30 July 2013

Pushback on Larry Summers

I am pleased to see this report from TPM that there's BIG pushback from Senate Dems against the internal lobbying in the WH coming from supporters of Wall Street favorite Larry Summers as a candidate for Fed Chairman. I've wondered if it isn't Summers himself who's tried to gin up the expectation that he will be appointed, because it would be totally out of synch with Obama's recent pro-working people stance for him to appoint Summers over Janet Yellen.

I gotta say, if Obama does that, he will be casting aside the last shred of his credibility with Progressives, and very likely indirectly causing another financial crisis, because Summers has repeatedly shown himself to be wrong and clueless about what matters in the regulation of finance, and to be totally out of touch with the needs of Main Street.


29 July 2013

La Chapelle Rhénane ♪

I feel... impelled ... to give a shout out to La Chapelle Rhénane, directed by Bénoît Haller, based in Strasbourg. Early music ensembles flourish in Europe as they don't here, and there are many fine ones, as well as even more that are merely professional but not extraordinary. This one, however, is truly extraordinary. Haller specializes in Schütz (not exclusively), so of course he has my attention right there, but the singing and playing is really something special. If you care for this kind of music at all (and I get it that most people, even people who like "classical" music, don't)... check them out. They are as good as it gets.

Ici. “Herr, der du bist vormals genädig gewest" SWV 461 (Schütz)

Saudi Princess Fails Mandatory Hearing on Slavery Charge

I have no sympathy whatsoever for this "princess." (here, LAT). You don't get to bring your medieval Saudi laws to the U.S. with you. Had I been the judge, I would have ordered her into custody forthwith, issued a bench warrant for her immediate arrest, and denied all bail until trial. In part to send a message: human trafficking is not OK in the USA; it is a very, very serious crime, and if you are accused of it and don't treat the matter with due gravity, you can sit in jail until trial. And if the Saudis whisked her off to Saudi Arabia in a private jet, at least she would be gone from here. And, hopefully, the State Dept. would declare her persona non grata, although as toadying as they are toward the Saudi regime, I wouldn't bet on it.

26 July 2013

Some Comments on Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672)

Seems to me music is very much like language, you have to learn its idioms in order to really “get" it, and most people, even those who have a little familiarity with “classical" music, simply do not really hear 400 year old music (much less music that’s even older or more remote culturally). But if you open your ears and heart to this motet (Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn; SWV 40, from Psalmen Davids, 1619), you will note that it is about as poignant as anything you’re likely to hear anywhere.

The 17th century produced 2, and exactly 2, real geniuses of Western Music. And I would rank them Schütz #1, Monteverdi #2, although of course most music history buffs would chose the reverse order and might even insist on the superiority of lesser composers like Dowland, Corelli, Alessandro Scarlatti, or Purcell.

But I’ve made a real study of this, and I am confident in my judgment.

Schütz gets downplayed because virtually all of his surviving music is sacred music, which, let’s face it, just isn’t as popular. This is partly because that actually was his chief focus (he was a VERY serious guy), but also partly a selection effect. For the most part only his published music survives. The manuscripts were almost all destroyed in a fire. If that had happened to Bach’s music we would hardly know the bulk of his output. Schütz wrote an opera, Daphne (1623), at least some organ music, and hundreds of songs and occasional pieces (although very little other instrumental music, apart from the introductions to some of his vocal compositions)… almost all of which (including the opera) are lost. And he disdained the new recitative & aria format for oratorios, preferring to set texts as motets and concertos, or using a sort of chanted narration for his Christmas Oratorio* and passions. So it’s little wonder he isn’t that popular. His music is grave and majestic, but not frolicsome.

* Die Geburt unsres Herrn Jesu Christi, SWV 435, 1660. 

25 July 2013

The Last Thing I got to say about Anthony Weiner

Boy. Anthony Weiner makes it very difficult to justify a laissez-faire attitude towards the private lives of public figures. (Which is my general preference). The question becomes, unfortunately, with this much baggage and this many questions about basic integrity, isn't he doing a disservice to the people of New York by shifting the focus from issues to him and his gigantic ego (and not the proportion of other parts, if you please).

So, while I have long said Clinton should've just refused all questions, and so should have Eliot Spitzer (and even Weiner, the first time out, as well as any number of other pols, both Republican and Democratic).... with all this nonsense and lying, he should just drop out and find some other profession.

Having said that, I also agree with Chris Hayes that actually far more disturbing than all his sexting nonsense is his statement in an interview (not that it has much to do with being mayor of New York), that the West Bank is not "occupied territory." Come on, Anthony. That's carrying Israel-sycophancy a bit too far. Which calls your judgment and basic honesty into question yet again. 

23 July 2013

Revelations about Weiner "sexting" even after resigning

1.  I could not care less about politicians' personal lives, which I regard as no one's business. I wish Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, and Anthony Weiner (not to mention even a whole host of Republicans) had just said, in effect, "I don't see how that's any of your business. Next question."
2.  The media (and some consumers of media) are, nonetheless, incurable gossips.
3.  Politicians can't afford to be seen as having "loose" sexual "morals."
4.  Anthony Weiner is out of control, in terms of these maxims.
5.  I worry about the ruboff effect on Spitzer, who's a good guy with a career worth saving... I'm not so sure about Weiner. 

Why should we care about the British royal heir?

OK, I'll risk being labeled a grumpy old cynic.

I COULD NOT CARE LESS about the British monarchy or its new No. 3 heir. Our forefathers fought a revolution to be rid of the odious curse of monarchy. Why should we have any interest in it?

Pretty good speech not good enough

Not to rain too much on the parade, but I'd like to tell Pres. Obama we don't need a "pretty good speech" on the economy (sched. for Wed.), we need to face facts, and he needs to propose and fight for a bold pro-working people policy... even if the stranglehold of the obstructionists in Congress cannot be overcome, the Democratic party needs to stand up for ordinary Americans now so as to make crystal clear the choice that voters face in 2014 and 2016.

Yellen, not Summers, for crying out loud!

Haven't dropped a comment on the White House comment line in a while. Today's was simple:

Strongly oppose rumored nomination of serial liar and arrogant elitist Larry Summers for Fed Chairmanship. Such a move would be totally out of step with the direction in which the Democratic party and this administration need to move. A much better choice would be Fed Vice-Chmn. Janet Yellen.

22 July 2013

Is Star Trek Warp Drive possible?

For a whole host of reasons, I have been and remain a "FTL* skeptic." (See this, for example). But this in the NYT shows that there are serious scientists and engineers out there who actually believe that something like the Star Trek warp drive may actually be possible some day. 
*"Faster than Light"

John McCain, Moderate?

Several times recently I have thought that John McCain, who is sometimes not the worst of Republicans, had pretty much lost it... re: Benghazi, going to Syria and saying stuff that just befuddled US policy there, etc.

But then, even more recently, he stood with Elizabeth Warren in calling for the restoration of Glass Steagall (which even the clueless new Obama Treasury Sec. referred to as "outmoded"), and today we hear he's calling for a "review" of Stand Your Ground Laws.

So credit where credit is due, although I don't think "review" is necessary. Try "repeal."

Detroit Bankruptcy

Krugman's piece this morning is the Voice of Reason, (as is often the case). I listened to a news report about how Detroit may "have to" sell off the Detroit Institute of Arts' collections with dumbfounded incredulity. These fiscal naysayers are incredibly stupid and clueless. (Not to mention the little problem that, fortunately, the City does not own the collections).

We as a nation just have to suck it up and deal with the consequences of economic decline in one of our formerly great manufacturing cities. I would think that this would be so blaringly obvious to rational human beings that it would require little discussion, but apparently I was foolishly naive, as usual.

19 July 2013

Christian Nation?

Christian Nation?
Currently reading Christian Nation by Fredreric C. Rich. Premise: financial crisis was delayed a couple of months in 2008 and McCain won. Then died shortly thereafter. Palin invites in Christian Dominionists, who engineer Christofascist take-over that by around now in the alternate history timeline is on the verge of becoming full blown totalitarianism (there’s a civil war and very creepy 1984 like total information state that emerges).
The book is polemical and not really entirely plausible, but it does remind us, as when he keeps referring to Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here (1935), that those who think that are wrong… it could, and we have to remain vigilant to make sure it doesn’t.

Anti-gay spiral bad strategy for Rightist Party

I may not have my finger on the national pulse quite right, but unless I’m very mistaken, and if this piece in Salon is right and the Rightists are going to double down on their “gay hatred spiral” for 2016, I predict this is going to backfire for them, and badly.


Voter ID violates VRA

Maybe I’m a little dense, but isn’t the Penna. GOP chair’s admission that VOTER ID reduced the Democratic margin in that state an admission that the law is a per se violation of the Voting Rights Act? Even without the statistical methodology which the SCOTUS declared unconstitutional, state laws which are deliberately and avowedly designed to prejudice certain groups of voters are illegal under the act.

16 July 2013

My comment to TPM: Filibuster Reform, not "Nuclear Option," if you please

Hey, TPM~

Why do you adopt the Rightist Propaganda framing of filibuster reform as "nuclear option"? This just buys into the Right Wing view that this is some kind of radical suggestion, when, in fact, supermajorities to end debate are not in the Constitution, and haven't been used in the House in over a century. Please consider just calling it "Filibuster Reform," which is the correct term.

I guess my belief that the "aversion" today of going forward with a very limited reform is not good news. Democrats may lose the Senate in 2014 (not if we work harder to avoid it, but realistically the possibility cannot be denied), so it's undeniable that such reform could inure to the disadvantage of progressive politics in the future. But here's the thing: the Rightists have repeatedly shown they have no principles when it comes to maneuvering to obtain power. Conclusion: they're going to do this anyway as soon as they have a majority, so Democrats should do it now (and for judges and legislation), both for political reasons, and because it's the right thing to do to make the Senate more democratic.

15 July 2013

Reforming the Senate: IT IS TIME

I have made clear my belief that the non-democratic rules of the Senate are so serious an impediment to the functioning of our national government that whatever considerations may militate in favor of retaining some kinds of supermajorities, they are greatly outweighed by the need to prevent the Minority from having the power to completely obstruct all governance.

Thus, the story in the NYT today about filibuster reform is a must-read. I quote the opening: 

It was October 2011, and Senate Republicans were trying to interfere with a bill addressing China’s currency by offering a series of amendments that had little to do with China or monetary policy, a favorite tactic of their leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

But Democrats surprised Mr. McConnell by using a parliamentary maneuver that quashed the amendments. The process went like this: Harry Reid, the majority leader, asked for a ruling from the Senate’s parliamentarian about whether the amendments were in order. The parliamentarian ruled that they were.

Mr. Reid then moved to overrule the parliamentarian. And he did so with a simple majority vote of 51 to 48.

That seemingly mundane twist of the Senate’s intricate rules gave Democrats the precedent that they believe they need to change how the filibuster can be used, a move that has infuriated Republicans.

Of course they're infuriated. They want to exercise minoritarian obstructionism. But they shouldn't be allowed to. The Senate is profoundly flawed already, by the working out of the now obviously seriously detrimental Connecticut Compromise (during the original Constitutional Convention), whereby states like North Dakota that have fewer people than one of California's cities' suburbs have 2 senators while the whole of the largest state in the union... fully 13% of the nation's population, also has just two. This system makes the Senate intrinsically undemocratic. But adding the arcane, obstruction-enabling, and deeply undemocratic supermajority rules on top of that makes the Senate, despite its august trappings, a disgrace. It is not an exaggeration to say that America is a not-quite republic, with a not-quite constitutional system responsive to its people. And the lack of even plausibly democratic governing rules for our upper house is one of the reasons this is the case.

This debate is over a relatively narrow rules change... affecting only presidential appointments other than judges. I advocate eliminating the filibuster ENTIRELY, and now. Simple majority to pass anything not actually specified in the Constitution, simple majority to end debate and force votes, any Senator can introduce bills or measures, and none can place "holds." IT IS TIME. By the same procedure as the rule change under discussion, a simple majority vote could make all of these changes. And I believe once they were made, and the greater fairness that results came to be a subject of commentary and discussion, the Republicans would be unable to either change them back or introduce other non-democratic rules to replace them in the future.

Of course at some point in the future these changes could BENEFIT the Rightists. But that isn't a good enough reason not to make a change NOW towards greater democracy. Progressive people believe in democracy as a matter of principle, and calculating whether a particular undemocratic maneuver or mechanism might conceivably hurt you politically in some unspecified future is not an acceptable counterargument to reform.  

UPDATE: (Comment on Republican leadership integrity, as in zero):
I have a simple, and I think undeniably true, retort to those who would say that if Democrats change Senate rules with a simple majority vote, the Republicans will change the rules to their own advantage when next they have a majority. Consider the trustworthiness of Republican leadership and its representations, as demonstrated by Mitch McConnell's recent actions. Zip. So, no matter what they say, no matter what Democrats now do, they will do that anyway. So Democrats should seize the opportunity now to change the rules, and not just for appointments... and use the ability to pass more legislation to actually benefit the country, which will have the effect of making it a little easier to hold on to a majority in the Senate in 2016 and beyond. 

11 July 2013

Sensible Reform proposals on cloture, advice and consent on nominations

The Senate could, in principle, adopt a cloture rule of simple majority, and it already takes only a simple majority to approve appointments. As I read the "Advice and Consent" Clause, this is perfectly harmonious with the intent and letter of the Constitution.
Art. II, sec. 2, cl. 2:
[The President] shall nominate, and, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

I think the plain language here makes it pretty damn clear that the Senate has NO DAMN BUSINESS holding up nominations. The clause says the president shall appoint, "by and with" advice and consent.

Even without an amendment to the constitution, I think a very reasonable rule change would be this:

Nominations must be proposed for vote of cloture within [let's say] 20 days of receipt of nomination.
Cloture vote simple majority. Debate must end within 40 days of nomination, regardless of whether cloture motion proposed or passed, and a vote on the nomination must then take place. Failure to vote up or down by the end of the applicable period under the rule will result in the automatic scheduling of a vote on the nominee without (further) debate, to take place within five days thereafter. 

This to be in conjunction with a rule change that says that any Senator at any time may propose cloture (Cutoff of debate and scheduling of vote) on any measure, which motion on second must receive a vote forthwith. Simple majority cuts off debate. And, except where the Constitution explicitly provides otherwise, simple majority passes any measure. Veep, of course, breaks ties, which is in the Constitution anyway.

This procedure, as I am envisioning it, would apply only to nominations, although conceivably something like it could be made to apply to presidentially proposed legislation, too. That, however, almost certainly would require an amendment to the Constitution.

10 July 2013

Matthew Yglesias: punish working people by eliminating affordable parking... yeah, that'll work!

I mentioned the other day that I frequently disagree with Matthew Yglesias, who used to write for TPM and now writes for Slate, among other places.

So here's a good example. His solution to congestion and pollution? Eliminate parking for working people. (Hey, Matt, you idiot, how about funding public transportation infrastructure investment instead of punishing working people for working and needing to get to work?)

This is so typical of the elitist "we, the privileged and arrogant, know better" attitude. This kinda thing just pisses me off.

Will the Supreme Court stop the trashing of the Federal Govt. by the Rightists? Hmmm.

Chris Hayes had a really quite excellent report last night on MSNBC on how the Republicans have sabotaged the Federal government wholesale, using the NLRB has an example. It's two-pronged. Legislatively, really for the first time in history, they simply refuse to approve any nominees to a board which the law mandates. Great. Such civic-mindedness. Actually, it's totally depraved: they hate government so they intend to wreck it.

The other prong is Rightist Ideologue judges who have ruled on the DC Circuit Court that the president can't make recess appointments, even though presidents of both parties have been doing it for close to two centuries. Nothing like the persuasive weight of precedent.

Result? There is no NLRB, even though the law requires it. The situation is no better at the Consumer Finance Commission, and will soon be much the same at the FCC.

So we have to wonder, what will the Supreme Court do? The issue will be before it next year (the recess appointment issue, that is). It is split, and its swing member is a pretty radical libertarian (Kennedy), so there's no basis for confidence. But, come on, surely there are five justices who believe it's just not reasonable to allow one party to manipulate two of the three branches of government not to exercise the powers vested under the constitution, but simply to trash the system of government entirely. Surely?

Don't count on it.

R I P Immigration Reform?

It's being reported that the Teapublicans are cooking up some voodoo scheme to blame the failure of Immigration Reform on Democrats.

They apparently think the majority of Americans are idiots. But they're wrong. Some, sure, but not a majority. Hey, Boehner, this ain't gonna work.

Note the foregone conclusion, now being acquiesced in even by some Senate Democrats: Immigration Reform is apparently indeed dead. 

And, here's some news (well, hardly): Republicans will take the blame. For the really quite simple reason that they caused it. Wow, cause and effect. What a concept. 

LAT reports Americans exercising more, but still not losing much weight.

LAT reports Americans exercise more, but still not losing much weight.

Mpff. This is an example of how no one in the media ever seems to learn anything from science. Scientific investigation, as reported in detail in Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Why We Get Fat (and what to do about it) by Gary Taubes, has clearly demonstrated that exercise is almost entirely ineffective as a weight loss method. Sure, it's good for you, but it doesn't affect weight loss hardly at all.

Wanna lose weight? Eliminate sugar and cut starch from your diet. That's about it, in a nutshell. There are people for whom there are other factors, but for most people, that's it. 

Palin running for Senate?

Report: Palin: "people have requested me considering" running for Senate.

Right. We don't have enough cretinous right wing nutjobs in the Senate.

Gotta wonder, though, could this ridiculous figure, who couldn't even finish one term as governor, win such an election, even in Alaska?

08 July 2013

Spitzer running again in NY (Comptroller)

Agree with Matt Yglesias (with whom I often disagree): Great Eliot Spitzer's returning to politix, but he never shouldda left (i.e., never shouldda resigned). Voici.

How come Wiener (who lied, but even so) and Spitzer resign in disgrace, when guys like Vitter are still going, and guys like Craig get to serve out their terms and slither into the Sunset? Double standard anyone?

Environmental Patriotism

There was a very interesting discussion on Ian Masters's Background Briefing on July 4 (ianmasters.com) with Robert Jensen, author of a piece in YES! magazine called Get Apocalyptic: Why Radical is the New Normal. 

The thrust of Jensen's views, I think it's accurate to say, is that while the conventional wisdom in the United States is that there is a juxtaposition, or rather opposition, between "radical" and "realistic," but that, in reality, it is the conventional wisdom which is unrealistic, and radical solutions which are the only realistic path forward, given the environmental sustainability issues facing our civilization. Masters explored the question of whether real patriotism should not be seen as loyalty to a sane view of sustainability and even survival of our people, as opposed to knee-jerk jingoism. Generally, of course, I am very sympathetic to this overall worldview.

There is, however, one point that Jensen made more than once, and that seems to be a truism among people who take the kind of long-term, sustainability oriented view of our place in the world in the 21st century. Not only did he stress global climate change, loss of water and soil resources, loss of wild habitat, loss of stability of ecosystems, all of which I think is totally on point, but he kept saying we have to learn to live with less energy production and consumption.

Here, I question the assumptions and conclusion. Why, necessarily, should this follow? In fact, I believe that the Sun and the solar-driven natural processes such as wind and water, as well as chemical storage of energy ultimately derived from the sun, can and will eventually provide our civilization with all the energy it can possibly need, and that, in fact, abundant energy resources will be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Technology must adapt or die, but the solution to modification of a global civilization of seven to ten billion people, which is what we are surely looking at, so as to reverse our headlong rush to climate and ecological catastrophe, is not to all act like the Amish or prehistoric agriculturalists, because the fact is that there aren't enough land resources for that. We must adapt technologies to produce food hydroponically in artificial environments, produce energy that doesn't use fossil fuel, and set aside sufficient areas of our planet as "fallow," where natural systems are left unmolested, if we are to give our Earth a chance to recover from the insult it's been subjected to over the past hundreds (or even thousands) of years, and for human beings to find a way to live sustainably and indefinitely on its surface.

05 July 2013

4th Amendment Rights: Snowden and a local concern about illegal searches in subway stations

Two things.

First, I want to clarify my comments on Edward Snowden. I AGREE with folks who say that by doing the job that Congress should be doing, i.e., calling out illegal surveillance in wholesale violation of the fourth amendment, he was doing the American people a service.

What I questioned, and still question, was whether it wasn't going too far to then expose other matters, including intelligence on foreign surveillance, to review and debriefing by semi-hostile foreign intelligence services such as China's and Russia's. And it's hard not to infer that this is exactly what happened.

I also agree that when Snowden was interviewed at length by Glenn Greenwald, he was talking almost exclusively about the US public's right not to be subjected to illegal surveillance, and of the danger of the government using these powers in secret, and using unconstitutional prosecutorial powers to suppress and punish those who would reveal the government's own lawbreaking. To that extent, Snowden was worthy of respect and admiration; and had that been the whole story I would have (and did) acclaim him as a modern day Paul Revere.

But after that, it became clear that potentially damaging information that had nothing to do with domestic warrantless surveillance was being jeopardized, and the whole tone of his position and communication became about asylum, not whistleblowing. This was less than a profile in courage.

Having said that, the keystone kops affair of the US violating all diplomatic protocol by pressuring European countries to deny the Bolivian presidential plane airspace rights on the (apparently unfounded) suspicion that Snowden might be aboard was foolish and disgraceful. I cannot imagine what administration officials were thinking in authorizing that; and it totally destroys any moral credence their position vis-a-vis Snowden might conceivably have had.

Second, apropos widespread violation of the 4th Amendment in our country today, and our citizens' dangerous and foolish acquiescence in it, I wrote the following to the MTA here in LA. (Tilting at windmills, you say? I say, somebody's gotta do it).

David Studhalter
North Hollywood, CA  

July 5, 2013

Mr. Jason Campbell, Esq.
Customer Relations
One Gateway Plaza
Los Angeles, CA   90012

Dear Mr. Campbell: 

I am writing as a concerned citizen to protest the use of illegal search procedures in Metro Stations (as a condition of entry), in outright violation of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the highest law of our nation. I was advised by a MTA customer service representative that this illegal police activity is being undertaken on the recommendation and with the participation of the Sherriff’s Dept.

As I feel sure you are well aware, the 4th Amendment prohibits the illegal search or seizure of persons or their effects without probable cause to believe that a crime is being committed or is about to be committed. The historical background of this critical component of our highest law was as a reaction against the prior practice of the British colonial government of issuing so-called “Writs of Assistance,” which allowed precisely the kind of general dragnet searches as are being conducted by the MTA and Sheriff’s Dept. right now, in the 21st Century. Such practice is completely illegal and must be stopped.

The notion that government agencies have a right to conduct such search without probable cause as a condition of using taxpayer-owned utilities or facilities is without any legal basis, and is no more than a subterfuge for violating the supreme law of the land.

And what is the supposed justification for this wholesale violation of the public’s constitutional rights?  We are told we must give up fundamental rights on which our nation was founded because of a supposedly unacceptable risk of terrorism. But, the actual facts are these: since 1970, more Americans have been killed by vending machines toppling over on them than by terrorism. Far, far more have been killed by the flu, and by car accidents, respectively. We must treat this risk with some perspective.

Of course there is risk, and vigilance and police work is needed to lessen that risk. But this must not come at the cost of respect and adherence to the Constitution, which is the Law, or of our fundamental rights and freedoms as citizens, the very basis of our Republic. I seriously question whether there is a scintilla of evidence that this search procedure has ever prevented any crime, in any case.

Once usurpation of Constitutional rights goes without protest; once it is acquiesced in; it will never end, until any vestige of our Republic and the crucial principles on which it was founded are no more. So, I raise my voice in protest, and demand that this illegal practice must stop immediately.

The favor of a response will be appreciated.

Very truly yours,