Blogs

The Mountain Goats' New Album Takes On the Noble Warriors of Professional Wrestling

| Mon Apr. 13, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

The Mountain Goats
Beat the Champ
Merge

Don't be fooled by the easygoing folk-pop melodies and likable everyday-guy vocals: John Darnielle, leader of California's long-running Mountain Goats, writes some of the sharpest, most thoughtful songs around. On Beat the Champ, he turns to professional wrestling, one of his cultural fixations (another being death metal), and as usual, treats his characters with perceptive compassion, savoring the orchestrated drama of the "sport" without a hint of condescension. While "The Legend of Chavo Guerrero" ("I need justice in my life") highlights the uplift that wrestling's morality plays provide for the fans, more often Darnielle depicts the daily struggles, emotional and physical, of its participants in and out of the ring. From "Choked Out" ("I can see the future, it's a real dark place") to "The Ballad of Bull Ramos" ("Get around fine on one leg/Lose a kidney, then go blind/Sit on my porch in Houston/Let the good times dance across my mind"), his noble hard-luck warriors are not soon forgotten.
 

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Here's Hillary Clinton's Video Launching Her Campaign

| Sun Apr. 12, 2015 3:03 PM EDT

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially kicked off her run for president with an email her campaign reportedly sent to her supporters on Sunday. The launch marks her second run for the White House after she was defeated by then Senator Barack Obama in 2008.

Sunday's long-awaited announcement follows years of speculation over when and how Clinton would formally launch her presidential campaign. In recent weeks, much of her team's energy has been focused on building a formidable army of advisers and key players. Earlier this month, Clinton signed a lease for her campaign headquarters in Brooklyn. Watch her video announcement below:

 

Never Tweet: A Play in 3 Acts

| Sun Apr. 12, 2015 3:02 PM EDT

Act 1

Act 2

Act 3

Curtain.

Gwyneth Paltrow Confuses Her Latest Master Cleanse with Attempt to Relate to the Poor

| Sun Apr. 12, 2015 10:21 AM EDT

Who better to speak to the struggles of food stamp recipients than Gwyneth Paltrow? The actress and founder of GOOP, the oft-ridiculed lifestyle blog that peddles everything from $900 throw blankets to $50 sunscreen, was recently summoned by chef Mario Batali in an Ice Bucket-esque challenge to join him in the fight against food stamp cuts.

A worthy cause for sure. But judging by the items she cobbled together to last her an entire week alone, it's difficult to take Paltrow's good intentions seriously:

I am no chef, but it looks to me as if the above snapshot would fail miserably in feeding a whole family for even just one meal, let alone a whole week. It does, however, look like the makings of an excellent detox recipe—if you happen to enjoy that kind of thing.

Out of touch is just how we like you, Gwyneth! Stay golden.

(h/t Jezebel)

71 Years Ago FDR Dropped a Truthbomb That Still Resonates Today

| Sun Apr. 12, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
President Franklin D. Roosevelt broadcasts a speech in 1943.

When was the last time you heard an American politician invoke Franklin Delano Roosevelt's policies as models to be emulated? Democrats avoid him because his New Deal policies seem to embody the tax-and-spend, overbearing, and intrusive central government that always puts them on the defensive. And why would a Republican bother with Roosevelt when they believe that Obama is so much worse?

Sunday is the seventieth anniversary of FDR's death on April 12, 1945. Since anniversaries are always good opportunities to reflect on the past, I reread one of Roosevelt's speeches that I somehow still remember studying in college. It was his penultimate State of the Union Address, which he delivered on January 11, 1944, and the one in which he outlined a "second Bill of Rights"—a list of what should constitute basic economic security for Americans.

Does GE Capital's Demise Mean Financial Reform Is Working?

| Sat Apr. 11, 2015 8:32 PM EDT

Interesting post today from Paul Krugman about the shadow banking system and GE's recent decision to get out of the finance biz:

GE Capital was a quintessential example of the rise of shadow banking. In most important respects it acted like a bank; it created systemic risks very much like a bank; but it was effectively unregulated, and had to be bailed out through ad hoc arrangements that understandably had many people furious about putting taxpayers on the hook for private irresponsibility.

Most economists, I think, believe that the rise of shadow banking had less to do with real advantages of such nonbank banks than it did with regulatory arbitrage — that is, institutions like GE Capital were all about exploiting the lack of adequate oversight....So Dodd-Frank tries to fix the bad incentives by subjecting systemically important financial institutions — SIFIs — to greater oversight, higher capital and liquidity requirements, etc.. And sure enough, what GE is in effect saying is that if we have to compete on a level playing field, if we can’t play the moral hazard game, it’s not worth being in this business. That’s a clear demonstration that reform is having a real effect.

Read the whole thing for more.

By the way: On the occasions when I come up for air and write blog posts, I'll probably mostly be doing stuff like this. That is, quick links to something interesting without much additional commentary.

The reason is fatigue, which is nearly everpresent these days. Physically, this is a nuisance, but not much more. Mentally, though, it's worse, because it leaves me without the—what's the right word? Cognitive will? Cognitive ability?—to really think hard about stuff. And without that, I can't blog much even though typing is, obviously, not a very physically demanding activity.

Still, I continue to keep up as best I can, and I really love to blog. I won't quite say that being unable to blog is the worst part of this whole chemotherapy thing, but it's close. I just hate having ideas about the stuff I read but being just a little too foggy to really be sure of my ability to say something useful and coherent about it. So I'll continue pointing out items that interest me, but mostly leaving it at that.

In case you're curious, I use crossword puzzles as a sort of rough guide to my mental fatigue level. This afternoon, for example, I finished one. Hooray! That means I'm at least moderately alert. However, it was a Thursday puzzle1 and it took me about three hours to finally get through it. That's not so great. But who knows? Maybe it was just unusually hard. I'll try another one tonight.

1For those of you who aren't into crossword puzzles, the New York Times puzzle gets harder as the week progresses. A Thursday puzzle is a bit of a challenge, but usually not a big one. Good solvers can finish them in 5-10 minutes. For me, it's usually 15-30 minutes. Three hours is well outside my usual range.2

2Hmmm. On the other hand, maybe this wasn't my fault. I just checked, and the name of the third baseman in Abbott & Costello's "Who's On First?" sketch is indeed "I don't know." I kept trying to fit that in somewhere, but the answer in the puzzle was "Tell me something." Where did that come from?3

3Meh. While I was falling asleep I figured out where I'd gone wrong. The full NYT answer was "Tell me something I don't know." Perfectly correct. I just wasn't alert enough to figure it out.

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Now This Is One Hell Of A Rainbow Photo

| Sat Apr. 11, 2015 2:03 PM EDT

President Obama was in Jamaica this week on a mission of friendship. Before he left he took a moment to shoot a rainbow out of his hand.

 

 

So long Jamaica.

A photo posted by Pete Souza (@petesouza) on

Never Mind the Doubters: The Iran Deal Is Good Enough

| Sat Apr. 11, 2015 9:12 AM EDT
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif applauds after the conclusion of nuclear talks in Switzerland.

While Kevin Drum is focused on getting better, we've invited some of the remarkable writers and thinkers who have traded links and ideas with him from Blogosphere 1.0 to this day to contribute posts and keep the conversation going. Today we're honored to have Cheryl Rofer, who for 35 years worked as a chemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. If you don't follow her already, be sure to check out her writing on national security, women's issues, science, and nuclear power and weapons at Nuclear Diner.

When I started blogging in November 2004, Kevin was already defining the field with short, topical posts and Friday Cat Blogging. The internet was a smaller place then, and most of us knew all the others, or at least knew of them. We argued. We linked to each other, hoping to boost our SEO. We shared each others' successes and mourned when Inkblot disappeared. Kevin has been a good companion over the years. His broad coverage of topics and to-the-point style are touchstones, even as I stray into the wonkier corners of the news.

Recently, I've been writing a lot about the recent negotiations with Iran. A few days past a deadline that had nuclear wonks on the edge of their seats, the talks between Tehran and officials from six other nations brought forth a plan for a plan.

That's not nothing, although it sounds vague. Some vagueness is necessary to keep all sides happy—and that means that any description of the deal will sound vague. The United States and its partners in the P5+1 would like a neatly written-down to-do list (which they have sorta provided), and Iran's Supreme Leader has decreed that all must be written down just once—exactly when isn't yet clear. The results of negotiations must be spun by the sides to their very different bases.

In America, two consensuses are building. Most in the arms control community and a wide swath of foreign policy experts, including some conservatives, feel that the deal as described in that fact sheet is better than expected and should keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon for the next decade or more. Not bad.

The more hawkish consensus ranges from bombing Iran now to leaving the talks in hopes of a better deal, which amounts to bombing Iran later. Why not, when you're confident it would take only a few days of air strikes? They say the deal is no good because it does not guarantee Iranian compliance for perpetuity and does not totally destroy Iran's enrichment and other nuclear capabilities. Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu is apoplectic, but what else is new?

The same hawks also assured us back in 2003 that the invasion of Iraq would be a cakewalk. Their arguments this time around are just as boneheaded. According to the fact sheet, Iran would enter into agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; that would be, as much in perpetuity as any international deal can be. Under that treaty, Iran is entitled to peaceful nuclear energy, and, like any other country with smart scientists, can figure out how to make nuclear weapons. Bombs can't change that.

The final deal remains to be negotiated. The fact sheet is only an outline, and some issues will be easier to solve than others. Still to be worked out: Sanctions, particularly the schedule on which they are to be lifted. A list of research and development activities that Iran is allowed to pursue may or may not have been drawn up in Lausanne. Details on how Iran's enriched uranium stockpile will be reduced and the redesign of the Arak reactor are missing.

The extent of Iran's past activity on nuclear weapons was relegated to the IAEA by the P5+1 throughout the negotiations, and is a lesser provision in the fact sheet. Do we have to know all Iran's dirty secrets to police a future agreement? Probably not.

The Supreme Leader issued a tweet stream that seems to give his blessing for a deal to go forward, but his words were unclear enough that domestic hardliners could seize on them in an attempt to scuttle the deal. Iran's President Rouhani has voiced his support. In Israel, even the general who bombed the Osirak reactor thinks it's a good deal.

Stateside, President Obama is doing what he can to move the agreement along, talking to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the author of the bill most likely to throw a wrench in the machinery. Democrats who once supported that bill are now reconsidering that stance. The President has given major interviews to Tom Friedman and NPR. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, who was part of the negotiations, is talking to the press.

Yes, if the sanctions are lifted, Iran might be able to make other sorts of trouble in the Middle East. But it's doing that anyway. We won't know for some time whether an agreement can mellow Iran by opening it to the world and better economic conditions.

If an agreement can be negotiated to completion, Iran can't get the bomb for a decade or more. That's enough for now.

The Guy Who Filmed Eric Garner's Death Is Still Fighting To Get Out of Jail

| Fri Apr. 10, 2015 2:55 PM EDT
The Rev. Al Sharpton introduces Ramsey Orta at Eric Garner's funeral in July 2014. Julia Xanthos/AP

Update: Ramsey Orta was released from Rikers Island on Friday night and is now with his family, according to his lawyers. Earlier on Friday, the Staten Island district attorney's office canceled Orta's "bond source" hearing after reviewing paperwork submitted by the bail bondsman regarding the crowd-funded bail money. "We were satisfied that it met the requirements of the statute," said Daniel Master, the chief assistant district attorney.

It's been a rough eight months for the man who shot the video of Eric Garner's death. Since Garner was killed by a police officer's chokehold on a Staten Island sidewalk last July, Ramsey Orta, the 23-year-old who filmed the scene, has been arrested twice and has spent the past two months in Rikers Island. According to his attorneys, Orta believes he has been targeted by New York police in retaliation for having shot the video, which became a flash point for the growing civil-rights movement against police brutality.

Orta also fears that jail officials will try to poison him. "He's not eating the food that Rikers provides him," one of his attorneys, William Aronin, says. "Instead, he's surviving right now off of candy bars, chips, things he can get on the vending machine or the commissary. He's hungry, he is not happy, and he is scared."

Last month, 19 other inmates at the jail filed a lawsuit alleging that they had fallen ill after being served meatloaf with blue-green pellets in it. They say the pellets were rat poison, a claim which New York City Department of Correction officials have dismissed. Orta has not eaten any food served at the jail since the incident, his attorneys say. Department of Correction officials were not immediately available to respond to requests for comment.

About two weeks after Garner's death, Orta was arrested for allegedly passing a gun to a 17-year-old girl. He was sent to Rikers Island and was subsequently released. He was later arrested for allegedly selling drugs. His attorneys say it is likely Orta's cases will go to trial. "We have to get him out of jail as soon as possible so that one, he's safe, and two, he can prepare for his defense," Aronin says.

On Thursday morning, Orta posted $16,250 bail with donations that he'd received on a crowdfunding website. His family has been trying to raise $100,000 for bail and legal fees, and over the past month more than 1,800 people have contributed more than $47,000.

"He should have been out today," says Ken Perry, another of Orta's lawyers. But the Staten Island district attorney's office isn't letting Orta leave just yet. The assistant district attorney prosecuting the case against Orta has requested a bail source hearing to "determine the funds being used did not come from an illegal or illicit source," explains a spokesman from the DA's office said. The bail source hearing is scheduled for this afternoon.

Orta's attorneys say they have provided the district attorney's office with an approximately 115-page packet with names and details about everyone who has donated to their client's campaign. The packet also includes copies of the transfers from the crowdfunding website to Orta's aunt, and from her to the bail bondsman. "Why are they keeping him in when it's so patently obvious where this money came from?" Aronin asks.

Family members were upset by the news of the delay. "My heart is extremely heavy, these past two months have been pure hell for Ramsey," his aunt, Lisa Mercado, wrote on his crowdthefunding page, which received a flood of donations this morning. "You are not alone, Ramsey," one donor commented. "You did something brave for all Americans."

In December, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for his role in Garner's death. In Orta's video, Pantaleo can be seen wrestling Garner to the ground and wrapping an arm around his neck.

Orta has reportedly been arrested 27 times since 2009 for alleged offenses including drug possession, robbery, and fare evasion. His attorneys say the majority of the arrests have not led to charges, and that they believe Orta's claims of being unfairly targeted are viable. "There's something more going on than would normally be the case were this not Ramsey Orta," Perry says. "There are things here that are not right."

Bonus Friday Cat Blogging - 10 April 2015

| Fri Apr. 10, 2015 12:00 PM EDT

Quick health update: the stem cell collection went swimmingly this week. We now have loads and loads of fresh stem cells frozen and waiting for me when I go back for the final stage of chemotherapy. I got home yesterday, and at the moment I'm still fighting off some residual drowsiness from a week full of fairly powerful painkillers, but I've stopped taking them now and should be fine in a day or two. I hope.

The cats are fitting in nicely at my sister's house. Last night they woke her up at 3 am to play, which is certainly a good sign. We have two pictures of the furballs this week. On the top is Hilbert, caught in the act of knocking over (1) Big Ben and (2) the Eiffel Tower from the top of a bookcase. On the bottom, both Hopper and Hilbert are staring intently at the front door even though nothing is there. But you never know. There might be something there any second. Best to keep one's eyes peeled, no?