Friday Reads: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Good Morning!

I continue to investigate news stories where a large group of people seem to sit in denial.   You might even say they wallow in denial.  There are never ostriches-head-in-sandstories with one side.  There are never truths that should be accepted with out proof and facts.  Nothing good ever comes from denying the complexities of life.  Here are a few stories that offer up complexities.  I hope you enjoy reading them, although I have to admit that the details aren’t always pretty.

The first story I want to offer is about Greece and the collapse of its government, its economy, and the ongoing collapse of its culture.  Is Greece a nation for sale?  Is it a nation whose people are being sold out and have been sold out?  How can democracy exist when your entire country is up for sale to the highest bidder?

The savage methods of alleged “economic efficiency” and privatization increase neither efficiency nor competition, but do lead to price increases for consumers, higher costs for government, corruption, embezzlement and the destruction of democracy.

When the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) came to Greece’s rescue in May 2010 with a 110 billion euro bailout loan in order to avoid the default of a eurozone member state (a second bailout loan worth 130 billion euros was activated in March 2012), the intentions of the rescue plan were multifold. First, the EU-IMF duo (with the IMF in the role of junior partner) wanted to protect the interests of the foreign banks and the financial institutions that had loaned Greece billions of euros. Greece’s gross foreign debt amounted to over 410 billion euros by the end of 2009, so a default would have led to substantial losses for foreign banks and bondholders, but also to the collapse of the Greek banking system itself as the European Central Bank (ECB) would be obliged in such an event to refuse to fund Greek banks.

Second, by bailing out Greece, the EU wanted to avoid the risk of negative contagion effects spreading across the euro area. A Greek default would have led to a financial meltdown across the euro area and perhaps to the end of the euro altogether.

Third, with Germany as Europe’s hegemonic power, there was a clear intention to punish Greece for its allegedly “profligate” ways (although it was large inflows of capital from the core countries that financed consumption and rising government spending), and by extension, send out a message to the other “peripheral” nations of the eurozone of the fate awaiting them if they did not put their fiscal house in order.

Fourth, the EU wanted to take the opportunity presented by the debt crisis to turn Greece into a “guinea pig” for the policy prescriptions of a neoliberal Europe. Berlin and Brussels had long ago embraced the main pillars of the Washington Consensus – fiscal austerity, privatization, deregulation and destatization – and the debt crisis offered a golden opportunity to cut down the Greek public sector to the bare bones and radicalize the domestic labor market with policies that slash wages and benefits and enhance flexibilization and insecurity.

ostrich-head-in-sandEveryone has known for some time that the Southern United States is primarily a drag on the rest of the country.  Its states cannot function without massive infusions of federal dollars. Its institutions remain broken.  Its governments are corrupt.  What does it mean to the country that the South behaves like a third world set of nations where any one can dump pollutants, destroy worker’s rights, deny women and the poor basic health care, and pay wages that don’t cover any kind of normal expenses?   What’s worse is that poor white Southerners just seem to vote like they love taking it up the ass.  Why are we letting an entire region drag the country to ruin?

On this point Thompson is unrelenting. “We can no longer afford to wait on the South to get its racial shit together,” he writes. “It’s time to move on, let southerners sort out their own mess free from the harassment of northern moralizers.” This is pretty much what William Faulkner wrote in more eloquent terms some 60 years ago. And, as we approach the 150th anniversary of the battles of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, Thompson finds plenty of Southerners who think, as one of them tells him, “We’re on the verge of a civil war.” Thompson asks, “Between North and South?” The answer: “Between conservative and liberal.”

It’s attitudes like this that keep white Southerners from understanding that year after year, decade after decade, they support policies that don’t help them. “Rank-and-file southern voters—who have lower average incomes than other Americans—resoundingly defeated Barack Obama in 2008; the eventual president carried just 10, 11, and 14 percent of the white vote in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana respectively,” Thompson writes. “An influential percentage of poor, uneducated, underserved, insurance-less white southerners continue to cast votes for candidates whose agendas clearly conflict with their own self interest.” What Thompson doesn’t do—what I’ve never seen anyone do—is offer a valid explanation for why white Southerners ally themselves with the party that treats them contemptuously.

Whites in the South overwhelmingly support right-to-work laws, which Thompson defines, correctly, as “the Orwellian euphemism for ‘the right for companies to disregard the welfare of their workers.’ ” According to a 2009 survey by Grand Valley State University, annual salaries for autoworkers in Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina averaged about $55,400, while their counterparts in Michigan averaged $74,500. Thompson notes that Southern blue-collar workers also have “inferior health and pension plans, less job security, higher risk of being fired for trivial reasons, and diminished safety precautions. … ”

Not only are Southern workers hurt by their anti-union attitudes, the whole nation suffers. “Southern economic success,” writes Thompson, “comes at the expenseof the rest of the country.” By luring foreign manufacturers to Southern states with promises of cheap labor, “The South is bad for the American economy in the same way that China and Mexico are bad for the American economy. By keeping corporate taxes low, public schools underfunded, and workers’ rights to organize negligible, it’s southern politicians who make it so. … [The South] is an in-house parasite that bleeds the country far more than it contributes to its collective health.”

That leads to what is for me the single most baffling 21st century paradox about the South. The region, home to nine of the nation’s 10 poorest states, is rabidly against government spending, yet all of its states get far more in government subsidies than they give back in taxes, as pointed out by Sara Robinson in a 2012 piece for AlterNet, “Blue States Are the Providers, Red States Are the Parasites.”

Ostriches-head-in-sand2The subject of Palestine and Israel frequently leads to passionate, intractable arguments.  At another blog, we eventually decided to leave the topic in the “Do Not Discuss” box for the sake of peace and quiet.

I still cannot believe that some folks find disliking Israeli neocon policy to be the same as being anti-semitic, but there it is and seems to be.

I do not support Hamas or consider it blameless. Indeed, the horrific things going on in Iraq due to Sunni Muslim fundamentalism should be damned.  But, so should Israel’s continued oppression of Palestinian people.

I’m no longer staying quiet and avoiding arguments.  I cannot stay quiet while completely innocent people die, when they live under apartheid and intolerable situations, and when I hear completely unsubstantiated talking points from Israel’s propaganda ministry held up as truths.

The first completely unsubstantiated talking point just got a vote in the US House of Representatives. I’ve read every independent NGO that I can find.  There appears to be no truth to rumor that Hamas uses citizens as human shields.  There is some proof that the IDF actually uses children in that capacity.  I stand appalled.  I will call out the mass slaughter of indigenous people and innocents no matter what their religion or what their nationality.  This is ethnic cleansing with a sophisticated Luntz-style propaganda show.  I’ve linked to a well sourced article on Five Israeli Talking points that no independent source can verify and if looked into are completely false.

Hamas hides its weapons in homes, mosques and schools and uses human shields.

This is arguably one of Israel’s most insidious claims, because it blames Palestinians for their own death and deprives them of even their victimhood. Israel made the same argument in its war against Lebanon in  2006 and in its war against Palestinians in  2008. Notwithstanding its military cartoon sketches, Israel has yet to prove that Hamas has used civilian infrastructure to store military weapons. The two cases where Hamas indeed stored weapons in  UNRWA schools, the schools were empty. UNRWA discovered the rockets and publicly condemned the violation of its sanctity.

International human rights organizations that have investigated these claims have determined that they are  not true. It attributed the high death toll in Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon to Israel’s indiscriminate attacks.  Human Rights Watch notes:

The evidence Human Rights Watch uncovered in its on-the-ground investigations refutes [Israel’s] argument…we found strong evidence that Hezbollah stored most of its rockets in bunkers and weapon storage facilities located in uninhabited fields and valleys, that in the vast majority of cases Hezbollah fighters left populated civilian areas as soon as the fighting started, and that Hezbollah fired the vast majority of its rockets from pre-prepared positions outside villages.

In fact, only  Israeli soldiers have systematically used Palestinians as human shields. Since Israel’s incursion into the West Bank in 2002, it has used Palestinians as human shields by tying young Palestinians onto the  hoods of their cars or forcing them to  go into a home where a potential militant may be hiding.

Even assuming that Israel’s claims were plausible, humanitarian law obligates Israel to avoid civilian casualties that “would be  excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.” A belligerent force must verify whether civilian or civilian infrastructure qualifies as a military objective. In the case of doubt, “whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed  not to be so used.”

I did want to put up a link to an interview with Rabbi Henry Seignman at Democracy Now! The Rabbi was an executive director–for some time–of the American Jewish Congress and is considered the foremost authority on Jewish people in America.  Please watch it.  The number of American Jewish Rabbis and intellectuals coming out against Israel’s policies and attacks on the occupied territories is amazing.  As the children of holocaust victims and survivors, they recognize the “slaughter of innocents”.  There are two interviews that you may watch or read. 

HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes, it’s disastrous. It’s disastrous, both in political terms, which is to say the situation cannot conceivably, certainly in the short run, lead to any positive results, to an improvement in the lives of either Israelis or Palestinians, and of course it’s disastrous in humanitarian terms, the kind of slaughter that’s taking place there. When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the slaughter of—repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis—and should be a profound crisis—in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success. It leads one virtually to a whole rethinking of this historical phenomenon.

If you’d like to read an interesting discussion on how violence drives colonization of the remaining Palestinian territories, I suggest this article in Jacobin Magazine. 

Seeing Israel as engaging in senseless bloodletting might seem an even more reasonable conclusion in light of the massacre of sixty-three people in Shujaiya after “the extensive use of artillery fire on dozens of populated areas across the Gaza Strip” that left bodies “scattered on streets,” or the bombing of United Nations shelters for those fleeing the violence. That conclusion is also tempting based on reports out of Khuza’a, a hamlet in the hinterlands of the Strip that was the scene of another Israeli massacre.

But describing such violence as aimless misses the underlying logic of Israel’s conduct throughout Operation Protective Edge and, indeed, for much of its history.

As Darryl Li points out, “Since 2005, Israel has developed an unusual, and perhaps unprecedented, experiment in colonial management in the Gaza Strip,” seeking to “isolate Palestinians there from the outside world, render them utterly dependent on external benevolence,” and at the same time “absolve Israel of responsibility toward them.”

This strategy, Li goes on to argue, is one way that Israel is working to maintain a Jewish majority in the territories it controls so that it can continue to deny equal rights for the rest of the population.

The suppression of Palestinian resistance is crucial to the success of the Israeli experiment. But there is a corollary, which is a cyclical interaction between Israeli colonialism and US militarism. As Bashir Abu-Manneh explains, there is a relationship between American imperialism and Zionist policies. American policymakers believe that an alliance with Israel helps the US control the Middle East. So the United States enables Israeli colonialism and occupation, which in turn creates contexts for further US interventions in the region that can be used to try to deepen American hegemony.

I would like to see a peaceful two- (very secular) state solution; but as I’ve said before, I don’t think Bibi wants that at all.

downloadSupreme Ruth Bader Ginsberg gave a wonderful interview to Katie Couric.  It’s worth watching.  Ginsberg is our only hope on SCOTUS.

“Do you believe that the five male justices truly understood the ramifications of their decision?” Couric asked Ginsburg of the 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling, which cleared the way for employers to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives to female workers on religious grounds.

“I would have to say no,” the 81-year-old justice replied. Asked if the five justices revealed a “blind spot” in their decision, Ginsburg said yes.

The feisty leader of the court’s minority liberal bloc compared the decision of her five male peers to an old Supreme Court ruling that found discriminating against pregnant women was legal.

“But justices continue to think and can change,” she added, hopefully. “They have wives. They have daughters. By the way, I think daughters can change the perception of their fathers.

“I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow,” she said.

Rachel Maddow sent a team down to look into the Operation Save America siege of New Orleans.   If you haven’t seen the interview with the 74 year old Ostrich-man-head-in-sanddoctor whose home and clinic was terrorized, please go watch. She’s something too!  Equally as crazy is this coverage of a Louisiana Republican Woman running for Congress who ran away from a nonpartisan group that interviews candidates. 

David Wasserman reported yesterday that he recently sat down with state Rep. Lenar Whitney, a Republican congressional candidate in Louisiana’s 6th congressional district, though their interview didn’t go well.

As a House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, I’ve personally interviewed over 300 congressional candidates over the course of seven years, both to get to know them and evaluate their chances of winning. I’ve been impressed by just as many Republicans as Democrats, and underwhelmed by equal numbers, too. Most are accustomed to tough questions.

But never have I met any candidate quite as frightening or fact-averse as Louisiana state Rep. Lenar Whitney, 55, who visited my office last Wednesday.

Whitney, who reportedly likes the “Palin of the South” nickname, “froze” when asked to substantiate her claims that climate change is the “greatest deception in the history of mankind.”

And then Wasserman asked about President Obama’s birthplace.

…I asked whether she believed Obama was born in the United States. When she replied that it was a matter of some controversy, her two campaign consultants quickly whisked her out of the room, accusing me of conducting a “Palin-style interview.”

It was the first time in hundreds of Cook Political Report meetings that a candidate has fled the room.

A tip for candidates everywhere: if you literally run away from questions, you’re doing it wrong.

Whitney is running ads that say global warming is a hoax and that we’re on the verge of an ice age without any apparent knowledge of why that’s the bury-your-head-in-the-sandcase.

Whitney, a graduate of Nicholls State University who is running for Louisiana’s open 6th District, owned a dance studio in Houma, La., for 34 years and also worked in sales for small telecommunications and oilfield equipment companies. She clearly relishes poking Democrats in the eye, cites Minnesota’s Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) as a political role model, and takes kindly to the nickname “Palin of the South.”

Whitney has only raised $123,000 to date (fourth in the GOP field), but she has sought to boost her profile and appeal to conservative donors with a slickly made YouTube video entitled “GLOBAL WARMING IS A HOAX” (84,000 views so far). In the video, Whitney gleefully and confidently asserts that the theory of global warming is the “greatest deception in the history of mankind” and that “any 10-year-old” can disprove it with a simple household thermometer.

Whitney’s brand of rhetoric obviously resonates with some very conservative Louisiana voters who view President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency as big-city elitists directly attacking the state’s energy industry and their own way of life. And she would hardly be the first “climate denier” elected to Congress. But it’s not unreasonable to expect candidates to explain how they arrived at their positions, and when I pressed Whitney repeatedly for the source of her claim that the earth is getting colder, she froze and was unable to cite a single scientist, journal or news source to back up her beliefs.

We’ve definitely entered a zone where people are just saying things they believe are true simply because they want them to be true or–ala Luntz–they’ve heard it from some one who keeps repeating lies over and over again.  Hey, it ain’t there if they don’t want to see it, right?

I’m on break today.  Enjoy yourselves.  Whats on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Thursday Reads: Through the Looking Glass?

Reading Woman, Armando Barrios

Reading Woman, Armando Barrios

 

Good Morning!!

I’ve spent the past week or so reading escapist literature and watching old TV shows in an effort to anesthetize myself against the overload of bad news we’ve been hit with lately. Yesterday I was feeling a lot better–my escapism seemed to be working to improve my overall mood.

Then last night as I was surfing around in search of interesting reads for this morning’s post, I came across something that jumpstarted me right through Alice’s looking glass.

You’ve probably heard about it too. Lois Lerner, who used to work for the IRS and who is at the center of one of the GOP’s crazy efforts to create a scandal that will bring down President Obama used the word “crazies” in a private e-mail to a colleague who was complaining about right wing radio hosts. Here’s the text of e-mail as quoted in The Washington Post yesterday.

During the exchange, Lerner says she is traveling in Great Britain. The name of the person she is emailing with was blacked out.

Lerner: “I’m ready. Overheard some ladies talking about American today. According to them we’ve bankrupted ourselves and at through. We’ll never be able to pay off our debt and are going down the tubes. They don’t seem to see that they can’t afford to keep up their welfare state either. Strange.”

Other person: “Well, you should hear the whacko wing of the GOP. The US is through; too many foreigners sucking the teat; time to hunker down, buy ammo and food, and prepare for the end. The right wing radio shows are scary to listen to.”

Lerner: “Great. Maybe we are through if there are that many assholes.”

Other person: “And I’m talking about the hosts of the shows. The callers are rabid.”

Lerner: “So we don’t need to worry about alien teRrorists. It’s our own crazies that will take us down.”

GOP crazies2

My initial response was the same as that of Mark NC at News Corpse (a site that makes fun of Fox News), So F**king What? Former IRS Official Says That GOP Crazies Are…CRAZY!

Republicans and their friends at Fox News have mastered the art of building mountains of bullshit from the lowliest troll-hills. It’s one of their favorite tactics to malign Democrats. Just grab a sentence fragment from a long speech and pretend that it is the whole of the comment from which it was extracted. Then feign outrage that such an awful remark could have been uttered.

The latest example of this rhetorical deceit was demonstrated when the GOP chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp, unscrupulously and selectively released some emails purported to be from Lois Lerner, the former IRS official who has been hounded by malevolent cretins like Rep. Darrell Issa in an attempt to fabricate ammunition to use against President Obama. Despite hundreds of wasted hours (costing millions of taxpayer dollars) engaged in hyper-partisan investigations, the Republican Inquisition has produced nothing implicating the President in any untoward activity.

The emails that Camp is now crowing about are just as meaningless as all of the other bogus “smoking guns” that these wingnuts have claimed would topple the administration. The headline that Camp has wrenched from the documents is that Lerner may have referred to certain individuals as “crazies” or “a-holes.” And, of course, this would only be an atrocity if those individuals were Republicans. Suffice to say that Camp wouldn’t give a Fig Newton if they were Democrats.

As Camp characterized this affair, Lerner was allegedly caught red-handed expressing her disgust for Republicans. And as the person at the center of the controversy over whether the IRS improperly subjected Tea Party groups to extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status, Camp believes that these emails prove that she was biased. Consequently, Camp regards the emails as justification for appointing a special prosecutor and escalating the legal assault on Lerner and, ultimately, the White House.

There’s just one problem. The emails don’t don’t say what Camp alleges they say. And even if they did it wouldn’t mean anything. Most people in government have personal opinions and allegiances. There isn’t anything wrong with that, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the fair execution of their duties. And the evidence shows that Lerner’s department scrutinized applications of all political persuasions. The only organization that was denied tax-exempt status during the time in question was a liberal group.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich. (center), flanked by the committee's ranking member, Sander Levin, D-Mich. (right), and Sam Johnson, R-Texas.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich. (center), flanked by the committee’s ranking member, Sander Levin, D-Mich. (right), and Sam Johnson, R-Texas.

Please read the rest at the link.

So this humorous site agrees with me, but more mainstream sites are seemingly going along with the Camp’s notion that this e-mail is evidence of a major scandal. For example, Dave Wiegel characterized it as a “bombshell,” although he does point out that Lerner’s anonymous “e-mail partner” was talking about talk radio hosts, not Republicans in general. Huffington Post reported that Lerner had made “two disparaging remarks about members of the GOP.” Both HuffPo and Politico write that in one e-mail Lerner referred to Republicans as “a–holes,” but they sidestep the fact the context was a discussion of right wing talk show hosts.

As we approach the midterm elections, I can’t help but feel that most of the mainstream media is cheering for a Republican takeover. Am I the crazy one?

Here’s another example from self-described libertarian Nate Silver, Democrats Are Way More Obsessed With Impeachment Than Republicans.

House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that Republicans have no plans to impeach President Obama, and that all the impeachment talk was driven by Democrats hoping to stir up their base.

Boehner’s statement isn’t literally true: There have been mentions of impeachment around the edges of the GOP and by some Republican members of Congress. But on the whole, Democrats are spending a lot more time talking about impeachment than Republicans.

Consider, for example, the Sunlight Foundation’s Capitol Words database, which tracks words spoken in the House and Senate. So far in July, there have been 10 mentions of the term “impeachment” in Congress and four others of the term “impeach.” Eleven of the 14 mentions have been made by Democratic rather than Republican members of Congress, however.

Impeachment chatter has also become common on cable news. On Fox News this month, Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, called for Obama’s impeachment, for instance. But for every mention of impeachment on Fox News in July, there have been five on liberal-leaning MSNBC.

OK, so that’s this month. And this proves what? Democrats are throwing around the word “impeachment” in hopes of calling attention to what Republicans have been saying for years!  So f$%king what?!

Impeach obama

Again, I must resort to News Corpse for a sensible interpretation of the impeachment talk, CONSPIRACY: President Obama Is Trying To Impeach Himself.

Ever since the first inauguration of President Obama, right-wingers have been trying to undo the people’s decision to make him America’s chief executive. They declared that their top legislative objective was to make Obama a one-term president. In pursuit of that goal they have blocked most of his policy initiatives, judges, and government reforms. At the same time they have been hyper investigatory on everything from Fast and Furious, to the IRS, to ObamaCare, to his birthplace. All of this was squarely aimed at crippling or revoking his presidency.

This year Obama’s critics came out of the impeachment closet and began openly advocating for that legal nuclear option despite not having any legal basis for it. While many Tea-Publican whack jobs were earlier to the gate, Sarah Palin burst onto the scene a couple weeks ago with her own demand that Congress do their duty and trump up some phony articles of impeachment. It got so absurdly intense that Obama addressed it himself with fitting mockery.

So of course the next shoe to drop in this melodrama is that, along with everything else in the world, Obama is to blame for this too. In fact, according to some in the rightist crackpot community, it was all part of his nefarious plot to embarrass the GOP. Here is what Texas Republican Steve Stockman had to say about it when interviewed by the ultra-fringe rightists at WorldNetDaily:

“President Obama is begging to be impeached. [...] He wants us to impeach him now, before the midterm election because his senior advisers believe that is the only chance the Democratic Party has to avoid a major electoral defeat. Evidently Obama believes impeachment could motivate the Democratic Party base to come out and vote.”

There you have it. The evil genius in the White House orchestrated the whole Obama-hate campaign from its earliest days in 2008 just so that he would be able to use impeachment, which is every president’s dream, as an election strategy six years into his presidency.

Earth to Nate Silver and the rest of the mainstream media: Steve Stockman, although insane, is an actual member of the House of Representatives, not some fringe character with no influence. And he has plenty of company in the House and even in the Senate (Ted Cruz anyone?). These people are crazy and they are in positions of awesome power.

GOP idea men?

GOP idea men?

Here’s one more example of mainstream acceptance of GOP insanity before I end this post and run screaming into the street while pulling my hair out in handfuls. From John Dickerson of Slate (via CBS News), Why the GOP’s class of 2016 hopefuls may be the best in generations.

What if they held a presidential campaign and a think tank broke out? House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who is considering running for president, offered his thoughts on poverty last week. Sen. Marco Rubio has been giving regular policy speeches on poverty, college loans, and helping the middle class. Former senator and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum is promoting a book of policy proposals on education, family, and revitalizing American manufacturing. Sen. Rand Paul is offering ideas on criminal justice and will give a big foreign policy speech in the fall. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has given speeches on health care and education aimed at a national audience. His staff recently sent an email titled “policy leader” that linked to a Time piece about how he is preparing to be the candidate of ideas in 2016.

What the f&cking f&ck? Rich Santorum? Bobby Jindal? Marco Rubio? Paul motherf&&cking Ryan?! These are “candidates of ideas?” Dickerson continues,

Who isn’t trying to be the ideas candidate in the 2016 campaign? Texas Gov. Rick Perry is working to overcome his 2012 debate aphasia, so he’s trying to show some policy chops. Though former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush holds controversial ideas on Common Core education standards and immigration, those close to him say he won’t run unless he can promote those ideas with gusto.

It isn’t usually this policy-thick in the GOP presidential field. In primaries, there is sometimes one conservative candidate who tries to position himself through the creativity of his proposals, but mostly candidates engage in displays of strength on questions of orthodoxy–how much they want to cut taxes, shrink regulation, and lock up the borders. Now the Republican candidates are not only seeking to distinguish themselves from each other with the quality and originality of their ideas, but they are making the case that unless the party promotes new ideas, it will not prevail.

The class of candidates for 2016 has the potential to be the most robust in almost 40 years–perhaps in modern Republican history. It depends on who finally decides to run, of course, but six governors and four senators are thinking seriously about it.

GOP idea men?

GOP idea men?

I’m sorry. Dickerson thinks these morons are competing with each other on “quality and originality of…ideas?” Am I nuts? Am I hallucinating this crap? Surely Dickerson can’t really believe this sh#t.

Here’s a little sanity from Ed Kilgore of Washington Monthly, Can the Big Brains of the GOP Survive the Primaries? and Damon Linker of The Week, Why GOP reformers are bound to fail. But even Kilgore seems to believe that Republicans will take over the Senate. From Talking Points Memo:

It’s true that public opinion surveys are not showing any 2010-style GOP “wave,” but Democrats are rightly nervous that when polls begin identifying likely voters closer to November, superior Republican “base enthusiasm” could put a thumb on the scales in their favor.

At least Kilgore thinks that catering to the base could hurt Republicans in the 2016 presidential election.

Why? Why would anyone vote for these insane right-wingers? And why is the media rooting for them? I just don’t get it. Am I crazy or what?

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? Share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.

 


Wednesday Reads: Hobby Lobby Loves Them Pre-Cooked

14c4a1ed09743ffd58d8053c7aa93f11Good Morning

You must have heard about the latest from Hobby Lobby, the hypocrisy is so disgusting…Hobby Lobby Allegedly Fired Employee Due to Pregnancy

When a very pregnant Felicia Allen applied for medical leave from her job at Hobby Lobby three years ago, one might think that the company best known for denying its employees insurance coverage of certain contraceptives—on the false grounds that they cause abortions—would show equal concern for helping one of its employees when she learned she was pregnant. Instead, Allen says the self-professed evangelical Christian arts-and-crafts chain fired her and then tried to prevent her from accessing unemployment benefits. “They didn’t even want me to come back after having my baby, to provide for it,” she says. Her allegations—as well as those brought by other former Hobby Lobby employees—call into question the company’s public claims when it comes to protecting life and operating its business with Christian values. Additionally, they highlight a practice by which Hobby Lobby prevents its employees from seeking justice through the courts.

Yeah, you can read more details at the link. But as Eric Loomis, LG&M points out: That Pro-Life Hobby Lobby

And here I thought Hobby Lobby was acting out of very strong principle for life and not because it hates women and wants to punish them for having sex. There’s also this gem:

When Allen applied for unemployment benefits, she says Hobby Lobby’s corporate office gave the unemployment agency a false version of events, claiming she could have taken off personal leave but chose not to. In the end, Allen says she won her claim for unemployment benefits, but she felt she had been wrongly discriminated based on the fact that she was pregnant. In February 2012 she sued Hobby Lobby, but her lawsuit was swiftly dropped because, like most—if not all—Hobby Lobby employees, Allen had signed away her rights to sue the company. Though the multibillion-dollar, nearly 600-store chain took its legal claim against the federal government all the way to the Supreme Court when it didn’t want to honor the health insurance requirements of the Affordable Care Act, the company forbids its employees from seeking justice in the court of law. Allen had signed a binding arbitration agreement upon taking the job, though she says she doesn’t remember doing so. The agreement, which all Hobby Lobby employees are required to sign, forces employees to resolve legal disputes outside of court through a process known as arbitration.

Lying so she couldn’t get unemployment is very special, but forcing employees to sign documents waiving their right to sue the company in order to be hired should be as illegal as the yellow-dog contract. I would ask how something like that is even legal in this nation, but of course I already know why–because corporations control our lives in ways they have not in a century.

I have plenty more links for you, but because I must take the boy to his endocrinologist in Atlanta tomorrow…I will just give it to you in dump fashion. Religious violence in 2013 displaced millions | Al Jazeera America

Millions of people were forced from their homes because of their religious beliefs last year, the U.S. government said Monday, citing the devastating impact of conflicts in Syria, Iraq and the Central African Republic. Secretary of State John Kerry called the displacement of families and devastation of communities from sectarian violence a troubling trend in the world, as he launched the State Department 2013 report on religious freedom. The report said that in much of the Middle East, the Christian presence is becoming “a shadow of its former self.” Hundreds of thousands of minority Christians have fled Syria after three years of civil war. It also highlighted more than one million people displaced in the Central African Republic during 2013, amid an upsurge in Christian-Muslim violence. In Southeast Asia, the spread of anti-Muslim violence spread from Myanmar‘s volatile west to central Meiktila, with up to 100 deaths and 12,000 displaced. Kerry further cited the “savagery and incredible brutality” by the al-Qaeda-inspired militant group active in Iraq and Syria, known as the Islamic State, saying it had slaughtered Shiite Muslims and forcibly converted Christians under threat of death. The report, released annually, reviews how religious freedoms are respected and violated in almost 200 countries and territories.

This 19-year-old confessed to killing a woman in 1963. You won’t believe what happened next.

In 1963, a 17-year-old Indiana youth named Robert J. Dowlut reportedly confessed to police — amid a pile of evidence — that he’d killed a local woman. The next year, a jury of his peers heard the case and found  Dowlut guilty. What happened next? A) He died in the electric chair. B) He lived a long life and is currently the chief lawyer for the National Rifle Association.

Read about this here: The NRA’s Murder Mystery | Mother Jones I really don’t know why they bother to research this next item of news,  WASHINGTON: Past-due debt prevalent across U.S., with South the highest | Economy | McClatchy DC What more would anyone expect.  At least there is Good News: Mississippi’s Only Abortion Clinic Can Remain Open Here is a few health stories: Take Two: Just How Good Are Generic Meds Anyway? | Mother Jones Previously unknown virus that lives in half the world’s population could play a major role in obesity and diabetes – Medical News Today The Challenges of Having Sex as a Little Person – Merissa Nathan Gerson – The Atlantic And let’s not stop with little people sex, what about panda sex: Nixon on Panda Sex – Lawyers, Guns & Money In fact, more of Nixon’s tapes are in the news, as two new books are released,  The Untapped Secrets of the Nixon Tapes – Evan Thomas – The Atlantic From a former president to a former First Lady: The Best “Dear John Letter” Ever Sent | Mother Jones

In 1947, years before she met John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier sent her high school boyfriend what is maybe my favorite Dear John letter of all time.

“I’ve always thought of being in love as being willing to do anything for the other person—starve to buy them bread and not mind living in Siberia with them—and I’ve always thought that every minute away from them would be hell—so looking at it that [way] I guess I’m not in love with you.”

Jackie O. would have been 85 Monday. RIP.

For more fascinating reads, look at this: Read the Notorious RBG at Her Most Blistering

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, teeny tiny goddess of judicial feminism incarnate, has authored many a badass piece of legal writing in her day. Now, thanks to some devoted brainiacs who are better at this sort of thing than I am, you can read the sharpest work of the grand dame in one place.

The folks at People for the American Way (a progressive think tank) have put together a lovely treasury of RBG’s greatest hits. Perfect light reading for the next time you put your head in a big pile of curls on your head and take a bubble bath, or lie out on a Caribbean beach, or a good thing to read to the kids when you’re trying to get them to bed. Yep. Just a little light legal reading.

Meanwhile, Officials Pull Back From Crash Site as the Army Puts Pressure on Rebels – NYTimes.com And if you are worried about the big flood: Climate refugees, DO NOT MOVE TO THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST | Grist

Many Seattle residents revere Cliff Mass as the Yoda of weather in the Northwest. On his blog and through spots in local media, this professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington helps us process our snowpocalypses and measure out Lexapro for 10 months of the year. Now he’s turning his big-weather brain to something regularly on our minds here at Grist: “As global warming takes hold later in the century, where will be the best place in the lower 48 states to escape its worst effects?” Here’s the short answer from Cliff:

Everyone stay where you are.
Cliff Mass
Everyone stay where you are.

On his blog entry, Mass goes into much more scientific detail on climate effects for the Lower 48 (complete with loads more charts). But even from this map, we can glean a few key takeaways.

  • You’ll notice Mass highlighted most of the Eastern seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico, and sections of California in bright red. Areas of sea-level rise? Ohnonononono. You misunderstand completely. Those are spots where candy will grow on trees — because adaptation! Florida’s famous orange groves will evolve into chocolate orange groves and just work their way up the coast to Connecticut. Delicious!
  • Take a look at all that yellow in the Southwest. Any guesses? Correct: That is precisely where state and local governments are likely to enforce three-day workweeks. And if you worry that moving to Phoenix, Los Angeles, or Austin means you’ll spend every extra-long weekend wearing spikes and riding in a rusty dune buggy on your way to bludgeon the neighbors to death over water resources, here’s a tip: Don’t!
  • Orange! This DOES NOT mean this area gets more oranges (duh, pay attention; that was yellow). It does signify that every day will be Christmas. It also signifies that more Christmases will be wetter, windier, and generally more hurricane-y. P.S. I got you galoshes. (AGAIN, I know. Tee-hee!) Merry Christmas!
  • Purple, purple, purple — Big Purp practically owns the map. Good thing, too, because from Montana to Maine, climate-changed citizenry will THRILL to the incredible cellphone coverage. No more dropped calls in Chicago. No more blips in Butte. Just blazing-fast downloads and crystal-clear audio, from your hot, cracked lips to your heatstroked fingertips. (Caveat: Customers will notice an increase in dropped calls from underground bunkers and heat hovels.)
  • Say what about the green dots? Oh, those are flooding rivers and total shitholes.

Now for the last few remaining links for the day, a couple of stories from Hollywood and two others on digging up the past… Effort to save ‘Tara’ plantation facade before it’s ‘Gone with the Wind’ – NY Daily News Kodak, Studios Negotiating Last Ditch Effort to Keep Film in Hollywood – Hollywood Reporter Traces of Lincoln’s Courthouse Found in Illinois – Archaeology Magazine Erosion Exposes Human Remains on Kwajalein Atoll – Archaeology Magazine Have a good day and hope you share your thoughts in the comments below. A woman waves from a float during the Carnaval des Fleurs…


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!

The state of America’s democratic experiment really worries me these days.  It seems so railroaded by the interests of the very few.   I’m not sure if you got a girlwflagchance to read the following article at Salon by Bill Curry.  You should.  It’s about how the Democratic Party got co-opted by Wall Street interests and helped continue us down the road to complete plutocracy. It starts with out following the decline in the party’s alignment with ordinary Americans and the history of Ralph Nader’s formation of the consumer protection movement. Ultimately, it is about Nader and his new book.  But,the details of the re-alignment and Nader’s personal history are an interesting read when put into the context of our road to corporate tyranny.

In the late ’70s, deregulation fever swept the nation. Carter deregulated trucks and airlines; Reagan broke up Ma Bell, ending real oversight of phone companies. But those forays paled next to the assaults of the late ’90s. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had solid Democratic backing as did the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The communications bill authorized a massive giveaway of public airwaves to big business and ended the ban on cross ownership of media. The resultant concentration of ownership hastened the rise of hate radio and demise of local news and public affairs programming across America. As for the “modernization” of financial services, suffice to say its effect proved even more devastating. Clinton signed and still defends both bills with seeming enthusiasm.

The Telecommunications Act subverted anti-trust principles traceable to Wilson. The financial services bill gutted Glass-Steagall, FDR’s historic banking reform. You’d think such reversals would spark intra-party debate but Democrats made barely a peep. Nader was a vocal critic of both bills. Democrats, he said, were betraying their heritage and, not incidentally, undoing his life’s work. No one wanted to hear it. When Democrats noticed him again in 2000 the only question they thought to ask was, what’s got into Ralph? Such is politics in the land of the lotus eaters.

The furor over Nader arose partly because issues of economic and political power had, like Nader himself, grown invisible to Democrats. As Democrats continued on the path that led from Coehlo to Clinton to Obama, issues attendant to race, culture and gender came to define them. Had they nominated a pro-lifer in 2000 and Gloria Steinem run as an independent it’s easy to imagine many who berated Nader supporting her. Postmortems would have cited the party’s abandonment of principle as a reason for its defeat. But Democrats hooked on corporate cash and consultants with long lists of corporate clients were less attuned to Nader’s issues.

Democrats today defend the triage liberalism of social service spending but limit their populism to hollow phrase mongering (fighting for working families, Main Street not Wall Street). The rank and file seem oblivious to the party’s long Wall Street tryst. Obama’s economic appointees are the most conservative of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland but few Democrats seem to notice, or if they notice, to care.

1aee802fea74274d99f1422520e26f7fThis also happened along side a group of democratic senators–including Joe Biden–that helped seat the 5 generic, oddball Catholic men that threaten everything the country stands for by deciding almost SCOTUS decisions  in oddball Catholic ways.  (You have to wonder if they listen at all to the current Pope.)  Additionally, things have gotten so right wing in the diplomacy sector that John Kerry and Barack Obama’s state department seem to be tilting in the same direction as the neocon-infested, apartheid loving Israeli government of Bibi the Butcher of Gaza.

This certainly isn’t the party of my FDR-loving Great Grandmother Nancy Anna Chisholm Williams whose father and uncle blazed the west with the Chisholm Trail and who lived and died a Depression surviving Okie.  Big political interests keep driving the Democrats into very undemocratic places.

The Obama administration deserves much of the blame for the failure of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

It had originally been hoped that the United States would present a binding framework along the lines of what moderate Israeli and Palestinian political leaders had agreed to in unofficial talks in Geneva in 2003: Israel would recognize a Palestinian state based roughly on the pre-1967 borders with mutual territorial swaps, which would leave the Palestinians with 22 percent of historic Palestine and allow Israel to keep the remaining 78 percent; the Palestinian state would be demilitarized and all irregular militias disarmed; illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory near the Israeli border—encompassing close to 80 percent of the settlers—would be incorporated into Israel while settlers in the more remote settlements would be required to return to Israel; there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel, but there would be international assistance in helping them resettle in the new Palestinian state; and some Israeli troops would remain along border crossings between the Palestinian state and its Arab neighbors, eventually to be replaced by international forces.

The Palestinian government agreed to these terms. Israel rejected them. Rather than make public this framework, and thereby hope the Israeli public would pressure its right-wing government to compromise, the Obama administration instead insisted that “both sides” had shown a lack of will to compromise.

An interview with an anonymous U.S. official close to the peace talks in an Israeli publication confirmed numerous other reports that, despite the Obama administration’s claims to the contrary, the Palestinian side made major concessions while the Israeli side essentially refused to make any, generally refusing to talk about any substantive issues.

A host of Democratic and Republican former officials—including a former national security adviser, secretary of defense, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, trade representative, and undersecretary of state for political affairs—went on record arguing that the Obama administration would have to challenge the Israeli government’s hard line towards the Palestinians in order for the peace process to be successful. Unfortunately, the White House apparently had no interest in doing so.

Instead, Washington has focused on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to give in to U.S. and Israeli demands that he recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” While the Palestinian government, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the ruling Fatah party have all recognized the state of Israel for more than 20 years, the Obama administration has effectively moved the goalposts by declaring that recognizing the Israeli government, acknowledging its right to exist, and providing security guarantees is not enough, insisting that the Palestinians explicitly recognize the state of Israel’s ethno-religious identity as well. No previous administration has put forward such a requirement. President Carter never made such demands on Egypt, nor did President Clinton require this of Jordan as a condition for their peace treaties with Israel. Abbas has said that Israel can identify itself however it wants, but—given that 20 percent of the Israeli population is ethnically Palestinian Arab—it would be politically impossible to agree to something that would acknowledge second-class status for other Palestinians.

Never in history has any country been required to recognize the ethnic or religious identity of another state as a condition for peace. It appears, then, that the Obama administration’s demand may have been an effort to destroy any chance of a peace agreement and leave an opening to blame the Palestinians—despite their agreement to virtually every other issue—for the failure of the peace process.

The failure may also come from President Obama’s trusting Secretary of State John Kerry, a longtime supporter of the Israeli right, to play such a key role in the peace talks. In 2004, Kerry unconditionally endorsed an Israeli plan to unilaterally and illegally annex large areas of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with only a series of small non-contiguous cantons surrounded by Israel as their “state,” a proposal denounced worldwide as a violation of the UN Charter, a series of UN Security Council resolutions, and basic principles of international law. Indeed, Kerry has long insisted that it was “unrealistic” to demand an Israeli withdrawal from its occupied territories. (By contrast, Kerry has demanded that Russia withdraw completely from Crimea, citing the illegality of any country acquiring “part or all of another state’s territory through coercion or force.”)

A Democratic administration is basically supporting an apartheid state replete with ethnic cleansing.   Under what world does a secular, U.S. 586abc388d8e5ab94dee6a936e26ea36democracy support an apartheid-creating theocracy that won’t follow any agreements it made previously?   Why are we the lone country cowering in the corner with a government gone genocidal instead of searching out the country’s numerous moderates and secular leaders and finding a path to coexistance?  It truly worries me that  former SOS Hillary Clinton who went on Fareed Zakaria’s show on Sunday may continue down this road of letting huge political donors outweigh solutions and fairness. Yet, her interview sounded like there’s some key differences between Kerry’s handling of this situation and the previous problems handled by Clinton.  Is she distancing herself from her former boss and signalling that things will be different with her in charge?  Will US domestic and foreign policy stop lurching to the right?

ZAKARIA: Bibi Netanyahu…

CLINTON: Right.

ZAKARIA: You say you had a complicated, and it sounded like a difficult relationship with him.

CLINTON: Well, I have to say, I’ve known Bibi a long time. And I have a very good relationship with him, in part because we can yell at each other and we do. And I was often the designated yeller. Something would happen, a new settlement announcement would come and I would call him up, “What are you doing, you’ve got to stop this.” And we understood each other, because I know how hard it is to be the leader of a relatively small country that is under constant pressure, and does face a lot of legitimate threats to its existence from those around it. And I also care deeply about how Israel is able not just to survive, but thrive, and just fundamentally disagreed with Bibi in the ’90s that I was in favor of a two-state solution. I was the first person associated with any administration to say that out loud. And he did not. But then when he came back in in 2009, he did. And I’ve sat with him, as you and I are sitting, and I really believed that if he thought he could get adequate security guarantees for a long enough period of time, he would be able to resolve everything with the exception of Jerusalem, which is the hardest issue. You can get borders and if you can figure out how to do security within those borders, some of which may require having IDF and international forces in the Jordan Valley, for example, then if you could move toward a state and leave Jerusalem to be worked on, because that’s the hardest issue for all sides.

ZAKARIA: But, you know, he gave an interview recently to, I think it was The Times of Israel where he said there are no circumstances under which we will ever relinquish security control of the area west of the Jordan, meaning, the West Bank. That sounds like it’s a – it’s going back on his acceptance of the two-state solution.

CLINTON: Well, Fareed, I see that as an – as an opening negotiating position, because I’ve had the private one-on-one conversations and the private conversations with him sitting there and – and Mahmoud Abbas sitting there and George Mitchell sitting there. And I know that Abbas, in my conversations, was willing to entertain a number of years where there could be some continuing security. Remember, the IDF – the Israel Defense Forces – have a working relationship with the Palestinian Authority security forces, which have been incredibly professional. We’ve helped to provide training, as has Jordan and others, and the positions that Netanyahu has taken. Now, once they take a position, and I know the years that Abbas has said are – are permitted and – and I know the years that Bibi has demanded, you’re in a negotiation. But if there’s no process going on, which is why we can’t even leave the vacuum of no process, despite how incredibly frustrating it is, then, of course Abbas is going to say never, not under any circumstances, and Bibi is going to say absolutely forever.

ZAKARIA: In 2009, you said that you wanted Israel settlement activity to stop. In fact, you were pretty blunt. You said no exceptions.

CLINTON: Um-hmm.

ZAKARIA: You write in the book that that was a tactical mistake because it made on – Bibi Netanyahu get even more hardline.

CLINTON: Right.

ZAKARIA: But Martin Indyk has just resigned as the you know, the kind of – the sherpa of the peace process. And he says that the immediate trigger, in his view, there were many, but was the fact that the Palestinians looked at the Israeli continued settlement activity…

CLINTON: Right.

ZAKARIA: – and said these guys are not serious, we’re never going to be able to get a state…

CLINTON: Right.

ZAKARIA: – look at what they’re doing.

CLINTON: This is my biggest complaint, with the Israeli government. I am a strong supporter of Israel, a strong supporter of their right to defense themselves. But the continuing settlements, which have been denounced by successive American administrations on both sides of the aisle, are clearly a terrible signal to send, if, at the same time, you claim you’re looking for a two-state solution. Now, when I was negotiating and I had been able to put together three face-to-face meetings between Netanyahu and Abbas, it was clear that if we were working off the ’67 borders, which was our stated position that President Obama had outlined, some of the settlements would be within any responsible drawing of borders for Israel. But a number of them would not. And those that would not would have to be either dismantled or live under Palestinian rule. There are deep wells of mistrust and misunderstanding on both sides. And what I’ve urged the Israelis to do is do more to help the Palestinians in the West Bank right now. Don’t monopolize the water. Don’t make it difficult to build. So even while we’re struggling over the end issues that would resolve the conflict, like borders, don’t make life so miserable, you know, because that’s not any way to begin to try to deal with the mistrust. You know, the longer I do this, Fareed, the more convinced I am that mistrust and misunderstanding are often the real fundamental obstacles to bringing people together. And that means that people from both sides of whatever divide it is, whether it’s Israeli, Palestinian, you know, Russian-speaking, Ukraine-speaking, whatever it might be, people have to start listening and working together to build habits of cooperation that might possibly lead to greater trust.

b0e012742028c812b2cd54c4898bf81cThere are a number of articles where you read recent interviews with Hillary where she sounds more and more like a candidate these days. I want to hear that Hillary will take us back to democracy for all.  Not just for those who can purchase it.   Here’s Hillary on the US Border situation.

In a smart move, Hillary Clinton firmed up her position on the crisis in an interview that aired over the weekend — in a manner that, intentionally or not, sharpened the contrast with the position of most Republicans.

Speaking to Fusion’s Jorge Ramos, Clinton came out against any changes to the 2008 trafficking law, which Republicans are seeking to expedite deportations of arriving minors as a condition for supporting any money to address the debacle.

“I don’t agree that we should change the law,” Clinton told Ramos. She added that she wanted a more strenuous effort to distinguish between “migrant” children and “refugees,” to ensure that those who genuinely qualify for humanitarian relief in the U.S. obtain it. “I’m advocating an appropriate procedure, well funded by the Congress, which they are resisting doing, so that we can make individual decisions,” Clinton said. “We should be setting up a system in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, to screen kids over there, before they get in the hands of coyotes.”

In opposing changes to the 2008 law, Clinton has placed herself a bit to the left of even Obama, who initially signaled openness to such changes before backtracking after Congressional Dems objected. And Clinton is also clarifying her previous suggestion that the kids should be “sent back.”

“Like Pelosi and Reid, she’s realized that the tough line of President Obama – change the law, send ‘em back – is not the position of most Democratic voters and lawmakers,” immigration advocate Frank Sharry tells me.  “She’s repositioned herself. Smart.”

db43999108457ef4e1738648a9984985Is it likely Hillary will move us back to more traditional Democratic policies or is she likely to continue the rightward drift of elected Democratic Leaders like Obama and even Bill Clinton?  A recent poll shows that Hillary is popular with white voters; more so than a lot of Democratic pols before her.

This entire idea of having a crazy right wing nut of  GOP while Democrats continue to cater to neocons and plutocrats still worries me. We use to have two functioning parties that represented fairly diverse groups of voters. It wasn’t all sweetness and light, but there wasn’t such a concentration of policy that benefited so few coming out of them both.  They also did the business of the people.   Now we still have two parties. It’s just that one represents crazy religionists and whacked out billionaire libertarians and the other one that occasionally does something for the common american still is likely to slide further to the right to attract rich, powerful donors.

So, that’s what’s on my mind.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads: “Lucy” and Media Consolidation

Scarlett Johansson reading  Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness'

Scarlett Johansson reading Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’

Good Morning!!

As usual, U.S. and world news is mostly bad, so I thought I’d focus on some news emanating from escapist Hollywood. I do have a serious point to make later on.

The latest action movie hit is Luc Besson’s “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson as an ordinary woman who suddenly begins using the full capacity of her brain (this is based on the oft-repeated notion that humans only use 10% of their brains) after she accidentally absorbs some kind of super-drug that Korean drug lords have surgically implanted in her abdomen so they can use her as a drug mule. If that sounds like an idiotic premise, just wait till you either watch the movie or otherwise get the details of the so-called plot.

“Lucy” is the epitome of what’s known as a “high concept” film. The main character’s name is presumably drawn from the name that has been attached to a partial skeleton of a female Australopithecus Afarensis that was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974.  “Lucy” could walk upright, but her small skull indicated she didn’t have much brain capacity; scientists argued from this that bipedalism led to larger human brains.

Thus, the Lucy of the film demonstrates the how humans could further evolve if they used the brain’s full potential, get it? The Wall Street Journal loved it; Here’s their review, ‘Lucy': A Diamond in the Action-Thriller Sky

The problem with the concept is that we humans are already using the full capacity of our brains, and the idea that we only use 10% is complete bullshit. Here’s a brief explanation from brain scientist David Eagleman at NPR: Sorry, Lucy: The Myth Of The Misused Brain Is 100 Percent False. But, like the GOP, Hollywood couldn’t care less about scientific facts.

In case you don’t mind a bunch of spoilers, here’s a hilarious review of the movie by Christopher Orr at The Atlantic: Lucy: The Dumbest Movie Ever Made About Brain Capacity. Here the introduction; you can click the link to read the rest.

Every now and then a movie comes along that’s so beyond-the-pale sloppy, so disastrous in both conceit and execution, that it simply defies conventional analysis. It happened with The Happening. There was something unspeakably wrong with The Words. And Broken City was utterly beyond repair.

So, too, with Lucy, writer/director/producer Luc Besson’s mind-bendingly miscalculated sci-fi vehicle for Scarlett Johansson. In its defense, I can offer only that Johansson is a moderately charismatic presence (despite playing a character who barely qualifies as a character) and that the film clocks in at a mercifully brief 89 minutes. That said, the sheer quantity of inanity that Besson squeezes into his limited screen time beggars that of awful movies of substantially greater length.

Consequently, what follows is not a review but a spoilereview. If you are genuinely considering watching Lucy—and I urgently recommend that you reconsider—you should stop reading now. If, by contrast, you plan to give the movie a pass and would like to have your good judgment ratified (or, alternatively, if you have stumbled out of the theater bewildered and seeking commiseration), read on. Because while Besson has made very, very bad films in the past—most recently, last year’s The Family—this is the first time he has made a film so idiotic that the only way to properly convey its flaws is to enumerate them.

Australopithecus Afarensis AKA "Lucy"

Australopithecus Afarensis AKA “Lucy”

Read on for a complete dissection of the movie’s plot. Whatever happened to intelligent films made for adults? Maybe it has something to do with the growing control of media by just a few giant corporations. And it’s going to get worse.

Did you know that Rupert Murdock is trying to buy Time-Warner? From The New York Times on July 17, A Potential Combination of Two of Hollywood’s Most Successful Studios.

LOS ANGELES — What for years has been a whisper in Hollywood — the possible consolidation of major studios in the face of tough industry economics — has become a starkly real option with the disclosure on Wednesday that Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox made an $80 billion bid to acquire Time Warner Inc.

In the bid, which Time Warner rejected, Mr. Murdoch is said to have made clear that his 20th Century Fox and Time Warner’s Warner Bros., two of Hollywood’s six major studios, would be managed jointly, but kept essentially separate.

But business history and market pressures in both the movie and television industries make it almost inevitable that studio overhead would be cut, back-office operations would be combined, and jobs would be eliminated if a merger happens.

“In size and structure, the studio of the 21st century still looks very similar, if not identical, to the studio of the 20th century,” said Marc Shmuger, a producer who was formerly co-chairman of Universal Pictures. “That has to change,” he added.

Murdoch is worried because Comcast is currently working on (and will likely succeed in) merging with Time-Warner Cable. Harvard professor of intellectual property Susan Crawford explains what’s going on:

Both sides of the negotiating table — programming and distribution — are already highly concentrated. In 1983, 50 companies ran 90 percent of American media; today, just five mega-entities control 90 percent of what we read, watch and listen to. Among the notable properties owned by Murdoch are Fox, as part of Twenty-First Century Fox, and the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, as part of the spun-off News Corp. Time Warner has CNN and HBO. Comcast Corp., now thoroughly vertically integrated, has NBCUniversal….

After the merger, Comcast will be available to 70 percent of American homes. Most of these will have no other choice for high-speed data distribution: anything over 10 Mbps download. That means the programmers — even though they’re giant companies with gigantic quantities of high-value video — won’t have competing distribution outlets to play against one another in negotiations. In order to reach most Americans, they’ll have to deal with Comcast. That means they have to make sure that Comcast needs them more than they need Comcast.

The merged Comcast-Time Warner Cable entity will control 20 of the top 25 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and a vast number of regional sports networks. (Sports is at the heart of this story; Murdoch knows he will need the heft to negotiate for sports rights that Comcast will need.) …. Because there will be so few alternative content buyers, and because Comcast’s control over its data flows is so absolute, if the programmer someday decides to go “over the top” — across the Internet, as Netflix has — its fate will be utterly dependent on Comcast’s good graces.

murdoch

You’ll note that once Murdoch owns Time-Warner, he’ll be in control of HBO, one of the few remaining producers of quality video content. From Bloomberg Businessweek July 16:

No matter who winds up owning Time Warner (TWX)—Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox (FOXA), Disney (DIS)Amazon (AMZN), or even its current shareholders—it is clear that one of the shiniest jewels in the entertainment company is the 30-year-old cash-printing machine once known as Home Box Office.

A report in Bloomberg News, citing an unnamed source familiar with the bid, put the perceived value of HBO alone at $20 billion as part of Fox’s offer of $75 billion or more for Time Warner. “It’s really now HBO that’s the driver, and I think that’s the Holy Grail that Rupert had his eye on,” Porter Bibb, managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners, said in a radio interview on Bloomberg Surveillance. “It’s a huge money maker with a huge potential. And probably the only Netflix killer that’s in the world right now.” ….

…virtually no other enterprise in Hollywood has been able to crack the code of critical and financial success with the same consistency as HBO, the most-cited darling of those who praise today as television’s golden age. The network’s recent hit, True Detective, pulled in almost 12 million viewers per episode, a feat never before accomplished in its first season by an HBO series. And the ongoing Game of Thrones series, which recently concluded its fourth season, has drawn audiences of 17 million in what has become the biggest show for the network since The Sopranos.

I guess we can kiss all that goodbye once either Murdoch or Comcast buys Time-Warner. Because it’s not about producing a quality product; it’s about making money by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Here’s a deeply disturbing NYT report on what’s going on and what we can expect in the future: When Media Mergers Limit More Than Competition, and a quick digest version from the Sky Valley Chronicle:

By 2012, just six companies — including Fox (then part of News Corporation) and Time Warner — controlled that 90 percent, according to testimony before the House Judiciary Committee examining Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal.

So what does a merger between 21st Century Fox and Time Warner mean for consumers of media in this country?

~ “The situation is already terrible and this would make it worse,” according to Susan Crawford, a visiting professor in intellectual property at Harvard Law School. Coupled with giant cable and Internet distributors, like Comcast and AT&T, “you’ve got two highly concentrated markets that need each other to survive and protect their profits,” Professor Crawford said. “The public interest side of this conversation is hopelessly outgunned.”

~ Such a merger would reduce control of the major Hollywood studios to five owners, from six, and major television producers to four, from five.

~ Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black once wrote in a 1945 antitrust case, “The widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.”

~ Regarding the proposed 21st Century Fox and Time Warner  merger, “These so-called horizontal mergers always reduce competition, the only issue being whether it’s enough to warrant blocking the merger or imposing conditions on it,” according to the report.

~  “When you’re dealing with media, you’ve got to look more carefully at the impact than with other commodities,” said Allen P. Grunes, an antitrust lawyer at the firm GeyerGorey, and an author, with Maurice E. Stucke, of “Antitrust and the Marketplace of Ideas.” “It has an impact on democracy and what the public discourse is.”

Here’s a graphic depiction of the situation:

media-consolidation

 

We’ve seen what happened to journalism after media consolidation; now we’re learning what happens when the people who control the news also control the entertainment industry. We end up with endless reality TV shows and mindless high-concept movies. Then what?

So . . . that’s what’s on my mind today. What’s on yours? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread.