Thursday, June 29, 2017

Department of Coincidence

Work is finally set to start on “Mapplethorpe,” the movie about the controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe that local actress Eliza Dushku is producing.

In an interview with The Guardian, director Ondi Timoner revealed that filming will begin in July. Timoner, who also wrote the “Mapplethorpe” script, said she was drawn to the project by the renegade spirit of the main character.

It's magic time for Eliza Dushku
“It’s a very rich story about a cultural lightning rod, who in our country is probably one of the most controversial artists of all time,” the 44-year-old Timoner, who  . . . went to Yale, told the British publication. “Back then, [Mapplethorpe] was doing the unthinkable. Outrageously rebellious. . . . [The film] will hopefully cause people to go do their own thing.” . . .

“Mapplethorpe” will star English actor Matt Smith — you might know him from his role as Prince Philip on the Netflix series “The Crown” — as Mapplethorpe.

Dushku, a Watertown native best known for playing Faith on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” has been trying to get the movie made for over a decade. She recently got engaged to Peter Palandjian, CEO of Intercontinental Real Estate Corporation, a Boston-based real estate investment and development firm.

The Boston Globe, June 28, 2017 (available to home delivery subscribers on or about July 15, 2017)

Monday, June 26, 2017

That's Entertainment!

A night at the theater generally involves dressing to the nines, perhaps dinner beforehand at a nearby restaurant and finally the play. Fainting, vomiting, screaming and fighting are not typically part of the experience.

Yet that’s exactly what audience members experienced at the new staging of George Orwell’s “1984,” which opened Thursday at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre after previews in London.

The play, co-written and co-directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, stars Tom Sturridge as Winston Smith and Olivia Wilde as his illegal love interest Julia. Like the 1949 book on which it is based, the play presents a dystopian future run by Big Brother in which a shadowy government uses propaganda, brainwashing, fake news and torture to control its subjects.

While many adaptations of the book downplayed some of the book’s more graphic aspects, in particular its torture scenes, this staging does nothing of the sort.

In the story, Smith is detained by Big Brother and taken to Room 101, where he is heavily tortured until his anti-Big Brother spirit finally breaks.

Mr. First Nighter (z''l)
During the Room 101 scenes in the play, the “main set is destroyed and transforms into a sterile white box, blasted with searing light,” wrote the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney. His torturers yell out ominous words like “fingertips” or teeth.” Then strobe lights flash maddeningly while the piercing, punishing sounds of a jackhammer fills the room.

“Blood is spattered and spit out; at least one beating about the face,” wrote Vulture’s Christopher Bonanos, who called these scenes, “visceral, ghastly, and hair-raisingly vivid.”

In the play, as the character Smith bleeds heavily and is later electrocuted, he stares into the eyes of individual audience members and yells that they’re “complicit.”

During these scenes in London, several audience members fainted and others vomited. Police were called to break up a fight after one staging. At others, audience members yelled at the actors, begging them to stop.

One audience member reportedly fainted at the Broadway debut Thursday. . . .

The play comes with the following warning and age restriction: “This production contains flashing lights, strobe effects, loud noises, gunshots, smoking, and graphic depictions of violence and torture. It is not suitable for children under 14.” Security guards, meanwhile, are posted around the Hudson Theater to monitor audience reactions.

The New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley wrote  . . .  “The interrogations that Winston undergoes in the play’s second half are graphic enough to verge on torture porn.”

Rooney mirrored these thoughts, also employing the term “torture porn” to describe the play, which he called a “grim, sphincter-clenching sit.” . . .

The Washington Post, June 26, 2017

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Editorial: Bring out your dead. How did we get here?

We interrupt our usual farrago of old jokes (sorry, no refunds) to express a view on the pending bill to destroy guaranteed health care to provide giant tax cuts to the rich, now within an IV tube's breadth of passage into law.

By now you know the bill will cut $600,000,000,000 or more out of Medicaid and take away the protections that keep Americans from dying due to inability to pay for the health care they need.  As well-known Communist agitator Norm Ornstein noted in today's Atlantic post:
[T]he overwhelming majority of health-policy analysts and health providers say the bill is a walking disaster. It eviscerates Medicaid—a program widely misunderstood as simply insurance for poor people, but which uses most of its money for long-term care for the elderly, and basic protection for the disabled and mentally ill populations. The overall Medicaid cuts, while spread over a longer time frame, are more severe than the draconian House bill.
The McConnell bill removes the protection of lifetime and annual limits, meaning someone with a serious illness like cancer could be cut off in the middle of chemotherapy. It also fails the so-called “Kimmel test,” named for Jimmy Kimmel after he faced the horror of a newborn son born with a devastating heart ailment. With this bill, a newborn with a major problem requiring weeks in intensive care and multiple serious surgeries would pass both the annual and the lifetime limit within his or her first few months of life. And because the bill allows for insurers to charge much more to those with pre-existing conditions, a newborn who leaves the hospital without exceeding the lifetime limit might be unable to afford insurance for the rest of his or her life.
Libertarian Paradise, returning soon
How did we get here?  The one word answer (admittedly not a complete one): Republicans.  For 70 years one political party has tried repeatedly to insure more and more Americans; one political party has consistently opposed those efforts.  The opposition does business under the name of the Republican Party.

A large body of public health research has demonstrated conclusively that lack of health insurance is fatal.  According to researchers at one prestigious local institution,  “lack of health insurance causes 44,789 excess deaths annually.”  That institution is of course Cambridge Health Alliance.

But from 1948, when Harry Truman proposed national health insurance, to 2014, when President Obama's universal insurance scheme took effect, many millions were uninsured.  And 44,789 died every year (maybe fewer when the U.S. population was smaller – maybe only 25,000).  The point here is that Republicans were apparently A-OK with this result, because every Republican President, from the Angel of Bitburg, St. Ronald Reagan, through the Texas Chickenhawk, George W. Bush, relentlessly opposed universal health care.

St. Reagan in fact first gained political notoriety for a series of cornball speeches opposing Medicare on the grounds that protecting senior citizens from dying unnecessarily was an attack on “liberty.”  So it's not surprising that Republicans today intend to carry on the great traditions of their party by denying health care to new generations of the poor and sick.

What is surprising is that Republican hacks seeking readmission to the human race by trashing the current Grifter-in-Chief don't feel any need to answer for their past participation in the annual culling of 44,789 sick uninsured Americans.  Hello, Ana, David F., David B., Evan, and so many more; we see you, but we can't hear you.

Love oldies?  This one is making a comeback!
Speaking of the Contras' best friends, a guy we know was just starting a legal career in 1980 in Washington.  So shocked was he by Reagan's election against a backdrop of economic hardship and a fluffed hostage “crisis” that he vowed that if the union steelworkers and truckers who voted for ol' Ron thought they could do better under the Republicans than he could, they were welcome to try.

As the years went by, those union steelworkers and truckers lost their unions, their jobs, and their dignity.  Our young friend did indeed do better; in fact, he was able to stop worrying about earning a living around the time of his 60th birthday.

Good thing too, because he was diagnosed with Stage III cancer.  Fortunately, he had gold-plated albeit expensive health insurance and, by then living in Boston, access to some pretty high-powered health care institutions.  As a result, after multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and other efforts of treatment teams at Dana-Farber Cancer Center and the Massachusetts General and Brigham & Women's Hospitals, he seems to be doing OK.  As for the bill, of the six figure cost of treatment, he had to pay $389.

Now though his wife is eligible for Medicare and as a result he'll have to buy insurance on the Massachusetts exchange next year.  Massachusetts will remain a mandatory-insurance state, so the good news for him is that he'll be able to buy a policy, not cheaply, that will provide him with coverage for whatever lies ahead, free from exclusions and lifetime caps.

But what if he lived in Texas or Florida or any other state governed by the Republican plutocracy?  If Mitchcare becomes law, they will waive out of the system and our friend would be to use the fancy medical term, shit out of luck.  It turned out that he wasn't as invulnerable to Republican malfeasance as he thought.

The reality is no one is safe from the Republican assault on America.  We said earlier that the cause of this grim future was principally Republicans.  But not completely.  Let's do a little thought experiment.  What would happen to Mitchcare under President Hillary Clinton?  The question answers itself.

It also points the fickle finger of blame on anyone who did anything on Election Day other than vote for Hillary Clinton.  If you voted for Ethan's Crazy Mom or Aleppo Gary, you own a piece of this catastrophe.  If you stayed home because you didn't think there was any real difference between the two candidates, you do too.  And we don't want to hear from you now how justified you feel.  Just shut up and let the newly-uninsured die in peace.

–The Editors

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Washington Billionaire With Self-Image in Mind

By A.J. Liebling
Meta-Content Developer with
Ida Tarbell in Washington

Whoever said “With great wealth comes great sucking-up” was proved right again by today's New York Times Not the News of the Week in Review Section.  At the bottom of the leader page is a dispatch from the Times's Editorial Observer headlined “A Washington Billionaire With More Than Self-Interest in Mind.”

Who is this paragon and what's on his mind?  His name is David Rubinstein, and as the Times accurately states, he's got a pantload.   Did he make his fortune by inventing refrigerator containers with attached lids (hell of an idea, by the way), gorditas stuffed with tacos, or a drug that cures a disease that doctors don't believe exists?

Of course not, people.  He made his money the good old fashioned American way: flipping assets and finagling, as the head of a private-equity partnership known as the Carlyle Group, named after his father, Carlyle Rubinstein [Interns, please check this – Ed.].

In the words of noted philanthropist David Rubinstein
“I seen my opportunities and I took 'em”
And what has he done to merit 15 slurpy column inches of prime New York Times paper real estate?  He's giving away some of monumental gains to charities of his choosing.  Not surprisingly, as with most plutocrats, he chooses charities that benefit him and his ilk: elite universities where dim bulbs like Jared Kushner can gain an admission letter for as little as $2.5 million, cultural institutions that put on plays and operas they like, and tertiary-care hospitals that provide the complex health care they regard as their right, if no one else's.

Where doesn't the money go?  It doesn't go to public schools and colleges who prepare those of modest means to toil for zillionaires like Rubinstein.  It doesn't go to provide art and theater programs to those who can't afford Kennedy Center box seats.  And it doesn't go to providing primary health care to the poor and underserved, like aliens without immigration status, because if they didn't know how to operate the lawn tractor, they shouldn't be cutting Rubinstein's putting green.

The reason it doesn't go to alleviating the plight of the poor is not just a matter of Rubinstein's choice of charities.  It's because his wad of dough was augmented by the shady tax loopholes that he and his bought-and-paid-for lawyers, accountants, and congressmen drilled into the Internal Revenue Code.

To take the most flagrant example, when you or I toil for money, we pay taxes at ordinary income rates.  If we are so fortunate as to get a bonus we pay those taxes on the bonus, too.  But if you have structured your empire of finagling as a partnership, your bonus for exceeding whatever return target you negotiated with your marks is taxed as a capital gain because it is paid as a distribution on a partnership interest.

Is there any rational basis for this scam?  No.  Does it serve a larger purpose?  Other than to make Rubinstein rich enough to buy a column in the New York Times, no.  Why then does it exist?

Care to take a wild guess?  Time's up.  We'll let our friends at ProPublica tell you the not very surprising answer:

Until recently, relatively little attention had been paid to one source of Rubenstein’s wealth, which he has quietly fought to protect: the so-called carried-interest tax loophole. The tax break has helped private equity become one of the most lucrative sectors of the financial industry. Since the end of the recession, private equity has reported record profits, and at least eighteen private-equity executives are estimated to be worth $2 billion or more each.  . . .

One name for the tax break is the “hedge-fund loophole,” but hedge funds benefit much less than private equity does, because their trades tend to be too short-term to qualify for the low capital-gains rate. At a Credit Suisse forum in Miami, in 2013, Rubenstein said of private equity, “Carried interest is really what the business has historically been about — producing distributions for your investors from good sales and IPOs … and getting 20 percent of the profits for yourself.” He went on, “That’s how we’ve really grown our business.”
The ProPublica article went on to note the hypocrisy of lauding rapacious tycoons for their charitable gifts without noting that their fortunes were made in part on stiffing the government of the taxes it needs to support programs that benefit even more people than the National Archives (one of Rubinstein's pet charities).

And how was the New York Times supposed to know about a piece that appeared online over a year ago?  It's not like it was published in a magazine well known to most Times Editorial Observers (whatever they are).  As the note on the ProPublica website says  “This story was co-published with The New Yorker.”

We're actually not even giving you the full wet smackeroo, because the point of the article was not just Rubinstein's magnificence, but his efforts to “rekindle good will” by throwing dinners at the Library of Congress (owned by us) to which you and I were not invited.  According to Rubinstein, the dinners are intended so that legislators are “given the opportunity . . . to come together.”

Surely it is a coincidence that one matter that legislators have come together on is preserving tax breaks for David Rubinstein and his fellow finaglers.  We know that every legislator has his price. We're a bit surprised that the Times is willing to fawn over this gonif for free. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

SPONSORED CONTENT -- VEB, the bank that's listening to you. All the time

The Massachusetts Spy is made possible by a huge chunk of untraceable cash [Surely, a generous grant? – Ed.] from Vnesheconombank, V. Putin, proprietor

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Grifter-in-Chief beefs up legal team with smooth operator

By Nellie Bly
Spy Washington Bureau with
Scott V. Sandford, Justice Correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of a disastrous performance by his current counsel, Marc “Evictions Our Specialty” Kasowitz, Grifter-in-Chief Donald J. Trump today announced that he had, after a world-wide search of cable news and movie channels, selected an experienced advocate to add heft and smoothness to his overmatched legal team.

In a Rose Garden news conference during which he scribbled his name on what appeared to be a leather-bound Etch-A-Sketch, the Grifter-in-Chief whined: “I'm hiring the best, most famous, most fabulous lawyer who is really fantastic, believe me, and he'll be so great as long as he behaves himself,  please give a warm Rose Garden welcome to Eric Stratton.”

Once again, the President makes a surprising personnel
decision, this time appointing a Beverly Hills doctor
as his special counsel
Stratton, who practices obstetrics and gynecology in Beverly Hills, California, is not in fact a lawyer, a fact that appeared to have escaped the increasingly reality-challenged Justice Obstructor-in-Chief.

However, sources close to the President's bucket of fried chicken explained that Stratton was well-known to the Grifter-in-Chief as the successful advocate for his fraternity when it was accused of taking “indecent liberties” with female guests at a “toga party.”  Although Stratton lost the case, the Grifter-in-Chief was struck by how much attention Stratton got for the way he handled it.

Those same sources said that the President frequently commented between mouthfuls of Doritos how much Jim Comey resembled Stratton's adversary Greg Marmalard.

Kasowitz, known as an advocate so intimidating that he successfully pressured the plaintiffs in the Trump University fraud litigation to settle for 90 cents on the dollar, did not get raves from the White House for his dramatic reading of his press release following Comey's testimony.

Stratton has already signaled that he will bring the same style to the White House that he employed at Delta House.  “We're not saying we didn't take liberties with Russia.  We did,” he said at a press conference held at his Beverly Hills pool house.

“But if you indict the President for taking advantage of contacts with Russian sleazebags, aren't you indicting the entire American way of life?  Say what you will about Donald Trump, but I won't lie here and let you attack the United States of America.”  At this point, Stratton rose from his chaise, stripped off his robe and cannonballed into his pool, while the press corps was treated to frozen margaritas served by his assistant, Miss Wormer.

The Grifter-in-Chief is known to admire Stratton's easygoing charm and way with the ladies, but sources close to Marla Maples told the Spy: “You'd be surprised about some of the women he's had.  Very surprised, as they say in Bratislava.”

Washington insiders worry that Stratton doesn't have the depth of legal experience (none whatsoever) to navigate the increasingly turbulent waters stirred up by multiple investigations into allegations of Russian collusion and admissions of obstruction of justice.  However, his long-time colleague Sen. John Blutarsky (D – Ohio) remarked: “Hell, it's got to work better than the truth.”

Saturday, June 3, 2017

From the Archives, 1919: Republicans repudiate treaty

Editors' Note: The recent covfefe about President Jack Woltz's decision to ankle the Paris Convention on Climate Change because those mean Frenchies and Krauts made him look ridiculous caused us to wonder if the United States had ever similarly scored an own goal in such spectacularly stupid fashion.  We sent our new intern Liz Spayd into the archives and she found this, from November 20, 1919.  Spoiler alert: it turned out great!  So before you slip beneath the waves that will soon engulf New York, Miami, Boston, and even the Jersey Shore, enjoy this story of Republicans at play.

By Isaiah Thomas
By Cable to The Massachusetts Spy
with dispatches from The New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate last night decisively defeated President Wilson's effort to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which brought to a close the recent World War and was intended to ensure that another grotesque effusion of blood would never happen again.

Notwithstanding the stakes, the Senate easily defeated the ratification effort, citing the need to protect the United States from foreigners who would take advantage of us.   “The rest of the world is laughing at us,” explained lead Treaty opponent Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts.  “A country in our position cannot afford to have others laughing at us.”

[The New York Times reported:  The Democratic forces made repeated efforts to obtain a vote upon substitute resolutions of ratification, with mild reservations.  At every point in this struggle, the Democrats were outvoted by the Republican majority.]

Senators who opposed ratification complained that the Treaty obligated the United States to spend money to bail out European Powers whose idiocy had led to the recent War.  “I was elected to represent the people of Peoria, not the people of Paris,” said Sen. Warren G. Harding, Republican of Ohio.

With the war over, Americans seems eager
to forget about Europe and return to their
favorite leisure-time activities
Informed that Peoria was in fact not in Ohio, Sen. Harding abruptly left the Senate floor, explaining that he had “affairs to attend to” at the Willard Hotel.

Treaty advocates were scathing in their assault on Republican obstructionism.  Senator Underwood of Alabama was quoted by the Times thusly: “The Republican Party is responsible to the people for the peace of the nation.  What a spectacle is presented to the nation tonight by the way the Republicans are exercising the power entrusted to them by the people of the United States!”

But Republicans, having counted the votes, were in no mood to meet the Wilson Administration halfway: Senator Lenroot, according to the Times, said “There will be no compromise.”

Reaction to the rejection of ratification was met with concern and derision on the part of our allies and the media.  The Times editorialized that the Treaty “will be put into effect by the other signatories, leaving this country without its benefits, standing before the world as the one nation that refuses to sanction measures for the prevention of war.  We shall not long remain in that shameful position.”

Our former Allies reacted with shock and horror.  Lt. Gen. Jan Smuts, British Member on the League of Nations Commission, appealed through the Times “not to blast the hopes of the world” by rejecting the League of Nations.  He concluded: “I cannot believe that America will block the way, that the purely American viewpoint will be allowed to override the wider interests and necessities of our own civilization in the greatest crisis in history.”

But Americans reacted favorably to the defeat of the Treaty, citing the need to put America first and avoid entangling foreign alliances.  Mrs. Kathleen T. Burke of Old Sludgebury, Mass. said she supported Senator Lodge: “I've got a two year old and I don't want him to get shot in France or Germany.” [Editors' Note:  She got her wish.  According to the Spy Archives, James X. Burke died on April 22, 1945 in action on Okinawa.]

In New York, local slumlord Fred C. Drumpf complained that the Versailles Treaty was a “stab in the back” to Germany.  He said, “How dare the Allies strip the Germanic people of their rights to Bohemia and Moravia?  Those hot wenches are ours and always will be!”