The Wires

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New York Times (September 22): In March the Department of Justice described criminal cases involving nearly $700 million lost [to fraud] in the previous year by about two million people. The ones hit hardest by this kind of fraud are over 70, and they experience an average loss of $41,800, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports.... Some of the newer tactics for defrauding older people focus on Social Security, grandparenting and employment searches." ~~~

~~~ Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: I have received a number of calls recently warning me I was about to lose my Social Security card, an eventuality that is highly unlikely. I have always just hung up on these automated calls, but yesterday, I decided to bite. When the "real person" came on the phone, he identified himself as a Social Security officer, certainly breaking the law right there. "Really?" I said. "How are you going to prove you're a federal government official and not a scammer?" He immediately hung up. Maybe this gang of crooks will stop calling me (tho probably not).

New York Times: "Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo have both won this year’s Booker Prize, it was announced at a ceremony on Monday, after the judges for the literary award rebelled against its rules. 'We were told quite firmly that the rules state you can only have one winner,' Peter Florence, the chairman of the Booker judges, said at a news conference. But the 'consensus was to flout the rules and divide this year’s prize to celebrate two winners.' Evaristo, who won for her novel 'Girl, Woman, Other,' is the first black woman to win the Booker Prize. 'I hope that honor doesn’t last too long,' she said in her acceptance speech. Atwood, who won in 2000 for 'The Blind Assassin,' was considered a front-runner this year for 'The Testaments,' the sequel to her 1985 dystopian classic, 'The Handmaid’s Tale.'”

We are amused:

The Hollywood Reporter has a list of this year's Emmy Award winners.

The End of the Amtrak Dining Car. Washington Post: "Amtrak says it is reinventing its dining service on long-distance trains, killing the traditional dining car to create more 'flexible' and 'contemporary' dining options. The carrier says the change, starting this fall on the one-night routes east of the Mississippi River, is driven by the desire to save money and lure a younger generation of new riders — chiefly, millennials known to be always on the run, glued to their phones and not particularly keen on breaking bread with strangers at a communal table. With the transition, Amtrak is doing away with the traditional onboard kitchen, switching to serving prepackaged meals and easing restrictions on the traditional serving times. The change allows the railroad to cut costs associated with cooking aboard and keeping up with the white-tablecloth service that was once known to rival high-end restaurants and clubs." ~~~

     ~~~ Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: I realize many of you are too young to have experienced this, but once upon a time, traveling by train & plane was glamorous. People dressed up to travel, and those who had train roomettes dressed for dinner. My then-husband & I once had a roomette when we traveled from Juarez to Mexico City, & the experience was absolutely fabulous; so was the cuisine in the dining car. Now, it's sensible to dress in the most comfy clothes in anticipation of getting squished into a teeny "economy class" airline seat. The photos accompanying the WashPo story show people wearing casual dress in the white-tablecloth dining room, & the men are too gauche to remove their billed caps. P.S. to American tourists: nobody more messes up a photo of an historic site than a bunch of yahoo sightseers ambling around in their sloppy travel outfits. Then:

CNN: "The US Navy has finally acknowledged footage purported to show UFOs hurtling through the air. And while officials said they don't know what the objects are, they're not indulging any hints either. The objects seen in three clips of declassified military footage are "unidentified aerial phenomena," Navy spokesperson Joe Gradisher confirmed to CNN.The clips, released between December 2017 and March 2018 by To The Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences, appear to show fast-moving, oblong objects captured by advanced infrared sensors.In footage from 2004, sensors lock on a target as it flies before it accelerates out of the left side of the frame, too quickly for the sensors to relocate it. Two of the videos, both from 2015, contain audio from US fighter pilots attempting to make sense of what they're seeing."

New York Times: "A solid 18-karat gold toilet, titled 'America' by its creator, Maurizio Cattelan, was stolen early Saturday [September 14] from an exhibit at Blenheim Palace, the Oxfordshire birthplace and family home of Winston Churchill.... The artwork is based on a common Kohler toilet and was created by a foundry in Florence. The work’s value was not disclosed, but [Guggenheim artistic director Nancy] Spector described it as 'millions of dollars’ worth of gold.'... The police said in a statement that they were investigating the burglary and that a 66-year-old man had been arrested but not charged. The toilet has not been recovered. Jess Milne, a detective inspector, noted that the toilet had been plumbed to the building, so the theft 'caused significant damage and flooding.' He said the police believed a 'group of offenders' using at least two vehicles was behind the theft." the Hill's story is here.

Modern Art. CNN: "Hillary Clinton's emails ... have become art -- and the former secretary of state herself went to take a look.The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee looked through printed copies of her emails and sat at a replica of the Oval Office's Resolute Desk during a visit Tuesday to an art exhibit in Venice, Italy, titled 'HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails,' according to the exhibit's creator and curators. 'Hillary Clinton spent an hour yesterday reading her emails at my exhibition of all 62,000 pages of them in Venice,' American poet and artist Kenneth Goldsmith tweeted Wednesday. 'She is pictured here at a replica of the Oval Office Resolute Desk, stacked with her emails.' Francesco Urbano Ragazzi -- the collective name for two men who are working as the exhibit's curatorial team -- told CNN that Clinton came in for a private tour of the exhibit Tuesday morning."

... Related Washington Post story here.

     ... Thanks to NJC for the lead.

Constant Comments


Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. -- H. L. Mencken (probably)

Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. -- A. J. Liebling


Iraq -- Mistakes Were Made

Frank Rich: "President Obama’s bloodless speech on the 'end' of the Iraq war showed how the whitewashing of our recent past is well under way. It's a mystery," Rich writes, "why a candidate so attuned to the nation’s pulse, most especially on the matter of war, has grown tone deaf in office."

The Constant Weader solves the mystery:

It's the drapes.

If you think the District of Columbia has numbed the minds of the members of Congress, what do you suppose living in the White Fishbowl does? Unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama actually works there, from morning till late at night. It isn't just his hair that's gone gray from the stresses of the job; his soul seems to have grizzled, too.

I was more struck by Brian Williams' interview of the President (transcript & video here) than I was by the bland, check-off-the-boxes Oval Office speech: Iraq, check; Afghanistan, check; economy, check. At one point in the Williams interview, the President said that he wasn't concerned about the false stories about his background "because I trusted in the American people's capacity to get beyond all this nonsense and focus on is this somebody who cares about me and cares about my family and has a vision for the future?"

What Mr. Obama fails to understand is that to most of us, the answer to that question is "No." He reveals neither enthusiasm for his job nor advocacy for those who put our trust in him. His staff likes to boast about the President's calm decisiveness under fire. That is indeed an important quality. But there is a corollary to dispassion in crisis: the President must also display passion for our economic needs, for our Constitutional rights & for our founding principles. He must be willing to fight the forces in this country who are doing their best to further distribute the nation's wealth to the rich & the connected, who are constantly chipping away at basic rights & who have no idea about our national values.

The reason the President appears not to care is that he doesn't. It isn't just that he's got more accustomed to hanging out with the privileged elite -- that's probably a very minor part of it. Rather, he has just become disconnected & distracted. You can see it in is body language -- stiff & aloof; you can see it in his face -- expressionless.

Maureen Dowd made a big joke on Wednesday about the new, expensive Oval Office decor & Obama's "talking rug." Of course it isn't the drapes or the rug, per se, that have cocooned the President & turned him into the pea in the pod. But it is that office. Not only is the Oval Office uniquely staid & depressing, the person who holds the office of the presidency is supposed to behave "appropriately." When Mr. Obama became President, Republicans were almost as upset that he was pictured in the Oval Office without a tie as they were when President Clinton "disrespected" the Oval with Monica Lewinsky. (Only after a few pictures surfaced of Dubya & Ronnie going tieless & jacketless in the Oval did the the horrified critics shut up.)

There's a reason Presidents don't give many Oval Office speeches. At the beginning of their terms, they think they're going to be giving Roosevelt-style fireside chats. They soon find out they're giving morose recitations to the red light on the camera. A person just can't give a rip-roaring speech sitting at that desk. In fact, it's hard to give a good speech sitting down anywhere, but the Oval Office commands a unique, funereal reserve. The setting saps the passion.

If Barack Obama wants to get his groove back, he had better figure out a way to escape the cocoon. And he had better remember that although it's mostly the fat cats who feed the kitty, it is ultimately the voters who decide his fate & the fates of everyone running for Congress.

Maureen Dowd pans Tony Blair's New autobiography: "... in the section on Iraq, Blair loses his C.E.O. fluency and engages in tortured arguments, including one on how many people really died in the war, and does a Shylock lament.... The reasoning of the man known in England as Phony Tony or Blair amounts to this: They had to invade Iraq because Saddam could hypothetically hook up with Al Qaeda. But they didn’t properly prepare for the insurgency because they knew that Saddam had no link to Al Qaeda."

The Constant Weader explains the dynamic:

The human psyche has a great capacity for lying to itself & that capacity is best exemplified in the rationalizations of politicians. They might feel a flash of regret for the occasional major blunder, but they are quickly able to conjure up & internalize a swell excuse, & all is well with the world.

It helps to have sycophantic aides. If they question the politician, s/he just fires them: adios, Paul O'Neill; ta ta, Greg Craig.

In Tony Blair's case, he is able to rationalize not only his own horrid mistakes, but also the peccadilloes of his friends. While he didn't necessary approve of it, Blair wrote in his memoir that Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky because of his "inordinate interest in and curiosity about people." Only a politician could make the Lewinsky affair into a shining example of Clinton's "caring about people."

The people in Dublin were throwing shoes & eggs at Blair yesterday as he made the rounds on his book tour.

I deplore violence of course, but how much can it hurt that a man who bears partial responsibility for the deaths of thousands ends up with a little egg on his face? Besides, in the mind of the politician, mistreatment by enemies & detractors is but one more proof he was right all along.

Constant Weader: while I'm at it, I might as well comment on Tom Friedman's column. Friedman, who was captain of the Iraq War cheerleading team, in his usual smarmy, know-it-all manner, informs us "pacifists" that we "need not worry any more about 'wars of choice.' ... We can’t afford to invade Grenada today." Friedman waxes on about all the cuts in defense spending we'll have to make because of the recession & Medicare & Social Security & all, & how the world will be less safe because of it. Oh, belt-tightening hurts when there are so many little wars we should be starting in the name of freedom.

But lately, with his war dreams interrupted & the economy in the tank (in large part because of Tommy's war games), Friedman has been all about fiscal, social & ecological responsibility. He devotes his New York Times platform to promoting green energy sources and encouraging us to break our addiction to oil, and telling Boomers we must accept deep cuts in services so the "kids can have jobs and not be saddled with debts tomorrow," pushing legislators to "get our fiscal house in order" and just generally thinking up all kinds of ways everybody else could do a better job of saving America from itself. Everybody has to sacrifice. Everybody, evidently, except Tommy Fucking Friedman. My pal Akhilleus sent me this aerial shot of Chez Friedman:

For some perspective, note the comparative size of the mansion next door. What do you suppose the Friedmans' carbon footprint is? I'll let one of his majesty's former neighbors have the last word:

Friedman ... tore down the huge older house [that was on the property] and constructed an [over 11,000] square foot residence, with 7.5 bathrooms, on the hilltop. It is beautifully landscaped..., and the foliage likely requires a lot of water. The property is listed on the tax rolls for [well over $9,000,000]. It makes me feel better that those who preach environmentalism practice such a modest intrusion on the environment itself.

For a very fine commentary on President Obama's Oval Office speech, see my friend Lulu's "original draft." This post also has video of the President's address.



The Commentariat -- September 5

While the Obamas were on Martha's Vineyard, the Oval Office got a redo, first revealed to the public during the President's address last week. Washington Post story here. Picture gallery here.

The Oval Office, redecorated by decorator to the stars Michael Smith. Washington Post photo. CLICK PHOTO TO SEE LARGER IMAGE.

** More about the Rug. In a fascinating Washington Post op-ed about the quotations woven into the new Oval Office rug, Jamie Stiehm finds the true source of two of the quotations: the original authors were not Martin Luther King., Jr. & Abraham Lincoln, but Theodore Parker, an early-19th-century abolitionist, Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist thinker.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. -- Theodore Parker (1853), cited by MLK

A democracy -- that is a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people. -- Theodore Parker (1850), borrowed by Lincoln for his Gettysburg Address

Jeff Zeleny & Carl Hulse of the New York Times: "In the next two weeks, Democratic leaders will review new polls and other data that show whether vulnerable incumbents have a path to victory. If not, the party is poised to redirect money to concentrate on trying to protect up to two dozen lawmakers who appear to be in the strongest position to fend off their challengers."

** Sharpen Your Pitchforks. Glenn Greenwald: Alan Simpson's "recent outbursts have unmasked this [Deficit] Commission and shed light on its true character.  Unlike his fellow Commission members, who imperiously dismiss public inquiries..., Simpson -- to his genuine credit -- has been aggressively engaging critics, making it impossible to ignore what the Commission is really up to." CW: this is a real must-read. Greenwald makes a nearly irrefutable case that Democrats have a stealth plan to enact the Commission's recommended Social Security cuts.

Eliot Spitzer, in Slate: President Obama's economic policies are not ambitious enough & the policies promoted by the right-wing nuts, policies that are gaining traction with the know-nothings, will only make a bad situation worse.

Dennis Cauchon of USA Today: "The worst summer on record for young people who wanted a job is staggering to an end this Labor Day weekend. Only 47.6% of people ages 16 to 24 had jobs in August, the lowest level since the government began keeping track in 1948, the Labor Department said Friday. By comparison, 62.8% of that age group was employed in August 2000."

Dina ElBoghdady of the Washington Post: "... Around the country, the expectations of buyers and sellers are out of whack, thwarting deals that could potentially lift the U.S. housing sector from its long funk. The nascent rebirth of the market earlier this year proved to be a mirage."

Gretchen Morgenson & Geraldine Fabrikant of the New York Times: "Earlier this year, Florida earmarked $9.6 million to set up foreclosures-only courts across the state, staffed by retired judges. The goal of the program, which began in July, is to reduce the foreclosures backlog by 62 percent within a year.... But lawyers representing troubled borrowers contend that many of the retired judges ... to oversee these matters are so focused on cutting the caseload that they are unfairly favoring financial institutions at the expense of homeowners."

Dan Balz of the Washington Post: scholars agree -- Barack Obama, the "post-partisan" President, was always a polarizing figure.

Mark Landler of the New York Times: Secretary of State Hillary "Clinton will be in the thick of the negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, when they meet on Sept. 14 in Egypt. Her role, several officials say, will be to take over from the administration’s special envoy, George J. Mitchell, when the two sides run into serious obstacles. It may prove the greatest test yet for Mrs. Clinton, one that could cement her legacy as a diplomat if she solves the riddle that foiled even her husband, former President Bill Clinton."

John Cassidy of The New Yorker: testifying before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, Ben Bernanke changes his story about the collapse of Lehman Brothers, shifting from "giving them a loan was illegal" to "they would have failed whether or not we gave them a loan." Cassidy is not convinced inasmuch as Barklays Bank was negotiating a takeover of Lehman, which could have occurred within days. A bridge loan might have saved Lehman & possibly averted the collapse.

Jad Mouawad of the New York Times: "Air fares have marched steadily upward in recent months and are now close to pre-recession levels — and that’s not even counting all the new fees that airlines have introduced lately."

Inventing an Enemies List. Dahlia Lithwick, in Slate: why Democrat-in-Name-Only Ben Nelson voted against Elena Kagan's confirmation, & why the NRA would not endorse gun-friendly Harry Reid. As  Dennis Henigan of the Brady Campaign put it, "It may be that the NRA simply could not endorse Senator Reid once he had attacked its core belief that the Second Amendment really is about armed revolt against our government."

Ruth Marcus: Sarah Palin caterwauls at every hint of a sexist comment about her, but she doesn't mind making overtly sexual & emasculating comments about men, as when she recently described a gay writer as "limp" & "impotent." CW: Marcus doesn't mention it, but Palin used similar language when she accused President Obama of "not having the cojones" to take on illegal immigration. (Weirdly, she said Jan Brewer did have cojones.)



The Headless Governor -- Arizona's Ichabod Crane

Gail Collins riffs on Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. "The headless body debate goes back to Brewer’s longstanding contention that Arizona is plagued by 'drugs and the kidnappings and the extortion and the beheadings' related to illegal immigration." After the debate & its follow-up debacle ("Everyone knows you never want to finish a big campaign night on a headless-body note."), Brewer told a reporter, "I’ve done something. Terry hasn’t did anything."

Here's Brewer's debate meltdown: *

... And here she is, post-debate, refusing to answer reporters' questions about her false headless bodies claim:

The Constant Weader comments on Collins' column:

First, it appears Terry Goddard has "did something." As the state's attorney general, he's been working to stop drug smugglers, who are a much greater danger to Arizona & the rest of the country than are people sneaking across the border, as George Bush used to say, to "do the work Americans won't do."

As for the headless bodies in the desert, they seem to all be in Jan Brewer's head.

Second, let's be honest. The whole immigration brouhaha is a made-for-election-year extravaganza manufactured by Republicans to get white folks' xenophobic hormones flowing. Collins writes that, "violent crime is at the lowest level it’s been since 1983 and crime along the border is at least at a 10-year-low."

But there's even more to it than that. The Washington Post reports that illegal immigration to this country has actually GONE DOWN BY 67 PERCENT in the past decade. That is, there are one-third as many illegal immigrants coming into the U.S. today as there were in 2000.

The Republicans' "family values" issues have been getting stale for a while. They didn't work well at all in 2008. Republicans have totally given up on their decades of opposing civil rights: when Haley Barbour & Glenn Beck try to rewrite the history of the South & embrace civil rights for blacks, when prominent Republicans are coming out of the closet & in favor of gay marriage (unlike our "liberal" President, alas), you know they are ready to roll out some new phony issues. So, let's get stoked about illegal immigrants! They're leaving headless bodies in their wake! Let's get "sensitive" about mosques! They might be harboring terrorists & terrorist sympathizers!

Third, Democrats & a few Republicans, like the former John McCain, would have passed a comprehensive immigration bill were it not such a great election-year "issue." It isn't that Republicans don't want to deal with illegal immigration. Rather they want to deal with it loudly. They want drama! Demonstrations! Outrage! All that's way more fun & vote-producing than is slogging out the details of a 2,000-age Congressional act. Never mind that it's their job to slog out the details.

Legislation, unfortunately, is the further thing from the minds of our Republican legislators.

More on Governor Headless

* Oh, the debate debacle was all Andy Cobb's fault:

Here's Gov. Headless making her beheading claims on Fox "News":

So first, she said, repeatedly, there were headless bodies in the desert, then she wouldn't say, the she said there were, then she said there weren't:

Gail Collins reports, "In her postdebate repair effort, Brewer told a radio interviewer that 'the bottom line is that there have been beheadings in the border region in Mexico.'” But later on Friday, the AP reports that Brewer did an about-face: "That was an error, if I said that."

No More Debates. The Arizona Star: "Incumbent Republican Jan Brewer said Thursday she has no intention of participating in any more events with Democrat Terry Goddard. She said the only reason she debated him on Wednesday is she had to to qualify for more than $1.7 million in public funds for her campaign." ...

... David Dayan of Firedoglake:, "In other words, Arizona, Jan Brewer will only deign to debate issues if it means there’s a pot of taxpayer gold at the end of the debate rainbow."

Running on Fear. Rachel Maddow reports on Queen Jan's fake campaign, her cozy relationship with a private prison company that benefits from the anti-immigration law, & her retribution againt a local CBS affiliate that has investigated that connection:

KPHO Phoenix has more on the devastating effect Brewer's anti-immigration noise has had on Arizona tourism. It seems a number of people aren't all that interested in visiting a place where they may be decapitated.

And now for a word from our sponsor: