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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies

Fright night at the art house: A top 10 list

By Dennis Hartley

Since Halloween is coming up before my next post is due, I thought I would do a little early trick-or-treating tonight (wait...you don't think 58 is too old to trick-or-treat...is it?). Now, I enjoy a good old fashioned creature feature as much as the next person, but tonight's recommendations largely eschew the vampires, werewolves, axe-murderers and chainsaw-wielders. Okay, we've got a few aliens, and (possibly) the odd zombie or ghost; but these are films where the volume knob on the sense of dread is left up the viewer's discretion. The "horror", if you will, is in the eye of the beholder. In alphabetical order...

Blue Velvet- Any film that begins with the discovery of a severed human ear, roiling with ants amidst a dreamy, idealized milieu beneath the blue suburban skies instantly commands your full attention. Writer-director David Lynch not only grabs you with this 1986 mystery thriller, but practically pushes you face-first into the dark and seedy mulch that lurks under all those verdant, freshly-mown lawns and happy smiling faces. The detached appendage in question is found by an all-American “boy next door” (Kyle MacLachlan), who is about to get a crash course in the evil that men do. He is joined in his sleuthing caper by a Nancy Drew-ish Laura Dern. But they're not the most interesting characters in this piece. That honor goes to the troubled young woman at the center of the mystery (Isabella Rossellini) and her boyfriend (Dennis Hopper). Rossellini is convincing enough as someone whose elevator doesn’t go to the top floor, but Hopper is 100% pure batshit crazy, squared as Frank Booth, who is one of the all-time greatest screen heavies.

Brotherhood of the Wolf- If I told you that the best martial arts film of the 1990s features an 18th-century French libertine/naturalist/philosopher and his enigmatic “blood-brother” (an Iroquois mystic) who are on the prowl for a supernaturally huge, man-eating lupine creature terrorizing the countryside-would you avoid eye contact and scurry to the other side of the street? Christophe Gans’ film defies category; Dangerous Liaisons meets Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter by way of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the best I can do. Artfully photographed, handsomely mounted and surprising at every turn.

Don't Look Now- This is a tough film to describe without risking spoilers, so I'll be brief. Based on a Daphne du Maurier story, this one-of-a-kind, 1974 psychological thriller from the great Nicholas Roeg stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as a couple coming to grips with the tragic death of their little girl. Roeg subtly builds an increasingly unsettling sense of impending doom, drenched in the Gothic atmosphere of Venice. See it now!

In The Realms of the Unreal- Artist Henry Darger is not usually mentioned in the same breath as Picasso, but he makes for a fascinating study. Darger was a nondescript recluse who worked as a janitor for his entire adult life. He had no significant relationships of record and died in obscurity in 1973. While sorting out the contents of the small Chicago apartment he had lived in for years, his landlady discovered a  treasury of artwork and writings, including over 300 paintings. The centerpiece was an epic, 15,000-page illustrated novel, which Darger had meticulously scribed in long hand over a period of decades (it was literally his life’s work). The subject at hand: An entire mythic alternate universe populated mostly by young, naked hermaphrodites (the”Vivian Girls”). Although it’s tempting to dismiss Darger as a filthy old perv, until you have actually seen the astounding breadth of Darger’s imaginary world, spilled out over so many pages and so much canvas, it’s hard to convey how weirdly mesmerizing it all is (especially if you view an actual exhibit, which I had the chance to catch). The doc mixes Darger’s bio with animation of his work (actors read excerpts from the tome). Truth is stranger than fiction.

Liquid Sky - A diminutive, parasitic alien (who seems to have a particular delectation for NYC club kids, models and performance artists) lands on an East Village rooftop and starts mainlining off the limbic systems of junkies and sex addicts…right at the moment that they, you know...reach the maximum peak of pleasure center stimulation (I suppose that makes the alien a dopamine junkie?). Just don’t think about the science too hard. The main attraction here is the inventive photography and the fascinatingly bizarre performance (or non-performance) by (co-screen writer) Anne Carlisle, who tackles two roles-a female fashion model who becomes the alien’s primary host, and a gay male model. Director Slava Zsukerman helped compose the compelling electronic music score.

Mystery Train -Elvis’ ghost shakes, rattles and rolls (literally and figuratively) all throughout Jim Jarmusch’s culture clash dramedy/love letter to the “Memphis Sound”. In his typically droll and deadpan manner, Jarmusch constructs a series of episodic vignettes that loosely intersect at a seedy hotel. You’ve gotta love any movie that has Screamin’ Jay Hawkins as a night clerk. Also be on the lookout for music legends Rufus Thomas and Joe Strummer, and you will hear the mellifluous voice of Tom Waits on the radio (undoubtedly a call back to his DJ character in Jarmusch’s previous film, Down by Law ).

The Night Porter - Director Liliana Cavani uses a depiction of sadomasochism and sexual politics as an allusion to the horrors of Hitler's Germany. Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling are broodingly decadent as a former SS officer and a concentration camp survivor, respectively, who become entwined in a twisted, doomed relationship years after WW2. You’d have to search high and low to find two braver performances than Bogarde and Rampling give here. I think the film has been unfairly maligned and misunderstood over the years; frequently getting lumped together with exploitative Nazi kitsch like Ilsa: She Wolf of Ss or Salon Kitty. Disturbing, repulsive...yet compelling.

Upstream Color- Not that my original take on Shane Carruth's 2013 film was negative (it leaned toward ambivalent), but apparently this is one of those films that grows on you; the more time I've had to ponder it, the more I have come to appreciate it (most films I see nowadays are forgotten by the time I get back to my car). To say it's a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma is understatement. To say that it redefines the meaning of “Wha?!” is more apt. A woman (Amy Seimitz) is abducted and forced to ingest a creepy-crawly whatsit (in its larval stage) that puts her into a docile and suggestible state. Her kidnapper however turns out to be not so much Buffalo Bill, but more Terence McKenna. Long story short, the next thing she knows, she’s back behind the wheel of her car, parked near a cornfield, and spends the rest of the movie retrieving memories of her bizarre experience in bits and pieces. As do we. You have been warned.

Venus in Furs(aka Paroxismus)- Jess Franco’s 1969 gothic horror-psychedelic sexploitation fest was allegedly inspired by a conversation the director once had with trumpeter Chet Baker. Maria Rohm portrays a mysterious siren who pops into a nightclub one foggy night, and stirs the loins of a brooding jazz trumpeter (played with a perpetually puzzled expression by James “Moondoggie” Darren). Darren follows Rohm to the back room of a mansion, just in time to witness her ritualistic demise at the hands of a decadent playboy (Klaus Kinski) and several of his kinky socialite friends. Sometime later, Darren is playing his trumpet on the beach, where Rohm’s body is seen washing ashore (you following this so far?). Next thing we know, she has “revived” and sets out to wreak revenge on her tormentors, in between torrid love scenes with Darren. Does she (or her "killers") actually exist, outside of Darren’s mind? This visually arresting mash-up of Carnival of Souls and Blow Up is a bit dubious as to narrative, but heavy on atmosphere.

Wake in Fright - Considered one of the great "lost" entries from Australia's own "new wave" movement back in the 70s, Ted Kotcheff's unique psychological thriller concerns a burned-out teacher (Gary Bond) who works in a one-room schoolhouse somewhere in the Outback. Headed back to Sydney to visit his girlfriend over the school holiday, he takes the train to Bundanyabba, where he will need to lodge for one night. At least that’s his plan. “The Yabba” is one of those burgs where the clannish regulars at the local pub take an unhealthy interest in strangers, starting with the (too) friendly town cop (Chips Rafferty) who subtly bullies the teacher into getting blotto. This kick starts a “lost weekend” that lasts for five days. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the ensuing booze-soaked debaucheries have to be seen to be believed; particularly an unnerving and surreal sequence involving a drunken nocturnal kangaroo hunt (a lengthy disclaimer in the end credits may not assuage animal lovers’ worst fears, but at least acknowledges their potential sensitivities). The general atmosphere of dread is tempered by blackly comic dialog (Evan Jones adapted from Kenneth Cook’s novel). Splendid performances abound, especially from (the ubiquitous) Donald Pleasance as a boozy MD.

Jack Bruce

by tristero

Words cannot describe how great a musician Jack Bruce was, not only in Cream, but also before and long, long after. Subtle when others around him were grinding out stolen blues cliches. A perfectionist with a spectacular ear. A brilliant and utterly original songwriter. His death is a monumental loss for contemporary music.

Jack, I saw you twice, both times with Cream, once in New Jersey back in the day ('67 or '68), then again at Madison Square Garden fairly recently. Both times, your performing, your singing was simply amazing. Take care.
Great. Let's treat the doctors and nurses caring for Ebola patients like criminals.

by digby

This is just absurd:

(Editor’s note: Kaci Hickox, a nurse with degrees from the University of Texas at Arlington and the Johns Hopkins University, has been caring for Ebola patients while on assignment with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone. Upon her return to the U.S. on Friday, she was placed in quarantine at a New Jersey hospital. She has tested negative in a preliminary test for Ebola, but the hospital says she will remain under mandatory quarantine for 21 days and will be monitored by public health officials.)

I am a nurse who has just returned to the U.S. after working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone - an Ebola-affected country. I have been quarantined in New Jersey. This is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me.

I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa. I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine.
I arrived at the Newark Liberty International Airport around 1 p.m. on Friday, after a grueling two-day journey from Sierra Leone. I walked up to the immigration official at the airport and was greeted with a big smile and a “hello.”

I told him that I have traveled from Sierra Leone and he replied, a little less enthusiastically: “No problem. They are probably going to ask you a few questions.”

He put on gloves and a mask and called someone. Then he escorted me to the quarantine office a few yards away. I was told to sit down. Everyone that came out of the offices was hurrying from room to room in white protective coveralls, gloves, masks, and a disposable face shield.

One after another, people asked me questions. Some introduced themselves, some didn’t. One man who must have been an immigration officer because he was wearing a weapon belt that I could see protruding from his white coveralls barked questions at me as if I was a criminal. 
Two other officials asked about my work in Sierra Leone. One of them was from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They scribbled notes in the margins of their form, a form that appeared to be inadequate for the many details they are collecting. 
I was tired, hungry and confused, but I tried to remain calm. My temperature was taken using a forehead scanner and it read a temperature of 98. I was feeling physically healthy but emotionally exhausted.

Three hours passed. No one seemed to be in charge. No one would tell me what was going on or what would happen to me.
I called my family to let them know that I was OK. I was hungry and thirsty and asked for something to eat and drink. I was given a granola bar and some water. I wondered what I had done wrong.

Four hours after I landed at the airport, an official approached me with a forehead scanner. My cheeks were flushed, I was upset at being held with no explanation. The scanner recorded my temperature as 101.

The female officer looked smug. “You have a fever now,” she said.

I explained that an oral thermometer would be more accurate and that the forehead scanner was recording an elevated temperature because I was flushed and upset.

I was left alone in the room for another three hours. At around 7 p.m., I was told that I must go to a local hospital. I asked for the name and address of the facility. I realized that information was only shared with me if I asked.

Eight police cars escorted me to the University Hospital in Newark. Sirens blared, lights flashed. Again, I wondered what I had done wrong.

I had spent a month watching children die, alone. I had witnessed human tragedy unfold before my eyes. I had tried to help when much of the world has looked on and done nothing.

At the hospital, I was escorted to a tent that sat outside of the building. The infectious disease and emergency department doctors took my temperature and other vitals and looked puzzled. “Your temperature is 98.6,” they said. “You don't have a fever but we were told you had a fever.”

After my temperature was recorded as 98.6 on the oral thermometer, the doctor decided to see what the forehead scanner records. It read 101. The doctor felts my neck and looked at the temperature again. “There’s no way you have a fever,” he said. “Your face is just flushed.”

My blood was taken and tested for Ebola. It came back negative.

I sat alone in the isolation tent and thought of many colleagues who will return home to America and face the same ordeal. Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?

I recalled my last night at the Ebola management center in Sierra Leone. I was called in at midnight because a 10-year-old girl was having seizures. I coaxed crushed tablets of Tylenol and an anti-seizure medicine into her mouth as her body jolted in the bed.
It was the hardest night of my life. I watched a young girl die in a tent, away from her family.

With few resources and no treatment for Ebola, we tried to offer our patients dignity and humanity in the face of their immense suffering.
Yeah well, you should have stayed there lady because we don't want you here, amirite? We don't have time for dignity and humanity, we have an irrational panic to stoke.

What in the hell is wrong with us? They couldn't have handled that situation with a little human decency? They had to treat her like a criminal and make her sit there as if she'd done something horrible by volunteering to go to Africa to help with an epidemic? An epidemic that really will go global in a big way if trained people don't go there to try to stop it?

God we are a primitive country. We've got idiots on TV screaming about a religion of 1.6 billion people being the toxic cause of violence even as our All American, non-religious school-kids are taking the deadly weapons their parents give them as presents to shoot their schoolmates and themselves. And we have the most sophisticated city on earth acting like a bunch of authoritarian creeps toward people who are doing serious work to stop the spread of an outbreak of a deadly disease --- for PR purposes.

This is just ... depressing. Irrationality all around.

They just hate to bring up Monica --- but they have no choice

by digby

The Wall Street Journal wants you to know that they are not concerned at all about Bill Clinton's sex life. They're just worried for poor Hillary Clinton that the Monica Lewinsky scandal will remind voters of that awful time of partisan polarization back in the 1990s. Unlike today, when everyone's getting along just famously.

What this means for the the poor "Mrs Clinton" (Apparently she doesn't get to keep her titles of Secretary or Senator ...) won't be allowed to mention her new granddaughter because that will make everyone think of Bill and Monica and then she'll lose.

And anyway, we need someone who can bridge the partisan divide and that obviously can only be a Republican.

Monica Lewinsky isn’t going away.

The ex-White House intern whose affair with Bill Clinton nearly sank his presidency has emerged from seclusion and is tweeting, writing and delivering speeches. On Monday, she joined Twitter (@MonicaLewinsky) and put out her first 140-character message: “#HereWeGo.” A day later she had nearly 64,000 followers.

So, there’s an audience for what Ms. Lewinsky has to say.

Is this trouble for the Clintons? Could it complicate Hillary Clinton‘s likely presidential bid?

Yes — though not for reasons you might think.

It’s doubtful Ms. Lewinsky has salacious new stories to share about her dalliance with the ex-president in the mid-1990s. The Starr report covered that ground in unsparing detail.

But there’s another consideration. Ms. Lewinsky’s reappearance is a reminder of a deeply polarizing period in American politics. And that does Mrs. Clinton no favors as she girds for a possible campaign.

Polls already suggest Mrs. Clinton isn’t a unifying figure who can bridge the partisan divide that has bedeviled President Barack Obama.
Family will be a major theme in a Clinton presidential bid. She is advancing policy ideas aimed at fortifying families who are struggling in a tough economy.

With Ms. Lewinsky back on the scene, voters are inevitably reminded of the drama and stresses in Mrs. Clinton’s own family.

In a speech she gave in Philadelphia this week, Ms. Lewinsky mentioned her affair with the 42nd president: “I fell in love with my boss in a 22-year-old sort of way.”

Elections, as they say, are about the future. Mrs. Clinton has no wish to be reminded of this painful part of her past.

Getting out the vote is stealing elections

by digby

Everyone understands that all Democratic close election wins are going to be attributed to vote fraud, right? They already think anyone for whom they don't vote cannot possibly be legitimate. Now they have a ready explanation as to why:

I don't know why offering people bar-b-que and smokes should be considered voter fraud. Unless this person believes that only Democrats eat bar-b-que and smoke cigarettes. (Yes, we know who he was talking about...) Voting is voting and people vote for all kinds of reasons. It's not like they will be writing in "bar-b-que and smokes" for governor. They'll still be voting.  And plenty of them could be white people who like bar-b-que and smokes --- and Ted Nugent, amirite?

I think you can see where we're going here. Any effort for Democrats to get out the vote is, by definition, stealing the election.

Here's what they want. They want to ban absentee ballots and early voting. They want to initiate onerous registration, (in person, at the registrars office with several forms of ID and a witness statement, notarized, attesting to your eligibility.) They want you to be forced to walk or drive only yourself to the polling place, present these various forms of ID to several different people and then submit your ballot to partisan poll watchers who will determine if your signature looks kosher to them. Only then will your ballot be counted.

None of this will be applicable to elderly white people who will be allowed to vote anywhere they choose as long as they can name the evening line-up of Fox News (or stipulate they love to watch that nice Irish boy who looks just like their grandson ...)

When I was a kid I remember that the small town I lived in for a while used to have a picnic on election day. You could bring in your proof of voting and get free hot dogs and potato salad for the whole family. I guess the whole town was stealing elections in those days. Silly small town Americans ... they thought they were encouraging civic involvement and being patriotic.

This is freedom?

by digby

I'm always amazed at how narrowly people define freedom in this country. If you can carry a gun you're free. But if you have any objections to submitting to common behaviors like this just so you can put food on the table you are a whiner who just STHU. It's about the "tricks" employers use to investigate you in ways that circumvent discrimination laws (and common respect for privacy and basic human decency.) This is just one of them:
The car you drive and what's in plain view answer questions that the employer never asked you. I learned most of these car tests from a major health care IT provider. They'll look at type of car you drive and its condition. They'll compare that to your previous income. If you're driving a beat up clunker, but your resume says you were clearing six figures, something's not adding up. Sure, maybe you're frugal—but if other things are inconsistent, the car raises more questions. They might even ask you why you drive such an old car.

They'll look at the interior. Do you have fast food containers all over the place? How you keep your car tells them how keep your cubicle and could preview your work habits. If you've got an electric razor in the car, you don't take the time for proper hygiene. If you smoke, your car screams that habit. Even if you've cleaned the ashtray, that yellow film gets everywhere.

The most "evil" managers tell me they can ask your car questions companies don't ask during a job interview. The bumper stickers are the obvious give away. Answers about your politics, religion and age are all there. Less obvious are things like the magazines inside the car or a car seat. Employers shouldn't ask about your familial status. If you've got a car seat or other child related items, they know the answer.

Is it evil for them to look in your car? Absolutely. Do some companies do it anyway? Absolutely. They put themselves at risk for a discrimination suit. Most applicants aren't thinking the employer's looking at the car. You can't claim religious discrimination if it didn't come up in the interview. You also can't prove they looked in your car.

How do they know which car is yours? When you're doing the interview, an administrative assistant goes out and looks at the car. They'll keep a watch out for where you park or just look at the visitor parking. The really sneaky assistants give you a parking pass to put on your car. You think it's just a parking pass, but it's also a way of saying "Hey, I'm the person interviewing so check me out!"

This is the corporate world for you. Where you're "free" to accede to your employer's every demand for conformity to the most banal stereotypes and shallow psychological tropes --- as interpreted by corporate clones with less insight into human nature than your average zucchini.

The advice, by the way, is to be sure to leave nothing of yourself inside you car because you're being watched. You probably should borrow or rent a nicer one if you drive an old car. (And here I thought these sorts of superficial attitudes were only applicable to the entertainment business ...)


The new "blame America first crowd"

by digby

Can you see what's wrong with this picture?

A former aide to President Ronald Reagan is calling for southern states to secede from the union and form a new conservative nation called "Reagan" where citizens wouldn't be forced to compromise on "traditional values" like marriage.

Right Wing Watch on Wednesday flagged conservative author Douglas MacKinnon's interview with evangelical radio host Janet Mefferd, in which he hocked his new book, "The Secessionist States of America: The Blueprint for Creating a Traditional Values Country … Now." Cautioning that all his secession talk was purely "academic," MacKinnon suggested that South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida break away from the United States and form a new republic named "Reagan."

"You have to remember that all 11 states from the South, including ultimately Texas, seceded legally," MacKinnon told Mefferd. "They left the union peacefully, they left the union legally, and then President Lincoln … part of the problem there was that the North realized very quickly that it could not survive economically without the power of the South."

After making the legal case for secession — and branding the Civil War "illegal" to boot — MacKinnon argued that the leaders Americans are electing today do not represent traditional values, particularly when it comes to marriage.

Yes, a member of the so-called "Party of Lincoln" saying the North started the war because it knew it couldn't survive economically without the South is funny enough. But what amuses me about these scenarios is the fact that Ronald Reagan was the biggest flag-waving American patriot around. As were pretty much all Republicans not ten years ago. "These colors don't run" blah, blah, blah. And today they seem to hate it, mostly because they hate so many Americans.

It's fine with me if they hate America. Everyone has the right to do that if they choose. But it would be nice if they could be the tiniest bit consistent about this. When the left complains about American policy it is accused of being UnAmerican and called traitors to their country by these same people. And yet when they don't like American policies they can call for secession and maintain their reputations as All American patriots at the same time.

In fact from now on I'm going to refer to every right winger who is mad about abortion rights or marriage equality or high taxes the "blame America first crowd" because they have earned that title as honestly as any lefty who complains about America's foreign policy or criminal justice inequities.


"Summoning the demon"

by Tom Sullivan

Technology has a momentum all its own. It has a tendency to take us places before we consider whether they are places we need to or ought to go.

From the realms of my fuzzy memory: Twenty years ago I caught a noon broadcast by Paul Harvey on my car radio. A wealthy California couple had been killed when their small plane crashed. The childless couple had been trying to have a baby through in vitro fertilization. Their efforts remained frozen in a refrigerator at the fertility clinic. As the news reached the public, selfless local women were coming forward and volunteering to carry to term the heirs to the couple's millions.

I laughed all the way home about technology getting out ahead of our ethics.

Yesterday at the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk offered a darker tale about the development of artificial intelligence:

I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.

The classic formulation of that warning comes from a one-page, short story by Fredric Brown, titled "Answer," from Angels and Spaceships (1954). After finally networking computers from ninety-six billion planets, the lead scientist puts the first question to the new supercomputer: "Is there a God?"

The mighty voice answered without hesitation, without the clicking of single relay. "Yes, now there is a God."

Sudden fear flashed on the face of Dwar Ev. He leaped to grab the switch.

A bolt of lightning from the cloudless sky struck him down and fused the switch shut.

Around the coffee urn at the NSA, they must think, "How cool is that?"

Friday, October 24, 2014

Actually, it's pretty clear who is to blame for gun violence

by digby

Dan Carter is a state representative from Newtown Ct:

NAA is Newtown Action Alliance, an anti-gun group, and GAGV is Connecticut against Gun Violence. Of course they are equally to blame with the NRA for all these gun deaths. After all, if they would just agree to the reasonable solution to have more people carrying guns the shooting today would have ended differently. Sure, there probably would have been more deaths what with all the kids opening fire at the same time but it would have been different.  And it's because of gun-grabbers that this didn't happen.


Jebbie's out of touch

by digby

It's a little early for a Mistah Toldyah moment so I'm guessing Jeb's either tired, dumb or has no intention of running for president:

No stranger to taking on his party's most conservative voters, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is now calling out the bastion of conservative media.

CNN's Peter Hamby reported that during a speech Thursday night at a South Carolina fundraiser, Bush "singled out Fox News" while expressing "annoyance with the polarizing fights and constant negativity of the political news media."

Bush reportedly said that he only watches Fox "for a few minutes a day before switching over to SportsCenter."

You cannot win the GOP nomination by dissing Fox News. In South Carolina. You just can't.

The elephant in the room is very confused

by digby


Hmmm. What are the odds that all these killers are also "Islamic"?

Why, if I didn't know better I'd think that people are getting killed every day for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with religion at all.

And yes, this is a terrible day ...


A short history of the Grand Bargain and why it's still biting us in the ass #2014 #ads

by digby

In the early delirious days of 2009, when liberals everywhere were streaming tears of joy at the end of the Bush reign and the beginning of a new era under President Obama, there were a few skunks at the garden party who noticed some bad news buried in all that hope and change. Before the inauguration the president-elect invited a number of Village luminaries to chat about his vision for his presidency. They were all awestruck by the wonderfulness of it all, particularly the idea of resolution to the thorniest budget disagreements and the health care crisis. It was big, it was sweeping and it transcended all that pesky partisanship that was ruining everything.

Here's how it came up in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on January 10th, 10 days before the inauguration:

I asked the president-elect, "At the end of the day, are you really talking about over the course of your campaign some kind of grand bargain? That you have tax reform, healthcare reform, entitlement reform including Social Security and Medicare, where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?"

"Yes," Obama said.

"And when will that get done?" I asked.

"Well, right now, I’m focused on a pretty heavy lift, which is making sure we get that reinvestment and recovery package in place. But what you described is exactly what we’re going to have to do. What we have to do is to take a look at our structural deficit, how are we paying for government? What are we getting for it? And how do we make the system more efficient?"

"And eventually sacrifice from everyone?" I asked.

"Everybody’s going to have give. Everybody’s going to have to have some skin the game," Obama said.

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post picked up the term Grand Bargain and elaborated on those plans on January 15th, 5 days before the inauguration:

Obama regularly offers three telltale notions that will define his presidency -- if events allow him to define it himself: "sacrifice," "grand bargain" and "sustainability."

To listen to Obama and his budget director Peter Orszag is to hear a tale of long-term fiscal woe. The government may have to spend and cut taxes in a big way now, but in the long run, the federal budget is unsustainable.

That's where sacrifice kicks in. There will be signs of it in Obama's first budget, in his efforts to contain health-care costs and, down the road, in his call for entitlement reform and limits on carbon emissions. His camp is selling the idea that if he wants authority for new initiatives and new spending, Obama will have to prove his willingness to cut some programs and reform others.

The "grand bargain" they are talking about is a mix and match of boldness and prudence. It involves expansive government where necessary, balanced by tough management, unpopular cuts -- and, yes, eventually some tax increases. Everyone, they say, will have to give up something.

Only such a balance, they argue, will win broad support for what Obama wants to do, and thus make his reforms "sustainable," the other magic word -- meaning that even Republicans, when they eventually get back to power, will choose not to reverse them.

Since the world was reeling in the wake of the financial crisis this seemed like a very odd discussion to be having at that moment. Unemployment was growing by the millions and they were talking about cutting spending and "sacrifice?" It was very disorienting, to say the least. Within days of taking office it was declared that the White House would host a so-called Fiscal Responsibility Summit:

Obama said that he has made clear to his advisers that some of the difficult choices--particularly in regards to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare - should be made on his watch. "We've kicked this can down the road and now we are at the end of the road," he said.

This plan to "make the difficult choices" on Social Security and Medicare was on the table from the very beginning as part of an overarching plan to "fix" the deficit and end all this needless bickering over the budget and taxes and "entitlements" once and for all. And once they got all that old business of the table the president would be able to do whatever he wanted. O rsomething like that.

We know what happened. The White House passed one element of its Grand Bargain which was health care reform. And that so inflamed the Republicans that it spelled the end of any hopes for his plans to "reform" entitlements and the tax code despite the fact that these were supposed to be the enticements offered to the right in the Grand Bargain. The president did everything he could to make good on his offer, putting Social Security cuts on the menu over and over again in budget negotiations and being rebuffed time and again by the Tea Partiers who came into office on the anti-Obamacare wave. They simply would not take yes for an answer.

There were some ominous signs of how all this was going to play politically as far back as 2010 when Republican PACs blanketed the nation with scary ads about the administration slashing Medicare. This one is a good example:

The truth was that there were some cuts to Medicare providers in the health care reforms. But after all the Palinesque demagoguery about death panels that fine point wasn't particularly salient.

And yes, the irony was thick. The party that had opposed Medicare from the moment it was conceived and which had long wanted to privatize the whole system was wringing its hands about cuts? Well, consistency isn't their strong suit. And they won a huge landslide at least partially due to a big turnout among elderly voters who'd been scared to death by this barrage of ads.

This did not stop the administration and many Democrats from continuing their Grand Bargain crusade. The President had convened the Simpson-Bowles commission to tie it all together for one big budget agreement and it twisted everyone in the capitol up in knots. The liberals and the conservatives on the commission couldn't bring themselves to sign on so the two Chairmen decided to release the report anyway and everyone pretended that it was some sort of official document. It included cuts to defense (which the president rejected) and cuts to the "entitlements" and all sorts of tax "reforms" (which, since this plan was supposed to reduce the deficit, inexplicably were "revenue neutral.")

This remained a baseline for budget negotiations going forward culminating in austerity budgets in 2011 and 2012 (you all remember "the sequester", right?) which crippled needed domestic programs. But even as the Democratic leadership and the White House nearly begged them to accept the cuts to Social Security and veterans benefits that their nifty accounting trick known as the Chained-CPI would bring, those Tea Partiers refused.

Dumb as foxes they were. Who could have ever predicted this?

Cutting federal health and retirement spending has long been at the top of the GOP agenda. But with Republicans in striking distance of winning the Senate, they are suddenly blasting the idea of trimming Social Security benefits.

The latest attack came in Georgia, where the National Republican Campaign Committee posted an ad last week accusing Rep. John Barrow (D) of “leaving Georgia seniors behind” by supporting “a plan that would raise the retirement age to 69 while cutting Social Security benefits.”

Crossroads GPS, the conservative nonprofit group founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove, has run similar ads against North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan (D), Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor (D) and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). Crossroads accused Hagan of supporting a “controversial plan” that “raises the retirement age.”

Pryor’s opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, meanwhile, is one of at least three Republican candidates in competitive Senate races who have released cheery ads promising to protect Social Security. In Colorado, Rep. Cory Gardner (R) appears in a new ad with his “Grandma Betty” and vows to “honor every penny we promised today’s seniors” — a pledge that seems to conflict with demands by Republican congressional leaders for a less-generous inflation formula to calculate seniors’ cost-of-living increases.

Older voters typically dominate the electorate in non-presidential years, so the resort to Social Security as an issue in the Nov. 4 midterms is hardly surprising. But what has drawn attention – and charges of hypocrisy – is the decision by Republican groups to attack Democrats for supporting conservative ideas in a proposed “grand bargain” on the budget drafted by Democrat Erskine Bowles and former Republican senator Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming.
Here's one of them:

This was, of course, predicted by every single critic of the Grand Bargain over the years. And needless to say, it was predicted by the last mid-term which offered up similar accusations about Medicare.

It was always bizarre that a Democratic president would believe that an epic economic downturn was a good time to worry about deficits and try to strike a bargain to cut the Party's signature
domestic economic achievement --- an achievement  which had lifted massive numbers of people out of poverty. It was conceived as a "go to China" moment in which only a Democrat could cut Social Security without being demagogued by Democrats. Apparently it didn't occur to these visionaries that the Republicans were increasingly dependent on the elderly for votes and would be happy to demagogue the Democrats instead.  Certainly no one should have depended on their honesty and integrity.

There have been few more misguided initiatives than the relentless pursuit of a Grand Bargain during the president's first term. And the Party continues to pay a price for that mistake. Fortunately for the Democrats no bargain was actually struck and a light is now shining on the inequities in the funding stream for the programs and a new approach is slowly being accepted as the new agenda: raise the cap on social security taxes and raise benefits.

If the Party puts that in its platform and really gets behind it, it might even win back the support of the elderly. And then the GOP will have a real problem on its hands.

Is Mitt Romney a criminal "ballot harvester"?

by digby

I wrote about this Arizona idiocy the other day in Salon.  Wonkette catches the Republicans doing exactly the same thing ("ballot harvesting") as the Democrats:

The real difference is that the people who will be voting and collecting the ballots at the Romney event are Real Americans and thus above reproach.  That fellow in the white t-shirt looks an awful lot like an "illegal" to me. And when you look like and "illegal" you can't be handling ballots. Obviously.

When the 2nd Amendment nullifies the 1st

by digby

I've been writing for quite a while about how the gun proliferation movement was essentially nullifying everyone elses freedoms. You might recall the final graph of this piece of mine at Salon which got a whole lot of comments:

All of this is allegedly being done to protect our freedoms. But it’s only the “freedom” of the person wearing a firearm that matters. Those parents who want their kids to feel safe in a public park aren’t free to tell a man waving a gun around to leave them alone, are they? Patrons and employees of Starbucks aren’t free to express their opinion of open carry laws when one of these demonstrations are taking place in the store. Those Jack in the Box employees aren’t free to refuse service to armed customers. Sure, they are all theoretically free to do those things. It’s their constitutional right just like it’s the constitutional right of these people to carry a gun. But in the real world, sane people do not confront armed men and women. They don’t argue with them over politics. They certainly do not put their kids in harm’s way in order to make a point. So when it comes right down to it, when you are in the presence of one of these armed citizens, you don’t really have any rights at all.

You can see why they think that’s freedom. It is. For them. The rest of us just have to be very polite, keep our voices down and back away very slowly, saying, “Yes sir, whatever you say, sir,” and let them have their way.

Check out this piece by Harold Meyerson at the American Prospect in which he talks about the video game critic Anita Sarkeesian having to cancel a speech because of gun laws:

The day before her speech, university administrators received an e-mail warning that a shooting massacre would take place should Sarkeesian go ahead with her speech. “This will be the deadliest shooting in American history,” the message read, “and I’m giving you a chance to stop it.” The e-mail’s author signed with the name Marc Lepine, who, the Times explained, was “a person who killed 14 women in a mass shooting in Montreal in 1989 before taking his own life.”

When administrators told Sarkeesian that Utah law explicitly forbade them from having the campus police stop people with guns from attending her talk, Sarkeesian had little choice but to cancel.

But my interest here isn’t in gamer culture, but rather in the almost incomprehensibly idiotic Utah gun law that keeps police from barring gun-toters from attending events where a gun massacre has been threatened.

I don't think there even has to be a direct threat for speech to be chilled by this. Those Moms against Guns rallies where people show up and lurk around with their AR-15s were plenty intimidating without having to say a word. Telling someone who is armed to leave your place of business is an inherently more dicey proposition than one who is unarmed. In fact, dealing with people who are carrying guns is entirely different than dealing with one who is not. That's great for the person with a gun. Not so good for everyone else. But that's the point.

As Meyerson says:

The problem with the kind of Second Amendment absolutism stoked by the NRA and made into law by legislators and judges is that gun rights taken to extremes inherently imperil other rights. The raisons d’être of guns not used for hunting are self-defense and intimidation. A society where guns are unregulated and the threat of gun violence cannot be legally checked is a society where intimidation becomes the norm and freedom of speech can be easily abridged.

The Constitution is not frictionless machine in which all the parts move harmoniously together. Some of the rights it guarantees collide with other rights it guarantees. The elevation of the Second Amendment into a super-right has now diminished others—including those that the founders quite deliberately put first.

That's the idea.


What’s a plutocrat to do?

by Tom Sullivan

"We're not a democracy, we're a republic," friends on the right will cheerfully correct when a Democrat refers to this country as a democracy. It's true -- a true fact, if you hew to the right -- but that's not why they're so adamant about it. For some reason, Republicans just like the sound of republic better.

But they also don't really like the idea of democracy itself. It's a plutocrat thing, Paul Krugman writes, quoting Leung Chun-ying, the leader of Hong Kong, on why full democracy there would be a bad idea: “You would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month. Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies.” Plutocrats worldwide (and their sycophants) really hate the idea of having to share power with people they consider inferiors. Recall Mitt Romney's 47% and the makers-takers narrative? Krugman does too:

For the political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy. No matter how well conservatives do in elections, no matter how thoroughly free-market ideology dominates discourse, there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy.

In fact, the very success of the conservative agenda only intensifies this fear. Many on the right — and I’m not just talking about people listening to Rush Limbaugh; I’m talking about members of the political elite — live, at least part of the time, in an alternative universe in which America has spent the past few decades marching rapidly down the road to serfdom. Never mind the new Gilded Age that tax cuts and financial deregulation have created; they’re reading books with titles like “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic,” asserting that the big problem we have is runaway redistribution.

"So what’s a plutocrat to do?" Krugman asks. Since they can't come straight out and say only the wealthy should have the franchise, they resort to propaganda about voter fraud, etc.

As I wrote at my home blog, they find the whole notion of government of, by, and for the people very, very inefficient.

At the end of the Revolutionary War, there were an estimated half million Tories in this country. Royalists by temperament, loyal to the King and England, predisposed to government by hereditary royalty and landed nobility, men dedicated to the proposition that all men are not created equal.

After the Treaty of Paris, you know where they went? Nowhere. A few moved back to England, or to Florida or to Canada. But most stayed right here.

Take a look around. Their progeny are still with us among the one percent and their vassals. Spouting adolescent tripe from Ayn Rand, kissing up, kicking down, chasing their masters’ carriages or haughtily looking down their noses at people they consider inferiors.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A beating for turnstile jumping

by digby

Because we just can't have that. This one got a little messy:

A video surfaced Thursday showing an undercover New York City police officer kicking a fellow officer in the head, apparently mistaking him for a suspect.

The news website DNAinfo New York published the video of a January confrontation that started with two transit cops and a man who allegedly tried to skip a fare at a subway station in Coney Island.

The suspect appeared in to physically struggle as they tackled him to the ground and attempted to cuff his hands.

Almost immediately, several uniformed officers streamed from the subway entrance, with what DNAinfo described as an undercover cop tagging along.

The plainclothes officer appeared to mistake one of his fellow officers on the floor for the suspect and kicked him in the head. A loud thump is heard on the tape.

"He kicked the cop," a nearby bystander could be heard saying on the video.

The officer appeared to have realized his mistake soon after. He rubbed the head of his colleague and then grabbed hold of the suspect and punched him.

Well that's good. It would have been a dereliction of duty not to get that extra punch in.

You can see the video at the link. I especially love that fact that the plainclothes cop has a handgun just casually tucked into the back of his pants while he's rolling around in a pile of people without knowing who is the perp and who are the cops. Looks like excellent professional policing there.

He knows good propaganda when he sees it

by digby

There was a name for this back in the good old days: Useful Idiot

An ad from Republican Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton about his military experience and national security issues uses footage from an ISIS propaganda video as B-roll.

Cotton’s ad, “Decisions,” which came out on Oct. 13, highlights the “tough decisions” Cotton would have to make as a senator about ISIS, the militant group that controls parts of Syria and Iraq, and cites Cotton’s work as an Army Ranger.

The ad about ISIS uses footage directly from the group — a 55-minute long ISIS video, “Flames of War,” which was professionally made and features graphic content that includes a mass execution of a group of men who fall into a ditch.

“In the Middle East, radical terrorists are on the march, destabilizing our allies, beheading Americans, and crucifying Christians,” says Cotton in the ad. “President Obama admits he underestimated them. We need a senator who will hold the president accountable and make America safer. I made tough decisions as an Army Ranger in Iraq. I’ll make them again as your senator.”

Well that's certainly helpful to the cause. The question is, which one? It's hard to see how it hurts the cause of ISIS, that's for sure. They must be pleased as punch to have their handiwork on American television. After all, they went to a lot of trouble to produce it with slick production values. The least we can do is give it some airtime.

This is why people have no respect for rich people

by digby

They don't even try to hide their selfishness:

Dear Prudence,

I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more “modest” streets—mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?

—Halloween for the 99 Percent

Dear 99,

You ARE a terrible person and if there is such a thing as karma you will get yours.

Prudence basically said the same thing but she was nicer about it.

Have you heard of "ballot harvesting"? You will.

by digby

My piece at Salon this morning is about another hysterical "vote fraud" pseudo-scandal, this time from Arizona. I recount some of Arizona's Greatest Vote Suppression hits first and then:
Operation Eagle Eye may have faded but the vote suppression activities continue in Arizona just as they continue all over the nation. And like everywhere else, the modern approach is to hysterically accuse Democrats of committing “voter fraud” and creating an illusion that perfectly legal election practices constitute corruption of our electoral system. As everyone undoubtedly knows by now, this specious misdirection has led to onerous Voter ID laws throughout the nation which are making it very difficult for some people to vote.

But now that they’ve achieved this victory, it’s time to move on to the next step. And if the hysterical reaction from the conservative press is any example, a ridiculous story out of Arizona this week may clue us in to one of the next steps.

Back in 2013, the Republican-dominated Arizona Legislature passed a draconian vote suppression law which, among other things, would have made it illegal for anyone to collect an early voting ballot from another person and deliver it to the registrar’s office. This had been considered a crucial method of getting out the vote in the recall of resident kook Russell Pearce and was understood to be a threat to Republicans in the state. As it happened there was enough of an outcry that the Legislature repealed the measure this past February.

Nevertheless, in the muddled minds of Republicans this is now understood to be a method of “ballot box stuffing,” which is how they characterized an incident that was reported from Maricopa County.

Read on for the details. You won't believe it.

Make a note of the term "ballot harvesting." I have a feeling this isn't the last time we'll hear of it.
In fact, they are the Real America, the rest of us are foreigners

by digby


I cannot count the ways in which this (from 2013) is idiotic:
Plans by a heritage group, the Virginia Flaggers, to erect a large Confederate flag on a major road outside Richmond has drawn considerable fire from critics who say it's a symbol of hate.

That's not true, says Barry Isenhour, a member of the group, who says it's really about honouring the Confederate soldiers who gave their lives. For him, the war was not primarily about slavery but standing up to being over-taxed, and he says many southerners abhorred slavery.

"They fought for the family and fought for the state. We are tired of people saying they did something wrong. They were freedom-loving Americans who stood up to the tyranny of the North. They seceded from the US government not from the American idea."
Here's an All-American idea for you: you lost.

Somebody should ask him about this:
"The flag wasn't a major symbol until the Civil Rights movement began to take shape in the 1950s," says Bill Ferris, founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, "it was a battle flag relegated to history but the Ku Klux Klan and others who resisted desegregation turned to the flag as a symbol."
Imagine that.

Hope and change Rand Paul style

by digby

So Rand Paul is going to give a big foreign policy speech tonight which is being characterized as being "to the left" of the liberals in the Democratic Party, which is very interesting. One can only wonder who his constituency for such a thing might be. It certainly makes you wonder which Republicans he plans to convince to vote for him.

He will, of course, attack Obama for many things, some of which will undoubtedly be right. (The foreign policy consensus in both parties is certainly ripe for criticism.) He is going to quote Malala and sound very attractively dovish. But here's what it comes own to:

“Here’s how I see the most important principles that should drive America’s foreign policy,” Paul will tell the crowd. “First, the use of force is and always has been an indispensable part of defending our country… A second principle is that Congress… must authorize the decision to intervene… A third principle is the belief that peace and security require a commitment to diplomacy and leadership,” and last, “we are only as strong as our economy.”

Paul then attempts to outline when, exactly, he believes force is justified: “War is necessary when America is attacked or threatened, when vital American interests are attacked and threatened, and when we have exhausted all other measures short of war.”

Granted, that's probably more dovish than you're going to hear from Rick Perry who sounds like he'd ready to round up Muslims all over the world and put them in FEMA camps. But revolutionary? Not exactly. That's got so much daylight in it that the National Security State apparatus can drive a B-52 through it.

Seriously, what about this statement in any way represents a change from Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Obama or any other post WWII president?

War is necessary when America is attacked or threatened, when vital American interests are attacked and threatened, and when we have exhausted all other measures short of war

I'm sure there will be a few lefties who'll be taken with this. But I'm much more interested in what the Republicans will say. Should be a fascinating primary.

Koch allies court NC stoners

by Tom Sullivan

Last night a colleague forwarded an email she received from an NC friend:

I was watching the Good Wife on Hulu Plus last night, and this ad with a couple of attractive young people talking about how cool it is that Sean Haugh wants to legalize marijuana. When it came up a few minutes later, I realized it couldn't be for real, and I searched it on the internet, and yes, it's the Kochs trying to pull votes away from Kay Hagan.

It is one of a series of 10 commercials that "came as a complete surprise" to Haugh. Whatever you are hearing from pollsters about the senate race in North Carolina, yes, Thom Tillis' backers are just that desperate. Matt Phillippi at PoliticsNC:

Like many Americans I got rid of cable several years ago and now get a lot of my TV from streaming internet services. I was watching Hulu last night, and saw not one, but two different ad spots supporting Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh. This is odd in itself, because political campaigns rarely advertise there (with the exception of the President in 2012). The ads looked very homespun, and only really got my attention because the message of the first one was “Get Haugh, Get High” with young people holding up pictures of marijuana while wearing tie-dyes and Bob Marley T-Shirts, which seemed a little outlandish even for a Libertarian candidate. The second ad positioned Haugh as the anti-war candidate, and labeled Hagan as a “War Monger” literally labeled, right over her picture. That was when I read the ‘paid for’ tags on the bottom of the ad.

The ads were paid for by the American Futures Fund, a 501(c)4 organization started in 2008 by several members of Mitt Romney’s first presidential primary campaign staff. The organization claims to promote “Conservative, free-market ideals.” In reality the organization spends the majority of its money attacking Democratic candidates. According to Opensecrets.org, during the 2013-2014 cycle, AFF has spent 84% of its money attacking Democratic candidates and 16% supporting Republicans (scroll down on that link for a nice graph illustrating this).

Hagan laughed when I told her on Saturday that Thom Tillis was her best campaigner. Tillis' backers apparently think so too if they are down to this Hail Mary play in an attempt to draw votes away from Hagan.

Early voting gets under way in North Carolina this morning.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

That Film About Money 

by tristero

A friend of mine, James Schamus, spent his summer vacation making two hilarious, brilliant, and deeply unsettling films about the bizarre subject of modern money. They are not to be missed:

That Film About Money, Episode 6 of We The Economy 

The Second Part of That Film About Money, Episode 7 of We The Economy 

Much about our very weird country is revealed in the process. Enjoy (if that's the word)!
Emperor Keith and his very odd trades

by digby

This certainly stinks to high heaven
At the same time that he was running the United States' biggest intelligence-gathering organization, former National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander owned and sold shares in commodities linked to China and Russia, two countries that the NSA was spying on heavily.

At the time, Alexander was a three-star general whose financial portfolio otherwise consisted almost entirely of run-of-the-mill mutual funds and a handful of technology stocks. Why he was engaged in commodities trades, including trades in one market that experts describe as being run by an opaque "cartel" that can befuddle even experienced professionals, remains unclear. When contacted, Alexander had no comment about his financial transactions, which are documented in recently released financial disclosure forms that he was required to file while in government. The NSA also had no comment.

I don't know what went on, but this certainly looks odd:

On Jan. 7, 2008, Alexander sold previously purchased shares in the Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, a Canadian firm that mines potash, a mineral typically used in fertilizer. The potash market is largely controlled by companies in Canada, as well as in Belarus and Russia. And China was, and is, one of the biggest consumers of the substance, using it to expand the country's agricultural sector and produce higher crop yields.

"It's a market that's really odd, involving collusion, where companies essentially coordinate on prices and output," said Craig Pirrong, a finance professor and commodities expert at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business.
"Strange things happen in the potash market. It's a closed market. Whenever you have Russians and Chinese being big players, a lot of stuff goes on in the shadows."

"Strange things happen in the potash market. It's a closed market. Whenever you have Russians and Chinese being big players, a lot of stuff goes on in the shadows."

On the same day he sold the potash company shares, Alexander also sold shares in the Aluminum Corp. of China Ltd., a state-owned company headquartered in Beijing and currently the world's second-largest producer of aluminum. U.S. government investigators have indicated that the company, known as Chinalco, has received insider information about its American competitors from computer hackers working for the Chinese military. That hacker group has been under NSA surveillance for years, and the Justice Department in May indicted five of its members.

The government raised no red flags and he doesn't appear to have made a bunch of money. But read the whole article to see just how bizarre these trades were.

U.S. officials have long insisted that the information that intelligence agencies steal from foreign corporations and governments is only used to make political and strategic decisions and isn't shared with U.S. companies. But whether that spying could benefit individual U.S. officials who are privy to the secrets being collected, and what mechanisms are in place to ensure officials don't personally benefit from insider knowledge, haven't been widely discussed...

Alexander has a history of conflict of interest problems. He wants to patent an "invention" based upon knowledge gleaned from his time at the NSA. The taxpayers apparently aren't entitled to anything except the knowledge that people like Keith Alexander have had access to all their personal information. And then there's this one from just this week:

In an employment deal that prompted an internal investigation at the NSA and inquiries from Capitol Hill, Alexander arranged for the agency's chief technology officer, Patrick Dowd, to work part time for a new cybersecurity consulting firm that Alexander started this year after leaving the NSA and retiring from the Army with a fourth star. Experts said the public-private setup was highly unusual and possibly unprecedented.

Reuters revealed the arrangement last week, and on Tuesday, Oct. 21, with pressure building from lawmakers to investigate, Alexander said that he was severing the relationship with Dowd. "While we understand we did everything right, I think there's still enough issues out there that create problems for Dr. Dowd, for NSA, for my company," Alexander told Reuters when explaining why he scuttled the deal. Alexander's company, IronNet Cybersecurity, is based in Washington, and he has said he might charge clients as much as $1 million per month for his expertise and insights into cybersecurity.

A little reminder about Alexander:

“We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander—with good cause, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets,” says one former senior CIA official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. “We would sit back literally in awe of what he was able to get from Congress, from the White House, and at the expense of everybody else.”

Now why do you suppose that was?

Remember, this was the guy who was running around accusing journalists of "selling secrets" because they were paid by the newspapers that printed the stories they wrote. Yes, he really said that. 

Exceptionally hysterical

by digby

US vs Canada:

How embarrassing ....

QOTD: Larry Klayman

by digby

This one really takes the cake:

Does anyone doubt that former Alabama Gov. George Wallace was a racist, after he banned blacks from attending the state’s university in the 1960s? So too can anyone refute that Obama’s not even temporarily banning West Africans from entering the United States is also as least de facto racism, as this high risk caper puts whites and others at risk at the expense of not even temporarily “inconveniencing” his fellow Africans. Wallace and Obama are both despicable and both to be condemned to the trash heap of history for their actions.

Just ... wow. I like how the alleged caper puts white and others at risk. What others do you suppose he's talking about? I guess that dumb old Obama didn't think about that did he?

Can you have a democracy when the government spies on the press?

by digby

Steve Coll of the New Yorker (and dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of journalism) writes about the threat to the freedom of the press posed by government incursion on our privacy through technology. He's moved to do it by his viewing of Laura Poitras' "Citizen Four" about the Edward Snowden story, in which it's revealed just how thoroughly the government has infiltrated all of our communications systems:

In fashioning balanced practices for reporters, it is critical to ask how often and in what ways governments—ours and others—systematically target journalists’ communications in intelligence collection. For all his varied revelations about surveillance, this is an area where Snowden’s files have been less than definitive. It seems safe to assume the worst, but, as for the American government’s practices, there are large gaps in our understanding. White House executive orders, the Patriot Act, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act might all be grounds for targeting journalists for certain kinds of collection. Yet the government has never disclosed its policies, or the history of its actual practices following the September 11th attacks. (For a chilling sense of how vulnerable a journalist’s data would be if targeted by sophisticated surveillance, read “Dragnet Nation,” by Julia Angwin, an investigative reporter, formerly at the Wall Street Journal and now at ProPublica.)

In September, the Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press and more than two dozen media organizations asked the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal body, to look into these questions and report their findings publicly. “National security surveillance programs must not be used to circumvent important substantive and procedural protections belonging to journalists and their source,” their letter said. “Sufficient details about these programs must be disclosed to the public so that journalists and sources are better informed about the collection and use of their communications.”

From a working journalist’s perspective, the Edward Snowdens of this world come around about as often as Halley’s Comet. It is not possible to report effectively and routinely while operating as though every communication must be segregated in a compartment within a compartment. The question of what constitutes best practices is a work in progress, as is the protection of personal privacy more broadly.
Thank you.

Maybe you don't think that it's important that journalists get these stories in which case you probably think it's just fine that the government is not only spying on them it is intimidating them with threats of legal action. (Indeed, this administration has taken these threats to unprecedented levels --- even as the Attorney General continues to say that they are not ...) But if you are a journalist and you defend this behavior it's very hard to see why you chose that career. This really doesn't strike me as that complicated of a question.

Coll sounds eminently reasonable to me. Why are so many other reporters so complacent about this?  Or worse, why are they actively hostile to people who are trying to tell these difficult stories simply because they are offended by their "tone" or their personalities? How can we possibly believe what they tell us?


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