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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, January 31, 2009

 
Saturday Night At The Movies


Dust Bowl XLIII

By Dennis Hartley

















I’ve sure been hearing the “D” word an awful lot lately. They say that in times of severe economic downturn, people crave pure escapism at the movies. I say, screw that. I wanna revel in economic downturn, ‘cos there’s something else “they” say as well: Misery loves company. So, with that in mind, and in the spirit of a little cinematic aversion therapy, here’s my Top 10 Great Depression Movies. Study them well, because there’s yet one more thing that “they say”: Those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.

Berlin Alexanderplatz- When you think of the Great Depression in terms of film and literature, it tends to vibe America-centric in the mind’s eye. In reality, the economic downturn between the great wars was a global phenomenon (not unlike our current situation); things were literally “tough all over”. You could say that Germany had a jumpstart on the depression (economically speaking, everything below the waist was kaput by the mid 1920s). In October of 1929 (interesting historical timing), Alfred Doblin’s epic novel Berlin Alexanderplatz: The Story Of Franz Biberkopf was published, then adapted into a film in 1931 directed by Phil Jutzi. It wasn’t until nearly 50 years later that the ultimate film version would appear as Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 15 hour opus. It’s nearly impossible to encapsulate this spiritually exhausting viewing experience in just a few lines; I’ll just say that it is (by turns) the most outrageous, shocking, transcendent, boring, awe-inspiring, maddening and soul-scorching film I’ve ever hated myself for loving so much.

Bonnie and Clyde- The gangster movie meets the art film in this 1967 groundbreaker from director Arthur Penn. There is much more to this influential masterpiece than just the oft-mentioned operatic crescendo of violent death in the closing frames; particularly of note was the ingenious way that its attractive antiheroes were posited to directly appeal to the rebellious counterculture zeitgeist of the time, even though the film was ostensibly a “nostalgia piece”. Our better instincts may tell us that the real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were nowhere near as charismatic (or physically beautiful) as Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, but we don’t really care, do we? (Is it getting warm in here? Woof!)

Bound for Glory-There’s only one man to whom Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen must bow before-and that’s Woody Guthrie. You can almost taste the dust in director Hal Ashby’s leisurely, episodic 1976 biopic about the life of America’s premier protest songwriter/social activist. David Carradine gives one of his finest performances, and does a very credible job with his own singing and playing. Haskell Wexler’s outstanding cinematography earned him a well-deserved Oscar. The film may feel a bit overlong and slow in spots if you aren’t particularly fascinated by Guthrie’s story; but I think it is just as much about the Depression itself, and perhaps more than any other film on my list, it succeeds as a “total immersion” by transporting the viewer back to the era.

The Grapes of Wrath- I’m stymied for any hitherto unspoken superlatives to ladle onto John Ford’s masterful film or John Steinbeck’s classic source novel, so I won’t pretend to have any. Suffice it to say, this probably comes closest to nabbing the title as THE quintessential film about the heartbreak and struggle of America’s “salt of the earth” during the Great Depression. Perhaps we can take (real or imagined) comfort in the possibility that no matter how bad things get over the next few months (years?), Henry Fonda’s unforgettable embodiment of Tom Joad will “be there…all around, in the dark.”

Inserts- This 1976 sleeper from director John Byrum has been dismissed as pretentious dreck by some; it remains a cult item for others. If I told you that Richard Dreyfuss, Veronica Cartwright, Bob Hoskins and Jessica Harper once all co-starred in an "X" rated film, would you believe me? Dreyfuss plays a has-been Hollywood directing prodigy known as "Wonder Boy", whose career has peaked early; he now lives in his bathrobe, drinking heavily and casting junkies and wannabe-starlets in pornos that he shoots in his crumbling mansion. Bob Hoskins is memorable as the sleazy "producer", who is also looking for investors for his scheme-an idea to open a chain of hamburger joints (his nickname is "Big Mac"). The story takes place in 30s Hollywood, and as a wallow in the squalid side of show biz, it would make a great double bill with The Day of the Locust.

King of the Hill- Steven Soderbergh’s exquisitely photographed film (somewhat reminiscent of Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon) is a bittersweet rendering of A.E. Hotchner’s Depression-era tale about young Aaron (Jesse Bradford) who lives with his parents and kid brother in a decrepit hotel. After his sickly mother (Lisa Eichhorn) is sent away for convalescence, his kid brother is packed off to stay with relatives, and his father (Jeroen Krabbe) hits the road as a travelling salesman, leaving Aaron to fend for himself. The Grand Hotel-style framing device (offering glimpses of the mini-dramas unfolding in each room, here suffused through a child’s innocent perceptions) gives you an effective microcosm of the day-to-day struggles of those who live through such times. The film is full of wonderful little moments of keen insight into the human condition. The great ensemble includes Karen Allen, Adrian Brody, Elizabeth McGovern and Spaulding Gray.

Pennies from Heaven (Original BBC version)-I’ve always preferred the original 1978 British television version of this production to the Americanized theatrical version that was released several years afterwards. Written by Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective), it is rife with the usual Potter obsessions: sexual frustration, marital infidelity, religious guilt, shattered dreams and quiet desperation…broken up by the occasional, completely incongruous song and dance number (I really would not want to be in his head, ever). Bob Hoskins is outstanding as a married traveling sheet music salesman in Depression-era England whose life takes some, erm, interesting Potter-esque turns once he becomes smitten by a young rural schoolteacher (Cheryl Campbell) who lives with her widowed father and two extremely creepy brothers. Probably best described as a film noir musical?

Sullivan's Travels-A unique and amazingly deft mash-up of romantic screwball comedy, Hollywood satire, road movie and hard-hitting social drama that probably would not have worked so beautifully had not the great Preston Sturges been at the helm. Joel McCrea is pitch-perfect as a director of goofy populist comedies who yearns to make a “meaningful” film. Racked with guilt about the comfortable bubble that his Hollywood success has afforded him and determined to learn firsthand how the other half lives, he decides to hit the road with no money in his pocket and “embed” himself as a railroad tramp (much to the chagrin of his handlers). He is joined along the way by an aspiring actress (Veronica Lake, in one of her best comic performances). His voluntary crash-course in “social realism” turns into much more than he had originally bargained for. Lake and McCrea have wonderful chemistry. Years later, the Coen Brothers smugly co-opted the title of the fictional “film within the film” here: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? - “Yowsa, yowsa, yowsa!” This richly decadent allegory about the human condition has to be one of the grimmest and most cynical films ever made. Director Sydney Pollack assembled a crack ensemble for this depiction of a Depression-era dance marathon from Hell: Jane Fonda, Gig Young (who snagged a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), Susannah York, Bruce Dern and Red Buttons are all outstanding; Pollack even coaxed the wooden Michael Sarrazin (the Hayden Christensen of his day) into showing some real emotion. Adapted from Horace McCoy’s novel.

Thieves Like Us-This loose remake of Nicholas Ray’s 1949 film noir classic They Live By Night is the late Robert Altman’s most underrated film, IMHO. It is often compared to Bonnie and Clyde, but stylistically speaking, the two films could not be farther apart. Altman’s tale of bank-robbing lovers on the lam (Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall) is far less flashy and stylized, but ultimately more affecting thanks to a consistently naturalistic, elegiac tone throughout. Carradine and Duvall really breathe life into their doomed couple; every moment of intimacy between them (not just sexual) feels warm, touching, and genuine-which gives the film some real heart. Altman adapted the screenplay (with co-writers Joan Tewkesbury and Calder Willingham) from the same source novel (by Edward Anderson) that inspired Ray’s earlier film. Ripe for rediscovery.


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The Bush Legacy Lives On

by digby

We are going to be dealing with the conservative assault on civil liberties -- particularly the fourth Amendment -- long after he's faded into obscurity:

Supreme Court Steps Closer to Repeal of Evidence Ruling

In 1983, a young lawyer in the Reagan White House was hard at work on what he called in a memorandum “the campaign to amend or abolish the exclusionary rule” — the principle that evidence obtained by police misconduct cannot be used against a defendant.

The Reagan administration’s attacks on the exclusionary rule — a barrage of speeches, opinion articles, litigation and proposed legislation — never gained much traction. But now that young lawyer, John G. Roberts Jr., is chief justice of the United States.

This month, Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority in Herring v. United States, a 5-to-4 decision, took a big step toward the goal he had discussed a quarter-century before. Taking aim at one of the towering legacies of the Warren Court, its landmark 1961 decision applying the exclusionary rule to the states, the chief justice’s majority opinion established for the first time that unlawful police conduct should not require the suppression of evidence if all that was involved was isolated carelessness. That was a significant step in itself. More important yet, it suggested that the exclusionary rule itself might be at risk.

The Herring decision “jumped a firewall,” said Kent Scheidegger, the general counsel of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a victims’ rights group. “I think Herring may be setting the stage for the Holy Grail,” he wrote on the group’s blog, referring to the overruling of Mapp v. Ohio, the 1961 Warren Court decision.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the Herring decision and has been a reliable vote for narrowing the protections afforded criminal defendants since he joined the court in 2006. In applying for a job in the Reagan Justice Department in 1985, he wrote that his interest in the law had been “motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure,” religious freedom and voting rights.

Justice Alito replaced Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was considered a moderate in criminal procedure cases.

“With Alito’s replacement of O’Connor,” said Craig M. Bradley, a law professor at Indiana University, “suddenly now they have four votes for sure and possibly five for the elimination of the exclusionary rule.”


According to Justice Scalia, the police are much more professional that they used to be, so we don't need these sorts of onerous rules to inhibit them from searching anyone thy choose for any reason. We can just take them at their word. (After all, if you're innocent, you have nothing to worry about ,right?)

The fight never ends.


h/t to bb
.
 
"We're Smarter Than That"

by digby

I've had a number of Claire McCaskill's constituents write to me today to complain about my comment yesterday that I don't care for her because she's something of a Blue Dog. I'm told that she is better than the Republican she replaced, which is certainly true, and I acknowledge the realities of Missouri politics which probably require a more conservative Democrat than I personally prefer.

But this is why I'm not crazy about her. She has a Liebermanesque tendency to validate GOP rhetoric (and consequently, GOP policy) and I don't think that ever works out for Democrats:

I think that there have been some mistakes made. From my perspective there have been mistakes made on the stimulus bill. There has been such a starvation diet for some of these programs that the appropriators got a little over anxious in the House. They probably did some things they shouldn't have...

We do need to look at the safety net side of the stimulus bill that can get into the economy quickly. But we can't right every wrong in terms of programs we support in the stimulus bill. And the other thing is, whether it is the National Endowment of the Arts or some of the STD funding or contraceptive funding, all we did was just tee up ammunition for the other side to tear this thing down. And I would like to think we are smarter than that. I'm hopeful on the Senate side we will be smarter than that.

We will pull some of this stuff out that is not stimulative and we will have safety net in there that will get into the economy quickly, because that is what these tax breaks do, and the unemployment insurance benefits and the food stamps. People need them and they'll spend it, and it will go into the economy quickly. But I think we have to remain very focused on how we are creating jobs in this thing. And I am hoping we will find that middle ground.

The problem with her statement is that it validates the idea that "stimulus" has this very narrow meaning that Republicans want it to have. And that is very, very bad. This bill is not called "the stimulus bill." It's called the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" and that's because we have a much, much bigger problem on our hands than a little recession that needs a quick "jolt." By accepting the republican definition of what the bill is supposed to do, they have backed themselves into a corner and turned the kind of worthy spending she characterizes as "over anxious" into frivolous, unnecessary spending, that will never be authorized.

And the notion that if only the Democrats had left out contraception and the NEA that the Republicans wouldn't have found something else is naive at best. Orrin Hatch was complaining about money for higher education yesterday. They can find a way to call any government spending pork or entitlements. Once you start worrying about what they will find to complain about you are paralyzed.

If Obama has cast McCaskill to be the centrist Democrat to kiss the moderate Republicans' rings and bring them over, she could have done it without using their talking points. It's a bad habit of Democrats and I'm very sorry to see them continuing the tradition.

It's very unlikely that any of these programs will ever be put back into legislation after this (particularly with the PayGo fetish back) and that's just shameful. Indeed, I would look for a swift "bipartisan" call to pull in our belts, enact entitlment reform and practice "fiscal responsibility" the minute the watered down, probably far less effective, plan is passed. (As I wrote earlier, I think the administration probably believes that they will get the most "jolt" by the psychological impact of passing the tax cuts and infrastructure spending. We'd all better hope that happens, and quickly.)

Meanwhile, people who need help preventing unwanted pregnancies during this steep downturn are just going to be out of luck and I can't think of a more vital need. It's disgusting, particularly when you consider this, which doesn't surprise me, but makes me want to puke nonetheless:

Apparently, the target group most in need of some good old fashioned sex ed can be found among the male members of the Democratic Party and among the talking heads in the media.

A number of Congressmen attending a House Caucus meeting on the economic package earlier this week reportedly could not stop snickering when the words “stimulus” and “family planning” were used in the same sentence, and continued to tee-hee their way through a presentation by female colleagues until asked to stop.

“They acted like they were in junior high,” reported a participant in the meeting. “It made me realize that not only did they not understand this issue, but that they are uncomfortable even talking about it."

Rather than chastising their male colleagues further, the women members and staffers involved in the meeting took this as a serious learning experience.

It should be a lesson for all of us.

“These issues are second nature to the majority of women in Congress,” said one Congressional staffer speaking off the record, “so when we talk to women members or their staffers about the connection between family planning and women’s economic security, they don’t need an explanation. They just get it.”

"Many of the men, however, do not," the staffer continued, "It is clear we need to educate them. If they don't understand the issues, they won't be able to defend them effectively."

I'm sorry, there is no excuse for this bullshit. These are adults and they are Democrats, who are voted into office by a huge majority of women, (although sometimes I have to wonder why we bother.) Fine, so family planning is funny stuff to the Beavis and Buttheads in the Democratic caucus. I just feel compelled to note once again that there is now DNA testing and strong laws about child support, so if you play you pay fellas. It's no joke. (For a great anatomy of the "contraception" hissy, read this post. It lays it all out in chronological form.)

And while it makes me very angry on the merits, the biggest problem with all this isn't the poor women who will have to deal with unwanted pregnancy, it's that the Democrats have clearly and unambiguously signaled that they are still deer in the headlights when a hissy fit hits.The Republicans are very relieved, I'm sure. They know just how to hit that sweet spot and they'll keep doing it over and over again until the whole country believes that the Democrats caused the crisis and want to solve it by surrendering to terrorists and forcing people to have abortions. At the very least they will continue to think that it's logical to solve this crisis by cutting taxes for the wealthy and cutting government spending.

Instead of treating this as a teachable moment, with Democrats showing the American people how conservative economics have caused their problems, some of them are out there reinforcing all the tired old conservative bromides and forcing self-destructive compromises just so they can pretend that this program has bipartisan support --- which it clearly doesn't. It's depressing.

Bending over backwards to please Republicans on policy has never worked for Democrats in the past and I'm frankly a little bit gobsmacked that some of them think it will work now, of all times. But hey, their motto is, " if it's broke, don't fix it" so here we are.

Update: As always, give 'm an inch, and they'll stage a filibuster.

Grassley’s promise of a filibuster is surprising given the fact that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reportedly said that Republicans “would not filibuster against the stimulus package.” He remarked earlier this month, “I don’t think this measure’s going to have any problem getting over 60 votes.”

But now, as Grassley indicated last night, McConnell may not be able to keep his word as conservative opposition to the package grows.

Despite the fact that the Senate version of the recovery package is already loaded up with a significant number of provisions sought by conservative Republicans and the pro-business lobby, a number of senators are working with Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) to coordinate opposition to the package, and as CNS News reports today, “a filibuster is a possible part of that plan“:

“I think its going to take 60 votes to pass the bill,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) told CNSNews.com, indicating the likelihood of a filibuster.

“Whatever we can do, whether offering amendments, whether voting against the bill because it could not be amended, or whatever parliamentary possibilities are in front of us we will explore because this isn’t about playing the game,” Sen. Kyl told CNSNews.com when asked whether he would filibuster the bill or encourage his colleagues to do so. […]

“I would be a part of it,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said when CNSNews.com asked him if he personally would participate in a filibuster.


So, assuming that the Democrats would always have some Blue Dog DLC types in the senate like Ben Nelson, who are defacto Republicans, how many senators do they need to have to have a working majority that will fulfill a clear mandate as they got last November? 70?

Orrin Hatch chuckled evilly yesterday, and said "I don't agree with that," when it was mentioned that Obama didn't need Republicans to pass legislation and he was probably right. The way they aregoing, they'll have a bunch of Democrats helping them filibuster.



.
 
Judgment Day

by digby

Here's a post written by a (much younger) woman with an 87 year old husband who seems to be implying that she's having an affair:

I have several friends who have died of cancer over the years. Two of them gave their husbands permission to have sexual relations with someone else when they became unable to meet their husband's needs. They asked only that they not be told about it and that their husbands be discreet. Both husbands did have affairs, which did not last but which made it easier for them to care for their wives. I also had a woman friend whose husband had cancer. She tried to ask him about making the same arrangement, but he couldn't deal with it. She had sex with someone else anyway, she was very discreet, and said it was the only way she managed to get through the terrible years of watching her husband die. Is this moral?. Is it more moral if you have a spouse's permission? Is it worse for a woman to have sex with someone else when her husband is dying?

Nobody else knows what goes on in someone else's marriage. And until you have watched someone you love die, particularly over a long period of time, you can't know the pressures and stresses. My feeling is that I am not in a position to judge. Perhaps if one is a better caretaker for having an outlet for stress that is a good thing. Perhaps it only adds guilt to the suffering. I do think that in our society, people still judge women more harshly than men in these circumstances. What do you think?


I agree with these sage observations. No one can know what goes on in another person's marriage and one should not judge lest ye be judged. I would say this is particularly true when one is a person of some notoriety and social influence. People might be tempted to call you a hypocrite and speculate publicly about your marriage if you are the type of person who would judge others.

Oh, did I forget to tell you who wrote that?

Sally Quinn.

Yes, that Sally Quinn. That link leads to a video of Sally Quinn talking with Charlie Rose about her famous article about the permanent Washington Establishment's horror at Bill and Hillary Clinton's sullying of their town, which I've never seen before today. If you don't understand my "Village" metaphor, this will explain it to you. (Note Bob Woodward nodding and grinning like a trained monkey in the audience.)

There is much to chew on in it, but perhaps the most telling thing is this:

Charlie: What do you most want to know?

Quinn: ... I want to know about the Clintons' marriage. To me this is the most fascinating marriage I've ever seen. I don't understand it, I don't know anyone who understands it. I will be surprised if Carl Bernstein gets to it. I can't wait to read his book. I will be surprised if anyone gets to it. I just find it riveting.


She goes on to explain that she doesn't think Hillary could possibly be religious because when she saw the pain her husband caused her daughter she should have withdrawn from him.

So much for not judging others' marriages.

Quinn has always couched her judgments carefully under the rubrik of "journalism," which most people would call gossip in this case. But it's quite clear that she is not reporting, she is one of the queen bees, leading the charge. Even within that short interview, she contradicts herself several times, saying that nobody cared about the sex, it was all about the lying. But then she says that the problem was that Lewinsky was so much younger, whereas if he'd had an affair with a 50 year old, nobody would have cared.

It's fascinating stuff. But I think that what's most fascinating is that these people were so overwrought about Clinton's misbehavior, going on the record with forceful opprobrium and condemning this soiling of the office of the presidency with spittled fury. This was hugely important to them.

And yet today, we have evidence that his successor ordered torture. Indeed, we know that the CIA came to the White House and acted out the torture techniques for extremely high level members of the Bush administration for their approval and the president has admitted that he approved those metings. But instead of condemning these people for "trashing the place and it's not their place" the entire political establishment has circled the wagons to insist that we move on .

It's the shallow obsession with trivial personal behavior as the only proper gauge of character that makes the political establishment a village rather than a court. Their slavish devotion to power is predicated on the notion that they will decide who is allowed to wield it on the basis of faux provincial, puritan values and that they be acknowledged by the powerful as such. Values which aren't, as Quinn was astonished to find, shared by the rest of the country. They operate as exclusive arbiters of this allegedly character definining personal behavior and use that as a proxy for accountability, which works out very nicely for the powers that be.

That's why it's so fascinating to see Quinn's odd little missive in that Washington Post blog. It certainly appears as if she is having some sort of personal issue which she fears may be revealed. Perhaps it's just a "friend" of hers, as she unconvincingly asserts. But in a political culture in which accountability is based solely on personal faux pas and in which you elevate sexual gossip to the level of treason, you have to expect that it might just get you too one day if you stray outside the accepted boundries. Every once in a while the village has to punish one of its own just to show its still got its teeth.

I'd be careful if I were Sally Quinn. They haven't had a good witchhunt in years and they are overdue.


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Scenes From The Class Struggle In Capitol Hill

by dday

If you're on Twitter, I strongly recommend you find a right-wing mouth-breather Congressman to follow on the site and read them carefully. You'll get the talking points hours or even days before they show up on the teevee. For example, my favorite right-wing Twitterbug, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), has offered his sage thoughts on this Tom Daschle tax story.

Daescle(sp?)/Geitner/Rangel all avoided/cheated on taxes!Daescle latest!They don't mind raising taxes because they don't pay them.


He got two of the three names wrong, including Daschle, who was Senate Majority Leader when Hoekstra chaired the Intelligence Committee (!) and therefore was in all the Gang of Eight meetings with him.

But let's get off spelling for a second. The soundbite is that Democrats don't mind raising taxes because they don't pay them. Har giggle snort glorf!! So let's pre-but this statement in case it's used by George Will or David Brooks tomorrow morning.

Because, sigh, if only failure to pay taxes or disclose income had anything to do with party and not class. And this happens through both illegal and legal means.

The average tax rate paid by the richest 400 Americans fell by a third to 17.2 percent through the first six years of the Bush administration and their average income doubled to $263.3 million, new IRS data show.

The 17.2 percent tax rate in 2006 was the lowest since the IRS began tracking the 400 largest taxpayers in 1992, although the richest 400 Americans paid more tax on an inflation-adjusted basis than any year since 2000.

The drop from 2001’s tax rate of 22.9 percent was due largely to ex-President George W. Bush’s push to cut tax rates on most capital gains to 15 percent in 2003.


And as long as we're talking about tax dodgers, let's bring in the biggest group of them bar none, corporations.

The news that more than 60 percent of U.S. corporations failed to pay any federal taxes from 1996 through 2000 when corporate profits were soaring and that corporate tax receipts had fallen to just 7.4 percent of overall federal tax revenue in 2003 – the lowest since 1983 and the second-lowest rate since 1934 – is an outrage. But it should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to national tax policy over the past few years. The General Accounting Office (GAO) report also found that an astonishing 94 percent of corporations reported tax liability of less than 5 percent of their total income during the same time period. Corporate tax dodging has gone on for far too long. But the policies of the Bush administration have exacerbated the problem by furthering the culture of tax avoidance by big corporations and creating a pervasive unfairness in our tax code.


We have a problem in this country with people not paying their taxes. And irrespective of anything else, those people are by and large rich and connected. They influence politicians in Washington to write breaks and favors into the tax code. They pass special gifts back and forth to one another. They claim that their corporate headquarters can fit into a mailbox in the Cayman Islands.

The tax code is multi-layered and complex. These tax problems happen at confirmation hearings every four years as a result. Because it's easy to evade taxes, by either legitimate oversight or outright theft, and for the wealthy that likelihood is multiplied. Don't take my word for it - take the leader of the Republican Party from 2000 to 2008:

WALLACE: How does [McCain] overcome all of that and...

BUSH: Because there's two big issues. One is, who's going to keep your taxes low? Most Americans feel overtaxed and I promise you the Democrat [sic] party is going to field a candidate who says I'm going to raise your tax.

If they're going to say, oh, we're only going to tax the rich people, but most people in America understand that the rich people hire good accountants and figure out how not to necessarily pay all the taxes and the middle class gets stuck.

We've had -- we've been through this drill before. We're only going to tax the rich and all you have to do is look at the history of that kind of language and see who gets stuck with the bill.


He said this over and over during the 2004 campaign. His team must have thought it was a mighty clever talking point. It was so much fun to see the President of the United States, with control over the IRS, helpfully explain that the rich evade taxes and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

7/14/2004 THE PRESIDENT: ...People need to be aware of this talk out of Washington, D.C. that says, oh, don't worry, we're just going to tax the rich. That's not the way it works in the tax code. The big rich dodge taxes, anyway. It's companies like this who end up paying more taxes.
8/3/2004 THE PRESIDENT: ...He said, tax the rich. You've heard that before haven't you? You know what that means. The rich dodge and you pay.
8/13/2004 THE PRESIDENT:...I'll give you one other thought. Let me just leave you with one other thought about taxing the rich. You know how that works. A lot of the rich are able to get accountants, so they don't -- they're able to dodge. You've seen it before. We're going to tax the rich, and then they figure out how not to get taxed.
8/28/2004 THE PRESIDENT: ...Every time they say, tax the rich, the rich dodge and you pay.
9/1/2004 THE PRESIDENT: ...You know what it means, tax the rich. It means the rich dodge and you get stuck with the bill.
9/3/2004 THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, we've heard that before, haven't we? First of all, you can't raise enough money by taxing the rich to support all his programs. Secondly, the rich figure out a way to dodge it, and you get stuck with the bill.
9/7/2004 THE PRESIDENT:Yes. Oh, don't worry, we'll tax the rich. Well, that's why the rich hire accountants and lawyers. They dodge, you pay...
10/11/2004 THE PRESIDENT: ...Something else about taxing the rich -- the rich hire lawyers and accountants for a reason, to dodge the tax bill and stick you with it.


This is the same guy who eliminated half of the IRS lawyers who audit the rich, and went after the middle class more often with audits and scrutiny.

Since 2000, authorities at the Internal Revenue Service have nearly tripled audits of tax returns filed by people making $25,000 to $100,000 as part of a broad change in audit strategy.

Audits of these middle-class taxpayers rose to nearly 436,000 last year, up from about 147,000 returns in 2000. For these 61 million individuals and married couples, who make up nearly half of all taxpayers, the odds of being audited rose from 1 in 377 to 1 in 140.


I'd be willing to bet that practically everyone of means in Capitol Hill has cheated on their taxes in one way or another. They're the Masters of the Universe and they see it as their due. If Republicans have gotten religion and suddenly want to end the practice, sounds good to me. We'll just put those auditors back to work and start poring over the returns of every corporation and every man and woman of wealth. We can even get rid of those loopholes and complexities that cause a lot of these problems. But don't tell me that this is an issue of party in any way. This is a class issue.


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Truce In The Culture War

by digby

I keep hearing it. Perlstein weighs in:

Is Nixonland over? One pundit's opinion:

Reaganism has had it in California...[the] handwriting [is] on the wall for right-wing populism everywhere.

By right-wing populism I mean the backlash politics which emerged in reaction against Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. It made its appeal to ordinary people--those earning $45,000 to $65,000 annually, for whom I invented the term Middle America. The thrust of the appeal was distinctly egalitarian or anti-elitist. The implicat6ion has been that the patricians and intellectuals who planned the Great Society were leses attuned to the true needs of thecountry than hard-hats....

The Reagan approach was tested in many different votes on Tuesday.... The acceptability of liberal ideas [was] emphasized by the triumph of Proposition 13, providing for the use of gasoline taxes for public transit. Another test came int eh gubernatorial primary. On the Democratic side, the key figure was Edmund Brown Jr. He is the kind of limousine liberal right-wing populists love to put down. he comes from an illustrious family (his father is former Gov. Pat Brown), enjoyed an expensive education at Berkeley and Yale Law School, and has been identified with all kinds of liberal causes from peace in Vietnam to racial harmony.... On the Republican side teh winner was Houston Flournoy, a political scientist from Princeton who takes the progressive stance in politics. He swamped, by a 2 to 1 majority, Reagan's hand-picked Lieutenant Gov. Ed Reinecke....

Thus the rout of Reaganism in this state announces what seems to be a national possibility, the possibilty of closing the parenthesis on the era of backlash politics which has been so strong in the coutnry since Ronald Reagan rode out of the TV movies back in 1966.

The pundit was the Washington Post 's Joseph Kraft, writing on...June 4, 1974. I adjusted the column's actual income threshhold ($10,000-$15,000 annually) for inflation. Right-wing populism: good bye to all that!



Plus ça frigging change.

To those who are arguing that the culture wars are over (or almost over as soon as we agree to make abortion an issue for the states) with those who see things more clearly here's a sense of where we actually are today:



That one really has it all. Race, gender, choice and ... torture. (Is that going to be a new culture war issue, I wonder?)

I'm sorry, people who think this way aren't agreeing to any truce. They are regrouping.


Update: Here's that principled conservative Mitt Romney, who has already switched once on this issue, yesterday:

Republican Mitt Romney, a potential candidate for the White House in 2012, accused President Barack Obama on Friday of answering to the "most extreme wing of the abortion lobby." Even if the administration "will say nothing on behalf of the child waiting to be born, we must take the side of life," the former Massachusetts governor told House Republicans at a weekend retreat, according to his prepared remarks.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

 
It Could Happen To You

by digby


Feeling their lives were threatened the police had to defend themselves:

University of Wisconsin football fans Roman and Margaret Hiebing, who have strong ties to the university, have filed claims against the state of Wisconsin claiming police officers used excessive force, including a Taser, when arresting Margaret for sitting in the wrong place at the crowded Penn State football game in October.

The Hiebings were among the 81,524 fans who packed into Camp Randall Stadium on Oct. 11 to watch the Nittany Lions pound the Badgers, 48-7.

Like many others in section U on the east side of the stadium, Margaret Hiebing could not sit in her regular seat in row 69 because it had already been taken. So she sat at the end of the row, partially in the aisle, and that led to confrontation with police, which led to Margaret being handcuffed, stung by a Taser, and being ticketed for disorderly conduct on university property.

[...]

The Hiebings live in Maple Bluff and Roman is retired after a lengthy career in advertising, including 25 years as head of the Hiebing Group, a premier advertising firm in Madison, and he taught in both the business and journalism schools at UW. Margaret worked for many years as a nurse at University Hospital. The couple has had Badger football tickets for the past 25 years, the notice of claim says, and are members of the Bascom Hill Society.

The notice of claim makes UW-Madison Police Officer Tamara Kowalski out to the prime culprit of what the couple calls "excessive force." As Margaret Hiebing was trying to watch the game from her makeshift seat at the end of the aisle, Kowalski approached and told her to get in her seat. Roman Hiebing then asked the officer to check tickets of those in row 69, because some people were obviously in the wrong seats.

Kowalski, the notice of claim says, "did not check the tickets; in fact, (did) nothing to rectify the situation in response to (Roman's) request."

"Without provocation, Kowalski then grabbed (Margaret's) hair, pulling it backwards," and threatened to spray Margaret with pepper spray, the filing says. Kowalski then called six other officers to the area, and they in turned grabbed Margaret and started hauling up the stairs, the notice of claim says.

Margaret Hiebing tried to warn officers that she had previous knee surgery which made her prone to injuries, but said in an affidavit her pleas were ignored. When she got to the top of the stairs, Officer Peter Grimsyer "Tasered her repeatedly," the notice of claim says.

Roman, the claim says, was battered and falsely imprisoned by Officers Benjamin Newman and Nicolas Banuelos when he tried to help his wife.

State Justice Department spokesman William Cosh declined to discuss the claim. "We are reviewing the allegations and have no comment," he said.

Police said at the time that Margaret Hiebing was "kicking and screaming" when officers tried to handcuff her. "That's when one of the officers discharged a Taser weapon on her," said UW Police Sgt. Jason Whitney.


This 54 year old woman was a threat to the seven officers who were trying to subdue her and so she had to be repeatedly tortured with electricity. Sure, I'll buy that.

This is actually quite interesting. It's one thing when police tase mental patients, protesters and alleged criminals. Most Americans figure they probably deserve it. But when they start torturing white, middle aged, female pillars of the community at football games, things could get sticky.



In other news, the early reports about the Bart killing were right. The officer who shot the suspect in cold blood is saying that he confused his taser with his sidearm, thus proving once again that there are far too many idiots carrying badges, guns and tasers.


H/t to S and NobleJoanie


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Supahstahs !

by digby

I have been hearing people all over the TV today saying that it's just wrong for the government to require that the failing banks not give out bonuses until they pay back the taxpayers for their hundreds of billions in bailout money. Apparently, there is some idea that it's now immoral for someone who is paying another to require certain behaviors from them. (I've heard quite a few people argue that these people are the best at what they do and if the taxpayers don't pay their bonuses, these failing banks will lose their expertise and the economy will suffer. )

All over the country, workers are being told that they can't have bonuses or raises, that they have to cut back their hours, that they are being laid off. The waiters at my favorite brewpub, who have been there for a decade or more, are all being reduced to part time (so that none of them have to be completely laid off) and their tips are off by 60%. The idea that the people who caused all this should get bonuses at the taxpayers expense because they are such valuable employees is ludicrous. That these people who work forsuch massively failed enterprises should be rewarded by the taxpayers for their failure is beyond reason. I can't fathom why they haven't all been fired.

Here's David Brooks explaining once again that his elite friends shouldn't subject to laws because public shame is far more difficult for them than it is for the little people and so they learn their lessons and suffer enough just by being humiliated. Laws aren't necessary for such paragons. They will be regulated with social pressure. (As the British House of Lords used to punish their own by banishing them to their lavish estates and depriving them of access to the court for a time, perhaps.)

I mean, I thought what Obama did was the right thing. First of all, you need social pressure. Capitalism is a great system, but you can't have amoral capitalism. Capitalist institutions have to be surrounded by social understandings, by a set of norms that we all adhere to or that are enforced by shame.

And the president was absolutely right to impose a little shame on people who, A, didn't understand the situation has changed, the environment has changed now that the public is helping support their institutions, and, B, who are just awarding themselves bonuses at the expense of their shareholders that are way out of line with what I think most people believe is necessary to keep talent at firms.


Well, it wasn't exactly just at the expense of their shareholders, now was it? These are institutions that took huge sums of money from the taxpayers after all.

But they are very, very special people who just can't scrape by on less than half a million dollars a year. Indeed, they are so valuable that they will just up and leave the country to work as mercenaries for some foreign kingdom, er corporation, if they aren't allowed to make gigantic sums of money as their companies fail miserably. They are superstars!

JIM LEHRER: Is that a moral -- that's a moral issue?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I do think it's a moral issue. I still think the McCaskill idea is just a terrible idea.

JIM LEHRER: Why? Why?

DAVID BROOKS: Because these are banks that depend on superstars. And there's not an ocean of superstars out there. And we may not like these people, but the fact is, to get a good CEO who can lead a company effectively, there are actually, if they can do it well, if they're Jack Welch or somebody, they're actually worth the money.

Now, that doesn't mean I'd buy into the hedge fund bonus structure, which was yielding $300 million bonuses. But, nevertheless, the reality is, to keep top talent from going overseas or wherever it would go, you've got to allow pay over $400,000 a year in New York City.

MARK SHIELDS: These are companies -- let's be very candid -- they are now taxpayer-subsidized. If they have these superstars, they probably haven't reached that point.

I say if there's an overseas market for these greedy, incompetent bastards then the best thing we could do for the country is to exile them. Unfortunately, they've managed to take down pretty much the entire world with us, so I don't think there are a lot of jobs for failed wall street executives out there right now. But hey, let them put their resumes up on Craigslist like everyone else and see what the market for such superstar talent will yield these days.

Obama is smart to take this one on. It's important to target some villains in all this and these guys are right at the top of the list. (I wasn't all that thrilled with McCaskill being the point person on this, but then I've never liked her much because she's a Blue Dog type, so my impression is not entirely reliable. Maybe she really connected with the folks.) But it's a savvy move to go after these guys because I can almost guarantee that what they did makes no sense to working people around the country and the idea that the government can't put any strings on that money is completely absurd.

I wrote earlier that Obama should take to the bully pulpit and channel a little FDR. But channeling TR isn't a bad idea either. These "malefactors of great wealth" (or in 21st century parlance "the Superstars") have been swallowing a firehose of money for the past several decades, and especially in the last eight, at the expense of everyone else. There is no CEO on this planet who is worth the kind of money these jackasses have been giving to each other and it's long past time that this nearly pornographic obsession with the manly John Galt myth be put to rest.

Bust 'em Obama. It's smart politics. Me likee.

Kevin Drum has been writing about obscene CEO pay for years, by the way and has provided a wealth of information about why this is a completely disingenuous argument. Here's a random one from 2007:

Charles Munger, Warren Buffett's partner at Berkshire Hathaway, talks to the LA Times about the insane levels of CEO compensation these days:

What makes CEO pay so difficult is that only a few of the people who are earning these huge amounts are actually worth it....I like the idea of high pay for people who are really worth it. The problem is that most of them are not. Every mediocre employee who rises through the ranks to become CEO thinks he should retire rich. It's crazy.

Do you think this might be what Munger is talking about?

Embattled Home Depot Chief Executive Robert L. Nardelli, under fire from stockholders for earning hundreds of millions at the same time the company's stock fell and market share dropped, resigned suddenly today and will walk away with a severance package of $210 million, the company announced....During his tenure, Nardelli earned $240 million in salary, bonuses and stock options.

....During his leadership of the nation's second largest retail chain after Wal-Mart, Home Depot lost market share to home-improvement rival Lowe's Cos. and its stock price declined almost 8 percent.

Let's get out our calculators. $450 million for six years of service comes to....about $75 million per year. And this is for reducing Home Depot's value and losing market share to its main rival.

I wonder what Nardelli would have been paid if he had actually increased Home Depot's value? Would there be enough money in the world?

Does everyone remember where the Superstar Bob Nardelli works now?

Chrysler.


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Meet Hildy In Person

by digby

For those who were moved by the story of Tom Geoghegan's support for the underdog in yesterday's post, perhaps some of you who live in the area or who have some free time to donate would like to sign on to the campaign:

Dear Supporter:

Election day is only four weeks away! We need your help making phone calls, knocking on doors, and spreading Tom's message of economic security across teh Fifth District. Tom wants you to come to Chicago. We'll find a place for you to stay and help with food.

If you can get to Chicago and spend the next four weeks, a couple weeks, or even a few days, email our field director, Jacob, at jacob@geogheganforcongress.com.

Tom's message of progressive change and economic security is resonating across the district. We promised to make a call for people across the country to help in Chicago. This is it!

If you can't come to Chicago, you can still help us contact voters by participating in our on-line phone bank. Contact Jacob or go to this page and he'll hook you up with voter lists from our website, and then you can call voters from your home.

With just over four weeks until the election, the campaign is at full tilt. We've put together a crack team, made headlines, and raised over $150,000.

Now we have to turn our full attention to contacting voters and getting out the vote. We need your help to bring a new progressive leader to Congress.

Thanks for everything you do,
- Julie Sweet
Campaign Manager, Geoghegan for Congress


If you can make it to Chicago, I am pretty sure I can pull some strings to get you a personal meeting with Hildy herself. (Perhaps even a big wet kiss.)



Hildy, by the way, is doing some fundraising for her hero. If you have a few dollars to spare, you can donate through Hildy's List: For Candidates Who Fight For The Underdog.


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Incoherence

by digby

Republican hack Ron Christie's head just exploded on Hardball:

Christie: It's interesting how the Democrats say, "oh, if we get a Barack Obama in, we're going to have a new spirit and a new tone in Washington. Speaker Pelosi is gonna bring a new sense of civility." Look what we've seen since the new president has been in office and the new speakerhas been in the House of Representatives!


Karen Finney interrupted and pointed out the cocktails and super bowl parties were part of the new civility and then Christie laid this bizarre bomb:

Christie: No. We had a bipartisan vote, Republicans and Democrats standing together that said that this stimulus bill is not going to stimulate the economy.

The speaker and the president could not put their ideological differences aside to work with Republicans and I thought it was ridiculous.


Christie absurdly spins the losing No vote yesterday as the desireable bipartisan consensus. That's not particularly convincing, although it sounds a cautionary note about how festishizing bipartisanship can be turned against you.

So there is no common strategy. Hatch triangulates between Obama and the Democrats, Christie seems to be saying that Obama and Pelosi are ruining the bipartisan comity that exists between the Democrats and Republicans in the congress, which is really a stretch. (I suspect he got his talking points confused.)

But then Christie had a total meltdown defending Rush Limbaugh against the ads going out in GOP Senators' states, saying that it's a "disgrace" to go after him because he and other talk show hosts represent "tens of millions of Americans who are tired of president Obama and Nancy Pelosi trying to ram a bill through, they are not working in a bipartisan fashion."

Michael Steele may have just won the job of RNC chairman, but we know where the real power in the Republican Party lies (as it has for many years) ---with the radio talk show hosts who "represent" tens of millions of people who are sick and tired of president Obama's partisan behavior during the whole ten days he's been in office.

Here's Gavin from Sadly No explaining what Ron Christie is really saying:

Obama promised to cooperate with Republicans, but Republicans have broken his promise by not-he-cooperating with them.

The plumber promised to work on the sink, but shockingly, he broke that promise by not making me stop telling him not to fix the sink, and then working on the sink.

Disaster for you, for you promised me a rose garden and I am not accepting gardens from you at this time.

Analysis: Historic Democratic victory good for Republicans.



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The Whining Biddy Is Back

by digby

I've sure missed the very special brand of partisan whining that only Orrin Hatch provides. It's been a decade since his unctuous, mendacious sanctimony has been on full display and it's good to see that while he looks a bit older, he hasn't lost that magical ability to sound like an aging schoolmarm and a bitchy drag queen all at the same time:

Norah O'Donnell: Senator, what about that? Because not one Republican in the House voted for this, it looks like Barack Obama is extending his hand to the Republican Party and he's being met with a clenched fist.

Hatch: Well I think Barack Obama has extended his hand. He came up and talked to our conference and we all really enjoyed him.

ODonnell: Well, what are Republicans doing in turn?

Hatch: Well the reality of it is that the leadership up here in the House and the Senate have ignored Barack Obama. Many of the things he's said he'd like to have in this bill, they'd like to have in the bill. They've put all kinds of spending programs and other things in this bill. it's just business as usual. I think we would like to work with President Obama, but he hasn't had much imprint on this, at least the House bill so far. The Senate bill is much better.

By the way, they have the first two bills come out of the box, one of them the SCHIP bill that Grassley and I worked our tails off trying to get major, major votes for in the last congress. They just did it on their own, didn't ask us an opinion, didn't work with us at all, just said that's the way it's going to be. And the stimulus bill is exactly the same way. You know, "we're going to do what we're going to do" whether you like it or not and it isn't going to be something Republicans really can vote for. So it isn't a matter of partisanship on our part. We'd love to have Barack Obama do some of the things he said he wanted to do when he appeared before us just this last Tuesday.

O'Donnell: Well Senator, as you know, and perhaps it's sad but true, but the president doesn't need the Republicans. He an get this passed anyway.

Hatch: (smiling) I don't agree with that.

O'Donnell: Do you feel there's some kind of a head fake going on? That while the Democrats on the Hill, you say ignore the Republican party, that the president looks like the one of goodwill. He invited them over for drinks, he's inviting them over to watch the Super Bowl with him etc.

Hatch: I was there last Friday in the White house as a special invitee. I think the president really is sincere in wanting to get this through so that it works better. And it isn't a question of Republican politics. It's a question of spending money to get jobs to help the economy to get us back to the way we really want to be and where we really should be.

And look, the I think 366 billion in the emergency stimulus package, only 44 billion will be spent in 2009. Another 136 billion will be spent in 2010. I think 184 billion in 2011. Now how is that going to be stimulus. They're spending 6 billion dollars to colleges and universities, many of which have over a billion dollar endowment funds. Now why are we doing that? Is that going to create jobs? Not on your life.

I could go through hundreds of big spending projects that are in this bill that ought to curdle the blood of Democrats. And by the way, it's starting to. I walked in with Senator McCaskill and senator McCaskill said "I'm not sure I'm gonna vote for it."

O'Donnell: Just one other thing. Senator Kerry was on earlier with Senator Mitchell and he said he's not in favor of this proposal for the bad banks. Are you opposed to this proposal to develop a big bad bank to hold all these debts?

Hatch: I'm not very much for that, but I'm certainly going to keep an open mind and see what can be done. I do have some degree of confidence in Mr Geitner, the secretary of treasury. I think he's a very bright guy and I want to do what I can to help.

Naturally we would like to get this economy back. It's not gonna be easy, it's not gonna be quick and it certainly isn't going to happen if we pass the House stimulus bill. And the Senate bill may not be much better.

But maybe when we go to conference we can work out some of these difficulties and get more people to, in a bipartisan way, support it because it may be able to create some jobs, but not the way it's written right now. Some jobs are going to cost over a million dollars per job the way this is written.

It's just awful. I'm so doggone disgusted I can hardly stand it.


Aside from the sheer dishonesty of his entire diatribe, it took his very personal style of character assassination for me to get a subtlety of the GOP triangulation strategy. I hadn't before sensed the patronizing tone in the Obama sycophancy before --- they are saying that he's --- wait for it --- a wimp. Here's the subtext:

He'd like to pass a good, strong program that he-men Republicans could support, but he just can't get past the screeching harpies in the congress who he's married too. It's sad, really. Obama is such a sweet young fella. He had a lovely little cocktail party the other night and is hosting a fabulous super bowl party and we'd love to be able to support him. But he's a little bit ... henpecked, don't you know, and can't control his congress. We have to step in and save the country. Again.


It's an interesting approach to try to make the person who is trying to include you look like a wimp for trying to include you, but the Republicans operate on several different levels and this one is in their lizard brain. Like Dick Armey blurting out his anachronistic Henny Youngman routine on Hardball, it's not really a strategy so much as an uncontrollable tic. They need to see their enemies as weak women and gays in order to feel powerful. And it plays into some very strong strains in the culture that responds to such messages.

Obama isn't like other Democrats and all the usual images and impressions are mangled. I'll be very interested to see if they can get traction with this. It doesn't really scan for me, but then it never does, so I'm not a good gauge.



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Roll Out The Bully Pulpit

by digby

As we watch this legislative sausage slowly crumble, I would hope that President Obama will take his economic agenda to the American people. (And it's not going to be enough for him to ask people who've had house parties in the past to get together and talk about the president's plan.) He's needs to speak to the country directly.

I can't find any news about an impending State of the Union address (aside from this Ambinder note from last November which speculated about doing one in early February) but I think he should schedule one or something like it. The country needs to be instructed about the logic and necessity of this stimulus plan because they clearly don't fully understand it. And because of that, the Republicans are making headway with their rhetoric of "fiscal responsibility," conflating stimulus with bailouts and the rest of their destructive obstructionism.

Despite his huge personal approval, Obama didn't start off with a lot of public support for the plan and support is inching down. He is asking for a huge amount of money and the promise of bipartisanship is not working out. I think it would be helpful if he explained what a stimulus is and why this plan will succeed. People want him to succeed and they will back him if he makes the explicit case and give the plan some time to work if he asks them for it. Not having congressional Republicans on the team won't matter if the American people stay behind him. But if he continues to make bipartisanship the test of the plan's success or failure, it really could fail whether it passes or not. One of the main components of the success of the plan is its ability to inspire confidence and the Republicans, the Blue Dogs and their friend in the media are doing everything they can to ensure that Americans believe it won't work.

Big Tent Democrat reminds us that today is FDRs birthday and he excerpts one of his famous speeches to rally the country in 1932. This is the kind of thing that may be what Americans need to hear from their new president today as well:

It is well within the inventive capacity of man, who has built up this great social and economic machine capable of satisfying the wants of all, to insure that all who are willing and able to work receive from it at least the necessities of life. In such a system, the reward for a day's work will have to be greater, on the average, than it has been, and the reward to capital, especially capital which is speculative, will have to be less. But I believe that after the experience of the last three years, the average citizen would rather receive a smaller return upon his savings in return for greater security for the principal, than experience for a moment the thrill or the prospect of being a millionaire only to find the next moment that his fortune, actual or expected, has withered in his hand because the economic machine has again broken down.

It is toward that objective that we must move if we are to profit by our recent experiences. Probably few will disagree that the goal is desirable. Yet many, of faint heart, fearful of change, sitting tightly on the roof-tops in the flood, will sternly resist striking out for it, lest they fail to attain it. Even among those who are ready to attempt the journey there will be violent differences of opinion as to how it should be made. So complex, so widely distributed over our whole society are the problems which confront us that men and women of common aim do not agree upon the method of attacking them. Such disagreement leads to doing nothing, to drifting. Agreement may come too late.

Let us not confuse objectives with methods. Too many so-called leaders of the Nation fail to see the forest because of the trees. Too many of them fail to recognize the vital necessity of planning for definite objectives. True leadership calls for the setting forth of the objectives and the rallying of public opinion in support of these objectives.

Do not confuse objectives with methods. When the Nation becomes substantially united in favor of planning the broad objectives of civilization, then true leadership must unite thought behind definite methods.

The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.

We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. We need to correct, by drastic means if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer. We need the courage of the young. Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you. May every one of us be granted the courage, the faith and the vision to give the best that is in us to that remaking!


If Obama could make a speech like that then the Democrats (if they could rouse themselves to do it) could go out and say that the tired program of tax cuts for everything is one of those things that has "failed and we should admit it."

Right now, I'm seeing the conservatives win the rhetorical war, at least among the elites. And the polling isn't showing that Obama is making a different case to the people. He needs to do it.

Update: On MSNBC this morning we had a segment with Mort Zuckerman arguing that the stimulus bill needs to have more tax cuts, Governor Mark Sanford (R) arguing for less spending and Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University worrying about deficits. That's the state of the debate at this moment and nowhere in it does anyone make the case that stimulus simply means that the government needs to spend a lot of money to put people to work and that those jobs should be in places where the taxpayers would get their money's worth by either fixing long neglected infrastructure and education needs, create new (green) jobs for the future, or to provide services for people who are suffering during this recession. Stimulating demand is part of that, but since, as the Republicans themselves admit, the tax rebates and tax cuts of the past few years haven't worked --- we need to go to the mattresses and inject money directly into the economy. A huge government spending program is a blunt instrument, but it's the only one we we have left.



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Clockwork

by digby

It's clear the Blue Dogs were calling shots behind the scenes in the House, but in the Senate the egos are too big for them not to get before the cameras and preen.

And so it begins:

The Washington Post reported this morning that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) “remains undecided about the bill“:

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who remains undecided about the bill, said he opposes money going to research projects at the National Institutes of Health and about $13 billion for Pell grants that help students pay for college. Nelson says the measures are worthy but do not belong in legislation designed to stimulate the economy.

Despite what Nelson says, both increased NIH funding and money for Pell grants are actually a wise use of stimulus dollars.

According to Fox News, Nelson convened a meeting in his Senate office today with Senate Republicans and some Democrats who are seeking “common ground on how they can improve the $819 billion economic stimulus bill.” Nelson’s meeting included Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA).

In an interview with Fox News after the meeting, Nelson said he didn’t know how many Democrats, let alone Republicans, would vote for the stimulus plan “as it stands today”:

HEMMER: No Republicans voted for this measure in the House. Do you know of any Republicans on the Senate side that will vote yes as it stands today?

NELSON: I don’t know, I don’t even know how many Democrats will vote for it as it stands today because a lot of my colleagues are not decided. They’re undecided on the bill as it is right now. Fortunately, we don’t have to take the vote on it right now. We have an opportunity to make some improvements.





I'm sure the Obama campaign was prepared for this. It is after all, written into the Democratic Party bylaws that conservative Democratic Senators must put the new Dem president in his place and make sure that no one in the country ever get the idea that he is really in charge.

This may be kabuki. McCaskill is a super Obama friend and may be playing a role on his behalf to help him gain a handful of Republican votes so they can call it bipartisan. (Let's hope they don't give away the store to do it...) But, the end result is the same, whether Obama is part of it or not. Conservative values and economic shibboleths will have been validated and going forward we will have to re-fight the battle from square one.

Everyone had better hope this stimulus works extremely well and doesn't require any tweaking because in only one short week Republican profligacy is now forgotten and the conservatives have been affirmed as guardians of the public purse again. They have already taken back one of their most important points of power and they will use it. Their leader has said unequivocally that he wants Obama to fail, and he's telling the truth.

Update: Speaking of bipartisanship, apparently Obama is thinking of appointing Republican Judd Gregg for the Commerce secretary. Gregg voted against the stimulus and SCHIP just this week, so its hard to see what he brings to the bipartisanship table or how that helps advance Obama's agenda. But that's the weird reality we have in DC since the Democrats won decisive mandate.

But this is just odd:

James Pindell, who has covered New Hampshire politics since 2002, tells Political Wire that the odds of Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) taking the job of secretary of commerce are currently 65-35 if offered.

But Pindell notes that Gov. John Lynch (D), who would choose Gregg's replacement in the Senate, "is the type of guy that would pick a Republican just because he is replacing a Republican and to bone up his bi-partisan credibility. Lynch has yet to comment on the issue -- heck Gregg has yet to be appointed -- but right now the money is on former Gov. Walter Peterson (R). He was chair of the 'Republicans for Lynch' committee, would vote with Democrats as much as Maine's Senators do, and most likely wouldn't run in 2010."


It's all the rage.


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Richard Perle Was Right

by dday

George Bush got his statue in Iraq after all.

A sofa-sized statue of the shoe was unveiled Thursday in Tikrit, the hometown of the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Baghdad-based artist Laith al-Amari described the fiberglass-and-copper work as a tribute to the pride of the Iraqi people.

The statue is inscribed with a poem honoring Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the Iraqi journalist who stunned the world when he whipped off his loafers and hurled them at Bush during a press conference on Dec. 14.

In the Arab world, even showing someone the sole of a shoe is considered a sign of disrespect.


Look at the picture on that page, there seems to be no way it's not from The Onion. And yet, with George Bush, anything is possible.

Heckuva job.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

 

"Ok, So What?

by digby

One of the most distrubing aspects of the use of taser torture devices is its common use on the mentally ill. Here, you have schizophrenic man, in custody, tasered and pepper sprayed mercilessly because he woulodn't come out of his cell. He finally did when they told him he could call his mother.

New court documents reveal disturbing details of what happened to Reynaldo “Reny” Cabral, the young Orland man who became paralyzed from the neck down when he rammed his head against a wall during a schizophrenic episode in the Glenn County Jail.

The CN&R has previously reported (”Breakdown in mental-health care,” Dec. 13, 2007) how, in the morning of Jan. 6, 2007, sheriff’s officers arrested Cabral after he assaulted his girlfriend, Torrie Gonzales, at his family’s Orland home. At the time, Cabral’s brother Arturo and others told them he was ill and needed medications.

According to an amended complaint, the jail nurse, Donna Tomisch, and Jail Staff Cpl. Rosemary Carmen initially refused to receive Cabral until he’d had a psychiatric evaluation. However, a sheriff’s deputy, Brandy McDonald, told Carmen that there would be no evaluation “because inmate Cabral had tried to kill someone and that he needed to be in jail,” not sent to a mental-health facility.

Over a period of several hours, while Cabral was kept in a holding cell, various people—his brother; his mother, Rosa Cabral; his girlfriend, who didn’t want him jailed; Tony Nasr, MD, a family friend; and officials at Butte County Behavioral Health, where he’d been placed on an involuntary hold just three days before—contacted the jail to say Cabral was mentally ill.

Efforts to get him seen by health professionals were fruitless. A single call was made to Glenn County Mental Health, which punted responsibility to Dr. Robert Zadra, whose company, Sierra Family Services, was under contract to provide mental-health care at the jail. But Zadra was on vacation, and his office referred the matter back to GCMH, which in turn said it had no contract with the jail.

There was a contract, but it was with Glenn Medical Center, the local hospital. In any event, there is a “handshake agreement” between the jail and Mental Health, said Scott Gruendl, the Chico City Councilman whose day job is director of Glenn County Health Services. “If the jail requires our assistance, we’re going to provide it,” he said.

Not this time, apparently.

By early the next morning, court documents continue, Cabral began hearing voices and showing signs of mental illness. He took off his clothes, vomited, and began throwing feces, urine and vomit around his cell.

Jail staff wanted to move him into the padded “safety cell.” Lacking the help of a health-care professional, and without contacting anyone in Cabral’s family, they called in a total of four officers from the Willows Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office. Three Highway Patrol officers showed up later.

Cabral wasn’t being violent, but Deputy Paulette Blakeley testified that he was “scooping water from the toilet in his cell and rubbing it on his body, and that the water, possibly containing his own waste, was spread elsewhere in the cell.” At this point, Willows PD Officer Jason Dahl ordered Cabral to come out of the cell. When Cabral refused, saying “I’m fine,” Dahl pointed his Taser weapon at Cabral “and said he would shoot him with it if he did not do as Officer Dahl demanded.”

“Shoot me,” Cabral replied. The officers stormed the cell.

By the time it was over, Dahl had alternately demanded that Cabral come out of his cell and, when he refused, Tasered him a total of eight times, for five seconds each time, over a period of 4-1/2 minutes. “Each time, the [officers] watched … Cabral react with great pain and slide down the wall, seeking protection of the toilet,” the documents read. The Tasering stopped only when the weapon’s battery ran out of charge.

“The officers then left the cell but observed that … Cabral had reacted to the shocks by chewing on the telephone in the cell and observed that he was bleeding from the mouth.”

And so it went. The officers again stormed the cell, this time using an electric stun-gun-type shield that they applied directly to Cabral’s wet, bare skin. Cabral slid to the floor in agony. When that didn’t convince him to leave, Dahl subsequently Tasered him three more times.

Again the officers pulled back, this time to wait for the CHP to show up. Then, all seven officers went into the cell, determined to remove Cabral physically. Cabral was having none of it, continuing rather “to throw water on himself stating that he wanted to play with the water and that it was fun.” Officer Dahl then emptied a 4-ounce can of pepper spray on Cabral, covering his face, head, shoulder and back. Cabral used toilet water to try to wash it off but only got it in his eyes.

When he asked to speak with his mother, the officers said he could if he came out. He did so and was quickly handcuffed. He wasn’t allowed to make the call.

By 3:30 that morning, Cabral had finally been placed in the “safety cell.” It had “little or no light, no furnishings other than a drain in the floor, and no monitoring other than a small sliding window. … The walls had a thin coating of hard rubber.” Cabral was naked.

The rest of the story already has been told—how Cabral, hearing voices from God and still stinging from the spray, charged into the wall head-first, breaking his neck; how he lay on the floor unmoving from about 4:45 that morning until nearly 2 in the afternoon, more than nine hours; and how he told jail staff he was paralyzed and several times asked for help but was ignored.

Cabral’s civil suit names numerous defendants, from the officers at the jail to the heads of various county departments, including Gruendl. The CN&R left messages for several of the attorneys representing them, but only John Whiteside, of the Sacramento firm Angelo Kilday & Kilduff, representing the city of Willows and Officer Dahl, called back.

The firm has filed a motion to dismiss, he said, on the basis that nothing the complaint alleges to have occurred is a violation of federal or state law.

“In layman’s terms: ‘OK, so what?'” Whiteside said.

I won't comment on that sadistic and inhuman comment. It speaks for itself.

But the fact that there are no state or federal laws against torturing mentally ill citizens who are in custody seems to me to be an obvious problem in any country that considers itself to be even moderately civilized.


FYI: This is from the "About Torture" page from Amnesty International:

Methods of torture and its effects

Torture can be physical and include various techniques including: beating, whipping, burning, rape, suspension upside down, submersion into water almost to the point of suffocation, and electric torture with shocks of high voltage on various parts of the body, very often on the genitals.

And it can be psychological, including threats, deceit, humiliation, insults, sleep deprivation, blindfolding, isolation, mock executions, witnessing torture of others (including one's own family), being forced to torture or kill others, and the withholding of medication or personal items.

Physical and neurological complications include soreness of wounds, painful scars, stiffness of limbs and muscles, atrophy and paralysis of muscles, hearing and vision loss, and persistent headaches. Torture survivors suffer psychological symptoms such as feelings of anxiety, guilt and shame, powerlessness in relation to the problems of everyday life, problems with concentration, poor sleep with frequent nightmares, and impotence.

Ok, so what?


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Tales From The Crypt

by digby

Back when this blog only had four readers, I wrote a lot about a crazy neocon fantasist by the name of Laurie Mylroie. She was someone that many people knew to be nutty and whose presence as an authority among the Bushies was an instant tip-off that the Iraq war was a bogus. Once the war became unpopular she disappeared from the scene, but apparently she never went away:

It's a truism that neoconservatives have a talent for failing upward: for repeatedly getting important things wrong and not seeing their careers suffer - for, in fact, being handed new opportunities to pursue their work (see, e.g., Kristol, Bill; and Hayes, Stephen).

Today we can add another name to that list: Laurie Mylroie, the quintessential conspiracy theorist of the Iraq War era, wrote reports about Iraq for the Pentagon as recently as Fall 2007, years after she was discredited, according to documents obtained by TPMmuckraker.

Mylroie is the author of two studies -- "Saddam's Strategic Concepts: Dealing With UNSCOM," dated Feb. 1, 2007, and "Saddam's Foreign Intelligence Service," dated Sept. 24, 2007 -- on a list of reports from the Pentagon's Office Of Net Assessment [ONA], obtained by TPMmuckraker through the Freedom Of Information Act. The ONA is the Defense Department's internal think tank, once described by the Washington Post as "obscure but highly influential."

[...]

Heilbrunn suggests Mylroie has been underappreciated as one of the intellectual progenitors of the Iraq war. "She was one of the original fermenters of the idea that Saddam Hussein had these intimate ties with Al Qaeda," he says.

In the definitive profile of Mylroie, written for the Washington Monthly in 2003, terrorism analyst Peter Bergen locates Mylroie's turn in the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, when she developed her theory that the Iraqi government was behind the attack. Bergen sums up the animating principle of Mylroie's work: that "Saddam was the mastermind of a vast anti-U.S. terrorist conspiracy in the face of virtually all evidence and expert opinion to the contrary." (For a good example of Mylroie Logic, read her Sept. 13, 2001, WSJ op-ed "The Iraqi Connection," in which she argues that Iraq had a hand in 9/11 because ... well, mainly just because.) Bergen goes on:

Mylroie believes that Saddam was not only behind the '93 Trade Center attack, but also every anti-American terrorist incident of the past decade, from the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania to the leveling of the federal building in Oklahoma City to September 11 itself.

Mylroie's theories wouldn't have mattered - except that she had the ear of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Jim Woolsey, et al. Perle blurbed Mylroie's January 2001 book, Study of Revenge: The First World Trade Center Attack and Saddam Hussein's War against America, as "splendid and wholly convincing."

[...]

And how did the Pentagon use Mylroie's Iraq reports? Says DOD: "These reports were part of a multi-scope research effort to identify the widest possible range of analysts whose expertise was likely to generate insights and concepts which would contribute to Net Assessments on-going work to develop and refine trends, risks, and opportunities which will shape future (2020) national security environments."


Richard Clark wrote in his book Against All Enemies how shocked he was when he found out about Mylroie's influence in a meeting in the spring of 2002:

Rice's deputy, Steve Hadley, began the meeting by asking me to brief the group. I turned immediately to the pending decisions needed to deal with al Qaeda. "We need to put pressure on both the Taliban and al Qaeda by arming the Northern Alliance and other groups in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, we need to target bin Laden and his leadership by reinitiating flights of the Predator."

Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld's deputy at Defense, fidgeted and scowled. Hadley asked him if he was all right. "Well, I just don't understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden," Wolfowitz responded.

I answered as clearly and forcefully as I could: "We are talking about a network of terrorist organizations called al Qaeda, that happens to be led by bin Laden, and we are talking about that network because it and it alone poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States."

"Well, there are others that do as well, as least as much. Iraqi terrorism, for example," Wolfowitz replied, looking not at me but at Hadley.

"I am unaware of any Iraqi-sponsored terrorism directed at the United States, Paul, since 1993, and I think FBI and CIA concur in that judgment, right, John?" I pointed at CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin, who was obviously not eager to get in the middle of a debate between the White House and the Pentagon but nonetheless replied, "Yes, that is right, Dick. We have no evidence of any active Iraqi terrorist threat against the U.S."

Finally, Wolfowitz turned to me. "You give bin Laden too much credit. He could not do all these things like the 1993 attack on New York, not without a state sponsor. Just because FBI and CIA have failed to find the linkages does not mean they don't exist."

I could hardly believe it, but Wolfowitz was actually spouting the totally discredited Laurie Mylroie theory that Iraq was behind the 1993 truck bomb at the World Trade Center, a theory that had been investigated for years and found to be totally untrue.


When I used to write a lot about the neocons, I often mused about the mindset that led these kooks to believe that every problem in the world had to be attributed to totalitarian statism. It was as if they could simply could not organize their minds in any other way.

And we are seeing the same thing with the market fundamentalists dealing with the economic crisis. It's not just ideology, although that's a huge part of it. It's a form of psychological rigidity that makes them come back again and again to people who have been proven wrong, as if they simply cannot even consider the possibility that their worldview is incorrect (a characteristic the establishmenst of both political parties unfortunately share to some degree.) Alan Greenspan revealed it in his testimony last October:

In his testimony, Greenspan said that, in light of a crisis he characterized as "a once-in-a-century financial tsunami," he was wrong to think financial markets could police themselves. He incorrectly had expected the discipline of the market would prevent financial institutions from taking life-threatening risks.

Those mistakes raised questions about his most fundamental beliefs, he acknowledged.

Asked by committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, whether his free-market convictions pushed him to make wrong decisions, especially his failure to rein in unsafe mortgage lending practices, Greenspan replied that indeed he had found a flaw in his ideology, one that left him very distressed. "In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology was not right?" Waxman asked.

"Absolutely, precisely," replied Greenspan, who stepped down as Fed chief in 2006 after more than 18 years as chairman. "That's precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence it was working exceptionally well."


That's absurd, of course. The idea that markets are self regulating in the large, macro sense may be true. But here in the immediate everyday world of markets which are run by flawed humans who hold people's wealth and livlihoods in their hands (and central bankers try to control economic health) it's a ridiculous assumption. He's talking about a romantic Randian view that the titans of finance and business are morally clean because they will always behave rationally, which is an assumption worthy of a 16 year old.

That's not just ideology, although it is certainly ideological. That's a rather simple faithbased worldview, which is just as prevalent among the Randian free market fundamentalists as it is among the neocons and the conservative religious groups. It's what draws all these people to conservatism (and I would argue to other rigid ideologies like communism as well.) It's proudly illiberal. And as completely unsuited to times of rapid change even as many people find themselves attracted to it because of that change.

Across the board, in every discipline, conservatism has failed in epic proportions. And yet, over and over again it comes back, in almost exactly the same form, even featuring the same people. It's possible that this time they screwed the pooch so badly that they will be set back on their heels for a good long time and will be forced to reevaluate. But I wouldn't count on it. Their great strength is their ability to doggedly keep going no matter what.

If Laurie Mylroie was still collecting money from US taxpayers for her advice and analysis about Iraq as recently as 2007, anything is possible.

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