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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The American Dream is dead. Long live the American Dream

by digby

The New York Times reports what we all know:
The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.

After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

The numbers, based on surveys conducted over the past 35 years, offer some of the most detailed publicly available comparisons for different income groups in different countries over time. They suggest that most American families are paying a steep price for high and rising income inequality.

Although economic growth in the United States continues to be as strong as in many other countries, or stronger, a small percentage of American households is fully benefiting from it. Median income in Canada pulled into a tie with median United States income in 2010 and has most likely surpassed it since then. Median incomes in Western European countries still trail those in the United States, but the gap in several — including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden — is much smaller than it was a decade ago.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: contrary to what the Ayn Rand followers or the Rush Limbaugh acolytes will tell you, the American Dream is not to be richer than Croesus, although that's certainly one of the appeals of the American system. Most Americans are practical sorts and to them it is the dream of middle class security --- a house of your own, a good job, the chance to educate your children well and retire with dignity. Those things are becoming out of reach for more and more of us. Young people are in debt, middle aged people are squeezed by the need to care for their parents and their children, and the elderly are living longer with less. Workers aren't as physically mobile as their parents were, burdened with homes they cannot sell and their freedom curtailed by a job market that forces them to cling to work they hate for fear of not finding anything better. The idea of an average person starting a business feels like a suicidal leap without a net.

Of course there have always been those who were closed off from the American Dream due to systemic bigotry and suffocating poverty but for a time the dream was even opening up to those who had been denied --- racial and ethnic minorities were able to become middle class workers and enjoy many of the economic and social benefits that came with it. But with the shrinking or the public sector and the unions, that toe hold into the middle class is becoming tenuous again.

It's just sad. Yes we're still a rich country with plenty of privilege. It's not as if we're going through a huge cataclysm like a major war or great depression. But sometimes it's psychologically harder to lose something in increments, to just feel it slowly slipping from your grasp and not be able to stop it, than it is to lose it all at once. The panic just sits there, in the pit of your stomach, never full blown but on the cusp of release. It's exhausting.

We've always had problems and some of them were huge, gaping moral holes in the fabric of our so-called democratic society. The American Dream is what always sustained us before, gave us something material, attainable and authentic on which to hang our vision of this culture as the great leveler, a country without obvious class distinctions where anyone could start over, fit in, make it. It's never been entirely true, of course. But I don't know who we are or what we'll be if we don't have it to believe in anymore.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hashtag fail 'o the century

by digby

The NYPD learned the hard way that #myNYPD is not necessarily #everyonesNYPD.

A seemingly innocuous request by NYPD officials to have Twitter users post happy pictures of themselves with city cops blew up in the department’s face on Tuesday when people instead began tweeting photos of police brutality...

The hashtag quickly started trending on the Twitter-verse, quickly generating over 10,000 responses in the hour after 4pm., an overwhelming amount of which were negative. Many of the posts were photographic examples of the department’s heavy-handed treatment of Occupy Wall Street protesters in lower Manhattan in 2011. Some of the posted pictures show cops with billy clubs attacking rallying protestors.

Other Twitter users wrote funny captions for the violence-revealing pictures.
“The NYPD taking a quick break to enjoy the music and crowd surf,” user Yung DeGrassi wrote under a picture of a cop reaching over a barricade to grab an Occupy Wall Street protestor.

On the other hand, it's probably not a great idea to send a picture of yourself to the NYPD. Like so many government agencies they have a bad habit of keeping records on file to be used in other circumstances.

The GOP is America

by digby

I wrote a piece the other day about the right's unfortunate habit of describing their losses as wins --- if they only count the white vote. You know, the real vote.

Now they're just coming right out and saying they are the only Americans who count:

It was a congressman who tweeted that ...

The most important thing to remember about the 2014 election

by David Atkins

As the 2014 election approaches, the political world will be subjected to the usual round of questions about "swing voters" and "independents." Will the Obama generation abandon him? Will swing voters change their minds about the ACA and vote for Democrats? How will independents decide to cast their votes? Will swing voters and independents turn on the Democratic Party the way they did in 2010?

In fact, all of those questions are based on false assumptions about the electorate. I've written about this before, but it's always worth another reminder, and Lynn Vavreck provides an excellent one today in the NY Times:

If you want to understand the 2014 midterm elections, remember this simple fact about American politics: There just aren’t that many swing voters.

Many people change their minds over the course of a campaign about whether to vote and even which candidate they’re leaning toward. Ultimately, though, voters tend to come home to their favored party. There are relatively few voters who cross back and forth between the parties during a campaign or even between elections.

Political professionals have increasingly come to appreciate this pattern and have focused resources on getting previous voters to the polls. Both parties have spent considerable effort in recent elections trying to understand the effects of television ads, canvassing, phone calls and mailings on turnout. Mobilizing a party’s voters has become as important as persuading undecided or swing voters.

The 2010 midterm elections highlight the relatively small number of swing voters. After winning with a wide margin and extraordinary enthusiasm in 2008, the Democrats suffered one of the largest losses of seats in any midterm two years later.

Although the president’s party almost always loses seats in midterm elections, the size of the 2010 “shellacking,” to borrow President Obama’s description, created the impression that many voters had changed their minds about the president, his policy goals or his ability to get the country back on the right track between 2008 and 2010.

But only a small percentage of voters actually switched sides between 2008 and 2010. Moreover, there were almost as many John McCain voters who voted for a Democratic House candidate in 2010 as there were Obama voters who shifted the other way. That may be a surprise to some, but it comes from one of the largest longitudinal study of voters, YouGov’s Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project (C.C.A.P.), for which YouGov interviewed 45,000 people at multiple points during 2011 and 2012.

The results clearly show that voters in 2010 did not abandon the Democrats for the other side, but they did forsake the party in another important way: Many stayed home.

Fewer than 6 percent of 2008 voters in the presidential election voted for a congressional candidate from the other party in 2010, with the switchers roughly evenly divided across the parties, according to the C.C.A.P. It’s worth noting, however, that these switchers are not evenly distributed around the country, with North Dakota’s single district having very few cross-party voters (under 3 percent) and some Pennsylvania districts, for example, having upward of 10 percent switching between 2008 and 2010.

On average, across districts, roughly 6 percent of Obama voters switched and just under 6 percent of McCain voters switched; because there were more Obama voters than McCain voters in 2008, this means — as you’d expect — that more voters swung to the Republicans than to the Democrats. An additional 1.5 percent switched to third-party candidates.

But on turnout, the numbers were not evenly balanced for Democrats and Republicans. Only 65 percent of Obama’s 2008 supporters stuck with the party in 2010 and voted for a Democrat in the House. The remaining 28 percent of Mr. Obama’s voters took the midterm election off. By comparison, only 17 percent of McCain’s voters from 2008 sat out the midterms.
Nor are independents a unified block. As I noted in the local Ventura County paper The Acorn last week:

Ventura County Democrats, on the other hand, don’t feel they need to change their message to attract independent voters.

“The majority of all voters agree with our position on social and economic issues,” said David Atkins, chair of the Ventura County Democratic Party. “If we get our message out about our issues and about what we stand for, the majority of voters will agree with us and select our candidates. It’s not a question of working harder to appeal to another kind of voter. We just have to make sure that the majority of people who agree with us get out to vote.”

In an assessment different from the Gallup report’s findings, Atkins said it’s a common misconception that independent voters are undecided or have more moderate views.

“Independent voters are simply people who have made a choice not to register with the party, but they’re just as liberal or conservative as their counterparts, often more so,” Atkins said.

He said registering as an independent is a cultural trend, especially popular among young people. But younger voters are still progressive on most issues, including immigration reform, reproductive rights and America’s growing wealth disparity.
This election is going to hinge on whether Democratic and progressive base voters feel inspired enough by Democratic candidates to bother coming out to vote.

Now, one could wish that left-leaning base voters understood the stakes better. But it's also up to elected officials and other party leaders to provide people the incentive to get out and vote. When President Obama took office he acted to curb many of the evils the Bush Administration was actively perpetrating. But outside of providing somewhat less expensive health insurance to around 20 million people, there hasn't been a lot of action that directly impacted people's lives or even provided some sense of accountability and justice to the people who crashed the economy. When the President promised hope and change, people really expected their lives to get measurably and demonstrably better. If people don't think their lives are going to get better, they're not going to be likely to dash to the polling place between jobs, dinner and childcare to vote for down-ballot Democrats most of them are barely aware of.

If Democratic candidates want to win in 2014, they're going to have to give their base a reason to come out to vote beyond the notion that they're better than the GOP.

"So much goddamn money ..."

by digby

I'm fairly sure that despite his careful disclaimers about the moral comparison, Chris Hayes is going to take some heat for using the abolition analogy to explain the challenge of climate change in this blockbuster piece for The Nation. (I don't even use the term "wage slave" anymore even though the term itself has a specific definition and has been used by the labor movement from the very beginning, because it upsets people so much.) But it's really the only useful historical analogy for the vast economic impact this is going to have. (And there is a vital moral dimension as well ....)

Before the cannons fired at Fort Sumter, the Confederates announced their rebellion with lofty rhetoric about “violations of the Constitution of the United States” and “encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States.” But the brute, bloody fact beneath those words was money. So much goddamn money.

The leaders of slave power were fighting a movement of dispossession. The abolitionists told them that the property they owned must be forfeited, that all the wealth stored in the limbs and wombs of their property would be taken from them. Zeroed out. Imagine a modern-day political movement that contended that mutual funds and 401(k)s, stocks and college savings accounts were evil institutions that must be eliminated completely, more or less overnight. This was the fear that approximately 400,000 Southern slaveholders faced on the eve of the Civil War.

Today, we rightly recoil at the thought of tabulating slaves as property. It was precisely this ontological question—property or persons?—that the war was fought over. But suspend that moral revulsion for a moment and look at the numbers: Just how much money were the South’s slaves worth then? A commonly cited figure is $75 billion, which comes from multiplying the average sale price of slaves in 1860 by the number of slaves and then using the Consumer Price Index to adjust for inflation. But as economists Samuel H. Williamson and Louis P. Cain argue, using CPI-adjusted prices over such a long period doesn’t really tell us much: “In the 19th century,” they note, “there were no national surveys to figure out what the average consumer bought.” In fact, the first such survey, in Massachusetts, wasn’t conducted until 1875.

In order to get a true sense of how much wealth the South held in bondage, it makes far more sense to look at slavery in terms of the percentage of total economic value it represented at the time. And by that metric, it was colossal. In 1860, slaves represented about 16 percent of the total household assets—that is, all the wealth—in the entire country, which in today’s terms is a stunning $10 trillion.

Ten trillion dollars is already a number much too large to comprehend, but remember that wealth was intensely geographically focused. According to calculations made by economic historian Gavin Wright, slaves represented nearly half the total wealth of the South on the eve of secession. “In 1860, slaves as property were worth more than all the banks, factories and railroads in the country put together,” civil war historian Eric Foner tells me. “Think what would happen if you liquidated the banks, factories and railroads with no compensation.”

As it happens, that's about the same amount of money we're going to have to force the Big Money Boyz to leave on the table --- or, more accurately, in the ground.

This is a great piece that illuminates just how difficult this is going to be --- and why the special interests are spending the kind of money they're spending to ensure that a good portion of the people will believe there's no need to even think about doing such a thing. Interestingly, judging by the political strategy being employed by the energy sector billionaires and their corporate friends, many of those people will be concentrated in the states of the old confederacy. Go figure.

New Blue America contest: You say you want a revolution? Here's a start

by digby

Two stalwart progressives working together:
This week Blue America is encouraging progressives to contribute to Barbara Lee's and Lee Rogers' campaigns by offering one randomly selected donor who gives (any amount) a rare, signed Beatles portrait by the band's favorite photographer, Robert Freeman, who shot 5 album covers for them starting in 1963.

Today Rep. Lee announced that her Barbara Lee Progressive PAC's top 8 priorities for congressional action starts with "Bringing an end to perpetual war, saving trillions of dollars and millions of lives." And in conjunction with that announcement comes another-- her first endorsement of a challenger for the 2014 cycle, fellow Californian and fellow peace advocate, Lee Rogers.

"Lee," she said, "is a doctor, a thinker, a progressive Democrat-- and, he can win.

He’s running in California’s 25th Congressional District (Simi Valley-Santa Clarita area). It’s an open seat. And, the Nate Silver number crunchers say that it’s a district where Democrats can win. So help us put a progressive like Lee Rogers in it."
More at the link.

Like the Beatles, Barbara Lee and Lee Rogers are the best of the best. You can win a beautiful portrait signed by the photographer and support real progressive governance at the same time.

Nobody cares about David and Cokie right now. People are tired.

by digby

It's hard to believe that anyone who doesn't hate David Gregory with a mad passion would cooperate with an article like this:
“MTP’s” meltdown has sounded alarm bells inside NBC News and attracted the attention of its new president, Deborah Turness, who arrived from Britain’s ITV News in August. Gregory’s job does not appear to be in any immediate jeopardy, but there are plenty of signs of concern.

Last year, the network undertook an unusual assessment of the 43-year-old journalist, commissioning a psychological consultant to interview his friends and even his wife. The idea, according to a network spokeswoman, Meghan Pianta, was “to get perspective and insight from people who know him best.” But the research project struck some at NBC as odd, given that Gregory has been employed there for nearly 20 years.

The story isn't just about Gregory although he is the Sunday host featured most prominently. Apparently all the Sunday shows are getting terrible ratings compared to the Golden Russert Years, with old guy Bob Schieffer at Face the Nation getting the highest numbers. It chronicles the depserate measures NBC and ABC are undertaking to boost their audience, none of which will probably succeed.

I don't know if these Sunday institutions will ever regain their previous prestige. The cynicism about American politics is so pervasive that watching them is more like gawking at a trainwreck these days. It's possible that if politics takes a turn for the better (or becomes more interesting) then people will tune back in. But I suspect that political shows are less and less interesting to the average non-political junkie. And that's most of the people.

Consider this: We just came through a political period that was intensely exciting. We had a scandal plagued presidency of the most titillating kind. We had an impeachment. We had a stolen election. We had 9/11. We had a controversial war. We had a global economic meltdown. We had an election of the first African American president riding on the hope for a better day. Right now we're just in a period of stasis, nothing major happening for good or ill. It's just a bunch of little events telling the same story over and over again.

People are tired. They want Game of Thrones not David Gregory and Cokie Roberts. And you cannot blame them. But the news networks shouldn't despair. Something horrible and dramatic will happen and everyone will be forced to pay attention.

Meanwhile, one hopes that people are just absorbing the one major message of our time: the wealthy interests are out of control. It may not add up to much in the short run, but in the long run it can change the way people think about our system without them even knowing it.

Sean Parker should just buy No-Labels and call it a day

by digby

David and I both wrote about Sean Parker today, the Facebook billionaire and newborn political power broker. Mine is over at Salon.  Here's an excerpt;
...One of the nice things about being a billionaire is that even if you have no idea about what you believe or any sense of how the political system works in theory or in practice you can meet with the actual players and have them explain it to you. That’s what Parker has been doing, meeting with politicians of such disparate ideologies as Rand Paul, Bill DeBlasio and Charlie Christ. I’m sure they all told him to put them on speed dial and to call day or night if he had any questions.

His plan, if one can call it that, makes the naive young heirs to the great fortunes look like grizzled old political veterans by comparison ...

He’s not even a Mugwump. He’s just a mess. Apparently, he thinks he can “make Washington work” by financing a group of deal makers in both parties who will knock some heads together and get the job done. What, exactly, it is they are supposed to get done remains a mystery. Indeed, from the sound of it, it doesn’t really matter.
It's the fact that he's hired an army of political strategists from all sides of the political spectrum that is the tell. He will spend a whole lot of money and accomplish absolutely nothing. They're already buying their vacation homes. But then he has so much it might as well be a trip to Vegas for him.

Oh boy! Which direction will the billionaire swing next?

by David Atkins

Someday when the historians write the obituary for the 2nd American Gilded Age, this story will deserve at least a footnote:

These days — in the age of the super PAC and Citizens United — a campaign donor with a million dollars to spend isn’t cool.

You know what’s cool? A donor with a billion dollars.

By any standard, Sean Parker is a very cool donor indeed. And this year, the 34-year-old co-founder of Napster is poised to bring his considerable fortune into the political world with fresh intensity, retaining advisers to bring new focus and sophistication to his political enterprises and preparing to make a significant investment in the 2014 election cycle.

Known primarily as a bad-boy file-sharing guru and defined in the public mind by Justin Timberlake’s frenetic 2010 portrayal in “The Social Network” (“A million dollars isn’t cool,” Timberlake’s character memorably said) Parker has dabbled in the political world for half a decade now.

If the exact direction of Parker’s new push into politics is still taking shape, he is already working actively to build new and stronger political relationships. He has met privately in recent months with some starkly different politicians, huddling with both Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning GOP presidential hopeful, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the populist progressive Democrat. He is eyeing a range of 2014 elections to get involved in and has spoken with former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist about his party-switching comeback bid.

This week, Parker will co-host a San Francisco fundraiser for state Attorney General Kamala Harris, along with Silicon Valley super-elites such as Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Laurene Powell Jobs and uber-investors Ron Conway, Marc Benioff and John Doerr.

On the operational side, Parker has hired Chris Garland, who recently stepped down as chief of staff to California Lt.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, to work in a political director role. The former Facebook president is conferring with national strategists about his political engagement. Among his advisers is Addisu Demissie, who managed New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s 2013 campaign and now heads up the West Coast office of the Messina Group, the consulting firm founded by President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager.

Parker’s allies say that his political goals remain broadly defined: Unlike other politically-inclined billionaires, such as the conservative Koch brothers and liberal environmentalist Tom Steyer, Parker hopes to avoid a purely partisan role as he ventures more deeply into politics.

Having donated almost exclusively to Democrats up to this point, Parker made a trip to Washington in December for the purpose of meeting quietly with Republican officeholders and strategists around town. He plans to donate to both sides starting this year, associates say, for the first time committing big sums to aid Republicans he views as credible deal-makers in a bitterly divided Congress.
It honestly doesn't matter much whether Parker is a clueless naif who can't seem to figure out his political allegiance between De Blasio, Rand Paul and Charlie Crist, or whether he's a generally progressive guy looking to bribe a few potentially tractable Republicans into doing the right thing.

The fact that capricious, potentially clueless billionaires can throw down a bunch of money and have more impact than dozens of organizations that have been working their tails off for decades is a sign of a totally broken system of government. If American politics is going to be decided by a battle amongst 50-100 billionaires, the American people are going to be the losers no matter who wins.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Big Swinging Manhood

by digby

Yes, they're coming right out with it nowadays:

DAVID BROOKS: And, let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a (I'll say it crudely) but a manhood problem in the Middle East: Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair. But certainly in the Middle East, there's an assumption he's not tough.
That's correct. A president with a Big Swinging Manhood would have taken a bull horn by the handle and invaded a country by now. Just to prove how Big his Big Swinging Manhood really was.

And then when you leave office you paint pussycats:

Also too, this.

The cradle of the confederacy offers up a couple of winners

by digby

...well, there isn't really such a thing. Via Mother Jones, here's a Rand Paul endorsed candidate running for Senate in South Carolina:
John, caller: I'm a 9/11 truther. And I had a friend of mine…tell me, look on the internet, Google "the Pentagon" and show me where the plane hit the Pentagon. Where is the plane? There's all kinds of pictures of that building smoldering, and fire trucks everywhere. There's no plane. So I did research on the size of planes, of the engines that ran this plane. These things are 12,000 pounds, these engines that would have flown off—that's six tons—and put a hole in something. There's nothing there.

Bill LuMaye: Well, without getting into—

John: There's a hole in the building and there's no broken glass.

LuMaye: Well, I'd rather not get into a discussion on whether 9/11 was an inside job or not. I really, I mean, we can save that for another day, I have no problem with that, it's just—

Greg Brannon: These questions, again, actually, that's what [9/11 commission vice-chair] Lee Hamilton said. And he just said, there's other questions that need answering. The guy who got all the information…a Democrat and a Republican, were the co-chairmen of the 9/11 commission, and when they got done, they did not put their stamp of approval on the commission. They said, 'There's data that we did not put in there.' So things like this have to be asked.

LuMaye: Well, I appreciate your call, John.

Brannon: Thanks, John.
Yeah. Things like this "have to be asked." I suppose it's inevitable that they would be asked. But let's just say it's a little bit unusual for a Senate candidate to be the one asking.

He's running against Lindsay Graham. And he may not be the only freakshow conservative in the race. Get a load of this guy:

In the space of a few minutes on national television this month, Thomas Ravenel admitted to smoking pot, streaking nude and participating in ... er, ah ... unusual sex acts.. He also declared his likely candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

Even by South Carolina’s sometimes zany political standards, it was not your traditional announcement.

But, to use the catchphrase that Ravenel popularized a decade ago during a previous run for the U.S. Senate, “That’s how Thomas Ravenel rolls.”

Now, the Charleston businessman and disgraced former South Carolina treasurer says he is rolling up his sleeves to campaign as an independent, breaking from the Republican Party to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.

It might seem like a bold gambit from a man with well-publicized legal problems, but Ravenel is energized and enthusiastic about his chances of unseating his Upstate rival, whom he criticizes for being under the thumb of corporate interests and beholden to hateful Republican policy positions. Ravenel proposes righting the country by adhering to a libertarian agenda and reducing the involvement of the federal government in almost everything –whether foreign entanglements, the economy or the regulation of marriage and drugs.

Much has changed for 51-year-old Ravenel, or “T-Rav” as he has come to be known, since he resigned from the state Treasurer’s Office in 2007 and pleaded guilty to cocaine-related federal drug charges.

Following his release in 2009 from a 10-month prison term, Ravenel has sought to salvage his reputation, continuing his lucrative career in commercial real estate development, taking up polo and securing a starring role in the Charleston-based reality show “Southern Charm,” which premiered in March on the Bravo channel.

Last month, Ravenel also became a father, celebrating a daughter born to girlfriend, Kathryn Dennis, also a cast member of “Southern Charm” and 29 years his junior.

He also just downsized, selling his 5,500-square foot mansion in downtown Charleston for $3.3 million, enabling him more freedom to enjoy his Edisto Island plantation or remotely manage his business while following the U.S. polo scene, which moves seasonally between locales like Aiken, Florida and New York.
Oh those wacky rich guys with their plantations and polo ...

I guess we can see why the well-known eccentrics Strom Thurmond and Lindsay Graham got elected by the conservatives. They are just regular, down home guys compared to the rest of them.

Dear Ezra Klein: if Americans don't accept evolution or the Big Bang, they won't apply science to politics either

by David Atkins

Earlier this month Ezra Klein posted one of his first articles on Vox decrying the lack of scientific objectivity in American politics, and the inclination of the electorate to discard basic facts about public policy in service of an ideological agenda. Paul Krugman smartly responded that the abandonment of fact-based politics is not a two-sided affair, but rather largely limited to the right.

Krugman is right, of course. But I also wonder if the phenomenon isn't also a particularly American one in that so many Americans deny even basic scientific facts, including evolution and now apparently the Big Bang:

In a new national poll on America's scientific acumen, more than half of respondents said they were "not too confident" or "not at all confident" that "the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang."
The poll was conducted by GfK Public Affairs & Corporate Communications.

Scientists were apparently dismayed by this news, which arrives only a few weeks after astrophysicists located the first hard evidence of cosmic inflation.

But when compared to results from other science knowledge surveys, 51 percent isn't too shameful -- or surprising.

Other polls on America's scientific beliefs have arrived at similar findings. The "Science and Engineering Indicators" survey -- which the National Science Foundation has conducted every year since the early 1980s -- has consistently found only about a third of Americans believe that "the universe began with a huge explosion."

In 2010, the NSF poll rephrased the question, asking whether the following statement was true: "According to astronomers, the universe began with a big explosion." When reworded, more Americans agreed, suggesting more respondents are aware of the science than originally suggested -- they just don't believe the science.
Krugman would say, of course, that the vast majority of the people who refuse to accept evolutionary and cosmological science are on the conservative end of the spectrum, and he would be right.

But there's a lesson here. Many liberals often believe that if we could just marshal enough facts and figures in evidence, that more people would see reason and vote for Democrats. Liberals operate on the assumption that the public simply needs to be better educated about the facts. But that's not necessarily so.

The public is aware of the science of evolution and the Big Bang. A majority simply chooses not to believe it.

And if the public chooses not be accept the scientific consensus around easily observable, non-political phenomena, how much more unlikely will they be to accept the balance of the evidence on more controversial, less provable political theories such as supply-side versus demand-side economics?

Politics is mostly about making emotional value judgments. Most people have already made up their mind how the world works, and the rules it operates under. You tend to either believe that the universe is just, that the privileged by definition earned their status, that people are either good or bad, that patriotism is the highest moral good, and that traditional social mores are de facto superior; or you tend to believe that the universe is ruled largely by luck, that the privileged tended to be rent-seekers and advantage takers; that personal morals come in varying shades of gray, that racial and national borders are artificial creations, and that almost all social norms are cultural constructs subject to questioning and evaluation.

Most people fall on one side or another. Most politicians' natural base will fall on one side or another. The art of politics is essentially about maximizing your side's turnout at the polls, while encouraging the very few people dangling on the fence to lean toward your camp.

And you know what? There's really nothing wrong with that.

QOTD: radical Republican edition

by digby

You'll recall that the wingnuts in the House charged Eric Holder with contempt of congress:
Gohmert suggested Republicans consider passing “a resolution directing the Sergeant at Arms to detain anyone who is in contempt of Congress.” 
“There is a cell there on Capitol Hill,” he added.
This is the kind of crazy talk they were throwing around in the late 90s. You know, stuff that could never actually happen. Like impeachment. 


Only in Bizarro World is this called justice

by digby

Does this sound like anything you've ever been told could be called "justice"?

Two weeks ago, a pair of F.B.I. agents appeared unannounced at the door of a member of the defense team for one of the men accused of plotting the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As a contractor working with the defense team at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the man was bound by the same confidentiality rules as a lawyer. But the agents wanted to talk.

They asked questions, lawyers say, about the legal teams for Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other accused terrorists who will eventually stand trial before a military tribunal at Guantánamo. Before they left, the agents asked the contractor to sign an agreement promising not to tell anyone about the conversation.

With that signature, Mr. bin al-Shibh’s lawyers say, the government turned a member of their team into an F.B.I. informant.
Also too, is this ok?

Last year, as a lawyer for Mr. Mohammed was speaking during another hearing, a red light began flashing. Then the videofeed from the courtroom abruptly cut out. The emergency censorship system had been activated. But why? And by whom? The defense lawyer had said nothing classified. And the court officer responsible for protecting state secrets had not triggered the system. Days later, the military judge, Col. James L. Pohl, announced that he had been told that an “original classification authority” — meaning the C.I.A. — was secretly monitoring the proceedings. Unknown to everyone else, the agency had its own button, which the judge swiftly and angrily disconnected.

Last year, the government acknowledged that microphones were hidden inside what looked like smoke detectors in the rooms where detainees met with their lawyers. Those microphones gave officials the ability to eavesdrop on confidential conversations, but the military said it never did so.
There's a term for this:

A kangaroo court is a judicial tribunal or assembly that blatantly disregards recognized standards of law or justice, and often carries little or no official standing in the territory within which it resides. Merriam-Webster defines it as "a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted".

A kangaroo court is often held by a group or a community to give the appearance of a fair and just trial, even though the verdict has in reality already been decided before the trial has begun. Such courts typically take place in rural areas where legitimate law enforcement may be limited. The term may also apply to a court held by a legitimate judicial authority who intentionally disregards the court's legal or ethical obligations.
This is why I laugh when people say we need to "trust" the secret intelligence agencies and accept that they are following the rule of law and the constitution. It's probably the most fatuous remark I ever hear from liberals. According to that way of thinking, it's the people who reveal the government's misdeeds, not the misdeeds themselves, that constitutes betrayal of our country. I think that may be just a tiny misunderstanding of the issue.

Storyteller in chief

by digby

Pretty sure he's talking about congress ...

"Remove" vs "Return" tells the real immigration story

by digby

If you are confused by the conflicting reports of deportation statistics for illegal immigration, read this explainer from Anna O. Law. The problem is that we are dealing with various definitions of what constitutes deportation. And it turns out that the Obama administration is not the ogre on this issue that we thought. Apparently, the confusion comes from the differences between "removal" and "return" which often get conflated. Removals would be what we would normally think of as deportation --- finding illegal immigrants in our midst and kicking them out of the country with all the legal ramifications that goes with that. Returns are people who are refused entry. They don't ever appear in a court and thus have no record and suffer no penalties like not being allowed to apply for legal entry or being incarcerated if they're caught in the future.

It turns out that the Obama administration's higher statistic apply to the latter category which is obviously the more benign one:
To understand deportations under Obama, it’s more helpful to look at the ratio of returns and removals. Compared to his predecessors, Obama has deemphasized removals and concentrated on returns. His numbers reflect a deliberate shift in strategy to exercise prosecutorial discretion to aid longtime immigrant residents who have family ties and no criminal backgrounds besides the immigration law violation. In recent years, two-thirds of Obama’s overall expulsion numbers consist of returns of people who have previous final orders of removal and who are recently arriving entrants.
It must be noted that none of that helps the residents and their children who live in the shadows and are forced to deal with possible deportation. It changes nothing with respect to the desperate need for comprehensive immigration reform. But it does suggest that the Obama administration has adopted a more compassionate policy than his predecessor if you look beneath the surface of those statistics.

It's a sad comment on our politics that the administration can't make that case for itself. But unfortunately, if they admitted what they were doing they'd be portrayed as soft on "illegals" and would likely have even less of a chance to get immigration reform passed. It's a sick system we have here.

Counting the votes of African Americans and Latinos is the real vote suppression

by digby

I have a post up at Salon this morning discussing this reflexive conservative impulse to explain that they are really winning all the elections. It's just that they are forced to count the votes of all those people of color:
The news is so depressing for conservatives these days. All the demographic trends are moving against them.With every election showing a large majority of single women, young people and people of color voting for the Democrats, thus solidifying their identification with the party, the less likely it is that Republicans can outrun the shift to a multiracial majority. But they still don’t seem to understand exactly what this means for them.

Take, for example, Michael Medved’s latest in the Wall Street Journal in which he explains that the Democrats’ strategy of wooing women voters by pointing out the GOP’s hostility to reproductive rights and equal pay is nothing but a sham. Sure, Barack Obama won the female vote by a commanding 11 points in the last election but it’s not as if he won a mandate for his message. After all, he lost the white female vote... read on.
It's amazing how they can so blithely imply that they win if the "real" vote were counted.  And it proves why they are so desperate to suppress the vote of African Americans and Latinos. Those "illegitimate" voters are diluting the votes of legitimate citizens. What could be more obvious?

Indeed, all you have to do is look at the GOP rationales offered up in the 2000 recount: they said it explicitly. (James Bopp, the author of that linked article is one of the GOP's foremost vote suppression experts.)

Once you let those illegitimate votes count, Real Americans are denied their franchise. In fact, counting the votes of African Americans and Latinos is the real vote suppression.

Chart of the day: The United States is not overtaxed. Far from it.

by David Atkins

The United States has the third lowest effective tax rate in the developed world:

The U.S. was the third least taxed country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2011, the most recent year for which OECD has complete data.

Of all the OECD countries, which are essentially the countries the U.S. trades with and competes with, only Chile and Mexico collect less taxes as a percentage of their overall economy (as a percentage of gross domestic product, or GDP).

This sharply contradicts the widely held view among many members of Congress that taxes are already high enough in the U.S. and that any efforts to reduce the federal deficit should therefore take the form of cuts in government spending.

As the graph to the right illustrates, in 2011, the total (federal, state and local) tax revenue collected in the U.S. was equal to 24.0 percent of the U.S.’s GDP.

The total taxes collected by other OECD countries that year was equal to 34.0 percent of combined GDP of those countries.
Remember also that the top 1% of Americans have over 50% over the wealth, and that the top 10% have over 90% of the wealth.

America isn't broke. We could pay for decent infrastructure, schools and healthcare. But we have a system of legalized political bribery that would shame banana republics, ensuring that the very wealthy don't have to contribute more than a pittance toward the general welfare.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Who wants to live a long life anyway, amirite?

by digby

Joshua Holland shares the good news for poor people:
In 2009, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a study that revealed what seems to be a shocking truth: those who live in societies with a higher level of income inequality are at a greater risk for premature death. 
Here in the United States, our high level of income inequality corresponds with 883, 914 unnecessary deaths each year. More specifically, the report concluded that if we had an income distribution more like that of the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland — or eleven other wealthy countries — every year, about one in three deaths in the US could be avoided.
Put that into perspective. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), tobacco, including second-hand smoke, causes approximately 480,000 deathsevery year, and in 2010, traffic accidents killed 33,687 people and 31,672 othersdied of gunshot wounds. 
The mechanism by which a bullet or a car crash kills is readily apparent. Inequality is lethal in ways that are less obvious. It’s a silent killer – a deadly plague that we, as a society, tend not to acknowledge. 
In Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality, a new book edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, Stephen Bezruchka, a former emergency room physician who is now a professor of public health at the University of Washington, explains the connection. (An excerpt from his chapter titled “Inequality Kills” can be read at Boston Review.) Read on...
Yeah, whatever. If people want to live a full lifespan they ought to work as hard as the people who are inheriting all the wealth.  Oh wait ...

Update: The poorest women are actually seeing their life expectancy decline

Well look a the bright spot.  It'll help keep Social Security from being so expensive that we would have to curtail our unaccountable, runaway military spending. So that's good.


by digby

As hard as it is to believe, CNN actually ran a story about this:

New way for the KKK?

[Imperial Wizard] Ancona, who lives in Missouri, insists there's a new Klan for modern times -- a Klan that's "about educating people to our ideas and getting people to see our point of view to ... help change things."
He said he and those like him can spread that message without violence -- a sort of rebranding of the Klan.

The idea may sound absurd, but is it conceivable?

A reporter checked it out and the PR professional consensus is no.

Good thing CNN is on this, though, or they might have spent a whole bunch of money on repackaging and advertising
only to have people reject their tainted product.

Best to start from scratch. After all, there's always a "market" out there for white supremacy.

Sally Quinn's odd notion of "faith" 

by digby

I don't think "faith" means what Sally Quinn thinks it means:
Do the participants at the seder really believe that the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, were passed over by God, and escaped to their own land? A lot of them don’t.

Do I believe in God? I’m not sure what I believe would mean the same to others. Do I believe Jesus was the Son of God? Who am I to say? Do I believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead? I don’t know.

It really doesn’t matter whether the Jews at the Seder believe. Nor does it matter that the Christians at Easter believe. What matters is the overwhelming sense of community that all of these rituals inspire.
That's nice. I like togetherness and a sense of community too. But I just have a sneaking suspicion that an awful lot of the people who are celebrating Passover and Easter actually do believe in their religion and it does matter to them. In fact, a bunch of them might just find it a teensy bit presumptuous of Sally Quinn to dismiss their beliefs on one of the most important religious days of the year in favor of some bourgeois Sunday brunch celebration where everybody feels good about themselves.

But hey, who am I to venture an opinion? I'm not religious. But then apparently neither is Sally Quinn who writes a column in a newspaper called "On Faith."

Why does Sally Quinn write a column in the newspaper called "On Faith" anyway?

Sunday Funnies: Eat the rich edition

by digby


Tom Tomorrow

The rich kids of the rich and famous

by digby

Following up on my post here and David's here, I thought I should check in with the Rich Kids of Instagram. It's been a while and since I've recently been informed that the future of the world depends on their largesse it's a good way to see what they're interested in so we can all tailor our hopes and dreams around their hopes and dreams.

Basically, kids, don't go to college, go to butler school:
Christopher Ely is prone to philosophizing about his life's work. "You should be invisible, to a certain point," he explains carefully, wearing a navy blue pinstriped suit and well-polished shoes. "You exist, of course, but you don't." Ely, of course, is describing the secrets of the manservant trade. As one of New York's most famous butlers, he's enjoyed a storied career that began as a footman at Buckingham Palace and led to a job as the butler and estate manager for philanthropist and power widow Brooke Astor. Ely, 48, does not use the term "manservant." The word, he says, "has such connotation to it."

This is one of the many tips Ely is preparing to pass on to the next generation of butlers, housekeepers, chauffeurs, governesses, housemen, personal assistants, laundresses, and chefs. This week he and Manhattan's French Culinary Institute inaugurate the Estate Management Studies program. Tired of hearing people tell him, "We couldn't get good staff," Ely says, he set out to reinvigorate the entire domestic-service industry with a curriculum that combines its ancient hallmarks—efficiency, decorum, and discretion—with what the institute calls the "contemporary skills necessary to manage modern-day residences."

Update: Also too, apparently this peek inside the lives of the rich and shameless "old money" of Charleston South Carolina has the old guard all in a tizzy. They don't like to have their (lazy children's) dirty laundry exposed on national TV.

Frankly my dear, these heirs to Antebellum gentility really don't give a damn.

It reminds me of this earlier peek into the rich and shameless youth of New York City, featuring PC Peterson, the worthless heir to Pete Peterson, the man who openly admits he's trying to save the country for his grandkids. He doesn't tell us that his plan is to turn the nation into a feudal state.

Peter Cary “PC” Peterson, 18 years old and a senior at Dwight, is sitting at Philippe on the Upper East Side, talking about the way the world works, based on his extensive experience. “Everything in New York City is about connections,” he explains, his eyes glinting and head lolling back. “It’s who you know and how much money you have. It’s really sad. And I am not saying I’m like that. But that’s what New York is: money and power.”

Bundy bar-b-que blather

by digby

I happened to catch this exchange between a Nevada Republican officeholder named Michelle Fiore and Chris Hayes Friday night and almost had to admire the combination of arrogance and aggressive ignorance the woman shows in the interview. She is clearly very impressed with herself.

First she insists that the government never sends in men with guns to collect an "unpaid bill." That's ridiculous. Men with guns come and arrest people all the time for failing to pay their taxes and their property is often confiscated. Suspected drug offenders often don't even get a day in court --- the government just seizes their property, auctions it off and keeps the money, regardless of the outcome of an arrest. People are removed from their homes by armed police every single day for failing to pay their mortgage or their rent.

What does she thinks backs up every law in this country? Men with guns who can come to your house, arrest you and seize your property if you don't abide by them. If she's an anarchist who doesn't believe in this system, she ought to admit it.

Now I happen to agree (as does Chris) that this particular approach by the BLM was over the top. The truth is that they could have done this with garnishments on the sale of the cows rather than trying to take the cows themselves. They were making a point and it backfired. But the underlying power of any law is the government's ability to use force to compel a citizen to observe it. I realize that's a bit abstract for this woman's obviously self-serving ideology, but she's an elected official and somebody needs to clue her in.

And self-serving it is. She's all for the government using force in other cases --- such as the border, which she repeatedly mentioned as a legitimate place for the government to get trigger-happy. And her pals in the Tea Party were anything but sympathetic to Occupy protesters:
“They seem to be more in favor of anarchy than they are in favor of working out problems through the Constitution,” Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, said about the Occupy forces.

“We have worked very hard to be respectful of the laws,” she said in an interview. “We protest and complain, but we’re also trying to work within the system. It’s frustrating to watch people who have an utter lack of respect for our form of government.”
Yeah.  Frustrating.

Chris patiently tried to discuss the issue logically and the women talked over him with the usual non-stop irrelevant gibberish. But he did manage to finally ask her if she would similarly stand with a person who called together a thousand armed supporters to resist the DHS deporting a loved one after all the legal avenues had been tried. Her reply? It's so infuriatingly absurd you don't know whether to laugh, cry or scream:
Fiore: Are we talking about cows or illegal immigration? Because I'm talking about cows, Chris

Hayes: I'm talking about human beings, which seem to me to be even more important

Fiore:...human beings, thank God that did not get slaughtered, but cows did get slaughtered out here.
It went downhill from there.

I know you're supposed to say that we have to listen and we have to understand and we have to be compassionate and yadda,yadda, yadda. But seriously, you'd have better luck talking to the cows than trying to have a real conversation with these self-serving jerks. You can't make common cause with people whose "principles" only apply to themselves.


Homemade peeps and Hallelujah!

by digby

Your Easter traditions explained: they're mostly rebranded pagan rituals.  Not that there's anything wrong with that:
The symbol of the egg may have origins in pagan rituals celebrating the spring season. The religious symbolism is the resurrection of Jesus.

Decorating eggs for Easter dates back to at least the 13th century, according to the History channel. Dying eggs red symbolized the blood of Christ.

One theory is the Easter bunny also comes from pagan rites of spring, brought to the U.S. by 18th-century German settlers in Pennsylvania.

These settlers prepared nests for the bunny in their gardens or barns and waited for Easter Eve for the rabbit, known as "Oschter Haws," to lay eggs, according to Christianity Today.
Not to worry though. Some things are All American, 20th century ... I don't know what:
Peeps, the marshmallow candies now synonymous with Easter have their origins in a candy company created by Russian immigrant Sam Born. Born first opened a factory in the early 20th century in Brooklyn before moving his operations to Bethlehem (yes, Bethlehem!), Penn., in 1932.

Starting in the 1950s, a marshmallow Peep was made by hand-squeezing marshmallow through pastry tubes.
You can even make your own peeps although I can't think of a good reason to do it. It's not as if homemade is more "healthy."

Anyway, for those of you observing the holiday, Happy Easter. It's the big kahuna of Christian holidays and even if you're not religious you can't help but be inspired by this:

For those who are looking forward to the special, post Lent feast, today's is very special. It's also 420 day. So enjoy those peeps!

Update: More on the pagan origins of Easter rituals here.

Beware the new inherited aristocracy

by David Atkins

If you missed it yesterday, go read Digby's post on the scions of the new aristocracy.

Now watch Paul Krugman on Bill Moyers:

“Those of you who talk about the 1 percent, you don’t really get what’s going on. You’re living in the past. You’re living in the ’80s. You think that Gordon Gekko is the future,” he says, referring to the character in Wall Street, who became a symbol of unrestrained greed.

“[R]ight now, what we’re really talking about is Gordon Gekko’s son or daughter. We’re talking about inherited wealth playing an ever-growing role,” he concludes.
A lot of people don't understand the significance of this dynastic aristocratic phenomenon. The world has always been more about whom you know than what you know. Inequality trends make it worse. This is happening even in the world of progressive politics. If you want a decent job in political organizing you usually need to know a wealthy someone with an "in", and you need to be prepared to help write pitches that pull in more money. If you want a decent job in climate change action in California, your best bet is to get connected to billionaire Tom Steyer. If you work to hold government accountable to public transparency, you had best hope to catch Pierre Omidyar's eye.

But it gets even worse when it comes to the children of wealthy scions. Consider the fact that over 3 million Americans are in the top 1% of incomes making over $364,000 a year. Consider the fact that on average each of them will have around two kids. The math there is tricky for a number of obvious reasons, but let's put down a conservative estimate of 4 to 5 million children in America whose parents make over $364,000 a year.

Remember that estate taxes have been shredded to minimal levels. Remember also that cash-only sales consitute nearly half of all home purchases. How much real estate wealth is actually going to legitimately change hands, rather than be passed down from one generation to the next? How many spots at America's universities are being taken and about to be taken by these 4 million trust funders? How many of the unpaid internships that lead to powerful and influential jobs do they have and will they continue to take into the future?

If you do not belong to this lucky subset of Americans, then your best bet for a decent future doesn't lie in becoming a self-made entrenpreneur. After all, the vast majority of new businesses fail within the first 5 years--and it's not as if the United States has a safety net that catches risk-taking entrepreneurs. Instead, it has a system that rewards the very few who succeed with untold sums of wealth, usually as a product of having caught the eye of or gone to school with a wealthy angel investor or their kid.

Given the horrible job market for new college grads, the biggest reason to go to college isn't to find a good career. It's to find a few rich kids, grab onto them for dear life, and beg them for a job.

It's Great Expectations, American-style.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies

Beginners and losers: Alan Partridge

By Dennis Hartley

The drinkin' I did on my last big gig
Made my voice go low
They said that they liked the 'younger sound'
When they let me go

-From "W-O-L-D", by Harry Chapin

Four score and seven years ago (OK, that's an exaggeration...it was 1974) I was a neophyte DJ working the midnight-6am shift at an AM station in Fairbanks, Alaska. The call letters, KFAR, were somewhat apropos; this was about as far fucking north as you could live on planet Earth and still have a radio career. I have never forgotten a nugget of wisdom imparted to me back in those days by a veteran jock, who, perhaps sensing my Pollyanna enthusiasm for the gig, took me aside to share some career advice. "You're still young," be began with a world-weary sigh, "So I'm gonna tell ya something about small market radio stations like this one, Dennis. There are only two types of people who work here: Beginners, and losers." I was the beginner, so...I assume he knew of what he spoke.

No fictional character better embodies the ethos of this showbiz axiom than Alan Partridge, the creation of droll English actor-comedian Steve Coogan and writer Armando Iannucci (the comic genius behind the BBC political sitcom The Thick of It). A smarmy, egotistical "program presenter" of middling talent and perennially underwhelming accomplishment, Alan is a "jack of all trades, master of none" who persists in orbiting about the showbiz peripheral like an angry bee, despite continual failure. This stalwart refusal to surrender dreams of stardom makes Alan oddly endearing, despite the fact he's a self-absorbed asshole. UK TV audiences (and Anglophiles like yours truly) have become fixated (in bad car wreck fashion) on following Alan’s ever-downward career trajectory. It began in the mid-90s, with the one-season BBC series Knowing Me, Knowing You (also the name of the fictional "show within the show"), which “documented” an ill-fated variety program created (and ultimately destroyed) by its prickly, passive-aggressive host (this incarnation of the Partridge persona recalls Dabney Coleman's character in the short-lived but brilliant 80s NBC series, Buffalo Bill).

Several years later, Coogan and Iannucci resurrected the character in I'm Alan Partridge, a two-season series that picks up Alan's story as he moves back to his hometown of Norwich, in the wake of his humiliating failure as a national TV personality. He has managed to snag the graveyard shift on a local radio station (erm...see paragraph 1) where he spins 80s synth-pop hits for residents of the sleepy little hamlet. By season 2, he's living in a trailer with his young Ukrainian girlfriend, picking up whatever gigs he can in between making desperate pitches to stone-faced BBC executives. Whereas Knowing Me Knowing You was more showbiz satire, I'm Alan Partridge has darker tones; Alan emerges more as a figure like John Osborne's Archie (or a character from a Ray Davies song). It's a 'cringe-comedy'; discomfiting yet funny (like Curb Your Enthusiasm).

The most recent TV update on the Alan Partridge saga was parlayed via the 12-episode series, Mid Morning Matters (2010-2011), which finds Alan more or less settled in (or wearily settling for) his career as a radio personality for a small market station, hosting a slightly higher profile air shift on "North Norfolk Digital". Coogan and Iannucci ease up on the pathos that informed I'm Alan Partridge and go more for the belly laughs in this series. And the laughs are plentiful, mostly thanks to Alan's interaction with fellow staff, particularly "Side-kick Simon" (Tim Key) and Alan's apparent inability to complete one single interview without somehow offending his guests. Which brings us to a new feature film called Alan Partridge (which was released as Alpha Papa in the UK this past fall).

In the film (directed by Declan Lowney and co-written by Coogan, Iannucci, Peter Baynham and twin brothers Rob and Neil Gibbons) we find Alan (Coogan) still ensconced in the air chair at North Norfolk Digital, with Side-kick Simon (Key)  covering his flank. Alan is waging his usual charm offensive, with song outros like "You can keep Jesus Christ. That was Neil Diamond...truly the 'King of the Jews'!" and challenging his listeners to ponder and weigh in on the big questions like, "What is the worst 'monger'-? Iron, fish, rumor...or war?" However, it is not business as usual with upper management, who call Alan into a meeting after his show to inform him that North Norfolk Digital is about to be absorbed by a media conglomerate, who want to make some staff cuts. Alan dodges the bullet, but his old pal Pat (Colm Meaney) is not so lucky. The new owners want to pick up younger listeners, and Pat is seen as too stodgy. Pat doesn’t take it so well; he comes back with a gun and takes hostages. Alan becomes the reluctant liaison between Pat and the police in the resulting standoff; hilarity ensues.

I know that may not necessarily sound like the setup for a riotous comedy on paper, but it works as such, thanks to the sharp writing, smart direction and deft ensemble work from the cast, right down to the smallest roles. Meaney (a fine actor who has proven to be equally adept at dramatic and comedic roles) plays it fairly straight, lending the film an edge and even genuine poignancy at times. Still, this is ultimately Coogan’s show; he’s inhabited this uniquely weird character over so many years with such commitment that it’s nearly impossible to figure out where Coogan begins and Partridge ends, or vice-versa (like Andy Kaufman and Latka Gravas). But you needn’t ponder that. Your job is to simply sit back and enjoy 90 minutes of laugh therapy…something we could all use.

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