Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Unlike South Dakota, Australia Will Help China Seize Stolen Ex-Pat Funds


In the light of the Mike Rounds EB-5 visa-selling scandal that could throw the South Dakota senate race to outspoken progressive populist Rick Weiland, maybe it's time to go back to the June guest post Qiao Li did for us, China's Naked Officials. Short version: Chinese bureaucrats and government officials are illegally moving vast sums of wealth offshore for their own and their families' use. The Washington-based Global Financial Integrity group, which analyses illicit financial flows, estimates that $2.83 trillion flowed illegally out of China from 2005 to 2011.

Yesterday, Reuters reported that China's Communist Party "will likely never open all the files on its recent painful past." And, presumably, they don't foresee a future without the Communist Party being in control. "Only a 'small number' of the party's historical files were still sealed, [Xie Chuntao, Director of the Party History Teaching and Research Department of the Party School] said. 'Some involve the state's core interests, and some are not convenient to be released,' Xie added. 'From a historical research it is to be hoped that it would be best if they are all opened. But I fear this cannot happen, and may never happen'."

So much for the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and the death of Lin Biao in a plane crash as mysterious as the one Karl Rove used to murder Paul Wellstone. But what about Chinese deprecations that are happening today-- like the hacking of Apple's iCloud and, going back to the naked officials, the deal China made with Australia to seize their outsourced assets-- a very different kind of deal than the one South Dakota ex-Governor Mike Rounds made to get a cut of the stolen assets for himself.
Australian police have agreed to assist China in the extradition and seizure of assets of corrupt Chinese officials who have fled with hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit funds, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported on Monday.

The joint operation would make its first seizure of assets in Australia within weeks, the newspaper quoted Bruce Hill, manager of Australian Federal Police (AFP) operations in Asia, as saying in an interview.

AFP officials in Canberra had no immediate comment.

China announced in July an operation called Fox Hunt to go after corrupt officials who have fled overseas with their ill-gotten gains, part of President Xi Jinping's broader crackdown on graft.

Getting such cooperation from Australia would be a coup for Beijing, which has struggled to get its hands on suspects in Western countries, whose governments have been reluctant to hand over wanted Chinese because of concerns over whether they would get fair trials back home.

The United States, Canada and Australia are the three most popular destinations for suspected Chinese economic criminals, Chinese state media has said.

Australia and China had agreed on a priority list of alleged economic fugitives who have taken residence in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald said.

Among the suspects identified by the AFP were naturalized Australian citizens and permanent residents who for years had laundered money under the guise of being genuine investment or business migrants from China, it added. [This, of course, is exactly what Mike Rounds and his cronies in South Dakota have been doing.]

The priority list agreed between China's Ministry of Public Security and the AFP was culled from a broader list of "less than a 100 people," Hill told the paper, adding that the assets being pursued by China in Australia were in the "many hundreds of millions of dollars."

Australia and China don't have an extradition agreement, but the Australian attorney general can consider extradition requests for offences under the U.N. Convention against Corruption, which Canberra and Beijing are both parties to.
Interestingly, last week Australia started boosting a visa scheme like the one that got Mike Rounds into so much trouble that aims to lure "investment" from wealthy Chinese, including jumping the wealthy crooks to the front of the visa line, just the way Rounds did in South Dakota.

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As Dilbert's Pointy-Haired Boss returns from vacation, we look back at the temporary boss's management style


Does this boss need a vacation?


DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

by Ken

As all Dilbert fans know, today is the big day: Dilbert's Pointy-Haired Boss returned from vacation. So I thought this would be a good time to look back through this tumultuous week, in which the PHB deputized an unexpected fill-in. I've taken the liberty of placing the Sunday strip where it would seem to belong in the sequence.

Thursday -- "A soulless creature of questionable intelligence"

DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

Sunday -- "Robots will never be intelligent like humans"

DILBERT     by Scott Adams

Friday -- Temporary Robot Boss 1:
"I have come to micromanage you"

DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

Saturday -- Temporary Robot Boss 2:
Machine vs. Man er, Wally

DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

Monday -- Temporary Robot Boss 3:
A consultation with consultant Catbert

DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

Tuesday -- He's ba-a-a-ack!

DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

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Who Is Financing The Right Wing Jihad Against Mike Honda-- And Why?


Two weeks from today will likely be the last time anyone ever hears about Ro Khanna, unless he gets arrested for criminal activities up the road. His campaign is one ultra-expensive failure financed by conservatives-- both Republican conservatives and Democratic conservatives, all eager to replace progressive icon Mike Honda with a sleazy conservative disguised as a Democrat. Alexander Kaufman wrote up a report of the interview Politico did with Warren Buffet, the second richest man in America (after Bill Gates), worth $67.3 billion. Buffet says he thinks wealthy people like himself, you the multibillionaires particularly, shouldn't be paying taxes at lower rates than their servants. Some of the richest people in America pay as little as 10% on their income taxes, far less than when the middle class was being built and people paid 90% on income over a million dollars.
Buffett said his own tax rate was “certainly not too high.” He has frequently pointed out that his tax rate is lower than that of his secretary. Debbie Bosanek, his secretary since 1993, has been a symbol for tax inequality since Buffett began touting the disparity in their tax rates as far back as 2007. During a 2012 interview with ABC News, Bosanek said she paid a tax rate of 35.8 percent, while Buffett paid 17.4 percent.

...Buffett urged the federal government to charge higher tax rates on income earned from some stock dividends and capital gains. Currently, such income is taxed at rates far lower than ordinary income. This helps widen income inequality and is an example of one way that wealth gained from assets such as stocks and property grows much faster than wages or the actual economy, as French economist Thomas Piketty argued in his bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
Up top is a new campaign ad from Mike Honda, one of the staunchest supporters of ordinary working families in the entire Congress. The ad contrasts Honda to Khanna, who is the quintessential handmaiden for the wealthy greed-hogs who don't want government services because they want lower taxes for themselves. Right wing billionaires, like extremist sociopaths John & Laura Arnold and Peter Thiel, as well as Romney's 47% dirt-bag Marc Leder, all of whom normally only give to Republicans, are maxing out to Khanna and giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to slimy SuperPACs running smear campaigns against Honda on Khanna's behalf.

Why do these greed-obsessed billionaires love Khanna so much? Simple: Khanna insists that the current corporate tax rate is too high, adamantly opposes increasing taxes on the one percent and wants to tax capital gains income as ordinary income as well as lowering repatriation of profits taxes from companies that have hidden their assets overseas to avoid taxes. Oh, yeah-- and he wants to cut Social Security benefits. He has vociferously attacked Honda for proposing to increase Social Security benefits-- a position Honda has led on and shares with every progressive in Congress-- and insisted it was "just a campaign tactic." Khanna:
"We need to have an honest conversation about Social Security and Medicare. Mike Honda has been campaigning on increasing, increasing Social Security benefits beyond what the current cost of living adjustments will allow. He knows that's impossible, he knows he's never going to get the votes for it. He knows the budget doesn't work, but it's just a campaign tactic. And the reality is, we need to start having an honest conversation."
Does that sound like a Democrat to you? Khanna has been running for office ever since he was caught stealing an election for student body president at the University of Chicago in 1966. He also once lied to California voters, claiming that Bill Clinton had endorsed him. Clinton, who had been neutral in the primary, immediately endorsed his opponent, Congressman Tom Lantos, who proceeded to wipe the floor with Khanna. Khanna tried insinuating that President Obama was backing him too-- but Obama endorsed Honda in no uncertain terms:
"Congressman Mike Honda is the right leader for the 17th district. Together, we’ve worked hard these last four years to bring meaningful, positive change to our nation, but there is much more to do. As we continue rebuilding our economy from the middle out, we know expanding educational opportunities is critical. Congressman Honda's lifelong commitment to education and fierce advocacy for innovation and technology is exactly what this nation needs as we continue to move America forward. We need Congressman Mike Honda in the United States Congress, and I urge you to vote to keep him there."
Khanna's a liar and a creep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), the president of the congressional freshman class typifies the high regard in which his colleagues hold him:
Mike Honda is a great American, and one of our living icons in the Democratic ranks of the United States House of Representatives. In much the same way that Rep. John Lewis of Georgia is a living, breathing reminder of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, Rep. Honda of California takes us back even further, to the 1940s of the Japanese-American internment camps. I often mention with pride that a Pennsylvanian, Justice Owen Roberts, dissented, in Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of the Executive Order creating those internment camps. Mike Honda, born in 1941, spent his early childhood years in an internment camp in California.

…Nelson Mandela once said that “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Mike Honda could easily have turned to resentment or bitterness over the mind-boggling unfairness of his family’s wartime internment. Instead, he has devoted his life to the positive and uplifting work of making America a more just, more peaceful, and more progressive nation. I am deeply honored to be a fellow member of the House Democratic Caucus with Mike Honda, and even prouder to serve alongside him in the Congressional Progressive Caucus. I urge my fellow Democrats to support Representative Honda’s reelection in whatever way you can.

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How The Republican Party Began Their War Against Women By Defeating The Equal Rights Amendment


It isn't news that George Will is using his skills as a right-wing propagandist to try to undermine the work of the Senate's #1 proponent of individual liberty against the encroachments of the CIA and NSA, Mark Udall. It's no secret which side of that existential battle Will and his ilk are on. In a Washington Post column last week datelined Denver, no less, Will takes on Udall not because he's the Senate's champion of privacy rights, but because he's a champion of women's rights.

"One of the wonders of this political moment," Will asserts, "is feminist contentment about the infantilization of women in the name of progressive politics." And, the whole war on women is completely made up, he insists. "Access to contraception has been a constitutional right for 49 years (Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965). The judiciary has controlled abortion policy for 41 years (Roe v. Wade, 1973). Yet the Democratic Party thinks women can be panicked into voting about mythical menaces to these things." Somehow Will forgot to mention that the Republican party has been working hard to overturn both and that his boy Cory has been a leader in that movement-- until he decided to run for statewide office. Now, says Will, Gardner is trying to make "amends for formerly advocating a state constitutional 'personhood' amendment (it is again on the ballot this year and will be decisively rejected for a third time) and for endorsing similar federal legislation that has zero chance of passage. By defining personhood as beginning at conception, these measures might preclude birth control technologies that prevent implantation in the uterus of a fertilized egg. On this slender reed, Udall leans his overheated accusations that Gardner is bent on 'trampling on women’s rights,' is on a 'crusade' for 'eliminating' reproductive freedoms and would 'outlaw birth control'.”

The Republican Party hasn't always been the bastion of fear and loathing for women that Will is trying to claim it isn't-- despite all the evidence that it is, like the GOP unending battle against equal pay for equal work and the pandering to primitive religionists-- like the Southern Baptists-- who insist that women are property. In his new book, The Invisible Bridge, historian Rick Perstein shows how the Republican Party didn't launch its War Against Women until Richard Mellon Scaife's pet project, ALEC, and Phyllis Schlafly figured out how to make money for themselves with it.
[B]attles were raging for and against the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex," ran its apparently anodyne text. The majority of the public supported the idea; respectable moderate Republican ladies being its main base of support, the Republicans had endorsed it in every one of their party platforms since 1944 and President Eisenhower had asked a joint session of Congress to approve it in 1958. They did so, finally, in 1972-- at which the movement to achieve the constitutional requirement in two-thirds of state legislatures, thirty-eight to be precise, took off like a rocket, with thirty ratifications by the end of 1973.

Then the progress became as slow as molasses.

Perlstein wrote that "Only four more states voted passage by the spring." The backward, reactionary states from the Old Confederacy had no intention of giving women any kind of equality and Perlstein points out that "a frantic right-wing movement" led by a crazed and militant Republican Party activist Phyllis "I'd like to thank my husband for letting me be here tonight" Schlafly, always brimming with hatred and bile, stop the process. Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri and, of course, Utah and Arizona all refused to ratify it and several increasingly right-wing oriented states, like Tennessee, Idaho, Nebraska and Kentucky, rescinded their ratification votes. Schlafly spent her time screeching about how the Amendment would lead women being drafted and to unisex bathrooms. Schlafly warned her fellow Republicans that giving women legal equality would lead to homosexuality and that it would "remake our laws, revise the marriage contract, restructure society, remold our children to conform to liberal values instead of God's values, and replace the image of a woman as virtue and mother with the image of prostiture, swinger, and lesbian."

One frightened conservative woman in Florida, typical of the kind of people who got taken in by Schlafly and other neo-Nazi activists within the Republican coalition said that "I do not want to share a public restroom with black or white hippie males." Florida never did ratify the ERA. No war on women here, though.

Perhaps next Will will take on the Hagan-Tillis race with his slick dunderheaded propaganda:

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Fred Upton Can't Hide From His Record-- Although He's Trying... As Well As Threatening Campaign Donors


There are a lot of reasons Fred Upton should be replaced as the congressman from southwest Michigan (MI-06). Not the least of them is the calibre of Paul Clements, the progressive Democrat running for the seat. But polling shows is that the two reasons that most resonate among the district’s voters are that Upton has changed since they first sent him to Congress in 1986— and not for the better. He’s twisted himself into knots trying to stay on the good side of the Confederate extremists who have so much say over the House Republicans. So much so, that his voting record is now far too extreme for a moderate district like the sixth.

And worse than his voting record itself, is his record of leadership— or lack of leadership— in the crucial issues that come before the House Energy and Commerce Committee that John Boehner gave him to chair. He’s taken immense sums of money from corporate lobbyists and directly from the very special interests over which he’s supposed to being exercising oversight. He truly has become the fox guarding the hen house.

Before the House Republicans shut down the government, Upton said he thought it would be a mistake and correctly predicted that it would hurt the most vulnerable Americans the worst. His predication came true but he didn’t even have the courage of his convictions to oppose it. He went right along with the Tea Party fanatics like Michele Bachmann, Steve King, Louie Gohmert, Steve Stockman and Paul Broun in voting to shut down the government.

Now that polls show that 56% of MI-06 voters are less likely to vote for Upton because of that vote, he keeps trying to turn the discussion in a different direction— how he voted to reopen the government, never mentioning he had voted to shut it down over his crazy anti-Obamacare mania. Media in the district has been very clear that he made a big mistake. He refuses to acknowledge it and refuses to tell the voters he won’t do it again.

This week Blue America began another Google ads campaign reminding voters in MI-06 that Upton has changed and has already voted to shut down the government— and that he can’t be trusted to not do the same thing again after the midterms. The ad is up top and Blue America doesn’t get charged for the thousands of people who see it, only for the people in the district who watch at least 30 seconds of the spot itself. It’s a very cost-effective way to get the message out and we want to ask you to consider chipping in for the effort. We want to keep it running right up until November 4th. If you’d like to help, our Independent Expenditure Committee is right here… and there are no limitations on the amount you can contribute.

If you watched the now-notorious interview Upton did with the editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette your jaw may have dropped at many of Upton's self-serving lies. But there was one moment Ryan Grim caught yesterday for HuffPo readers that wasn't a lie-- Upton's pique at donors to Lawrence Lessig's crowd-sourced PAC. Some of the crowd were Silicon Valley tycoons and Upton has been treating them and their special interests very well on his important committee and is now threatening retaliation for the contributions to MayDay PAC. Ecuse me... Upton is too nice a guy to threaten anyone-- at least directly. He has a well-known political thug who's doing it for him, GOP slime bucket, former and future crooked lobbyist, Gary Andres. "Andres," wrote Grim, has been "personally... calling the CEOs of major Silicon Valley tech companies, hammering them for coming after Upton and spooking Mayday's donors, who worry their companies will get rougher treatment when and if Upton survives." Maybe they should double down. Blue America is going after Upton too-- and we can accept unlimited amounts here.
Upton himself has reached out to the donors, he told a local editorial board during a livestreamed interview on Friday. "I do know some of the folks that funded the PAC and, as I've talked to them, they are, or they were under the illusion that this was a group that was trying to focus on dysfunction and taking it out, getting people that can work together. And the people that I've talked to, some of them have put six figures into this PAC. They are really ashamed," Upton said in the interview. "They are distraught. They said they were taken for a ride. It's too late. They bought the stuff and it came out of the blue."

They may indeed be distraught. Upton has significant power as the chairman of the committee that regulates Silicon Valley, and the tech CEOs didn't anticipate having him on their bad side when they chipped in to the PAC. Yet any major effort to challenge the status quo was bound to run up against one power center or another.

..."Who do you think orchestrated Shayes-Meehan, the bipartisan bill? It was Fred Upton," Upton told the Kalamazoo Gazette editorial board. "I'm not a lawyer. I'm sorry that the Supreme Court struck quite a bit of it."

An adviser to the Mayday PAC countered that Upton, whatever his past support, has not signed on to any of the campaign finance reform bills, either Democratic or Republican ones, now in Congress. Upton also voted against the DISCLOSE Act, which would have rolled back some of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision he says he disagreed with. (The Mayday adviser added that while the super PAC's spending against Upton has been reported as $1.5 million, it is in fact closer to $2 million.)

Upton told the editorial board he'd soon be willing to give the names of the CEOs who were ashamed of their contributions. "I don't wanna give you names yet. I'll be glad to," he said.

In his interview, Upton noted his support of immigration as well, adding that the super PAC's aim is inconsistent. "This is a PAC that's allegedly taking big money out of politics, yet they're spending a million and a half dollars against me. That's a little bit contrary to start with," he said.

The irony doesn't stop there. Upton was asked whether the sizable amount of corporate PAC contributions he takes makes him unable to independently oversee those corporations. He cited the Mayday PAC's spending, which is aimed at reducing the overall influence of money in politics, as an example of why he needs to raise so much money.

"I have to be prepared. I've always said, in a campaign, you've gotta be like a Boy Scout," he said. "We've gotta be prepared. We didn't know that this PAC was gonna come back with a million and a half dollars against me, literally in like a two week span, but we had to be ready for it, and you know what? We are."

What kind of campaign finance reform would Upton support?

"We need maybe a code of ethics," he said, in which organizations would pledge not to run negative ads.

Help us keep that ad up top in front of MI-06 voters right through election day. Any amount will help-- right here but Silicon Valley moguls, can I suggest $5,000 increments?

UPDATE: Clements Responds To Upton's Shady Tactics

"Chairman Upton's actions and those of his government employees are unacceptable. It's not enough that Fred Upton raises millions of dollars from the very companies he regulates, he then has the staff director of the Energy and Commerce Committee threaten the leaders of those companies when they support efforts to fix our broken campaign finance system.

"Members of Congress bullying the very companies they regulate to influence the political process is the definition of corruption. Fred Upton's behavior is a prime example of how our system is broken and a case study in corruption.

"It's no surprise that Congressman Upton refuses to debate me in Southwest Michigan, when he is spending his time in Washington making phone calls to Silicon Valley CEOs in order to chide them for donating to a good government group that supports me. Every day on the campaign trail, I hear how Congressman Upton has changed. This is just another example of how he is more concerned for his own future than the future of his constituents. Fred Upton needs to stop shaking down corporate donors and answer to the people of Michigan."

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Accepting Money From Lobbyists Is A Form Of Legalistic Bribery— And Everyone Knows It


This week PolitiFact asked a direct, simple question: Does Mitch McConnell receive more money from lobbyists than any other member of Congress?. It was based an the ascertain by Alison Lundergan Grimes on March 27— and disputed by McConnell operatives— that he does. What she said, precisely, is that McConnell is “the number one recipient of contributions from lobbyists this cycle.” There can be little dispute that he is, but that didn’t stop Team Mitch from disputing it. McConnell took $281,301 from lobbyists this cycle and the second most corrupt man in Congress, John Boehner (R-OH), too $2278,380. Politifacts’ verdict: “We rate it True.” Money in… favors done— everyone involved should be in prison— open and shut case. (By the way, the 10th most corrupt member lot Congress is Susan Collins, whose bribery from K Street lobbyists this cycle has amounted to $121,486.)
Lobbyists are people who are hired to persuade members of Congress on a particular issue. They are brought in by many different industries, from private companies like Microsoft or ExxonMobil, to associations representing local governments, to nonprofits focused on hot-button legislation. Some organizations have in-house lobbyists, and others hire large firms that lobby Congress on a variety of topics.

We first checked in with the Lundergan Grimes campaign to see where they got their numbers. They linked us to a report by Open Secrets, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog website run by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The report, titled "Sincere or Strategic, Lobbyists Give Big," looked at trends in donations from federally registered lobbyists. If a company or organization spends a certain amount of money lobbying Congress, they’re required to register with the federal government. Open Secrets checks this database against the campaign finance disclosure reports that candidates file.

Open Secrets found that the 25 lobbyists who have contributed the most money to campaigns this cycle have already donated $1.9 million. Contributions are not party exclusive; five of those 25 gave strictly to Republicans, 11 gave to Democrats and a handful gave to both.

Open Secrets also released a list of the members of Congress who have received the most donations from lobbyists during the campaign cycle (since the start of 2013).

With $281,301 in contributions from lobbyists, McConnell topped the list, followed closely by House Speaker John Boehner at $278,380. McConnell has also received another $50,000 from family members of lobbyists.

…McConnell isn’t just the top congressional recipient of donations from lobbyists. According to his Open Secrets profile, he has also received more money than any other lawmaker since 2013 from a number of industries.

He’s No. 1 in campaign donations from people who work in the fields of— deep breath here— agriculture services, air transportation, auto dealers and manufacturers, building materials, business associations, coal mining, commercial banks, commercial TV and radio stations, electric utilities, food and beverage, food stores, general contractors, health services, home builders, insurance, medical devices and supplies, mining, mortgage bankers and brokers, pharmaceutical and health products, railroads, retirees, steel production and trucking.

When he last ran for re-election in 2008, McConnell, who was minority leader at the time, topped the list in two industries, coal mining and tobacco. He was fourth in contributions from lobbyists.
George Costanza is sick of all this money in politics:

Since 1990, the K Street bribery industry spent $218,631,961 in federal elections, $179,476,017 of which went to incumbents. Removing members who also ran for president-- Hillary (the #1 all-time champion at $2,169,669), McCain, John Kerry, Barack Obama-- and people dead or retired, these are the dozen worst since 1990:
 Harry Reid (D-NV)- $1,741,621
 Miss McConnell (R-KY)- $1,312,771
 Ed Markey (D-MA)- $1,230,608
 Mary Landrieu (D-LA)- $1,165,822
 John Boehner (R-OH)- $1,162,921
 Patty Murray (D-WA)- $1,153,953
 Maria Cantwell (D-WA)- $1,064,696
 Chuck Schumer (D-NY)- $1,005,327
 Robert Menendez (D-NJ)- $1,000,062
 Steny Hoyer (D-MD)- $972,682
 Orrin Hatch (R-UT)- $965,392
 Bill Nelson (D-FL)- $930,718
And if we just want to look at who the biggest crooks among current House members are, here's the dirty dozen (again, since 1990):
 John Boehner (R-OH)- $1,162,921
 Steny Hoyer (D-MD)- $972,682
 Jim Moran (D-VA)- $844,249
 Charlie Rangel (D-NY)- $838,853
 John Dingell (D-MI)- $831,311
 Don Young (R-AK)- $728,932
 Dave Camp (R-MI)- $597,945
 Pete Visclosky (D-IN)- $569,889
 Ed Pastor (D-AZ)- $546,989
 Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)- $509,519
 Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)- $490,940
 Patrick Tiberi (R-OH)- $489,827
You tell me— would America be better off without these people in Congress? And would America be better off if lobbyists who bribe politicians were arrested, tried and punished-- along with the bribe-takers?

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Don't be so sure that Pope Francis lost this round of squabbling with the bishops


The pope at the now-concluded Vatican synod on the family.

by Ken

On Friday I poked around the pushback being felt within and without the special synod of bishops gathered in the Vatican to ponder family issues. The synod seems clearly an initiative of Pope Francis to see where the boys in the hierarchi he inherited are standing on his initiatives to imbue Catholic family values with some measure of humanity.

By then the vocal and power-grubbing coterie of scumbag bishops had already begun watering down the draft document circulated on Monday, and the power-grubbers in the hierarchy as well as their power-grubbing movers in the laity were flexing their backward-looking muscles. On Saturday the final document that was released fell a heckuva lot short of that the Holy Father had in mind.

As the Washington Post's Michelle Boorstein reported:
A major meeting Pope Francis convened to help the Catholic Church improve its outreach to diverse modern families ended Saturday with a summary paper that removed earlier, revolutionary language that cited the value of same-sex and divorced families.

Critics of the pope were celebrating Saturday, with conservative Catholics cheering the reaffirmation that God prefers the traditional family.

The two-week meeting in Rome hadn’t been expected to result in changes to traditional doctrine, but the rare sight of cardinals from around the world debating matters such as whether same-sex couples can be called “partners” floored many Catholics. More liberal Catholics said Saturday that it was a victory for the church to even have such conversations, though many expressed disappointment with the paper.
This doesn't sound so bad.

But then we get:
“The language of compromise was eviscerated from Monday’s summary,” said Patrick Hornbeck, chair of theology at Fordham University, a Catholic institution. “The bishops who were more prophetic and progressive have found themselves drowned out by a chorus of hesitation and concern.”

Saturday’s summary reflected deep divisions in the world’s largest Christian church as it tries to reconnect with 21st-century families while sticking to its doctrine. Traditional bishops had spoken publicly and angrily in the past few days against the more open language in Monday’s draft document, saying it was a dangerous betrayal and potentially heretical. Some said the church could eventually be headed for division.
And even this is down-the-middle treatment that's a good deal more generous to the old pope than a lot of the noise being heard from the Catholic right-wing war parties, who seem positively exultant at kneecappping the puling pontiff.

Except that may not be what happened. It was, after all, the pope who pressed the synod to a swift conclusion, denying the bishops the opportunity to stall, obfuscate, and stultify, and it was the pope who insisted that in the interest of transparency, vote totals be released for every section of the proposed document, whether voted up or down -- and bear in mind that a two-thirds vote was required for adoption.

As Michelle Boorstein reports:
The Vatican on Saturday released the vote tallies for each section of the report, and [the international traditionalist conglomeration] Voice of the Family noted that the most contentious sections — encouraging a more welcoming attitude toward families who don’t conform to orthodox norms — weren’t overwhelmingly defeated.

“The voting numbers reveal that most Synod Fathers remain open to proposals contrary to Catholic teaching,” the statement said. “There has been much talk about ‘welcoming’ and ‘accompanying’ people, but this is impossible without the clarity of the truth.”
And of course it's the Inquisitionaries who are in sole possession of "the truth," and the clarity thereof.

Of course individual votes weren't made public, but everyone who participated in the voting is now answerable for his vote. (Isn't it handy that we don't have to worry about inserting gender-inclusive formulations like "his or her vote"?) Now I can't claim to speak for the pope, but a few things seem fairly clear:

• The pope has a lot of power, but he really can't take the Church anywhere it doesn't want to go, and he can hardly be unaware that the hierarchy isn't exactly the most enlightened. After all, for almost 35 unbroken years, his vile predecessors, the fake-saintly autocrat John Paul II and his even more unspeakable henchman, Cardinal Ratguts, later Pope Cardinal Ratguts, exercised total and ruthless control over hierarchical promotions, meaning that the whole shebang is now made up with their dregs -- a combination of reactionary power-grubbers and self-promoting toadies. As our friend John Puma pointed out in a comment on my Friday post, that very day one of the bulwarks of Catholic reaction, Cardinal Raymond Burke, was squealing like a pig about having been forced out of his high-level Vatican post.

• It's going to be some time, though, before Francis can have any significant impact on the overall makeup of the hierachy, and he doesn't know how much time he has. He has to be aware of the example of his great predecessor John XXIII, who was elevated to the papacy with a mandate to die soon but didn't, and caused all manner of trouble. Eventually he did die, though, and while it took the traditionalists decades to move the theological clock back, eventually they managed it. Both Francis and his enemies know that time can be a powerful obstacle to any meaningful reform.

So maybe it's time for the current pope to shake things up, to get people talking, and to make sure those people are aware that other people are listening.


is the take of the Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart ("Pope Francis and gays will win by losing this round on synod draft"), which begins:

Headlines called it a “setback” for Pope Francis that the initial draft of the synod of bishops released last week that spoke of “welcoming homosexual persons” was silent on them in the final document. But I don’t see it that way at all. The pope let the genie out of the bottle. And, as we all know, it’s difficult to put him back in once released.
And Jonathan concludes:
I’m not saying the church or the pope will become a champion of LGBT rights. And I’m definitely not saying they are going to support marriage equality. What I am saying is that by talking about the humanity of gay and lesbian Catholics and worrying about their place in the church, Pope Francis is openly recognizing them as children of God. After centuries of demonization, that’s a revolutionary act that can’t be undone.

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Whoever Wins In Mississippi, It Will Be A Victory For The NRA And For Anti-Choice, Anti-Immigrant And Anti-Gay Fanatics


The bitterly divisive Republican Party primary in Kansas has endangered the Republicans’ ability to hold that red, red state’s Senate seat. The Republican Party primary in Mississippi was even more bitter and more divisive. But Thad Cochran, the senile 76 year old incumbent who was first sent to Washington in 1973 (as a congressman) and who has been in the Senate since 1978, is probably going to hold on. He spent almost $6,000,000 in the primary and squeaked by teabagger Chris McDaniel 157,733 to 156,315 in the first round and 194,932 to 187,265 in the runoff.

Two weeks from tomorrow he’ll face off against reactionary Blue Dog Travis Childers, before he was defeated in the Great Blue Dog Apocalypse of 2010, one of the 3 most right-wing Democrats in the House. His platform in this race has basically been to appeal to disenchanted McDaniel supporters by bragging how he voted against Obamacare and reiterating that he’s a big NRA supporter and an opponent of women’s right to Choice, LGBT equality and immigrants. The most recent public poll, released by YouGov for CBS News on October 5, shows Cochran at 46% and Childers at 35% (when you include leaners). That is a loot of undecided voters— but 35% is nothing to write home about. Last time Cochran ran (2008), the Democrat, Erik Fleming, took 39%. In 2012 the other Republican Senator, Roger Wicker, beat Democrat Albert Gore 57-41% and Republican Governor Phil Bryant was elected in 2011 against Democrat Johnny DuPee 61-39%. Even President Obama did better than Childers’ 35%. He took 44% against Mitt Romney.

The DSCC hasn’t gotten involved in Childers’ long-shot bid and national Democratic groups have written the race off. As of the June 30 FEC filing deadline Childers had raised $178,621 and was holding just $34,895 cash-on-hand to Cochran’s $714,290 cash-on-hand. Although over $11 million was spent by outside groups during the primary— the Chamber of Commerce defending Cochran with $1,200,000 and Club for Growth attacking him with $3,140,012 for example— no outside money has been spent by anyone for the general. Childers isn’t getting any money from traditional Democratic sources, although the Blue Dog’s so-called Moderate Democrats PAC gave him $10,000 and conservative Democratic allies like Blue Dog Joe Donnelly ($5,000), Kirsten Gillibrand, a “former” Blue Dog herself, ($5,000), Mark Begich ($5,000), Steny Hoyer ($2,500), and Tom Carper ($2,500) have contributed through their own PACs.

Yesterday’s Clarion-Ledger did a profile of candidate Childers and what they call his “wild card” chance to win: angry teabaggers.
Many McDaniel supporters are spitting mad. They believe Cochran stole the Republican runoff through dirty tricks, race baiting and otherwise urging Democrats to raid the GOP primary.

Many have vowed to vote for Childers, sit out the general election or write in McDaniel (which would spoil their ballots). All of the above would help Childers in what is otherwise a very long shot. He faces a well-funded, six-term incumbent Republican in a very red state.

Will Republican voters really cross over in numbers and vote for the Democrat as they've vowed on social media?

"I take folks at their word," said Democratic Party Chairman Rickey Cole. "If they're committed enough to put it out there on Facebook or Twitter, I believe they will."

Recent polling shows the race has tightened somewhat, with Childers at 35 percent, Cochran stuck below 50, at 46 percent. A large tea party crossover or sit-out could tip the scales.

But Childers has to walk a very fine line. He needs some tea party crossover, but he can't risk losing any Democratic base. Cochran has enjoyed healthy support from Democrats, not just in his runoff hail Mary, but in general elections for most of his career.

Childers is guarded when asked about tea party support.

"I hear from all kinds of folks," Childers said while on his recent Jackson-Morton-Forest trip, mirroring earlier comments. "Since I started my career, I've always had great support from my fellow Democrats. I have always attracted a large independent vote … I have always had some Republican support."

But Childers has made two platform pitches to tea party voters.

At this summer's Neshoba County Fair, he pledged in his stump speech to vote for a balanced budget amendment, saying, "The tea party says we cannot sustain $17 trillion in debt. They're right."

More recently, Childers became the first Democrat to sign the Federation for American Immigration Reform anti-amnesty pledge.

Childers said this was not red meat for the tea party and "not aimed at anybody." But it drew accolades from some tea party leaders. The blowback from Democrats so far has been minimal.

…"I haven't always had the best relationship with Washington," Childers said. "It seemed when I was up there, I never did fall in line. I voted my genuinely held beliefs, what I thought best.

"I was fiscally conservative on money issues," Childers said. "I consider myself a moderate. I never got hung up on labels. I knew what my politics were. I really believe my politics fit the mode of the average Mississippian, and the average working Mississippian."

Childers said he voted against the Affordable Care Act because, "I just thought we could have done so much better." He said health care reform was needed, "because the insurance companies were running health care, and still do, to some extent.”
Childers claims he hasn’t switched to the GOP (yet) because he’s proud to be a Democrat. He favors increasing the minimum wage and attacks Cochran for voting against the Paycheck Fairness Act. Perhaps because he’s such a staunch anti-Choice fanatic, there is no gender gap working in his favor so far. 29% of Mississippi women say they will vote for him and 31% say they will vote for Cochran. With leaners they’re tied at 35-35%.

Equally bad news for Childers, especially in light of the NY Times report yesterday on Black voting, is that Childers isn't inspiring Blacks. Many remember what a conservative he was and don't plan to bother going to the polls to vote for him. Why should they? Only 58% of African-American voters say they’ll vote for him— which compares badly to African American support for other conservative southern Democrats like Mary Ladrieu (76%), Mark Pryor (76%), Michelle Nunn (77%), Kay Hagan (83%), Mark Warner (83%) and Alison Lundergan Grimes (92%).

The confidential memo from a former pollster for President Obama contained a blunt warning for Democrats. Written this month with an eye toward Election Day, it predicted “crushing Democratic losses across the country” if the party did not do more to get black voters to the polls.

“African-American surge voters came out in force in 2008 and 2012, but they are not well positioned to do so again in 2014,” Cornell Belcher, the pollster, wrote in the memo, dated Oct. 1. “In fact, over half aren’t even sure when the midterm elections are taking place.”

...[S]ophisticated targeting, church visits, high-profile surrogates and even direct appeals by the president may go only so far, some Democrats said, when candidates are running away from a politician black voters adore. Ms. Grimes is but one example.

In Louisiana, Ms. Landrieu ran an ad calling the president’s policies “simply wrong when it comes to oil and gas production.” In Georgia, Michelle Nunn, the Democratic Senate nominee, has refused to say if she would have voted for the Affordable Care Act-- Mr. Obama’s signature domestic initiative.
None of this sounds good for Childers. In 2008, while only 11% of wjite Mississippians backed President Obama's election, 98% of Blacks voted for him. Elijah Cummings of Maryland sums it up like this: "People understand that you have to walk a thin line," describing Democratic candidates’ dilemma. "But African-Americans do not want you denying any affiliation with the president, because they love this president. He is like a son to them."

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The Impeachment Of Barack Obama Is On The Ballot November 4


Republicans aren’t campaigning on it— and there are certainly some Republicans who want nothing to do with it— but radical right Republicans in the House have every intention of trying to impeach President Obama after the midterms, particularly if the GOP manages to get control of the Senate. After the1998 midterms, Gingrich pushed forward with impeachment against President Clinton during the lame duck session. The first article of impeachment (perjury) passed the House 228-206 on December 19. Although all 5 Democrats who voted for it were subsequently defeated or driven to join the Republican Party, many Republican impeachers are still in Congress— and several are now in the Senate:
Roy Blunt (R-MO)
Richard Burr (R-NC)
Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Lindsay Graham (R-SC)
Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Rob Portman (R-OH)
John Thune (R-SD)
Roger Wicker (R-MS)
Among the Republican senators who voted guilty— to remove Clinton from office— and who are still in the Senate are Thad Cochran (R-MS), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), John McCain (R-AZ), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Pat Roberts (R-KS), and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (R-AL). Everyone of of these will certainly jump at the opportunity to vote to remove the first African-American president from office after the elections. The bolded names are senators up for reelection 2 weeks from tomorrow. They voted to convict Clinton; they will certainly vote to convict Obama— eagerly.

Yesterday, the National Memo highlighted and excerpted a new book by historian Lewis Gould, The Republicans: A History of the Grand Old Party. Let’s go to the the miscalculation the Republicans made in regard to the Clinton impeachment.
Gingrich and the House Republican leadership saw the autumn of 1998 as the chance to increase their slim majority, since the voters would punish the Democrats for their loyalty to Clinton. That did not happen. The partisanship of the GOP, including the release of a salacious report on Clinton’s sexual misdeeds, backfired. The Democrats gained five seats in the House and cut the Republican majority to 221 over the Democrats’ 211. The Senate alignment remained unchanged. The unexpected outcome of the election sealed the fate of Newt Gingrich. Restive Republicans now saw Gingrich as a liability. After a false start with one leading candidate, the majority settled on Dennis Hastert of Illinois as Gingrich’s successor. Gingrich resigned his seat, ending one of the most fascinating legislative careers in American history. He was not done with American politics, however.

In spite of the election result, the Republicans pressed ahead with the impeachment of Clinton in December 1998. The writing of four articles of impeachment and the eventual adoption of two of them took place in a partisan atmosphere with only a handful of Democratic votes. By the time the trial opened in the Senate in January 1999, any chance of obtaining the dozen Democratic votes needed for conviction had long since disappeared. Republicans complained that Democrats had not displayed bipartisan statesmanship such as the GOP had shown during the Watergate controversy. Yet the Republicans in 1998 had forgotten to seek the votes of the Democrats if they really meant to oust Clinton. The Senate proceedings were anticlimactic and Clinton was acquitted on both counts. The Senate Republicans did not achieve a majority of senators voting for conviction on either count.

In a preview of 6 years of political cowardice to come, Alison Lundergan Grimes won’t even admit she voted for Obama. However, we already know how sociopath Mitch McConnell will vote on impeachment— will lead on impeachment— so it probably behooves Democrats too hold their noses and vote for Grimes. That’s the same reason to vote for Orman in Kansas and possibly— although who even knows how he’d vote— Childers in Mississippi. There can be no doubt that right-wing partisan Republicans Tom Cotton (AR), Joni Ernst (IA), Cory Gardner (CO), Thom Tillis (NC), Mike Rounds (SD), Steve Daines (MT), Mike McFadden (MN), Dan Sullivan (AK), Bill Cassidy (LA), Ben Sasse (NE), and Terry Lynn Land (MI) are also sure guilty votes, no matter who sketchy and crackpot the impeachment case that the House makes is. Unless you want to see Obama impeached, that one calculation is enough reason to vote for the Democrats running against this mob of monsters.

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Sheldon Adelson Sneak Attack Comes To Los Angeles House Race


Garbage politics comes to Los Angeles, financed by the Mob

Vegas-Macau gambling kingpin Sheldon Adelson, who fronts for organized crime and launders money from China into America's politics, has decided to try to win Henry Waxman’s congressional seat on Los Angeles’ west side— from Malibu down through Santa Monica, Venice, El Segundo and Manhattan Beach to Redondo Beach, Torrance, Rancho Palos Verdes and Harbor City— for a Republican stooge he can easily control, Elan Carr. First the good news: the last publicly-available polling— by Democratic firm, GarinHartYang Research— showed Lieu, the state senator from most of the district, leading Carr 55-36%, nearly 20 points. Party registration in the district is 44% Democrat, 33% Republican and Obama beat Romney 61-37%. The PVI is D+11.

“Ted Lieu,” writes Garin, “maintains a healthy lead over Elan Carr in the initial trial heat and Senator Lieu’s support expands slightly, even after we assume attacks from our opponent. Senator Lieu’s strong position in the race is due to his legislative experience, better alignment with the values and priorities in this district, AND the tarnished GOP brand.”

They no longer have to “assume” attacks. Carr’s biggest, supporter, the Sheldon Adelson family and his crooked circle, came roaring into the district Friday with 4 mailers, one of which is an ugly racist piece trying to paint Lieu as not sufficiently pro-Israel— and appeal to the district’s huge Jewish population. And now Bold Agenda PAC, the Adelson front for Carr, has reserved several hundred thousand dollars on broadcast TV to saturate the airwaves with anti-Lieu smears. [UPDATE: the new PAC was started by Aldelson crony, winery owner and right-wing multimillionaire donor John Jordan.]

Blue America is the only group coming to Ted’s aid— and we need help. Our independent expenditure committee is running ads in South Dakota’s Senate race, Maine’s Senate race, the Michigan congressional race pitting Paul Clements against Fred Upton and now Ted Lieu’s race. This is Digby’s and John’s home district and we’re finishing up a full page ad for the Los Angeles Times that emphasizes 4 examples of national leadership by Ted:
the first successful bill to protect consumers from predatory mortgage bankers

the first successful legislation to end conversion therapy for LGBT minors

the first successful bill to take serious statewide action against Global Warming

the first successful bill to end state cooperation with the CIA, NSA and any other federal agencies engaging in unconstitutional domestic spying
Ted Lieu isn’t just another politician making sweet-sounding promises. He’s running on a solid platform of accomplishments and leadership. And, on these issues, the 3 other candidates our I.E. Committee is trying to boost— Paul Clements, Shenna Bellows and Rick Weiland— all agree 100%. Every cent contributed on our Independent Expenditure Committee page between now and election day will go right into these 4 campaigns. Please help us make Congress more progressive, more productive and more responsive to the needs of ordinary working families. Every dollar counts.

Ted Lieu told us he's running for Congress, first and foremost, to deal with the dangers of Climate Change-- for his children and for all of our children

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Why Are Democratic Elected Officials Selling Out Monterey County?


Scott 'n Walt
Shenanigans abound in a central California Sheriff’s race. Beautiful Monterey County, otherwise known as the salad bowl for it’s 4 billion dollar a year Agriculture Industry is also the youth homicide capital of California. For several years Monterey has led the State in youth homicides and violence. Most people say it is those pesky “gangs.” But by using the word “gangs” they are really saying ‘who cares it is just brown kids killing brown kids.’

Dems like Jerry Brown, Bill Monning, and Luis Alejo are backing the current Sheriff, Scott Miller against Deputy Steve Bernal. So this Miller guy must be good right? I mean he has the backing of all these stand up Dems.

Maybe he is tough on drugs? His son was arrested June 2011 after a search of the apartment he lived in behind his father's home. In addition to possessing methamphetamine for sale, he was charged with possession of hydrocodone without a prescription, possession of fireworks and possession of less than 28.5 grams of marijuana. Last year he was arrested again and convicted again.

Ouch; his own son was selling meth out of the back of the Sheriff’s house? Tough on crime? Miller spoke to the The Herald shortly after about the arrest. What he did not mention is the woman arrested— 21-year old Alison Davi— had once lived in his home and that on one occasion he had helped her retrieve her impounded car. Miller said he didn't disclose that because, "No one asked me," he said Monday afternoon, "and I haven't seen her in three years."

Maybe he is a good manager with his staff? Read what the head of the DSA had to say:
I’m hoping this will open the eyes of the public as to the inner workings of the department and what's actually going on behind closed doors," he said. "It's pretty significant for a union to have never held a vote of no-confidence and then for the first time ever to hold a vote of no-confidence and to have it pass overwhelmingly.”
Wait is this guy even a Democrat? Turns out he is a NPP and used to be registered as a Republican but was even too extreme for them. Take a look at his campaign manager Gregory D Lee’s writings. Lee is a friend of 35 years with Miller and was forced to fire him after numerous editorials and a letter by Latino Democrats. "It is not easily understandable why Sheriff Miller would choose such a such an individual to be a policy advisory, confidant and hold the most trusted position in his re-election campaign as his campaign [spokesman]," they wrote. "Worse is the possibility Gregory Lee could shape law enforcement policy as part of Sheriff Miller's Leadership Team.”
”People judge politicians not just by their records, their deeds or what they say but also by the company they keep.

That's why many recently were shocked to learn of the ultra right wing background of Gregory D. Lee— who says he is Sheriff Scott Miller's official campaign spokesman.

For those who didn't catch some of the coverage earlier in the week, a coalition of Latino Democrats put out a press release with some links to Lee's political writings.

The ones I saw were both bigoted and downright ugly.

Here's some of the titles:

"Los Angeles Should Stop Hugging Illegal Aliens"

"It's the NAACP That's Racist, By Definition"

"Obama and Holder Want To Empty Federal Prisons"

"Why do homosexuals want to serve in the military? For sex of course"

Well maybe we shouldn’t judge him too much on other people’s actions but instead look at his own? The complaints aren’t the first Miller has faced. In his time as Pacific Grove police chief, Miller dealt with discrimination and retaliation complaints from Rhonda Ramey and Darrin Smolinski. Both were LGBT officers.

11 EEOC complaints in his first two years? When Miller took office the Sheriff’s department had a female Unersheriff and several Latino Commanders. All since have been replaced by his close friends, white men. When asked by a reporter during a forum how many Latino’s he has promoted to leadership positions, Miller couldn’t name one.

Well look, a good Sheriff runs a good jail:
"Severe overcrowding, outdated facilities and chronic under-staffing have created dangerous conditions in the jail, placing prisoners and staff at serious risk of injury and death," the complaint reads.
Among the allegations described in the suit:

Delays in medical treatment.

One of the plaintiffs, Jesse Hernandez, said he waited eight months to have surgery to reverse his colostomy and ended up with intestinal swelling, bleeding, fevers and obstructed bowels. Another man who was waiting for a colostomy bag showed up in court "leaking feces all over his body" and was immediately ordered to a hospital by the judge, the complaint says.

Deficient mental health care.

Inadequate suicide prevention measures.

Failure to provide reasonable accommodations for disabilities.

Failure to protect prisoners from violence.

So it appears the Deputies Union might have some legitimate complaints about being forced to work 16 hour shifts day after day and citing unsafe working conditions. In fact 2 brand new cadets from the graduating class of 13 new Deputies, quit on the first day after walking into the jail. One of them was the valedictorian of the class.

Steve Bernal who is running against the Sheriff and the establishment has the audacity to be a union member. Bernal is a member of Operating Engineers Local 3 and the Deputy Sheriff’s Association. Steve has received the endorsement of OE3, PORAC, Latino Police Officers Association former Chapter President, and the DSA of Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and Monterey. He has received the endorsement of the last four former Sheriff’s in Monterey and several retired Sheriff’s from nearby counties. Lastly, Nancy Cuffney the last undersheriff who spent 33 years in the department has also endorsed Bernal.

Miller has zero union endorsements. How do these upstanding Dems explain this and why would they be putting their name next to this guy?


This line from "Ever Decreasing Circles" almost made me feel sorry for brain-locked right-wingers


Until eerily close to air time, the show didn't have theme music, or even a name. Then somebody, or probably somebodies, thought of (a) Ever Decreasing Circles and (b) No. 15 of Shostakovich's 24 Preludes for Piano, Op. 34 (played by pianist Ronnie Lane). In Part 1 of the pilot episode, "The New Neighbour" (Part 2 is here), Richard Briers is Martin Bryce; Penelope Wilton is Ann Bryce; Peter Egan is Paul Ryman, the new neighbour; and Stanley Lebor is old neighbor Howard Hughes (no, a different Howard Hughes).

"No, no, what we mustn't do, Martin, is deprive ourselves of the sheer excitement of not knowing what we might end up with."
-- Paul Ryman (Peter Egan), in "House to Let," Episode 3 of
Series 3 (aired September 1986) of Ever Decreasing Circles

by Ken

I love that phrase "the sheer excitement of not knowing what we might end up with." I can't tell you who exactly wrote the line, because Ever Decreasing Circles was written by one of the great TV writing teams, John Esmonde and Bob Larbey. In one of the DVD audio commentaries, recorded some 20 years after the series (1985-87, plus a 1989 special) finished, the actors recall Esmonde as a "dark" writer and Larbey as contrastingly "light," one of the things that, obviously, made them such a good team. In case you don't instantly recall the names, they had written the classic series The Good Life -- which we in the U.S. got as Good Neighbors, for some name-conflict reason -- with the great team of Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith, and Paul Edding. (The DVDs were released in 2007, at which time, by great good fortune, Richard Briers, Penelope Wilton, and Paul Egan were all still available and eager to participate. The audio commentaries are spectacular.)

To illustrate the brilliance of Esmonde and Larbey: After they've concocted that wonderful line about "depriv[ing] ourselves of the sheer excitement of not knowing what we might end up with," the writers have "what we might end up with" turn out to be the Danbys, the tenants Paul has found for the the house he's bought, as an investment, in the close where he and the Bryces live. Martin is deeply concerned about the effect of a new tenant on the perfect equilibrium of the neighborhood. (Of course what Martin fears most of all is another Paul.)

Dan Danby -- borderline nuts?
As it turns out, Dan Danby is, well, borderline nuts, or perhaps over-the-border. Since his nuttiness is in the service of absolute social orthodoxy, Martin loves him, while both Paul and Martin's wife Ann are horrified. Sometimes what we end up with, after all that excitement of now knowing, turns out to be our worst nightmare. (Ann guesses correctly that what Martin assumes was an intensive search for just the right people was in fact Paul signing up the first people who looked at the place.)

The point here is that nobody could be less interested than Martin in the sheer excitement of not knowing what we might end up with, or in ending up with anything other than exactly what he expects, and approves of. The key to Ever Decreasing Circles, of course, was Richard Briers, who was one of the few actors (if there have ever been that many) who could make a character like Martin anything other than unbearable. He had spent his estimable career charming the pants off of audiences, and the show's creators reckoned that he could make Martin not only bearable but likable, but likable only in his utter impossibility. In one of the DVD commentaries, Penelope Wilton -- now best known to us as Downton Abbey's Isobel Crawley, mother of the unexpected heir to Downton, the now-late Matthew Crawley -- mentions that she used to get letters from viewers asking how she could be married to that man.

This is where comedic genius, in both the writing and the acting, comes into play. I always think of Seinfeld and the character of Kramer. Sometimes it has been pointed out to me that our Kramer, Cosmo K, was ripped out of the real-life existence of Larry David's and Jerry Seinfeld's old acquaintance Kenny Kramer, and certainly Kenny Kramer felt ripped off. But I ask the obvious question: Does anyone suppose that anyone ever found the real-life Kenny Kramer funny? I have a strong hunch that he drove acquaintances stark staring crazy, and probably night unto unbearable, about as far from amusing as you can get. The genius of the Seinfeld team, it struck me, was to have made their Kramer both hilarious and deep-down charming.

So it must have been with Ever Decreasing Circles's Martin Bryce. Martin is almost limitlessly exasperating, and the viewer often wonders, as those correspondents of Penelope Wilton's wrote her, how her character could have remained married to Martin. But, almost incredibly, the team of writers Esmonde and Larbey and actor Briers made Martin both entertaining and, infuriating as he is, sympathetic. He means so well, after all, and after all what could have produced a person so deeply damaged?

So maybe it was because of this context, the context of Martin's hopeless befuddlement, that I was able to hear Paul's line -- the line about "the sheer excitement of not knowing what we might end up with" -- so vividly. And heard it as something like a textbook description of the far-right-wing mind. For the adherents of right-wing orthodoxy, what matters more than never having to be uncertain about what to expect, and that what they expect is all their old certainties.

And suddenly I found myself feeling sorry, almost, for all those right-wingers who have been denied, or have denied themselves, the saving human grace of curiosity, of looking at the world around them with a passion to understand and explain -- and to reserve for themselves the sheer excitement of not knowing what they might end up with.

Ironically, they can't ever get their wish to always know what they're going to end up with, because reality doesn't allow it. Reality insists on behaving according to its own rules, showing hardly any respect for the protocols of institutionalized hokum.

There's a lot more to talk about in this connection, but for now let me just feel a little bad for those people who deny this fundamental aspect of their humanity, the deep-rooted need to explore and try to understand.

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Satan’s Man In The Vatican— Demoted Again


American fascist Raymond Burke, the satanic cardinal, loses his power over Church law

We’ve been covering slimy little neo-Nazi Raymond Cardinal Burke for years. He’s the far right’s and Satan’s representative in the Vatican and, before Pope Francis came along, seemed destined to turn the hands of time back on the Catholic Church to the 15th Century, which is where his worldview comes from. He’s the Ayn Rand of Catholicism, just more primitive and more partisan. Pope Francis has finally tossed him out on his ass.

Predictably, Burke had gone against the Pope at the Synod, claiming Pope Francis was trying to “weaken the church’s teaching and practice.”
“According to my understanding of the church’s teaching and discipline, no, it wouldn’t be correct,” Burke said, saying the pope had “done a lot of harm” by not stating “openly what his position is.” Burke said the Pope had given the impression that he endorses some of the most controversial parts of the Relatio, especially on questions of divorce, because of a German cardinal who gave an important speech suggesting a path to allowing people who had divorced and remarried to receive communion, Cardinal Walter Kasper, to open the synod’s discussion.

“The pope, more than anyone else as the pastor of the universal church, is bound to serve the truth,” Burke said. “The pope is not free to change the church’s teachings with regard to the immorality of homosexual acts or the insolubility of marriage or any other doctrine of the faith.”

Burke has publicly clashed with the pope since Francis took office in 2013, and he has come to represent the sidelining of culture warriors elevated by Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict and as the top doctrinal official under Pope John Paul II. Burke, who caused controversy while bishop of St. Louis by saying Catholics who voted for politicians supportive of abortion rights should not receive communion, went on Catholic television in 2013 to rebut remarks Pope Francis made to an interviewer that the church had become “obsessed” with abortion and sexuality to the exclusion of other issues, saying, “We can never talk enough about that as long as in our society innocent and defenseless human life is being attacked in the most savage way,” Burke said. While Francis famously responded to a question about homosexuality in 2013 by asking, “Who am I to judge?” Burke described homosexual “acts” as “always and everywhere wrong [and] evil” during an interview last week.

In the interview with BuzzFeed News, Burke confirmed publicly for the first time the rumors that he had been told Francis intended to demote him from the church’s chief guardian of canon law to a minor post as patron to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

“I very much have enjoyed and have been happy to give this service, so it is a disappointment to leave it,” Burke said, explaining that he hadn’t yet received a formal notice of transfer. “On the other hand, in the church as priests, we always have to be ready to accept whatever assignment we’re given. And so I trust, by accepting this assignment, I trust that God will bless me, and that’s what’s in the end most important.”

When the pope first took office, his pivot away from an emphasis on questions of sexuality were more a matter of personal tone rather than changes in church policy or personnel. There were rumors that he was trying to oust the man chosen by Pope Benedict to head the church’s office responsible for doctrine, Gerhard Müller, but last winter he instead elevated him from archbishop to cardinal. When word that Burke was on his way out began circulating last month, it signaled that Francis would take major steps to reshape the church. It coincided with the selection of a new archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich, whom Catholic progressives celebrated for positions like breaking with the American church hierarchy when it withheld its support for President Obama’s health reform law over questions of abortion and contraception.

Internal discontent among conservatives inside church leadership began to simmer over in the weeks leading up to the synod. Just before it began, Burke, Müller, and other senior cardinals published a book in several languages attacking the ideas laid out by Cardinal Walter Kasper on allowing those who had divorced and remarried to receive communion in a speech heartily praised by Pope Francis. It broke into open revolt at the midpoint of the synod, following publication of a document presented as a summary of discussions but that conservatives said misrepresented the debate by including passages on “welcoming homosexual persons” and discussing some of Kasper’s proposal on divorce. The backlash appeared to have been especially strong from the English-speaking world, which includes a large number of African and American bishops; in an apparent attempt to mollify anglophone conservatives, the Vatican released a new translation of the report that changed the phrase “welcoming homosexual persons” to “providing for homosexual persons” and made other small changes, while leaving the versions in all other languages unchanged.

The report is now being revised with feedback from small-group discussions held this week, and a final version is scheduled to be voted on on Saturday. Burke said he hoped that the committee writing the new report will produce a “worthy document,” but said his “trust is a little bit shaken” by the language in the interim draft he said lacks “a good foundation either in the sacred scriptures or in the church’s perennial teachings.”

But there seems to be little middle ground between Pope Francis’ worldview and Burke’s. Francis was president of the Argentinian bishops conference when that country passed a marriage equality bill in 2010 and reportedly tried to convince his colleagues to support a civil union proposal instead. He lost the internal battle and gave voice to the hard-line consensus that the law was “sent by the devil.” The fight over the bill left the church appearing out of step with the beliefs of many in Argentina, a country where 76% identify as Catholic but only 38.2% went to church in 2005, per the most recent data available from the Association of Religious Data Archives. While Francis has shown no sign he supports overhauling the church’s teachings that homosexuality is sinful, he seems to have taken from this experience a desire to downplay conflicts over sexuality in order to broaden the church’s message.
Burke isn’t being exiled to Malta and the Pope is keeping him in Rome where he can be watched. His job will be to head an organization charged with assisting the elderly, handicapped, children, homeless, those with terminal illness and leprosy in all parts of the world, as well as refugees and victims of natural disasters, epidemics and armed conflicts without distinction of race or religion.

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