Friday, November 28, 2014

In stunning scientific news, scientists learn to tell wingnuts Jeff Sessions and Mike Enzi apart


Mike Enzi or Jeff Sessions? Oh wait, that's actually the much funnier Jeff Sessions look-alike, the late comedian and actor Henry Gibson.

by Ken

Oh sure, you could always tell them apart using seat-of-the-pants empricial techniques. Like knowing that Jeff Sessions is from the Confederacy Forever wing of the Republcian Party, you could say, "Slavery is an abomination," and wait for him to drawl, "The South will rahz again." Or knowing that Mike Enzi is from the Western Survivalist wing, you could pretend to be a revenooer and see if he goes for his shotgun.

Of course, the Teabaggers could tell them apart, because Enzi isn't quite crazy or strident enough to suit their tastes. As Washington Post political reporter Paul Kane notes in the piece below, the Senate GOP crazies are up in arms. (Kane notes that he's "no moderate. but he has worked with Democrats, including the late Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.)," and "his head-down approach has not earned him praise in the tea party era of confrontation." He reminds us that Enzi for a while faced a primary challenge from Liz Cheney in his last reelection bid.) The story, in brief is that Senate Republicans have a brouhaha brewing for the chairmanship of the Budget Kane, which as Kane notes they haven't had "since 1987, when Jesse Helms (N.C.) used seniority to trump Richard Lugar (Ind.) for the leading spot on Foreign Relations." And the Senate GOP crazies see the hand of the leadership in Enzi's challenge to the ascension of Sessions, who has been serving as ranking member, a challenge that Enzi is entitled by his party's rules to make on the ground of his razor-thin edge in seniority.

It's an awkward spot for the Senate GOP leadership, and reporter Kane seems to accept that the leadership is staying out of it. Naturally the GOP crazies aren't buying it. After all, these are people who see conspiracies under the bed when they get up in the morning. Even accepting that the leadership is staying out of it, though, almost my favorite moment in the story is when the spokesman for Senate Majority Leader-to-be "Miss Mitch" McConnnell says, apparently with a straight face, "The only members who decide the chairman are the Republican members of the committee. The leadership plays no role." And he wouldn't say it if it wasn't so.

Anyway, here's the story, which I'm going to let Paul Kane tell his way.
In chairman fight, Jeff Sessions is battling his perception on immigration debate

By Paul Kane

Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) were elected to the Senate on the same day in 1996, but Enzi holds seniority over his longtime friend through a totally random feature of party rules: They drew names out of a hat.

That quirk of history has led to a showdown over the chairmanship of the Budget Committee that has caused a backlash among conservatives, who say Enzi is unfairly laying claim to the powerful position at the behest of party leaders.

Sessions has been serving as the top Republican on the committee for the past four years and was in line to take the chairmanship after the GOP won control of the Senate this month.

But since then, Sessions has undercut party leaders with his strident opposition to President Obama’s immigration action, even raising the specter of another fiscal showdown that resembles previous confrontations with the White House. Party leaders are eager to fight back against the president, but in a more measured way in line with their desire to show that they are up to the task of governing.

That has provided an opening for Enzi, whose name-out-of-a-hat seniority gives him the standing to challenge Sessions and who is pitching himself as a less-confrontational alternative.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other members of his team have publicly stayed out of the contest, but conservative activists nevertheless say they are quietly backing Enzi because he would be a more reliable party man.

Gaston Mooney — who served as an aide to former senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who often clashed with McConnell’s leadership team — wrote in an article last week in Conservative Review: “If Sessions loses the chair of the budget committee, it is only under the orders and direction of McConnell.”

Enzi’s advisers reject the idea that he’s making a run at the leadership’s bidding, instead stressing his experience on fiscal matters such as health care. McConnell’s office issued a strong denial of playing any role.

“The only members who decide the chairman are the Republican members of the committee. The leadership plays no role,” Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman, said Wednesday.

Sessions has spent his three terms in the Senate advancing a conservative agenda and has become one of the most reliable voices opposing Obama. He can be every bit as confrontational as his much-better-known colleague Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), with the key difference being that Sessions actually holds power and position within the Senate.

On immigration, Sessions has been the leading voice among Republicans who want to use the budget process to try to force Obama to back off his unilateral decision to offer protections to illegal immigrants.

Republicans who disagree with that strategy think that a better counter to Obama’s action would be to pass a border-security bill and other conservative immigration legislation and send it to the White House, rather than cutting off the budget and risking even a partial shutdown of government agencies.

Aware that critics say his approach will lead to a shutdown, Sessions has repeatedly vowed that if push came to shove, he supports funding the government. But he has been vague on how his strategy would work once the president vetoed legislation that included restrictions on implementing the immigration order.

“We should be cautious, we should be responsible. I’m going to tell you, that is exactly correct: We don’t need to shut this government down, we’re going to fund the government,” he said.

If Sessions wins the chairmanship, the implications for the GOP are more than temperamental or confined to immigration. On the policy front, Sessions is an independent thinker — a deeply ideological conservative who is very open to using the budget as a political weapon.

When House Republicans and Senate Democrats cut a bipartisan budget deal late last year, Sessions forcefully opposed the compromise, breaking with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman. Sessions argued that the agreement too easily adjusted levels of discretionary spending, and he balked at the inclusion of new federal fees.

Reluctant to criticize his old friend, Sessions is laying out his case of having done hard work over the past four years as the ranking Republican on the committee, and being ready to do the job on Day One. “Look, Enzi can do the job. He’s got sound values. I just have given a lot of thought to it and would like the opportunity to do it. We’ll keep talking, and our colleagues will ultimately get to decide,” he said.

The electorate for this race is tiny: The 10 or 12 Republicans who will be on the Budget Committee next year will vote, and whatever they decide will almost certainly be honored when the full Republican caucus weighs in.

Republicans have not had a contested battle for a top committee post since 1987, when Jesse Helms (N.C.) used seniority to trump Richard Lugar (Ind.) for the leading spot on Foreign Relations.

Short in stature and possessing a quirky, high-pitched Southern drawl, Sessions, 67, is sometimes overlooked, but he’s rarely out­hustled. He won a fourth term to the Senate three weeks ago without any opposition whatsoever, either in a primary or the general election.

The early focus for Sessions was the law, graduating from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1973. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed him to be the U.S. attorney for the state’s Southern District, beginning an unusually long 12-year stint that spanned two GOP administrations.

His nomination for the U.S. District Court in Alabama became a racially charged moment in 1986 amid accusations of mishandling a voter-fraud case against civil rights activists, and his ultimate rejection for the lifetime appointment set him on a political path.

In 1996, he won the Senate seat of Howell Heflin (D), whose vote against Sessions a decade earlier was pivotal to his nomination’s defeat. His focus for years was on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he defended the George W. Bush administration’s aggressive tactics to fight terrorists.

His first battle with his own party on immigration came during the Senate’s 2006 debate on bipartisan legislation that would have led to a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants — a bill that the Bush White House backed but which Sessions labeled “fatally flawed.”

By 2009, Sessions became the ranking GOP member of the Judiciary Committee, where he played the role of leading the attack against Obama’s Supreme Court nominees. Despite Sessions’s sharp conservatism, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan won confirmation in a fairly amicable process.

Republican rules on term limits for top committee slots forced Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) out of another key post in 2011, and Grassley’s seniority trumped Sessions’s at Judiciary. Even though he wasn’t the most senior at Budget, other Republicans, including Enzi, had picked more prime committees, and the legal expert found himself serving as the top GOP senator on fiscal matters.

In the minority, Sessions did not hold nearly the same clout as his House counterpart, Ryan, the Budget chairman who became the ideological standard-bearer for this decade’s fiscal conservatives.

His biggest break from the fiscal-hawk wing has been that Sessions has shown a knack for Southern conservative populism on some issues. He recently advocated walling off Medicare and Social Security trust funds to protect their finances, rather than the ­Ryan-style voucher programs, and he often talks about “fair trade deals” that protect U.S. workers that sound ideologically similar to Northern Democrats.

Sessions was not a central negotiator in the four fiscal showdowns that Republicans had with Obama and Senate Democrats the past four years.

In fact, over the past two years, Sessions has made his biggest mark being the leading Republican opponent to immigration legislation, first on a bipartisan vote in 2013 and now on Obama’s executive action.

His confrontational style has scared some congressional Republicans, who want to avoid even talk of a possible government shutdown and argue that the 2016 GOP presidential nominee cannot alienate the Hispanic vote to have any chance at victory.

Enzi is no moderate, but he has worked with Democrats, including the late Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the former senator who is now ambassador to Beijing. His head-down approach has not earned him praise in the tea party era of confrontation, and for a brief time he drew a primary challenge from Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president.

Enzi fought back hard and eventually cruised to reelection. He has been setting up one-on-one meetings with members of the budget panel in what is the most insidery of insider races in Washington.

“Jeff and I are talking,” Enzi said late last week, unclear whether the issue would go all the way to a rare vote on who gets the gavel. “I don’t know. We’ll keep working on it. We’re good friends.”

His public selling point has been that he holds a more senior post on the committee and that two years ago, when Republicans were still in the minority, he passed on asserting his seniority and allowed Sessions to maintain his perch.

But that seniority is based entirely on the quirky GOP rules. A handful of Republicans won their first Senate term in 1996 without any prior experience as a governor or member of the House, so under party rules seniority was determined by drawing names from a hat.

Sessions was the last name drawn, and now he’s squaring off against his old friend in a race that has caused anxiety among their colleagues.

“I hope they work it out,” said Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a member of the Senate Budget Committee. “That would be best for everybody.”

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The Bernie Project-- At iTunes And Amazon Monday


There's something horrible about Chris Christie being a Bruce Springsteen fan, even if the admiration is strictly a one-way street. And, I admit, there was something creepy about a reactionary Wall Street creation like Paul Ryan leaking his iTunes playlist to prove he had some connection to a zeitgeist normal humans could relate to. Who could imagine that the guy who wants to gut Social Security and see grandma and grandpa die without medical care also likes to rock out to Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, the Dead, Green Day, Twisted Sister, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin? Rage's Tom Morello, for his part, made it clear that Ryan is the "embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades." And Twisted Sister threatened to sue Ryan if he doesn't stop using their music at his bund-like rallies. Conservatives and popular music -- beyond Pat Boone-- seem like strange bedfellows.
It's almost impossible to reconcile Rage Against the Machine with Ryan's ideology, however. The band's politics are as inseparable from its music as Woody Guthrie's leftism was from his own songs. Responding to the band's criticism of George W. Bush, Ann Coulter sneered, "They're losers, their fans are losers, and there's a lot of violence coming from the left wing." (Ann Coulter, call your office.) Rage guitarist Tom Morello has also been a frequent presence at Occupy Wall Street events. It's tough to imagine what must go through Ryan's head as he listens to songs about the evils of the capitalism system.

...Ryan, of course, is not the first right-of-center politician to proclaim his love for bands that staunchly disagree with him. The most famous incidence is probably Ronald Reagan's tin-eared adoption of Bruce Springsteen's stinging "Born in the USA" as a campaign song. In 2007, sometimes-musician Mike Huckabee named outspoken liberal acts John Mellencamp and Creedence Clearwater Revival as members of his musical pantheon. But that's not as bad as British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was "forbidden" from liking the Smiths by Morrissey and Johnny Marr, in an exceptionally rare moment of unity from the former bandmates.

Perhaps this is healthy. After all, rock 'n' roll is about rebellion against social norms. Even politicians need a chance to cut loose sometimes, and no one ought to begrudge them that small act of getting out of line. Listening to left-wing bands may simply be an irresistible, forbidden fruit for people like Ryan.
When Bill Clinton asked me to get Lou Reed to perform at a White House state dinner in honor of Velvet Underground fanatic (and Czech president) Vaclav Havel, it didn't seem odd at all... and a good time was had by all. And Ryan's incoherent, reflexive head banging for "grunge" is nothing like the paean Alan Grayson wrote to Joni Mitchell, every single one of whose songs he seems to have reflected on at great length (and depth). Joni's songs, he wrote, are "Dense. Poetic. Brimming with deep and yet casual insights into the way people are. And that’s putting aside the gorgeous musical compositions, and Joni’s surreal voice. What is the meaning of life? I’m not sure, but I sense that it’s somewhere in there, suffusing the songs of Joni Mitchell."

One of the most refreshing campaigns of the 2014 cycle was Rick Weiland's music-fueled run for Senate in South Dakota and the songs he and his family-based band recorded were front and center from start to finish. Listen to this. Everything about it sounds perfectly authentic to me to me. Can you imagine Paul Ryan getting up on a stage and singing a version of Bulls on Parade, Ghost of Tom Joad or even Renegades of Funk?

In 1987, when Bernie Sanders was 46 and mayor of Burlington he was excited by the nexus between popular culture and social change. "Music and how music relates to social life is something that interests me," he told a radio audience. He spent two nights at the White Crow Studio-- later made famous as the early home of Phish-- recording "We Shall Overcome," "This Land Is Your Land," "Banks Are Made of Marble," "Oh Freedom" and "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" Monday, Todd Lockwood, the former owner of the studio whose idea the sessions were, is releasing a 5-song EP-- both electronically and on CD-- called We Shall Overcome featuring the Vermont Senator and probable presidential candidate.
"I love music very much, but to be honest I can't carry a tune," the independent senator wrote in an email forwarded from his Burlington office. "I have to tell you that working with all of those Vermont musicians was a great experience."

"We Shall Overcome" contains five songs featuring many performers still active on the Vermont music scene, including Jon Gailmor, Rick Norcross of Rick & the Ramblers and Danny Coane of The Starline Rhythm Boys. Rather than sing, Sanders delivers impassioned speeches with his deep New York accent intertwined with updated versions of classic folk songs such as Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."

Many of his soliloquys would work just fine as stump speeches for his potential presidential push in 2016, as the topics he addressed then are similar to those he emphasizes now. On Pete Seeger's "Oh Freedom," Sanders boldly espouses "freedom, dignity, the willingness to stand up against the strong and the powerful." On Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," Sanders angrily indicts the evolution of warfare to nerve gas and laser beams. The album might come off a little awkward at times, but it shows the consistency of Sanders' positions.

Stewart Ledbetter of WPTZ explains that "Sanders couldn't sing but he could write and talk so Lockwood got 30 of Vermont's best musicians to play and sing over Sanders' introductions. In the year that followed, White Crow sold several hundred  copies of the "Bernie Project" on cassette tape-- the medium of the day. And then it was mostly forgotten."

Lockwood took the masters to Portland, Maine to get them digitally remastered by Bob Ludwig (the gold standard for the music industry, who has mastered records for Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Nirvana, Coldplay, Dire Straits, Daft Punk... you name it. Lockwood, who's doing this on his own without getting a buy in from Sanders, thinks it could help his presidential campaign.
"My sense of it is that this can't hurt anything. This is grassroots stuff you can't buy," Lockwood said. "There's no other person who'll run for president that'll have something like this."

Take that, Hillary.
And Paul Ryan.

This is the Pete Seeger song Bernie covered that I barely remembered from my childhood-- "The Banks Are Made of Marble"

I've traveled round this country
From shore to shining shore.
It really made me wonder
The things I heard and saw.
I saw the weary farmer,
Plowing sod and loam;
I heard the auction hammer
A knocking down his home.
But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the farmer sweated for.
I saw the seaman standing
Idly by the shore.
I heard the bosses saying,
Got no work for you no more.
But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the seaman sweated for.
I saw the weary miner,
Scrubbing coal dust from his back,
I heard his children cryin',
Got no coal to heat the shack.
But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the miner sweated for.
I've seen my brothers working
Throughout this mighty land;
I prayed we'd get together,
And together make a stand.
[Final Chorus:]
Then we'd own those banks of marble,
With a guard at every door;
And we'd share those vaults of silver,
That we have sweated for.

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Harry Reid, Tax Extender Basics, And A Suggestion For Senate Progressives​


by Gaius Publius

Two of the most interesting lame duck battles are shaping up in the Senate. The first is the nomination of Antonio Weiss for an under-secretary job at Treasury. His nomination is strongly opposed by Elizabeth Warren and others. For more, see here (me on Warren), here (The Nation on Warren), here (Howie Klein on the pushback) and here (me on the pushback, plus some soothing music).

The second is the battle over end-of-the-year "tax extenders" (extensions of tax breaks that expire each year). Consider this a backgrounder so you won't have to play catch-up when the December flies start hitting the ointment. I'll also consider whose flies are playing in this multi-sided game, and offer a simple suggestion to Senate progressives — if you play a strong hand, you won't do worse than playing a weak one.

Opening Salvo in the Liberal Press

The public fuss among progressives started, it seems to me, when Igor Volsky penned a strong piece at ThinkProgress called:
Congress Poised To Eliminate Key Tax Breaks For Middle Class, Provide Permanent Tax Breaks For Corporations
You can bet that got progressives' attention. In it he says:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has reached a compromise with House Republicans on a package of tax breaks that would permanently extend relief for big multinational corporations without providing breaks for middle or lower-income families, individuals with knowledge of the deal tell ThinkProgress.

Under the terms of the $444 billion agreement, lawmakers would phase out all tax breaks for clean energy and wind energy but would maintain fossil fuel subsidies. Expanded eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit would also end in 2017, even though the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that allowing the provisions to expire would push “16 million people in low-income working families, including 8 million children into — or deeper into — poverty.” The proposal would help students pay for college by making permanent the American Permanent Opportunity Tax Credit, a Democratic priority.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of the package would make permanent tax provisions that are intended to help businesses, including a research and development credit, small business expensing, and a reduction in the S-Corp recognition period for built-in gains tax.

The costs of the package will not be offset.
A lot to unpackage, and a lot to hate if true:

▪ "permanently extend" corporate tax breaks
▪ "phase out all tax breaks" for clean energy
▪ "maintain fossil fuel subsidies" (!)
▪ expand some "Democratic priorities"
▪ the cost "will not be offset"

Also, two more pieces — Reid is painted as the perp, and Volsky's source is "individuals with knowledge of the deal". What to make of this?

Progressive Pushback Was Immediate

Criticism of the "deal" has come from a number of quarters, and rightly so. Howie Klein wrote this:
Will Harry Reid's Sell Out Of The Middle Class Help Solidify An Open Rebellion Caucus?
tying the battle against the deal both to Reid and to a nascent (and playfully named) "Open Rebellion Caucus" among Warren-style progressives in the Senate:
Sounds more like caving in than compromising, no? ... It should be interesting to watch which Democrats stand with Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown and Brian Schatz and which will stand with Reid and the Republicans.
Meanwhile, I'm hearing from other reporters that the Reid people are saying, in effect, "this isn't what it looks like" and noting that the deal was never final. We get indications of that here (emphasis mine):
Immigration politics and Democratic infighting came together to doom the $400 billion deal even before it had made it into print. The brinksmanship threatens to disrupt the lives of millions of taxpayers who rely on the mishmash of expired provisions the plan was trying to revive. ...

Interviews with the key players showed that the two tax-writing panels in the Senate and House had for weeks been making solid progress toward a final tax package that looked like it would include the breaks for low- and middle-income people sought by the president.

But the deal fell apart just as it seemed to be coming together.

The immigration executive order soured the GOP on the tax cuts for the working poor and middle class sought by Democrats. Republicans worried undocumented immigrants targeted by the order would begin claiming the credits in droves. They found a friend in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who reluctantly agreed to drop his party’s demands to extend expiring parts of the earned income tax credit (EITC) and its companion, the child tax credit.
In other words, by this telling, also anonymously sourced, Reid, knowing a deal would have to be struck, tried for the best one he could get ... until Republican opposition to executive branch immigration reform came along to ruffle their feathers (see the bolded part above). Then he reluctantly surrendered on the Earned Income credit and the Child Tax credit.

Is This a Four-Handed Game?

Progressives are rightly upset with the shape of this deal, and the White House has promised a veto. All this raises a bunch of questions:

▪ Who were Volsky's sources?
▪ Who were the sources for the immigration-themed story?
▪ Was Reid doing his progressive best or caving?
▪ Why aren't the Reid people telling their side publicly?

I've been reluctant to write about his myself because there's so much going on behind the scenes. So your first piece of background information is — this could be a four-handed game. If so, these are the players:
  1. Conservative Senate Democrats (i.e., most of them)
  2. Progressive Senate Democrats (Warren & Sanders types)
  3. All Senate Republicans
  4. The White House
Let's leave Reid out of it for now and assume he stands for the best deal he can get (admitting that this is an assumption unverified by publicly available facts).

To illustrate what I mean by a "four-handed game," consider the difference in how you'd see this story if you knew Volsky's source was group 2 or group 4. If Volsky is hearing from group 2, Progressive Democrats, painting Reid as the perp helps progressives put Reid in a bind, forcing a maybe-better deal. If Volsky is hearing from group 4, the White House, painting Reid as the perp helps them distance themselves from, let's face it, a deal that the White House — filled as it is with corporate-friendly Democrats — always offers anyway at this time of year, but an even stinkier version of it.

I take Volsky as an honest reporter and really like his work. But as he himself makes plain, he's telling someone's story. Whose? We don't know; we'll have to see it played out.

So what are these "tax extenders"? And should they all expire?

"Tax Extender" Basics

This is the second part of your backgrounder — a primer on end-of-year tax extenders — nicely provided by the invaluable Dave Johnson, writing at We'll need this information in order to evaluate the deals that emerge (my emphasis below):
Every year Congress renews a package of “temporary” corporate tax breaks. The renewal process is called “tax extenders” because they extend the term of these temporary breaks. So now the Congress is working on this year’s extenders package, except this time it wants to just make many of them (the ones that mostly give handouts to giant corporations and campaign donors) permanent. The Washington Post calls this process “a periodic bonanza for lobbyists.”

A few of the special tax breaks in the extenders package are really good and serve an important purpose. For example, part of the package is tax credits that provide incentives to invest in renewable energy. But most others are just giveaways and handouts to the already-wealthy, like depreciation tax breaks for people who own racehorses. (Yes, really.) Even worse, some of these are loopholes that actually encourage corporations to shift U.S. profits offshore into tax havens. (Yes, really.)

The good breaks are used to grease the wheels to slip these special favors through – as in “if you want to get those wind tax credits you’re going to have to pass a tax break for Mitt Romney’s racehorses.”
So there you go — a few "good breaks" like renewable energy credits and tax credits for the poor that "grease the wheels" for mega-giveaways (a "bonanza") to corporations. (On the right, this is called the "honey" that catches the flies: us.)

Who's getting the better end of this deal? Obviously the rich; they get the better end of every deal. So who really wants their part more? Interesting question and one almost never asked. There's a way to find out though, with almost no downside to our side, and potentially a very large upside.

Suggestion to Progressives — Threaten to Let Them All Expire

Let's take what Dave Johnson says seriously. Most of these "extenders" are a rich-person's wet dream, and the ones we like are just "grease." So one way to negotiate, the weak way, is to protect as much of the grease as you can while handing the other side everything it wants. This assumes that the grease is so critical that even a little of it is more valuable than everything else you've surrendered. I call this the "weak way" because you end up with less and less grease, while handing a bigger and bigger "bonanza" to the other side in exchange.

(This, by the way, is true of real progressives — that the "grease" has value — but merely a cover story for non-progressive Democrats. For the latter, what matters is the "bonanza" that rich people get, and from which they take a cut. Keep that in mind when you consider statements from the White House, for example, which helps bankers far more than desperate mortgage-holders, or from less-than-progressive Senators.)

Again, one way to negotiate is from weakness, attempting to stave off total failure by surrendering more and more. But for uncompromised-by-money real progressives, there's another way to negotiate.

The fact is — the wet dream part is what this deal is all about, and that dream is critical to each of the other three groups in our four-handed game. Only progressives are opposed to the rich-people's gifts. So, progressives — Merkley, Warren, Reid (are you with us?) and friends — why not play a strong game instead of a weak one?

Instead of surrendering almost everything you care about to get the least bit of something, progressives should threaten everything the other side wants and frankly, call their money-loving bluff. The White House wants the rich to have these gifts in their stocking; all Senate Republicans agree; and so does every corporate-loving Democrat (like "sorry for playing hard" Michael Bennet). Make the other side fight for the money, and look like it.

Could progressives kill the whole deal if they don't get what they want? If you put me in charge of the Open Rebellion insurgency, I'd try. After all, the entire left press is on your side — consider that Volsky's source could already be Senate progressives. In addition, the issue is hugely visible. And even if you lose, you'll get the best deal possible, not the worst one available. Just say to the other three players:
"Progressives in the Senate stand for working people and those struggling with poverty. The deal on the table is unacceptable in every way. We would rather have no deal than the one on offer. If you want our vote, put the deal on the table in 2014 that we voted for in 2013. That way everyone wins. That or nothing from us."
The White House and less-progressive senators will play the kitten card and complain, "But what about the poor?" You then say:
"We care as much as you do. In fact, we care so much about the poor, we want the best deal possible, not the worst."
"Triangulate this," in other words. The White House has already come out against the size of the "bonanza." This offers them a chance to look even better by siding with you (they've already promised a veto, your own bottom line) — and at the same time, shows them a corner and offers a paint brush if they don't. I think this is worth a test.

Progressives who really care about people are always blackmailed — far too successfully in my opinion — with a "kitten held hostage" as I alluded to above. Here the kitten (and believe me, kitten lives are valuable) is a set of tax breaks for the poor and renewable energy credits, items of real value. But the only way to end blackmail is to walk away from it. "Do you love your kitten as much as we love ours? Let's find out. No kitten needs to suffer in this deal."

Another Opportunity for Progressives to Play Strong

I hear Mr. Reid is a pugilist who likes to play a strong smart hand. Mr. Reid, here's a chance to do that. Ms. Warren, we know what you can do. Mr. Merkley, care to help out? Play a strong hand and you could scare the shinola out of all the other players, the White House included. Yes, progressives care about the poor a whole lot. But count on it — your opponents care about the rich a whole lot more than that.

How much more? You could test it; they could be far more vulnerable to your blackmail than you think. Besides, this is one lame duck issue that won't wait until next year, when Democrats lose the majority. They're "end-of-year tax extenders." Good; another positional advantage, a stalemate if nothing happens. My suggestion — go for it. You can't do worse than the deal you were about to get.

Mes petits sous,


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Inside The National Security State Not Much Ever Changes


There's been some dispute about what S. 2685, the U.S.A. Freedom Act of 2014 would have done and not done to protect American citizens from the excesses of an unaccountable national security state. Since it won't become law-- the Republicans successfully filibustered it Nov. 18-- I guess we don't have to dig too deeply into the fine points. Actually not all the Republicans filibustered it. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) both crossed the aisle and voted for cloture with all the Democrats (except Bill Nelson of Florida); they do that sometimes. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) don't ever do that-- but they both did on this bill. There were 58 votes in favor-- 2 shy of what's required to break the filibuster, something "moderate" Susan Collins (R-ME), "moderate" Mark Kirk (R-IL) and libertarian Rand Paul (R-KY) could have easily turned right around-- and 42 votes against.

A similar bill passed the House last May 303-121. There were 70 Democrats and 51 Republicans in opposition to a bill that was viewed as not going far enough to protect the constitutional rights of American citizens. Members who care about privacy and the Constitution and oppose Big Brother encroaching on what rights we have left-- whether people like Justin Amash (R-MI), Louie Gohmert (TX), Matt Salmon (AZ), Walter Jones (NC) and Kerry Bentivolio (MI) on the right or people like Barbara Lee (D-CA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) on the left-- voted against the House version. Another vote against the House version was Alan Grayson (D-FL), who wrote a letter to his constituents this week extolling the virtues of the Senate version. It's a good letter, very much worth reading:
There was a filibuster in the U.S. Senate last week. Yes, I know, that’s hardly news. And a cloture vote to end that filibuster. That’s hardly news, either. And the cloture vote failed. Not news. 

The vote was, among other things, to end the National Security Agency’s collection of records of every phone call that you make. Which, sadly, also is no longer news. What would be news is if someone did something about it. 

Fifty-eight senators voted in favor of ending the filibuster, and the “bulk collection.” Only forty-two voted against. But we no longer live in a country where the majority rules, so every single time you make a phone call, the NSA will know to whom you spoke, and for how long. 

Regarding the failed vote against the filibuster, the D.C. newspaper Roll Call opined that: “It’s probably going to take another series of revelations about NSA programs for strict legislation to get momentum again.” But I’m wondering how much of the last series of revelations has been absorbed by the body politic. So I’m offering to you excerpts from a little-noticed interview that Edward Snowden did with The Guardian a few months ago, complete with British spelling. File it under the category of “read it and weep.”

Yes, the NSA Shares Your Sexy Photos … And Other Observations from Edward Snowden

On NSA culture, sharing sexually compromising material

SNOWDEN: When you’re an NSA analyst and you’re looking for raw signals intelligence, what you realise is that the majority of the communications in our databases are not the communications of targets, they’re the communications of ordinary people, of your neighbours, of your neighbours’ friends, of your relations, of the person who runs the register at the store. They’re the most deep and intense and intimate and damaging private moments of their lives, and we’re seizing [them] without any authorisation, without any reason, records of all of their activities-- their cell phone locations, their purchase records, their private text messages, their phone calls, the content of those calls in certain circumstances, transaction histories-- and from this we can create a perfect, or nearly perfect, record of each individual’s activity, and those activities are increasingly becoming permanent records.

Many of the people searching through the haystacks were young, enlisted guys and … 18 to 22 years old. They’ve suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all your private records. In the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work, for example an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation but they’re extremely attractive. So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and they show a co-worker. And their co-worker says: “Oh, hey, that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way.” And then Bill sends it to George, George sends it to Tom and sooner or later this person’s whole life has been seen by all of these other people. Anything goes, more or less. You’re in a vaulted space. Everybody has sort of similar clearances, everybody knows everybody. It’s a small world.

It’s never reported, nobody ever knows about it, the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak. Now while people may say that it’s an innocent harm, this person doesn’t even know that their image was viewed, it represents a fundamental principle, which is that we don’t have to see individual instances of abuse. The mere seizure of that communication by itself was an abuse. The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communication stream, from the intended recipient, and given to the government without any specific authorization, without any specific need, is itself a violation of your rights. Why is that in the government database?

I’d say probably every two months you see something like that happen. It’s routine enough, depending on the company you keep, it could be more or less frequent. But these are seen as the fringe benefits of surveillance positions.
The rest of Grayson's letter-- and Snowden's interview-- can be found here on Grayson's Tumblr page. But let's take a little trip in the time machine back 4 decades to just after Nixon was forced to resign and Jerry Ford was installed as president. Historian Rick Perlstein writes about this period in his latest book, The Invisible Bridge and, of course, no account of this era would be complete without a discussion of an earlier round of utterly unconstitutional, illegal CIA/NSA shenanigans, that included everything from assassinations to opening Americans' mail. Frank Church (D-ID) in the Senate and Otis Pike (D-NY) in the House did the heavy investigatory lifting, although the Elizabeth Warren of her day, Bella Abzug (D-NY) kicked off the investigations by exposing two unconstitutional government surveillance projects, code-named SHAMROCK-- which intercepted, without warrants, every telegram coming into the United States and distributed them to the CIA, FBI, Secret Service or Department of Defense-- and MINARET-- a similar program but one targeting specific individual Americans (including political leaders like Frank Church and Howard Baker, boxer Muhammed Ali, Martin Luther King, Jr., journalists like Tom Wicker-- both run, Perlstein reports "by a government bureau that was so secret most Americans didn't even know it existed," the NSA. Do they today?
"With a reputed budget of some $1.2 billion and a manpower roster far greater than the CIA," the Associated Press explained, the National Security Agency had been "established in 1952 with a charter than is still classified as top secret." (Its initials, the joke went, stood for "No Such Agency.") It had also, Abzug revealed, been monitoring both the phone calls and telegrams of American citizens for decades. President Ford persuaded Church not to hold hearings on the matter. Abzug proceeded on her own. At first, when she subpoenaed the executives responsible for going along with the programs, the White House tried to prevent their testimony by claiming the private companies were "am agent of the United States." When they did appear, they admitted their companies had voluntarily been turning over records and cables to the government at the end of every single day for more than forty years. The NSA said the programs had been discontinued. Abzug claimed they still survived, just under different names. At that, Church changed his mind: the contempt for the law here was so flagrant, he decided, he would initiate NSA hearings too.

Conservative members of his committee issued defiant shrieks: "people's right to know should be subordinated to people's right to be secure," said Senator John Tower. It would "adversely affect our intelligence-gathering capability," said Barry Goldwater. Church replied that this didn't matter if the government was breaking the law. He called the NSA's director to testify before Congress for the first time in history. Appearing in uniform, Lieutenant General Lew Allen Jr., obediently disclosed that the agency's sprung on Americans was far vaster than what had ever been revealed to the Rockefller Commission. He admitted that it was, technically, illegal, and had been carried out without specific approval from any president. But he declined to explain how it worked. He added that thanks to such surveillance, "We are aware that a major terrorist attack in the United States was prevented." He refused to give further details on that, either-- as if daring the senators to object.

...As for the president, he followed the recommendation of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and closed down further NSA inquiry by extending executive privilege to the officials and telecommunications executives involved. This institutionalization of what had been a novel, and exceptionally controversial, legal doctrine into a brand-new presidential administration got no coverage either.
A little over a year ago, Grayson did an OpEd for The Guardian, Congressional oversight of the NSA is a joke, I should know, I'm in Congress.
In the 1970s, Congressman Otis Pike of New York chaired a special congressional committee to investigate abuses by the American so-called "intelligence community"-- the spies. After the investigation, Pike commented:
It took this investigation to convince me that I had always been told lies, to make me realize that I was tired of being told lies.
I'm tired of the spies telling lies, too.

Pike's investigation initiated one of the first congressional oversight debates for the vast and hidden collective of espionage agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Security Agency (NSA). Before the Pike Commission, Congress was kept in the dark about them – a tactic designed to thwart congressional deterrence of the sometimes illegal and often shocking activities carried out by the "intelligence community." Today, we are seeing a repeat of this professional voyeurism by our nation's spies, on an unprecedented and pervasive scale.

Recently, the US House of Representatives voted on an amendment-- offered by Representatives Justin Amash and John Conyers-- that would have curbed the NSA's omnipresent and inescapable tactics. Despite furious lobbying by the intelligence industrial complex and its allies, and four hours of frantic and overwrought briefings by the NSA's General Keith Alexander, 205 of 422 Representatives voted for the amendment.

Though the amendment barely failed, the vote signaled a clear message to the NSA: we do not trust you. The vote also conveyed another, more subtle message: members of Congress do not trust that the House Intelligence Committee is providing the necessary oversight. On the contrary, "oversight" has become "overlook."

Despite being a member of Congress possessing security clearance, I've learned far more about government spying on me and my fellow citizens from reading media reports than I have from "intelligence" briefings. If the vote on the Amash-Conyers amendment is any indication, my colleagues feel the same way. In fact, one long-serving conservative Republican told me that he doesn't attend such briefings anymore, because, "they always lie."

Many of us worry that Congressional Intelligence Committees are more loyal to the "intelligence community" that they are tasked with policing, than to the Constitution. And the House Intelligence Committee isn't doing anything to assuage our concerns.

I've requested classified information, and further meetings with NSA officials. The House Intelligence Committee has refused to provide either. Supporters of the NSA's vast ubiquitous domestic spying operation assure the public that members of Congress can be briefed on these activities whenever they want. Senator Saxby Chambliss says all a member of Congress needs to do is ask for information, and he'll get it. Well I did ask, and the House Intelligence Committee said "no," repeatedly. And virtually every other member not on the Intelligence Committee gets the same treatment.

Recently, a member of the House Intelligence Committee was asked at a town hall meeting, by his constituents, why my requests for more information about these programs were being denied. This member argued that I don't have the necessary level of clearance to obtain access for classified information. That doesn't make any sense; every member is given the same level of clearance.

There is no legal justification for imparting secret knowledge about the NSA's domestic surveillance activities only to the 20 members of the House Intelligence Committee. Moreover, how can the remaining 415 of us do our job properly, when we're kept in the dark-- or worse, misinformed?

Edward Snowden's revelations demonstrate that the members of Congress, who are asked to authorize these programs, are not privy to the same information provided to junior analysts at the NSA, and even private contractors who sell services to foreign governments. The only time that these intelligence committees disclose classified information to us, your elected representatives, is when it serves the purposes of the "intelligence community."

As the country continues to debate the supposed benefits of wall-to-wall spying programs on each and every American, without probable cause, the spies, "intelligence community" and Congressional Intelligence Committees have a choice: will they begin sharing comprehensive information about these activities, so that elected public officials have the opportunity to make informed decisions about whether such universal snooping is necessary, or constitutional?

Or will they continue to obstruct our efforts to understand these programs, and force us to rely on information provided by whistleblowers who undertake substantial risks to disseminate this information about violations of our freedom in an increasingly hostile environment? And why do Generals Alexander and Clapper remain in office, when all the evidence points to them committing the felony of lying to Congress and the American people?

Representative Pike would probably say that rank-and-file representatives will never get the information we need from the House Intelligence Committee, because the spying industrial complex answers only to itself. After all, Pike, and many of the members of his special congressional committee, voted against forming it. As it is now constituted, the House Intelligence Committee will never decry, deny, or defy any spy. They see eye-to-eye, so they turn a blind eye. Which means that if we rely on them, we can kiss our liberty good-bye.

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Andrew Slack Asks The 13 Crucial Questions About Ferguson


Andrew is someone I know from progressive activists circles and who also happens to lead the Harry Potter Alliance, which uses popular culture to make social justice popular. Today he gave me permission to crosspost the 13 questions from his Facebook page.

Guest Post
by Andrew Slack

Here are 13 questions I have around Ferguson, numbered but in no particular order of importance. While I realize it's long, I think these questions are important and worth asking about, acting around, and wrestling with:

1) #‎WHYTWELVESHOTS: Not even in Officer Wilson's telling of the story, did it seem that it was necessary for a trained police officer to shoot his gun twelve times. I doubt that there was ever a reason to shoot his gun one time. But twelve? And hit Michael Brown six times. How can this ever be justified? I think the simple truth is that it can't.

2) #‎WHYNOTRIAL: Michael Brown had 12 shots to die. Shouldn't Officer Wilson have one shot at a trial of his peers? A larger systemic issue is that 99.99% of grand juries move to indict but they barely ever do when it comes to matters of the police. This needs to change.

And how do we now unite with Color of Change to work with the federal government to ensure that Officer Wilson is given the trial that he deserves?

3) #‎WHYAFTERSUNDOWN: Though none of us are eye witnesses to what happened between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown, all of us are eye witnesses to what happened between the Ferguson police and peaceful protests this last summer.

As protestors remained disciplined and peaceful as police beat them and threatened them with extremely dangerous military weapons. The Ferguson police and Missouri state government were caught off guard when it came to media attention. Now they needed to save face. They had a lot of face to save! So what better way to do this than to paint the protestors as "violent animals" by inciting a riot. Why else did they wait until after sundown to read the grand jury's decision and for the prosecuting attorney to make everything worse by blaming the protestors, social media, etc? I have a hard time believing that any one could be THAT inept. If they didn't fear riots, then why would they have already called in the National Guard....creating expectations and a more tense situation, only to let it out by announcing AFTER SUNDOWN?!

I think there needs to be Congressional hearings on whether or not the Ferguson police intentionally incited riots.

4) WHY ARE THE FERGUSON POLICE AS WELL ARMED AS ISIS? There's something frightening about the militarization of the police that has occurred steadily over the course of 25 years. At this point, it seems like a corrupt way for weapon companies to make money.

5) WHAT'S RACE GOT TO DO WITH IT? The fact that young black teens are killed at over 20 times the rate as young white teens or simply John Green's Tumblr post on the raw data in Ferguson, all point to the fact that structural racism exists.

Even hearing Officer Wilson describe Mike Brown as "a demon"-- just looking at the choices of words have historical racial undertones that may have suggested the officer's mindset in this particular case and underline the strange relationship that white cops have with communities of color.

The rug has been lifted over structural racism and how it intersects with police brutality and we find that we've been pushing stuff under it for decades. As the NY Times writes:
"For the black community of Ferguson, the killing of Michael Brown was the last straw in a long train of abuses that they have suffered daily at the hands of the local police. News accounts have strongly suggested, for example, that the police in St. Louis County’s many municipalities systematically targetpoor and minority citizens for street and traffic stops-- partly to generate fines-- which has the effect of both bankrupting and criminalizing whole communities.

In this context, the police are justifiably seen as an alien, occupying force that is synonymous with state-sponsored abuse"
As Kaiser Soze said, "the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." Well what is coming from Ferguson (a year and some months since the trial around the killing of Trayvon Martin) and the fact that Ferguson is typical of an American town-- all of this points to the notion that the devil of structural racism is real. The first step in recovery is acknowledging that we have a problem. And we have a problem.


Look no further than Martin Luther King Jr to understand the intersection between economic inequality and structural racism. King believed very deeply that racism could not be fixed without addressing classism. His writing and speaking on this are as extensive as they are unrecognized. Perhaps because people rather not be challenged by quotes such as this one from Dr. King:
"Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice."


Dr. King, himself, believed that only nonviolent resistance could demonstrate the kind of change necessary to change a system that was built in violence. To this day, we watch as that same system that Dr. King fought nonviolently. In Dr. King's words:
"A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, 'This is not just.'"
The need to say "this is unjust" is just as great today as when King said these words. And yet what about nonviolent resistance? Michael Brown's family has bravely asked for it!

The reality is that almost all protestors have remained nonviolent. But it's impossible to avoid the violence. Again, I believe that it was intentionally incited by the police. But this does not remove the agency of those who are committing violence and we must stand in solidarity, nonviolently.

But there is something truly upsetting about the first instinct being to push against violence by protestors. As my friend Jess Morales puts it:
"If your first instinct is to talk about the need for nonviolence, please check your privilege. Your brain is in the right place, but it lost connection with your heart somewhere. Folks are angry, and they have a right to be angry and express that anger. That is NOT the same as violence. And again, check yourself if you see a group of people of color who are angry and automatically think violence. Turn around and look at police officers dressed up for war. Turn your directive for nonviolence over to the ones actually perpetuating it. In the meantime, my friends are going to be angry that they can be murdered in cold blood and the "justice system" could give two fucks about it."

Most people have been hearing about the eery and perverse system of American private prisons (why would we allow for prisons that actively release people, knowing they'll make money if they come back, increasing the rate of recidivism?). Further, why are prisons the only place for some people to find work and what does that have to do with Walmart and the Walmartization of America? Why is our entire justice system not striving towards the data around what prevents crime including restorative justice? How are there laws like Stand Your Ground, what does it have to do with the lobbying group ALEC, and how are some our favorite brand names associated with funding ALEC?


The treatment of teens who are people of color is the most extreme and it seems obvious that police in Ferguson and across the US constantly intimate young people of color. In general, this entire incident has hit on the topic of age as well. Young people are speaking up about how they get spoken down to. #‎SOCIALMEDIADIDIT: The DA's belief that somehow social media was the real culprit shows a generational and cultural misunderstanding that is disturbing. How can the world of social media reach out and cross the divide around this understanding?

Still, people in other generations have not truly heard about #‎IFTHEYGUNNEDMEDOWN-- the ultimate media critique. For those who need the 411 here: when the mainstream media covers the killing a black student, they don't ever pick out photos from their Facebook of their graduation or them with their family. They always pick out selfies and photos with friends to portray that teen as a "gangsta" but if it's a white student that's killed it's entirely opposite: provocative pictures on Facebook, partying with friends, being destructive, etc are all ignored and instead, the media love to go straight for the most dignified looking pictures. In other words, white victims are victims but black victims must have had it coming. This summer, young people of color imagined what pictures the mainstream media would use of them, if they were gunned down.

Which ties into questions around the media and the way it's out of touch with all of these issues. And how we can use social media to change that and work for media reform.

And how we do to honor the past stories of injustice-- and what do we do to prevent and prepare for future ones, even now as new stories keep coming in of young black people, mainly males, getting killed by police-- it just happened last week around the corner from me. The lights were dimmed or very dark, the officer couldn't see, and he shot a young man who was walking through his home. The young man was black and is now dead. There doesn't seem to have been any prior altercation and the officer is almost definitely not going to be indicted.


I feel like there's something bizarre about how this officer and the police are being defended and it goes deep into heterosexist ideas around defending bizarre and often racist comments of normative masculinity. I know this one may seem a stretch to some, but I think the lens of gender shouldn't be forgotten when it comes to just about any thing this major and systemic in our culture.


I've been hearing stories of parents who are black or people of color trying to explain to their teenage children tricks and tips on how to be safe....from getting harassed or killed by the police. Families all over America now are in panic over the immunity that police seem to have for potentially killing their children. How do we as a nation try to take real steps toward listening deeply to changing the environment that makes these fears real?


How do we protest in a way that fully honors the rage and anger and fury in a way that is compassionate, loving, and ultimately most effective. I'm not suggesting that love, in any way, is a force that should negate anger. Love is part of a totality and about wholeness. Part of being whole is being broken and being angry. How do we find spaces to hold each other? To mourn? To express? To include police who want to protect and serve. To include prison guards and any one else who wants to elevate the human condition even if that means acknowledging that their profession belongs to a system that is hurting the human condition. In short, to love...

13) WHAT STEPS CAN WE TAKE NEXT? to mourn, to mobilize, to be voices, allies, and more? Just some more general, sketched out thoughts and questions about next steps:

-can police be part of this conversation: the nation is full of amazing cops who want to do good and don't like working for a system that structurally intimidates the poor but not the rich, etc. How can the good cops be included in this conversation - without them we can't make the necessary transformations that need to take place nearly as well.

What will happen to protestors who were treated abusively this year? Or business owners who had their businesses destroyed due to riots that it seems the police may have intentionally incited? And WILL AND SHOULD THERE BE A TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION AROUND THE ENTIRE ISSUE OF FERGUSON as an emblematic canary in the coal mine regarding the entire system of class, race, gun violence, and justice in this country?

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Have a happy Charles Ives-accompanied Thanksgiving!


"Certainly one of the things Ives wants to do is to provoke us, to challenge us to think about music in ways we never have," says Michael Tilson Thomas as he talks about and performs Charles Ives's Holidays Symphony with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in their PBS series Keeping Score. You can watch the Ives show here.

by Ken

We've done it before, and by gosh, we're going to do it again: celebrate Thanksgiving with the symphonic poem the American original composer Charles Ives (1874-1954) created to depict Thanksgiving, which formed part of his Holidays Symphony (or New England Holidays), made up of Washington's Birthday, Decoration Day, The Fourth of July, and lastly Thanksgiving, which fall somewhere between independent pieces and movements of a collective whole.

This commentary appeaers on the webpage accompanying the Keeping Score show devoted to the Holidays Symphony.
A hundred years ago, Charles Ives composed a portrait of a year in New England. The Holidays Symphony veers between tender sentiment and savage chaos, a sonic three-ring circus. Beautiful and provocative, the composition, like the rest of Ives' music, encourages the listener to think about sound in new ways.

The poet Walt Whitman makes an interesting comparison with Ives. Both men experimented with their art forms, juxtaposed serious themes with frivolous beauty, and spent decades editing and revising their masterpieces. Also like Whitman, Ives imagined various musical strains from around the world merging into a single song of mankind, but whereas Whitman used music as a metaphor, Ives used music as his medium.

The emotional material for Ives' music came from his experiences growing up in the town of Danbury, Connecticut, the son of the town bandmaster, George Ives. George had been a Union Army bandmaster in the Civil War and had a playful relationship with music that he that he passed on to his son. Once, George had two bands march toward each other while playing different songs, just to know what it would sound like.

Ives wrote most of his music between 1900 and 1920, a period in which the United States became a world power. He worried that prosperity was leading Americans to lose touch with their values. In an attempt to enshrine the America he cherished, Ives composed four movements that trace boyhood memories of seasonal celebrations, an American "Four Seasons." This was the Holidays Symphony.


including one conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas -- an earlier recording with the Chicago Symphony. Along with the performances we have the Keeping Score Web commentary on Thansgiving.

IVES: Holidays Symphony:
iv. Thanksgiving and Forefathers' Day

Baltimore Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, David Zinman, cond. Argo, recorded September 1994

Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded 1986
The Thanksgiving movement can be traced to Ives' college days at Yale. Music originally written for the organ at Center Church in New Haven was reworked into the final movement of the Holidays.

Thanksgiving illustrates the changes that occur when ideas confront one another. Once again Ives divides the orchestra into groups playing hymns in two opposing keys. Most prominent is the traditional Thanksgiving hymn, "The Shining Shore." Again, the bottom drops out, and we hear the swing of a scythe—either the harvest or the Grim Reaper has arrived. The ultimate question is asked again and as the music picks up again toward celebration and noise, the listener expects a confrontational crunch.

Instead, Ives surprises us. A large chorus sounds out Thanksgiving hymns. The choir sings a round and the whole procession passes into the distance. The different songs merge into one universal hymn of mankind.

Recognition came late to Ives. Thanksgiving was first publicly performed at the premiere of the complete Holidays Symphony in April of 1954, just a month before Ives' death.

Happy Thanksgiving! (And also Forefathers' Day, though that's not till December 22.)

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Ready For A Thanksgiving Day Dust-Up?


Banning political discussion from Turkey Day would probably be a great idea in many families. But if you have a brother-in-law who parrots, verbatim, the most recent Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage show every time he opens his mouth, it's probably hopeless. Place settings of the nice red, white and blue illustration above aren't likely to solve anything. Facts don't penetrate the conservative mind. As Ken made clear when he defined "the whole hulking Modern American Right" Tuesday: "Our brains are like a fortress, and no way can you come in."

That isn't going to stop someone like Twitter superstar @LOLGOP from trying. Yesterday he published 5 Things To Tell Your Republican Relatives At Thanksgiving Dinner. "[I]f," he suggests, "you make it to dessert and your uncle wants to rub in some election results, here are a few truth nuggets to salt his defensive wounds. To make sure he takes you seriously, tell him you read them all in email forwards."
1. More net jobs have been created under Obama than under both Bushes combined.

That’s right. In less than 6 years, more new jobs have been created under this president than in 12 full years of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. As of last August’s jobs report, 5,142,000 net jobs have been created since February 2009. Compare that to 2,637,000 under H.W. and 1,282,000 under W. And we’ve had about 200,000 new jobs a month since then.

Of course, if you don’t subtract the millions of jobs that were lost as Obama inherited W.’s economy, Obama’s number would grow to over 10 million.

Savvy Fox viewers will throw out two counter-spells to undo this unbearable fact. First, we still haven’t recovered all the full-time jobs lost in the Great Recession. Also, the labor force participation rate is at its lowest point since the 1970s. You could then point out that Baby Boomers have started retiring, which is a good thing, and people are spending more time in school. But I’d concede the point. “You’re right,” you can say, as UC Berkeley economist Brad DeLong has. “The economy is crappy. Just far less crappy than it was under both Bushes. And better than just about every other economy in the world.”

And it’s getting better. The rolling average of new unemployment claims-- our best measure of layoffs-- is at its lowest point since 2000. There haven’t been this many job openings since the end of the Clinton administration, and this could easily be the best year of job creation since 1999. And it could be a lot better-- if Republicans weren’t intentionally sabotaging it.

2. If Obama had grown spending the way Reagan or W. did, we’d be much better off.

Like Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan inherited a recession and unemployment over 10 percent. And, much as it did under Obama, our national debt doubled during Reagan’s first term.

Unlike Reagan, who grew spending by 40 percent in his first four years, Obama has cut the deficit every year he’s been in office. The deficit is now lower than it has been since 2008, and even lower this year than what it would have been if we’d implemented Paul Ryan’s radical 2011 budget plan.

Given low inflation and millions of Americans still out of work, this is bad economic strategery. If spending had grown under Obama as it did under W., our gross domestic product would be 2 percent higher and millions more people would be working. And a larger labor force is the only sustainable way to cut the deficit.

“Grumble, grumble, shovel-ready stimulus Solyndra,” your uncle will answer.

Ah. I was hoping he’d bring that up.

3. We need more Solyndras.

Everything Republicans believe about the stimulus is wrong. About 97 percent of economists agree that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act lifted the economy. And the most maligned part of that law was one of its most successful aspects.

In 2012, Michael Grunwald, who literally wrote the book on the stimulus, countered the GOP’s constant harping on the failure of Solyndra Corp., beneficiary of a loan program that fed billions into clean energy, by saying, “More, please!”

“Solyndra was one of the losers, but the winners might change the world,” he wrote.

Grunwald was right-- and the right was wrong. The loan program is now expected to just about break even, but even more important, it has helped create a green-tech industry that barely existed in this country before 2009.

How successful were these profitable cash injections into clean energy?

“The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas,” reports the New York Times' Diane Cardwell.

And how did the stimulus make this possible? By doing little things like helping the largest solar plant in the U.S. get up and running.

The affordability of new energy sources, along with America’s oil boom, may be behind Saudi Arabia’s decision to flood the oil market and lower gas prices in hopes of stunting both industries. (Thanks, Obama.)

But the genie is out of the bottle and the world we save may be the one we all currently share.

4. Republicans are paying the richest to get richest-er.

While your uncle is recovering from that news, slip this in: “I really hope Mitt Romney runs in 2016.”

“Me too, I think,” he may reply. “But why?”

“Well, I love documentaries about Mitt Romney losing. Also, I still want to see his tax returns. I think they’re the most important historical documents of the early 21st century. It’s important to know your tax rate is higher than a quarter-billionaire.”

“Um. More pie, please.”

One big reason that President Obama had an easy time making a case about the economy in 2012 is that Mitt Romney was a living example of what’s gone so wrong. Mitt pays around 13 percent in taxes, he claims, while nurses and plumbers pay far higher rates. The richest 400 Americans pay 18 percent on average, probably because they don’t donate as much to their church as Mitt does. That’s down from 30 percent in 1996, just before the GOP demanded a huge capital gains tax cut for the rich in exchange for giving poor kids health insurance. W. cut those rates again and added a huge cut for stock dividends. Because we all know going to the mailbox to get a check is harder work than unclogging a sewer or caring for a sick child.

Tax breaks for investments-- and the people who manage them-- are supposed to grow the economy. Instead, they massively grow the wealth of the richest .01 percent. Between 1929 and 1980, half of all wealth went to the bottom 90 percent. Since then, only 12 percent has.

Inequality is higher than it’s been since 1928. And you know what happened in 1929.

“Then why hasn’t that libturd Obama done anything about it?”

He has. You’ve just been trained to hate it. But here’s the good news.

5. The Affordable Care Act makes you freer-- even if you hate it.

Even if you aren’t one of the 1 in 4 uninsured Americans who has gained health insurance this year, the president’s health law helps you.

At this point your uncle may yell that he lost the plan he loved, or read about someone somewhere who did. Have sympathy. That certainly sucks, and Democrats should have pointed out that some people would lose their plans as the nation moved toward a more secure system-- but no more than lose their plans in a typical year. But what about premiums!? They’re much lower than expected and better, in most cases, than they were before the law took effect.

Now if you lose your insurance, you can still get coverage even if you have a pre-existing condition. This gives you the freedom to start a business or retire early. And the law has added at least a decade of solvency to Medicare so it will be there when you retire. Even people who hate the word Obamacare enjoy the coverage they’re getting.

Under eight years of George W. Bush, 7.9 million Americans lost their health insurance. In just this year, 10.3 million Americans have gained coverage.

But the law isn’t perfect, sure. So invite your uncle to help give the insurance industry some competition by fighting for the right for all Americans to buy into Medicare, regardless of how old they are (or how much pie they’ve eaten).

BONUS: Benghazi!

Now that an eighth investigation has shown that Benghazi was a tragedy, not a scandal, be aware that your uncle will not be ready to accept this inconvenient fact. Urging him to do so may lead to a full-on Bill O’Reilly-type break from reality that could unsettle everyone’s stomachs.

So if at any point you want to change the subject, just say, “Benghazi!” And he’ll start talking about anything else.

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