Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Nailing the job interview, Zonker Harris-style


by Ken

As last week's Doonesbury Classic reminded us, there was a moment there, back in 1982, when the core players were contemplating the leap from college to the real world, when it looked as if Zonk's future might lie in -- surely the least probable of the callings he's bumped up against -- um, software?

MONDAY -- "Maybe you can break the kiln"

Doonesbury     by G. B. Trudeau

TUESDAY -- "Careful, Zonk, you'll peak before the interviews"

Doonesbury     by G. B. Trudeau

WEDNESDAY -- "Well, I'm off for my interviews"

Doonesbury     by G. B. Trudeau

THURSDAY -- "So you'd like to break into the commodities field?"

Doonesbury     by G. B. Trudeau

FRIDAY -- "Who could argue with 'remarkable'?"

Doonesbury     by G. B. Trudeau

SATURDAY -- "How long have you been interested in software?"

Doonesbury     by G. B. Trudeau



Osama's secret stashes


On May 20, 2015, the ODNI released a sizeable tranche of documents recovered during the raid on the compound used to hide Usama bin Ladin. The release, which followed a rigorous interagency review, aligns with the President’s call for increased transparency–consistent with national security prerogatives–and the 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act, which required the ODNI to conduct a review of the documents for release.

The release contains two sections. The first is a list of non-classified, English-language material found in and around the compound. The second is a selection of now-declassified documents.

The Intelligence Community will be reviewing hundreds more documents in the near future for possible declassification and release. An interagency taskforce under the auspices of the White House and with the agreement of the DNI is reviewing all documents which supported disseminated intelligence cables, as well as other relevant material found around the compound. All documents whose publication will not hurt ongoing operations against al-Qa‘ida or their affiliates will be released.

Now Declassified Material (103 items) [see list onsite]

Publicly Available U.S. Government Documents (75 items) [see list onsite]

English Language Books (39 items) [see list onsite]

[plus Material Published by Violent Extremists and Terror Groups (35 items), Materials Regarding France (19 items), Media Articles  (33 items), Other Religious Documents (11 items), Think Tank and Other Studies (40 items), Software and Technical Manuals (30 items), Other Miscellaneous Documents, and Documents Probably Used by Other Compound Residents (10 items)]
-- from the website of the ODNI
by Ken

As you've undboutedly heard, a veil has begun to be lifted over the stuff Osama bin Laden left behind in his final hideaway in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Suddenly we're privy to a cache of e-mails sent and received and a stash of 39 English-language books he kept.

Who knew we could go to the Web page of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for dish? I actually find this more interesting than the revelations so far revealed regarding the late Osama bin Laden, revelations that included both assorted documents and the titles of 39 English-language books that formed an odd little library of sorts linked to Osama in the Abbottabad compound to which he was traced and in which he was killed by Navy SEALs.

Note for the record that the ODNI Web page specifies:
This list contains U.S. person information that is being released in accordance with the Fiscal Year 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act (section 309) requirement that the Director of National Intelligence conduct a declassification review of certain items collected during the mission that killed Usama bin Ladin on May 1, 2011, and make publicly available any information declassified as a result of such review.

All publications are unclassified and available commercially or in the public domain.

The U.S. Intelligence Community does not endorse any of the publications on this list.
By now everyone, his brother, and his butcher has had a shot at analyzing Osama's English-language bookshelf for what the titles reveal about, well, goodness-only-knows-what. You can google a dozen or two of those. My favorite theory, though, is provided by Daniel W. Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, in a washingtonpost.com "PostEverything" post, who had a shock of recognition looking at the mini-library and from personal experience recognized "Osama bin Laden, perpetual impoverished grad student."

While acknowledging that "if there is a common theme to his English-language library, it’s great power war and imperial decline" ("that fits both his conspiracy books and his more conventional selections"), he's struck by the "scattershot nature" of the selections.
There were other quality books on empire that bin Laden should have had in his possession given that he was so invested in this topic. Why this odd mix?
And that's when the light bulb lit.
[A]s I perused this mish-mash of conspiracy tomes, quasi-conspiracy tomes, radical texts, mainstream bestsellers, and the occasional hidden gem, it struck me as an off-kilter, but very familiar mix.

And that’s when it hit me: this is the precise collection of books you would find if you went to a used bookstore and bought out the entire international relations section.

Any former graduate student who trolled used bookstores in search of bargains while living off of a modest stipend in the days before Amazon.com knows what I’m talking about. The search for book bargains never ends for impoverished grad students.
And for Professor Drezner, the pieces all fit together: Osama's known "deep frustration with the isolation at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan" and al-Qaeda's reputation as "a remarkably stingy operation in terms of its expenses and reimbursement procedures."
And he imagines a scene inside the Abbottabad compound beetween Osama and courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti:
BIN LADEN: I’m bored. There’s nothing to do here.
AL KUWAITI: So go read a magazine.
BIN LADEN: I’ve read every magazine three times now. Even the porn ones are getting old.
AL KUWAITI: Fine, I’ll go get you some new stuff.
BIN LADEN: No, I need books to study the enemy. Go and fetch me some books on the fading American Empire.
BIN LADEN: But don’t spend too much, OK?
BIN LADEN:  Seriously, nothing from Barnes and Noble. Go to an independent bookstore. Wait, better yet, a used one!
BIN LADEN: And make sure you get a receipt.
AL KUWAITI: Fine!!!!
Actually, I'm so tickled by the professor's nifty theory that I've devoted much more space than I intended to what has been revealed by the DNI. Because I'm more interested in what hasn't been revealed.


This is the most obvious omission. It's conceded that the Big Guy had a porn stash. For some reason, though, the ODNI watchdogs have declined to release any more information about it. Not only is this disappointing for both bin Laden and smut enthusiasts, it misses a prime opportunity to build traffic on the ODNI website. They'll miss all those extra clicks they could have had when they start accepting advertising.

Here's how the Daily Mail reported the smut story:
U.S. officials refuse to release details on the 'extensive' porn collection found in Osama bin Laden's Pakistani bolt-hole, because of the 'nature' of the smut. . . .

While it was widely reported that Navy SEALs recovered a large digital collection of sex videos from the compound when they staged a secret mission to kill bin Laden in 2011, the U.S. government says it is not going to describe or release details on any of the pornographic materials.

'We have no plans to release that at this point in time,' Brian Hale, a spokesman for the DNI, told The Telegraph, 'Due to the nature of the content the decision was made not to release it.'

Officials also refused to describe what kind of porn was kept in the bin Laden household.

Just two weeks after bin Laden was shot dead inside his Abbottabad compound, Reuters reported that pornography was recovered from the property. At the time, the collection was described as 'fairly extensive,' containing many modern videos.

It's estimated that bin Laden lived in the house with about 22 others, so it's unknown whether bin Laden actually watched any of the tapes.

However, the detail painted the al Qaeda leader as a hypocrite, since watching porn clashed with his fundamentalist image. 


My sources, who are unimpeachable and pinky-swear that they didn't just make this up, insist that there was another, even more secret English-language library, which for some reason remains classified. What distinguishes this group, apparently, is that all of these books are inscribe -- though apparently all in variations of the same hand, described as "like a third-grader's, or someone who's not writing in his native script."

For example, the first title on the list, Stephen Raichlen's Barbecue! Bible, is said to be inscribed: "Nobody can dry-rub and slow-roast a slab of mean like the O-man. XOXO, Steve." And The Fountainhead is inscribed: "This is one hot broad, Osama, baby. I'll never forget our long sessions together. Your workout body, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan." And the Martha Stewart volume is inscribed: "In remembrance of our times together in the chicken coop. Yours ever, Martha."

The Barbecue! Bible (Stephen Raichlen)
The Bridges of Madison County (Robert James Waller)
Winston Churchill: The Wit and Wisdom of
Fifty Shades of Grey (E. L. James)
The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
The Gilmore Girls Companion (A. S. Berman)
The Godfather (Mario Puzo)
Going Rogue: An American Life (Sarah Palin)
The Little House Collection Box Set (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Male Grooming: Fabulous Tips on Looking Great (Ed West)
Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide 1996
The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch (Michael Wolff)
Men Are Stupid . . . And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman's Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery (Joan Rivers with Valerie Frankel)
The Metrosexual Man: A Head to Toe Guid to Male Grooming and Manscaping (Gabriel Villa)
The Mill on the Floss (George Eliot)
Rachael Ray's Look + Cook
Remembrance of Things Past (Marcel Proust)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Coloring Book
Seinfeld Ultimate Episode Guide (Dennis Bjorklund)
Martha Stewart Entertaining
Take My Wife, Please! Henny Youngman's Giant Book of Jokes
Titanic and the Making of James Cameron (Paula Parisi)
The Valley of the Dolls (Jacqueline Susann)
The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy (Bill Carter)
You Might Be a Redneck If (Jeff Foxworthy)
You: Staying Young: The Owner's Manual for Extending Your Warranty (Michael Roizen and Dr. Oz)


More Magic From Bernie Sanders-- An Economic Agenda


This morning, just before Bernie Sanders' official declaration of candidacy, John Harwood got to ask him 10 questions for CNBC. Here are a few of the most relevant to American voters looking for a better opportunity for the future:
HARWOOD: After the revolution, what does it look like? What do you see happening to the 1 percent?

SANDERS: What is my dream? My dream is, do we live in a country where 70 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent of the people vote? Where we have serious discourse on media rather than political gossip, by the way? Where we're debating trade policy, we're debating foreign policy, we're debating economic policy, where the American people actually know what's going on in Congress? Ninety-nine percent of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent. Top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much as wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Does anybody think that that is the kind of economy this country should have? Do we think it's moral? So to my mind, if you have seen a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent, you know what, we've got to transfer that back if we're going to have a vibrant middle class. And you do that in a lot of ways. Certainly one way is tax policy.

HARWOOD: Have you seen some of the quotations from people on Wall Street, people in business? Some have even likened the progressive Democratic crusade to Hitler's Germany hunting down the Jews.

SANDERS: It's sick. And I think these people are so greedy, they're so out of touch with reality, that they can come up and say that. They think they own the world.

What a disgusting remark. I'm sorry to have to tell them, they live in the United States, they benefit from the United States, we have kids who are hungry in this country. We have people who are working two, three, four jobs, who can't send their kids to college. You know what? Sorry, you're all going to have to pay your fair share of taxes. If my memory is correct, when radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the highest marginal tax rate was something like 90 percent.

HARWOOD: When you think about 90 percent, you don't think that's obviously too high?

SANDERS: No. That's not 90 percent of your income, you know? That's the marginal. I'm sure you have some really right-wing nut types, but I'm not sure that every very wealthy person feels that it's the worst thing in the world for them to pay more in taxes, to be honest with you. I think you've got a lot of millionaires saying, "You know what? I've made a whole lot of money. I don't want to see kids go hungry in America. Yeah, I'll pay my fair share."

HARWOOD: If the changes that you envision in tax policy, in finance, breaking up the banks, were to result in a more equitable distribution of income, but less economic growth, is that trade-off worth making?

SANDERS: Yes. If 99 percent of all the new income goes to the top 1 percent, you could triple it, it wouldn't matter much to the average middle class person. The whole size of the economy and the GDP doesn't matter if people continue to work longer hours for low wages and you have 45 million people living in poverty. You can't just continue growth for the sake of growth in a world in which we are struggling with climate change and all kinds of environmental problems. All right? You don't necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country. I don't think the media appreciates the kind of stress that ordinary Americans are working on. People scared to death about what happens tomorrow. Half the people in America have less than $10,000 in savings. How do you like that? That means you have an automobile accident, you have an illness, you're broke. How do you retire if you have less than $10,000, and you don't have much in the way of Social Security?
Also this morning, as the clock ticked down to Bernie's 5pm rally in Burlington, MSNBC's Steve Kornacki made the case for his candidacy on the network's website, acknowledging that the challenge against Hillary-- "the most overwhelming non-incumbent front-runner either party has seen since the dawn of the modern nominating process"-- is Herculean. "[W]hile the odds that he’ll actually defeat her are vanishingly slim, he may nonetheless be better-positioned than any other Clinton challenger to at least make her break a sweat."
It’s easy to dismiss Sanders as nothing more than a niche candidate, an avowed “democratic socialist” with a diehard following on the far-left. Raising money will be a challenge and Sanders will rely heavily on modest contributions from grassroots donors. His outsider posture and distance from the Democratic establishment also means he won’t be reeling in many high-profile endorsements. (Just last week, Vermont’s Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, snubbed Sanders and threw his support to Clinton.) Nor does Sanders have much of a campaign infrastructure in place right now.

But write him off completely at your own peril, because Sanders actually has a few things working in his favor. There’s his message, for one thing, a frontal assault on the political system and a pledge to directly combat the “billionaire class.” This is hardly new talk from Sanders, who has been on Capitol Hill for 24 years now, but the climate has shifted since the 2008 economic meltdown and income inequality, wealth concentration and corporate power are unusually prominent in the national debate. And with economic anxiety still high and rampant frustration with Washington’s paralysis, there’s a potentially wide opening for a damn-the-system crusade like Sanders is leading.

It’s more than that, though. There’s also his personality and his image – grumpy demeanor, disheveled appearance, disinterest in discussing anything not related to policy, contempt for personal questions. He is the antithesis of a packaged political candidate and his authenticity is a powerful tool. Look at it this way: Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is poised to join Sanders in the Democratic race later this week, is planning to stress many of the same economic themes as Sanders. But which one of them sounds like he means it more? Sanders’ team can’t afford polling yet, but they are quick to point to his strong favorable/unfavorable scores in public surveys as proof of his potential appeal.

In this sense, Clinton’s seeming invincibility makes her the ideal opponent for Sanders. All of the attributes that contribute to her strength-- her bottomless bankroll, her legion of high-powered endorsers, her extensive connections to the country’s financial elite, her marriage to a former president-- mark her as the embodiment of the political establishment against which Sanders defines himself. Plus, her strength has kept the Democratic Party’s brightest non-Hillary White House prospects-- like, say, Elizabeth Warren-- on the sidelines, making it easier for Sanders and his message to stand out.

His appeal is broader-- or potentially broader-- than most assume. In Vermont, Sanders has built a formidable coalition not only of Democrats and liberals but also of economically downscale conservative white voters. Here it’s worth noting that Sanders routinely votes against gun control measures and ventures into culture war politics rarely and grudgingly.

The good news for Sanders is that he’s gained more early polling traction than any of the other Clinton challengers-- O’Malley, former Virginia Senator James Webb, and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee. He’s also shown himself to be a star on social media, where his policy ruminations regularly go viral, and his team bragged of bringing in $1.5 million in the 24 hours after his announcement of candidacy last month. His team hopes to raise $50 million this year-- not nearly enough to rival Clinton, of course, but plenty to build out full-fledged operations in all of the early primary and caucus states.

At a minimum, the Sanders team believes he’ll be able to emerge as the de facto non-Clinton candidate. Already, there are encouraging signs for them on this front. A recent Iowa poll put Sanders at 14%, more than O’Malley, Webb and Chafee combined; and a New Hampshire poll gave him 18%, more than doubling up the other three. (That said, he still trails Clinton by around 50 points.)

The venues for the lead-off contests are favorable for Sanders: Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with small, rural populations that aren’t too different from Vermont, where Sanders has now won ten statewide elections. The leftward, activist-oriented bent of Iowa’s Democratic caucus electorate is well established; it’s the state where Clinton finished in third place in 2008 the beginning of the end of her first presidential campaign. And right on Iowa’s heels will come New Hampshire, where Democrats already know Sanders as their next-door neighbor.

Realistically, Sanders could fare surprisingly well in these two states, knock the other non-Hillary candidates out of the race, then gobble up 20-to-30% in primaries and caucuses throughout the spring and arrive at the convention with hundreds of delegates-- enough to command attention and shape the platform.
Earlier today, we sort of asked if you believe in magic. Music and magic could help, but contributions from ordinary working people are what's going to give Bernie a chance to compete. Can you help?

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Believe In The Magic That Can Set You Free-- Bernie!


In a few hours Bernie Sanders will officially kick off his presidential campaign back home in Burlington. Virtually no one in the political universe thinks he has a chance to beat Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic primary. Unless... and there are a lot of possibilities that could open up the race in an unexpected way. Wikipedia has a page dedicated to the endorsements for the Democratic Party primaries, 2016. Nearly the entire page is made up of people and organizations backing Hillary Clinton-- including progressive icons like Howard Dean, Al Franken, Tammy Baldwin, Raul Grijalva, John Lewis, Judy Chu, Ted Lieu and Mike Honda. Celebrities include Robert De Niro, Elton John, Lady Gaga, Bill Maher, George Clooney, Beyoncé, Barbra Stresiand, Dustin Hoffman, Nicolas Sarkozy, Chris Rock, Sharon Osbourne, RuPaul and... Nevada's Moonlite BunnyRanch. Bernie's endorsers may not have the pizzazz of a RuPaul, but they are trusted communicators-- like Thom Hartmann, Ed Schultz, and Bill Press-- and political activists-- like Ben and Jerry, the founders of Ben and Jerry's, Jody Evans (founder of CODEPINK), Bill McKibben, Marianne Williamson, Matt Taibbi, Mark Ruffalo, and John Nichols.

The Associated Press ran an article yesterday asserting that Bernie "is laying out an agenda in step with the party’s progressive wing and compatible with Warren’s platform-- reining in Wall Street banks, tackling college debt and creating a government-financed infrastructure jobs programme." It isn't untrue but it misses the point: Bernie has been creating that agenda and platform for many decades. He's not trying to fit a mold. The mold is largely modeled on him. Sanders was founding the Congressional Progressive Caucus long before you had ever heard of Elizabeth Warren, unless you took one of her classes at Harvard. But this is how the media frames the story:
Whether Sanders can tap into the party’s Warren wing and influence Clinton’s policy agenda remains unclear. But he has been on the forefront of liberal causes as Clinton has seemed to be tacking to the left.

Clinton regularly refers to an economic deck stacked against American workers-- rhetoric that offers comparisons to Warren’s frequent description of the economic system being “rigged” against middle-class families.

Sanders has joined with Warren to drive opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade proposal, arguing it would ship jobs overseas. Clinton has avoided taking a specific position on the trade deal.

The Vermont senator has introduced legislation to make tuition free at public colleges and universities, a major piece of Warren’s agenda. The free tuition would be covered by a mix of state and federal money and paid for by higher taxes on Wall Street investment firms, hedge funds and other financial transactions. Clinton’s campaign has signalled that she intends to make debt-free college a major piece of her campaign.

But not all of Bernie's ideas are easy for Hillary to even mouth. Yesterday, writing for Truthout, Dean Baker used one-- the Robin Hood tax-- to demonstrate why many grassroots progressives so fervently prefer Bernie to Hillary.
Last week Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont and only announced challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, took a strong stand for everyday people. He proposed a financial transactions tax (FTT), effectively a Wall Street sales tax, and to use the revenue to make public colleges tuition free.

While making college affordable to low and middle income families is important, the proposal for an FTT is a real game changer. There is no single policy that would have anywhere near as much impact in reforming the financial sector. A FTT would effectively impose a sales tax on stocks and other financial assets, so that speculators have to pay a tax on their trades, just like people who buy shoes or clothes.

There are three points people should understand about a FTT. The first is that it can raise an enormous amount of money. A FTT could be imposed at different rates. Sanders proposed following the rate structure in a bill put forward by Minneapolis Congressman Keith Ellison. Eleven countries in the European Union are working to implement a set of FTTs that would tax stock trades at a rate of 0.1 percent and trades of most derivative instruments at the rate of 0.01 percent.

Extrapolating from a recent analysis of the European proposal, a comparable tax in the United States would raise more than $130 billion a year or more than $1.5 trillion over the next decade. This is real money; it dwarfs the sums that have dominated most budget debates in recent years. For example, the Republicans had been trying to push through cuts to the food stamp program of $40 billion over the course of a decade. The sum that can be raised by this FTT proposal is more than thirty times as large. The revenue from a FTT could go far toward rebuilding the infrastructure, improving the health care system, or paying for college tuition, as suggested by Senator Sanders.

The second point is that Wall Street will bear almost the entire cost of the tax. The financial industry is surely already paying for studies showing the tax will wipe out the 401(k)s held by middle income families. This is nonsense. Not only is the size of the tax small for anyone not flipping stock on a daily basis, research indicates that most investors will largely offset the cost of the tax by trading less.

Most research shows that trading volume falls roughly in proportion to the increase in transaction costs. This means that if a FTT doubles the cost of trading then the volume of trading will fall by roughly 50 percent, leaving total trading costs unchanged. Investors will pay twice as much on each trade, but have half as many trades. Since investors don’t on average make money on trades (one side might win, but the other loses), this is a wash for the investor.

While most middle income people don’t directly trade the money in their retirement accounts, they do have people who manage these funds. The research means that the fund managers will reduce their trading, so that the total costs of transactions that are passed on to the investor remain roughly constant. This means that the financial industry will bear almost the entire cost of the tax in the form of reduced trading volume.

This gets to the last point: a smaller financial industry is a more efficient financial industry. The purpose of the financial industry is to allocate money from savers to companies that want to finance new investment. As the industry has exploded in size over the last four decades there is no reason to believe that it has gotten better in serving this basic function. In fact, the stock bubble at the end of the 1990s and the housing bubble in the last decade might suggest that it has gotten worse.

A study from the Bank of International Settlements and more recent research from the International Monetary Fund find that a bloated financial sector slows growth. An oversized financial sector pulls resources away from more productive sectors of the economy. People who could be engaged in biological research or developing clean technologies are instead employed on Wall Street designing computer programs to beat other traders by a microsecond to garner profits at their expense. A FTT will make much of this activity unprofitable, encouraging people to turn to more productive work.
That's bold leadership, not tepid political calculation. And it's why Blue America is helping Bernie raise funds for his campaign. Please consider helping here. This week, writing for Mother Jones, Kevin Drum shared some fascinating research into the political complexion of our country these days. "A pair of grad students," he wrote, "surveyed 2,000 state legislators and asked them what they thought their constituents believed on several hot button issues. They then compared the results to actual estimates from each district derived from national surveys."
Everyone-- both liberal and conservative legislators-- thought their districts were more conservative than they really were. For example, in districts where 60 percent of the constituents supported universal health care, liberal legislators estimated the number at about 50 percent. Conservative legislators were even further off: they estimated the number at about 35 percent.

Why is this so? The authors don't really try to guess, though they do note that legislators don't seem to learn anything from elections. The original survey had been conducted in August, and a follow-up survey conducted after elections in November produced the same result.

My own guess would be that conservatives and conservatism simply have a higher profile these days. Between Fox News and the rise of the tea party and (in the case of universal health care) the relentless jihad of Washington conservatives, it's only natural to think that America-- as well as one's own district-- is more conservative than it really is. But that's just a guess. What's yours?
The platform that Bernie Sanders is running on is very much what Americans believe in, and the direction he wants to move the country in is the direction most people want to see the country move in. It's a shame we have an electoral system designed to minimize all that. Want to help? Blue America has a page for that.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Honoring the true spirit of Memorial Day: Everyone bought a mattress, right?


Shaun Hiltner, manager of the Rockville Pike Mattress Warehouse, begins his Memorial Day commemoration by posting sale signs in Rockville (MD). Darting through traffic to post signs, says Shaun, is "the most deadly part of being a mattress salesman," which is widely known to rank with tight-rope walking, bomb defusing, and census-taking as one of the highest-risk occupations.

by Ken

As the Memorial Day weekend draws to a close, most Americans staring at themselves in mirrors or selfies will be asking themselves the question that looms so large for us during this holiday season: Did I buy a mattress over the weekend?

The Washington Post's Monica Hesse was all over the story ("It’s Memorial Day weekend, and these mattress salesmen will not rest").
Early on the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, at approximately the same time that a Rockville mattress salesman named John Pattammady was telling himself that the decision not to hire the cheerleaders had been the correct judgment for this particular mattress event, another Rockville mattress salesman named Shaun Hiltner was blowing up a 35-foot-tall inflatable vinyl giant whose official name was Mattress Man.

“Nice,” he said, appraising the figure, which dominated the front of the Mattress Warehouse where he was store manager.

Already this morning he had darted into traffic to stake six dozen “sale” signs along the highway exit. (“The most deadly part of being a mattress salesman,” he said.) Already he had lofted a promotional weather balloon 40 stories above the shopping plaza. John, for his part, had spent the previous evening staking his own signs in front of his store, Mattress Fame, as well as acquiring many small American flags for appropriate festivity. (“You can get them down at the dollar store,” he said.)

It was one of the mattressiest weekends of the year on one of the mattressiest stretches of the region. A three-mile strip of Rockville Pike contained Shaun’s store, John’s store, a Sleepy’s, another Sleepy’s, a Mattress Discounters, another Mattress Discounters, a Savvy Rest and a Healthy Back, and every store was competing for the customers who trudged between them carrying holiday circulars or humming jingles. . . .
Those trudging customers are, of course, the living embodiment of the Spirit of Memorial Day. But the true mattress professional that those trudgers can never be taken for granted. "If the weather's too nice," cautions John Pattammady of Mattress Fame, "everyone will go to the beach." And John knows, reports Monica Hesse, that among the Memorial Day observers who shun the beach,
when it came to mattresses, you never could guess with a customer. He had seen men driving Jaguars and wearing $300 shoes come in and demand to spend no more than $200 on a mattress.
John's Rockville competitor Shaun Hiltner of Mattress Warehouse also knows the rigors of dealing with participants in the Memorial Day mattress ritual. Here's Monica again:
To be a mattress salesman over Memorial Day was about being an educator and a therapist, Shaun believed. Peering behind what buyers said they wanted, into the depths and desires of the long-weekend suburban American psyche.
This is clearly not a vocation for the faint of heart. Brian Foley, the assistant manager at Mattress Warehouse, learns the hard way that shoppers are not to be trusted. He had to seek counsel from Shaun, his boss, to deal with a young couple who --
were trying to make their first joint mattress purchase — a very firm one, please — but they tried several without success, and eventually Brian was stumped. “Shaun?” he called. “Do you have any suggestions?”

Shaun had a feeling, related to a salesman slogan he’d once heard: “Buyers are liars.” It didn’t mean people intentionally lied. It meant sometimes they didn’t know what they wanted until they were lying on it — so he tried the firm-mattress couple on a slightly softer bed.
“Oh, this is nice,” the boyfriend said.

“You want to feel something really nice?” Shaun said, and led them across a few aisles.

“Oh, wow,” said the girlfriend, lying down on the appointed mattress.

“I never expected this out of a bed,” said the boyfriend.
Instead of buying something very firm, they’d fallen in love with a $2,000 “luxetop plush microcoil,” one of the softest beds in the store.
Is it any wonder that Memorial Day is such a fraught holiday? Oh, the horror! The mattress wars are hell, and Monica has many more war stories to share, from just the first day of this year's commemoration. Why, it's a wonder that any of these folks make it through the whole weekend to tell their tales.

What could say "Memorial Day" more than the age-old ritual of the Tying of the Sale-Priced Mattresses on the Car Roof?


GOP candidates flip-flop in the breeze -- all except Scott Walker, who just lies


With a Doonesbury bonus: The deep roots
of modern conservative policy-making

"None of the leading Republicans," says E. J. Dionne Jr., is willing to offer a more fundamental challenge to the party’s rightward lurch over the past decade."

"Unfortunately for the Republican Party and the country, [Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker’s careful parsing of shape-shifting counts as one of the cerebral high points of the debate among the party’s 2016 presidential candidates."
-- E. J. Dionne Jr., in his Washington Post column
"The right's political correctness"

by Ken

In case you're coming late to Governor Walker's "shape-shifting," it's the lying scumbag's way of explaining that he's not a "flip-flopper," not he!, no way, no matter how often or how conveniently he may change his positions on any subject to suit alterations in the political temper of the moment. As E. J. Dionne Jr. explains the governor's position -- and I'm going to trust him, in part because I consider him a highly trustworthy observer and for the rest because I'm damned if I'm going to watch the vile sack of filth:
“A flip would be someone who voted on something and did something different,” the Wisconsin governor explained last week on Fox News. His altered views on immigration don’t count because he is not a legislator. “These are not votes,” he helpfully pointed out.

E.J., declaring this "sheer brilliance!," goes on to note a lucky -- for Governor Walker, that is -- coincidence:
Other than former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Walker’s major rivals at the moment are Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.). They have all cast lots of votes. So Walker can accuse them of flip-flopping while claiming blanket immunity for himself.
If the governor had an honest cell anywhere in his lying carcass, he could have offered the simpler and truer explanation that when he takes a position, only his all-consuming self-servingness comes into play, and never the truth, except possibly for his apparently inborn aversion to it. And as a right-winger, he has official sanction to lie, which he exercises at all opportunities except when he's cornered and can't come up with a suitable lie.

I assume E.J. doesn't feel it necessary to point out the obvious: that Governor Walker's new position on flip-flopping is utter bullshit, just like everything else he says. You either take a position or you don't, and while everyone is certainly entitled to change a position, and indeed should be encouraged to do so when they find their previous position unsatisfactory, you can't pretend that you haven't changed your position. Well, you can, but then you would be lying. Which is certainly nothing that would faze Governor Walker. It's where he lives.

At last week's Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City (which Howie wrote about earlier today), Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker makes sure that none of his rivals can tell more lies per microphone minute -- and the Right kinds of lies -- than he does.

The immediate issue for the governor is his flip-flop on immigration. And this leads E.J. to his mournful observation that his creative obfuscation "counts as one of the cerebral high points of the debate" among his party's 2016 presidential aspirants. "The shortage of philosophical adventure and the eagerness of GOP hopefuls to alter their positions to make them more conservative," says E.J., "a Republican primary electorate that has moved so far right that it brooks no deviation."

And so, E.J. notes, even Rand Paul, currently best known for his one-man stand against the Republicans' official position on the national-security state (they're all for it, in case you've forgotten), "even Paul has recast his foreign policy positions to make them sound more hawkish and thus more in keeping with prevailing Republican views."

The same is true, E.J., says of the band of self-styled "reform conservatives," who seem incapable of taking any even slightly unorthodox position without simultaneously declaring their unbroken fealty to the most rightward of right-wing "beliefs," or at least the beliefs of the moment.
With occasional exceptions, they have been far more interested in proving their faithfulness to today’s hard-line right than in declaring, as conservatives in so many other democracies have been willing to do, that sprawling market economies need a rather large dose of government. Conservatives, Levin says, are “eager to build on the longstanding institutions of our society to improve things.” Good idea. But somehow, the successes of decades-old governmental institutions in areas such as retirement security, health-care provision and environmental protection are rarely acknowledged.
"Where, for example," E.J. wonders,
is the candidate willing to acknowledge that, like it or not, there’s no way that anywhere close to all Americans will be able to get health insurance unless government plays a very large role? Where is the Republican who will admit that if the party had its way on further tax cuts, many programs Americans like would fall by the wayside?
And this is awkward, E.J. points out, because "many Republicans, especially reform conservatives, know that most Americans who criticize government in the abstract still welcome many of its activities."
Yet stating this obvious fact is now politically incorrect on the right. Conservatives who condemn political correctness in others need to start calling it out on their own side. Otherwise, Scott Walker’s artful redefinition of flip-flopping could become the 2016 Republican debate’s most creative intellectual contribution.
What E.J. is again too polite to point out is that these same right-wing pols have done much to create this situation by encouraging and exploiting the hardening of the Republican base's position -- precisely because it then makes that base so poliically exploitable.

Which doesn't create much of a problem as long as your only consideration is the personal gain you can derive from swearing loyalty to what the base wants to hear at any given moment. But if in a moment of weakness you want to consider what might be good for the country or for Americans generally, well, if you know what's good for you, you'll keep your trap shut.

The comfort lies in knowing that if at any moment there's a change in the voodoo bromides the organized American crazies want to hear, you can always change your position -- as long as you don't have a voting record to answer to, according to one newly enunciated lying-scumbag theory.


DOONESBURY     by G. B. Trudeau

[Click to enlarge.]

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Chris Christie, the Christiecrats and Pipelines – Again!


Nancy Wittenberg, Governor Christie's plant as executive director of New Jersey's Pinelands Commission, is a former lobbyist for the NJ Builders Association who understands her mission.

by Anonymous Operative

On May 21, South Jersey Gas filed an “amended” application to run a 22-mile pipeline through the New Jersey Pinelands. And we’re using the word “amended” loosely here, because there were no substantive changes in the pipeline itself.

In January, 2014, the Pinelands Commission rejected essentially the same plan when it was submitted in the form of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between itself and the Christie-controlled Board of Public Utilities. Under an MOA the Pinelands Commission can grant a waiver for a project that would be otherwise not be allowed under New Jersey’s 1979 Pinelands Protection Act, but only if the Pinelands Commission finds that it primarily serves the needs of the Pinelands. The proposed pipeline would only serve the interests of Rockland Capital Energy Investments, which owns an outmoded coal-fired power plant that has to be converted to natural gas. (The plant was originally scheduled to close in 2013, but it just received its second two-year reprieve from the Christie-controlled Department of Environmental Protection.)

This time, SJG is applying directly to the Pinelands Commission as a private party, instead of through an MOA. That approach would let senior commission staff approve the application without having the commissioners vote on it. And Nancy Wittenberg, the executive director of the Pinelands Commission, is a former lobbyist for the New Jersey Builders Association. Aside from that, there are no real changes in the application. (For a detailed discussion, see the post "‘New’ Pinelands Pipeline Proposal Based on Brazen Lies” by Bill Wolfe, the New Jersey director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.)

But this different tack hardly seems necessary, now that the Pinelands Commission has been stacked with pro-pipeline members by the Republican Christie and the über-corrupt South Jersey Democratic Party boss George Norcross.

The Norcross-controlled Christiecrats on the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders did their part by replacing their longtime commissioner, environmental activist Leslie Ficcaglia, with Jane Jannarone, a realtor and former Freeholder.

And instead of renominating Robert Jackson, who voted against the pipeline, Christie nominated Robert Barr, a protégé of arch-conservative Democratic State Sen. Jeff Van Drew. Barr was turned down twice by the Senate Judiciary Committee before finally getting approved thanks to some underhanded maneuvering by Senate President Steve Sweeney, the public face of the Norcross machine in Trenton. And it took more bullying to get the Barr nomination through the full Senate—but bullying is a Sweeney specialty. You can read about the whole process here, here (update), and here.

The most striking things about that floor vote were that (1) more Democrats voted against Barr than for him, (2) Barr had more votes from the GOP than from Democrats, (3) most of the Dems who voted for him were South Jersey Christiecrats, and (4) the only South Jersey senator to vote against Barr was not a Democrat, but Republican Diane Allen. There you have the Norcross machine at work, aiding and abetting Christie.

Those two changes in membership alone could be expected to assure Pinelands Commission approval of the pipeline project. So why is South Jersey Gas altering its application to make an end run around the commission? They’ve never been embarrassed by that kind of corruption before!

The pipeline could still be stopped in court, and environmental groups have vowed to sue. DWT will be following this story.

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Ben Carson Wins The Southern Republican Leadership Conference Straw Poll (No, Really)


Late last week a convention of right-wing politicians-- the Southern Republican Leadership Conference-- was in Oklahoma City to be treated to the songs and dances of 17 Republicans running for the GOP presidential nomination, although mostly beamed down from satellite. Only Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee's wife Janet showed up in person. Oil and water might not mix but Big Oil and the Republican Party sure do.
Oklahoma is an oilman’s state: bought, run and sustained by men who’ve made huge fortunes on fossil fuels and in which fracking has been under way for so long and so deeply that scientists now believe the spate of hundreds of earthquakes there are anthropogenic. One of the events was an 87th birthday party for T. Boone Pickens, whose legendary fortune gushed from crude.

In case anyone failed to notice the theme of “Energizing America,” emblazoned on the backdrop of the stage, a glimmery silver-blue tower of the Devon Oil Company loomed a block to the northwest, and the Chesapeake Energy Arena and the Continental Oil Center flanked the venue, reminders of who really runs the Sooner state. In the hours between speeches from the big name candidates, CEOs of the local energy concerns strolled to the stage to hail the future of oil and to complain that the oil glut in America has caused thousands of layoffs and losses of billions of dollars in profits. On Thursday, Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb “interviewed” Larry Nichols, chairman of Devon Oil, on stage. Nichols has personally and through the company PAC doled out a million dollars to politicians and Lamb joked about knowing “who pays the bills.”

Rick Perry, until recently governor of neighboring Texas, suggested Obama didn’t understand or respect American oil and gas as a national security issue. He promised he would flood Asia with liquefied natural gas to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin: “If you’re going to use energy as a weapon, the United States is going to deploy the largest arsenal.” The conference offered the crowded field of candidates a chance to road-test messages that might resonate enough to win them not just the first straw poll in the Republican cycle but a place at a Fox News debate in August.

...Whether the straw poll means anything in the long run or is just a bit of fun remains to be seen. The political experts doubt non-politician Carson’s viability.

Some attendees called the surfeit of candidates a sign of Republican vibrancy, but others wondered how the party would cull the still-growing herd without a civil war over money and debates. Professional politicos worried that a Fox News Channel decision to limit debates later this year to candidates above a certain support level could banish the sole female and black candidates-- a “bad visual,” to be sure.

Steve Curry, a longtime state Republican foot soldier and national convention delegate, said the crowded field is “a blessing and a curse.” He predicted multiple candidates would still be viable through the fourth or fifth state primary: “We gotta make up our minds. I think most people have narrowed it down to two or three already. I once had to organize a debate for 12 congressional candidates for one seat, and I know it’s not easy as a consumer of information to get enough information in that situation to make a decision.”

The conference gave attendees the opportunity to do just that. College kids in blue T-shirts reading STRAW POLL roamed the halls with iPads, exhorting people to vote. The end result was Carson with 25.4 percent,  Walker at 20.5 and Cruz with 16.6. Christie and Perry came in fourth and fifth with around 5 percent each.
Meanwhile Fox News' most recent poll of likely voters measured the favorability and unfavorability of 13 politicians. The results show they're not oversampling Fox viewers. Bill and Hillary Clinton and President Obama are by far the most popular politicians in the survey.
Bill Clinton 54-40%
Barack Obama 47-51%
Hillary Clinton 45-49%
Jeb Bush 37-44%
Mike Huckabee 35-35%
Rand Paul 34-35%
Marco Rubio 31-27%
Chris Christie 28-45%
Ted Cruz 27-35%
Ben Carson 26-16%
Scott Walker 25-21%
Carly Fiorina 13-17%
John Kasich 12-14%
Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina and John Kasich aren't known by enough people to make the poll very meaningful. When Fox narrowed the sample to just Republican primary voters and asked who they would like to see as the party nominee, the results show Jeb Bush and Ben Carson leading and Donald Trump beating 7 legitimate candidates:
Jeb Bush- 13%
Ben Carson- 13%
Scott Walker- 11%
Mike Huckabee- 10%
Marco Rubio- 9%
Rand Paul- 7%
Chris Christie- 6%
Ted Cruz- 6%
Donald Trump- 4%
John Kasich- 2%
Rick Perry- 2%
Rick Santorum- 2%
Carly Fiorina- 1%
Bobby Jindal- 1%
Lindsey Graham- 0%
George Pataki- 0%
Hard to read these numbers, even this early in the game, without wondering if this is leading directly to a brokered convention. There are too many candidates for debates to help voters figure out who to support. The possibility of none of these candidates ending up with a majority of convention delegates is strong, perhaps unavoidable. And any of the candidates who have a billionaire-funded Super PAC bankrolling their bid have no need to drop out of the race-- and there's still just one vice presidential slot to bargain away. It hasn't yet, but this is going to get very, very bloody.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

What's to be done about the 2016 GOP Presidential Field? (How many of them are there? 50? 60? 100s?)


I had it written down somewhere, but what we have above -- click to enlarge -- is either the GOP 2016 presidential field or the composite of the Waco biker-brawl suspects. It may be that the scrap of paper on which I wrote it down will yet surface, but if not, does it really matter? Let's just make our best guess and get on with it.

by Ken

Noah and I have taken to e-chinwagging about the groaning board of likely suspects that is officially the 2016 GOP Presidential Field. My question is what possesses most of these people, how have no chance of being nominated and probably no chance of achieving the "greater name recognition" that used to be an attraction of such runs -- unless the recognition that will do it for them is establishing themselves as kooks and nutjobs. Of course, in their particular world, certification as a kook or nutjob may in fact be the next step up the ladder.
MAY 20, 2015
Biker-Brawl Suspects Only Slightly Outnumber Republican Candidates

WACO (The Borowitz Report) – Suspects in the recent biker brawl in Waco, Texas, only slightly outnumber the 2016 Republican Presidential candidates, leading some voters to have difficulty distinguishing between the two groups, a new poll shows.

According to the poll, voters who were presented the names of a biker-brawl suspect and a Republican Presidential candidate correctly identified both only thirty per cent of the time.

For example, fifty-seven per cent of voters erroneously identified the former Texas Governor Rick Perry as a member of the Bandidos motorcycle gang, while forty-one per cent believed he belonged to the Cossacks.

Adding to voters’ confusion, the biker brawlers and G.O.P. candidates have identical views on a host of issues, such as gun rights and whether they would feel comfortable attending a gay wedding.

While the number of biker-brawl suspects stands at a hundred and seventy, if current trends continue, the Republican field could blow past that number by early summer, possibly deepening voters’ confusion.

But, in one positive sign for the Republicans, they notched a higher approval rating than the Waco suspects, five per cent to three.
Noah called my attention to the latest Washington Post "In the Loop" poll, which bears on the subject, and whose results were only just announced. Since I think of myself as a connoisseur of "In the Loop" polls, I'm not sure how I whiffed on this, but maybe it's that I'm not much interested in "winninowing" the field -- I just want the field to go away. These are, after all, people who if they presented themselves as candidates for dog-catcher, we would have to say, "Is that the lot?" Which translates as: There's nobody in this pack who seems remotely qualified for the job.
In the Loop
Find out who won the Loop's 'Winnow Down' the GOP debates contest

By Al Kamen

As our colleague Matea Gold reports, Fox News, which is hosting the first campaign debate of the 2016 primary season, plans to require contenders to place in the top 10 in an average of the five most recent national polls before the Aug.6 event.

But our Loop fans have other (and we think better) ideas. Other debate hosts may want to consider the winning entries to our “Winnow Down” contest, intended to help the GOP figure out how to deal with its 16 (more-or-less) bona fide candidates.

Here’s their suggestions:

1. Use NCAA-style brackets

A. The “Self-Important Sixteen” who will “hurl scandalous, unsubstantiated charges at each other (and Hillary Clinton).
B. The “Ego-Maniacal Eight” who will “employ the Fox News . . .model, out-yelling and degrading their opponent (and Hillary Clinton).
C. The Fractious Four,” who will “feign civility” and call each other “my good friend before insulting them (and Hillary Clinton).”

Finally: The “Tenacious Two — The Debate” who will actually discuss issues (and, of course, Hillary Clinton.) “Findings of the auditorium Applause-o-Meter will be final.” — submitted by Patrick Dozier, a property manager in the District.

2. A Three-Question Fidelity Test

A. Are you now, or have you ever been, a subscriber to The New York Times?” If so, “proceed no further.”
B. “Do you believe in a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants?” If so, “contact the offices of Matt Drudge.”
C. “Who was our country’s greatest Commander in Chief, Ronald Reagan or the 40th President?” (“Just like Hillary’s position on” the trade bill, “there’s no wrong answer!) ” — submitted by Daniel Braden, a political operative and former contest winner, from Medford, Mass.

3. A U.S. Citizenship Test

The candidates “should all agree to take the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Naturalization Test in a room with no staff or mobile devices.” The bottom five scorers would be cut out of the debate. — submitted by D.C.’s Jon Conradi, director of audience engagement for Lifezette, Laura Ingraham’s about-to-launch conservative media site.


“Candidates in soundproof tubes below the stage randomly pop up from their holes. They are whacked with a question on a foam mallet. . . submitted by voters. After 90 seconds, the mike goes off, they disappear back into the hole and another pops ups. As soon as they diverge from a question, they drop through the floor and are out of the game.” — submitted by Bill Diamond, a “retired bureaucrat” from Evergreen, Colo.

5. “The Choice,” modeled after NBC’s “The Voice”

Candidates get 90 seconds “to make their case to the backs of a panel of undecided voters. If nobody turns around to claim one, they’re out. Those claimed then “face-off with each other until we’re down to two or three.” — submitted by Jack Moline, a nonprofit executive from Alexandria, Va.

6. Multiple-choice answers only

A la the NCAA, use 24-second clocks for answers to multiple-choice questions. “Candidates can only anwer a, b, c, or d.”

For example: “If we knew then what we know now about Iraq’s weapons, would you have gone to war there?"
A. Of course not, but I don’t know that for sure;
B. That’s a hypothetical and I won’t answer that type of question;
C. No, I would have invaded another oil-rich nation;
D. All of the above.” –submitted by Charlie Andrews, a retired telcom executive and prior contest winner, from Ashburn, Va.

7. Lie Detector Test

“Require all candidates to take a private lie detector test, administered by a neutral team of the best experts in the field.”

Questions might include:

A.”Have you ever considered changing a vote or position because of a past or promised campaign donation?
B. Would you impose a litmus test on any specific pending issue in selecting a nominee for the Supreme Court?
C. Would you cover up for or pardon a White House subordinate who violated the law? — submitted by Joe O’Bryan, a retired federal employee from Phoenixville, Pa.

8. Play hide and seek with cash

“Give the candidates a task relevant to a presidential contest. Hide bundles of money throughout the studio, then set the candidates loose. The top eight or ten money gatherers get a spot in the debate.” — Submitted by Roger Ribert, a technical writer from West Henrietta, N.Y. (Isn’t this proposal more elegant, fairer, than the Fox News formula?)

9. Summon Ronald Reagan

Candidates will be paired off on the Ouija Board to commune with the ghost of Ronald Reagan and solicit his permission to enter the race.” — submitted by Tien Peng, a pulmonologist from Philadelphia, Pa.

10. “Political Survivor,” based on the CBS reality show

Divide the 16 or more candidates into “two tribes (Iowa and  New Hampshire) and put them through a series of immunity and reward challenges that will test their fitness for office while revealing their true character and coalition building skills. Broadcast via C-Span. Instead of contestants voting off the loser, the viewers would do so via the soon-to-be-popular Washington Post Political Survivor Web site. Final Five get to the first debate.” — submitted by Stephen Llewellyn, a retired government lawyer from Alexandria, Va.

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone for entering. Special thanks to our expert judges, colleagues Rachel Van Dongen, Aaron Blake and Tom Hamburger.

Now it’s your turn to judge! What’s your favorite “Winnow Down” idea?


[To pick one, and then view the results, click onsite. -- Ed.]

This is a non-scientific user poll. Results are not statistically valid and cannot be assumed to reflect the views of Washington Post users as a group or the general population.

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Anne Meara (1929-2015)


Stiller and Meara -- Jerry and Anne in 2012

"Anne's memory lives on in the hearts of daughter Amy, son Ben, her grandchildren, her extended family and friends, and the millions she entertained as an actress, writer and comedienne."
-- from a statement released by the family

by Ken

Of course I can't speak for the family and friends, but speaking as one of the millions Anne Meara (who died yesterday) entertained as an actress, writer, and comedienne for all those decades, I'd say this statement gets it just right.

Like the great Stan Freberg, whom we were remembering just recently, Stiller and Meara discovered that their deep comedic gifts could be channeled into what I suspect accounted for a major portion of their livelihood, writing and performing in advertising, and they regularly produced commercials that linger in memory long after the products they were selling have faded from memory, if not existence.

At the same time, they never stopped making their abilities to entertain available to producers smart enough to find ways to take advantage of them. Credit the Seinfeld team with turning Jerry loose in the character of Frank "Serenity Now!" Costanza, which among other invaluable achievements made the mystery that was George Costanza less mysterious.

A 1985 publicity photo
Anne had lovely stints as Rhoda's airline-hostess friend Sally on Rhoda and as the wisecracking cook Veronica on Archie Bunker's Place, maybe the happiest features of that life-support-ish extension of All in the Family. And then there was her sometimes funny but more often heartbreaking stint as Miranda's mother-in-law (i.e., Steve's mother, Mary Brady) sliding into the dark place of lost memory.

I wish I had something more insightful to say about Anne, but I'm sure there will be lots of people filling that gap. All I can say is that I always talk the comedy of Stiller and Meara personally, in the sense that comedy always seemed personal to them -- they always seemed to feel a personal need to entertain us and make us feel better about, well, stuff. They made the world a better place, and how many people can say that?

Thanks, Anne, and thanks, Jerry.




Sunday Classics snapshots: Verdi at peak power soars and slumps


Thomas Hampson as Germont at Covent Garden, 2009
GERMONT: No, you won't hear reproaches from me;
let's bury the past in forgetfulness.
The love that guided me
can pardon everything.
Come, see your loved ones
in joy with me again;
do not deny this joy
to one who has suffered long.
A father and a sister --
make haste to console them.
No, you won't hear reproaches from me, etc.
ALFREDO: A thousand serpents devour my breast!
GERMONT: Are you listening to me?
GERMONT: A father and a sister --
make haste to console them.
No, you won't hear reproaches from me, etc.
ALFREDO [arising and suddenly finding Flora's letter on the table]: Ah!
She's at the ball!
I must fly to avenge the offense.
[He rushes out.]

Thomas Hampson (b), Giorgio Germont; Rolando Villazon (t), Alfredo Germont; Vienna Philharmonic, Carlo Rizzi, cond. DG, recorded live, August 2005

by Ken

About a month ago I started what was intended to be the first part of a two-part series with a post called "The sound of aging, Verdi-style (1)," in which I suggested that the whole structure of "Di Provenza il mar, il suol," the elder Germont's celebrated aria in La Traviata, is built on fatigue -- or rather this father's struggle to overcome his fatigue in his enormous effort to not only console his boy but to lure him back to the comfort and wholesomeness of his native Provence. My suggestion was that Germont is not only fighting his fatigue but milking it, showing it off to Alfredo as he throws everything he can at the shell-shocked young man.

Our other example of "aging, Verdi-style," tidily enough, will involve a mother's exhaustion, an exhaustion that sounds to me not just physical but spiritual -- as if she's just barely on this side of. I admit that it's a case so extreme, and one that exerts such dreadful force on me, that I'm probably stalling a little. Nevertheless, I really would like to get to it, and regret that before we can get there, we have some gaps to plug, in part because we left a dangling end in our consideration of "Di Provenza": its usually missing cabaletta, which is hardly more welcome when it isn't omitted. And then, once we get into the baritone's cabaletta, how can we not broach the subject of the tenor's, an even feebler piece?

The "aria and cabaletta," which recent usage seems to prefer to call a "double aria," is a carry-over from the bel canto era, when it was common to arrange dramatic situations in which a character might sing an aria typically of moderate pace and temperament followed -- with some tweaking of the circumstances -- by a more excited second aria, or cabaletta, which by happy chance for the performer tends to lend itself to the character of a showpiece.


Read more »

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Will Rubio Still Be A Contender If Adelson Winds Up In Prison?


Billionaire Sheldon Adelson does an extremely complicated political dance for a bizarre set of fiddle players. He's a front man for the Mafia in Las Vegas, a key operator for the far right in Israeli domestic politics, a financier for right-wing Republicans willing to place Israel's interests above America's and he's Beijing's gambling czar in crime-infested Macau. 

It's his strange relationship with China that could earn him a well-deserved prison cell. (What about the his partner in crime, Miriam?)
A judge in Las Vegas has ruled that a lawsuit involving accusations of graft and organised crime ties to casinos owned by the multibillionaire and Republican party funder, Sheldon Adelson, will be heard in the US.

The decision raises the prospect of Adelson facing difficult questions about his business practices following allegations by a former chief executive of his highly profitable casinos in the Chinese enclave of Macau that a well-known triad crime figure was used to bring in high-rolling gamblers and of influence peddling with Chinese officials.

The case potentially has implications for Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands casinos because evidence of ties to criminal organisations could cost them their gaming licences.

It could also have a bearing on the 81-year-old billionaire’s considerable political influence. He is estimated to have spent $150m in a failed bid to secure a Republican victory over Barack Obama in the last presidential election and is being vigorously courted by Republican candidates in the next race.

Friday’s ruling follows a court battle earlier this month over jurisdiction in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit by the former chief executive of the Macau casinos, Steven Jacobs. He alleges that he was fired in part for blocking hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to a Macau legislator and lawyer because they may breach US anti-bribery laws. Jacobs also alleges Adelson opposed his attempts to break links to the triads.

Confronted with these claims in court, Adelson accused Jacobs of being “delusional” and claimed he was dismissed for incompetence.

Adelson and Las Vegas Sands wanted the lawsuit, which has been dragging through the courts since 2010, heard in Macau on the grounds that the casino operation there is independent of the Nevada-based parent company. But after hearings in which Jacobs’ lawyers portrayed the multibillionaire as very hands on in oversight of his Macau casinos from Las Vegas, Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez ruled that the full case could be heard in the Nevada.

...Lawyers said that if the case had been heard in Macau, it was more likely the courts there would limit revelations that would embarrass the casino industry which is the territory’s financial mainstay.

Las Vegas Sands is expected to appeal Gonzalez’s ruling. But Adelson now faces the prospect of a close examination of his relationship with a Macao lawyer and legislator, Leonel Alves. Adelson authorised $700,000 in legal fees to Alves which the company’s inhouse lawyers warned was far in excess of normal rates and could violate US law because Alves could be using his position as a legislator to influence officials in Macau and Beijing.

After Jacobs ended the contract with Alves, Adelson intervened to have him taken back on.

Adelson is also likely to face difficult questions about his Macau casino’s ties to Cheung Chi Tai, a Hong Kong-born leader of the Wo Hop To triad.

Adelson told the court that “we had no direct relationship with Cheung Chi Tai.” But company documents show Cheung’s name on contracts involving “junket reps” who bring high rolling gamblers to the Macau casinos from China and lend them money to play.

In the earlier hearing, Robert Goldstein, Las Vegas Sands’ former head of global gambling operations and now Adelson’s No 2, told the court that the company was “doing business” with Cheung but had stopped after news reports about his criminal activities.

Jacobs has said in court submissions that Adelson was well aware of Cheung’s ties to organised crime.

Adelson is also likely to face difficult questions about his denial that his company had links to a senior Chinese official, Ng Lap Seng, who was described in court as “a courier” for Sands Macau and a link man to the Chinese government.

Ng is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee, a political advisory body in China dominated by the Communist party.

Adelson’s four days on the witness stand during the jurisdiction hearing were marked by combative answers and testimony that contradicted his own executives. He accused Jacobs of “squealing like a pig to the government” with the allegations.
This could be very inconvenient for Marco Rubio, who is the Republican the Adelsons had decided would be the easiest to get to betray America on behalf of Israeli interests-- plus a few fat checks. Rubio has been very excited at the prospect of the millions and millions of dollars Adelson had promised to bring to the table for 2016. (The Adelsons, who have an obsessive anti-union mania and a psychotic antipathy to paying taxes, spent $150 million of their tainted fortune trying to defeat Obama in 2012.) Without Adelson's checkbook, Rubio is unlikely to go all the way in the GOP primary and will have to hope for the VP slot.

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