Monday, March 02, 2015

Is somebody finally doing something about the horror that is Monday?


It turns out that what the Studio 360 people really would have liked to "redesign" was the daily commute, but that was judged too big a job, and since the commute is worst on Monday mornings, they decided to settle for "redesigning" Mondays.

by Ken

The short answer to the question in my post title, "Is somebody finally doing something about the horror that is Monday?," is: Well, we'll see.

Frankly, I can't figure out what it is they think they're going to do about the problem Their very idea, that Monday can be treated as a "design" problem and "redesigned" out of its horribleness . . . well, that's just silly, isn't it?

Yet there it is, at the top of their website's "popularity" list since last Thursday: "Redesign Challenge: Bring Joy to Mondays." This tells us two things, I think. First, that it would be impossible to overstate the horror of the Monday problem, about which people would love to see something done. Second, that these aren't the people who are going to do it.

I can't say I've ever been much inclined to delve into Studio 360. I know it used to come on right before or right after one of the weekend shows I listened to faithfully on my local public radio station, so I would catch weekly snatches of it. It didn't sound like anything that was likely to repay my investment of time.

Anyway, here's the Studio 360 segment:

Host Kurt Andersen talks to designer Ingrid Fetell about the new "Designing Better Mondays" project.
And if you've been champing at the bit to follow the above link but haven't yet done so, let me save you the trouble. Here's how this latest Redesign Challenge was announced:
Can design bring joy to the most frustrating, annoying moments of daily life? We asked you to tell us what terrible thing, place, or experience you wanted us to transform into something joyful. We heard about airport security lines, winter weather, taxes, and the daily commute. Redesigning America’s transportation systems might be a little ambitious, so our design partners focused on one aspect of the problem. “Nothing seems quite as painful as that Monday morning commute,” says Ingrid Fetell, a design director at IDEO and the author of the blog “Aesthetics of Joy.” “Why do people say things like, ‘I have a case of the Mondays’? Why is Monday in general so joyless?”

Over the next several weeks, Fetell and her team will work on a design to bring joy to Mondays. That’s welcome news for Dorothy Weiss of Alexandria, Virginia, who wrote us, “Does anything say ‘joyless’ more than [the elevator] trip up to work on a Monday morning?”

Weiss herself, though, is self-employed, “in part because I just couldn’t stand those Monday mornings anymore,” she tells Kurt Andersen. “I hope that I can help save Mondays for everybody else. That would be terrific.”
Well, we'll see.

Would The Republicans Really Run Presidential Candidates Who Aren't Natural Born Citizens?


The right-wing activists who vote in the CPAC saw poll-- there were around 3,000 of them this year-- included enough libertarian and Paul family fan boys to give Rand Paul the win (again). He came away with 25.7%. No one is especially impressed-- and no one thinks it means much of anything in terms of the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Second place was more interesting-- Koch puppet and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker came in with 21.4%. Third place went to Ted Cruz-- CPAC is his kind of crowd and he should have done a lot better than the 11.5% he took. But, then again, some Republicans don't consider Cruz constitutionally eligible to be president. Not Cruz, not Marco Rubio (who took a sad 3.7%) and not Bobby Jindal, who couldn't even manage to round up 1% of the vote.

About a month ago one of the crazy birthers, Tracy A. Fair, seems to have ended her endless whining about Obama being a foreigner and ineligible to be president and turned it into a new crusade against Cruz, Jindal and Rubio. She sent petition to the Supreme Court February 4 conceding that Obama's eligibility is now moot and instead wants to litigate whether or not probably Republican Party contenders Cruz, Jindal and Rubio are "natural born citizens."

Fair: "Rubio and Jindal were born in the United States to parents who were not United States citizens at the time of their respective births. Ted Cruz was born in Canada to parents only one of whom (his mother) was a United States citizen. Under the law existing at the time of their birth, each became a 'citizen' of the United States at birth. Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal by the 14th Amendment, Ted Cruz by statute."

Birthers base their claims on Article II, Section 1, clause 5 of the Constitution which reads "No person except a natural born Citizen . . ., shall be eligible to the Office of President" and Fair insists: "That phrase 'natural born Citizen' has yet to be defined by the Supreme Court. So are they "natural born Citizens" eligible to be President? I think the People deserve to know the answer to that question before the next Presidential Campaign starts in earnest... My efforts were never about Mr. Obama as a person or a politician. Instead, my efforts were about insuring that the Constitution was respected and enforced by those charged with those duties. Where a phrase in the Constitution-- such as 'natural born Citizen'-- is undefined, it is the duty of the Supreme Court to interpret such a phrase. As the Supreme Court itself said in the 1922 case of Fairchild v. Hughes, I have: 'the right, possessed by every citizen, to require that the Government be administered according to law.' By repeatedly refusing to 'say what the law is' regarding 'natural born Citizen', the Supreme Court would abolish the rule of law and replace it with the rule of their whim and caprice to whatever political ends that super-legislature may possess."

By any reasonable and widely accepted definition Jindal and Rubio are certainly natural born citizens-- even if some fringe teabaggers would describe them as "anchor babies." Ted Cruz is another case and, of course, he takes this very seriously. In 2013 he finally-- at 43-- renounced his Canadian citizenship. Remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger fanboys wanted to change the law to allow Schwarzenegger-- who, after all did kill The Predator-- to run for president. A movie industry p.r. firm got this placed in the New York Post at the same time Ted Cruz was renouncing his Canadian citizenship:
Action star and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been lobbying for support to change the law to allow him to run for president in 2016, Page Six has exclusively learned.

We’re told Ahnold has been openly talking about his political ambitions while in New York to promote his new movie with Sylvester Stallone, Escape Plan.

One source said: “Schwarzenegger has been talking openly about working on getting the constitutional rules changed so he can run for president in 2016. He is ready to file legal paperwork to challenge the rules.”

Arnie was born in Austria, and the US Constitution prevents foreign-born citizens from holding the nation’s top job. Any amendment to the Constitution must be approved by two-thirds majority in the House and the Senate.

But Arnold, who became a US citizen in 1983, still could mount a legal challenge. In 2010, he appeared on the Tonight Show, and was asked by Jay Leno if he would make a White House run if the law were changed.

Schwarzenegger replied, “Without any doubt.” With America becoming more diverse, it is not clear what would happen if Arnie or any other foreign-born naturalized citizen decided to run.

Columbia University Law School professor Michael Dorf, an expert in constitutional law, said about the Governator’s case in 2007, “The law is very clear, but it’s not 100 percent clear that the courts would enforce that law rather than leave it to the political process.”

While Arnold’s rep didn’t respond to us, even Mayor Mike Bloomberg has spoken playfully about forming a presidential ticket with Schwarzenegger.

“There would be a fight to see who would be the presidential candidate and who would be the vice presidential candidate,” Bloomberg quipped a few years back. “He would want to arm-wrestle for the top spot; I would want to check the Constitution.”

If it does happen, an arm wrestle between Arnold and fellow 2016 contender Hillary Clinton would be a spectacle, although our bets are on Hillary.
Cruz, who was born and raised in Canada to a virulently anti-American Cuban fascist dad and an American mother, seems to have snowed U.S. conventional wisdom into thinking the Constitution doesn't apply to him. At least those 11.5% of CPAC straw vote participants don't mind all that constitutional stuff.

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If Netanyahu Speaks Before Congress, He Will Likely Win Reelection in Israel


​Manufactured image, but speaks the truth (source)

by Gaius Publius

Howie has been covering the upcoming (perhaps) Netanyahu speech before Congress in light of (1) the relationship between Israel and the U.S., (2) the relationship between people like billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban and our two political parties, and (3) the relationship between the Netanyahu speech and the upcoming (for sure) Israeli general election.

Of Adelson, for example, Howie quotes Uri Avnery in Counterpunch saying this (my emphasis throughout):
Who is the ruler of Israel?

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, of course.


The real ruler of Israel is one Sheldon Adelson, 81, American Jew, Casino king, who was rated as the world’s tenth richest person, worth 37.2 billion dollars at the latest count. But who is counting?

Besides his casinos in Las Vegas, Pennsylvania, Macao and Singapore, he owns the US Republican party and, lately, both Houses of the US Congress.

He also owns Binyamin Netanyahu.
Adelson, of course, is not the sole owner of the Republicans. Like owners of sports franchises, he shares ownership of most politicians (of both parties) with the Koch-allied and Wall Street cluster of billionaires, together with a limited number of ilk-like others.

But that's a small point. Avnery's larger point is about Adelson and Netanyahu, and on that he's likely right. By Howie's and Avnery's telling, it's largely Adelson and his associates who are bringing Netanyahu to Congress. Note that Adelson is closely allied with the Republicans and not at all with the Democrats. For Avnery that matters, as you will read shortly.

What Does the Israeli Election Look Like to the Israelis?

Avnery is an Israeli politician and peace advocate (click to read his background; it's long and distinguished). In a new piece, he weighs in on all three aspects of Netanyahu's speech listed above. As Avnery tells it, this is a turning-point election for Israel's future, and no one's talking about it (h/t Dr. Don Baham for the link):
I have witnessed 20 election campaigns for the Knesset. In five of them I was a candidate, in three of them I was elected.

As a child I also witnessed three election campaigns in the dying days of the Weimar republic, and one (the last more or less democratic one) after the Nazi ascent to power.

(The Germans at that time were very good at graphic propaganda, both political and commercial. After more than 80 years, I still remember some of their election posters.)

Elections are a time of great excitement. The streets are plastered with propaganda, politicians talk themselves hoarse, sometimes violent clashes break out.

Not now. Not here. 17 days before the election, there is an eerie silence. A stranger coming to Israel would not notice that there is an election going on. Hardly any posters in the streets. Articles in the newspapers on many other subjects. People shouting at each other on TV as usual. No rousing speeches. No crowded mass meetings.

EVERYBODY KNOWS that this election may be crucial, far more so than most.

It may be the final battle for the future of Israel – between the zealots of Greater Israel and the supporters of a liberal state. Between a mini-empire that dominates and oppresses another people and a decent democracy. Between settlement expansion and a serious search for peace. Between what has been called here “swinish capitalism” and a welfare state.

In short, between two very different kinds of Israel.

So what is being said about this fateful choice?

Issues like peace, occupation, settlement, population transfer and the crumbling Israeli welfare state, he says, are undiscussed:
The Israeli welfare state, once the envy of many countries (remember the kibbutz?) is falling apart. All our social services are crumbling. The money goes to the huge army, big enough for a medium power. So does anyone suggest drastically reducing the military? Of course not. What, stick the knife in the backs of our valiant soldiers? Open the gates to our many enemies? Why, that’s treason!
Instead, the discussion is around what most would call distractions — for example, "Did Sara Netanyahu use public funds to install a private hairdresser’s room in the [Prime Minister’s] residence?"

Despite a Misled Opposition, the Election Is Tied

The opposition party, called "Zionist Camp," includes or consists of the Israeli Labor Party and it is badly led (click through to read how and why). Nevertheless, the election is razor-close.
In spite of everything, Likud and the Zionist camp are running neck and neck. The polls give each 23 seats (of 120), predicting a photo finish and leaving the historic decision to a number of small and tiny parties.
Which means:
THE ONLY game-changer in sight is the coming speech by Binyamin Netanyahu before the two Houses of Congress.

It seems that Netanyahu is pinning all his hopes on this event. And not without reason.

Netanyahu is an accomplished TV personality. He is not a great orator in the style of Menachem Begin (not to mention Winston Churchill), but on TV he has few competitors. Every movement of his hands, every expression of his face, every hair on his head is exactly right. His American English is perfect.

The leader of the Jewish ghetto pleading at the court of the Goyish king for his people is a well-known figure in Jewish history. Every Jewish child reads about him in school. Consciously or unconsciously, people will be reminded.

All Israeli TV stations will broadcast the event live. It will show him at his best. The great statesman, addressing the most important parliament in the world, pleading for the very existence of Israel. ...

I cannot imagine any more effective election propaganda. Using the Congress of the United States of America as a propaganda prop is a stroke of genius.
It sounds like Avnery thinks this speech will be a winner back home, that it could well swing the election.


Why does that matter? Avnery:
MILTON FRIEDMAN asserted that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and this lunch has a high price indeed.

It means almost literally spitting in the face of President Obama. I don’t think there was ever anything like it. The prime minister of a small vassal country, dependent on the US for practically everything, comes to the capital of the US to openly challenge its President, in effect branding him a cheat and a liar. His host is the opposition party.

Like Abraham, who was ready to slaughter his son to please God, Netanyahu is ready to sacrifice Israel’s most vital interests for election victory.
In essence, Netanyahu, thanks to Adelson and his close associate, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, are risking the bipartisan consensus that keeps Israel in "most favored nation" status in all respects, just to win electoral victory for himself and the worst elements of the Israeli population — the expansionist, eliminationist element.
[Netanyahu] has declared war on the Democratic Party, cutting the bond that has connected Jews with this party for more than a century. Destroying the bipartisan support. Allowing Democratic politicians for the first time to criticize Israel. Breaking a generations-old taboo that may not be restored. President Obama, who is being insulted, humiliated and obstructed in his most cherished policy move, the agreement with Iran, would be superhuman if he did not brood on revenge.
For Avnery this will affect all three aspects listed in the first paragraph above.

(1) Israel and U.S. relations — Discussions about support for Israel will no longer be a "gimme" in American politics. [Not a bad thing, in my view; also not as certain as Avnery asserts, though I could be wrong.]

(2) Adelson and the Republicans — Adelson will have won. By this move, he's cementing his Israel-first hold on the Republican party as we speak. From Avnery's earlier piece (quoted here):
It was Adelson who prepared the witches’ brew that is now endangering Israel’s lifeline to Washington. His stooge, [Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Ron] Dermer, induced the Republicans in Congress-- all of them dependent on Adelson’s largesse or hoping to be so-- to invite Netanyahu to give an anti-Obama speech before both Houses.
(3) Netanyahu and the Israeli election — Netanyahu will have won, if this is the electoral swinger Avnery thinks it will be, and Israel may never step backward again.

Those are the winners — Adelson, Netanyahu, the Republicans (temporarily). Who will have lost? Obama (temporarily). And Israel, its hope for peace and its future as a democratic state. Is this a tipping point for Israel, already vilified (and justly, in my opinion) on the world-wide left? Avnery thinks so. We can only watch and find out.


Another manufactured image; something
for you (and Obama) to ponder

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Just How Furious Is The US Surveillance State At Russia Over Ed Snowden's Asylum?


Early in the third season of House of Cards, Russian President Victor Petrov has the Russian security police arrest American gay rights activist Michael Corrigan in Moscow, which causes a disturbance in U.S. domestic politics (and international relations). It would have been far more complex for Beau Willimon to write Ed Snowden's sojourn to Russia into the series instead.

There are people who believe the CIA aggression in Ukraine was, at least in part, pay back for Putin's grant of asylum to Snowden. In his book, The Edward Snowden Affair, Michael Gurnow doesn't get into that specifically, only that "the fallout was catastrophic."
After declaring on July 19, “We [the White House] call on the Russian government to cease its campaign of pressure against individuals and groups seeking to expose corruption, and to ensure that the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of all of its citizens, including the freedoms of speech and assembly, are protected and respected,” Press Secretary Jay Carney produced the U.S. government’s first official response to Snowden’s asylum shortly after Russia granted the whistleblower his freedom. Washington’s fatigue and exasperation was obvious. Carney issued the subdued statement, “[ ... ] we are extremely disappointed by this decision by Russian authorities” before glibly inserting, “This move by the Russian government undermines a longstanding record of law enforcement cooperation.”

Various U.S. senators went on record. Charles Schumer announced, “Russia has stabbed us in the back.” Former presidential candidate John McCain proclaimed, “We cannot allow today’s action by Putin to stand without serious repercussions.” Lindsey Graham stood by his previous call to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, if Snowden wasn’t returned to the United States. The latter two congressmen also suggested ignoring America’s nuclear disarmament agreement with Russia. They called for the completion of the last phase of America’s European missile-defense program. In anticipation of Russia providing Snowden safe harbor, several politicians had already begun to pressure the president to cancel his meeting with Putin, which was scheduled to take place before the commencement of the G20 Summit in Moscow on September 5 in Saint Petersburg. Carney reported that the White House was now “evaluating the utility” of a pre-summit conversation.

Last House of Cards episode I watched-- #5-- UN Ambassador Claire Underwood had quietly moved from targeted financial sanctions against Russian officials to threatening to blow up planes and trucks and ships. The Obama Administration is still primarily sticking to sanctions-- even if their efficacy are still much-debated.
Economic sanctions, which most forecasts assume will continue this year, are having less impact that many in the West would like to believe. Sergei Tsukhlo of the Gaidar Institute estimates that the sanctions have affected only 6 percent of Russian industrial enterprises. "Their effect remains quite insignificant despite all that's being said about them," he wrote, noting that trade disruptions with Ukraine have been more important.

Granted, there's no avoiding a significant drop in Russians' living standards because of accelerating inflation. The economics ministry in Moscow predicts real wages will fall by 9 percent this year-- which, Aslund wrote, means that "for the first time after 15 years in power," Russian President Vladimir Putin "will have to face a majority of the Russian people experiencing a sharply declining standard of living." So far, though, Russians have taken the initial shock of devaluation and accompanying inflation largely in stride. The latest poll from the independent Levada Center, conducted between Feb. 20 and Feb. 23, actually shows an uptick in Putin's approval rating-- to 86 percent from 85 percent in January.

It's time to bury the expectation that Russia will fall apart economically under pressure from falling oil prices and economic sanctions, and that Russians, angered by a drop in their living standards, will rise up and sweep Putin out of office. Western powers face a tough choice: Settle for a lengthy siege and ratchet up the sanctions despite the progress in Ukraine, or start looking for ways to restart dialogue with Russia, a country that just won't go away.

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

You don't suppose the ambush and shooting of Boris Nemtsov in Moscow could have been, like, an accident?


Somebody clearly didn't wish Boris Nemtsov well.

"During the first decade of Putin’s rule, the Kremlin depicted its opponents as freaks or idiots, but now they are portrayed as outright enemies of their country."
-- Joshua Yaffa, in a post,
"Assassination in Moscow"

by Ken

Of course the murder of Boris Nemtsov not far from the Kremlin could have been a coincidence. Just like the apparent murder of Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Risman sometime after he had drafted a warrant for the arrest of the country's president and foreign minister.

Hey, as we all know, stuff happens. It's a dangerous world out there. And not just "out there" -- prosecutor Risman, after all, was found dead of that gunshot wound in his own home. With regard to Boris Nemtsov, maybe there's nothing more to be known than The New Yorker's Joshua Yaffa sets out at the outset of his post the other day, "Assassination in Moscow" [links onsite]:
Just after midnight on Friday, Boris Nemtsov, a fifty-five-year-old Russian opposition politician, was gunned down as he walked across a bridge just outside the Kremlin walls. A car drove past, shots rang out, and Nemtsov was killed by four bullets to the back. His body lay on the sidewalk as police, journalists, and colleagues rushed to the scene.
Or then again, maybe there remain a couple of unanswered questions. At the very least, it would be a coincidence with a history, as Joshua points out:
The last assassination in Moscow was that of Stanislav Markelov, a human-rights lawyer, who, along with the journalist Anastasia Baburova, was killed outside a subway stop in 2009. Before that, it was the renowned journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in her apartment building in 2006. It had been six years since such people were shot dead in Moscow.
Let me make clear up top that Joshua doesn't claim to know who ordered the hit. He just thinks that, "without knowing who gave the orders, it’s possible to understand that the current political environment allowed for this to happen." And there is, he thinks, enough here to wonder about the possibility that there are some nasty doings in store.

But to back up. Who was this guy Nemtsov? He's invariably been described as an "opposition leader," and to some of us it comes as a surprise to learn that Russia has such a thing. Here's what Joshua has to tell us about him:
In the nineteen-nineties, Nemtsov was among the bright young reformers who quickly ascended the ranks under President Boris Yeltsin. He served as governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, then, in 1998, took the position of Deputy Prime Minister. When Putin came to power, Nemtsov failed to adjust, and he was pushed out of the Russian parliament in 2003. He went on to start various opposition parties and movements; although he was known for his energy and charisma, he never found wide popularity as a politician. He ran in the 2009 mayoral race in Sochi and lost. His latest party, R.P.R.-PARNAS, which had a liberal, free-market platform opposed to Putin’s centralization of power, failed to clear the five-per-cent threshold needed to gain seats in the State Duma (not that electoral results are the truest indication of potential in a political system as tightly controlled as Russia’s).

Yet Nemtsov remained one of the most visible and consistent figures of the opposition, though he had been eclipsed in recent years by people like Alexey Navalny, and was a forceful speaker at nearly every demonstration in Moscow’s short-lived season of protest in late 2011 and early 2012. He also published a series of reports on Putin-era corruption; his 2013 report on bribery and fraud in the preparations for the Sochi Olympics was widely cited by Russia’s independent press and by Western journalists. After his death on Friday, Nemtsov’s longtime friend and ally, Ilya Yashin, said that he had been preparing a new report on Russia’s participation in the war in Ukraine, which will now be published posthumously.
There's kind of an interesting, even possibly suggestive timeline here.
Nemtsov had been preparing for an anti-Kremlin march scheduled for this Sunday. Hours before he was killed, he did a radio interview urging people to attend the march, and connecting the country’s economic woes to Putin’s policy in Ukraine. “The most important reason for the crisis is aggression, which led to sanctions and, in turn, isolation,” he said. Nemtsov understood that he, along with everyone else involved in anti-Putin politics, was being pushed to the fringes, having less of a voice and a foothold in Russian society than ever before. “Three years ago, we were an opposition. Now we are no more than dissidents,” he told the Financial Times earlier this week.


"Over the past year," Joshua writes, "in the wake of the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, Russia has seen the rise of a new, much coarser and more doctrinaire political language."
During the first decade of Putin’s rule, the Kremlin depicted its opponents as freaks or idiots, but now they are portrayed as outright enemies of their country. In a triumphant address to parliament last March, as Russia was formalizing its takeover of Crimea, Putin warned of “a fifth column,” a “disparate bunch of national traitors” determined to sow discord inside the country. Its members were obvious, if at first unmentioned: people like Navalny, an anti-corruption activist who had become the most popular leader in the country’s fractured opposition; Aleksei Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of Echo of Moscow, a long-beleaguered radio station that is one of the last homes for critical and liberal voices; and of course Nemtsov, a recognizable face from all his years in politics, and a favorite opponent of pro-Kremlin activists and propagandists.

It wasn’t long before the political technologists in the Kremlin and those who do their bidding in the media—whether at state-run television channels with national reach or on pro-Kremlin Web sites that publish memes and jokes disparaging the West and Russia’s small number of liberals—seized on the idea, releasing pseudo-documentaries on the evils of the fifth column and designing graphics that surrounded their disembodied heads with images of space aliens. For a while, a giant poster hung on the side of Moscow’s main bookstore with the face of Nemtsov, among others. “The fifth column: there are strangers among us,” it read. The most apocalyptic and vile of Russia’s television hosts, Dmitri Kiselyov, a man who once warned that Russia could turn the United States into “radioactive ash,” took pleasure in naming and insulting members of the so-called “fifth column.”
What's more, Kiselyov said, "Putin legalized that term in the political language of Russia. We know their names." And "that act of legalization, as Kiselyov aptly put it," Joshua writes, "means any number of people or factions could have murdered Nemtsov. " And he notes that "in an interview two weeks ago, Nemtsov admitted that he was afraid Putin could have him killed, but 'not that much.' " Apparently not enough -- though it could be argued that if President P really, really wants you dead, there's not all that much you can do about it.

Of course we don't know whether that's what happened. Just that somebody sure didn't wish Nemtsov well, and went to a fair amount of trouble to make that wish come true. Still, there is that "political environment. "In the hours after Nemtsov’s death," Joshua writes, "Vladimir Ryzhkov, a co-founder of R.P.R.-PARNAS with Nemtsov, told Echo of Moscow that he blamed 'the atmosphere of hate that was artificially created' by the state and its supporters." At the same time, President Putin, calling the killing "a provocation," said "that he would personally oversee the investigation."

Surprisingly, this doesn't seem to reassure Joshua. It has, in fact, pretty much the opposite effect, "evoking Stalin’s oversight of the prosecution of Sergei Kirov’s supposed killers in 1934."
Will Nemtsov’s death similarly presage a wave of political purges? In the current climate, almost anything seems possible. Either the authorities would kill someone who poses little real political danger, or they have given rise to a venomous hatred that they can no longer control.
You don't suppose it could have been an accident after all, Nemtsov's death?

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Did Rahm Emanuel Fail Chicago?



The local Chicago SEIUs just endorsed Chuy Garcia over Emanuel this afternoon. This is a huge big deal and the necessary step towards getting the international SEIU to get on board.

There have been quite a few times over the years that Blue America has run newspaper and broadcast ads in Spanish. There was only one time, however, that Blue America ran a series of ads in community newspapers in Korean, Polish, Urdu (as well as Spanish and English). It was 2007 and the occasion was an accountability moment for anti-immigrant knave Rahm Emanuel.

A few weeks before, Democratic Party insiders under the aegis of the DCCC held a training session in Chicago for a couple dozen of their favored candidates. Afterwards several of the participants, disgusted, let Blue America know that Rahm Emanuel delivered an ominous message demanding that they "move to the right" on immigration. Some of the Democratic candidates, like Emanuel puppets Bill Foster (IL) and Joan Fitz-Gerald (CO), had already started sounding very Republican on the issue, breaking Democratic solidarity and threatening unity by seeking short term advantage based on demagoguery against a vulnerable part of our coalition.

In effect, Emanuel had teamed up with xenophobic bigot Tom Tancredo through his North Carolina tool Heath Shuler. And yet Emanuel's North Side Chicago district was one of the nation's most immigrant-friendly districts. It always has been. And Emanuel never tired of telling the immigrant communities that he was their best friend. Many knew better than to believe him because his actions-- and his inactions-- spoke far louder than his words. Nearly 25% of Emanuel's former congressional district were of Hispanic descent and there are almost as many Polish-Americans in the district. Plenty of South Asians and Koreans had also made the district home.

Blue America teamed up with Illinois' largest immigrants' rights coalition, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, to help bring a little accountability into his life. The series of ads in the languages of the district were customized for the various communities. In the end, this didn't stop Emanuel from getting the House Democratic Caucus to throw immigration reform under the bus, preventing Congress from considering broad immigration legislation. At the time, Emanuel's office was the invisible hand behind Heath Shuler's anti-Hispanic HR 4088 which was all about more border guards, more high tech surveillance, mandatory verification for employees and and more enhanced law-enforcement capabilities for cracking down on illegal immigrants who are already in the country. After reading it, Chicago Congressman Luis Gutiérrez said, "We might as well put the Republicans in charge."

Last month Gutiérrez, a progressive on policy but a pathetic machine hack politically, endorsed Emanuel for mayor against Jesus "Chuy" Garcia. Disgracefully, Gutiérrez is a co-chair of Emanuel's Fat Cat reelection campaign. Hopefully, you read Chicago-based historian Rick Perlstein's post Friday about the epic battle between Mayor One Percent and the forces for a progressive Chicago. Perlstein's concern that the privatization, austerity, and authoritarian governance that have marked Emanuel's first term and have threatened the face of Chicago itself, is on the ballot in the April 7 runoff. 55% of voters-- in a very low turnout-- cast ballots against Emanuel. His $30 million war-chest didn't buy him reelection. Chuy's 34% came as a shock to the papers, the pundits, the pollsters, all of whom had been predicting Emanuel would figure above the 50% mark.

Now Blue America is trying to help Chuy and his team raise the contributions they need to compete against Emanuel's Big Money Machine. Perlstein has donated 20 autographed books-- a choice of Nixonland or his most recent The Invisible Bridge-- which will go to 20 random contributors-- regardless of amount-- on this page. Blue America is also giving away a rare, collectible RIAA-certified quadruple platinum award for the Barenaked Ladies breakthrough album, STUNT, which, to a great extent, crossed over from Canada to Chicago and then broke across the U.S., especially Chicago radio smashes One Week and Call And Answer. Winners for the books and the plaque will be randomly chosen tomorrow (Monday). Please contribute to Chuy's campaign... whatever you can, here on our 2015 Blue America page.

An OpEd in yesterday's Chicago Sun Times calls the runoff a "horse race" and outlines 3 voter groups the two candidates need to win over:

African-Americans carried Emanuel to victory four years ago on the conviction that he was “somebody that somebody sent.” That Somebody was the first black president of the United States.

This time around, pre-election bro-hugs notwithstanding, the ground has shifted under both Barack Obama and his former chief of staff, Emanuel.

The mayor got significantly fewer black votes this time around, though he still came in first ahead of Willie Wilson, followed by Garcia in black wards.

What will be Garcia’s counterclaim?

He’ll point to his early alliance with Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington. And the fact that while in the Illinois state Senate in the 1990s, he and Senate colleague Miguel del Valle were the first two Hispanics to join the Black Caucus.

Endorsements will be interesting.

What will Willie Wilson, the African-American millionaire who came in 2nd in black wards, do? Whom will County Board President Toni Preckwinkle back? Their voices will be more important in April than President Obama’s was in February.


The bungalow belt along Chicago’s Northwest and Southwest Sides is a complicated vote. The Emanuel forces believe citizens here worry more about their property tax bills, which the mayor has not raised, than income inequality arguments advanced by Garcia.

Whatever the focus, the wards in these parts of the city hold a high percentage of union members and government workers.

Pensions-- and whatever solution is deemed constitutional to solve their insolvency-- is a flame that burns brightly here.

The announcement on Friday of Moody’s downgrade of the city’s bonds is another piece of dreadful news. Garcia claims it is further evidence of the fiscal cliff the mayor has failed to pull us back from. But Emanuel points to a variety of ratings agencies that have said positive things about his efforts to rein in debt.

Neither Garcia nor Emanuel has been specific about painful revenue remedies that will, in the view of voters, squeeze blood from a turnip.


This is Garcia’s base but it has not been a homogeneous vote. When Garcia was in the Legislature, it was the Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) in concert with Mayor Daley that set out to kill his re-election because he was not playing ball with the regulars.

Elected officials like city clerk Susana Mendoza and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez were campaign co-chairs for the mayor in the February election. And remain supporters now. And Cook County Democratic Chairman Joe Berrios, who is also the assessor of Cook County, is no friend of Garcia’s but waged his own battles for control in aldermanic races. But their coattails are in serious doubt.

Will Hispanic voters turn out for Garcia as African-Americans did for Washington in 1983?

You’d have to think so.

This election is a horse race.

A fascinating story.

But the candidates both have a lot of evangelizing left to do.
This morning, writing for Salon, former White House advisor Bill Curry explored how Chuy forced Rahm, an anti-liberal union-hater, into a runoff. "What a week ago seemed a liberal fantasy, Rahm’s imminent demise," he wrote, "is suddenly a very real possibility."
A Garcia victory would be a historic watershed not just for Chicago or for Democrats but for all progressives. It wouldn’t just frighten the Wall Street Dems who now reign over their national party. It would alter the terms of debate even beyond the party and prove, to cynics and to ourselves, that the power of ideas is still greater than the power of money and that grass-roots politics is not dead.

It’s a race progressives know how to win. It’s a general election, but with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate and likely low turnout it will function more like a primary. If progressives grasp its significance they’ll invest the energy and resources it takes to win. Many are already doing just that. But to those who need convincing, allow me to make the case. It comes down to just two points. The first is all about who Rahm Emanuel is, and who and what he represents.

Even in elective office Rahm strikes people less as a political leader than what he is: a lifelong political operative. He was once executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. For a while he specialized in “opposition research,” meaning campaigns hired him to dig up dirt on their opponents. But his forte was raising money, in large amounts, from people who had plenty of it.

By the time he was 30 he’d taken up permanent residence in the world of political high rollers he inhabits to this day. As Bill Clinton’s 1992 finance director he ran the biggest fundraising machine the Democratic Party had ever seen. While doing that job he was also on the Goldman Sachs payroll, a seeming violation of “black letter” campaign finance law that was never looked into.

...In Congress he hewed right on economic and fiscal policy and was a hawk on defense. As Obama’s chief of staff he purged Clinton-era liberals, which resulted in a team of economic advisers more conservative than that of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland. Whether following their advice or his own instincts, Obama ditched ethics reform, aid to homeowners with bad mortgages, a minimum wage hike and the public option; a disastrous set of choices from which he never fully recovered.

Through it all Rahm cultivated his image as a ruthless operative. By the time he got to be mayor of Chicago he was the Keyser Soze of the Democratic Party, shrouded in legend, a guy who if you crossed him would slit your throat as you slept. It was a reputation he relished.

Rahm’s corporatist worldview, bruising personal style and stunted ethics made the city a testing ground for two major conservative agendas: corporate education reform and “privatization.” His education agenda led to a bitter teachers’ strike and the closing of 50 public schools, many serving the city’s poorest residents.

Those closings are often cited as flash points of the current revolt but there were others. During last July 4 weekend, 82 shootings resulting in 14 deaths focused national attention on the murder rate among Chicago’s young black men. The crisis cried out for creative, sustained civic dialogue but Rahm hadn’t the patience, empathy or eloquence to provide that kind of leadership.

The X factor is a deepening discontent over Rahm’s privatization schemes, recently laid out in a superb article by Rick Perlstein in In These Times. Here’s but one example plucked from a long, infuriating list:

In 2012 the transit authority commissioned a private contractor to issue transit cards that residents without bank accounts could use as prepaid debit cards. Buried in a 1,000-page agreement was an ugly array of hidden fees: $1.50 for ATM withdrawals; $2.95 to deposit money with a credit card; $2 to call a service rep; $10 for “research”; $6 to close an account. For designing a system to bilk the poor on such a grand scale, the company was paid $454 million.

Emanuel turned Chicago into a playland for people who, like him, mastered the art of spinning political influence into gold. If Garcia wins, it will reflect voters’ disaffection with a mayor who’s all bully and no pulpit, but also their revulsion to see such blatant profiteering at taxpayer expense. In an interview, United Working Families executive director Kristen Crowell said she was “astounded at voters’ rejection of corporate politics as a way of doing the city’s business.”

It is what Justice Kennedy in his willfully naive Citizens United opinion called “soft corruption”: not simple bribery but the subtler corruption of modern pay-for-play politics. Citing no proof-- there isn’t any-- Kennedy wrote that soft corruption does little harm to the state and is of no interest to voters. In fact it is a cancer devouring our democracy and voters care deeply about it.

Rahm isn’t just a poster boy for soft corruption; he holds a patent on it. On the Democratic side of the aisle he stands with Tony Coehlo, Chuck Schumer, maybe Terry McAuliffe and, sad to say, both Presidents Clinton and Obama. It’s why his election means so much to the nation and it’s why he may lose.

Believing you can dial every day for Wall Street dollars and still stand up for the middle class is like believing you can smoke crack every day and still be a good parent. Left unaddressed, the contradiction between what Democrats do to get elected and what they promise to do in office will destroy them. We need a whole new model, which brings us to who Jésus “Chuy” Garcia is and who and what he represents.

Like Rahm, Chuy has spent much of his life in politics. There the similarity ends. Rahm is a longtime ally of Chicago’s fabled Daley political machine, Chuy is a member of the party’s reform wing and was a protégé of the late Mayor Harold Washington, who ran against and beat future Mayor Richard M. Daley. In a real sense, this is but the latest battle in a 30 years’ war between the city’s reform and machine factions.

From the first, Garcia was a leader, not an operative. At 28 he got elected to the city council, where he served seven years before moving on to the state Senate. He served six years there before losing a primary to a Daley-backed opponent. When he left politics he turned not to high finance but to the nonprofit sector, becoming director of a community development corporation. Four years ago he reentered politics by winning election to the Cook County Board of Commissioners. In his staunch progressive record and subdued personal style he’s the anti-Rahm; a guy who proves he’s tough just by taking principled stands and then sticking to them.

Last Tuesday should never have happened. Rahm had a huge war chest, a vaunted machine, Wall Street and Hollywood connections and an endorsement from Chicago’s own Barack Obama. Rahm outspent Chuy 12-to-1. So what did he do wrong? Nothing really-- except, of course, for how he governed. The answer lies rather in who Garcia represents and in what they did right.

A month ago I wrote that progressives need a Tea Party of our own; not an Astro-turfed array of angry extremists but a grass-roots movement fueled by volunteerism and funded by small donors. Like the Tea Party, it would be independent, backing major party candidates who stay true to its values, and ousting ones who don’t. I said then the group closest to figuring it out was the Working Families Party. I wish I could say now I sensed how soon they’d do it.

The coalition taking Rahm to the mat works off the same model as the Working Families Party and even shares some of its DNA. It includes a dozen unions and community organizations, including the Chicago Teachers Union. Its basic tools are knocking on doors-- it hit 153,000 in round one-- and calling people up on the phone. Its members are rooted in their community and its message is rooted in its values. It may be about to topple one of the most powerful and least progressive Democrats in the nation. It is exactly seven months old.

The race confuses Washington. It’s a colorless town and for years Rahm was its most colorful figure, a source not just of news but of dark comic relief. Reporters imbibe the views of politicians who think the rules of the game immutable. This week even the astute E.J. Dionne compared Rahm to Bill de Blasio, “a hero to progressives,” calling it “mildly ironic” that “left of center voters” would give Rahm such a hard time.

Many progressives don’t get it either. If you put them all on Sodium Pentothal and asked if grass-roots politics can still beat big money, my hunch is they’d say no. Many pray the party will reform itself. Obama’s late awakening fans that flame. But if you want to know how likely that is, peruse the numbingly vacant report the DNC issued last week allegedly laying out its vision. Frederick Douglass said it best. Power concedes nothing without a demand.

On April 7 pay-to-play politics goes on trial in Chicago. The voters will be the judges. Crowell says holding Rahm accountable was a victory in itself, but she knows now it’s a fight they can win. For sure it’s an uphill climb, but then just last week it was impossible.

You can contribute to Chuy's campaign here. There's no such thing as a contribution that is too small.

UPDATE: First Poll: Dead Heat!

Chu is just getting started but the first poll is already showing a dead heat between himself and Mayor 1%.
A Chicago polling firm is calling the city’s runoff campaign between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia a “dead heat.”

New numbers from Ogden & Fry show Garcia, a member of the Cook County board of commissioners, within reach of the one-term Emanuel. And the firm warned that the Hispanic population under-polls, meaning that population is underrepresented in the data.

“They’re likely dead even,” pollster Tom Swiss said Sunday night... In the Saturday poll of 979 likely voters, Emanuel had 42.9 percent support to Garcia’s 38.5 percent.

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From the Sunday Classics Technology Dept.: When music can sound like THIS . . .


BACH: Cantata No. 82, "Ich habe genug":
iii. Aria, "Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen"

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (May 28, 1925 – May 18, 2012)

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, cond. DG Archiv Produktion, recorded July 1968

by Ken

Awhile ago I shared WNYC's New Tech City's "Bored and Brilliant" project, which was aimed at helping smartphonomaniacs get some control over their habit. Judging from the onsite response the project seems to have stimulated a lot of phone compulsives to (a) recognize their jones and (b) take some steps to overcome it.

One thing I tried to refrain from was getting too judgy, even though I probably am pretty judgmental when it comes to the smartphone compulsion and the related "social media" one. As it happens, perhaps merely by some fluke, I don't seem to have any temptation toward either, and really can't fathom what the attraction is. But I try to be careful about judging others, first under the "There but for the Grace of God" precept, but also in recognition of my own technological compulsions.


Read more »

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How Do You Know If Congressmembers Love America? The Question Of Disloyalty


Sometimes, angry, frustrated congressmen call me to vent. That happened Friday during those silly Boehner votes on shutting down the Department of Homeland Security. But the call wasn't about the 52 Confederate/Teabagger villains in Boehner's caucus who voted to shut the Department down; it was about the dozen right-wing Democrats who broke ranks with Pelosi and went along with Boehner. Just for the record, these were the GOP Johnny Rebs Friday:
Justin Amash (R-MI)
Brian Babin (R-TX)
Lou Barletta (R-PA)
Joe Barton (R-TX)
Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)
Dave Brat (R-VA)
Jim Bridenstine (R-OK)
Mo Brooks (R-AL)
Curt Clawson (R-FL)
Ron DeSantis (R-FL)
Scott DesJarlais (R-TN)
Sean Duffy (R-WI)
Blake Farenthold (R-TX)
Stephen Fincher (R-TN)
John Fleming (R-LA)
Randy Forbes (R-VA)
Trent Franks (R-AZ)
Louie Gohmert (R-TX)
Paul Gosar (R-AZ)
Morgan Griffith (R-VA)
Jody Hice (R-GA)
Richard Hudson (R-NC)
Tim Huelskamp (R-KS)
Duncan Hunter (R-CA)
Robert Hurt (R-VA)
Sam Johnson (R-TX)
Walter Jones (R-NC)
Jim Jordan (R-OH)
Steve King (R-IA)
Raul Labrador (R-ID)
Doug Lamborn (R-CO)
Barry Loudermilk (R-GA)
Tom Massie (R-KY)
Mark Meadows (R-NC)
Mick Mulvaney (R-SC)
Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)
Pete Olson (R-TX)
Steve Pearce (R-NM)
Scott Perry (R-PA)
Ted Poe (R-TX)
John Ratcliffe (R-TX)
Tom Rice (R-SC)
Phil Roe (R-TN)
Tom Rooney (R-FL)
Matt Salmon (R-AZ)
Mark Sanford (R-SC)
Lamar Smith (R-TX)
Mark Walker (R-NC)
Brad Wenstrup (R-OH)
Roger Williams (R-TX)
Rob Wittman (R-VA)
Kevin Yoder (R-KS)
It's not always a cut and dry thing to say which Members of Congress are loyal to the U.S. and which are anti-American Confederates who still harbor that taste for disloyalty. But it is easy to point out that of the 52 Members who voted to shut down the Department of Homeland Security-- making America more vulnerable to terrorist attack, whether from ISIS or from domestic right-wing lunatics-- 34 were from states that seceded (and that doesn't count states like Oklahoma and Arizona that hadn't achieved statehood at the time).  Many of them had their paranoia stoked into high gear by rumors that Boehner had made a deal with Pelosi to fund the Department even while there are still people of Mexican heritage in America.
House Democrats signaled Friday that Republicans have cut a deal with them to pass a Homeland Security funding measure next week that would last until Sept. 30.

But Republicans are denying it.

The deal, Democrats said, was made in exchange for Democratic votes in favor of a one-week extension of Homeland funding, which passed late Friday and averted a partial closure of the Department of Homeland Security.

In the hours before the final vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged fellow Democrats to vote for the one-week deal, telling them it would lead to the full funding measure they are seeking.

"Your vote tonight will assure that we will vote for full funding next week," Pelosi said.

Pelosi aides would not comment on the nature of the talks that took place with Obama, or if she struck a deal with Boehner. But one top aide denied Democrats voted for the week-long deal at the request of the president.

"Not true," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said on Twitter.

The week-long bill provides time for the Senate to vote on whether to hold a conference with the House on a Homeland spending provision that would curb President Obama's executive actions on immigration.

Next week, Senate Democrats are all but guaranteed to block a motion to hold a conference with the House. When they do, it will create a dead end for Republican efforts to negotiate their way into a bill that is more palatable to conservatives who want to curb the president's immigration directives.

Republicans would then presumably have no choice but to put a bill on the floor funding Homeland until Sept. 30 which would pass with full Democratic support but would anger House conservatives.

Republican leadership aides denied any promises were made to Democrats, who were also lobbied Friday evening by President Obama to pass the one-week measure.

"There was no such deal or promise," Speaker John Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel told the Washington Examiner.

House Democratic leaders were declaring victory, though.

"Tonight I voted for a seven-day continuing resolution to keep the Department of Homeland Security open to allow time for the House to pass the Senate's full-year funding bill next week," House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said.
Now, back to the Democratic Member who was sp upset by the dozen Democratic defectors. He referred to them as the "douchebag list," and there were no surprises on the list. Almost all of these are Boehner's allies inside the Democratic caucus and they're always looking for excuses to cross the aisle and vote with the Republicans. These are the 12 who did it Friday:
Brad Ashford (Blue Dog-NE)
Julia Brownley (CA)
Cheri Bustos (Blue Dog-IL)
Gerry Connolly (New Dem-VA)
John Delaney (New Dem-MD)
Gwen Graham (Blue Dog-FL)
Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM)
Patrick Murphy (New Dem-FL)
Scott Peters (New Dem-CA)
Raul Ruiz (CA)
David Scott (Blue Dog-GA)
Kirsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ)
When I reiterated that, with the exception of Lujan Grisham they all vote with the GOP all the time anyway so why get so worked up over this vote, this was the response: "Because this is one of the very few votes that I’ve seen in the past two years where Pelosi and Hoyer tried to create some party solidarity, and they ruined it. Now it will just be back to the SOP of fighting amongst ourselves." Remember that when the DCCC sends out mailers begging for money to save "Democratic seats," primarily seats of disloyal conservatives like Sinema, Peters, Murphy, Graham, Ashford and Brownley.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

TV Watch: With all those horrible zombie noises exploding, can anyone tell whether the new "Odd Couple" is funny?


by Ken

I thought I was more or less keeping track, but I missed it -- I mean, the pilot-premiere of the new TV Odd Couple. After all, you can't set your DVR before the week of the show, so if you miss the week of, then you can't set your DVR, right? So anyhow I did watch this week's episode, more or less, and after watching it, or trying to, I still don't know -- was it funny at all?

I think maybe it could have been. Thomas Lennon and Matthew Perry and seem plausibly enough cast as sloppy sportswriter Oscar Madison and nutjob-fastidious Felix Unger, who's still a photographer, as in the first TV Odd Couple series; as anyone who's seen the great film adaptation of Neil Simon's original play, written by the playwright and directed by Gene Saks, remembers from the great "date" scene with the Pigeon sisters, one of the girls asks Felix where he gets his ideas after he tells them, "I write the news for CBS."

Okay, so far Lennon is overacting and Perry is underacting, or perhaps overdoing something-other-than-acting, which involves deliving lines like a line-delivering machine while staring straight at the person he's not-talking to, as if he'd never acted before. All perfectly workable: Oscar has been given some potentially usable cronies: Wendell Pierce as his agent, Yvette Nicole Brown as his assistant, Dave Foley as . .&nbsp. well, his lazy 'n' chubby chum. There's also a weird girl who comes from I-don't-know-where, since I missed the pilot, played by Lindsay Sloane, who I guess is supposed to be antically amusing.

And maybe she is. Amusing, I mean. This is what I can't tell. Because, as you may sort-of-notice in the clip above, where it's not nearly as bad as it is in the actual show, every time one of the actors delivers a "gag," as soon as the last syllable is completed there arises this horrible noise, which makes it impossible, for me at least, to actually register what the actor just said, and therefore makes it impossible for me to guess whether it might have been amusing if I had actually been able to hear it. When the so-called gags are closely spaced, this hideous racket keeps thundering away at the innocent viewer until one wishes it would just stop.

Yes, once upon a TV time Oscar (Jack Klugman) and Felix (Tony Randall) played Password, with the real Allen Ludden.

It's been a long time since I saw an episode of the first TV Odd Couple, but between its original network run and years of saturation syndication, I once watched those episodes a lot, and I don't remember them being anything like this. My recollection is that that cast -- Jack Klugman as Oscar, Tony Randall as Felix, Al Molinaro as their friend Murray the cop, Penny Marshall as Oscar's hapless assistant Myrna Turner (and even, occasionally, her then-husband Rob Reiner as Myrna's boyfriend Werner) -- had to earn their laughs (and I mean from viewers, not from whatever professional laughers there may have been on the noise track), as of course had been the case with the great stage and screen Oscar (Walter Matthau) and Felixes (Art Carney and Jack Lemmon).  (Okay, eventually there was an Odd Couple II, with Matthau and Lemmon, and written by Neil Simon, and it seemed to demonstrate why Simon hadn't wanted to revisit his great creation. But surely this isn't a standard to which anyone is aspiring?)

Once upon a time we used to hear about the great artistry involved in laugh-trackery -- having a wide range of kinds of laughs available, understanding that people hardly ever cackle in unison but respond differently to different kinds of humor, and sometimes respond singly or in small groups, and at different lengths with different intensities. Oh, the laugh tracks that resulted were ghastly, and made every show they were applied to seem horribly unfunny, but at least you appreciated the effort. Now it's just those more or less unvarying explosions of sounds seemingly made by very loud zombies declaring their miraculous return from the presumed-dead.

Come to think of it -- and as a matter of fact, I've been thinking about it a lot -- I've been having this problem a lot in recent years. Chuck Lorre shows seem particularly problematic. For example, much as I love The Big Bang Theory, and really I think it's a great show, every now and then I find myself trapped in the Valley of the Exploding Zombie Noise-Bombs, and I suspect that somewhere along the line I developed the knack of focusing on the great characters and filtering out all those laugh-unlike noises. I recall too that for the first few years of the show, I wasn't all that crazy about it, and wonder if maybe I hadn't yet developed my general immunity to them. When I get caught in one of those horrible-noise vortices, I wonder too whether this has something to do with why some people really hate the show.

I also tried to watch a few recent episodes of Chuck L's Mom, which I had dismissed after an early episode or two as simply unwatchable. Now they had this new plot line where the daughter's apparently refound father is killed off and sorrow ensued. I thought maybe that might be interesting, and I had a vested interest in thinking better of Allison Janney, who plays the mother, because she is, after all, Allison Janney, and we have those terrific years of The West Wing to show us what she's capable of doing. Nobody since Aaron Sorking seems to have been able to use her without making her look cartoony, and in that initial episode or two of Mom that I tried to watch, I thought she was ghastly, and was only consoled by the assumption that after a few episodes it would disappear without a trace, and maybe Allison will be luckier next time out.

Go figure.

So I tried several times to watch the show, seeing where this new plot development might take it, but there were the horrible zombie noises exploding all around us, and this time, since I was concentrating, or trying to, I was pretty sure that it wasn't anything that the actors were saying that was making the zombies rise.

And don't tell me this or that show "was recorded in front of a live studio audience," because it's been years since that helped. Those audiences have been transformed into crude versions of the newfangled horrible laugh tracks -- making those same blood-curdling loud risen-from-the-dead noises in unison before they've had a chance to actually react to whatever may have been said, and keeping on doing it. It all sounds like a great deal of retro-tech anti-wizardry to me, possibly coupled with heavy drugging of the so-called audiences, taking them beyond even the expectable euphoria when civilians find themselves sealed inside the Gag Chamber with real live TV cameras rolling -- often the only element of the proceedings that seems close to live.

There's some food for thought as the viewer tries to figure out whether it's a machine or a "live studio audience" making those ghastly noises. It surprises me to think, though, that that's what TV-makers really want us thinking about while they're purportedly "amusing" us.

In the end, I guess I'll keep watching The Big Bang Theory as long as I'm able to navigate the zombie explosions, and I'm relieved that Two and a Half Men, another Chuck Lorre show, has departed first-run prime time -- for a bunch of reasons, but definitely including the zombie-noise factor. This is a show that, at least in earlier seasons, was often genuinely amusing, but seemed noticeably less so under the influence of the roaring zombies. I certainly won't be revisiting Mom anytime soon.

But the new Odd Couple is not a Chuck Lorre show. Given my attachement to the material, it's something I would love to be able to enjoy, and as I say, it does seem to have a bunch of workable elements in place. It's just that, after one shot at it, I don't seem able to hear it.

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How Radical Is Radical? Meet Deranged Alabama Confederate Mo Brooks


Chad Pergram is one of the more hard-working Beltway reporters. He's Fox's congressional correspondent, he's reliable, dependable and takes his job seriously. And, as far as I know, he's the only national reporter who regularly talks with Confederate sociopath Mo Brooks (R-AL). Sometimes OI think it's worth following Pergram on twitter just to keep from missing any of Brooks' crackpottery. A former Jeff Sessions staffer, there's every reason in the world to assume that Brooks' sympathies are very strongly with the KKK. He's certainly among the top 20 of right right Members of Congress and counts the last government shutdown as part of his glory days-- even though many of his contstituents, where the federal government is the #1 employer, were left without paychecks for almost 2 weeks. Although the shutdown was an economic and financial disaster, Brooks was one the radicals who voted against reopening the government. And now-- surprise, surprise--he's frothing at the lips to shut down the Department of Homeland Security. Yesterday he was one of the 52 Republican anarchists to vote to shut down the Department, probably figuring if terrorists attack, they'll target New York or Washington, not Huntsville or Scottsboro.

Brooks is fanatically anti-Choice, is one of the most anti-immigrant Republicans in Washington, opposes stem cell research, which is already saving thousands of American lives annually, loudly denies Climate Change... and his abiding dream is to privatize Social Security and voucherize Medicare. Last year, he said he would like to see 8 million immigrants sent back to the countries they came from. "As your congressman on the House floor," he told a local TV reporter who asked him about his radical anti-immigrant stands, "I will do anything short of shooting them. Anything that is lawful, it needs to be done because illegal aliens need to quit taking jobs from American citizens."

A virulent racist, Brooks opposes allowing immigrants to serve in the American military, questioning their loyalty. and last August, on the Laura Ingraham Show he accused President Obama of waging a war against white people. In 2014, the Democrats did't bother running a candidate against him.

Thursday Pergram caught up with him on Capitol Hill and Brooks was foaming at the mouth about the Senate Republicans giving in and not shutting down the Department of Homeland Security. He told Pergram that the Republican leaders remind him "of the Iraqi Army in Mosul stripping off uniforms/abandoning...posts as the Islamic State approaches." And if you don't think Rep. King had Brooks in mind when he tweeted this a few days ago, you've lost the thread:

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National Security Watch: Congress just manages to eke out an extra week to take another stab at doing its job


by Ken

Feel free to "Read more" if you like. Myself, I just clicked through to get the link for you, to the piece headlined "Congress averts Homeland Security shutdown with one-week extension." I'd just as soon not dwell on the combination of savagery and imbecility we now have passing itself off as a "government."

I just have one small thought to toss in in response to this national disgrace. It seems to me that the people who have made the funding of DHS undoable are part of the chorus of red-blooded patriots who bray and screech at every opportunity about all the limp-wristed America-haters whose inability or unwillingness to act like real manlymen causes the world, and in particular the villains of the world, to treat America with contempt. You know, wimps like our Kenyan Muslim president, the one who doesn't love America.

(This is, of course, the gutless weak President Obama, not to be confused with the blood-thirsty tyrannical dictator who is the most massively executively overreaching tyrant since the heyday of Caesar Augustus, Ivan the Terrible, and Hitler. We'll be sure to let you know when we're talking about that President Obama.)

So my small thought for today is: What might the rest of the world, including all those dastardly villains, think of an America that is overrun, and even run, by grotesque buffoons like these?

Buffoons who preach the gospel of "National Security" but whose ranks are filled with war wimps who love preaching war but who themselves never served in the military and pulled every string they could get their grubby mitts on to make sure that no blood relation of theirs ever did. Gutless piles of puke who, although themselves from families of immigrants, bray and screech about immigrants who in reality do the nationi's grunt jobs at near-slave wages but are imagined to be savage hordes penetrating our borders to deliver the country unto godless Commies, or godless Ebola, or godless Islam -- whichever demon their tiny brains are salivating over at the moment. Mental defectives who routinely come up empty when it comes to the things that really do affect our actual nationial security.

Yes, I bet the rest of the world -- both would-be enemies and would-be friends -- is mightily impressed to learn that that 20-day extension of DHS funding, a goal that apparently represented the very height of their ambitions, proved just impossibly out of reach.

That's all. You can go back to whatever you were doing.


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Staten Island-- Foolin' Around


In 2012, when Michael Grimm was reelected to Congress by beating weak Democratic centrist Mark Murphy-- 94,102 (53%) to 82,401 (46%)-- most of the votes (for each candidate) came from Staten Island, not from the Brooklyn portions of the 11th CD. Of 176,503 total votes cast districtwide, 130,295 came from State Island. Only 46,208 Brooklynites voted, and even though Murphy won in Brooklyn (albeit barely) it was inconsequential. Although the Brooklyn part of the district includes a traditional progressive heartland between Sheepshead Bay, Midwood and Gravesend, the most conservative parts of Brooklyn are also included, particularly Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights (like Staten Island across the Verrazano, Mafia territory). Brooklyn votes can help but the election for Congress for NY-11 is decided on Staten Island. But Democrats keep nominating Brooklynites. And losing.

After Staten Island Assemblymember Michael Cusick announced he wouldn't run against odd-on fave District Attorney Daniel Donovan, the Democrats figured they'd find someone to take up the slot on the ballot. The DCCC seems to have lost all interest once McMahon and Cusick decided not to run. Thursday evening the local Democrats picked Brooklyn City Councilman Vincent Gentile. He represents much of the Brooklyn western part of the district, Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bath Beach (as well as Bensonhurst which isn't part of the district). From 1996 to 2002 he was a state Senator whose district included parts of Staten Island. Its not likely anyone from Staten Island cares or even remembers, although Gentile has been playing that up. The special election is May 5.
Emphasizing his campaign slogan “A Fresh Start,” Mr. Gentile mocked the Staten Island Republican establishment, which has controlled the seat for 31 of the last 33 years. The pol alluded to former Congresswoman Susan Molinari’s abrupt 1997 resignation to take a job as a television journalist, former Congressman Vito Fossella‘s decision not to run for re-election in 2008 after a drunk driving arrest revealed he had a secret family in the D.C. suburbs and Mr. Grimm stepping down last month after he pleaded guilty to a federal tax evasion charge.

“The last three Republican members of Congress this leadership gave us all disappeared into the wind. All gone, right? All gone. One left us flat, and the other two resigned in disgrace-- one of them now a convict and awaiting sentence,” he said, to laughter and applause from the assembled Democrats. “Now this same cohort of leaders with this embarrassing and abysmal record want to tell the good people of the 11th Congressional District who they have next in the queue to carry the title of Congress member. And to them and to you, I say, ‘Haven’t they embarrassed us enough?'”

He added: “You know the old saying, ‘three strikes, you’re out?’ Well, on May 5, they’re out, and we’re coming up to the plate.”

Mr. Gentile gave a possible preview of the campaign trail rhetoric he will deploy against Mr. Donovan, contrasting the district attorney’s lack of a lawmaking background with his own long tenure in the State Senate and City Council.

“I’m the only one in this race with experience as a legislator. My opponent has none, and I’m going into my 18th year as a legislator,” he said. “So just as you wouldn’t expect a candlestick-maker to become a dentist, or the shopkeeper to become an astronaut, you wouldn’t expect a D.A. with no legislative experience to become a legislator. Especially when you have an experienced legislator applying for the same job.”

The councilman also hit Mr. Donovan for his handling of the Eric Garner case. Mr. Donovan was unable to convince a grand jury to indict a wgute police officer in the death of Garner, a black Staten Island man, last year.

“Once the grand jury acted, this district attorney did not come out in public and face the people of Staten Island and try to explain to the people of Staten Island. He put out a press release,” said Mr. Gentile, calling for the release of transcripts of the grand jury proceedings. “And when there was disruption in the streets, chaos was breaking loose, our district attorney was nowhere to be seen. And that’s not leadership. That’s not leadership. And that is more reflective on the kind of leader he would be in Congress, and the kind of follower he would be in Congress.”

Mr. Donovan’s camp declined to comment on Mr. Gentile’s attacks. The district is predominantly white, and home to many police officers, and most political insiders doubt the Garner grand jury decision will negatively impact Mr. Donovan in the race.

Mr. Gentile ended his speech with an appeal to not allow borough loyalties to decide the race. Despite multiple attempts, no Brooklynite has ever won a race to represent the district, where more than two-thirds of the votes are in Staten Island.

“I know firsthand that we Staten Islanders and we Brooklynites are all from the same neck of the woods,” Mr. Gentile said.

Mr. Grimm dealt a humiliating defeat to former Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia last year, even though the Democratic challenger out-raised and out-spent the indicted Republican incumbent.
Gentile has been a De Blasio supporter but he certainly isn't some kind of a progressive icon. As a lame-duck state senator he voted against the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act causing a shit storm in the gay community where it is widely assumed he is a closet case and has been accused of having had at least one same sex affair and of sexually harassing a young gay male on his staff. In recent years he's been more supportive of LGBT equality.

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