Friday, March 06, 2015

Movie Watch: A grand time with the Zellner Bros. and their latest film last night at the Museum of the Moving Image

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This trailer contains more information than I would have liked to have before seeing the Zellner Bros.' Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, but it may give you some flavor of the picture. Rinko Kikuchi, who plays Kumiko, is the biggest star -- internationally speaking -- the Zellners have worked with. Her credits include an Oscar nomination for Babel.)

by Ken

Sometimes you have to wonder how it is that people who've stumbled into an opportunity to yammer forth unto their fellow citizens don't seem to listen to their own yammering. Okay, what I'm really thinking of just now is "my own yammering."

Oh, sometimes I listen. As some of you are all too aware, lately I've found abundant opportunities to make and remake the point that I wish oh wish I could approach any movie or TV program I haven't seen before knowing as little as possible about it, the point being that we can re-watch the thing to our heart's content, especially now thanks to DVD, but we get only one crack at watching it for the first time. Last night I got to put this into practice, and it accounted for some of the splendidness of the time I had at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, which some of you already know is one of my favorite places on the planet.

The occasion was a special pre-release screening of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, a film by the Zellner Bros. which has been shown to great enthusiasm at such places as Sundance (last year). I went into it knowing about as little about the film as a person could possibly hope to know. Let me embarrass myself by saying that I didn't even know who the Zellner Bros., David and Nathan, are, though I was guessing that they (a) are brothers and (b) make movies together.


Nathan and an uncharacteristically poker-
faced David Zellner, at Sundance

I expected, however, that I would come away richly illuminated, as I usually when I come away from MoMI events. Not only would I have sen the film, but I would have heard a discussion of it by the brothers themselves, who had that very morning abandoned the comfort of Austin to brave our latest snowstorm to talk about their creation. As a matter of fact, though, as David Z pointed out in a brief pre-screening greeting, though, our weather was totally appropriate to the film, and was it ever!

Let me say that Kumiko is a wonderful movie, with an outlook, and a look and sound, and a manner of story-telling unlike those of any picture I'm familiar with. It makes me curious about their other work, which will bring us eventually to the screw-up I alluded to at the top of this post, which we'll come back to. In the meantime, as MoMI's chief curator, David Schwartz, pointed out during the post-screening discussion, a bunch of the brothers' short films can be viewed on their website, zellnerbros.com, which also features this photo, taken when Nathan in particular, who's two years younger than David, had a lot more hair than he has now.



The Zellners have been making movies together since they were children, and while they both got themselves educated for real-world jobs (and yes, in cubicles, so that they had a personal-history stake in the office-centered early portion of the film -- and never mind that the office in question happens to be in Tokyo, for which they researched Japanese office life intensively), they continued making movies while they held down their day jobs.

After the screening, first David S talked to the brothers, and then he threw the discussion open to audience questions. As I've said here more than once, MoMI audiences ask the best questions, in terms of getting the subject(s) to talk about things we would have hated not to hear about. So in addition to filling us in on the origin and genesis of the project, they talked about all sorts of fascianting things about their work and this particular project. Well, mostly David Z talked, though Nathan piped in often enough, especially when the question was about the way the film's sounds were created and integrated, in collaboration with the Octopus Project. (We already knew that Nathan, in addition to production duties, is responsible for the sound plan. The scripts are written jointly, as they have been since the boys started making movies as children. David directs.) You only had to watch a few minutes of the film to grasp that the brothers don't think about movie sound the way most filmmakers do -- adding in music and effects in the later editing stages. They explained that they think of dialogue, sound effects, and music as all part of a total sound package, which they begin to imagine as they write the script and refine and solidify as they film.

As for the background of the project, here's how our lads explain it in the press kit. This is taken from the sheet of program notes that's always handed out at MoMI screenings. Let me stress that I never read the notes until after I've seen the picture, when I'm delighted to have them. You can make the decision for yourself.
In 2001, a story circulated online about a Japanese woman who left her Tokyo home for the frozen countryside of Minnesota, in search of the fictional buried money from the movie Fargo. It immediately captured our attention, the mysterious and vague details intriguing us all the more. Initially there was no more information available, and to satiate our curiosity, we began developing a story of what could lead someone into that scenario.

It brought to mind tales of Spanish explorers searching for gold, in particular the film Aguirre, The Wrath of God. Instead of a 16th century conquistador searching for El Dorado, it's a modern day Japanese woman looking for a bag of money in the snow. The idea that someone in the twenty-first century would cross the globe searching for a mythical treasure seemed strangely anachronistic, as if these sort of tragic, foolhardy quests just don't happen anymore. Sadly there are no more uncharted or unknown lands. In the age of globalization, social networking and satellite mapping, the world is no longer the mysterious place it once was.

Over time more details emerged online around the actual story, eventually debunking it as simply an urban legend. All of the sudden there were different versions of The Truth floating around. A Japanese woman did in fact venture into the Minnesota wilderness; though the treasure hunt, the obsessive quest spurred by a film, were all the stuff of fables, taking a life of its own via the telephone game. At first this discrepancy alarmed us, and then we realized it was the legend and the quest elements of the story that drew ourselves and others in to begin with. As with all folklore, this tale had its own sort of truth to it, though on more of a human level than factual. And that endeared us to it all the more.
Last night at MoMI, David Z stressed how much information-spreading has changed just since 2001, when it took a lot longer than it does now for additions and accretions to a story like this one to add and accrete. He also filled us in on some of the extremely strange history of the project over the dozen or so years between that initial inspiration and the making of the actual film.

Another questioner asked about the brothers' acting in their films, and David explained that yes, they usually do. They both have roles in Kumiko, which David confirmed they had indeed created for themselves. Beyond that, he said, well, it all depends on the needs of the project they're working on, according to which each of them may wind up with a larger or shorter role, or none at all. He stressed that they carefully respect their limitations as actors, but that after all they've been acting in movies since they were children making movies, when one of them would be acting while the other was filming. Back then, he said, they knew what acting is; what they still had to find out was what directing is.

He also explained that in casting they like to mix real actors and non-actors. We learned the more or less serendipitous path by which the internationally celebrated Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi became not just associated with but passionate about the project, and became the biggest star the brothers have worked with. (As it happened the vast time scale of the project worked to their mutual benefit in one way. When the brothers first met Rinko, they had to speak through an interpeter. By the time they actually started making the movie, four years later, she had become fluent in English, though you wouldn't guess it from the film.)

At the opposite scale of acting credentials, the older gentleman seen in the scene with Nathan Z of which there's the quickest hit at about 1:46 of the clip turns out to be the boys' grandfather! There's no question, David explained, of getting him to learn lines. They just clued him in to the situation and let it roll! David himself, by the way, has quite an important role in the film, and he does it so splendidly that, not realizing who it was while I watched (gimme a break; he's shaved off the moustache he has in the film and, I see, in all the other pictures of him), I made a mental note to be sure to find out who the actor was!

SO WHY WOULD I PAY $15 (THE MEMBERS' PRICE)
FOR THIS, KNOWING NOTHING ABOUT THE FILM?


Good question, and the answer is the aforementioned David Schwartz. whose judgment about movies I have come to not just value but cherish. In my experience at MoMI, when he schedules a movie, he knows what he's doing, and there's something worth seeing.

Movies make David S happy!
Which brings me back to the screw-up I mentioned at the top. Yes, I trusted David S's judgment, which I have touted here before on multiple occasions, to the tune of yet another $15, and that's a distinctly pricey tune for someone as cheap as me. What I didn't do, however, was take a closer look at the MoMI schedule to see whether this screening perhaps tied into any adjacent programming. (I might mention that the museum screens a lot of movies, and non-"event" movies are generally free with museum admission, meaning they're free to members.) I said earlier that on the basis of seeing Kumiko and getting acquainted with the Zellner Bros., I would love to see more of their work. Well, it turned out that this screening-and-event was -- you guessed it -- the climax of a retrospective of that work.

To make this still more embarrassing, I've done this before. Shortly before the commercial release of Darren Aronofsky's Noah, the museum announced a special free-for-members screening, which I naturally signed up for. Since I pay much less attention to the current movie scene than I once did, I'm embarrassed (again) to say that I didn't even know who Darren Aronofsky is. I had an extremely jolly time at the screening of Noah, and naturally one of the first things that popped into my head afterward was that now I was really curious about his other work. Imagine my chagrin to discover that I'd just missed a MoMI Aronofsky retrospective! (Some months later, though, the museum had another screening of Noah, so I saw it again, and appreciated even more the ingenuity with which it's put together.)

What can I say except that the museum screens so many movies (always with the best materials they can lay hands on), and my time is already overcommitted, and it's a schlepp for me getting out to MoMI and then home. Somehow, though, the trip home last night didn't seem all that arduous.
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Primum Non Nocere

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Over the last month or so, I've been doing a little blogging about the experience of going through chemotherapy. My doctor says the treatments have been working and I have just one more cycle of chemo before the stem cell transplants. So my doctor's very happy and I know I should be happy too. But what I'm dealing with on a day to day basis is different from what she's addressing. She's battling the cancer itself. I'm facing the side effects of the treatments. My world is a world of unrelenting pain and anguish. The side effects, as I've written about before, are a universe unto themselves.

When my doctor decided to add a drug called bortezomib (velcade) to the chemo cocktail, she told me there was a 3% chance I could wind up with nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy). 3%... good odds. I mean that's like 97% chance you won't get neuropathy. But I was one of the 3%-- and the neuropathy is far more horrible than I could have ever imagined reading about it. A good friend of mine just happens to be a specialist in neuropathy. He's written the scholarly papers about it that other doctors read. And he's been advising me. His advice doesn't make me very hopeful. The most commonly used commercial drugs that are used to treat it have poor track records. Each of them has about an equal chance to lessen the pain by 50% as it does to make the condition significantly worse. Those are bad odds. Other drugs haven't been studied thoroughly enough, primarily because it isn't profitable for Big Pharma. Yesterday he sent me a NYTimes article by Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll, If Patients Only Knew How Often Treatments Could Harm Them. It's certainly a lesson this patient has been learning-- and fast.
If we knew more, would we opt for different kinds and amounts of health care? Despite the existence of metrics to help patients appreciate benefits and harms, a new systematic review suggests that our expectations are not consistent with the facts. Most patients overestimate the benefits of medical treatments, and underestimate the harms; because of that, they use more care.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine and written by Tammy Hoffmann and Chris Del Mar, is the first to systematically review the literature on the accuracy of patients’ expectations of benefits and harms of treatment. They examined over 30 studies that assessed whether patients understood the upsides or downsides of certain treatments. To a great extent, patients didn’t.

In the 34 studies that assessed understanding of benefits, patients overestimated their potential gain in 22 of them, or 65 percent. For instance, a 2002 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute asked women who had undergone prophylactic bilateral (double) mastectomy to estimate how much the procedure reduced their risk of breast cancer. On average, the women thought they had reduced that risk from 76 percent to 11 percent, an absolute risk reduction of 65 percentage points.

For the more than 80 percent of the women in the study who did not have a BRCA genetic mutation-- which drastically increases the risk of breast cancer-- the real risk before surgery of developing breast cancer was 17 percent, meaning they greatly overestimated their risk reduction. Even the women with a BRCA mutation overestimated their risk reduction, but to a lesser extent.

Another 2012 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine asked patients to estimate the benefits of screening for bowel and breast cancer, and the use of medications to prevent hip fracture and cardiovascular disease. More than two-thirds of patients overestimated the benefits of medications to prevent cardiovascular disease, and more than 80 percent overestimated the benefits of medications to prevent hip fractures.

Further, 90 percent of patients overestimated the benefits of breast cancer screening, and 94 percent overestimated the benefits of bowel cancer screening. The researchers also asked the patients to estimate the minimum reduction in bad outcomes (like fractures or deaths) they would need to achieve to find the treatment worthwhile. For three of the four studied interventions, the minimum benefit patients would accept was higher than the actual benefit.

In the 15 studies examined in the systematic review for which harms were a focus, patients underestimated potential downsides in 10 of them (67 percent). For example, a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Oncology asked patients to estimate the risks associated with a CT scan. A single CT scan exposes a patient to the same amount of radiation as 300 chest X-rays, and carries with it a 1-in-2,000 chance of inducing a fatal cancer. More than 40 percent of patients underestimated a CT’s radiation dose, and more than 60 percent of patients underestimated the risk of cancer from a CT scan.

Why do patients err in assessments of risks and benefits? One reason could be that what they know is driven by the messages they hear. Doctors, direct-to-consumer ads and the media can skew our perceptions. They tend to focus on the benefits, but rarely quantify them. Health care centers, screening advocacy programs and pharmaceutical ads all push us to talk to our doctors about getting treatment without talking about actual gains.

Doctors also aren’t always good at communicating risks. A 2013 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that fewer than 10 percent of patients were told about overdiagnosis and overtreatment associated with cancer screening, even though 80 percent of patients wanted to know about harms.

This study, and others, indicate that patients would opt for less care if they had more information about what they may gain or risk with treatment. Shared decision-making in which there is an open patient-physician dialogue about benefits and harms, often augmented with use of treatment decision aids, like videos, would help patients get that information. However, a majority of patients still report that they prefer to leave medical decision-making to their doctors.

It might also be the case that some patients would use more of certain types of care if they had more information. Many chronic conditions remain undermanaged and undertreated in the United States. It’s possible that people with these conditions who had more information would use more care, which could raise spending for these patients but make them better off.

There’s also an argument to be made that people who overestimate the benefits of medicine to treat some conditions are more likely to take it regularly, which might lead to better outcomes, in some cases, than would occur if these patients were better informed.

Regardless, even though some patients may benefit somewhat from being ill informed, it seems wrong to argue that we should keep them in the dark. Many of the studies in the systematic review show that people report that they would opt for less care if they better understood benefits and harms. Improved communication could better serve patients and might improve the efficiency of our health system if patients focus on getting the types of care for which the benefit outweighs risk of harm.

It’s also possible that unrealistic expectations of care help patients cope with disease or provide them with some sense of control. Feeling hopeful about one’s future is not to be dismissed. But those unrealistic expectations don’t come cheap. We should at least consider the price that we pay for being uninformed.

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Rush on the run? Swell! It just doesn't mean what it once would have

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"If WLS really does offload Limbaugh, this will look like a Major League Baseball or NBA team trading away a player with a really large contract."

by Ken

It's reasonably well known that Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, the designers of NYC's Central Park, Prospect Park, and so many other public spaces, hated statues, and wanted very badly to keep them the hell out of their parks. However, even when they were around to complain, their wishes weren't always heeded, and of course it's been a long time since they were around.

So what's wrong with statues? Well, statues of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and Columbus are one thing -- and goodness knows we've got plenty of them. (Does anyone think we need more?) But when you start to look at the ranks of once-instantly-recognizable titans of yesteryear and consider how many of the subjects time has rendered largely or completely unknown to us, you realize that even glazing glory fades.

This may be an odd way to start a post about the evolution of Rush Limbaugh, but I'm not sure it isn't the only way.

We're so used to having Rush to kick around that we may not have caught up with the reality that it just doesn't matter the way it once did.

Howie and I count on our radio guru Jack to keep us up to date on developments in radioland, and just lately he has passed along these items from the "Tom Taylor Now" website:

Cumulus tangos again with Rush Limbaugh, this time in Chicago.
The breaking story that began early yesterday morning with Robert Feder’s report headlined “WLS ready to drop Rush Limbaugh” has the feel of a blockbuster baseball or basketball trade that was picked up by a sharp sportswriter, in the moments just before it was to be finalized. Cumulus later said about the story “This is not at all accurate.” But there’s wiggle-room, and perhaps this fits in - DailyKos picked up a most un-Rush-like Facebook musing from Limbaugh this week – “Now that I've outgrown the 25-54 demographic, I'm no longer confident I see the world as everybody else does.” And demos matter, certainly to Cumulus at Chicago’s talk WLS (890). Yearly revenue at WLS dropped from $13 million to “less than $9.5 million in 2014,” says Feder, and that was “a contributing factor in a change in top management.” That’s where Cumulus brought in former CBS-Chicago exec Peter Bowen from L.A., to succeed newly-promoted Midwest regional exec Donna Baker.
By coincidence, Cumulus just signed Jonathon Brandmeier…
If Limbaugh leaves the schedule at talk WLS (890), that would let it carry the full three hours of “Johnny B.,” in the market where he’s best-known, Chicago. He’d air 9am to noon, instead of the originally-announced 9am-11am. That would leave WLS with a hole from noon-2pm. One scenario has Cumulus and Premiere negotiating to transfer Rush to Salem’s conservative talk WIND (560). After all, Premiere’s parent iHeart set some precedents by moving Rush off his longtime L.A. affiliate (talk KFI/640) to a sister station, the new avowedly-conservative “Patriot 1150” KEIB. But – Salem has previously displayed little interest in Rush, and this would break that pattern. There was friction between Cumulus and Rush a couple of years ago, when CEO Lew Dickey mentioned a revenue issue at some talk stations. He didn’t name-check Limbaugh, but Rush took it personally. The backdrop here is the three-year-old advertising boycott against Limbaugh whose match was lit by Media Matters, then kept alive by watchdog sites like StopRush.net (February 5, 2014 NOW). What's next? If WLS really does offload Limbaugh, this will look like a Major League Baseball or NBA team trading away a player with a really large contract. Sure sounds like something’s up. Follow Robert Feder’s posts on his website here.
Now this is perfectly consistent with the rumblings I've been hearing out of radioland over the last year or more: that political talk radio doesn't appeal to advertisers the way it once did. In part we can thank the good work of the various individuals and groups who have made a mission of talking back to the hate talkers, and helped deliver a message to those advertisers. While controversy can sometimes be a good thing, radio-station owners (and their consultants) apparently find that getting caught up in these kinds of controversies doesn't help them sell stuff. And certainly the Rush Resistance movement has helped discourage advertisers.

But if you look at the Facebook posting up top, note that the Rush We Love to Hate seems himself to have grasped that Time Marches On. And so my takeaway here isn't quite the same as, say, that of Leslie Salzillo, the author of the above-referenced Daily Kos post, "Rush Limbaugh Admits Defeat On Facebook - 'Talk' Of Being Dropped In Chicago Circulates."

First, note that it isn't just Rush who's lost his glittery-gold luster. Though goodness knows htere's still plenty of Hate Talk Radio clogging the airwaves, it's a seriously declining format. At least as important, and very likely more important in the case of the Rush We Love to Hate, celebrities are perishable commodities. Maybe not like a quart of milk or a loaf of bread, but they have a shelf life.

There's no doubt that Rush himself at the height of his power was a force for evil. That that's no longer so much so, and there doesn't seem any single person exercising comparable influence -- this is all to the good. But getting hung up on him personally doesn't change the reality of where a broad swath of the country is, politically and, er, informationally.

I can't tell you exactly what Rush means when he says that "there are younger people, generationally younger, who have an entirely different view, an entirely different experience." A different experience, sure. But I sure don't see evidence of "an entirely different view." Just because right-wing delusion and obfuscation may not be as salable to radio advertisers as they once were, that doesn't seem to mean at all that their grip on the country has lessened. When I look around, it seems to me in fact quite a bit stronger.

Maybe more than anything it's that the country has become so addle-pated politically that it no longer needs a Rush to make them stupid. So please forgive me if I'm not doing a dance of celebration over his humbling.
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In The Coming GOP Dystopia, Everyone Will Either Travel By Private Jet Or By Horse And Buggy

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Wednesday at the very moment when President Obama was signing the clean bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security-- a bill that had been opposed by 167 Republicans and only backed by 75 Republicans-- Boehner passed another bill through the House that has his far right flank flipping out. This one, HR 749, was to reauthorize federal support for passenger rail programs. Although the bill was sponsored by mainstream conservative Bill Shuster (R-PA), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, 6 Democrats were among the 12 cosponsors.b In the end, the bill passed 316-101... not that close. But, if you look a little closer, you'll see there was a substantive problem in those numbers. All 184 Democrats voted yes-- from progressives like Raul Grijalva, Alan Grayson, Barbara Lee, Mark Pocan and Donna Edwards, right down to the bottom the barrel to right-leaning fake corporate Dems like Kyrsten Sinema, Henry Cuellar, Gwen Graham, Brad Ashford, and Jim Cooper. So if the opposition party voted 100% for the bill, where did those 101 No votes come from? Yes, that's the problem.

Only 132 Republicans backed Shuster and the GOP leadership-- in fact a few members of the leadership voted no!-- and the 101 no votes were all Republicans, primarily teabaggers and Confederates. Don't they want railroads? Some do, some don't. But what they want even more is to privatize AMTRAK and for them, that's what this fight was all about. Scalise's Chief Deputy Whip, Patrick McHenry, voted no, as did Foreign Affairs Committee chair, Ed Royce, Rules Committee Chair (and potential Boehner replacement) Pete Sessions, Financial Services Chair Jeb Hensarling (another potential Boehner replacement), and GOP Conference Secretary Virginia Foxx. Far right groups like Club for Growth and Heritage Action were warning the world would end if the bill passed.

Shuster's bill authorizes $7.2 billion in federal subsidies for passenger rail, including $1.7 billion a year over four years in subsidies for AMTRAK, smaller than AMTRAK backers wanted but around what they've been getting annually for a long time. AP pointed out that "in a compromise between Democrats and Republicans, the bill separates Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service between Boston and Washington from its long distance routes. That would allow Amtrak to use profits from the money-making corridor for improvements that could speed up trains and enhance service on the route. Amtrak officials have long complained that they've had to use Northeast Corridor profits to subsidize 15 unprofitable long-distance routes around the country."

Tom McClintock introduced an amendment to eliminate all federal subsidies for AMTRAK and 147 right-wing Republicans backed him. Only 89 Republicans joined every single Democrat to defeat McClintock's amendment (which went down 147-272), fueling more right-wing anger that Nancy Pelosi still controls the House.

The bill was greased through the GOP caucus, in part, because of an amendment that allows pet dogs and cats to ride on at least one passenger car per train, an extremely popular move with ordinary voters and riders. The Obama Administration says it was sign the bipartisan legislation if McConnell allows it through the Senate.


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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Sports Watch: With leadership like this, is it any wonder that the NY Knicks are flying high?

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Cablevision President-CEO and Madison Square
Garden Chairman James Dolan -- Whatta guy!

"There’s a little bit of North Korea to the way this team is run."
-- out-of-work lawyer Dennis Doyle, who is committed to
seeing every game of the (now 12-48) NY Knicks this season

by Ken

We looked recently at the path-breaking strategy of the financial-typhoon owners of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, the billionaire Wall Street brains who decided to reverse the team's mediocrity by losing as many games as humanly possible. Now it seems only fair to pay tribute to the management of the 76ers' Atlantic Division rival NY Knicks, who at this moment, at 12-48, are actually a half-game worse than the 13-48 Sixers.

The Knicks are overseen by James Dolan, whose qualification is membership in a family that established dominance in cable TV on Long Island. Is it any wonder that the team has has such success since it was entrusted to him by his father?

There are many ways of measuring the Knicks' successes under Dolan's, er, leadership, but perhaps the funniest is told thusly by The New Yorker's Reeves Wiedeman in his March 9 "Talk of the Town" piece, ""
A few weeks ago, Irving Bierman, a seventy-two-year-old Brooklyn native, sent an e-mail to James Dolan, the owner of the Knicks. “As a Knicks fan for in excess of sixty years, I am utterly embarrassed,” Bierman wrote. The team had the N.B.A.’s worst record even before Carmelo Anthony, its best player, decided that knee surgery sounded more appealing than finishing a season in which ESPN had replaced a scheduled Knicks broadcast with a celebrity bowling tournament. Last week, Phil Jackson, the team’s president and resident mystic, declared that the Knicks were giving the basketball gods “heartburn.” Bierman went on, “You have done a lot of utterly STUPID business things with the franchise. Please NO MORE.” The stress of the season seemed to have got to Dolan, too. He responded to Bierman personally. “You are a sad person. . . . I’ll bet your life is a mess,” Dolan wrote in an e-mail that was reprinted by Deadspin, and went on to insinuate that Bierman had a drinking problem, while trumpeting his own sobriety of twenty-one years. “Start rooting for the Nets because the Knicks don't want you."
Wow, what class! Whatta guy!

Reeves proceeds to tell us about an authentic Knicks superfan, lawyer Dennis Doyle. Irving Bierman, he tells us, is now out of the fray, living in Myrtle Beach, where he "hasn't suffered through any games in person this season."
The same cannot be said for Dennis Doyle, a thirty-two-year-old graduate of Georgetown Law School, who, last spring, got dumped by his girlfriend, lost his job, and somehow made things worse by deciding this was all a sign that he should deplete his savings in order to attend every single one of the Knicks’ games this season. His sister, a life coach, gave her blessing; his father, a lawyer, did not. As is the modern man’s wont, Doyle started a blog documenting his journey. A recent post began, “This is starting to get difficult.

“My timing has never been great,” Doyle said, settling into his seat at the Garden before a recent game. He was referring both to his mid-recession law-school graduation -- the only job he could find was one representing co-ops in disputes with hot-dog venders operating too close to their entrances -- and to the fact that he had spent twenty-five thousand dollars on flights, hotels, and tickets. Doyle’s costs rise with each palliative arena beer, but he had come down with a bug that day, and was popping Tylenol instead. “This is my flu game,” Doyle said. He wore a down jacket with a fur-trimmed hood, which he kept on, and shielded his eyes as strobes went off during the roster introductions. “If I’m lucky, I’ll have a seizure,” he said, between sniffles.

With the season lost, Doyle had been trying to enjoy the travel. When the Knicks played in London, in the middle of a sixteen-game losing streak, he took an extra day to visit Stonehenge. (“Still a mystery why its architects engaged in such a laborious endeavor,” he said. “I can relate.”) At a casino in Cleveland, where Doyle was trying to recoup his losses, he spotted Charles Oakley, his all-time favorite Knick, at a craps table. “I got a pretty blank stare,” Doyle said, describing Oakley’s reaction upon hearing about his quest. Morris Bart, a personal-injury attorney in Louisiana, was more empathetic after reading Doyle’s blog, and offered him courtside seats for the Knicks game in New Orleans, on the condition that Doyle submit to a lecture about why he should return to the law.

Doyle hoped to avoid that fate, but he said that he was prepared to offer his services, pro bono, to a cause advocated in an op-ed in the Observer by a fellow-lawyer, who cited court decisions from three different centuries to argue that New York City could use eminent domain to take over the Knicks as a blighted property. “There’s a little bit of North Korea to the way this team is run,” Doyle said. He suspected the team of attempting to pacify the masses -- the frequency of in-game T-shirt tosses seemed to increase as the season wore on -- and hoped that a pseudoscandal like Dolan’s intemperate e-mail would foment regime change. “What I wouldn’t give for him to get caught up in some kind of Donald Sterling thing,” Doyle said. (Adam Silver, the N.B.A.’s commissioner, declined to sanction Dolan’s behavior. “Jim is a consummate New Yorker,” Silver wrote. “Jim got an unkind email and responded with an unkind email.”)

Doyle had passed the season’s halfway point, and remained committed to attending every game, despite the fact that he had yet to find a single friend who was willing to join him at the Garden. He had, however, found an agent, who sees promise in a blog-to-book deal, and has told him not to worry about the mounting losses. “At this point, it’s actually in my best interest to root against the team,” Doyle said, noting the market for books about overcoming adversity. “Hopefully, the suffering resonates.”
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Our clown Supreme Court takes on the bogus challenge to Obamacare -- and makes believe it's legitimate!

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Justice "Slow Anthony" Kennedy: "At least," says Ian Millhiser, "one of the Court’s Republicans appears to have come to work wearing his judicial robe, and not his partisan hat."

by Ken

All in all, I'm inclined to go along with Greg Sargent's estimate of yesterday's Supreme Court oral arguments on King v. Burwell: "A hint of good news for Obamacare, but don’t get your hopes up too much." King v. Burwell, you'll recall, is the case that seeks to topple the Affordable Care Act on the ground of a single infelicitous wording, neither noticed nor known to exist by anyone on the planet until it was turned up by the cadre of right-wing lawyers gathered precisely to find any means they could to maim or cripple the law.

We've gone over this so many times that I hope it doesn't require extensive explanation. In a single buried reference the law refers to subsidies being available for insurance purchased through "an Exchange established by the State." Not "a" state or "one of the states," but "the State." In context it seems clear to anyone actually trying to figure out the intent of the law, as opposed to imposing an ideologically hostile view on it, that this reference to "the State" is to "the government."

The context here is the entire rest of the law, which nowhere else so much as hints at such a distinction between state- and federal-established insurance exchanges, not to mention the fact tthat until this hokum action was brought, on the advice of a gathering of right-wing legal hoodlums who made no secret of the fact that they took it as their mandate to find any way they possibly could to undo the ACA, I don't think a single person could be found anywhere who had any inkling that the law envisioned any such distinction. Certainly none of the right-wing Obamacare haters had any such inkling; you can easily assemble an encyclopedia of right-wing-buttwipe quotes that assumed the exact opposite.

Nevertheless, it seems clear from the comments and questions that, while the four "moderate" justices -- Stephen, Ruth, Sonia, and Elena -- aren't swallowing the right-wing bullshit, at least three of the talking far-right-wing ideologues are. By which I mean Justices Nino (I love Jeffrey Toobin's newyorker.com note that "Scalia looks ever more like a Fox News justice, who seems to get his talking points more from popular culture than from the law"), Sammy the Hammer, and Slow Anthony, and to their number we can surely add the traditionally non-talking Justice Clarence.

There was a crack about the law meaning just what it says, when the whole point is that, if you've got a brain and any knowledge of how the courts (and the Court) normally handle statutory ambiguities), the law doesn't mean what it's being misread to mean. Sometimes you wonder whether these hoodlums even read the briefs, or listen to the arguments.

Here's ThinkProgress's Ian Millhiser (in his post, "Obamacare Will Probably Survive Its Second Trip to the Supreme Court") on the hardest-core justices:
Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito were the only certain votes to strike down the credits, but their arguments at times painted them as political naifs. Alito, at one point, harped on the fact that only six states that refused to set up their own exchanges joined a brief urging the Court to uphold the tax credits — a fact that can be explained largely by partisan politics. Scalia asked: “won’t Congress fix” the problem if the Court breaks the law?

[Solicitor General Donald] Verrilli had a sharp response to that later question: “This Congress, your honor?”

THIS DOESN'T MEAN THAT ALL FOUR RIGHT-WING
JUSTICES ABOVE ARE IN SURE THUMBS-DOWN MODE


Among these four (yes, there's a missing fifth, but we'll come back to him in a moment), there was a significant surprise.

In the general specualtion about King v. Burwell as it has settled into repose in the hands of the High Court, we've heard a fair amount of talk about the legal and perhaps constitutional problem of a law that so far after the fact turns out to have carried a threat to the states: Set up your own exchanges or your people won't be eligible for subsidies.

Most of us have been thinking of this as (a) a pretty clear indication that such a threat was never included in the ACA and (b) an indication of the chaos the Court will be inviting if it swallows the bullshit, including the possible collapse of insurance markets in affected states. For "Slow Anthony" Kennedy, however, it raised a federal-state constitutional issue of the kind he's known to be sensitive to. Ian Millhiser explains:
[T]he Supreme Court’s first Obamacare decision forbids Congress from coercing states into taking certain actions. If states are forced to choose between setting up their own exchange or watching their individual insurance markets collapse, that could amount to unconstitutional coercion.

Justice Kennedy appeared to believe that it did. There’s “something very powerful” to this coercion argument, Kennedy said, adding that [right-wing bullshitters' shyster Michael] Carvin’s interpretation of the law raises a “serious constitutional problem.” Later in the argument, he indicated that the Court may have an obligation, under something known as the “constitutional avoidance doctrine,” to read the law in a way that does not raise constitutional doubts.
Still, as Ian notes, it's impossible to tell which way Slow Anthony will waddle, since he made it pretty clear that he does swallow the bullshit, and registered assorted doubts about arguments from the non-bullshitters.


WHICH LEAVES CHIEF JUSTICE SMIRKIN' JOHN

Yes, the chief justice was strangely silent, or perhaps not so strangely considering his awkward position as the right-wing thug-justice who saved Obamacare on its first trip through the High Court. He had hardly anything to say during the questioning, until the end, when he took up the suggestion that, if the matter is settled virtue of the considerable leeway allowed the executive branch in interpreting laws it has to enforce, as argued by Solicitor General Verilli, and asked whether "that would indicate that a subsequent Administration could change that interpretation." And the solicitor general agreed that possibly it could.

Jeffrey Toobin finds that question so significant that he titled his post "Did John Roberts Tip His Hand?" "The question suggests a route out of the case for Roberts," he suggests, "and the potential for a victory for the Obama Administration." (Though what kind of victory might still be argued.)
Roberts came of age as a young lawyer in the Reagan Administration, and there he developed a keen appreciation for the breadth of executive power under the Constitution. To limit the Obama Administration in this case would be to threaten the power of all Presidents, which Roberts may be loath to do. But he could vote to uphold Obama’s action in this case with a reminder that a new election is fast approaching, and Obamacare is sure to be a major point of contention between the parties. A decision in favor of Obama here could be a statement that a new President could undo the current President’s interpretation of Obamacare as soon as he (or she) took office in 2017. In other words, the future of Obamacare should be up to the voters, not the justices.
How exactly such a vote would affect the ruling is problematic. It's unlike that a majority of the Court would go along with its reasoning. But at the same time, to secure Smirkin' John's vote, on this theory, the ruling couldn't contain any substantive action that the chief isn't willing to sign onto. Which doesn't sound like the most secure endorsement for "subsidies for all."

As noted, Ian Millhiser's post is titled "Obamacare Will Probably Survive Its Second Trip to the Supreme Court." Here's how he sums up his impressions:
[Chief Justice] Roberts . . . famously crossed party lines to uphold the law in 2012. Though his vote is more uncertain, it would not be the least bit surprising if he did so again, this time with Kennedy providing him cover.

Obamacare is not out of the woods yet, and neither are the millions of people who will lose coverage or the thousands who will die if this case goes badly for the government. After Wednesday’s argument, however, those individuals have good reason to be optimistic. At least one of the Court’s Republicans appears to have come to work wearing his judicial robe, and not his partisan hat.
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Are The National Democrats Imitating House Of Cards Or Is House Of Cards Imitating The National Democrats?

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I've nearly finished watching all of Season 3 of House of Cards. No spoilers' alert here; I'm not going to give away surprises. I keep asking myself-- and my fellow House of Cards fans-- why we like Frank and Claire Underwood. Apart from the fact they they are dangerous psychopaths-- and let's not forget that Frank is a cold-blooded murderer and that Claire is an accomplice-- there's the substance behind the his politics. I hate everything about his politics. Frank Underwood is the kind of fake Democrat-- a South Carolina Blue Dog or New Dem-- we are always railing against here at DWT. The center of his political raison d'être is America Works-- AmWorks-- a jobs program which seeks to tar Social Security and Medicare as entitlements and gut both. This week, the (real-life) Washington Post went so far as to actually ask if America Works could actual work.
There aren't too many details about the program. (Yes, this is a TV show and details on policy proposals are sparse.)

Here's what we do know about AmWorks:

1. Unemployed people register with the government to receive a job.

2. New jobs are created by the government in infrastructure, maintenance, repair, defense...

3. ...and through the private sector, which can receive up to $45,000 from the government to go towards salaries for each new position created.

4. The costs are covered by cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

5. It's expected to cost $500 billion.

6. It's expected to create 10 million jobs.

...I spoke with Stan Veuger, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, about how AmWorks would play out in reality. Basically, not very well, he said.

"Socialist countries typically have something like that," he said.

AmWorks would be "similar to raising the minimum wage to stratospheric levels," Veuger added, noting that such a move would lead to "wage-driven inflation." Paying for the program out of entitlements could also push people out of Social Security and back into the workforce. "I think overall, it's a terrible idea," he concluded.

Whether or not the 50,000 jobs created by AmWorks' limited run in the District of Columbia will convince the voters in Underwood's America otherwise will be a question for House of Cards season 4.
RJ Eskow went even further at HuffPo the day before. "Who knew," he asks, "that the show itself-- not the characters, but the show-- had a hidden agenda? Eschew blames one of the show's consultants-- no, not President Clinton-- Third Way co-founder Jim Kessler.
It's already taken on teachers. Now comes the anti-"entitlement" tirade from Frank Underwood in Episode One of the new season. Frank, despite his evil ways and means, has an ambitious dream, which is introduced during a lengthy scene in which he lectures his staff, and the audience, on some highly misleading "facts."

How did that happen? How did the "AmericaWorks" fictional plot point come to be built on real-world lies?

Here's a clue: Episode One's credits list Jim Kessler as a consultant. Kessler is, as his IMDB biography notes, the co-founder of Third Way. That's a Wall Street-funded, so-called "centrist" Democratic organization with a mission: to promote neoliberal economics and make the world safe (at least financially) for its wealthy patrons.

Third Way has consistently misrepresented the financial condition of Social Security, misdirected the public debate about Medicare, and generally promoted the socially liberal but fiscally conservative worldview of its patrons.

Kessler and co-founder Jon Cowan carefully tiptoed their way through the minefield of public opinion for years, pretending to be technocrats rather than de facto lobbyists for powerful interests. They finally lost their balance last year. When confronted with the rise of Elizabeth Warren and the populist wing of the Democratic Party, they lashed out at Sen. Warren with an intemperate Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Frank's a Democrat, like all Third Way members, and his rant is filled with exactly the kind of misinformation and manipulation that we've come to expect from that corporatist crowd. "Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, every entitlement program that is sucking us dry," says Underwood in his rant, "I want it on the table... "Entitlements are bankrupting us," he concludes.

Except that they're not. Social Security accounts for 24 percent of the Federal budget, but it is forbidden by law from adding to the overall deficit. What's more, its trust fund is currently holding $2.8 trillion dollars in reserves. The statement is meaningless.

Then Frank says his chief of staff has conducted a poll in which seventy-four percent of voters said they agreed with this statement: "Doing what's best for my country means doing some things that I don't like."

"Now, what does that tell us?" Underwood asks. "We have to do the things that people won't like. And even when we do, three out of four of them will go along with us."

This is exactly the kind of poll the real-life corporate crowd loves to conduct-- so general as to be meaningless. When asked specific questions, most voters-- including Republicans, Dems, and independents-- don't want cuts to Social Security or Medicare. 76 percent of self-described Tea Party members objected in one poll. And they'll punish any politician who tries.

Voters want millionaires and billionaires to pay the same payroll tax rate as other Americans (the tax is currently capped at approximately $118,500 per year of income). They want Social Security's benefits increased, which makes sense, since retirement benefits have been decimated in this country and our benefits don't fare well when compared to those of other industrialized nations. And they're willing to step up and pay for these increases with higher taxes, according to a poll from the National Academy for Social Insurance.

That's more than the Third Way's financiers are willing to do.

The Third Way crowd loves to present itself as young, bold, and visionary, and their opponents as "special interests." House of Cards sticks to this script by employing an aging political apparatchik as the voice of liberalism.

"The programs that you want to scale back or dismantle are the bedrock of the American dream," says the gray-haired, soft-hearted cliché. "You work hard, you pay your taxes--"

Underwood interrupts. "No, I'm sorry, they were the bedrock of the American dream. But they're not anymore. Certainly not for the ten million people who are out of work."

In Episode Two, Underwood gives a "bold" speech outlining his plan. It begins:
For too long, we in Washington have been lying to you. We say we're here to serve you, when in fact, we're serving ourselves. And why? We are driven by our own desire to get reelected ...
That's another favored trope: that the corporate politicians are courageous (as if it's brave to serve the wealthy and powerful!), while their opponents are cravenly pandering to the voters-- by representing them.

"That ends tonight," says Underwood. "Tonight, I give you the truth."

There's that idea again, that the corporate version of reality is "fact" or "truth." We're told that "the root of the problem" is "entitlements"-- a favorite word in the corporate crowd because it has negative connotations.

"Let me be clear," adds Underwood. "You are entitled to nothing ... "  Just like real-life Third Way types, Underwood is trying to cancel our nation's social contract.

At least Underwood wants to use the money to create jobs, which is more than most corporate Dems are willing to do. That's a little disturbing: Real-life Third Wayers seem less responsive to the public than a fictional sociopath.
Whether you watch House of Cards or not, you should be aware of where this danger lies in the real world. And in the U.S. Congress that would be the New Dems and the Establishment careerists. Yesterday Chris Van Hollen, one of the architects of Simpson-Bowles (which would have cut benefits for seniors under Social Security and Medicare) declared he's running for the U.S. Senate. I guarantee you, he won't be running around Maryland telling voters they are entitled to nothing and bragging about his work on Simpson-Bowles. Basically the New Dems are garden variety Republicans who-- for one reason or another-- have wound up inside the Democratic Party. They consistently vote with the GOP and consistently work to worm their way into positions of power and influence. Several of the worst New Dems-- Maryland's John Delaney, Illinois' Bill Foster, and Florida's Patrick Murphy, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Gwen Graham-- are looking to move up into the U.S. Senate. Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi cheered on these Frank Underwood types within her own caucus when they introduced their nausea-inducing, very coded agenda-- an agenda conspicuously devoid of any vision for ordinary working families or for labor. New Dems believe that the strengths of the United States come from technology, capital markets, and the military. They believe that the U.S. projects power and stability by promoting our multinationals and by ensuring that the dollar is the global currency, rather than just the U.S. currency, and they see organized labor and small businesses as problematic potential obstacles to this projection of power. They try hiding this in coded language so voters identify them as Democrats. It even worked on Pelosi:
“The New Democrats are a strong entrepreneurial voice within our Caucus, bringing innovation and energy to House Democrats’ work to create prosperity for every American family.

“Today, the New Democrats have released a bold plan for the future of our country, the American Prosperity Agenda.  Economic growth, equality of opportunity, and a government that works for middle class families-- these principles are at the heart of our shared mission as Democrats.

“Only by laying a firm foundation for growth, based on ambitious goals for our future, can we secure a vibrant middle class and keep American number one.  Together, Democrats will continue to work to reignite the American Dream and step into a new era of prosperity for every American family.”

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Draft Donna Edwards-- Why It Matters

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Yesterday, Blue America launched a Draft Donna Edwards Act Blue page and all Blue America members got this email from us:
Following in the footsteps of Senator Barbara Boxer earlier this year, the Dean of Senate women, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, announced this week that she will not run for re-election. For 38 years Senator Mikulski was a pathbreaker, having been "the first" in at so many things, perhaps most notably the first woman to chair the powerful Appropriations Committee. She has served her country well and will be missed.

Luckily, Maryland has a wonderful progressive congresswoman who would be the perfect candidate to carry on her legacy: Donna Edwards of the state's 4th congressional district. She needs no introduction to those of you who have been around progressive Netroots for a while.

For those of you who might not have been with us back in the day, let's just say that Donna isn't just a hard-working public servant with great progressive record, although she is that. And she isn't just brilliant on TV at articulating our philosophy with passion and skill, although she is that too. She is a giant slayer which she proved back in 2008 when she took down a powerful and corrupt Democratic party hack with a bold progressive message that impressed just about everybody who heard it. Her race was a template for the many Netroots primary races to come.

In fact, Donna was one of our first ever endorsees-- for the 2006 race she very narrowly lost. Here's Howie back in 2007, endorsing her for the re-match she won handily:
I have a dream. I don’t know how realistic it is, but it doesn’t seem completely crazy. My dream is that my country will elect a superb leader, one who is wise and sharp and compassionate and educated, who understands what America needs and works effectively towards those goals.  A few months ago I met Donna Edwards in Georgia. I had spoken to her many times on the phone but we had never met before. Of all the people I’ve talked to on behalf of Blue America, she’s the one who I am certain would best fulfill that dream.
And she has done just that. Donna has proven to be a stalwart progressive in the House with a perfect record on the issues. She has been a vocal leader and fighter for everything we care about. In fact, she has fulfilled Howie's expectation in every respect.

That's why we'd like to see Donna Edwards run for the Senate.

She has expressed no desire to do it at this point. And maybe she has other plans. But we'd like to try to persuade her to take up the challenge.

It would be a sad day indeed to see Barbara Mikulski's seat go to anyone less worthy.

We have started a "Draft Donna" Act Blue page to tell her just how important we think it is that she consider this run. We want her to know that just as we were there for her all the way in her hard-fought primaries back on 06 and 08, we will be there for her this time as well.

Donna is the Netroots promise in living color. She talked the talk and we backed her. We stuck with her when she hit a snag and worked hard to get her over the line in her winning race. And she fulfilled her promises every step of the way.

Now we'd like her to consider taking the next logical step. Let's let her know that if she does, we'll be there for her once again.

Senator Donna Edwards. It has a nice ring to it don't you think?
Blue America donors helped launch Donna's first campaign-- when she primaried corrupt conservative Democrat Al Wynn-- and we have felt a great sense of satisfaction to watch a talented and sincere political leader live up to our hopes and expectations. Her voting record-- consistently one of the top 10 most progressive in Congress-- speaks for itself. And so does her record of leadership. I want to remind you of something shared by another Blue America congressional candidate, Nate Shinagawa, about Donna some time ago and unrelated to this draft movement.

Progressives had high hopes that Nate would beat conservative Republican Tom Reed in a southern and central New York state congressional district in 2012. And he nearly did. But Nate was abandoned by then-DCCC chair Steve Israel and his right-of-center faction and narrowly missed out on an historic breakthrough. At the time, Nate spoke highly of Donna Edwards as a "values-driven leader" who worked tirelessly for his campaign despite DCCC disinterest. Nate:
I know first-hand how effective, inspiring and wise Congresswoman Edwards is. In 2012, I was the Democratic nominee for United States Congress in New York’s 23rd Congressional District. I ran as a progressive Democrat in a conservative, rural district against a Republican congressman who spent $2.4 million against me. Every pundit and campaign analyzer, from left to right, said our campaign didn’t stand a chance. The DCCC listened to the pundits and wrote us off. Despite that, we received 48% of the vote, making us one of the most competitive races in the nation and out-performing the vast majority of candidates that the DCCC prioritized as “Red to Blue.”

Throughout the campaign, we showed the DCCC that we could win. We hit our targets in field and finance. We had polling that showed the race was competitive. We were told that if we kept working hard, they’d come in and help us. The help from the DCCC organization never came. I remember how demoralized my staff and supporters were the final months of the campaign. We were like soldiers surrounded by enemy forces, assured that reinforcements would come, and realizing in our final moments that we’d be left behind.

Luckily, like a hero who does what’s right instead of what’s told, Congresswoman Donna Edwards came to our rescue. She not only endorsed the campaign. In the final month, she flew to Ithaca, NY, and rallied my supporters and staff. She gave us, and especially me, the morale boost needed to push onward. What made her visit especially powerful is that she is a leader within the DCCC. It was the little signal to our team that we had a fighting chance. Even though the DCCC as a whole ignored us, she took individual initiative to help us. After she came, there was an electric feeling of hope among my team. After months of being demoralized by the DCCC, she gave us the inspiration to continue the fight.

...What makes her unique, though, is her values. She’s compassionate, open-minded, and progressive. She knows how small investments in people can yield tremendous returns later on. She’s simultaneously strategic and tactical, caring and analytical. I believe she can change the course of... the Democratic Party. The American people today are like my campaign before her visit: increasingly demoralized and in need of hope. We need a rescue from a leader who has the heart, mind and soul to inspire change and lead us to victory. We need a progressive leader like Congresswoman Donna Edwards.
The race for Barbara Mikulski's Senate seat is likely to turn into a crowded primary that includes establishment figures like multimillionaire conservative John Delaney and Beltway insider Chris Van Hollen. If you'd like to help make sure the next senator from Maryland is a real progressive who fights for working families out of inner conviction, please consider making a contribution to Donna at the Blue America Draft Donna Edwards page. Remember, while Donna was fighting hard and smart to protect Social Security and Medicare from corporate predators, "progressive" Chris Van Hollen was strongly backing the Simpson-Bowles "compromise" that cut both programs and smacked of what eventually became a key element in Frank Underwood's vile AmWork initiative. Social Security Medicare and the social safety net are bargaining chips for career politicians like Van Hollen (and Underwood); it's experiential, existential life and death for a woman genuinely of the people, like Donna Edwards.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Father Theodore Hesburgh (1917-2015)

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"Father Ted," president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, in his office at the school's Hesburgh Library in 2012 (see the full photo here)
I met a blind priest at the airport. Father Ted taught me to take a leap of faith.
Father Theodore Hesburgh, who died Thursday at 97, was no longer Notre Dame’s president by the time I enrolled in 1994, yet he remained a campus legend, instantly recognizable in his crisp black shirt and clerical collar and with his shock of white hair. I knew he’d done important things — advised six presidents, chaired the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under Nixon until his policy disagreements got him demoted, and transformed Notre Dame into an academic powerhouse, independent from Rome.  Read full article »
by Ken

"Father Ted" Hesburgh -- more properly the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh CSC, though he signed himself "Father Ted Hesburgh") -- served as president of Notre Dame so long (1952-87), and was so visible in that position, that it would have been hard for anyone who lived through any significant part of that period not to have been aware of him. I don't know a whole lot more than that about him; I just remember him as being a highly decent and compassionate individual, and about as good a public face as American Catholics had in my memory -- note the end of the paragraph quoted above, crediting him with "transform[ing] Notre Dame into an academic powerhouse, independent from Rome."

Beyond that, I wouldn't be "remembering" Father Ted now if I hadn't encountered the above blurb and link in this morning's Washington Post "Headlines" e-mail.

I can't speak for you, but I couldn't resist. The blurb turns out to be the first paragraph of a "PostEverything" piece by Jenny Shank, identified as "a faculty mentor at Regis University in Denver and the author of The Ringer." In the piece Jenny tells us about her 2001 encounter with Father Ted, which began at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, and the impact it had on her life, an impact that seems fairly represented in the title of her piece. This part is interesting, and I can imagine you'll want to read about it. However, I'm not as interested in the life lesson as in the encounter itself.

On one level, it's just a conversation two strangers had during a three-hour plane flight, but I think it's pretty darned charming just on this level. For me at least, the interest compounds considerably when you consider the formidable history Jenny's travel companion carried with him, and who he was at the time of this encounter.

After that opening paragraph, sketching Father Ted's Notre Dame history and her own, Jenny writes, "Father Ted remained an abstraction to me until I recognized him at O’Hare airport in 2001."
I was 24, waiting for a plane home to Denver. He would have been unmistakable even without his blue and gold Notre Dame bag, bedecked with shamrocks. I introduced myself, and he asked whether the flight attendant could switch my seat to be next to his. He told me he suffered from macular degeneration, was blind in one eye and could barely see out of the other. Despite near-blindness, he was traveling across the country without an assistant.

I helped him present his ticket and find our row. I stowed his leather Mass kit, and sat quietly as he said a blessing as our plane taxied down the runway. “How’s that?” he asked me.

“Good,” I said.

“No one on an airplane has ever refused it,” he said.

When our food was served, Father Ted asked me to identify his fork, napkin, mustard and macaroni salad. He placed the fork in his right vest pocket and the napkin in his left so he could keep track of them.

My three-hour conversation with Father Ted took on a “My Dinner with Andre” quality. He described the time he was a guest on a nuclear submarine and a ride he’d taken on the fastest airplane ever built. He spoke 20 languages “with varying levels of fluency.” He gently interrogated me about my love life and advised me to marry a Notre Dame alumnus. “Fifty percent of marriages don’t work out,” he said, “but 93% of Notre Dame marriages last.” (He didn’t mention the source of these statistics.)

He had known all the presidents since FDR, and gave me his opinion of Kennedy and Carter. Father Ted met Condoleezza Rice for the first time when she was 19, an accomplished ice skater and pianist. He advised her to learn Russian so she’d be a step ahead of the competition in the field of foreign affairs. “I always wondered why she never got married,” he added, “with her cute dimples and all.”

He’d met Mother Theresa in the Seychelles once: “It’s stupid that the Church doesn’t go ahead and make her a saint, but you have to wait five years before anything begins to get done.” I asked whether people needed to attribute miracles to her before the canonization process could begin and he waved this off, as if impatient with the thought, and said, “Her whole life’s a miracle.”

He asked me what I did, and when I told him I was a writer, he said, “That’s a hard business.”

When we arrived at the Denver airport, Father Ted had to find the gate for his flight to Vail, where he was going to visit his brother. I was eager to assist him make his way through the terminal, but then a young man came up and said, “Father Hesburgh!” He was a Notre Dame alum, too. Father Ted explained that this happens to him all over the world. I left them so the young man could have his own encounter with the illustrious priest.

It struck me then what an act of absolute faith it was for Father Ted to travel across the country alone with faltering sight. He trusted that if he carried that Notre Dame bag, someone would approach and provide any help he needed.
I don't suppose there's anything earth-shaking here, just a charmingly human encounter. It made me feel better about . . . well, maybe just better. I think perhaps I'm less impressed by Father Ted's "act of absolute faith" in traveling alone than by his act of humility in not availing himself of special privileges that almost certainly would have been readily available to him. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that for this trip to visit his brother in Vail he could easily have had every manner of VIP assistance the whole way.

That just doesn't seem to have been who he was. Thanks for sharing this, Jenny, and good luck with the new book!
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Despite Bibi Adulation, How Anti-Semitic Is The Republican Party Base?

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Tom Scheich-- killed by GOP anti-semiticism

Yesterday, his friends and family buried Missouri Auditor-- and Republican gubernatorial contender-- Tom Schweich, who had shot himself February 26. A few weeks earlier he had announced he was running for governor in 2016, triggering a primary battle with former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway. Since his death, it has come out that Hanaway backers, primarily Republican Party state chairman John Hancock and a gaggle of Republican Party power broker who ran this nasty ad last week, had started an anti-semitic whispering campaign against Schweich in the hopes of driving him out of the race.

How ironic that the funeral in Clayton was the same day that the Republican Party was worshipping Bibi Netanyahu as though he were one of Baal's golden calves. The political right has always been, at least partially, defined by it's virulent anti-semitism and the bizarre and ahistorical love affair between the American political right and the Israeli political right can be confusing.

Former Missouri Senator John Danforth (R) was the state's Attorney General from 1969 to 1976, when he was sworn in as a U.S. senator, serving from 1976 until 1995. He is a political moderate and an ordained Episcopal priest. And Tom Schweich was his mentor. Yesterday has wasn't worshipping Bibi Netanyahu. He was commemorating Schweich at the funeral. And the Missouri Republican Party did not want to hear what's its elder statesman had to say.
“Politics has gone so hideously wrong,” Danforth said. “The death of Tom Schweich is the natural consequence of what politics has become.”

Danforth suggested that Schweich might have been ill-suited for the sharp-elbowed world of politics.

“He was a person easily hurt and quickly offended, and I told him I didn’t think he had the temperament for elective politics,” Danforth said. “But Tom didn’t easily accept advice, and he was offended by mine. It was his decision, and he was my friend, and I was for him, whatever he chose to do.”


...Later, Danforth spoke of how he believed the campaign had stung Schweich.

Last month, as Republicans gathered in Kansas City for the Republican Party’s annual conference, a radio ad hit the airwaves attacking Schweich as a weak candidate who could be “easily confused for the deputy sheriff of Mayberry.” Schweich was thin and short.

“Making fun of someone’s physical appearance,” Danforth said, “calling him a ‘little bug,’ there is one word to describe it: ‘bullying.’ And there is one word to describe the person behind it: ‘bully.’ …

“We often hear,” Danforth said, “that words can’t hurt you. But that’s simply not true. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said just the opposite. Words for Jesus could be the moral equivalent of murder. He said if we insult a brother or sister we will be liable. He said if we call someone a fool we will be liable to hell. Well how about anti-Semitic whispers? And how about a radio ad that calls someone a ‘little bug,’ and that is run anonymously over and over again?

“Words do hurt. Words can kill,” Danforth continued. “That has been proven right here in our home state.”


...One of Schweich’s final acts before his death was an attempt to set up an interview with reporters from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Associated Press. The topic was to be his assertion that the newly elected chairman of the Missouri Republican Party had been spreading misinformation about his religion. Schweich was an Episcopalian with a Jewish grandfather. He told reporters that he suspected references were made to his Jewish heritage to damage his standing with Republicans in the primary for governor.

Missouri Republican Party Chairman John Hancock said that he mistakenly believed that Schweich, 54, was Jewish, “but it was simply a part of what I believed to be his biography-- no different than the fact that he was from St. Louis and had graduated from Harvard Law School.”

“While I do not recall doing so, it is possible that I mentioned Tom’s faith in passing during one of the many conversations I have each day,” Hancock wrote. “There was absolutely nothing malicious about my intent, and I certainty was not attempting to ‘inject religion’ into the governor’s race, as some have suggested.”

Danforth’s eulogy tried to challenge that logic.

“The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry,” he said. “Someone said this was no different than saying a person is a Presbyterian. Here’s how to test the credibility of that remark: When was the last time anyone sidled up to you and whispered into your ear that such and such a person is a Presbyterian?”

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More About That "Centrist" Democratic Counterattack

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Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) making it rain?

by Gaius Publius

Howie covered this news from The Hill — "Centrist Dems ready strike against Warren wing" — in a previous piece, but there he focused mainly on the "centrists" themselves. I'd like to focus on the article.

First, though, read the headline from The Hill; then consider — this is very good news. The battle between real progressives and Big Money will be engaged, not shunted to the wings, and engaged on our ground, not theirs. Their prime argument? "Democrats will lose if they run progressive candidates. Only 'centrists' can win." Our prime argument? "The party ran that experiment in 2014. The results shows the opposite. Most of their 'centrists' lost."

Keep that in mind as you read through this.

The Article and Its Framing

Let's start where the article starts, by framing the news. From The Hill (my emphasis):
Centrist Dems ready strike against Warren wing

Centrist Democrats are gathering their forces to fight back against the “Elizabeth Warren wing” of their party, fearing a sharp turn to the left could prove disastrous in the 2016 elections.

For months, moderate Democrats have kept silent, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) barbed attacks against Wall Street, income inequality and the “rigged economy” thrilled the base and stirred desire for a more populist approach.

But with the race for the White House set to begin, centrists are moving to seize back the agenda.

The New Democrat Coalition (NDC), a caucus of moderate Democrats in the House, plans to unveil an economic policy platform as soon as this week in an attempt to chart a different course.

"I have great respect for Sen. Warren — she's a tremendous leader,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), one of the members working on the policy proposal. “My own preference is to create a message without bashing businesses or workers, [the latter of which] happens on the other side."

Peters said that, if Democrats are going to win back the House and Senate, "it's going to be through the work of the New Democrat Coalition."

"To the extent that Republicans beat up on workers and Democrats beat up on employers — I'm not sure that offers voters much of a vision," Peters said. ...
Read the rest of the article, since there's more of the same stuff in it. After you're done, let's deconstruct this a bit.

Now A Modest Translation

First, "centrist" is code for "corporate" without the negative-sounding name. "Moderate" is also code for "corporate." "Businesses" is code for "corporations" even though they'd like it to echo "small business" — like the mom-and-pop operations their campaign contributors work so hard to gobble and destroy (think of all the small cable companies like Storer that were eaten to become Comcast).

Now my translation of the same passage, with a few interpolations added:
Corporate Dems ready strike against Warren wing

Corporate-controlled Democrats are gathering their forces [and corporate-sponsored funding] to fight back against the [anti-corporate] “Elizabeth Warren wing” of their party, fearing a sharp turn to the left [of the pro-corporate right] could prove disastrous [for corporate candidates] in the 2016 elections.

For months, corporate Democrats have kept silent, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) barbed attacks against Wall Street, income inequality and the “rigged economy” thrilled the [actual voters] and stirred desire for a more populist approach.

But with the race for the White House set to begin, corporatists are moving to seize back the agenda.

The New Democrat Coalition (NDC), a caucus of corporate-sponsored Democrats in the House, plans to unveil an economic policy platform as soon as this week in an attempt to chart a different course.

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), one of the members working on the policy proposal, said, “My own preference is to create a message without bashing my corporate sponsors." ...
It's now a wholly different article, right? Yet a more accurate one, even with respect to its undeclared but obvious purpose — presenting the news.

Note that my translation is not snark, but literally true. The almost total extent to which New Democrats owe their funding and careers to "corporate service" is well documented. For example, here's Howie writing about the above-named frontman for this policy group, Rep. Scott Peters:
Scott Peters is a very wealthy conservative Democrat who bought himself a San Diego congressional seat in 2012. In one of the closest races in the country, Peters beat incumbent Republican Brian Bilbray 124,746 [to] 122,086, after outspending him $4,352,737 to $2,772,270. ... Peters ran one of the most self-financed congressional campaigns in history, having spent $2,757,452 of his own money. Since getting elected, Peters amassed a very conservative voting record that finds him voting with the GOP on crucial issues as frequently as he votes with progressives. He's not popular with Democratic voters in his own district and it was no surprise when the GOP mounted a strong campaign against him last year. ...

Peters eked out reelection 98,332 (51.6%) [to] 92,408 (48.4%). Peters spent $4,504,003 to DeMaio's $3,349,677. This time, though, Peters "only" spent $476,659 of his own money on the race. ... His ProgressivePunch 2015-16 crucial vote score is an abysmal 46.15, the worst of any California Democrat.
People who vote with Republicans vote with Big Money, and a guy who can spend over $3 million on his own election is Big Money (mostly; in terms of wealth, he looks up at the soles of David Koch's shoes, but most of us still look up at his). The choice of Peters to represent the Big Money pushback on the "Warren Wing" — the anti–Big Money wing — of the Democratic party is inspired. And Peters is clearly eager to be of service.

If my translation is accurate, then the writer's framing is misleading — because he disappears the corporate "thank you for your service" aspect of the New Democratic operation, and substitutes their "we just disagree" cover story as if it were factual. That framing is the opposite of factual, a counter-factual cover story in so many respects.

Note too the contradiction in just the passage above, which may have flown right past the writer. From the original:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) barbed attacks against Wall Street, income inequality and the “rigged economy” thrilled the base and stirred desire for a more populist approach.
But:
Peters said that, if Democrats are going to win back the House and Senate, "it's going to be through the work of the New Democrat Coalition."
Translation: Warren's attacks are popular with voters. But Peters wants to win them back with yet more pro-corporate positions. That's because each "wing" of the Democratic party has a different notion of their "base." The New Dem base is corporate CEOs and their lobbyists. The Warren Wing base is voters. Actual voters. Has the writer noticed that you can't win back voters with more of the same? I can't answer that question, unfortunately.

A Modest Interpretation

Which leads to the second layer of deconstruction. In all of these stories, someone is whispering into the writer's ear, and around those whispers an article is built that contains (1) as much of the whisperer's framing as the writer can in conscience include — this is the pass-through part — and (2) enough of the writer's own material so that the piece doesn't read like a cred-killing press release. (Trust me; in the non-political world, I've worked both sides of that press release–becomes–news article cycle. It's a very common practice. In the slimier corners of that world, it's even worse — it's "press release–becomes–news article–becomes–here's your thank you, sir.")

So, who whispered into this writer's ear? It has to be a New Dem staffer, right? Or perhaps even Scott Peters himself. Whoever is the source, the project-authorized whisperer, the part I quoted above is her voice, saying "Here's our news and here's how we're framing it." Immediately below the part I quoted above is the writer's own addition:
Warren’s rapid ascent has highlighted growing tensions in the Democratic Party about its identity in the post-Obama era.

Caught in the crossfire is the party’s likely nominee in 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose husband took the party in a decisively centrist [ahem: "pro-corporate"] direction during his eight years in office.
The first sentence quoted above and the first half of the second are entirely true. After that, the writer slips back into New Dem framing.

I'll let you complete this interesting article. There's much to wonder at. For example, look for the brief section that ends with a congressperson saying, "I don't need an angry phone call from Bill Clinton." The writer is accurate about the tensions. Just wrong about how to think about them, based on the facts themselves.

Your Takeaway

There are two takeaways. First, be very clear. As I noted at the start, the Big Money wing of the Democratic Party ran its preferred candidates in almost every 2014 race — Alison Lundergan Grimes, for example, among a great many others — and got stomped. If anyone is losing seats for the party, it's them. If they wanted to win seats for the party, they'd run Warren Wing progressives. Which tells you their real goal — once again, we can only conclude that corporate Democrats would rather lose to corporate Republicans than to progressive Democrats who can win. Once again, progressives are being Tea Partied by their "friends"  on the same side of the aisle.

The second takeaway relates to articles like this. Shame on the writer for not spotting the contradiction between a group that says they want to win Democratic votes but offers known losing candidates and policies. That's a story, but because the writer ignores the obvious, you have to work to find it.

Which means, you have a task. Every time you read a piece like this, ask yourself — who's whispering in this writer's ear? Whose message is she passing along?

GP



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