Monday, December 8, 2014

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Reading

How Al Franken Won — Patrick Caldwell in Mother Jones reports on how running with your party can make you a winner.

One evening a few days before the midterm elections, Sen. Al Franken stood on a low raised platform at the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s St. Paul headquarters, addressing a few dozen loyal supporters. Chris Coleman, St. Paul’s mayor, had introduced the freshman senator by telling the crowd that Franken had fulfilled the legacy of the late progressive icon Paul Wellstone, whose Senate seat Franken now holds. “Thank you for saying I’ve been your Paul,” Franken replied solemnly. “There’s no higher compliment.” Then he dove into a Wellstone-esque speech selling progressive policy ideas in simple, everyman terms, spelling out exactly how he’d raise taxes on Minnesota millionaires to help students refinance their loans. “We up here believe that the economy—and not just our economy, but our community and our state—it works from the middle up,” he said. The speech exemplified how Franken campaigned—and why he won.

When Franken first ran for office, in 2008, he beat Republican incumbent Norm Coleman by a scant 312 votes—and only after a recount that delayed his Senate induction for six months. Republicans naturally saw Franken as vulnerable heading into the 2014 midterm elections. But Franken defied those expectations. He won re-election by 10 percent in a state where most voters disapprove of President Obama’s job performance. And he pulled it off by bucking the trend. Across the country, other Democratic Senate candidates distanced themselves from President Obama and the Democratic Party platform. Mark Warner, who squeaked by in Virginia, preferred to talk about how he’d tweak the Affordable Care Act than his vote for the bill, while arguing that he hasn’t actually voted with President Obama all that often. Mark Udall in Colorado decided he didn’t want to be seen with Obama. Challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky wouldn’t even say if she voted for Obama in 2012—after serving as one of his delegates to the national convention.

Franken took the opposite approach. Instead of running away from the progressive accomplishments of the Obama era, he embraced them, railing against bankers, advocating for student loan reform—even defending the Affordable Care Act. Franken ran as an Elizabeth Warren-style Democrat, running a populist campaign that didn’t shirk discussion of the specific policies Democrats could pursue to help the middle class. And voters rewarded him. “This wasn’t a safe seat,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in an e-mail. “He earned his victory by being a proud populist Democrat for six years and inspiring voters.”

Whole Foods’ Labor Pains — Michelle Chen in The Nation on the work environment at the grocery chain.

With its dazzling array of exorbitantly priced eco-friendly products, Whole Foods Market fosters a love-hate relationship with customers who’ve gotten hooked on its cornucopia of guilty-liberal indulgences. But the company’s labor relations are even more sour, as workers grow increasingly frustrated that their workplaces aren’t nearly as progressive as the green-branding rhetoric.

Going beyond the usual grumbling about hipster commercialism, some rank-and-file workers are challenging the management to live up to the company’s purported values when it comes to treating its workers fairly.

Last week, dozens of Whole Foods employees in San Francisco partnered with the radical union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) to protest a labor system that they say degrades workers while catering to wealthy consumers, and contributes to the city’s economic polarization. This Friday, they are taking their grievances to the regional corporate office in Emeryville, California. Their demand is simple: “a $5 an hour wage increase for all employees, and no retaliation for organizing their union.” Their message for Whole Foods—to live up to its brand’s much-hyped enlightened capitalist values—is more complicated.

The campaign kicked off at the South of Market Whole Foods, where workers rallied and presented a petition, signed by about fifty employees, demanding better working conditions. Like other retail workers, they say that their earnings, at $11.25 to $19.25 per hour, lag behind the exploding cost of living (about $30 an hour is needed to afford a regular one-bedroom apartment in the area). Today, they plan to threaten further job actions if the management did not heed their concerns.

Whole Foods declined to comment to The Nation. But evangelically libertarian CEO John Mackey has historically taken an anti-labor stance, comparing unions with “herpes.”

Campaigners say that while sustainability is on display on many of the store’s labels, it’s in short supply for employees whose wages cannot provide for their basic needs, even as the company champions green capitalism as a path to prosperity for workers and consumers alike.

Tracking Down the Past — In The New Yorker, Allen Kurzweil goes in search of the boarding school bully who tormented him forty years ago.

In 1971, I met a boy who changed my life forever. I was ten and he was twelve when, for a few indelible months, we roomed together in a British-style boarding school perched on an alpine meadow high above Geneva.

None of the schools I had previously attended—two public, one parent-run, and one private—prepared me for the eccentricities of Aiglon College. Early mornings were given over to fresh-air calisthenics, cold showers, and meditation. Afternoons were reserved for skiing and hiking. A retired opera singer with ill-fitting dentures taught elocution. A Second World War fighter pilot—shrapnel lodged in his shoulder, Bible quotes lodged in his brain—served as the interim headmaster while Aiglon’s founder, a frail vegetarian bachelor drawn to Eastern religions, undertook a rest cure.

A wildly favorable exchange rate made it possible for my mother, recently widowed, to send me to a school far beyond her means. My dormitory housed a Bahraini royal, the heir to a washing-machine fortune, and an Italian aristocrat whose family tree included a saint, a Pope, and several princes.

To neutralize the income inequality of its charges, the school prohibited parents from sending their sons and daughters spending money. That was just one of the dozens of directives and restrictions detailed in “Rules and Ranks,” a thirty-six-page handbook that all students were required to memorize. Minor delinquencies, such as tilting back in chairs, flicking towels, or the failure to wear one’s rank badge on the “left breast at all times,” resulted in fines deducted from the pocket money doled out each Wednesday afternoon. More flamboyant insubordination (“being slimy,” “wolf whistling during meditation,” “loutish behavior”) would lead to “laps,” punishment runs to and from a stone bridge up the road.

Yet none of these gaudy particulars can explain the plastic milk crates filled with documents that litter my office—the physical evidence of a fixation tethered to my fleeting co-residency with a burly Filipino boy, two years my senior, named Cesar Augusto Viana.

How does a middle-class Jewish kid from New York end up at a fancy Christian-inflected boarding school in Switzerland? The truth is, I campaigned to attend Aiglon. The school was situated a snowball’s throw from the chalet inn where my family had vacationed each winter while my father was alive. (A Viennese émigré who had relocated his wife and children from New York to Milan under the Marshall Plan, he died, of cancer, when I was five.) I associated the locale with a bountiful time unburdened by loss.

I had my first noteworthy encounter with Cesar Augusto not long after I dragged my brass-cornered trunk to the top of Belvedere, a dilapidated hotel that the school converted into a dormitory in 1960. Cesar, a returning student with an easy smile, a husky build, and an unruly mop of black hair, took an instant interest in me.

“You know what that tree is used for?” I recall him saying as he pointed at a towering pine out the window of our penthouse room. “If there’s a fire and we can’t use the stairs, I’ll have to throw you into that tree. But don’t worry,” he added. “The small branches at the top will break your fall, and the bigger ones down below will catch you.”

The nightmares started a few days later. To stave off the panic that accompanied lights-out, I took to staring at the comforting glow of my Omega Seamaster, a watch that I had inherited from my father.

There’s no mystery to why Cesar held certain Belvedere boys in his thrall. He knew the ropes. Moreover, he was rumored to be the son of Ferdinand Marcos’s head of security. His name, his size, his command of the school’s pseudo-military regulations, the accuracy he demonstrated when strafing enemies with ink from his Montblanc fountain pen, enabled him to transform our dorm into a theatre of baroque humiliation. Nor is it hard to figure out why he singled me out for special attention. I was the youngest boy in the school. I was a Jew (one of a handful). And I bunked a few feet away.

Up in our room one evening, several weeks into the term, I watched Cesar roll bits of brown bread, filched from the dining room, into pea-size balls. As I remember it, he then lined up the pellets on a windowsill and saturated each with hot sauce. After lights-out, he approached my bunk, cupping the pepper pills in his palm.

“Eat it, Nosey,” he commanded, curving his thumb and index finger around his nose to reinforce the ethnic slur that would become my nickname.

When I refused, he motioned to his sidekick, the lantern-jawed son of an American banking heiress and a Hungarian cavalry officer (and the biggest of our three other roommates), to pin me down. Only after I had swallowed three or four of the fiery pellets did Cesar permit me to rinse my mouth. The force-feeding left me with a bitter taste for days.

[…]

Despite the daily torments, I never complained. Aiglon placed a premium on stoic self-reliance, a code of conduct that was clarified during the first week of school, when my housemaster forced another lowerclassman, bedridden with the flu, to clean up his own vomit.

Only once did I acknowledge my roommate problems. Toward the end of the first term, my mother visited and noticed that I wasn’t wearing my father’s watch. I tried to convince her that I had left it in my room, but she pressed for the truth. I finally told her what happened: One day, after showering, I went to retrieve the watch from under my pillow, stowed there for safekeeping, and discovered that it was gone. I became hysterical. The more upset I got, the more Cesar and his confederate giggled. I pleaded for the watch’s return until Cesar silenced me by making the “Nosey” sign.

Within the week, his henchman admitted that he’d hurled my watch off a balcony on a dare. I ran down the stairs, dashed outside, and dug through knee-deep snow until my fingers turned white and tingly. The watch never surfaced. The loss left me more than bereft. I felt annihilated.

Not long afterward, the sidekick was asked to leave the school, and Cesar disappeared—quarantined, I learned, years later, by a case of measles. I finished out my year at Aiglon without incident—in fact, I loved my final months at the school—and moved back to New York.

It didn’t take long to shed the habits I’d picked up in Switzerland. Plimsolls, anoraks, and rucksacks reverted to sneakers, parkas, and backpacks. The crossbars disappeared from my sevens. Yet reminders of Cesar kept popping up: while watching “Tom Brown’s School Days,” a BBC serial packed with boarding-school abuse; while reading novels for literature classes. (Dostoyevsky’s Prince Myshkin is subjected to cold showers and gymnastics in an alpine sanatorium.) I composed a list of dictators who endorsed the benefits of a Swiss boarding-school education (the Shah of Iran, Kim Jong-un). I found myself wondering, Was Darwin’s theory of natural selection inspired by the adversity he faced at Dr. Butler’s school? Would Orwell’s world view have been so Orwellian had the headmaster of St. Cyprian’s resisted the impulse to break a bone-handled riding crop on the student’s buttocks?

In 1991, while promoting my first novel in Italy, I found myself with a few days off and returned to Aiglon. Much had changed in the twenty years since I’d left. No more laps. No more cold showers. No more rank systems. One thing remained, though—my sense of dread. Looking out the window of the room I had shared with Cesar, I experienced a wave of nausea so intense that I had to sit down for a few minutes with my head between my knees.

The following day, I interviewed a veteran housemistress named Mrs. Senn, a marvel of institutional memory, who diverted me for hours with recollections about the year I spent at the school. One student lost the tips of two toes to frostbite. Another almost died when he fell head first into a seventy-five-foot-deep crevasse. A third was permanently disfigured on the local slalom course after she took a bamboo gate too closely. (“Poor girl. The doctors did what they could, but her nose was never quite the same.”) Mrs. Senn also informed me that my closest friend at Aiglon, Woody Anderson, had tumbled backward down a dormitory stairwell a few months after I left. “Poor, poor Woody,” she said. “He was dead by the time he hit the ground.” When I asked Mrs. Senn about Cesar, she drew a blank. And no one else at the school seemed to remember the boy I couldn’t forget. The visit yielded nothing more than Cesar’s 1973 mailing address in Manila, c/o the Realistic Institute.

Back home, I found a Manila telephone directory at the New York Public Library and discovered that the Kissingeresque-sounding Realistic Institute was actually a “vocational school for hair and beauty culture.” (So much for the family’s connection to the Marcos regime.)

I decided to give Cesar a call. After some dithering—should I start with small talk or get right down to the business of the whipping and the watch?—I dialled his number. Following a few rings and some long-distance static, the line went dead, and with it died the search. I directed my energies toward more pressing matters: writing, marriage, fatherhood.

I started thinking about Cesar again in 1999, soon after my son, Max, turned five. In the middle of a school holiday pageant, a dispute over a Pokémon card incited a boy known around the jungle gym as Thomas the Tank Engine to throttle Max with a necktie.

“How do you deal with bullies?” he asked me that night as I was tucking him into bed.

I didn’t know what to say. Max was looking for counsel from someone who was demonstrably unqualified to provide it. Eventually, I found an answer of sorts; I wrote a children’s book, “Leon and the Spitting Image,” in which a boy battles a thuggish composite of the real-life goons who had terrorized us. When the book was released, in 2003, I visited classrooms around the country and discovered that bullying had become a topic of national discussion. During the Q. & A.s, each time I mentioned that the antagonist in my book was inspired by an actual nemesis, hands shot up: What was the worst thing he did? Did you tell on him? Where is he now?

Read the rest of the story.  For those of us who endured such torment, it leaves a permanent mark.

Doonesbury — the danger zone.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sunday Reading

Saturday Mornings at Ten — Mary Norris fondly remembers calling in to “Car Talk.”

For years, “Car Talk” has served as the Saturday-morning cartoons of my adult life. If I am home, I turn on the radio at ten, and I don’t turn it off until I’ve wasted another hour listening to Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, and heard the complete list of fake staff members: Marge Inaverra, the bookkeeper; Pickup Andropov, the Russian chauffeur. If I am leaving on a trip, I time my departure so that I can listen in the car. Like Tom, the older of the Magliozzi brothers, who died this week at the age of seventy-seven, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, I like to drive with the windows open.

Click and Clack stopped making new shows a few years ago, but the best segments of old shows are still on the air, and “Car Talk” still sounds fresh to me. Maybe, like Tom, I have a touch of Alzheimer’s. (Ray was the first to make a joke about how his brother really did not remember last week’s puzzler.) I follow “Car Talk” on Facebook, where they post pictures of eccentric cars sent in by fans. I wish I had sent them my shot, taken in Howard Beach, of the car in the shape of an avocado before someone else did. There’s also a funny-sign contest. I could have sent in “ASS COLLECTION,” the segment of crawl on the L.E.D. sign outside an optical shop in Rockaway that you see only if you’re stopped at the red light at exactly the right moment (“DESIGNER SUNGL … ASS COLLECTION”).

I called “Car Talk” for advice once about my ’85 Ford Escort, which I had dubbed the Death Trap. It had a lot of problems, number one being that it was so rusty that parts were always snapping off, but the car was always cheaper to fix than to replace. Sometimes, it would just be dead on arrival: that is, on my arrival at wherever I had parked it to try to start it up and go someplace. I suspected a bad connection—if I opened the hood and took off my shoe and whacked the engine, sometimes it started. Success depended on the style of shoe. When that didn’t work, I’d call AAA (not to be confused with A.A.), and they’d send a tow truck, and the driver would shake his head and say that a jump would not take me very far, and then he’d tow the car to some cavernous garage on the far West Side, near the car pound, and the mechanics would fleece me for the cost of a new battery and an alternator.

It wasn’t easy to get on “Car Talk,” I discovered. I was not put through to Click and Clack at Car Talk Plaza. Instead, I was instructed to leave my name and number and a brief description of my problem. The calls were prearranged—no doubt by their producer, Doug (Bongo Boy) Berman—but the guys heard the problems for the first time on the air. I soon realized that my problem was nowhere near entertaining enough for “Car Talk.” I was competing with the guy in Brooklyn who parked on the street in a car that drove only in reverse. And the woman in Colorado who was looking for a used stretch limousine so that she could roll up the window between the driver and the passengers and not have to listen to her grandchildren bickering. And the woman in Maine, or somewhere, who drove to the grocery store, parked and locked her car, did her shopping, and only when she came back out to load the groceries into the car saw that there was a rat in it. Eek!

But the idea of calling Click and Clack had the same effect as drafting a letter to Ann Landers: it was enough to make me figure things out for myself. Obviously, I should get rid of the Escort before it got rid of me. My next car was a 1990 Honda Civic—not the most boring car on the road, according to Tom and Ray (that distinction was reserved for the Toyota Corolla)—and my problem with it was not the car but the mechanics. Informed through the mail that I had an unpaid parking ticket, I requested a copy of the original summons, and, sure enough, the ticket was acquired while the car was in their hands. One of the mechanics must have been running an errand (a test drive?) and parked the car illegally somewhere I had no reason to go. What do you do when your mechanics stiff you with a parking ticket? Do you confront them? Or do you shut up and pay?

I paid the ticket and kept the mechanics, and my local stand-ins for Click and Clack (decidedly not educated at M.I.T.) never overcharged me, even though they knew I loved that car and would spend any amount of money on it. I think they loved the car, too. Once, when I picked it up, I found in the back seat a gift of men’s cologne from Lacoste, the company with the crocodile insignia (or is it an alligator?). It was shortly after Valentine’s Day, and I hypothesized that the second-generation mechanic had received it from a girlfriend while on a date in my car. Should I return it? Why? He obviously didn’t want it or he wouldn’t have left it there. Regift it to a friend with a February birthday, without telling him of its provenance? That seemed slightly cynical, but better than the more forthright “Happy Birthday! My mechanic left this in my back seat.”

I wonder what Tom would think of the new speed limit in New York City: twenty-five miles per hour unless posted otherwise. “Whaddya kidding?” he’d say. “You’d be lucky to get a car up to twenty-five miles per hour on the streets of New York City!” And then the laugh.

Tom will drive off into the November afternoon today as Ray does a show in his memory. The Best of “Car Talk” will play on, like the classic it is.

Now What? Steve Coll on what the president can do with two more years.

The Republicans won a clean technical knockout against a hamstrung opponent, but they pranced as if they’d walloped Joe Louis in his prime. Party spokesmen described the victory as a referendum on Obama’s failed leadership. That was spin, yet Obama does deserve much of the criticism he has taken for his party’s defeat. Before the midterms, amid public scares over Ebola and ISIS, approval of the President’s performance sank. He was late to lead in these crises and he failed to inspire swing voters with his successes: for one, his Administration is presiding over the fastest-growing economy in the industrialized world.

Now Obama seems at risk of running out his time in office by accepting dutifully the shrinking boundaries of his Presidency. Last Wednesday, at a press conference in the East Room, he spoke about how, even without congressional support, his Administration might yet improve customer service at government offices—an aspiration so small that it would sound sad if voiced by a mayor of Topeka. Asked about being called a lame duck, Obama replied, “That’s the label that you guys apply.” He outlined a modest legislative agenda that might be pursued with Republican coöperation, if such a thing could be obtained: infrastructure spending that would create high-paying jobs, a raise in the federal minimum wage, and programs to expand early-childhood education and to make college more affordable.

In private, Obama and his aides are discussing a different agenda, one that could be achieved without Congress, through regulation and executive orders, such as the ones he has already signed to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers and to triple the government’s use of renewable energy. Separately, the E.P.A. has proposed to reduce carbon emissions from electricity plants by thirty per cent before 2030, which could hasten the country’s transition away from coal, if the regulations are seen through. In the aftermath of the Ferguson crisis, civil-rights groups have pressed the White House to order the Justice Department to end racial profiling in federal law enforcement. And the President is reportedly considering two exceptionally bold ideas: to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay and to temporarily normalize the legal status of undocumented immigrants who have been living and working here for years. These proposals would require enormous political tenacity, but would greatly elevate Obama’s legacy.

[…]

Last week, McConnell said that if Obama acted unilaterally he would so inflame Republicans that it would be like “waving a red flag in front of a bull.” Obama’s choice of sports metaphor involved basketball. He’s playing in the fourth quarter, he said, but “the only score that matters” is how he serves the American people. The President has always preferred to win his points through legislative process. Bill Clinton, who faced Republican majorities in both houses of Congress for six of his eight years in office, signed three hundred and sixty-four executive orders; Obama has signed a hundred and ninety-one. The reality now is that either Obama outruns McConnell’s bulls or he waddles down Pennsylvania Avenue like a certain duck.

 Why Not Al Franken?  Charlie Pierce thinks he’d make a great president.

Brother Dave Weigel points out that Al Franken ran a populist campaign for re-election — straight, no chaser. His ads were direct, and their message was impressively disciplined. (It also helped that the Republicans ran the perfect foil for Franken’s message, a guy who makes Willard Romney look like Henry Wallace.) If you’re looking for a way to do this, Franken and his people have written the primer. So here’s what I’m thinking — why don’t we hear Franken’s name bandied more about as a Democratic presidential possibility in 2016? I suspect that the chances of Martin O’Malley, Esquire’s Favorite Politician ™, rather cratered the other night when his lieutenant governor got whipped, largely because he was a terrible candidate, but also because he was lieutenant governor under, ahem, Martin O’Malley. Senator Professor Warren doesn’t want to run, even though the most compelling conclusion to be drawn from the blasted landscape of the Democratic campaign is that running away from her particular economic message is disastrous, no matter where you happen to be running. Franken showed through his campaign how you embrace the themes on which Warren has based her career in the context of a political campaign.

Since arriving in the Senate, Franken clearly has made the decision to be a workhorse, and not a show pony, which was something that his friend and mentor, the late Paul Wellstone, once told me was the first decision any new senator has to make. You can’t run for president without showing a little show pony. Maybe he doesn’t want to do that. But given the choice between the coronation of Hillary Clinton, and the suddenly desiccated range of options, it’s hard not to see a space for Franken to run. Hell, back in the day, he even wrote a novel about a Franken Presidency. Was he kidding on the square? Good enough? Check. Smart enough? Check. The fact that this would cause Bill O’Reilly’s head to detonate in a gorgeous orange fireball is merely a bonus.

Doonesbury — Tobacco states.

Friday, November 7, 2014

How Did He Sneak In?

Maryland doesn’t top the list of hard-core right-wing nutsery havens; not like some places I can think of (*cough-Texas-cough*), so how did the good people of Anne Arundel County, the home of Annapolis, let this guy out of the pen?  Via C&L:

[Michael] Peroutka is a radical Christian Reconstructionist, a Southern secessionist, and has claimed in the past that “so-called civil rights laws” aren’t valid because “there is no such thing as civil rights.” This man, who wound up as the newly elected to the Anne Arundel County Council in Maryland, has claimed that promoting evolution is an “act of disloyalty to America” and said that SCOTUS Justice Anthony Kennedy “hates God” because “he thinks he is God.” Peroutka, not above the querulous paranoia so rampant on the right wing today, cleverly refers to being gay as a “deathstyle” and has claimed in the past that they’re out to “recruit your children.”

Toss in a beheading (or stoning; if he’s a good Reconstructionist, he supports a return to Mosaic law, punishments included) and Maryland voters basically elected the Christian cousin to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

[…]

Peroutka has argued and continues to argue that since state legislatures have passed laws like marriage equality that “violate God’s law,” the Maryland General Assembly isn’t “a valid legislative body” and, therefore, none of the law that it passes are “legally valid and legally enforceable.” It’s very easy for a legislature to violate Peroutka’s view of God’s law, by the way. The government has a very clear purpose: protect God-given rights, enforce and obey God’s law, and not to “house, feed, clothe, educate, or give healthcare . . .  [to] ANYBODY!”

Sounds like a great guy.

My guess is the he was on the ballot along with a whole list of names and people just checked him off the way they do in county elections without knowing anything about the candidate.  Maybe they’ve seen his campaign signs along the street or in front yards and they figure, “hey, what the hell, that name is familiar,” and then move on to the question over the dog park.

Ah, democracy.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Not Every Democrat Lost

Via digby, here’s a little bit of news that might cheer you up at least until the first e-mail from the DCCC arrives begging for money for the next campaign:

One trend that was interesting last night is that clear, strong progressives like Jeff Merkley (OR), Tom Udall (NM), Brian Schatz (HI) and Al Franken (MN)– who had massive right-wing money thrown at them– won, while conservative Democrats like Mark Warner, Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan stumbled and the most conservative Democrat of all, Mark Pryor, lost badly. In the House, conservative Democrats– Blue Dogs and New Dems– lost everywhere, even in Democratic districts. Almost all of Israel’s Red-to-Blue recruits lost, as did many of his Frontline incumbents.

Democrats who ran as Democrat won, and won big.  So the lesson is not only did the ones who were wishy-washy about their party lose or have really close races, they might have won or done better if they had energized their base as much as the Tea Partiers did.

Every time the GOP or Karl Rove ran an ad, complete with scary music and deep voices saying “Joe Garcia (or whoever) supported Obamacare,”  the Democrats should have come back with “You bet your ass he supported Obamacare; it’s working and people are paying less for their insurance, too.  Not to mention the unemployment numbers are down, the deficit has been cut in half, the stock market is through the roof, and gas is under three bucks a gallon.  So if you want to tie me to Barack Obama, go right ahead.”

Give the Democrats some red meat, they’ll show up.  They’re not all a bunch of tree-hugging tofu-and-granola eating DFH’s.

Of course, Jon Stewart was all over it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Cold Hard Facts

From Charlie Pierce:

Let us dispense with some conventional wisdom before it petrifies. First of all, the president’s basic unpopularity was unquestionably a factor, but not anywhere near as much of a factor as was the reluctance of the Democratic party — from the president on down — to embrace the actual successes that the administration has achieved. The economy is, in fact, improving. It is the responsibility of the president and his party that we have the paradoxical polling that indicates that the elements of the Affordable Care Act are popular, while “Obamacare” is not. (Mitch McConnell told a transparent lie that Kentucky could get rid of the ACA and still keep its very popular state exchange. He didn’t suffer at all for that.) The senatorial candidates who lost were senators who ran away from the administration. Alison Lundergan Grimes wouldn’t say if she’d voted for the president. Kay Hagan endorsed the Keystone XL pipeline. Michelle Nunn practically ran as an independent. How much worse could it possibly have been for all of them had they stood by the president and his record? How much worse could it possibly have been for them had the president come to campaign for them?

[…]

…I hate to break this to Tom Brokaw, and to Kasie Hunt, who talked about how the Republicans know they have to “govern,” but this election couldn’t have been less of a repudiation of the Tea Party. As the cable shows signed off last night, it was dawning even on the most conventional pundits that the Republicans had not elected an escadrille of Republican archangels to descend upon Capitol Hill. It was more like a murder of angry crows. Joni Ernst is not a moderate. David Perdue is not a moderate. Thom Tillis is not a moderate. Cory Gardner — who spiced up his victory by calling himself “the tip of the spear” — is not a moderate. Tom Cotton is not a moderate. And these were the people who flipped the Senate to the Republicans. In the reliably Republican states, Ben Sasse in Nebraska is not a moderate. Several of these people — most notably, Sasse and Ernst — won Republican primaries specifically as Tea Partiers, defeating establishment candidates. The Republicans did not defeat the Tea Party. The Tea Party’s ideas animated what happened on Tuesday night. What the Republicans managed to do was to teach the Tea Party to wear shoes, mind its language, and use the proper knife while amputating the social safety net. They did nothing except send the Tea Party to finishing school.

The Republicans will try to repeal Obamacare.  They will try to roll back marriage equality and LGBT rights.  They will block attempts to raise the minimum wage.  They will ban immigration for anyone except white Christians.  And just because they can, they will try to impeach the president because they have nothing more important to do than to show that middle-aged W.A.S.P.’s are the ruling class and they will finally teach that uppity NiClang a thing or two.

Just as the Democrats are famous for under-reaching and not taking credit — and even apologizing — for their accomplishments, the Republicans consistently over-reach, which has done as much good for them in the past as under-achieving has for the Democrats.  That is, of course, if the voters will even notice.

Hard To Make It Look Good

Dylan Scott at TPM:

With few exceptions, 2014 turned out to be the worst possible scenario for Democrats. The Senate is not only back in the hands of Republicans, but with a margin of seats over Democrats that only the most optimistic scenarios envisioned. Governorships that Democrats expected to wrest from Republicans proved out of their reach, but worse yet they stunningly lost gubernatorial races in solidly blue states.

Heading into Election Day, everybody seemed to agree that Republicans had the edge, but it could go either way. Democrats had a plausible if unlikely path to Senate victory, and a promised silver lining in red state governor races. But at midnight on Wednesday, that conventional wisdom looks almost laughably dated. Republicans won almost every meaningful race and, even in a few where they lost, they made Democrats sweat more than anyone expected.

Ousting Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and avoiding what would have been an unbelievable upset of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) are about the only small morsels that Democrats can hold onto. Otherwise, the map couldn’t have been any worse for Democrats — or better for Republicans.

So I won’t even try.  Seriously; Rick Scott again?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I Voted

Voted 10-25-08

It took me an hour to get from my office to the polling station, but I made it.

On the way in to the polling station a local candidate spotted my Bark Bark Woof Woof polo shirt (get yours here) and said he reads the blog.  He proved it by citing some posts.  Thanks, it’s good to be noticed.

The actual voting took about ten minutes; two pages of fill-in bubbles for everything from governor to local parks.  Done and done.

Tell me how it went in your area.

Predictions

Blogging 3 AMI’m not a pollster, I’m not a political scientist, I’m barely a pundit.  The only thing I have in common with Nate Silver is that we’re both gay and Detroit Tigers fans.  Other than that, I’m just some guy with a blog typing away in the wee hours of the morning.

But I’ve also been watching the midterm election campaign with varying degrees of interest, focusing less on individual races and more on the overall character, so to speak, of the electorate and what’s been making up the whole mise en scene, if you will.  (I am, after all, a theatre scholar with a PhD in dramatic criticism, so I can at least look at this election from that point of view.)  Plus, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the election of 1964, the first election I really paid attention to as far as issues were concerned.  Civil rights, for instance, mattered to me when I was 12, somehow knowing that I would be touched by the fight for equality.  I didn’t dream that marriage equality would ever be something on the ballot, but then, I didn’t know that I was gay… at least openly.

Anyway, since then I’ve paid attention to and even participated in a number of campaigns and in doing so I’ve acquired a sense of how the election will turn out, and sometimes I’ve been proven right.  It isn’t based on percentages or any of the algorithms that Nate and the other pollsters use.  It’s just a gut feeling, and about as scientific as reading the entrails of a goat are in predicting the mood of the gods.  But I’m also pretty sure that when you get down to it, all those pollsters and algorithms rely on their gut reactions, too.

So here goes.  I think the Republicans will win the Senate but not by a lot; maybe one seat.  I think the race in Colorado between Mark Udall (D) and Cory Gardner (R) will be very close but in the end Mr. Gardner will win.  In Iowa, the pig castrating Joni Ernst (R) will also win, bringing the Tea Party nutsery quotient in the Senate up, which will make the life of the Majority Leader complicated.  That will probably be Mitch McConnell (R), who will survive his race in Kentucky against Alison Lundergren Grimes (D), so fair warning: when the TV channels switch to cover his victory speech, you’re going to see a zoological wonder: a turtle smiling.  (Grab the remote; there’s gotta be a re-run of The Big Bang Theory on somewhere.)

I think the Senate race in Georgia between Michelle Nunn (D) and David Perdue (R) will be very close.  In Georgia, you need 50% plus one to win, so there could be a run-off.  I’m thinking the Republicans will prevail because it’s Georgia and even with a large African-American turnout that might favor the Democrats, the white male vote will be out there, as will the evangelicals, and you know how they roll.  The run-off is in January… after the Senate in Washington is seated.

The Louisiana race is, like the state itself, unique.  It isn’t actually a general election, it’s an open primary, which means that the winner has to be the first to the finish line and there will most likely be a run-off.  Mary Landrieu (D) is polling in the 40%, which means the final election in December will be between her and the closest Republican.  So there is a chance that we won’t have a final tally until after the new Senate is sworn in.

There are other races that are really close, but I think that the Kansas race between Pat Roberts (R) and Greg Orman (I) will end with Mr. Roberts losing, and I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Gov. Sam Brownback (R) will be sent packing, along with his Tea Party solutions for screwing up the state’s economy.  In New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen (D) will survive the challenge from former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) so he can go back to posing for centerfolds.  I also think the winds are with Kay Hagan (D) against Thom Tillis (R) in North Carolina.  In Arkansas, it looks like Mark Pryor (D) will lose narrowly to Tom Cotton (R).  What’s interesting about those two states is that they are trending in opposite directions: North Carolina is inching closer to being Democratic — they went for Obama in ’08 — and Arkansas, home of Bill and Hillary Clinton — is turning right.

The races for governor will be a referendum on the gang that rode in on the Tea Party wave in 2010: Rick Snyder (R) in Michigan, John Kasich (R) in Ohio, and Scott Walker (R) in Wisconsin, and of course Rick Scott (R) down here in Florida (more about that later).  My thinking is that all three of the Midwesterners will survive with the only chance for an upset being in Wisconsin.  Both Snyder and Kasich benefit from having lackluster or flawed opponents, and both Michigan and Ohio have a maddening tendency for the electorate to vote against their own self-interests.

Then there are governor’s races where it’s hard to believe that the Democrat could lose but it might well happen.  Those include Massachusetts where Martha Coakley (D) has blown a huge lead over Charles Baker (R).  The thinking is that while she might have the right ideas for governing, she’s just not a very good candidate.  Connecticut finds incumbent Dan Malloy (D) fighting for his career in a rematch from 2010 against Tom Foley (R) and a recently-withdrawn independent.  And in Maine, they could very well re-elect Paul LePage (R) in a three-way against Michael Michaud (D), the first openly gay candidate to run for that office and Eliot Cutler (I) who is in it, apparently, for his own ego.  Mr. LePage has been described charitably as a Tea Partier on crack, and in other circles as an ironclad douchecanoe.  With all due respect to the good people of Maine, what the hell is wrong with you if you re-elect that whack-job?

And speaking of whack-jobs, welcome to Florida.  Here we have one of the most unappealing governor’s race in the country, pitting the felonious Rick Scott (R) against Charlie Crist (D… for now) who has lived up to the attack ads that the Scott campaign and the outside groups are running against him.  Yes, he’s changed parties and positions in the last four years, but it tells you even more about Mr. Scott when such a chimera can run ahead if the latest polls are to believed.  It could easily end up in a recount and we all know how the Sunshine State does with that hot mess.

Even if Mr. Crist does win, he’ll be up against a probable Republican super-majority in the Florida legislature that will be in no mood to deal kindly with someone whom they see as a traitor to their party.  Expect a lot of vetoes, overrides, and a strong temptation for South Florida to take up the idea of splitting off and working out a deal with the Bahamas.

There is one congressional race here in Florida that strikes close to home.  Freshman Rep. Joe Garcia (D) in the 26th district — the one next to mine — is in the race of his life against Carlos Curbelo (R), who currently occupies a seat on the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Board of Education.  Discretion and gerrymandering keeps me from taking a position on this race.

Oh, and speaking of local races, the council race in my little Village of Palmetto Bay has gotten so nasty that even Karl Rove would be embarrassed.  This is what happens when you have an election where the stakes are so low.

There are interesting ballot measures in a number of states including “personhood” amendments that would grant citizenship to a clump of cells; ironically, these are proposals put forward by people who would deny the same rights to actual children who happened to be born somewhere else and brought to America by their parents.  Here in Florida there’s a proposed amendment to the state constitution to allow for medical marijuana.  But since it requires 60% approval and it’s currently polling in the mid-50’s, I don’t expect it to pass.  Bummer, dude.

If there’s any consolation in store for the Democrats who are bracing themselves for a hangover tomorrow, it’s that history has proved that presidents in their sixth year face opposition parties running the Congress no matter if he is a Republican or Democrat.  As Rachel Maddow noted in her opening segment last night, every two-term president since the end of World War II has had that problem.  So while President Obama’s poll numbers are in the 40’s, he’s not alone in being the beast of burden for the country’s sour mood.  It even happened to Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower.  So, it’s not just you, Mr. President; it’s history.

If you made it all the way through this, now’s your turn to chime in with your predictions on races in your own area or the ones that I missed.  If you’ve already voted, either today or in the weeks past, share with us the experience (if not your choices).  I know that between now and the times the polls close we’re going to hear breathless reporting about big turnouts that turn out to be average or even below average.

Have at it.

This Is It

Finally.  It’s Election Day.  If you have not already done so, go vote.  If you don’t know where your polling place is, check here.  Get a voter’s guide and take it with you.  You’re allowed to have it with you in the voting booth.

If you don’t know who you’re voting for, remember this: the people who think the opposite of the way you do about the economy, health care, reproductive rights, marriage equality, the environment, education, immigration, taxes, guns, and everything else you hold dear DO know who they’re voting for.  And they are going to vote.

If you don’t vote, then you give up any right to complain about how shitty things are in your town, county, state, or country for the next two years at least.

Short Takes

ISIS executes 36 Sunni tribesmen.

The head of the W.H.O. criticized the drug industry for putting profit before treating Ebola.

Breakthrough? Nasal spray Ebola vaccine works on monkeys.

Kentucky judge dismisses complaint from Grimes campaign over McConnell mailer.

SpaceShip2 crash linked to faulty deployment of wing.

This is it.  Go vote.

Monday, November 3, 2014

How About That

There’s a Christian conservative in Alabama who thinks the state’s proposed constitutional amendment against “foreign laws” (hint hint Sharia) is a bad idea.

Via ThinkProgress:

Randy Brinson, the president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama — one of the state’s largest network of conservative evangelicals — is one of the religious figures lending his voice to the opposition campaign. In an interview with the Birmingham News this week, Brinson said that the effort to pass Amendment 1 is “just silliness,” adding that “it’s all something that lawmakers can trumpet back to constituents that they’re protecting Christian values, but they need to be working on other stuff.”

“Sharia law is not going to be implemented in Alabama, it just isn’t,” Brinson said. “This is a tremendous waste of effort… My frustration is that people — good people — get behind something like this just because they want to score political points with the Christian community. But it’s redundant — you don’t need to amend the constitution to address these issues. I just don’t think they thought through this particular thing.”

Plus, Brinson opposes Amendment 1 because he believes it would communicate to other countries that Alabama doesn’t respect their laws. He also worries the measure could impose additional barriers on people seeking to complete foreign adoptions, get married abroad, or conduct business with colleagues outside the United States’ borders.

There’s hope yet.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sunday Reading

Campaigning with Ebola — Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker on scare tactics.

When does Ebola look like a gift? Apparently, when you are a Republican candidate for the Senate who sees it as a handy pretext for bringing up immigration politics while scaring people into voting for you. Thom Tillis, in a campaign debate in North Carolina with Senator Kay Hagan, put it this way: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got an Ebola outbreak. We have bad actors that can come across the border. We need to seal the border.” In New Hampshire, Scott Brown started off by conjuring up ISIS fighters slipping through spongy borders, then casually switched to Ebola-sickened hordes. “One of the reasons why I have been so adamant about closing our border,” he said, “is because if people are coming through normal channels—can you imagine what they can do through a porous border?” Both ISIS and Ebola provoke enough anxiety for most people to contemplate them without being goaded. There are, however, no reported instances of Ebola-infected immigrants crossing illegally from Mexico, and, with ISIS fighters busy in Iraq and Syria, it’s possible but not likely that they’re hanging out in Ciudad Juárez, planning a raid on Arizona, as Representative Trent Franks maintains. But, as Franks and his fellow-Republicans demonstrated, you don’t need to construct a plausible or even a coherent scenario to deploy such threats for political ends.

The Democrats were not entirely immune from such temptation. Campaign ads and a few candidates—including Senator Mark Udall, of Colorado—implied that Ebola surveillance would have been better coördinated if the Republicans hadn’t managed to cut the budgets of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That apportionment of blame wasn’t strictly accurate. Funding for the N.I.H. and the C.D.C. hasn’t always kept pace with inflation in recent years, but, in some budgets, Congress allocated them more money than the Obama Administration had requested. Still, at least such tactics centered on the agencies responsible, and didn’t engage in the old practice of conflating disease and foreignness.

The medical historian Howard Markel notes that “Chinese immigrants were once linked to bubonic plague and hookworm, Mexicans were thought to be infested with lice, and Russian Jews were seen as somehow especially vulnerable to tuberculosis and—a favorite wastebasket diagnosis of nativists in the early 1900s—‘poor physique.’ ” Taking advantage of such associations, which were almost never based on legitimate science, nativists helped pass the Immigration Act of 1924, the racist law that imposed quotas on the basis of national origin—Asians were completely excluded—and governed U.S. immigration until 1965. Senator Patrick McCarran, of Nevada, a co-sponsor of the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, which, among other provisions, made it easier to bar immigrants who had chronic diseases, offered a metaphor that made explicit immigration law’s preoccupation with purity. Immigration was a stream, he said, adding that if it “is healthy, the impact on our society is salutary; but if that stream is polluted our institutions and our way of life become infected.”

Politicians now know better than to talk openly about immigration in terms of purity and contagion, but they still make the connection. This summer, as unaccompanied minors from Central America began arriving in large numbers at the border, Representative Phil Gingrey, of Georgia—a doctor, as it happens—wrote a letter to the C.D.C. in which he said that the influx “poses many risks, including grave public health threats,” and claimed that many of the children lacked basic vaccinations such as those for measles. In fact, the vaccination rates for measles in Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico are around ninety per cent, which means that children from those countries are about as likely to be vaccinated as children in the United States are. Undoubtedly, some of the kids were sick, or suffering from malnutrition and other ailments associated with poverty, but they were not an invading army of germ warriors.

[…]

While fears of Ebola—a disease from which one person in the United States has died—clouded the campaign like one of those imaginary miasmas to which doctors once attributed illness, real dangers seemed to slip from view. The latest school shooting, on October 24th, in Washington State, generated almost no discussion on the campaign trail, especially not of gun control. Just a week earlier, researchers affiliated with the Harvard School of Public Health had published findings showing that mass shootings in the United States—those in which the shooter did not generally know the victims, and in which at least four people were killed—have tripled since 2011. Over the past three years, a mass shooting has occurred, on average, every sixty-four days; over the previous twenty-nine years, one occurred every two hundred days. Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman, who became a gun-control advocate after she was wounded in a shooting in which six people died, toured the country in the run-up to the elections, calling for tighter legislation in order to help save lives. Not a single candidate joined her.

Get The Smelling Salts — Leslie Savan at The Nation on how Republicans and Fox react to the obvious.

NEWS FLASH: The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans.

And now that some Democrats are daring to point that out, in ads and interviews, the media is grabbing its smelling salts.

Mercy me! they’re crying—it’s unseemly for Southern candidates to mention that black people face discrimination, voter suppression and even violence in the Old Confederacy.

In an interview yesterday, Chuck Todd asked Senator Mary Landrieu, now locked in a tight race in Louisiana, “Why does President Obama have a hard time in Louisiana?” Fossil-fuel hawk Landrieu first cited Obama’s moratorium on off-shore drilling after the BP disaster, which she said put a lot of people out of business. Then, she ventured:

I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.

“Why is she talking like this?” Fox News host Bill Hemmer asked incredulously this morning. A guest came on to explain, “She is excusing her poor performance by blaming voters.”

It can’t be because it’s true.

Even the host of an Al Jazeera news show today, while not doubting the veracity of Landrieu’s comment, treated it like a gaffe, a bad one, and had an expert on to decide if Landrieu’s campaign was now doomed. (The verdict: maybe.)

More predictably, Republicans are shocked, shocked at Landrieu’s audacity. Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal called the remarks “remarkably divisive” and “a major insult” to Louisianans. “She appears to be living in a different century,” he said in a statement.

“Louisiana deserves better than a senator who denigrates her own people by questioning and projecting insidious motives on the very people she claims to represent,” State Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere said in a statement. “Senator Landrieu and President Obama are unpopular for no other reason than the fact the policies they advance are wrong for Louisiana and wrong for America.” And of course there’ve been demands that Landrieu apologize. (Do not do this, Mary.)

It’s not that people, left or right, shouldn’t object to Obama’s policies. But the claim that whites in the South, or elsewhere, hate Obama’s policies (many of which are Republican-bred) and are color-blind to his race is ludicrous. But they can get away with it in part because of the persistent myth that this is a post-racial America, the one the Supreme Court decided was so enlightened that it gutted the civil rights voting law and has allowed the voter ID laws in Texas to stand.

Right after making her “inflammatory” remarks about African-Americans, Landrieu went out on another limb and said of the South, “It’s not always been a good place for women to present ourselves. It’s more of a conservative place.” But even if Landrieu were pandering to blacks and women to get them to the polls, so what? Her statements are true and obvious. And this is an election.

“As You Wish” — Reflections on The Princess Bride and how it became a classic.  Caitlin Kelly in The New Yorker reports.

“The Princess Bride” has found a special place in the pop-culture pantheon, but it was not an easy or straightforward process. William Goldman’s screenplay floundered in development, passing from studio to studio and from director to director until, finally, it was taken up by Rob Reiner. When the movie opened, in 1987, it didn’t tank at the box office, but it didn’t take off, either—the kind of mediocre performance that dooms most movies to three-for-ten-dollar bins at drugstores. But in the years that followed “The Princess Bride” found new life on VHS, slowly accumulating an audience whose enthusiasm for the story and, especially, for the many quotable moments, that would make “Princess Bride” a cult classic.

Those quotable moments are also the reason why the movie’s fame has been amplified in recent years by the Internet, which specializes in distilling a movie to its catchiest phrase or its most sharable GIF. People found plenty of material in scenes like the epic Battle of Wits between Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) and the masked hero, Westley (Cary Elwes), and Peter Cook’s “mawwage” ceremony.  The movie is so eminently quotable that, in 2012, ESPN analysts spent a whole episode of “NFL Kickoff” referencing it as many times as they possibly could—a moment that was itself shared and lauded online for days. In a new book about the making of the movie, “As You Wish,” Elwes (or perhaps his co-writer, Joe Layden) writes, “Looking back I only wish the Internet had existed in 1987. I suspect that social media would have raised awareness of the film’s unique quality and helped propel it to blockbuster status.”

“The Princess Bride” has come full circle in recent years, finding the movie-theatre audiences that eluded it twenty-seven years ago with a series of “Quote-Alongs” by Alamo Drafthouse, a small cinema chain based in Austin. Think “Rocky Horror,” but safe for kids—although there were very few of those in the audience at the screening that Elwes hosted earlier this week to promote his book.

“It appears that ‘The Princess Bride’ has aged remarkably well,” Elwes said onstage at the Long Center, in Austin (and broadcast to the rest of the Alamo outposts around the country, including the one in which I sat, in Yonkers). “So have you!!!” a few women in the theatre shouted back. They spoke the truth, but such spontaneous displays of appreciation—for Elwes or for the movie—were highly discouraged by the organizers: “You are not funnier or smarter than this movie—do not try,” they said. Instead, they outlined the night’s sanctioned outbursts: booing along with the old hag, ringing tiny bells for all the gross kissing stuff, groaning in the Pit of Despair, blowing bubbles as Princess Buttercup floats gracefully down to freedom at the end, and smacking our foreheads at each “Inconceivable!” (unfortunately spelled “Iconceivable” in the accompanying PowerPoint presentation) along the way.

This sort of blatant capitalization on nostalgia might seem lame, but there is no denying the pleasure to be gained from shouting, “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die” in a crowded theatre while waving a comically oversized inflatable sword (starting with the weapon in your left hand, of course, before switching to your right). Subtitles appeared during key moments, but the audience was encouraged to quote along with as much of the script as they liked, or remembered. One man in my theatre made sure everyone was aware of the extent of his scholarship by reciting each line a split second early. While this didn’t necessarily mar the experience, it was certainly satisfying to hear him mess up halfway through.

During a Q. & A. session after the screening, Elwes gamely shared some anecdotes from the making of the movie, complete with spot-on impersonations of André the Giant, Rob Reiner, and the soft-spoken British nurse who tended to his toe after an unfortunate A.T.V. accident. (The A.T.V. was also given a convincing voice.) Seeing and hearing Elwes recount these moments was far more entertaining than reading about them in “As You Wish.” Elwes did not keep a journal during the filming of “The Princess Bride”; instead, he explained, his most important memory aid was a bound volume of all the call sheets from the set, provided to him by the producer Norman Lear. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that many of the exchanges in the book have all the excitement and introspection of work schedules. Some of the sharper moments are provided by outside voices. On the page where Elwes is imagining William Goldman’s emotional state on the first day of filming, Goldman himself acerbically weighs in via a sidebar (a device used throughout the book): “I don’t know how to talk to actors; most of them are half phony. So I don’t like being on a movie set. Never have.”

Aside from Goldman’s unease, the “Princess Bride” production sounds like a fun time, but there are only so many times one can read about what a joy it all was before your eyes start to glaze over. I imagine that, had Instagram and Facebook been around in 1986, Elwes’s every status update would have been earnestly punctuated with “#blessed”: “Working with Bill Goldman and Rob Reiner, a dream come true #blessed”; “Accidently broke my toe today but Rob was so understanding #blessed”; “So #blessed to be surrounded by such talented, extraordinary people on this #blessed project #blessed.” The height of on-set tension in the book is, quite literally, an overcast day of shooting in England. All the drama—the fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles—was saved for the silver screen.

Doonesbury — Facebook Friends.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Close Ties

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi got along really well with lobbyists.

Partners with a powerful Washington, D.C., law firm aren’t registered as Florida lobbyists, but that hasn’t stopped them from wining and dining Attorney General Pam Bondi the past four years to discuss clients.

Bondi dropped suits or declined to investigate cases after numerous behind-the-scenes interactions with the firm, Dickstein Shapiro, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

A Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald review shows none of the partners were registered to lobby in Florida, meaning their advocacy may have violated state law. They won’t be prosecuted unless someone files a sworn complaint with the state.

Cases involving Dickstein Shapiro clients that fizzled in Florida include Accretive Health, a Chicago-based hospital bill collection company shut down in Minnesota for six years because of abusive collection practices; Bridgepoint Education, a for-profit online school that Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said had engaged in “unconscionable” sales practices; Herba­life, which had been investigated by federal and state authorities; and online reservation companies, including Travelocity and Priceline, on allegations that they were improperly withholding taxes on hotel rooms booked in the state.

Since 2011, Dickstein Shapiro has contributed $122,060 to the Republican Attorneys General Association, a super PAC that contributed $750,000 to Bondi’s re-election bid. She sits on RAGA’s executive committee.

[…]

It’s not the first time questions have arisen about how Bondi intermingles politics with her official duties.

She persuaded Gov. Rick Scott to postpone an execution in 2013 so she could host a political fundraiser. At about the same time, Bondi accepted $25,000 from Donald Trump three days after a spokeswoman said she would be reviewing a complaint filed by the New York attorney general against Trump’s for-profit schools. Though they’ve received complaints in Florida as well, Bondi’s office has yet to take action.

Look at it this way: she saved Florida taxpayers millions of dollars by not taking them to court, and those companies made millions of dollars by ripping off the people of Florida with scammy products and not paying taxes.  It’s the glibertarian’s dream come true.

The election is in five days.  Pam Bondi will win re-election in a walk.  That’s how we roll in Florida.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Doomsday Preppers

Democrats and progressives are steeling themselves for waking up a week from today and seeing the Senate in Republican hands and Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority Leader.  The theme is “Hey, look on the bright side: the Republicans won’t be able to do anything and they’ll get killed in 2016.”

There are multiple reasons for this, but they all have their roots in the fundamental dilemma that has plagued the GOP throughout Barack Obama’s presidency: the contradictory demands of appealing to a broad electorate and appeasing an eternally angry and suspicious base. The tension this creates will play out in new ways if and when Republicans take over the Senate.

[…]

That leaves Republicans with the following dynamic: They pass bills meant to mollify their supporters, the bills are filibustered by Democrats and the bills die. Other than stopping Obama administration appointments (something significant, particularly when it comes to judges, but one that gets a limited amount of attention), Senate Republicans will have little to show their base.

The problem with that theory is that the Republicans don’t really care if they pass any bills or accomplish anything.  They haven’t done any of that in the last eight years and they keep getting re-elected.  Why mess with a good plan?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Law School

Via Steve Benen’s weekly feature “This Week In God” comes the news that Alabama has a proposed state constitutional amendment what would ban “the application of foreign laws” that might violate the state or federal constitution.

Although they don’t specify what “foreign laws” are the focus, we all know they’re talking about Sharia law.

This isn’t just about prohibiting “the application of foreign laws”; this is about anti-Muslim paranoia. In recent years, the threat of “creeping Sharia law” has been common in right-wing circles – it was even an element of Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential platform – and now Alabama voters are being asked to change their state Constitution to enshrine that paranoia into law.

There’s a little problem with this amendment aside from the fact that it’s couched in religious bigotry.  By not going full-tilt anti-Muslim in the text and winking at it by saying “foreign laws,” they open themselves up to some unintended consequences.

Remember Judge Roy Moore?  He’s the Alabama Supreme Court chief justice that got himself some shameless self promotion by insisting on having the Ten Commandments posted in his courtroom.  After that ended badly for him, he planted a stone marker the size of a washing machine on the courthouse lawn with the commandments carved into them.  He was standing up for the law that he claims should be the basis for all the laws in America.  However, legend has it that the Ten Commandments were written down by a Jewish guy who was born and raised in Egypt and spent the rest of his life in the Middle East.  Never made it to the United States and missed participating in the drafting of the United States Constitution by a few thousand years.  So they would fall under the definition of “foreign laws.”

Not only that, the basis of American laws and our legal system including trial by jury and the presumption of innocence come from the English legal tradition.  We’re not talking about the language they are written in (even though they do throw around a lot of Latin); we’re talking about the country of England: home of the Magna Carta, also a foundation of our laws, and the people we fought two wars with to keep them out of America.  Sounds pretty foreign to me.

So if the people of Alabama are bound and determined to excise “foreign law” from their legal system in an effort to keep out Sharia, they’ve got their work cut out for them.

Short Takes

New York Gov. Cuomo changes Ebola quarantine rules to allow for home isolation.

Second victim dies from Washington school shooting.

Canadian shooter made video prior to attack on Parliament.

Michelle Obama campaigns for Democrats.

Lava inches closer to homes in Hawaii.

The Giants shut out KC to make the Series 3-2.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Second Amendment Solution

Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst — she of the pig castration fame — says she’s ready to stand her ground.

In a newly released video from a 2012 National Rifle Association event, Iowa Republican senate candidate Joni Ernst said that she would use a gun to defend herself from the government.

“I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important,” Ernst said at the rally, which was held about a month after James Holmes allegedly murdered 12 people in Aurora, CO.

I get the part about defending herself against an intruder, but from the government?  Does that mean she’s going to pull a gun on a cop that gives her a ticket for a busted taillight?  Draw down on the census taker or the IRS?

Paul Waldman asks the same question.

The problem with this new quote is that it borders on anti-democratic. I don’t care how many times you praise the Founding Fathers or talk about your love of the Constitution, if you think that the way to resolve policy differences or personal arguments with the government is not just by trying to get different people elected or waging a campaign to change the laws or filing suits in court, but through the use of violence against the government, you have announced that you have no commitment to democracy. In the American system, we don’t say that if the government enacts policies we don’t like, we’ll start killing people. It’s not clear that Ernst meant this, but it’s fair to ask her to explain what she did mean.

There’s a real chance she could be the next senator from Iowa.  Do the good people of Iowa really want someone who thinks the best way to protect themselves is by having gunshots flying?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Early Voting

I don’t mean early voting as in at 4:00 a.m.; I mean the two weeks before Election Day:

Why wait? Vote early!

Early voting allows for two weeks of voting before Primary or General Election Day at one of 25 convenient locations. Registered voters can go to any early voting location.

If you’re here in Miami-Dade, go here to find out a location convenient for you.  Not only will you get to vote at your leisure, chances are that the phone calls and solicitations from candidates will stop.  Win-win.

HT to Bryan for the reminder.