Friday, May 29, 2015

Why Is Malaysia So Important to TPP? The Strait of Malacca

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The Strait of Malacca connects the Pacific Ocean to the east with the Indian Ocean to the west (source; click to enlarge)

by Gaius Publius

Because of an excellent catch by Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism, I think we can put the finger on why keeping Malaysia in the TPP is important to its proponents. Which may explain why Obama — after all, the first black president — is willing to turn a blind eye to slavery and the murder of trafficked humans. The Strait of Malacca is one of the most important shipping lanes on the planet.

Reuters (my emphasis throughout):
The 900-km long (550 miles) Malacca Strait, linking Europe and the Middle East with the Asia-Pacific, carries about 40 percent of the world’s trade. More than 50,000 merchant ships ply the waterway every year.

About 3.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of Middle East crude passed through the strait and to Japan last year. Middle East crude accounts for 90 percent of Japan’s total imports. Up to 80 percent of China’s crude imports are delivered via the narrow and congested waterway.

So China and Japan have a stake in keeping the Malacca Strait secure, as does India which has a blue water navy patrolling in the Andaman Sea at the western end of the strait.

The strait is a vital sea lane for the U.S. Navy, which sent warships to Taiwan via the Malacca Strait at a time of heightened tensions between China and Taiwan in 1996.

Although the three littoral states — Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore — have asserted their sole right to maintain security in the Malacca Strait, Australia, India, Japan, the United States and China have all offered military assistance at various times.
That's quite a list of nations who care about the Malacca Strait. Keep those numbers in mind as you read on — according to Reuters, 40% of world trade, 90% of Japan's total imports, 80% of China's crude oil imports. (Other reports have different numbers, but the importance of the strait is not in doubt.)

The Strait of Malacca is also a choke point. Peninsular Malaysia shown in pink (source; click to enlarge).

The Strait of Malacca is also a choke point (references deleted; see original for links):
The strait is the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, linking major Asian economies such as India, China, Japan and South Korea. ... In addition, it is also one of the world's most congested shipping choke points because it narrows to only 2.8 km (1.5 nautical miles) wide at the Phillips Channel (close to the south of Singapore).
The Strait is important for global shipping, yet it's also vulnerable to piracy, to terrorist attack and, potentially, to international brinksmanship, as you'll read shortly. Control of the strait matters to many in the region and elsewhere.

Who Controls the Strait of Malacca?

Direct control of the strait is shared between Malaysia, Indonesia and the island city-state of Singapore. But control is not shared equally. The size of each nation's navy limits the degree to which that nation can project power into the strait.

The Jakarta [Indonesia] Post:
Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are the littoral states of the Malacca Strait, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. Indonesia controls the majority of the sea lane. Singapore controls the smallest area of the strait, but the city-state enjoys the biggest economic benefit from shipping activities.

Indonesia is often cited as the main source of pirates operating in the Malacca Strait. But it is very firm in its position that all three of the countries are fully responsible for security in the strait.

However, Indonesia lacks the capacity to exercise its duties because its Navy is smaller and not as well equipped as the navies of Malaysia and Singapore.

Other countries -- no matter how vital the security of the strait is for their economies -- can only provide technical assistance to help Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore ensure safe and secure passage through the 805-kilometer shipping lane.
But:
While we [Jakarta Post editorial writers] fully support the sovereignty of the three countries, we also want to remind them that all stakeholders in the strait have the right to play a role in ensuring the safety of this vital waterway. Major Asian economic powers like Japan and China want more of a role in patrolling the waters, because they depend on the strait for the transportation of commodities like oil and gas....

Indonesia can not simply claim sovereignty and reject any foreign presence in the strait, especially when it remains the main base for pirates there and has so far failed to ensure safe passage through its waters.

It is also difficult simply to dismiss whispers overseas -- although there is no evidence --- that rogue elements of the Indonesian Navy turn a blind eye to activities of pirates for a cut of the profit.

As long as Indonesia remains unable to play a credible and sustainable role in maintaining security and safety in the Malacca Strait, it will remain difficult for other countries with strong economic and political interests in the waterway simply to entrust Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to handle security responsibilities.

The three states have every right to maintain their sovereignty over the strait, for their commercial and security interests. They also have the rights to ask for more economic benefits from the foreign parties.

But as long as piracy and other security problems remain a concern, it will be nearly impossible for them to continue rejecting the presence of foreign powers in the strait.
And though it's not mentioned, those foreign powers include the U.S. as well.

"America's First Black President Throwing Slaves Under the Bus"

With that for context, now read Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism:
America's First Black President Throwing Slaves Under the Bus

Huffington Post has reconfirmed its reporting from over the past weekend, namely, that the Administration has a hairball to untangle to get Malaysia to sign the TransPacific Partnership. Basically, Malaysia needs to have an anti-slavery provision that was inserted in the bill in committee watered down. And the reason that that has to happen, as our reader Antifa pointed out in comments, is that Malaysia controls the Straits of Malacca, a critical shipping choke point. One of the major objectives of the pact is to strengthen America’s position in the region relative to China. Thus Malaysia’s location makes it a critically important signatory to the pact.

From the Huffington Post account (emphasis ours):

So the trade promotion authority bill that passed Friday includes the strong anti-slavery language, which the House will now work to take out to ensure that Malaysia (and, potentially, other countries in the future) can be part of the deal.

Observers are left with a deeper question: Why, in the year 2015, is the White House teaming up with Republican leaders essentially to defend the practice of slavery?

Cue Antifa:

Malaysia’s membership in the circle of TPP nations is not vital because Malaysia — it’s vital because of the Malacca Straits, through which virtually all the shipping in that part of the world passes. It’s a bottleneck, a chokepoint, and if Malaysia is “driven into the arms of China” then China can close those Straits to shipping how, when, and as they please.

Which would neuter the US Navy in that part of the world, reducing them to observer status. When people at the Pentagon talk about America’s role as the world’s policeman, they are talking about the Navy’s ability to project overwhelming force wherever and whenever needed. The three little chokepoints world trade and shipping depend on are the Strait of Hormuz, the Straits of Malacca, and the Panama Canal. Taking one of those and giving control of it to China and Friends — or to anyone but the US Navy — puts the world’s policeman in a clown suit.
Smith quotes this, from Andrew Watts, another of her commenters:
Look at a list of member states of TPP and tell me this isn’t an anti-Chinese military alliance or there are alternative shipping lanes. The transportation routes via the Eurasian Silk Road is one way to circumvent this potential naval blockade but shipping via the sea has always been cheaper than shipping by land.

The only reason why business and intellectual property rights is [a part] of the deal is because Obama needs to bribe as many domestic power centers as possible to pass it. This is straight outta his Obamacare playbook. The reason for the secrecy is probably due to the military nature of the pact. in any case nobody wants the perception that this is preparation for some future Sino-American war.

But if I were a Chinese political leader in Beijing I would not trust any assurances to the contrary that come from Washington.
By the way, here's that modern "Eurasian Silk Road" mentioned above, a rail route:

The new Eurasian Silk Road in yellow; dotted line shows shipping via Strait of Malacca (source; click to enlarge)

There is plenty more in the Naked Capitalism piece — a must-read if this stuff, geopolitical brinksmanship, is your topic.

Why Does Obama Want to Be the "Slavery in Asia" President?

I want to touch this just lightly, since motives are less important than done deeds. Motives do count toward legacy points, however, both by adding and subtracting them, so I do want to touch this some. Why does Obama want to do this, to support slavery in Asia as one of his defining late-term achievements?

First I want to stipulate this: I'm over the "he's too stupid or naïve to do things right" defense. That's both demeaning and disrespectful to Obama. After all, the man's an adult, not some child whom progressives need somehow to teach. So I'll offer three explanations, any or all of which could be right.

▪ One explanation is pretty simple. He thinks no one will notice, or if they do, they'll quickly forget. Pretty simple explanation, especially given that his best corporate friends control almost all of the messaging via corporate media.

▪ Another explanation is best expressed by Andrew Watt above. To repeat:
The only reason why business and intellectual property rights is [a part] of the deal is because Obama needs to bribe as many domestic power centers as possible to pass it. This is straight outta his Obamacare playbook.
That's actually very kind to Obama. It says that he's being a responsible president from a military standpoint, and bribing all major U.S. corporations — Nike, for example, corrupt as it is (do click) — to get the deal he needs because of solid national security concerns. As explanations go, this results in higher legacy points than the other ones do.

▪ The final explanation? He's simply cashing out, feathering his future nest, foaming his own landing, getting his meal ticket punched, setting the table for the feast of his 20 years of life — his post-electoral, Obama Global Initiative legacy-tour life. You can't ride the corporate stratospheric rails to Davos if corporate jet owners don't like you. You can't give speeches for $400,000 each (give or take) if you don't give the check-writers a reason to say thanks.

Maybe Obama's just giving a reason to say thanks, much like this guy did back in 2000:
Bill Clinton's $80 Million Payday

On December 21, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a bill called the Commodities Futures Modernization Act. This law ensured that derivatives could not be regulated, setting the stage for the financial crisis. Just two months later, on February 5, 2001, Clinton received $125,000 from Morgan Stanley, in the form of a payment for a speech Clinton gave for the company in New York City. A few weeks later, Credit Suisse also hired Clinton for a speech, at a $125,000 speaking fee, also in New York. It turns out, Bill Clinton could make a lot of money, for not very much work.

Today, Clinton is worth something on the order of $80 million [written in 2012] (probably much more, but we don’t really know), and these speeches have become a lucrative and consistent revenue stream for his family. Clinton spends his time offering policy advice, writing books, stumping for political candidates, and running a global foundation. He’s now a vegan. He makes money from books. But the speaking fee money stream keeps coming in, year after year, in larger and larger amounts.

Most activists and political operatives are under a delusion about American politics, which goes as follows. Politicians will do *ahttp://chicago.curbed.com/archives/2014/06/25/hok-unveils-obama-presidential-library-proposal-seeks-to-expand-museum-campus-south.phpnything* to get reelected, and they will pander, beg, borrow, lie, cheat and steal, just to stay in office. It’s all about their job.

This is 100% wrong. The dirty secret of American politics is that, for most politicians, getting elected is just not that important. What matters is post-election employment. It’s all about staying in the elite political class, which means being respected in a dense network of corporate-funded think tanks, high-powered law firms, banks, defense contractors, prestigious universities, and corporations. If you run a campaign based on populist themes, that’s a threat to your post-election employment prospects. This is why rising Democratic star and Newark Mayor Corey Booker reacted so strongly against criticism of private equity – he’s looking out for a potential client after his political career is over, or perhaps, during interludes between offices. ...
Not to say he doesn't also believe the "free trade" dominus vobiscum the Bigs are mouthing these days. It's just that he can't afford not to.

In terms of legacy points, that explanation actually subtracts them. Good thing few people are impertinent enough to suggest it. Me, I just keep seeing this:

Obama Legacy Library as envisaged by the Chicago firm HOK; lakefront view. If TPP passes, will Nike find a way to say thanks? (click to enlarge)

And then I wonder how something this grand gets paid for. Does that make me impertinent? Or just practical?

Pragmatically yours,

GP

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Conservative "Bipartisanship" Means Contaminated Drinking Water In Streams And Lakes

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This week, you probably heard a lot of Democrats applauding the promulgation of a new rule by the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers meant to limit pollution in rivers, lakes and wetlands. Progressives may be angry with Obama over TPP but were overjoyed that he's moving ahead with this environmental promise. Co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Raúl Grijalva, the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee and a top member of the Subcommittee on Water and Power, sent out a press release congratulating "the Obama Administration for bringing long-overdue clarity to the vital issue of clean water."
One in three Americans gets their drinking water from streams currently lacking clear protection. This Rule will help prevent the destruction of our nation’s water resources and support the numerous industries and jobs that depend on clean water. The Supreme Court left the scope of the Clean Water Act unclear, but protecting clean drinking water is far too important to be open to interpretation. It’s time to implement a clear Clean Water Rule that protects our drinking water supplies and ends the regulatory uncertainty that allows unscrupulous polluters to hide in the regulatory shadows. The new Rule does exactly that, without creating any new permitting requirements and maintaining all existing exemptions.
Fellow co-chair Keith Ellison concurred, saying:
Clean water is vital to life in Minnesota. 970,000 Minnesotans drink water from public water systems that would be further protected under the EPA’s final rule, while others rely on our state’s waterways for business and recreation. But an ongoing statewide assessment of our waterways by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found that half of the waters assessed so far are unfit for swimming and fishing. This is why the EPA’s rule is so critical to our state. I applaud Administrator Gina McCarthy for writing a strong Clean Water Rule. I look forward to working with my state and local partners to keep Minnesota’s water clean for generations to come.
Generally speaking, congressional Democrats are on the same page as Obama, the EPA, Grijalva and Ellison on this. But not all congressional Democrats. Writing for The Hill yesterday, Timothy Cama found a gaggle of reactionary Democrats-- the usual suspects-- who are backing the GOP's anti-regulation agenda. So far 3 right-wing Democrats in the Senate: Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV) and Joe Donnelly (IN), and two dozen Blue Dogs and New Dems in the House are backing Boehner and the GOP against Obama, labeling the new rule to protect clean drinking water "a power grab."
In rolling out the final rule Wednesday, the administration questioned the motives of opponents.

“The only people with reason to oppose the rule are polluters who want to threaten our clean water,” said Brian Deese, Obama’s top environmental adviser.

The Senate bill would overturn the water rule and give the EPA specific instructions and a deadline for writing it in a way that senators hope would cover fewer bodies of water and impede less on private and state property rights.

“It’s frustrating that after so much time, the EPA today decided to finalize this rule instead of conducting more consultations and releasing a revised rule as our legislation would require,” Heitkamp said in a Wednesday statement.

“For the past several months, I’ve been working on a bipartisan bill to fix this issue by actually taking into account the needs of our farmers and ranchers, and giving them clarity without adding more federal regulations,” she said.

In his own statement, Manchin accused the EPA of “once again dangerously overreaching its boundaries by expanding the definition of water sources it can regulate.”

He said the rule “will certainly have a significant impact on West Virginia’s economy, hindering businesses, manufacturing and energy production.”

The two dozen House Democrats joined all 237 Republicans present earlier this month to pass the Regulatory Integrity Act, sponsored by Reps. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), to overturn the rule.
Democrats voting with the GOP include rabid right-wing dogs like Jim Cooper (Blue Dog-TN), Gwen Graham (Blue Dog-FL), Kyrsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ), Sanford Bishop (Blue Dog-GA), Brad Ashford (Blue Dog-NE), Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA), Tim Walz (MN) and Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX), David Scott (New Dem-GA), Cheri Bustos (Blue Dog-IL), John Delaney (New Dem-MD), Cedric Richmond (New Dem-LA), Kurt Schrader (Blue Dog-OR), Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN), Filemon Vela (New Dem-TX) and Sean Patrick Maloney (New Dem-NY).

It probably doesn't surprise you to find out that the Blue America-endorsed candidates all favor the attempt to keep our streams and rivers and lakes unpolluted. Lou Vince, running for the House seat in Santa Clartita, the Antelope Valley and Simi Valley (CA-25), last night reminded us:
California is facing one of the most severe droughts in its recorded history. We need all the clean water we can get. The clean water rule proposed by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers will help Californians save critical water resources. I am once again disappointed by Steve Knight’s failure to lead for his constituents, instead standing with special interests-- in this case, polluters.



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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Is the $6,000 cat apartment enough to ring down the curtain on soccer once and for all?

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This is No. 3 of Alexandra Petri's "Thoughts on the ex-FIFA exec's $6,000 cat apartment, in no particular order," but I really think we need to get a ruling on it. Isn't the subject supposed to be unruly cats? (See below.)

by Ken

I admit I haven't been paying as close attention as I should have to the scandal of these FIFA bigwigs who've been indicted -- not for being FIFA bigwigs but for being, you know, crooks. I thought it was by now sufficiently well established that FIFA, the international soccer governing board, is itself primarily, if not entirely, a criminal enterprise. I mean, didn't the New York Daily News story announcing the arrests refer to FIFA as "world soccer's notoriously corrupt governing body"?

Answer: Yes, it did.
Turmoil has engulfed FIFA, world soccer’s notoriously corrupt governing body, after a wave of international arrests of its top executives and the unsealing of a 47-count U.S. federal indictment based in the Eastern District of New York.

The arrests commenced early Wednesday morning led by Swiss authorities working in conjunction with U.S. law enforcement officials. At least 14 individuals were charged by prosecutors, with more charges possible after Swiss police seized records at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich.
Didn't John Oliver and his HBO Last Week Tonight team do a staggeringly devastating exposé on "the staggering allegations of corruption against FIFA" ages ago -- on the eve of the World Cup last June?

Answer: Again, yes, they did.



Which leaves only two subjects to be discussed, as far as I can see.

(1) Is there possibly a straight line between the indictment of the FIFA 14 and the end of soccer? (One can only hope.)

(2) What the dickens is the deal with this Chuck Blazer guy?

While I was busy not paying attention to the whole mess, I missed out on this Blazer guy. The Daily News, in its report "Soccer Rat! The inside story of how Chuck Blazer, ex-U.S. soccer executive and FIFA bigwig, became a confidential informant for the FBI," provides this background on the 450-pound cooperating witness [click to enlarge]:




WHICH BRINGS US TO THE DETAIL
OF THE $6,000 CAT APARTMENT


Which washingtonpost.com's Alexandra Petri has rightly pounced on, having gleaned this alarming detail from the aforementioned Daily News "Soccer Rat" vivisection of Chucky B. Or as she puts it:
Ahem:

From the New York Daily News: “[Former FIFA exec Chuck] Blazer often worked from two apartments where he lived on the 49th floor [of the Trump Tower] in $18,000 per month digs for himself and an adjoining $6,000 retreat largely for his unruly cats, according to a source.”
Which brings us to Alexandra's "thoughts," which contrary to her post title aren't quite "in no particular order."
Thoughts:

1) What?

2) Seriously, what?

3) [This is the image I've placed atop this post, whose relevance to a piece about unruly cats seems hard to sustain. Is this or is this not the absolutely ruliest pussycat you've ever seen? Alexandra has some thoughts about feline ruliness at No. 7, but I don't think they shed any light on No. 3. I think she still has some 'splaining to do. -- Ed.]

4) Great Caesar’s Ghost, what chemical alteration takes place in the mind once they give you access to seemingly unlimited amounts of money? What switch suddenly flips? How do you start coming up with these ideas? You could talk to me for months and months about what I would do with Truly Obscene Amounts of Money and I would probably say something like “buy an island” or “dress up as a bat and fight crime” or “hire an Aaron Burr impersonator and an Alexander Hamilton impersonator and make them fight,” but nowhere on my list of things would be, “FILL A LUXURY TRUMP APARTMENT WITH UNRULY CATS.” [I notice that Alexandra makes no point of the discrepancy between the $18,000 monthly price tag on Chucky's personal apartment and the mere $6,000 tab for the tabbies'. Well, perhaps the 3:1 ratio is reasonable. -- Ed.]

5) I’m almost impressed. (Is impressed the word?) I also love the fact that he did not live in the luxury apartment with the cats himself. He lived next door, thus giving himself plausible deniability on OK Cupid dates. “Oh, you’re one of those men who lives alone with cats?” a date might ask, nervously fiddling with her salad fork. “No, no,” he would be able to say. “I don’t live with my cats.” A pause. “They live in a separate apartment that I have furnished for them next door.”

6) All in all, this choice almost gives me a kind of strange confidence in FIFA execs. At least they weren’t wasting their money on frivolous things like flashy cars or bottle service or, er, those ladies the Secret Service always liked to have around. No, Blazer went straight into Eccentric Oil Magnate/Overindulged Roman Emperor (this is probably redundant; is there any other kind?)/British royalty territory and went for the Entire Apartment Full of Unruly Cats.

7) No wonder these cats were unruly. Even ordinary cats are not exactly ruly. And these cats doubtless thought they were property owners. My family cat always thought she owned the place and she didn’t have a $6,000 TRUMP PLAZA APARTMENT FOR HERSELF AND A FEW INTIMATE CAT FRIENDS.

8) This would come in very handy if he were trying to confuse Sir Roderick Glossop into thinking he was not right in the head.

9) The fact that the only person in literature to have an apartment full of cats is a character in a P.G. Wodehouse story tells you how COMPLETELY REMOVED FROM REALITY this idea is usually located.

10) Seriously, what amount of money do you have to have in order that you sit down and say to yourself, “No, no, I won’t invest this. I want an apartment for my cats.”

11) I always think that the 1 percent and even the 0.01 percent are just like us, deep down, just with more silver spoons, more lacquer tables and the occasional butler. But this — this is some Gatsby-level nonsense. “I am going to get a $6,000 apartment for my cats” is the sentence right after “I’m going to throw constant parties with fireworks and own a pink suit” and right before “and I shall build an organ and get a man named Klipspringer to sleep inside it.”

11) What.
(Personally, I would have done this last one "12) What?," but as they might say at the FIFA clubhouse in Switzerland, "Chacun à son goût.")

Now can we look forward to the end of soccer -- by, say, July? Let the boys and girls finish up any games they really feel it necessary to play, and then get on with it. Just as if the whole bloody thing had never happened.
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Will The TPP Allow Monsanto To Destroy Neil Young?

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If Wall Street-owned Republicans and conservative Democrats manage to give Obama Fast Track authority and jam the TPP through the House, are they in fact granting Monsanto the right to sue Neil Young for all he's worth? Although Monsanto's headquarters are in Creve Coeur, that's Creve Coeur, Missouri, not France. Monsanto is the go-to place for genetically modified foods, although they have stopped manufacturing other dangerous products like DDT, Agent Orange and PCBs. Monsanto's life-threatening products are involved in lawsuits in India, Brazil, Argentina, China and other countries. And Monsanto uses lax campaign laws to bribe conservative American (and European) politicians, primarily Republicans and right-wing Democrats-- with "campaign contributions," lobbying and very aggressive revolving-door policies.

What's all this got to do with Neil Young? Neil's talking about a collection of new songs he's going release June 29 as an anti-Monsanto concept album. TPP will make it easier for Monsanto to sue him-- and his record label, Reprise/Warner Bros. Neil isn't unaware of the dangers of a lawsuit either. Last year when he announced he was boycotting Starbucks he said, "Starbucks has teamed up with Monsanto to sue Vermont, and stop accurate food labeling."
Young is taking things a step further now, releasing an entire rock album dedicated to slamming Monsanto. The album is called, fittingly, The Monsanto Years It is a collaboration between Young and Willie Nelson's sons, Lukas and Micah [who have a band, Promise of the Real].

Young recently previewed a clip of one of the songs from the album, "Rock Starbucks," according to Democracy Now! The lyrics are an unsubtle assault on the ethics of the Seattle coffee giant:
If you don't like to rock Starbucks, a coffee shop
Well, you better change your station 'cause that ain't all that we got
Yeah, I want a cup of coffee, but I don't want a GMO
I like to start my day off without helping Monsanto
Monsanto
Let our farmers grow
What they want to grow
Neil describes the new album, which has 9 songs, as "ecologically-environmentally focused." The track listing:

1. A New Day For Love
2.  Wolf Moon
3.  People Want To Hear About Love
4.  Big Box
5.  A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop
6.  Workin' Man
7.  Rules Of Change
8.  Monsanto Years
9.  If I Don't Know

Neil has also announced he'll be touring behind the new album in July. So far he's announced a dozen dates:

07/05 – Milwaukee, WI @ Summerfest
07/08 – Denver, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre
07/09 – Denver, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre
07/11 – Lincoln, NE @ Pinnacle Bank Arena
07/13 – Cincinnati, OH @ Riverbend Music Center
07/14 – Clarkston, MI @ DTE Energy Music Theatre
07/16 – Camden, NJ @ Susquehanna Bank Center
07/17 – Bethel, NY @ Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
07/19 – Essex Junction, VT @ Champlain Valley Expo
07/21 – Wantagh, NY @ Nikon at Jones Beach Theater
07/22 – Great Woods, MA @ Xfinity Center
07/24 – Oro-Medonte, ON @ WayHome Music Festival



There have been reports that some of the countries negotiating the TPP pact-- including Australia, Canada and Malaysia-- are demanding exemptions from the proposed litigation rule that allows corporations to sue governments because of environmental, safety, labor and health regulations that harm their bottom lines, according to a secret text released by WikiLeaks. Last month Jedediah Purdy, a professor at Duke Law School, wrote at HuffPo about some of the dangers the TPP poses to Americans. He sums up those threats as a grave danger to democracy itself.
Democracy is the problem with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiation. It's the problem for TPP supporters because the trade deal has been secret so far-- known to the public only through leaks and rumors-- and because the Fast Track authorization that the Obama Administration wants would box Congress out of meaningful input on the treaty.

As Yale Law School international trade scholar David Grewal has pointed out, the TPP is about national regulation of domestic economies, issues like environmental, labor, and consumer safety law that are at the core of self-government. It's outlandish that this sovereign power is being bargained away in secret, with the final deal dropped before Congress in a take-it-or-kill-it package. So TPP critics have found that democracy is by far their easiest argument. In fact, given how much of the negotiations remain secret, just about the only informed argument they can make is that the secrecy itself is a problem. And it is a terrible problem. It should make the whole backroom arrangement illegitimate, at least until we all know what is in it.

But democracy is also a problem for TPP opponents, and in a subtler way. Consider: Who actually thinks the US Congress would be able to hold a reasoned debate on a complex trade agreement and deliver a sound judgment reflecting the will of the people? Who even believes that Congress holds reasoned debates, ever, or that there is such a thing as the will of the people, rather than fleeting gusts of public opinion and internet mobbing? If you think the TPP is a good thing, you definitely do not want to put it through the political process. TPP supporters don't, by and large, believe they are trying to put one over on a wise but unwary public: they believe democracy is broken, the public is ignorant and renders irrational decisions, and that Congress is no better (though sometimes teachable, thanks to lobbyists).

And who, honestly, doesn't believe something like this about US democracy today? Who really wants to submit their highest value, or the project they have worked on for decades, to this democracy? Really?

The press to fast-track TPP is a sellout of democracy, but it is also a symptom of a deeper collapse of faith in American self-government. Increasingly, people who want to get something done find ways around democratic lawmaking: private investment, nonprofit social mobilization, executive actions, lawsuits in the courts, anything but going to Congress. The TPP sellout of democracy has attracted so many supporters among well-intentioned, sophisticated, realistic people because, frankly, such people are used to disregarding democracy when they want to accomplish something important.

Acting like we have no democracy to protect-- in fact, believing we have none-- has vicious circular effects. The deep reason to be skeptical of the TPP isn't just that it an unlabeled pill; it's that once we swallow it, we surrender some of the power to shape our own economy to advance our own ideas of fairness, safety, solidarity, sustainability, and so forth. The life and aspirations of a democratic community should come before its economy, and give their shape to the economy-- not the other way around. That was certainly FDR's view during the New Deal, and LBJ's when he proposed the Great Society. But who really believes it now? Who wants the regulatory laws that these guys, the politicians now in power, and the people they listen to, would make?

From what we know of the TPP, it works as an economic policy straitjacket, locking its members into a shared set of market rules. It even brings in "investor-state dispute settlement"-- a fancy term for allowing foreign corporations to sue governments whose lawmaking interferes with their profits, outside the courts of law, in suits resolved by private arbitrators. All of that is fundamentally anti-democratic. It reverses the basic and proper relationship between a political community and its economy. But plenty of Americans are seeking just that reversal. Not all of them believe the market is perfect and magical; but they believe it works, more or less, and that democracy does not. They are more than half right that this democracy, "our democracy" (a phrase that's hard to say without irony), does not work. And that is the reality that makes their anti-democratic agreement so plausible.

So the movement against the TPP has to be more than that. It has to be organically and explicitly linked to a pro-democracy movement: one that works against money in politics, for stronger antitrust laws to reduce concentrated economic power, against the economic inequality that pulls Americans apart and isolates them in their insecurity, and for access to good education and political empowerment for everyone in this country.

...It's one of the famous clichés of American life that Benjamin Franklin, asked what the Constitutional Convention had created, replied "A republic-- if you can keep it." Anyone asked what the TPP's opponents are fighting for should reply, "A democracy-- if we can build it." Defeating the TPP would keep open the space for that building. Of course, then we would still have to build it.

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Sinking the Sanders Campaign Beneath a Wave of Silence

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The press, covering their imagined version of the Sanders campaign (source)

by Gaius Publius

You knew that "the chatterers" — writer Steve Hendricks' name for corporate-employed pundits and analysts — would try to sink the Sanders campaign. As Hendricks points out below, their bosses want nothing less, and employees live to serve.

Hendricks, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review:
On the eve of the 1948 presidential election, Newsweek asked the 50 reporters on President Truman’s campaign train to forecast the winner. To a man they went the way the Chicago Tribune infamously would on election night: “Dewey defeats Truman.” Lay historians will recall that not only did Truman defeat Dewey; he clobbered him. Sorting out how the media got it so wrong, The New York Times’ James Reston concluded that he and his brethren had been a lot like the aloof Governor Dewey himself, who was said to be the only man who could strut sitting down. Dewey played well with plutocrats and publishers. “[J]ust as he was too isolated with other politicians,” Reston wrote, “so we were too isolated with other reporters; and we, too, were far too impressed by the tidy statistics of the polls.”

This was true, but it fell to A. J. Liebling, the nonpareil of The New Yorker, to pick out the crucial vice that Reston and similarly minded colleagues overlooked. “A great wave of contrition hit the Washington newspaper world in the days immediately following the joyous catastrophe,” Liebling wrote, “and men swore that they would go out and dig for the real truths of politics as they never had dug before. But few publishers encouraged them in their good resolutions, and most of them are back again running errands designed to bolster their bosses’ new illusions.”
As Hendricks points out, Liebling’s most memorable bon mot is also his most eternal — "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one."

The "bosses' illusions" about the Sanders campaign are that it has no chance to succeed, and that it should be given no chance. And they're doing their best, the chatterers and their bosses, to give it no chance at all. Hendricks on the wave of silence in the press:
"[That this] crank actually could win” is nearer the mark. But having settled on a prophecy, the media went about covering Sanders so as to fulfill it. The Times, for example, buried his announcement on page A21, even though every other candidate who had declared before then had been put on the front page above the fold. Sanders’s straight-news story didn’t even crack 700 words, compared to the 1,100 to 1,500 that Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Hillary Clinton got. As for the content, the Times’ reporters declared high in Sanders’s piece that he was a long shot for the Democratic nomination and that Clinton was all but a lock. None of the Republican entrants got the long-shot treatment, even though Paul, Rubio, and Cruz were generally polling fifth, seventh, and eighth among Republicans before they announced. ..
There's more about this in the article, including similar coverage by those whom Hendricks calls, not euphemistically, Sanders' "admirers."

"But He's Such a Long-Shot..."

Yet Hendricks firmly believes that Sanders could win, that the Sanders campaign could succeed after all. (I share that belief.) In addition to the "Eugene McCarthy in 1968" argument, which Hendricks doesn't make, there are several strong arguments which Hendricks does make.

First, about those long odds (my emphasis):
The foregoing would be woeful enough even were it true that Sanders has almost no chance of winning, but it’s not true. I’ll skip lightly over the conspicuous fact that any frontrunner can have a Chappaquiddick, a deceptively amplified “scream,” or a plane crash. Instead, let me dwell on the simple fact that over the last 40 years, out of seven races in which the Democratic nomination was up for grabs—races, that is, when a sitting Democrat president wasn’t seeking reelection—underdogs have won the nomination either three or four times (depending on your definition of an underdog) and have gone on to win the presidency more often than favored candidates.

Some of these seekers were long shots indeed. Jimmy Carter was a lightly accomplished governor from a trifling state beyond whose borders he was little known and less regarded. A few weeks before he entered the presidential race, the Harris Poll asked voters their thoughts on 35 potential candidates. Carter was not on the list. After a year of campaigning, just a couple of months before the first primary, he routinely polled 1 percent among Democratic voters and finished eighth in the narrowed field of eight Democrats. But he won all the same because the other guys were Washington insiders, and after Watergate and Vietnam, Democratic voters (and eventually the wider electorate) didn’t want another insider, no matter how often journalists told them they did. If you don’t see a parallel to the present moment—a discontented time of Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Moral Monday, Fight for $15, the People’s Climate March, Move to Amend, and other anti-establishmentarian agitation—you’re either asleep or a publisher.

Michael Dukakis also polled as little as 1 percent just a few months before he announced (Sanders, by the way, was polling 5 to 8 percent at the equivalent stage), which paled beside the Hillary-esque 40 to 50 percent that Gary Hart was drawing. When Hart’s campaign went down with a boatload of bimbo, Dukakis profited, although even then he was no favorite. Shortly before the first primary, he still polled no better than 10 percent, which was toe to toe with the forgettable Paul Simon and 15 points behind both Jesse Jackson and a resurrected Hart, who mounted a brief comeback because Dukakis and all the rest looked so impotent.

Some observers wouldn’t rate Bill Clinton an underdog, mostly because he wasn’t one for long after he hopped into the race. But so slight was the shadow he cast nationally that nine months before the primaries, pollsters weren’t listing him as a potential contender. Even he thought so little of his chances (Mario Cuomo was supposed to run, and to be invincible once he did) that he didn’t announce until five months out. His odds improved from there.

The quixotic Barack Obama entered the race against a juggernaut whose endorsements were so thunderous and war chest so surpassing that many spectators thought the young senator was only trying to make himself known for a future contest. After campaigning all of 2007, he not only failed to advance on Clinton but found himself a little further back, dropping from 24 to 22 percent, while Clinton advanced from 39 to 45 percent. There were rumblings that he should bow out before the first vote so as not to weaken the ineluctable nominee.
That's a pretty decent list of precedents. Of the four, three entered the White House as residents.

What About Clinton's Money?

And then there's the issue of the money, specifically Clinton's money relative to Sanders'. I'll let you read Hendricks' counter-arguments for yourself — start with the paragraph beginning "Spurious though early polls may be." But consider that among the points he makes is this:
But the last contested nomination, in 2008, was itself a huge-money affair, and Obama won despite having started from a worse financial position than Sanders is in now (Clinton had $10 million at the start of 2007, Obama virtually nothing) and having been out-fundraised by Clinton throughout 2007.
Just one data point of many.

Is Sanders Too Far from the "Center"?

Which brings Hendricks to the final argument against Sanders' viability — his distance from the "political center." Hendricks, pointing to several past elections, notes how valuable that distance can be. I agree. His prime example is Michael Dukakis — distant from the center indeed — and he could easily have added Georgia's Jimmy Carter as well, or Arkansas's Bill Clinton.

But consider — what does the "political center" means in modern America? It means the place where the wishes of the One Percenters — of David Koch and Jamie Dimon, for example — overlap each other. The political center of the American people is way to the left of that.



For example, 87% of Republicans want Fast Track and TPP to fail. Republicans want that. And therein lies the real danger of the Sanders campaign — that it does represent the people, a great many of them, and it therefore could easily succeed if it gets any tailwind at all. Hendricks:
Is the day of the IKEA socialist at hand? The chatterers don’t know the answer. What they know is how to do their damnedest to ensure that day doesn’t come too soon.
They can try, the chatterers and their bosses, to sink the campaign beneath a wave of silence, but with impassioned words like these coming from the likes of Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Sanders' core platform has a huge megaphone:


I'm willing to bet that the Warren megaphone, whatever her eventual endorsement ends up being, isn't going away. Nor is coverage of her by "the chatterers." All this bodes well for the Sanders campaign.

(Click here if you'd like to help his campaign. You can adjust the split in any way you like. My collected Bernie Sanders coverage is here.)

GP

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Disqualifying Donations for Democratic Candidates-- Meet Chris Matthews' Wife Kathleen

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Chris & Kathleen Matthews-- rich people who want a Maryland congressional seat

Lately, we've talked about how certain faux Democrats are being recruited by Beltway power-mongers to run as Democratic congressional candidates. For example, the DCCC was quick to recruit conservative "ex"-Republican Monica Vernon for IA-01 and the DSCC was even quicker in recruiting even worse conservative "ex"-Republican Patrick Murphy in Florida. Murphy, ostensibly a New Dem, votes with the GOP on crucial roll calls more frequently than all but 4 or 5 Blue Dogs and he gave maximum contributions to Chris Christie while Christie was still a Republican running against a Democrat and to Mitt Romney. Vernon is rich and conservative and she and her very Republican husband have contributed thousands of dollars to local and national Republicans, including, in 2012, to Bruce Braley's GOP opponent, Ben Lange, as well as to clowns like Chuck Grassley and John McCain, and $4,000 to the Iowa State Republican Party. The DSCC and the DCCC look for candidates like these; how else could they possibly maintain their breathtaking records for incompetence and just failure?

Now there's a new candidate making tiny Beltway hearts go pitter-patter. Chris Matthews' wife wants to be the Democratic nominee for the open MD-08 House seat that Chris Van Hollen is giving up to run against Donna Edwards for Senate.

Kathleen Matthews is a Marriott company executive with no political experience other than influence-peddling. But that isn't stopping her or her ConservaDem allies. While the political media love reporting on one of their own (we’ve already seen a few rounds of stories about her leaving her job at Marriott and about her husband’s outsized voice in campaign strategy), there was one story from the Huffington Post that caught my eye. As the HuffPo reports, Matthews’ most recent political campaign contribution was to Republican extremist Senator Roy Blunt, just a few months ago and for the current 2016 cycle.

This means that the last donation Matthews made before deciding to run for Congress as a Democrat was to a man with a 0% NARAL Pro-Choice America rating, a 0% Planned Parenthood Action Fund rating, and an "A" rating from the NRA. Steve Israel and others at the DCCC don't care, of course, but how does she expect that Democratic primary voters in Maryland will respond to that?

And since this donation is for the 2016 cycle, Matthews is essentially endorsing a Republican Senator at the same time she's running as a Democrat. Does this mean she supports Blunt’s anti-choice agenda? Does it mean she supporters his pro-gun agenda? Does it mean she supports his anti-gay marriage agenda?  Does it mean she doesn't care whether Democrats control the U.S. Senate?  After all, Blunt has serious Democratic opposition this cycle, and Matthews' donation was a donation toward continued Republican control.

It would be one thing if she had a record to look at in totality. But since she’s never been in public service, never run for office, and never been involved on policy issues, we only have her donations to inform us of her politics. And this is troubling at best.

As progressives, we understand we want our elected leaders to get along with Republicans. But we should never support a candidate who gave money, let alone the maximum amount allowed, to someone who is vehemently anti-choice and bitterly, aggressively homophobic... someone who is actively working to defeat candidates like Russ Feingold on the campaign trail and block legislation from Senators like Elizabeth Warren.

This should absolutely disqualify her for the Democratic nomination for Congress. It goes against so many of the core political principles that Democrats care about. She didn’t just give to a run-of-the-mill local Republican, she gave to the 3rd most powerful Republican Senator in the country and the architect of the “Blunt Amendment,” which tried to limit women’s access to birth control under Obamacare.

What we have in Matthews is another corporate-friendly Democrat with no political compass who will bounce around with the political winds, dine with lobbyists at fancy cocktail parties, and give money to whoever she wants, regardless of what they stand for.

On top of all this nonsense coming from Matthews’ soon-to-be campaign, voters in this district have other choices in the early stages of the race. Among them are Delegate Kumar Barve, Delegate Ana Sol Guitierrez, and Will Jawando. But the clear front-runner is the progressive choice, State Senator Jamie Raskin. Jamie Raskin is a strong progressive who has a decade of proven leadership in the State Senate. He’s earned support from elected officials in the district and from progressives nationwide due to his leadership in championing marriage quality, abolition of the death penalty, supporting women’s reproductive rights, and defending civil liberties. A simple search online provides the perfect contrast to this current news. Raskin's last federal donation? Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 campaign. Enough said.

You can contribute to Jamie Raskin's campaign on the main Blue America ActBlue page. There is no such thing as a contribution too small.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Let's say you wouldn't be irresistibly drawn to a site called "New Tech City." Could there be a better name?

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Out with the old . . .


. . . and in with the new


by Ken

Not long ago I was pleased to call attention to an interesting project undertaken by the New Tech City podcast-and-blog of New York's WNYC called "Bored and Brilliant: The Lost Art of Spacing Out," which was designed to help smarphone addicts wean themselves from their addiction by embracing, you know, the lost art of spacing out.

It's true that I didn't do a whole lot of follow-up to see how the project worked out. The idea was for listeners-readers to share their experiences with the series of six challenges presented to them. Actually, I didn't do any follow-up. That could be because smartphone use isn't one of my addictions, or it could be, at least in some small part, because I didn't feel exactly a magnetic pull toward a site called "New Tech City."

Which brings us to this latest news coming out of NTC. It's not called that anymore. As the keeper of the site, Manoush Zomorodi, recalls in a post yesterday announcing the new name, on April 27 she sent out an announcement and a call for help:
Hello friends,

I've got some exciting (and kind of nerve-wracking!) news for you.

We are going to change the name of this podcast. And we want your help.

In 2012, we launched as a short news update on New York City’s burgeoning tech scene. Now, because of the good feedback (thank you!), we've grown into a real podcast.

And in the process, we've outgrown our name.We know "New Tech City" sounds like a show about infrastructure, subways, and start-ups. People who have never listened before expect urban designers who code. It feels a little funny coming out of my mouth after stories like this one. Or this one. Or this one.

Now, this podcast has more to do with the ways our brains, relationships, and values are changing at a pace never seen before in human history — how so many of us feel overwhelmed by the incessant amount of information coming at us, yet too busy to stop and read the fine print.

This is where you come in: What’s a name that fits this mission? I’m asking you because of a recent tipping point: that project called Bored and Brilliant that thousands of you did with me a few months ago (and some of you are still doing). You gave us tons of feedback, and you gave us hundreds of other ideas for topics you’d like to hear explored on the show.

So now, we want you to weigh in again. We're looking for something clear, pithy, and meaningful — for example, I love the name of "Death, Sex and Money," because my colleague talks about, yes, death, sex, and money. Gretchen Rubin's "Happier"? It's about how to be happier. "How to Do Everything?" Couldn't get much clearer than that.

Please click through to answer some questions that will help us think through our new name, whether you have the perfect suggestion in mind or not.

And believe me, your ideas can't be any worse than mine:


AND THE WINNER IS --

The April 27 appeal, Manoush informs us in the new post, drew more than 700 responses, "including, but not limited to":


"As I went through all the suggestions," Manoush tells us, "a theme emerged: we’re on a search for balance in the digital age."
In no uncertain terms, you told me you listen to our show because you're interested in "purposeful use of technology." According to our survey, the shows that seem to have resonated with you include:

Nine things we learned about phones from 16-year-old Grace,
A history of how technology has messed up our sleep through the ages.
• And, of course,the Bored and Brilliant project, when we took a week to rethink our gadget habits and jumpstart our creativity.
With you so far, M.
And so: We're renaming this podcast "Note to Self."
Oh.

This is, Manoush says, "something I do every day, as I think about my life, my responsibilities, and the sorts of stories I want to cover for all of you." She offers examples including visual aids, like this one:


"My desk at WNYC, covered with just some of the notes I leave for myself."

Er, okay.
This show is a place where we find solutions together, both high and low tech (see above!). We're not just talking literal notes. We're here to do more experiments, stories, and reminders about how we can live and think better in an era of information overload.

Listen above for more about our new name. Soon you’ll be able to find us at notetoselfpodcast.org. If you're already a subscriber or a regular listener, you don't have to do anything at all -- you’ll just see a new logo and hear a new intro each week. We'll be updating all of our social media profiles, and you shouldn't have to do a thing.
Right.

Manoush has more to say about the new name, and the new plans for it, and she encourages everyone both to sign up for the newsletter and to provide feedback and suggestions of any sort. You can read all about this, and do your signing up onsite, and your feeding back and suggesting.

The only thing is . . . um, "Note to Self"?
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If you want to visit the museum on the site of Teddy Roosevelt's birth and boyhood, you'll have to wait a year

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Regardless of what the National Park Service says, Theodore Roosevelt's birthplace hasn't existed for nearly 200 years. For the next year, the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site -- on the site of TR's birthplace -- will be closed for renovation.

GRAMERCY -- Theodore Roosevelt's birthplace is getting a major renovation to upgrade its fire and electric systems and make the museum more ADA accessible, officials said.
by Ken

Since all things Roosevelt are hot now, in the wake of the most recent Ken Burns docu-series, I thought fans would want to know about this not-quite-breaking news. But before we proceed, we have to correct something the writer of DNAinfo New York piece herself knows is incorrect, as she makes clear deeper into the piece.
The brownstone — which features five period rooms, two museum galleries and a bookstore — had been demolished in 1916. It was then rebuilt in 1919 by the Women's Roosevelt Memorial Association with the help of Roosevelt's widow and sister in a bid to look as similar to the original as possible.
So, notwithstanding the heading you'll find at the National Park Service Web page linked in that DNAinfo NY opening paragraph, as illustrated above, what has been closed is not TR's birthplace, which hasn't existed for almost a century -- and even then what stood on the site didn't bear much resemblance to the "birthplace" as young Teddy would have known it.

What's more, half of the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site was ever the site of TR's birthplace, though the other half of the site does have a historical connection. The National Park Service knows all about this too, because within its "Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace" Web page, there's a page that gets the story pretty much right, as far as I can tell. (This is the page linked at "Women's Roosevelt Memorial Association" in the later paragraph above.)
On November 30, 1919, the Woman's Roosevelt Memorial Association paid off the $25,043.63 mortgage on 28 E. 20th Street, thereby acquiring ownership of Theodore Roosevelt's birthplace, as well as the adjoining 26 E. 20th St. property that was once owned by Theodore's uncle, Robert Roosevelt. This transaction completed the first step in a long process of restoring and renovating the late president's childhood home into a memorial. However, 28 an 26 E. 20th Street in 1919 was a much different place than it had been when Theodore was born there in 1858.

With the evolution of the Gramercy area into an increasingly commercial district in the mid-late 19th century, the Roosevelts decided to move uptown to 6 W. 57th Street in 1873. By 1898, the once neo-gothic brownstones of 20th Street had been transformed into storefronts. While celebrating TR's 47th birthday in 1905, the Roosevelt Home Club decided to buy 28 E. 20th Street, in hopes of preserving its initial structure from further renovations and maintaining the site as a National Landmark. However, in 1916, the group let go of the building, and it was then transformed into a two-story café. Roosevelt declined the opportunity to preserve the mantelpieces or any other part of the house before its demolition.

In 1919, shortly after TR's death, the Women's Roosevelt Memorial Association purchased the 20th street properties and established very specific plans for the buildings' restorations. 28 E. 20th Street was to be a meticulous reproduction of Roosevelt's home as it was in his childhood, complete with family portraits, original furniture, and other Roosevelt heirlooms. Any original pieces that could not be salvaged were to be reproduced exactly. The 26 E. 20th Street home would be renovated into a museum and a library, holding influential works in addition Theodore's own writings. The fourth and fifth floors of both buildings would hold auditoriums where New York school children could attend assemblies on the history of the country and the state, as well as the life and work of the Theodore Roosevelt. The Women's Roosevelt Memorial Association wanted to transform the buildings into more than just museums; they wanted to create an interactive experience to promote the principles that helped shape Theodore's strong character.

On January 6, 1921, the second anniversary of Theodore's death, General Leonard Wood, former commander of the Rough Riders, laid the cornerstone of the Roosevelt House, officially marking the renovation commencement. The memorial was formally opened to the public on October 27, 1923, which would have been Theodore's 65th birthday. Three hundred people attended the opening ceremony inside the newly restored house. Tributes were made from General Wood, President Calvin Coolidge, James Garfield, Secretary of the Interior in the Roosevelt Cabinet; Governor Pinchot of Pennsylvania, Chief Forester during the Roosevelt presidency; and Theodore Roosevelt, TR's eldest son.

As articulated by the Woman's Roosevelt Memorial Association, the Roosevelt house was to be a living testament to the president's great American spirit; "a place where his voice may, year after year, be clearly and strongly heard". The association hoped the late president's former home would promulgate Theodore's ideals of courage, fairness, service, and perseverance, especially to the country's youth. The memorial would be national center for Americanization and an inspiration of greatness for generations to come.
So the cumbersome verbiage of the name "Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site" actually makes the thing correct, in the same way that the cumbersome name "Federal Hall National Memorial," for the building at the intersection of Wall, Nassau, and Broad Streets in Lower Manhattan's Financial District, is a correct designation for the building that now stands on the site of the Federal Hall where George Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States in 1789 -- but "Federal Hall" is not correct.


Standing there on his pedestal in front of Federal Hall National Memorial, George Washington is probably wondering what happened to the "Federal Hall" on whose balcony he famously took the presidential oath of office.

And here there's no issue of "look-alike" reconstruction. It's hardly a secret that the building that was known as Federal Hall in 1789 (built in 1700 in smaller form as NYC's second City Hall was torn down, after going through several other uses (there was hardly any call for a Federal Hall in NYC once the capital was moved to Philadelphia and then Washington, DC),  including once again serving as City Hall, in 1812, when the new City Hall (still in service) opened. The building that replaced it, a decade in the building before its opening in 1842 as the first U.S. Customs House, was never meant to bear any resemblance to Federal Hall; its significance-by-location was recognized only much later, with its designation in 1939 as Federal Hall National Memorial National Historic Site. (Now there's a mouthful.)

No, the cars aren't original either.
The "TR's birthplace" situation more closely resembles that of a different famous Lower Manhattan site, also associated with George Washington, "Fraunces Tavern." Visitors flock to the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets, maybe a quarter-mile south of Federal Hall National Memorial, and often think they're looking at the historic tavern that was a favorite haunt of George when he was in New York, the Queen's Head (for the portrait of Queen Charlotte on the building front), run by his supporter Samuel Fraunces. The thing is, the building that housed the historic tavern, after an additional century-plus of extensive damage and alteration, was finally slated for demolition. What's there now, completed in 1907, is a purported "replica" of the original -- a neat trick considering what sketchy knowledge there was of what the original looked like. (Just to confuse matters further, the building-that-isn't-Fraunces Tavern was designated as a NYC landmark in 1965. Since 1977 so has been the lovely block of old buildings it anchors on Pearl Street.)

No doubt the replica of TR's birthplace is a good deal more plausible, since presumably better information is available, and/or more plausibly conjecturable, about the actual birthplace, including its state when the future NYC police commissioner, NYS governor, and U.S. president was born, in 1858.

AS FOR THE RENOVATIONS TO THE SITE --

National Park Service spokesman Liam Strain describes the rehabbing of the TR birthplace site as "very delicate work," reports DNAinfo NY's Sybile Penhirin.
Strain said crews began removing artifacts from the home and relocating them to a secure facility and plan to begin renovation work this summer.

"We need to do work that doesn’t destroy the fabric of the home, it’s not like a private home where you could just remove walls. We have to be as minimally invasive as possible." . . .

The federal agency, which had been wanting to do the renovation work for the past several years, recently received 3.7 million to conduct "necessary and important improvements" at the historical site, officials said.

The museum's entire electric system, which dates back to when it opened to the public in the 1920's, will be replaced, Strain said. The fire alarm and sprinklers will also be swapped out for modern ones, which will be less likely to damage the museum's collection in the case they go off, he added.

The changes will also make the house more accessible to mobility-impaired visitors by adding two chair-lifts, one on the stairwell at the entrance level and another one that will go from the third floor to the auditorium on the fourth floor.

There is currently an elevator in the building, but it only goes up to the third floor of the four-story building. In addition, the auditorium hasn't been used for at least three years because the space wasn't accessible to everyone, Liam said.

A contractor for the work hasn't been chosen yet. NPS will put out a request for bids in July, with work expected to commence in August, Strain said.

Roosevelt, the only United States President born in the city, was born in the brownstone in 1858 and lived there until he was 14 years old.
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What's More Valuable For Democratic Candidates, Solid Ideas And Values Or Perceived Coattails?

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Tuesday night Elizabeth Warren was at the Re/code convention in DC. The guy above asked her the right question. I'm as happy with Bernie Sanders running for president as I would have been with Warren running. Either would make an infinitely more useful president than anything Establishment politics is about to puke up at us. Will the Republican clown car/horror show frighten enough people to force them to overlook Hillary Clinton's shortcomings and pick her as the lesser evil?

That said, Blue America is very eager to help elect a slate of solid, dedicated progressives running for the House and another slate of solid, dedicated progressives running for the Senate and we're wondering how strong the Democratic Establishment's arguments are that Hillary is likely to have powerful coattails. Shouldn't those coattails be strong enough to help P.G. Sittenfeld defeat Rob Portman in Ohio, and help Lou Vince beat Steve Knight in CA-25, and help Jason Ritchie depose Dave Reichert in WA-08? These are swing races, and some strong coattails are going to make all the difference in the world. Does Hillary have them? The Democratic Establishment asserts she does and promises she will help elect scores of down-ballot candidates across the country.

This morning Politico ran a feature on what the Beltway Dems optimistically call "the Hillary effect." "Party officials are using Hillary Clinton’s candidacy to recruit candidates at every level of office and employing a simple pitch: Democratic voter turnout tends to be higher in presidential election years-- and next year, the former secretary of state’s historic candidacy and formidable organizing efforts will have an especially catalytic effect." 

Conservative Democrats-- essentially Blue Dogs and New Dems-- who have voting records that align with the Republicans and have only the shallowest support from Democratic base voters are desperate for Hillary. The Senate run of Florida reactionary Patrick Murphy, for example, is based on encouragement from Beltway bosses like Schumer and Reid with the premise of Clinton's presence at the top of the ticket. Similarly, the entire New Dem coalition is counting on her to save their worthless asses. One of the worst, most right-wing Democrats in the House, Sean Patrick Maloney in upstate New York, is a major GOP target, but feels confident that Clinton will save him. "Hillary Clinton is a force multiplier," he's quoted as saying, arguing that her " 'old-school' organizing efforts around the country could be a windfall for down-ballot candidates."
Brad Schneider, a Democrat who squeaked into Congress in 2012 after winning a suburban Chicago seat on the strength of President Barack Obama’s dominance in Illinois but then lost in 2014, believes his odds of recapturing the seat increase considerably with Clinton at the top of the ballot.

“It makes it worth going through the gantlet of another election,” said Schneider, who will be running against GOP Rep. Bob Dold for the third time. “I am really excited that she’s running. The anticipation of her candidacy was a major factor in my decision to run.”

Top party operatives say the promise of Clinton’s coattails is fueling a recruitment bonanza in down-ballot contests, with prospective candidates frequently citing Clinton’s presidential bid as an inducement to run.

Democrats don’t expect to retake the House in 2016, but they understand the need to field competitive candidates to chip away at the Republicans’ historic majority. In part, that’s why the Clinton campaign and its allies have begun talking up her efforts to build an infrastructure in all 50 states, an organizational show of strength that could encourage wary prospects to run for Republican-held House seats-- even in states that aren’t competitive in the Electoral College.

Dave Calone, a Democratic businessman challenging freshman Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) in an eastern Long Island swing district, said Clinton’s likely place at the top of the ticket was “definitely an important part of deciding to run.”

“I kind of grew up as a Clinton Democrat,” said Calone, who worked as an intern in President Bill Clinton’s White House in 1994. “Those were my formative years, politically.”

Last month, the Clinton camp launched its “Ramp Up Grassroots Organizing Program,” sending paid staff to every state to coordinate volunteer trainings and other party-building efforts. Though it’s not specifically aimed at recruiting House candidates, allies hope the mere presence of a Clinton infrastructure could motivate top prospects to run. That’s particularly true in bright red bastions of the Midwest, like Kansas, where organizing events are more about generating down-ballot buzz than they are about winning the state’s electoral votes.

In presidential swing states where the Clinton campaign will commit massive resources, the recruitment pitch is even more straightforward. “Any Democrat that runs in those states is going to benefit from her infrastructure,” a DCCC aide said.

...“In a presidential year for Democrats, more people come to the polls, so couple that with Hillary Clinton, a woman running for president, I think intensifies it and brings it to another level, where 2016 will hopefully be the year of women,” said California Rep. Julia Brownley, a second-term Democrat who narrowly won reelection last fall.

Emerge America, a group promoting female candidates, recently launched a “Follow Hillary’s Lead” effort aimed at using Clinton’s candidacy to get reluctant women off the sidelines, and EMILY’s List has also built Clinton into its pitch to prospective recruits.

“For candidates and for voters, the idea of electing the first woman president is inspiring and energizing,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement.
Brownley has it all going for herself-- a woman and a miserable conservative of basically no real value to anyone other than her own career aspirations. Go, Hill!

Many voters want Bill Clinton back in the White House

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