Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Big Banks Are Still Getting A Pass


According to a widely distributed post last week by Ellen Brown at the Web of Debt Blog, It Can Happen Here: The Confiscation Scheme Planned for US and UK Depositors, the FDIC and Bank of England have plans on the books to deal with a bank meltdown the same way Cyprus has-- seizing deposits in return for worthless bank stock. [Note: I experienced something akin to this personally. As Steve Case and Jerry Levin were looting TimeWarner, they forced executives to take partial payment in stock options. I had approximately $10 million worth. When stock options go underwater, the value doesn't gradually decrease; it disappears. $10 million is worth zero dollars in one day. You don't want to be forced into taking bank stocks to make up for your deposits and savings.]

Another taxpayer bailout is not going to happen. So who will bailout the big banks that are still taking unacceptable (and unregulated) risks in garbage like derivatives that, as we've noted before, Congress seems willing to further deregulate (thanks Annie Kuster and Jim Himes)? The FDIC-Bank of England report says the depositors will-- "by exchanging or converting a sufficient amount of the unsecured debt from the original creditors of the failed company [meaning the depositors] into equity [or stock]. In the U.S., the new equity would become capital in one or more newly formed operating entities. In the U.K., the same approach could be used, or the equity could be used to recapitalize the failing financial company itself-- thus, the highest layer of surviving bailed-in creditors would become the owners of the resolved firm. In either country, the new equity holders would take on the corresponding risk of being shareholders in a financial institution." And that seems to include even insured accounts under $250,000. Nationalizing failed banks-- as Sweden had done in similar circumstances (and quite successfully)-- was rejected by President Obama in 2009. Unless we plan to elected Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown or Elizabeth Warren president, I don't see anyone else on the political horizon who would entertain such a notion. Instead... Cyprus:
An FDIC confiscation of deposits to recapitalize the banks is far different from a simple tax on taxpayers to pay government expenses. The government’s debt is at least arguably the people’s debt, since the government is there to provide services for the people. But when the banks get into trouble with their derivative schemes, they are not serving depositors, who are not getting a cut of the profits. Taking depositor funds is simply theft.

What should be done is to raise FDIC insurance premiums and make the banks pay to keep their depositors whole, but premiums are already high; and the FDIC, like other government regulatory agencies, is subject to regulatory capture.  Deposit insurance has failed, and so has the private banking system that has depended on it for the trust that makes banking work.

The Cyprus haircut on depositors was called a “wealth tax” and was written off by commentators as “deserved,” because much of the money in Cypriot accounts belongs to foreign oligarchs, tax dodgers and money launderers. But if that template is applied in the US, it will be a tax on the poor and middle class. Wealthy Americans don’t keep most of their money in bank accounts.  They keep it in the stock market, in real estate, in over-the-counter derivatives, in gold and silver, and so forth.

Are you safe, then, if your money is in gold and silver? Apparently not-- if it’s stored in a safety deposit box in the bank.  Homeland Security has reportedly told banks that it has authority to seize the contents of safety deposit boxes without a warrant when it’s a matter of “national security,” which a major bank crisis no doubt will be.
And speaking of Bernie Sanders... he's offering a bill that would lead to breaking up banks that are literally too big to fail. The situation hasn't gotten any better since the TARP bailout; it's gotten worse, much worse. "U.S. banks have become so big that the six largest financial institutions in this country (J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) today have assets of nearly $9.6 trillion, a figure equal to about two-thirds of the nation's gross domestic product. These six financial institutions issue more than two-thirds of all credit cards, over half of all mortgages, control 95 percent of all derivatives held in financial institutions and hold more than 40 percent of all bank deposits in the United States." What Sanders' legislation proposes to do about this mess is to give Wall Street shill and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew "90 days to compile a list of commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds and insurance companies that he deems too big to fail. The affected financial institutions would include 'any entity that has grown so large that its failure would have a catastrophic effect on the stability of either the financial system or the United States economy without substantial government assistance.' Within one year after the legislation became law, the Treasury Department would be required to break up those banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions." Bernie:
If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. No single financial institution should be so large that its failure would cause catastrophic risk to millions of American jobs or to our nation's economic wellbeing. No single financial institution should have holdings so extensive that its failure could send the world economy into crisis. We need to break up these institutions because they have done of the tremendous damage they have done to our economy.
I'm really happy that Hillary Clinton, Kay Hagan, Mark Warner, Rob Portman, John Tester, and Mark Begich now agree that it's none of the government's business if two adults of the same gender want to marry each other. Hip, hip hooray! You can't be considered a "progressive" unless you feel that way-- but feeling that way doesn't make you a progressive. Backing economic justice plans like Bernie's does. Hillary Clinton for president? Do we never learn?

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Psst, buddy, wanna buy a used war cheap? (OK, maybe not so cheap)


If you don't like these numbers, I say make up your own. As long as you understand what it means: that we have to cut back on Medicare and Social Security benefits.

by Ken

I don't know about you, but every now and then I wonder idly, Jes' how dang much is them wars in Eye-raq and 'Gannystan a-goin' ta cost us?

I especially wonder when we hear reports about those hearty congressional dinosaurs the buy-partisans sending out smoke signals that they're jes' this close to reaching agreement on a "compromise" that will finally give the Pete Peterson deficit-hawk partisans and their 1% cronies the breakthrough they've been seeking for years, using the current budget mess as a secret weapon to begin butting the "three E's" -- Medicaid, Medicare, and ultimately Social Security. It'll be Happy Days for the rich, the superrich, and their hangers-on, and a diet of austerity for everyone else.

Because, you see, those wicked "entitlements" are bankrupting us. So say the austerity fans. It's not true, of course, but if you try to say that publicly, then -- as Paul Krugman points out frequently -- you mark yourself immediately as "not serious" about economics, or government, or something. To be counted among the "serious," you have to take the Austerity Pledge. Meaning you have to be an economic illiterate on the order of Rep. Paul "Ayn Made Me Do It" Ryan or media whore Robert "No Relation to Paul" Samuelson.

So, like I say, at times like this, I get even more curious about the total cost of our fun 'n' games in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, just for laffs, courtesy of Nation of Change, here are some folks who have some numbers. I don't know how accurate their numbers are, but I trust them a lot more than I trust the phony-baloney numbers from the austerityites and their mouthpieces like "No Relation to Paul" Samuelson.

Iraq, Afghanistan Wars Will Cost U.S. 4-6 Trillion Dollars

Published: Sunday 31 March 2013

By Jim Lobe
Inter Press Service / News Analysis

Costs to U.S. taxpayers of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will run between four and six trillion dollars, making them the most expensive conflicts in U.S. history, according to a new report by a prominent Harvard University researcher.

While Washington has already spent close to two trillion dollars in direct costs related to its military campaigns in the two countries, that total "represents only a fraction of the total war costs", according to the report by former Bill Clinton administration official Linda Bilmes.

"The single largest accrued liability of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the cost of providing medical care and disability benefits to war veterans," she wrote in the 21-page report, ‘The Financial Legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan: How Wartime Spending Decisions Will Constrain Future National Security Budgets’.

Bilmes, who since 2008 has co-authored a number of analyses on war costs with the World Bank’s former chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz, noted that more than half of the more than 1.5 million troops who have been discharged from active duty since 9/11 have received medical treatment at veterans’ hospitals and have been granted benefits for the rest of their lives. More than 253,000 troops have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Additional costs include the replacement and repair of equipment — which wears out at an estimated six times the peace-time rate — and the accumulation of interest on money borrowed by the Treasury to finance the wars since the nearly two trillion dollars in war costs were not subject to the normal budgetary process.

So far, Washington has paid some 260 billion dollars in interest charged on war-related borrowing, but the "potential interest cost of the U.S. war debt reaches into the trillions," according to the report.

"One of the most significant challenges to future U.S. national security policy will not originate from any external threat," she wrote. "Rather it is simply coping with the legacy of the conflicts we have already fought in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The report comes at a key moment, as Republicans in Congress appear increasingly split between defense hawks on the one hand, who want to maintain or increase Pentagon spending and have been pushing for a more aggressive U.S. role in the Syrian civil war, among other hotspots, and deficit hawks, on the other, who believe the country can ill afford bigger military budgets, let alone new foreign military adventures, especially in the Middle East.

The defense hawks, consisting primarily of neo-conservatives and aggressive nationalists who led the march to war in Iraq 10 years ago, are particularly worried about the impact on the military of the so-called "sequester", which requires across-the-board cuts by the Pentagon totaling 500 million dollars over 10 years, in order to help reduce the deficit.

With tensions with Iran, North Korea and even China on the rise, they argue that Washington cannot afford to be seen as constrained militarily by its fiscal challenges.

But this report -- as well as another put out by Brown University on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion that estimated the total war costs at three trillion dollars -- are likely to bolster the deficit hawks among Republicans, as well as foreign-policy realists most closely identified with the administration of President George H.W. Bush, and most Democrats, including President Barack Obama and his closest aides.

That most war-related costs are actually incurred after the wars are themselves concluded is not unusual in U.S. history, according to a recent investigation by the Associated Press (AP).

After researching federal records, it reported last week that compensation for World War II veterans and their families only reached a high in 1991 -- 46 years after the war ended.
It also reported that, almost exactly 40 years after the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam, the government is still paying veterans and their families or survivors more than 22 billion dollars a year in war-related claims, and that that figure is on the rise, as the beneficiary population ages. Similarly, payments to Gulf War veterans are also increasing.

The much-greater costs to be incurred by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are explained by, among other factors, much higher survival rates among wounded soldiers, more generous benefits for veterans, new categories of beneficiaries, more expensive medical treatments, and increases in both pay and benefits for troops in order to gain more recruits for the all-volunteer army.

The report argued that dramatic increase in war-related costs means taxpayers will not get the kind of "peace dividend" that they received after other wars, including the two world wars and the Cold War after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"Today as the country considers how to improve its balance sheet, it could have been hoped that the end of the wars would provide a peace dividend, such as the one during the Clinton administration that helped Americans to invest more in butter and less in guns, it concluded.

"In short, there will be no peace dividend, and the legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be costs that persist for decades."

The Pentagon and other national-security agencies, according to the report, will likely face more -- rather than less -- pressure to cut costs.

"One likely result," it predicted, "is that budgetary constraints will tilt the U.S. in a direction of fewer military personnel in the forces, …and greater investment in unmanned weaponry, robotics, and other technological solutions -- which may or may not be a wise choice over the longer-term."

To Miriam Pemberton, a national-security analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies, the new study should prompt a major re-assessment of the regular military budget (not including the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars), which grew by nearly 50 percent in real terms to more than half a trillion dollars -- over the decade that followed 9/11.

"We need to bring that budget back to where it was when these wars began," she told IPS. "Those savings need to be re-invested in the needs that have been neglected over the past decade, foremost among them, in my view, being the urgent need to address the climate crisis by investing in a transition to a clean energy and transportation economy."
And what are the neocons who got us into Iraq worried about? The sequester! But then, these are "serious" people.

Let me just call attention to one interesting note here:
"The single largest accrued liability of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the cost of providing medical care and disability benefits to war veterans."
Which might not even be so bad if we were actually providing "proper medical care and disability benefits" to all the vets we sent out to be maimed. But of course we aren't; we're trying to finesse that obligation on the cheap.

'Cause we, y'know, support our troops. Another of the lies the right-wing war-mongers like to tell.

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Is Anyone Asking You For Money This Weekend?


Nick Ruiz, a professor, not a politician-- he won't sell you out; not ever

Today's the last day of the FEC quarter, and politicians are using a ridiculous fake deadline to wind everyone up for (often undeserved) donations. I get a lot of e-mails from politicians. But I think I got more this last week than the total since the November election. The DCCC and New Dems were especially aggressive in urging candidates to badger and barrage their lists with ominous and dire warnings. Elizabeth Warren sent out a plea for some of her colleagues with a message that started this way: "If your email inbox is anything like mine right now, you're receiving a bazillion emails asking for money before this weekend's big fundraising deadline. I know it's not easy to decide which candidates or organizations need your support the most." More typical, though, was this standard New Dem candidate letter.
I know it’s unbelievable, but the attacks have already started. Last week, Speaker Boehner’s Super PAC launched television ads hitting me for voting against the Ryan Budget.

The attacks are bad, but it could get worse. Sunday is the most important deadline so far this year. After that, our fundraising numbers go public and the GOP extremists will pounce at any sign of weakness.

We’re running out of time. We need to raise $10,000 in 62 hours. I need your help right away to respond to these outrageous attacks.
That particular missive, though barely discernible from two dozen others, was from Sean Patrick Maloney, a garden variety New Dem freshman who has been flooding my e-mail box with annoying spam-- half a dozen on Saturday alone. And it's true, Maloney did vote against the Ryan budget. He also voted against the Progressive Caucus Back to Work Budget and the Senate compromise budget. He's gay and votes well on LGBT issues. Other than that-- pretty useless so far.

The ProgressivePunch scoring is far from perfect-- it's riddled with horribly grievous errors and should never be looked at in a vacuum or taken at face value-- but when you see which freshmen have voted against Progressive initiatives most of the time since being elected, you might get the idea that ignoring their pleas for cash is the correct way to proceed. Only 3 freshmen have perfect 100% scores-- Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Tony Cardenas (D-CA) and Mark Pocan (D-WI). Plenty of others have scores that are also excellent and have earned a degree of support. But these are the freshmen who have been on the wrong side in crucial roll calls for progressive issues too often to be rewarded. The number next to each name is the percent they voted with progressives:
Elizabeth Esty (New Dem-CT)- 64.71
Tulsi Gabbard (HI)- 64.71
John Delaney (New Dem-MD)- 61.11
Suzan DelBene (New Dem-WA)- 55.56
Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM)- 55.56
Julia Brownley (CA)- 50.0
Pete Gallego (Blue Dog-TX)- 50.0
Joe Garcia (New Dem-FL)- 50.0
Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA)- 47.06
Ami Bera (New Dem-CA)- 44.44
Bill Enyart (IL)- 44.44
Patrick Murphy (New Dem-FL)- 44.44
Brad Schneider (New Dem-IL)- 44.44
Cheri Bustos (IL)- 38.89
Bill Foster (New Dem-IL)- 38.89
Ann Kuster (NH)- 38.89
Dan Maffei (New Dem-NY)- 38.89
Sean Maloney (New Dem-NY)- 38.89
Scott Peters (New Dem-CA)- 38.89
Raul Ruiz (CA)- 38.89
Kyrsten Sinema (New Dem-AZ)- 38.89
Ron Barber (New Dem-AZ)- 33.33
Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ)- 23.53
She hasn't joined the New Dems or the Blue Dogs (or the Republicans) but Ann Kirkpatrick already has the worst voting record of any Democratic freshman and the only Democrat with a worse record is Utah Blue Dog and notorious corporate whore Jim Matheson (16.67), who votes with Boehner and Cantor on key issues more frequently than 30 Republicans.

One way to never blunder into financing someone who will vote against the progressive agenda without having to scour voting records is to just never contribute to any Blue Dogs or New Dems (or to any PACs or organizations that funnel money to Blue Dogs and New Dems, like the DCCC and DNC). Here's the most up-to-date list of the New Dems:
Ron Kind, chairman (WI)
Allyson Schwartz, vice-chair (PA)
Jim Himes, vice chair (CT)
Rick Larsen, vice chair (WA)
Gerry Connolly, vice chair (VA)
Ron Barber (AZ)
John Barrow (GA)
Ami Bera (CA)
Lois Capps (CA)
John Carney (DE)
Andre Carson (IN)
Joaquin Castro (TX)
Jim Cooper (TN)
Joe Courtney (CT)
Susan Davis (CA)
John Delaney (MD)
Suzan DelBene (WA)
Eliot Engel (NY)
Elizabeth Esty (CT)
Bill Foster (IL)
Joe Garcia (FL)
Colleen Hanabusa (HI)
Denny Heck (WA)
Rush Holt (NJ)
Derek Kilmer (WA)
Dan Maffei (NY)
Sean Patrick Maloney (NY)
Carolun McCarthy (NY)
Mike McIntyre (NC)
Greg Meeks (NY)
Jim Moran (VA)
Patrick Murphy (FL)
Bill Owens (NY)
Ed Perlmutter (CO)
Gary Peters (MI)
Scott Peters (CA)
Jared Polis (CO)
Mike Quigley (IL)
Cedric Richmond (LA)
Loretta Sanchez (CA)
Adam Schiff (CA)
Brad Schneider (IL)
Kurt Schrader (OR)
David Scott (GA)
Terri Sewell (AL)
Adam Smith (WA)
Juan Vargas (CA)
Filemon Vela (TX)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL)
A millionaire spoiled brat and lifelong Republican, Patrick Murphy is the sleaziest and most destructive of the Democratic freshmen. He also sends out the most e-mails begging for money. I hope the GOP runs a moderate or a libertarian against him. Yesterday was his birthday and one of his letters begging for money tried exploiting it: "Today is the big day! Please help wish Patrick a happy birthday by giving a gift to his campaign before the FEC deadline tomorrow-- his first as a member of Congress. Please contribute what you can today because all gifts are being matched dollar for dollar today only."

By who? His wealthy Republican father? Or by his pals at the DNC or DCCC? Oh, and speaking of the DCCC, "Amber" sent this out to Steve Israel's mailing list:
I wanted to make sure you saw this important message from Nancy Pelosi about Steve Israel's critical deadline tomorrow.

Can you click here and rush a contribution in the next 24 hours?

We're so close-- thanks for your help!
Instead, invest in proven progressive leaders. Carl Sciortino is a state legislator in Massachusetts who has done an amazing job organizing a Progressive Caucus in his state and fighting for progressive values and principles. He's running for Congress to replace Ed Markey. Carl and the other candidates on this page are people you can count on to do the right thing-- while Patrick Murphy and Steve Israel are playing footsie with the Republicans and selling out to Big Business and Wall Street.

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Sunday Classics: Our "J" and "K" conductors shine in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and "Così fan tutte"


Eugen Jochum (a few years older in the picture!) conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in the Overture to Mozart's Così fan tutte, from his December 1962 DG recording of the complete opera.

by Ken

We're showing off our "J" and "K" conductors in Mozart operas this week. In Friday night's preview we heard both Eugen Jochum and Josef Krips conducting the opening of The Abduction from the Seraglio. Today we're going to hear each in excerpts from one of the great operas Mozart wrote with his supreme librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte: Krips conducting Don Giovanni and Jochum conducting Così fan tutte -- not only my favorite recordings of these much-recorded operas, but two of my all-time favorite opera recordings.

The two performances reflect markedly different sensibilities, but that same quality of basic musicianship -- which I might boil down to discovering how the music wants to move of its own momentum -- I've been trying to highlight in our tributes to Jochum, Krips, and our other "K" conductors, Rudolf Kempe and Rafael Kubelik.

You don't really think of matters of tempo (or at least I don't), because the tempos have been chosen to make scenes happen, and that's where at least this listener's focus is. Nor do you especially register obvious ploys to create rhythmic "momentum"; the point is that the momentum happens from within, with the music always seeming to move of its own volition in accord with the dramatic needs of the moment, while at the same time, cunningly enough, allowing the music to shine fully.

In the booklet for the Decca "Legendary Performances" reissue of the Krips Don Giovanni there's an "evaluation" of this legendary performance, which of course is careful to allow for its "legendary" status (otherwise the author wouldn't have been paid; these people do now how to give their masters what they're looking for) but picks it apart in a "checklist"-type way. Some of the learned-sounding prattle is moderately accurate as far as it goes, which isn't far, while much of it not even that. But almost all of it is innocent of what seems to me the most important, and in some ways only, consideration: how does the music play?

I don't like doing this: spotlighting performances I expressly don't like, all the more so in a case like this, where the recording seems to me to fundamentally misrepresent the performer. But here's the Così Overture again, and performed by Karl Böhm, for whom this opera may be said to represent a specialty. If you were to describe the performance objectively, in terms of tempo and phrasing and articulation, it might sound like "Böhm's Così Overture," but to me it doesn't, at all, because it doesn't move the way "Böhm's Così Overture" did in every other performance I've heard. In this version, much of the life has been squeezed out of the music.

MOZART: Così fan tutte, K. 588: Overture

Philharmonia Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. EMI, recorded November 1962

Here, by contrast, is a Böhm Così Overture, unfortunately in so-so broadcast-quality mono sound, from just a few months earlier.

MOZART: Così fan tutte, K. 588: Overture

Vienna Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. Recorded live at the Salzburg Festival, Aug. 8, 1962


Read more »

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Easter Tidings


Something like a billion people are commemorating and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ today, one of the central tenets of Christianity. The new Argentine Pope kicked off the festivities on Thursday, at the Last Supper Mass, by washing the feet of 12 inmates of a juvenile detention center in Rome. There's a little bit of a scandal because one of the detainees who got her feet washed by the Pope was not just a female but a Muslim to boot.
No pope in history has washed the feet of a woman, much less a Muslim.

In his homily, the Pope made no reference to the religious beliefs of the youthful offenders, saying that he was doing it to follow the example of Jesus Christ.

“This is the Lord’s example,” the Pope said. “He is the most important one and He washes [other's] feet because those who are the highest among us must be at the service of others. Washing someone’s feet is [saying], ‘I am at your service’.”

...Francis’ decision to disregard church law and wash the feet of two girls-- a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic-- during a Holy Thursday ritual has become something of the final straw, evidence that Francis has little or no interest in one of the key priorities of Benedict’s papacy: reviving the pre-Vatican II traditions of the Catholic Church.

One of the most-read traditionalist blogs, “Rorate Caeli,” reacted to the foot-washing ceremony by declaring the death of Benedict’s eight-year project to correct what he considered the botched interpretations of the Second Vatican Council’s modernizing reforms.

“The official end of the reform of the reform-- by example,” ”Rorate Caeli” lamented in its report on Francis’ Holy Thursday ritual.

A like-minded commentator in Francis’ native Argentina, Marcelo Gonzalez at International Catholic Panorama, reacted to Francis’ election with this phrase: “The Horror.” Gonzalez’s beef? While serving as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s efforts to revive the old Latin Mass so dear to Benedict and traditionalists were “non-existent.”

Virtually everything he has done since being elected pope, every gesture, every decision, has rankled traditionalists in one way or another.

The night he was chosen pope, March 13, Francis emerged from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica without the ermine-rimmed red velvet cape, or mozzetta, used by popes past for official duties, wearing instead the simple white cassock of the papacy. The cape has since come to symbolize his rejection of the trappings of the papacy and to some degree the pontificate of Benedict XVI, since the German pontiff relished in resurrecting many of the liturgical vestments of his predecessors.

Francis also received the cardinals’ pledges of obedience after his election not from a chair on a pedestal as popes normally do but rather standing, on their same level. For traditionalists who fondly recall the days when popes were carried on a sedan chair, that may have stung. In the days since, he has called for “intensified” dialogue with Islam-- a gesture that rubs traditionalists the wrong way because they view such a heavy focus on interfaith dialogue as a sign of religious relativism.

Francis may have rubbed salt into the wounds with his comments at the Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum, which re-enacts Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, praising “the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters” during a prayer ceremony that recalled the suffering of Christians in the Middle East.

Francis also raised traditional eyebrows when he refused the golden pectoral cross offered to him right after his election by Monsignor Guido Marini, the Vatican’s liturgy guru who under Benedict became the symbol of Benedict’s effort to restore the Gregorian chant and heavy silk brocaded vestments of the pre-Vatican II liturgy to papal Masses.

Marini has gamely stayed by Francis’ side as the new pope puts his own stamp on Vatican Masses with no-nonsense vestments and easy off-the-cuff homilies. But there is widespread expectation that Francis will soon name a new master of liturgical ceremonies more in line with his priorities of bringing the church and its message of love and service to ordinary people without the “high church” trappings of his predecessor.

...On Good Friday, Francis recited the Passion of Christ—the story of the last hours of Jesus’s life-- in St Peter’s Basilica and later presided over the Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, at the ancient Roman Coliseum, where thousands of Christians were martyred in Roman times.

There were certainly none of those trappings on display Thursday at the Casal del Marmo juvenile detention facility in Rome.

The church’s liturgical law holds that only men can participate in the rite, given that Jesus’ apostles were all male. Priests and bishops have routinely petitioned for exemptions to include women, but the law is clear.

Francis, however, is the church’s chief lawmaker, so in theory he can do whatever he wants.

“The pope does not need anybody’s permission to make exceptions to how ecclesiastical law relates to him,” noted conservative columnist Jimmy Akin in the National Catholic Register. But Akin echoed concerns raised by canon lawyer Edward Peters, an adviser to the Vatican’s high court, that Francis was setting a “questionable example” by simply ignoring the church’s own rules.

“People naturally imitate their leader. That’s the whole point behind Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. He was explicitly and intentionally setting an example for them,” he said. “Pope Francis knows that he is setting an example.”

The inclusion of women in the rite is problematic for some because it could be seen as an opening of sorts to women’s ordination. The Catholic Church restricts the priesthood to men, arguing that Jesus and his 12 apostles were male.

Francis is clearly opposed to women’s ordination. But by washing the feet of women, he jolted traditionalists who for years have been unbending in insisting that the ritual is for men only and proudly holding up as evidence documentation from the Vatican’s liturgy office saying so.

“If someone is washing the feet of any females … he is in violation of the Holy Thursday rubrics,” Peters wrote in a 2006 article that he reposted earlier this month on his blog.

In the face of the pope doing that very thing, Peters and many conservative and traditionalist commentators have found themselves trying to put the best face on a situation they clearly don’t like yet can’t do much about lest they be openly voicing dissent with the pope.

By Thursday evening, Peters was saying that Francis had merely “disregarded” the law-- not violated it.
The far, far, far right of the Catholic Church-- like what the teabaggers are to the GOP-- is the Society of St. Pius X who are still flipping out that the Mass is said in languages people can understand, rather than in Latin-- although if they were consistent wouldn't they insist on Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic?-- and that the Church is reaching out to Jews and Muslims in friendship-- rather than smiting them. They're not too keen on Pope Francis so far. Their top guy in Latin America, Christian Bouchacourt (think Ted Cruz) was already bitching that “He cultivates a militant humility, but can prove humiliating for the church. With him, we risk to see once again the Masses of Paul VI’s pontificate, a far cry from Benedict XVI’s efforts to restore to their honor the worthy liturgical ceremonies.” No one asked my opinion, but I thought the way Francis should have kicked off the celebrations was by smiting the hedge fund managers, the modern day money changers in the Temple. Let fake Catholics like Boehner and Ryan go join the anti-Jesus Society of St. Pius X freaks.

Ted Cruz-- always liturgically correct


Saturday, March 30, 2013

TV Watch: Is there anything "Shameless"'s Frank Gallagher won't do if he's paid? (Not that we know of)


"Apparently, I've caused a ruckus because I said that gay folks deserve certain . . . civil rights. Rights that the breeders don't want to bestow upon me. [Chortles]" Watch this great clip from last week's episode of Shameless -- Frank Gallagher as impassioned gay-rights crusader -- here. (I had it successfully embedded but discovered that then I couldn't have any line breaks in the post. Sigh. I thnk someone should be shot, but then, nobody asked my opinion.)

by Ken

What? Is Frank Gallagher gay? This drunken galoot with six children (that we know about), who'll nail any woman who makes the mistake of getting within his nailing range -- gay? Well, as I recall Frank himself answering the question as put to him by somebody from his circle, he can be whatever he has to be. And in this case defending same-sex partners' benefits for city employees has served his latest pure-Frank freeloading scheme, to leech off the poor soul -- who isn't gay -- who has taken him in thinking Frank can help him as his AA sponsor.

Naturally, once Frank discovers just how effective his gift of gab can make him as a gay-rights fund-raiser, his sights are set higher than some lousy health benefits. He's a rain-maker now, and expects to be compensated accordingly. Which works swimmingly until he gets a better offer -- a new sugar daddy who wants to see him "cured" of his gayness, and not only is prepared to up the previous benefactor's ante but has a whole new fringe benefit to offer: the women who'll be brought to him as part of his "cure"! Okay, so things don't work out exactly the way Frank was fantasizing. He still knows how be whatever he has to be to make it pay.

It was, I thought, the best use the writers have found for Frank's customary verbal diarrhea (a character trait that William H. Macy is obviously supremely well equipped to enact). The key thing is that they didn't try to make him any more likable or justifiable. If anything, his shamelessly flaunted shamelessness adds a new level of monstrousness. But it was a brilliant way to add some dimension to the character, or at any rate to make an existing dimension more immediate. It occurs to me that when I go back to rewatch the earlier seasons' worth of episodes, I may be more intrigued and less instantly annoyed by the earlier uses of Frank's gift of gab.

All in all, I'd have to say that the Shameless team has had an outstanding season keeping the struggles and dreams of the Gallaghers and their friends going. I've never had any trouble caring about the struggle involved with all the other characters. But Frank himself has always been a problem for me. Suddenly I'm finding myself actually enjoying his, um, appallingness.

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Sulfur Is For Republicans Rotting In Hell, Not For Normal People Breathing Here On Earth


Friday morning we were wondering who would be picking up the tab for damage from earthquakes caused by fracking if Big Oil & Gas won't. Well, the same people who pick up the tab for all pollution caused in the pursuit of private profits-- the tax payers. So that same morning when I heard some GOP shill on the radio whining how forcing Big Oil to reduce sulfur emissions from their gasoline would increase the companies' costs, I couldn't help but think about the billions of dollars in healthcare costs from gasoline pollution and who pays those costs. The reason he was on the radio making a fuss-- aside from the payoffs he gets from his corporate lords-- is because the EPA just announced new rules for cleaner-burning fuel.
The proposed standards would add less than a penny a gallon to the cost of gasoline while delivering an environmental benefit akin to taking 33 million cars off the road, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made yet.

Oil industry officials, however, said the cost would be at least double the administration’s estimate and could add up to 9 cents a gallon in some places.

The proposed standards, which had been stuck in regulatory limbo since 2011, would reduce the amount of sulfur in U.S. gasoline by two-thirds and impose fleet-wide pollution limits on new vehicles by 2017.

The Obama administration’s decision to go ahead with the regulations deals a political blow to the oil and gas industry, which had mobilized dozens of lawmakers in recent days to lobby the White House for a one-year delay.

It also comes as the administration alarmed many environmentalists by weighing a delay in limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. Unlike the sulfur limits, the administration argued, the power plant limits could immediately hurt the struggling economy.

While gasoline sulfur itself does not pose a public health threat, it hampers the effectiveness of catalytic converters, which in turn leads to greater tailpipe emissions. These emissions-- nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and fine particles-- contribute to smog and soot, which can cause respiratory and heart disease.
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic polling firm, found in a survey for the American Lung Association in January that U.S. voters overwhelmingly support the EPA’s new gasoline and vehicle standards. Among the key findings from this research:

• The EPA remains much more popular than Congress, whose ratings continue to sink
• Voters rate clean air as a significantly higher priority than reducing regulations on businesses
• Voters across the country strongly believe that the EPA should be doing more, not less, to reduce air pollution
• An overwhelming 62 to 32 percent majority support the new gasoline and vehicle standards.
• This includes solid majorities of Democrats, independents and even moderate Republicans.

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Bowie Keeps Swinging


Early in the 70s I washed up in Amsterdam, after a couple years of wandering down the Hippie Trail across Asia and back. I didn't have a dime to my name and no reason to go back to America, which was still systematically destroying Vietnam under Richard Nixon. Necessity created an ascetic and I got a job at the Kosmos, Amsterdam's meditation center. I ate brown rice and vegetables for 4 years and lived... modestly. It was also the time I was slowly coming to realize I was gay. I had another set of friends besides the meditation center crowd. They were some American and British ex-pats who lived in a crazy house and had a lifestyle I had never experienced. They were kind of glamorous in a shabby way. One, Michael LeBow, was pretty outrageous and artistically-inclined grandson of a very right-wing Republican congressman from Ohio. His father was a big time VP at GM and the family paid him a nice stipend to stay out of the U.S. That stipend supported the little community I stumbled into. They took me to my first gay bar and introduced me to David Bowie-- literally.

Michael's boyfriend, an English guy named John, was a bit of a hustler and he had a wealthy benefactor is London who he'd visit from time to time, also named John (Big John, for short). Big John owned a string of resorts across the Mediterranean and his own planes. He's let us stay at the resorts during the off-season. And sometimes we'd all visit him in London. I felt like a fish out of water and wasn't attracted to his scene at all but b two up and coming young British musicians were in his circle, Elton John and David Bowie. To this day I find it hard to hear Bowie's music without recalling the bizarre world I had stumbled into in London. It closed me off to his music for years.

The new issue of Out has a dozen-plus page cover feature on Bowie this month. It's shockingly mediocre, mostly a series of short, Über-trite personal essays by people who were influenced by him-- and lots of photos (some excellent ones) and opportunities to sell advertising. A lot of the coverage was slanted towards fashion and one of the only vaguely interesting essays was by Jean Paul Gaultier. This is the best... so you'll have to imagine what the less than best were like:
I was living in Paris when I first experienced Bowie’s music, and the influence was instant and permanent. He was in a dress for the sleeve of The Man Who Sold the World-- there was a sense of ambiguity and originality that was incredible at the time. He was demonstrating that a man could be powerfully feminine; he didn’t have to aspire to be John Wayne. Even the fact that he was married to a woman [Angie Bowie] who was also a lesbian gave all of us permission to love who we wanted to love. I remember going to gay bars in London that Bowie was known to frequent and it gave many of us courage not to hide, to have confidence in ourselves.

I was working for Pierre Cardin in Manila in the Philippines in 1975, and I used “Diamond Dogs” for the opening of my first show. In 1978, I saw him in Paris for the Low/“Heroes” tour, and the set was entirely composed of white neon. It was unique; no one did things like that then. At the beginning of the show, he appeared as a kind of Marlene Dietrich, but with a white captain’s jacket and a cap-- it was obvious that it was not Bowie playing a captain, but Bowie playing Marlene Dietrich playing a man. One thing that was astonishing was his ability to do cinema and music simultaneously, while endlessly reinventing himself. It wasn’t only his androgyny but his creativity-- he was among the first people to discover Kansai Yamamoto, who made incredible clothes for his Ziggy Stardust era. In that way he was always a pioneer. He had a Dadaist approach to his work; he would cut everything up and put things together in new ways that made them fresh and radical. I remember when [French newspaper] Libération dedicated an entire issue, cover to cover, to Bowie. It was unique. They did it later with Michael Jackson. They didn’t do it as completely for Madonna.
One of my favorite featurettes in Out is the Meta-Data page in the front of the book. One of the tidbits in this issue is a photo of oversized, shiny red boots-- "Bargain Boots £8:"
"I wasn't going to spend that! I had these made for £8 instead."- David Bowie, on his Stardust boots (a copy of a £25 pair of designer Kansai Yamamoto originals).

A few pages on-- and not meant to be related to the Bowie coverage in any way-- is a recurring page about fashion choices by dead celebrities. The idea is that you can dress like them and the magazine's advertisers are happy to charge you insane prices for what looks like what the dead star used to wear. This month it was John Lennon. I'm so excited, I found the page. I don't have to transcribe it and describe it:

Can you read the prices? My favorite is the hat. We used to call it a Lenin hat when I was in college and it was the ultimate symbol of the working man. Armani is selling them-- "price available upon request." I'd like to find out the price... you know, just for the heck of it. Do I have to call Neimann Marcus or something like that?


Will South Carolina Republicans Vote Strategically Tuesday?


Sanford's not even good enough for these two charlatans

Ole Man-on-Dog Santorum was down in South Carolina's first congressional district all last week, campaigning for little known former Charleston city councilman Curtis Bostic, who came in a distant second (with 13%) in the Republican primary and will face off against former Governor/former Congressman Mark Sanford (37%). More accurately, of course, is that Santorum was down in South Carolina campaigning against Sanford. I doubt Santorum gives a damn that Sanford was caught cheating on his wife-- in a spectacular, scandalous way-- as much as he's worrying that if Sanford wins the runoff, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch could wind up winning a very red district in the May 7 general election. Keep in mind that although Obama only managed to get 39% of the vote in November and that then-Congressman Tim Scott (R) was reelected with 62%, it was just a few years ago that Democrat Linda Ketner almost beat long-time incumbent Henry Brown (R) 177,540 (52%)- 163,724 (48%).

Normal voters in a general election might shy away from a character like Sanford-- who isn't just an adulterer but was widely considered one of the most corrupt governors in South Carolina's history-- but the GOP primary voters... they thrive on this kind of thing. This is the Party of The Culture of Personal Crisis. Failing ethically and morally is a positive if you mock Jesus loudly enough in your disingenuous public repentance-- and the more lurid the failing, the more these evangelical suckers are likely to be taken in. That's why Sanford may well win the runoff Tuesday and lose then lose the actually election when independents and Democrats will also be voting.

In their debate Thursday, Bostic said Sanford's infidelity has made him a "compromised candidate" who could lose the seat to Colbert's sister. "We will lose this and lose it because of this issue of trust," he predicted... Democrats are excited at the possibility of taking this seat back."

Desperate to hit back, Sanford accused Bostic of missing votes on the city council, but the accusations fell flat since many in the city remember that Bostic missed the votes while he was at his wife's bedside while she was suffering with cancer-- a horrible contrast for Sanford, who missed his work as governor when he was off tangoing in Buenos Aires with his mistress. One of Sanford's most vicious mouthpieces in this race, FitsNews, has also accused ex-marine Bostic of supporting human trafficking or some kind of crazy right-wing nonsense they usually reserve for Democrats.

The redemption meme may have been at least partially neutered Friday when Bostic was endorsed by James Dobson, who plays the role of judging whether or not politicians' apologies have been accepted by Heaven. Like Ann Coulter, he endorsed Bostic, a very big deal among right-wing primary voters in the fevered Confederate swamplands. Coulter, who refers to Mark Sanford as "the Todd Akin of South Carolina:"
You would think Akin would stand in history to teach Republicans to stop giving away winnable seats by running ridiculous candidates. Alas, no.

What's next? A Republican candidate whose campaign consists exclusively of demanding vaginal probes and discussing different types of rape?

If, in some horrible twist of fate that's been stalking Republicans, Sanford wins the runoff, he will lose the general election. Worse, he might win, making Republicans look like utter hypocrites on family values.

In any event, so many resources will have to be diverted to save an easy Republican House seat that even if Sanford wins, some other Republican candidate will lose a close election after having to beg for money.

And the payoff is: Yay! We win one of the most Republican districts in the country with a high-risk candidate!

The Republican Party owes Sanford nothing. He had a chance and he blew it. National Review wasted five years of cover stories on how awesome he was, but he never accomplished anything of substance.

He showed off about getting his hair done at Super Cuts, sleeping in his office in Congress and not turning on the air conditioning in the governor's mansion. He wore the same pair of shoes for 30 years-- they've been re-soled 70 times!

Big deal. He saved taxpayers $300 in petty cash, but he didn't implement any lasting reforms. The most memorable thing Sanford did in his entire life was to make himself a laughingstock as governor by running off with his Argentine honey and then going on TV to announce-- in front of his wife and children-- "I've fallen in love!"

Republicans need to be like Luca Brasi and tell Sanford: "You screwed up; we didn't do anything to you. Have fun, I'm sure Maria's fantastic, but you can't run for Congress."
Dobson described Bostic as "steadfast in supporting traditional marriage and defending the unborn child, matters of preeminent importance at this crucial hour in our nation's history." Bostic also nabbed the endorsement of an extremist Republican Women's anti-Choice group, Concerned Women for America PAC. "The decision," they exulted, "that he and his wife, Jenny, made to embrace their faith, disregard medical advice, and have their fifth child clearly shows that Curtis honors his commitments and stands in strong contrast to Mark Sanford's abandonment of his core principles."

UPDATE: Does Anyone Care What Henry Brown Says?

Bostic has been promising a game changing endorsement. Apparently it was former Congressman Henry Brown. The district was different when Brown was congressman and he was nearly defeated by a Democrat and then retired rather than face a primary from the Tea Party. “I’ve known Curtis and his family for many years, and know him to be a man of integrity and principle. He is the best choice for District 1,” said Brown.

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Defining The Battleground And The Nature Of Conservatism


The other day we mentioned how Indiana reactionary Todd Young just wants all these right-wing social issues-- like marriage equality-- to go away so Republicans can concentrate on all their elites have ever cared about: screwing over working families for the benefit of the Big Business interests that finance Republican politicians' careers. Yeah, that simple. That conservatives have been on the wrong side of history on every single important issue facing America starting with the Declaration of Independence-- conservatives, of course, fought on the British side during the Revolutionary War and thousands fled the new country afterward-- right through:
• The Bill of Rights and the forging of a democracy
• Universal white male suffrage
• Public education
• The emancipation of the slaves
• The national park system
• Food safety
• The breakup of monopolies
• Land grant universities
• Rural electrification
• Women’s suffrage
• The abolition of child labor
• The eight hour workday
• The minimum wage
• Social Security
• Civil rights for minorities and women
• Voting rights for minorities and the poor
• Cleaning up our air, our water, and toxic dump sites
• Consumer product safety
• Medicare and Medicaid
They are always wrong. They are an impediment-- by definition and by nature-- to progress. And their asses are always for sale to the special interests in the process. Now Republicans like Young-- Todd if not Don-- want to get all this extraneous stuff about immigration, gays, lady parts, gun massacres. Latinos, etc out of the way so they can make their case about the economy. Democrats should welcome that debate-- all Americans should. It really is the only thing that could ever expose the GOP for what it is: a tool of the selfish, greed-obsessed millionaires and billionaires. Yesterday Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent welcomed it, urging Obama to keep talking about jobs.
With the country mired in extended sequestration, and Congress trapped in a stalemate over how much austerity to impose, it’s good to see that President Obama today plans to renew his push for infrastructure investment to create jobs and get the economy going. The Associated Press reports that Obama will today unveil a plan to create jobs by encouraging more private investment in highways and other infrastructure projects-- and with billions in new federal spending on infrastructure, partly via a national “infrastructure bank” that was originally proposed during Obama’s first term.

It appears Obama will propose new spending in his forthcoming budget, which will call for a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. The White House is likely to argue that deficit reduction measures can co-exist with new spending on infrastructure, research, and early-childhood education, which will be offset by other unspecified budget changes.

Obviously new spending is a nonstarter among Republicans, as the President’s partial emphasis on private infrastructure investment makes clear. But Obama should continue pushing infrastructure spending, anyway. For one thing, it’s highly popular: A recent Gallup poll found that 72 percent of Americans-- and even 53 percent of Republicans-- support new federal spending to put people to work on infrastructure repairs. For another, the notion that we should prioritize spending to get the economy going over deficit reduction in the short term has been entirely marginalized from the Washington conversation, which remains trapped in a dialog between “balanced” austerity (the Dem push for a mix of spending cuts and tax hikes) and extreme austerity (the Paul Ryan budget).

This week, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich was bemoaning the fact that with more Republicans coming around to the majority view on most social issues they're still in the dark on the economy. But that's really all they care about and, as he says, "public opinion seems beside the point."
Before January’s fiscal cliff deal, for example, at least 60 percent of Americans, in poll after poll, expressed strong support for raising taxes on incomes over $250,000. As you recall, though, the deal locked in the Bush tax cut for everyone earning up to $400,000.

Yes, legislative deals require compromise. But why is it that deals over economic policy almost always compromise away what a majority of Americans want?

Most Americans weren’t particularly concerned about the budget deficit to begin with. They’ve been far more concerned about jobs and wages. Yet maneuvers over the deficit have consistently trumped jobs and wages.

Recent polls show Americans would rather reduce the deficit by raising taxes than by cutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education, and transportation. Yet Congress seems incapable of making that kind of deal.

Some 65 percent of Americans want to raise taxes on large corporations-- but both parties are heading in precisely the opposite direction.

Half of Americans favor a plan to break up Wall Street’s twelve megabanks, which currently control 69 percent of the banking industry. Only 23 percent oppose such a plan (27 percent are undecided).

You might this would at least prompt an examination of the possibility on Capitol Hill and the White House-- especially now that the Street is actively eviscerating regulations under Dodd-Frank.

But our elected representatives don’t want to touch Wall Street. According to Politico, even the White House believes too-big-to-fail will soon be a closed chapter.

Why are politicians so sensitive to public opinion on equal marriage rights, immigration, and guns-- and so tone deaf to what most Americans want on the economy?

Perhaps because the former issues don’t threaten big money in America. But any tinkering with taxes or regulations sets off alarm bells in our nation’s finely-appointed dining rooms and board rooms-- alarm bells that, in turn, set off promises of (or threats to withhold) large wads of campaign cash in the next election.

When political scientists Benjamin Page and Larry Bartels surveyed Chicagoans with an average net worth of $14 million, they found their biggest concern was curbing budget deficits and government spending-- ranking these as priorities three times as often as they did unemployment.

And-- no surprise-- these wealthy individuals were also far less willing than are other Americans to curb deficits by raising taxes on high-income people, and more willing to cut Social Security and Medicare. They also opposed initiatives most other Americans favor-- such as increasing spending on schools and raising the minimum wage above the poverty level.

The other thing distinguishing Page’s and Bartels’ wealthy respondents from the rest of America was their political influence.

Two-thirds of them had contributed money (averaging $4,633) in the most recent presidential election. A fifth of them had even “bundled” contributions from others.

That money bought the kind of political access most Americans only dream of. About half of these wealthy people had recently initiated contact with a U.S. senator or representative-- and nearly half (44 percent) of those contacts concerned matters of relatively narrow economic self-interest rather than broader national concerns.

This is just the wealthy of one city-- Chicago. Multiply it across the entire United States and you begin to see the larger picture of whom our representatives are listening to, and why. Nor does the survey include the institutionalized wealth-- and economic clout-- of Wall Street and large corporations. Multiply the multiplier.

Great wealth can also influence public opinion. It is possible, for example, that the piles of money spent by billionaire Pete Peterson to persuade Americans that the budget deficit is the nation’s most urgent economic problem is now paying off. Recent polls show greater concern about the deficit now than was expressed a few years ago when the deficit represented a much larger percentage of the total economy.
Yesterday President Obama made the point in Florida that investing "in infrastructure not only makes our roads, bridges, and ports safer and gives our businesses and workers the tools to compete successfully in the global economy, it also creates thousands of good American jobs that cannot be outsourced." With the GOP gratuitously obstructing every single initiative he takes, he's calling for a partnership with private enterprise to rebuild the country's infrastructure. If businesses see the GOP standing in the way of them making a profit... watch out-- all bets will be off.

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Sunday Classics preview: Two of our "J" and "K" conductors shine in Mozart


As a native Salzburger, not to mention a man with ambitions to be master of all the musical heights, Herbert von Karajan tried, tried, and tried again to make his mark in Mozart. This Don Giovanni Overture is better than many of his efforts -- far from great, but not bad.

by Ken

In the "modern era" of Sunday Classics we've had occasion to take note -- largely but entirely coincidentally -- of four conductors from roughly the same era who to me epitomize "musicality," something I'd rather have you listen to and glean for yourselves than attempt to define. So far we've heard our three "K" conductors (Rudolf Kempe, Josef Krips, and Rafael Kubelik; preview and main post) and our "J" conductor (Eugen Jochum; Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) alphabetically segregated. This week as we move into the treacherous terrain of Mozart, and specifically the Mozart operas, we're going to cross-group, since two of our conductors are responsible for what seem to me two of the all-time great operatic recordings.

For tonight, though, we're just going to focus on the openings of two great Mozart operas, what seems to me his first true operatic masterpiece, The Abduction from the Seraglio, and that towering masterpiece from the height of his creative outpouring, Don Giovanni. (Actually, we first heard this music, and many of these recordings, in a May 2010 preview post.) I hope this will be fun because we're going to hear these two overtures, neither a stranger to the concert platform, as stand-alone pieces, with little concert endings tacked on, and then we're going to hear them the way they were composed, to lead directly into the operas' opening numbers.


MOZART: The Abduction from the Seraglio, K. 384: Overture

Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner, cond. EMI, recorded c1981

MOZART: Don Giovanni, K. 527: Overture

Staatskapelle Dresden, Sir Colin Davis, cond. BMG, recorded c1998


Read more »

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Can the GOP learn that pretending to be inclusive isn't the same thing as being inclusive?


The result of this deception is very strange to tell,
for when I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well. . . .
Make believe you're brave, and the trick will take you far.
You may be as brave as you make believe you are.
--  "I Whistle a Happy Tune," from The King and I

"The spectacle of the Republicans, like teenagers longing to be invited to the prom, floundering about in search of more popularity with American voters, would be comical if it didn’t present the sad picture of a once great and proud party—the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower—working its way into near irrelevance."
-- Elizabeth Drew, in "Are the Republicans Beyond
," in the March 21 NYRB

"“Republicans like [Alaska Rep. Don Young] will soon be extinct, and that's a good thing for the GOP. But in the meantime, when they make these remarks, it makes it harder for those of us who are trying to grow the base of our party."
-- GOP consultant John Weaver ("who has worked for moderate Republicans in recent years") in The Fix's "Don Young and the Archie Bunker Problem"

by Ken

Sorry about the performance of "I Whistle a Happy Tune," but after sampling 20 or 25 "real" performances on YouTube, I was kind of relieved to settle for this one. (Do the people who post these clips really not know how wretched they are?)

You see, we're going to be talking tonight about pretending to be things you aren't. It's a strategy being pressed on 2013 Republicans by consultants as well as voices within the party, and I'm getting the weird feeling that they don't see the difference between pretending to be something and being it. And I couldn't help thinking of Anna in The King and I, and the lesson she tries to teach her son Louis at the top of the show. But the point here, surely (she makes it pretty explicitly), is that in the act of pretending to be brave, you may actually wind up being brave.

I'm not as optimistic about the strategy being pressed on depressed R's.

"Bemused" is what I've been, watching from the sidelines as those R's -- coming as close as they're apparently capable of coming to self-reflection -- at least consider the possibility that their 2012 electoral disaster was self-inflicted, that Republicans had come to be viewed by alamring numbers of U.S. voters as a party of exclusion, as a party whose only mission is to defend the interests of the 1%.

I had occasion to wonder the other day about the claim of some of these self-accusing elements in the party that they need to hearken back to the days of their old "big tent." The Republicans had a big tent? When was this? Even when Richard Nixon was fashioning the new Republican Party by adding Southern racists to the seething Silent Majority of Americans sick to death of challenges to orthodoxy and the status quo, it was a gathering of people housed in a number of modest-size tents coexisting on the same campground because they were all so mad at all those damn commies and hippies and assorted other riffraff out there.

The only difference, really, it seems to me, is that the tents have gotten even smaller. But the purpose of the little tents was always to exclude the people who weren't inside them, even if for strategic purposes they voted in multi-tent unison on a lot of issues, especially when manipulated with the finesse of a Nixon or a Ronald Reagan or even a George W. Bush for as long "Chimpy the Prez" could hold his coaltion of excluders together.


Rather obviously, you have to wonder how long it's going to be before they start excluding one another. Already, for example, there's a deep fissure between right-wing excluders who worry that they've been somehow perceived as too exclusionary and right-wing excluders who believe that 2012 happened because they weren't exclusionary enough.

I'll leave that to them to slug out. And among many considerations of the implications for Republicans if they don't come to grips with their exclusionary tendencies, I can recommend Elizabeth Drew's "Are the Republicans Beyond Saving?" in the March 21 NYRB, whose opening I quote atop this post. I just want to register a modest note of bemusement about this notion that the R's' problem is being perceived as too exclusionary. As too hating of (take your pick) women, immigrants, Hispanic voters, LGBT voters, etc.

What bemuses me is this apparent notion that the problem is perception. I look at it differently. If you get all huffy about being unloved because mean people keep saying you're bigoted, changing the perception may required that you be less bigoted.

Which brings me to the other piece from which I quoted atop this post, the post "Don Young and the Archie Bunker Problem" by Aaron Blake and Juliet Eilperin today on's "The Fix." It begins:
Less than two weeks after the Republican National Committee unveiled its 2012 election autopsy an emphasis on broadening the party's tent, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) used an ethnic slur for Latinos in a radio interview Thursday. Young's comments served as the latest wake-up call for Republicans in their nascent effort to woo a more diverse cross-section of America.

The message: whatever effort they make toward modernizing their brand, there will always be a few Archie Bunkers out there -- people, like the lead character in the 70's sitcom "All in the Family," who are unconcerned with or unwilling to moderate their tone. And these days more than in the past, their offhand remarks can derail the most carefully orchestrated PR campaign.

Young, 79, set off a fresh round of recriminations and hand-wringing among Republican leaders while talking about the people his father employed on his California ranch years ago.

"We used to hire 50 or 60 wetbacks and -- to pick tomatoes," Young said in the interview with KRBD. "You know, it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It's all done by machine."
Oops!!! Or should I say: Whoops!!!

Now Don Young is an old DWT fave, not so much because he's an excluder and hater as because he's a crook, a man who seems capable of sizing up any situation that comes to his attention from the standpoint "What's in it for me?" (As a result of which, he tends to find himself facing far more than even the normal congressional share of big-league "What's in it for me?" opportunities.)

A constant thread in Aaron Blake and Juliet Eilperin's "Fix" piece is that R's are unjustly associated with louts like Don Young, or singled out for unfair heightened scrutiny, or subjected to a double standard -- the suggestion being that a Democrat could get away with reminiscing about "wetbacks." It seems to me, though, that on the contrary R's get away with far more than they're gotcha-ed for.

Various and sundry Republicans are quoted to the effect that Don Young isn't their guy, and they're all being tarnished by the same brush. And in the particular case of immigration, it's true that some Republicans are less exclusing than "Wetback Don." However, most of the Rs who are "enlightened" on immigration merely have a more "enlightened" view of the importance to the U.S. economy of all that cheap labor, which comes doubly cheap because so many of the immigrant workers -- directly contrary to the myth of being benefits sponges -- don't claim any benefits at all despite all the taxes they pay.


In addition, Republicans who happen to be "includers" with respect to one unfavored group tend to be extra-exclusive with many of the others. So those who may hold arguably inclusive views with regard to, say, immigration, or LGBT equality, are apt to be viral excluders when it comes to, say, the "47%" of so-called "takers not makers." It's a weird world indeed where cynical paper-pushers who produce primarily "deals" that don't produce anything except big profits for themselves and their cronies are considered "makers" while people who do the actual work in our society are dismissed as "takers."

A favorite GOP-apologist theme, for example, is that they're victimized as the perpetrators of a "so-called" War on Women. But again, the best way to answer such objections is to stop waging war on women. During the 2012 campaign, for example, when R's found themselves stuck with the obscenely frothing abortion imbecilities of Senate nominees Todd Akin (Missouri) and Richard Mourdock (Indiana), Howie and I pointed out frequently that there was no difference whatsoever between their beliefs about abortion and the law and those of right-wing darling Paul Ryan. But Ryan, unlike the neanderthal Akin and Mourdock, knows how to put a smiley face on his ignorance and savagery.

If Akin or Mourdock were to try whistling a happy tune, the effect would be creepy. (I think it's important, thought, that we not ignore their pre-2012 electoral successes. They were every bit as creepy before, just not as indiscreet, or perhaps more important, no so brightly spotlit when they were being creepy.) To me, Paul Ryan and the less visibly crackpotty R's are even creepier when they pretend to be wise or just or courageous.

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