interpret the meaning of the 2014 midterms as a “mandate” that the American people want them to renounce everything for which their party supposedly stands.

If history can be a guide, the Democratic establishment will be tempted to do the “Democratic Leadership Council” thing all over again, and with the same disastrous results for working people as the last time around.

Unless Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders jumps into the Democratic primaries and caucuses and give the party’s base something to vote for, the Democratic constituencies will limp into 2016 just as uninspired as they were 2014. The Republicans’ cynical structural advantages they’ve institutionalized in recent years-- infinite access to dark money, gerrymandered districts, voter suppression of minorities and young people-- will stand rewarded and putting the brakes on the incessant move toward corporate oligarchy in this country will be even harder to fight back against.

Now is not the time for the Democratic Party to “move to the center,” but to fight for its heart and soul. Every time the Democratic leadership in Washington fucks its base it has moved one step closer to irrelevancy. Unfortunately, the organized Left in this country, like it or not, needs the Democratic Party.

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Rewriting History In Real Time: Egypt


If the Arab Spring can say to have "started" anywhere, it was in Tunisia on December 18, 2010 in rural Sidi Bouzid when a 26 year old vegetable seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, gravely insulted by an authoritarian policewoman, set himself on fire, igniting weeks of demonstrations that spread across the country and unseated Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years of repressive rule. Protests spread rapidly to Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, Oman, Syria, Bahrain, Libya and Egypt. Less than a month after the protests started Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia and one month after that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned following 18 days of massive protests, ending 3 decades as president/dictator. Last week Tunisia had a freely contested presidential election and will likely form a broad coalition government after next month's runoffs.

That isn't the how things turned out in Egypt, which has fallen under the iron grip of a violent, repressive military dictatorship. And earlier today, that dictatorship utterly rehabilitated the 86 year old Hosni Mubarak who had been convicted of every kind of corruption under the sun and for the murder of 846 Egyptians. A pack of Mubarak political and business cronies and his two crooked sons, Gamal and Alaa, also saw all their charges thrown out. Mubarak's life sentence was reversed-- counter-revolution in action, courtesy of the new dictator, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who had been Mubarak's equivalent of the head of the CIA.
Commenting on the verdict, deputy Head of the Conference Party Salah Hasaballah said that “Egyptians are more concerned with the political future of their country than with the past."

Hasaballah told Ahram Online that Mubarak had given a lot to Egypt during his presidency and “after two revolutions and after a new elected president, our priorities are to focus on how to build the new Egypt.”

Political analyst Mohamed El-Agaty of the Arab Forum for Alternatives thinktank told Ahram Online that he expects that the political backlash to the verdict to be small and to pass quickly.

El-Agaty argued that the state and media have been propagating a state of "panic" that will not allow for any mobilisation against the verdict.

"It was also clear from the start that this case will go nowhere… there are no proper laws to fight corruption…you cant put them [former regime figures] on trial using their own laws," he opined.

Head of the liberal Constitution Party Hala Shukrallah told Ahram Online that politically things "are going back to how they were before the January 25 revolution."

"The old political order is being reinstated… even the figures of the old regime are resurfacing," she said.
The decision more or less acquits the entire regime of the crimes that sparked the revolution in Egypt in the first place. Tahrir Square was closed down immediately. Today's NY Times points out that "state-run and pro-government media now routinely denounce the pro-democracy activists who led the 2011 uprising as a 'fifth column' out to undermine the state. Some of the most prominent activists are in prison, and the Islamists who dominated the elections are now jailed as terrorists." Earlier this month prosecutor's asked for the death sentence for the elected president, Mohammed Morsi, who was overthrown and put in prison by the military junta. His supporters are still being imprisoned and murdered by the authorities.

Too late to rehabilitate Gaddafi... but something tells me Bashar al Assad's public image is going to undergo quite the transformation in coming months. As for Egypt... the revolution is over. Better luck next time. The muderous "king" of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifah, called Mubarak to congratulate him. Presumably the two of them had a good laugh over the fake Bahraini elections underway now.

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