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Longwood Gardens.  February, 2013.  Photo by joanneleon.

tracy chapman - give me one reason

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Wow, they are starting to say some of the things that some honest progressives were saying when they passed the stupid quasi Grand Bargain in 2011. Imagine that.  It's disastrous for the economy when unemployment is so high, etc.  But the fearmongering going on this weekend was over the top.  The sky will fall if these spending cuts go through (nevermind that a majority voted for them!) and yet Congress was on recess, the president was golfing, and the first lady was in a sparkling gown with White House guards in uniforms trimmed in gold giving out Oscars via simulcast.  We're putting troops in Africa and getting into new wars and talking about keeping troops in Afghanistan for years, there's a gold rush for defense contracts for scary cyberterrorism, we're learning that the FBI is using its funding to create terrorism, and police forces in cities and small towns and counties alike are getting tanks and riot gear.  Not to mention that the president just spent more than a billion dollars on his reelection and that doesn't even include the endless campaign events where travel and security and entourage was on the taxpayer's dime for the interminable 2012 election campaign, a two-year long campaign, even though his opponents were stooges.  

The president and Speaker crafted these spending cuts, the Congress passed them, and now they are trying to stir up the public into a frenzy of protest, like someone forced these cuts down their throats.  They held themselves hostage in 2011 and now they are rescuing themselves, all of it fabricated.  They had the chance to end the Bush tax cuts to raise revenue so that draconian cuts did not have to be made but instead they made most of the Bush tax cuts permanent.  And the best part of it is, that as soon as they finish undoing these sequestration spending cuts they will go right back their incessant talk about how we need to cut spending and reduce the deficit.  They will go right back to the deficit terrorism.  And then they will go after Medicare and Social Security (something that has no effect on debt).  The only acceptable cuts are cuts that affect the powerless.  They will start talking about tax reform and cutting the corporate tax rate.  They will talk about taking away the corporate welfare and Big Oil subsidies, but never do it.  The Washington, DC area has been booming for more than a decade with new shiny buildings as far as the eye can see in the area, suburban sprawl everywhere.

"The Sequester Is Awful, But It's Not My Fault!"

Barring an agreement between Congress and the President, the unthinkable happens on Friday. Automatic cuts in most government programs take effect.  It’s an incredibly stupid move, especially given that the economy is still suffering 8 percent unemployment. [...]

No sensible person of either party thinks sequestration is a smart way to run a government.  But if you read the newspapers, you might well conclude that our policymakers’ main objective is to prove that it’s not their fault, rather than ensure that it doesn’t happen.  This might be because politicians really are more interested in finger-pointing than legislating.  Or it might be because reporters would rather write about  the human drama of assessing and deflecting blame–something with which everyone can relate–than the mind-numbing details of the sequester, it’s likely effects, and the options to avert it.
Members of both parties supported the idea, and the Republican House, the Democratic Senate, and the Democratic President all signed off on it.
If the sequester weren’t bad enough, other self-inflicted crises are looming.  Government funding expires at the end of March and the debt limit will be reached again around mid-May.

From a policy perspective, the best option would be to simply cancel the sequester and extend the payroll tax cut for at least another year.  This is a really bad time to be cutting spending.  With interest rates low and unemployment high, now would be a great time to fix failing roads, bridges, and dams.  We did some of this as part of the recovery act, but the nation’s infrastructure is still in bad shape and the economy is still weak.

Wait, wasn't this his idea in the first place? Grand Bargain and all that?  Arm twisting in the Dem caucuses to get enough votes to pass it, etc.?  The president issued a veto threat if the triggers were removed.
White House releases state-by-state breakdown of sequester’s effects

The White House on Sunday detailed how the deep spending cuts set to begin this week would affect programs in every state and the District, as President Obama launched a last-ditch effort to pressure congressional Republicans to compromise on a way to stop the across-the-board cuts.

But while Republicans and Democrats were set to introduce dueling legislative proposals this week to avert the Friday start of the spending cuts, known as the sequester, neither side expected the measures to get enough support to pass Congress.

NEW YORK — U.S. stock futures are rising even with automatic budget cuts just days away, should a political impasse in Washington not be resolved.
Driving futures higher are strong U.S. corporate earns and buyouts.

Comedian Mark Russell Is Back to Skewer Washington’s Power Elites

His quick re-emergence after two years off the stage reflects his attitude toward Washington: There are too many fools on the Hill and their stupidity needs a counterbalance.

Russell has served as that counterforce since the 1950s, doing PBS specials for 30 years and appearing regularly on ‘‘Meet the Press’’ for more than 15.

He jokingly says he has 535 writers—“100 in the Senate and 435 in the House of Representatives.’’ But unlike Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who have a stable of writers, Russell writes all his jokes himself. And he makes them look easy.

‘’[The Russians] would argue the difference between communism and capitalism,’’ he told an older crowd Tuesday night at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. “ ‘In communism,’ they would say, ‘man exploits man. But with capitalism, it is the other way around.’ ”

Chris Hayes: American public wants to increase or maintain government spending despite rhetoric

In fact, Americans did not want cuts in 18 of the 19 programs surveyed and were only willing to decrease world aid to those in need.

However, the percentage that want increased or maintained spending has decreased in the past 25 years, according to Pew.

“The conversation is moving towards austerity, even if the public still mostly wants to either increase or maintain funding and not cut,” Hayes said.

Karzai orders US Special Forces out of two provinces, citing torture and murder

“The US Special Forces and illegal armed groups created by them are causing insecurity, instability, and harass local people in these provinces,” Faizi told a press conference.
A further statement released by the Afghan president’s office said that the decision to expel them was made by the National Security Council.

“After a thorough discussion, it became clear that armed individuals named as US Special Force[s] stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people," it said.

"A recent example in the province is an incident in which nine people were disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force and in a separate incident a student was taken away at night from his home, whose tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge. However, Americans reject having conducted any such operation and any involvement of their special force. The meeting strongly noted that such actions have caused local public resentment and hatred,” the statement continued.

He also said that there was alleged involvement of Afghan civilians working alongside US Special Forces.

US Special Forces ordered to quit key Afghan province (1:19)

Video Transcript
Afghan government officials say US special forces stationed Wardak province have two weeks to get out. They've been ordered to leave the key battleground area over allegations that Afghans working for them tortured, abused and even killed innocent residents. A spokesperson for President Hamid Karzai made the announcement Sunday. (SOUNDBITE) (Dari) AIMAL FAIZI, SPOKESMAN FOR AFGHAN PRESIDENT, HAMID KARZAI; SAYING: "The Afghan national security meeting made a decision and have assigned the ministry of defense to pull out all U.S. special forces out of the Wardak province within two weeks." According to military officials, residents say nine people have disappeared, allegedly at the hands of the special forces operatives. This woman says her son was beaten, his body dropped under a bridge. And this man claims he was beaten in the legs and head before any attempt was made to question him about anything. Afghan Army chief of Staff, Sher Mohammad Karimi. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GENERAL SHER MOHAMMAD KARIMI, AFGHAN ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF; SAYING: "The order is, in order to prove whether who is doing this the one solution would be just stop operating these people as a whole." The NATO led International Security Assistance Force said in a statement that the US is aware of the allegations and will investigate.

Zero Dark Thirty, the CIA and film critics have a very bad evening
The stigma attached to the pro-torture CIA propaganda vehicle, beloved by film critics, results in Oscar humiliation

Just a few months ago, the consensus of the establishment press and the nation's (shockingly large) community of film critics was that Zero Dark Thirty was the best film of the year and the clear (and well-deserved) front-runner to win the most significant Academy Awards. [...] But then political writers had begun to notice what film critics either failed to detect or just wilfully ignored.


The first sign that this fallout was harming the film was when its director, Bigelow, was not even nominated for Best Director. And now, on Sunday night at the Academy Awards, Zero Dark Thirty got exactly what it deserved: basically nothing other than humiliation:

"'Zero Dark Thirty,' about the decade-long US hunt for Osama bin Laden, has received more attention in the US Congress than it did at the Oscars on Sunday, amid political fallout over its depiction of torture and alleged intelligence leaks to the movie's makers. . . .

"Just three months ago, the thriller, which culminates in Osama bin Laden's killing by US Navy Seals, was a strong contender to pick up the biggest prize of Best Picture, as well as the Best Actress and Original Screenplay awards.

"By the end of Sunday night, however, it had picked up just one award – a shared Oscar for Sound Editing, which was a tie."

(I'm actually glad that it won essentially half of an award, for sound editing, as that's somehow more cruel than if it just won nothing).


Meanwhile, Boal has been playing the McCarthyism martyr by pretending that the Senate is investigating his film over its pro-torture message. Such an investigation would indeed be odious, but it's a figment of Boal's imagination. To the extent the Senate has expressed any interest in investigating, it is not over the film's content but whether the CIA passed classified information about the bin Laden raid to Bigelow and Boal in order to get the film it wanted (though not dispositive, there is ample evidence to believe this). The investigation targets the CIA, not the filmmakers.  For an administration that has waged its own war on whistleblowers by prosecuting and imprisoning them at record numbers, surely the CIA's abuse of classified information for the purpose of producing Hollywood propaganda merits a formal investigation, particularly since the government has vigorously resisted disclosure attempts in court from the media and advocacy groups on the ground that the bin Laden raid is classified.

Article from December, cited in Glenn's article (above), addressing the question of what there was such a big disconnect between the film critics and the political writers on Zero Dark Thirty.  She says that film critics have become niche writers and that anything partisan is faux pas, beneath them.  She actually suggests at the end that there are many brilliant but unpaid bloggers whose voices should perhaps be allowed into the conversation more often, which would provide a "wider range of voices".  I'm sure that would be immensely popular with film critics! Not! They seem to think very highly of themselves and probably enjoy access to Hollywood.
Why Zero Dark Thirty divides the media in half

Today, in part because because popular art has largely been decoupled from politics, film critics tend to be narrower in their expertise. They are also operating in an America where “partisan” and “political” have been made to equal each other in a toxic way.  Thus, critics and many political thinkers can’t necessarily agree on a critical focus.
But if political writers do their job well, they understand something even more important: that ideological meaning and agendas are not incidental to thrilling films and cinematography. Why surgically remove politics from a discussion of a film’s final quality, rendering the argument so purely aesthetic that it becomes low-brow decadent, as is Richard Roeper’s in a broadcast. Roeper crowns Zero Dark Thirty the best of the year: “a masterwork of filmmaking … holy ‘bleep’ ”?  Ethical lapses or gaps in movies should be critiqued, along with bad performances or absurd storylines. As Mayer wrote of Zero Dark, “It doesn’t include a single scene in which torture is questioned, even though the Bush years were racked by internal strife over just that issue.”
Perhaps the solution would be for mainstream media outlets to regularly open up their cultural criticism to an even wider range of voices. One media contemporary cliché is the irrelevance of the professional cultural critic in a landscape of Amazon and IMDB review amateurs and brilliant but unpaid film bloggers. If, as it appears, everyone is indeed a film critic now, we should hear from more of them.

Robert Gibbs: I was told ‘not even to acknowledge the drone program’

Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs revealed in an interview on Up w/ Chris Hayes Sunday that, when he became the Obama administration’s top spokesman, he was told not to discuss the government’s secret drone program or even acknowledge its existence.


Gibbs added: “Here’s what’s inherently crazy about that proposition: you’re being asked a question based on reporting of a program that exists. So you’re the official government spokesperson acting as if the entire program…pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

How Accurate Is Argo?

Argo, the new movie from actor-director Ben Affleck, has mostly been getting raves—including a qualified but fairly strong endorsement from Slate’s own Dana Stevens, who calls it “a rollicking yarn” and “easily the most cohesive and technically accomplished of Affleck’s three films so far.” But several reviews have also noted just how far the movie departs in certain respects from the historical record. In the movie’s dramatic climax, Stevens writes, the “broadly accurate retelling of real events” gives way to “some fairly whopping dramatic license.” Similarly, New Yorker critic Anthony Lane—who also enjoyed the film—found it a “bit rich” that the movie pokes so much fun at “Hollywood deceitfulness” only to end “with an expert helping of white lies.” Former Slate film critic David Edelstein goes even further: NPR headlined his review “Argo: Too Good To Be True, Because It Isn’t.”


But ‘financially lucrative, artistically irrelevant’ doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter. The Oscars are the moment when the film industry publicly avows which films it believes are its most lasting contribution to the culture. The Academy, rather than representing anything like the film-labor pool, let alone the demographic make up of America at large, is 94% white, 77% male and 86% over the age of 50. The film industry’s powerbase, like all industries in America, is old, white and male.
Last year’s program copped to the death of Hollywood cinema-as-art. All that was left was looking backward over a once-hallowed institution and weeping over the corpse. This year, though, the tears have dried. What we see instead is a clear vision of the utility of cinema. The 85th Academy Awards, like no show before it, will elevate films that are openly ideological, weaponized tools of the state.

"Zero Dark Thirty" and the Mysterious Killing of Osama bin Laden
The Oscar-nominated film resurrects questions about the Al Qaeda leader's death—all six versions of it

Then there is the matter of exactly how the Navy SEALs killed bin Laden. Ironically, a movie famously described by its director as a "journalistic account" gets little help on this front from practitioners of the trade. In the nearly two years since the mission, several respected journalists and even members of SEAL Team 6 itself have put forth different versions of how the killing went down. Since I first documented some of these divergent stories, more have piled up. The so-called fog of war is surely a factor; even America's most highly trained warriors are bound to have faulty memories of such a heart-pounding, high-stakes mission. But from conflicting reports about real-time footage to various rundowns of the number of shooters, bullets fired, and witnesses present, the collection of accounts makes for a Rashomon-style epic of its own.

The recession was her fault
Meet Wall Street's scapegoat, the one person to get jail time for the most massive mortgage fraud in history

You remember Lynndie England. She was the Army Reserve soldier photographed at the Abu Ghraib prison giving the thumbs-up sign in front of a set of naked detainees. A lower-level reservist, she was among the few at Abu Ghraib who actually served prison time.
There’s a Lynndie England for the financial crisis, too.

Meet Lorraine O. Brown, an individual singled out for actual jail time for her role in the massive mortgage document fraud that plagued this nation. Like England, she stands alone among the multitudes of fraudsters, including those at the highest reaches of the financial industry.

Brown was the President of DocX, a company that created and processed mortgage-related documents, first as a stand-alone unit, and later as a subsidiary of the document processing giant Lender Processing Solutions (LPS). And like Lynndie England, Brown committed a series of legitimate crimes. From 2003 until 2009, DocX routinely forged mortgage documents.

‘Argo’ Wins Best Picture Oscar as ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Is Shunned

“Zero Dark Thirty,” about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, was largely overlooked, gaining only a split win for sound editing today at the Academy Awards in Hollywood.

General Michael Hayden, former head of No Such Agency and later the CIA.  Was he one of Mark Boal's sources?
Ex-CIA boss praises Zero Dark Thirty, character 'Maya'

Hayden also said that he was happy the movie was made because it showed the difficulty in intelligence work and didn't make the case that interrogation didn't work.

"I'm glad it was made," he said. "On balance, I'm very happy that the story was

made." He added: "I think it does a masterful job at suggesting that in the real world, there are no right angles and there are no easy answers to very difficult situations. And that to me was a great service."

'Zero Dark Thirty' banned -- unofficially -- in Pakistan

[...] This means that while the movie hasn’t been officially censured by Pakistan’s government, it is unofficially unsanctioned there. DVDs of the film were being sold recently in the capital city of Islamabad — but the AP writes that rumors about a ban have driven at least two stores to stop carrying Zero Dark Thirty, while another has taken to selling it only under the counter.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that nobody in Pakistan has seen Kathryn Bigelow’s film. In January, Pakistani journalist Nadeem Paracha even dressed down Zero Dark Thirty on the website of the English-language newspaper Dawn, criticizing it for showing Pakistanis speaking Arabic rather than Urdu or other regional languages. He also objected to the film’s depiction of Pakistani men “go[ing] around wearing 17th and 18th century headgear in markets.”

Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest

talking about a revolution (tracy chapman)
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