Archive for May, 2013


A few years ago I did an extensive, year-long search for an orchestra conductor.  One candidate’s remark  still resonates long after the search was successfully completed.  This young conductor told me that, contrary to the traditional thinking of serious and staid classical performance, if orchestras weren’t playing with all the joy and abandon they could muster, there had better be something pretty spectacular going on on the stage, from start to finish, because otherwise, audiences would be leaving the music hall in droves.  Why?  Because audiences today are used to, and expect “wows” with every note.   We are way too over-stimulated to sit still and watch the paint dry.

philadelphia-orchestra-yannickLast night we had the pleasure of hearing and seeing the Philadelphia Orchestra, presented in high definition (HD) at the Palme d’Or Cinema at the Westfield Mall.  Seeing an orchestra concert filmed live in HD with surround sound can actually be pretty exciting, due to the opportunity for up close observation.  The 2nd oboist had a nervous tic.  The french horns were all women.  The bassoonist had to wear some sort of shoulder harness.  Seeing how the conductor actually communicates with the musicians can add a curious and satisfying dimension to what we hear in a performance.  Every conductor is unique and capable of creating a discernible difference in orchestra performance.  When John Williams was conductor of the Boston Pops, it was common knowledge that the orchestra did not like him.  It was front and center when they played for him. 

Under the dazzling baton of Montreal native Yannick Nézet-Séguin, this Philadelphia Orchestra concert was up close and personal, delivering one WOW after the other.  It was obvious that this orchestra really likes their leader.  The programme represented Nezet-Seguin’s fresh approach to programming which was explained during the post concert conversation – yet another innovative approach that orchestras now use to engage us.  Yannick’s philosophy is to pair seemingly unrelated selections but which do indeed have common threads as he explained in the post concert interview.  The idea works and we, the audience, benefit by learning more about what we are hearing.      

I’m telling you about this beautiful concert in the hopes that it will be presented more than once, as many of Palme d’Ors offerings are. Do check the listings. 

In this particular concert,  Nézet-Séguin paired the Mahler Symphony #1 with the Korngold Violin Concerto.   Who, you ask?  If you don’t recognize Erich Korngold’s name you will likely recognize his music – he is considered the father of film music, having written such memorable film scores as Captain Blood, The Green Pastures, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Between Two Worlds, and Of Human Bondage, to name a few.  Those who do recognize his film scores probably don’t know that he was also a prolific and serious romantic composer. 

On the flip side, I wasn’t aware that Gustav Mahler was considered the inspiration for most early film music.  Who knew?  What an exciting pairing. Besides which, if you are like many who immediately think Mahler: heavy, modern, dissonant, ugg – wrong.  There is nothing more delightful, harmonic, and sensible than the Mahler First.  It’s gorgeous and satisfying from beginning to end.

Guest artist Hiliary Hahn, an extraordinary violinist, gloriously executed the extremely difficult Korngold Concerto on her 1865 Vuillaume Violin. What a big fat tone she gets out of her instrument.  Of course, she should have been, and would have been, the highlight of the concert, had the charming and effervescent Yannick not stolen the evening with his riveting interpretation of the Mahler.  I have NEVER, EVER heard a symphony concert audience erupt in cheers the way this one did at the end of the performance.  One would have thought the Phillies had just scored a triple.  WOW, WOW, and triple WOW.   (Thank you Palme d’Or for giving us such a thrill.)

This new crop of fabulous young conductors on the American Symphonic Scene is putting excitement  into orchestra performance like never before.  Whether it’s Gustavo Dudamel with the LA Phil, Alan Gilbert from the NY Philharmonic or young Yannick Nézet-Séguin from the Philadelphia Orchestra, we need not fear that classical music is a thing of the past.  These young Turks are kicking ass and taking no prisoners. So if you can’t see an orchestra live, you can still enjoy dozens of fabulous offerings at The River Cinemas in Rancho Mirage, the Camelot Theater in Palm Springs, or the Palme d’Or at Westfield Mall in Palm Desert. 

In addition, the Palme provides three plus months of scheduling on their website, so you can actually plan accordingly.  How nice!  In particular The Palme  goes above and beyond to provide a wide variety of programming that more and more has included classical choices in ballet, opera,  theater and concerts as well as their usual array of the best in cinema – not just the latest explosive, car-crash, box office bang-ups.  Also, I should not have been surprised to see listed in general release right now, two films that we previewed at the International Film Festival in January – Fill The Void and The Kon Tiki (actually quite scary.) 

A few recommendations I might make in the coming schedule are:

The Palme:  The National Theater Live presents Helen Mirren in “The Audience,” reprising her role as Queen Elizabeth II as she, from young mother to grandmother, meets with each of her prime ministers in an imagined set of conversations.  June 13 live @ 11 am; repeats June 20 4 pm  & June 25, 6:30. I can’t wait for this one.  Also watch for Otello Sept 26 and Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth October 17  & 24.Helen-Mirren

The Palme:  If you prefer ballet or opera you can choose the Paris Opera Ballet Series throughout June and July, including La Sylphide, Fallstaff, The Magic Flute or Carmen.

Fine Art anyone? 

How about great art on the big screen?   That’s different.  The Palme  – July 6th, 12:00 pm will offer a first: a behind-the-scenes look at putting together and seeing an art exhibition – in this case the work of Edvard Munch (The Scream) as celebrated in Norway on Munch’s 150 anniversary. 

The River will offer – October 10, 7:30 pm from The National Gallery, London a major exhibition on one of the most startling and fascinating artists of all-time, Johannes Vermeer, most popularly known as the painter of the Girl with a Pearl Earring. Vermeer painted little more than 30 works that still exist, and the National Gallery has chosen to focus on his art in relation to music. Music was one of the most popular themes of Dutch painting and revealed an enormous amount about the sitter and the society.  Not to be missed. 

Summer at The River Cinemas also will be offering a full schedule of Live At The Met Opera Encores, including Carmen (stand-out MET performance) June 19; Ill Trovatore, June 26; Armida, July 10th; and La Traviata, July 17th.  The River is also showing  Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece Swan Lake live from  the Mariinsky Theatre, Thursday, June 6th at 6:30 pm.  If you’ve never seen a ballet, this is the one to see. 

The Palme will also show the Philadelphia Orchestra with Simon Rattle conducting Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, June 26th @ 6:30 pm. 

So as we head into the summer season there is no reason to lament the inevitable heat.  And don’t tell me there’s nothing to do!  I’ve barely scratched the surface and given you plenty of links to source even more options.  Theaters struggle to fill seats during the summer, but unfortunately they don’t market these cultural gems very well.  I believe more folks would attend these stellar performances if there was better exposure to their target market.  So there.  I’m doing my bit. 

Don’t forget Palm Springs Restaurant Week is May 31 June 16th.  Palm Desert Restaurant Week is May 31 – June 9th.  May I suggest you eat, drink and be merry.  With all the lovely culture Coachella Valley has to offer why wouldn’t you?

 

Dear Readers,

I welcome to this forum, guest blogger and Senior Partner of The Saugus Group, Jeffrey M. Moritz, who has some sobering thoughts about the current IRS scandal making the news. 

Do not be fooled.  The IRS scandal is much more serious, much more dangerous a precedent, much more insidious about the reaches of unbridled assumption of power, and much closer to the White House than you might believe.  According to many reports I have read, research I have conducted, and words from them included in this writing, I wish to give credit here for their brave words and unwavering pursuit of the truth. 

The surprising admission by a high-ranking Internal Revenue Service official that the agency targeted tea party and other conservative groups can be seen as a tactical move designed to stave off a deeper investigation of the scandal. Washington insiders say the Obama administration is engaged in a classic tactic called a “modified limited hangout” or MLH — a term that dates back to the Nixon presidency.

An MLH is “a public relations or propaganda technique that involves the release of previously hidden information in hopes of ending a probe and preventing exposure of more important or damaging information”.  The idea is to admit to some wrongdoing, but not all and certainly not the really bad stuff, in hopes of deflating press and public demands for more investigations.  In English – deliberate obfuscation, or in science fiction terms, a “tactic of mistake”.  The term arose during a March 1973 discussion between President Nixon and his top advisers.  It has been reported that Nixon outlined to John Dean a report that Dean would create, offering a misleading view of the White House staff’s role in events surrounding the Watergate burglary. When Dean said, “It’s a limited hangout,” John Ehrlichman piped in: “It’s a modified limited hangout.”

This IRS scandal has all the earmarks of an MLH.

In March 2010, the IRS began targeting tea party and other conservative groups for closer scrutiny, demanding paperwork and other materials from the groups that delayed their approval  for tax-exempt status.  Most of what they asked for is precluded by IRS procedural rules in the IRM (Internal Revenue Manual) such as requesting donor and member lists, contents of educational and prayer material, transcripts of radio/TV interviews, copies of social-media posts, details on “close relationships” with political candidates, and  printed copies of speeches. My understanding is those issues have already been litigated several times in Federal court.  Also note that was the time these organizations were ramping up to help defeat Obamacare and Obama’s coming re-election.  Until they had the tax exempt status they could not technically accept funds needed to ramp up their opposition.  When donors were subsequently contacted by the IRS or in some cases the FBI, they were intimidated from donating, and worse, from participating in their constitutional right to freedom of expression and assembly. 

A congressional committee last year asked then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman about allegations regarding targeting that apparently had been forwarded to congressional representatives from their constituents.  He told the committee the agency wasn’t targeting conservative groups.  He lied.  He resigned, or was asked to, in late 2012, and Steven Miller became acting IRS commissioner so they could blame his predecessor. 

Then in early May of this year, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released a report confirming the targeting to congressional investigators, but not to the public.

Apparently fearing the release of the upcoming Inspector General’s report, IRS officials decided, or were encouraged through Treasury, to engage in an MLH to control the spin. They had to or it would become obvious the White House knew about the targeting in 2010.  You cannot convince me that someone in the White House wasn’t watching Shulman’s Congressional testimony and didn’t prep him for the hearing in 2010.

On May 10, 2012 Lois Lerner, head of the IRS tax-exempt-status division, admitted that the targeting had taken place. She denied stalling the approval of groups based on ideology  and said some progressive groups also were selected for further scrutiny.  A red herring.  She asserted that the targeting had not been centrally planned and was carried out by lower-level “front-line people” in the Cincinnati office.  She lied to Congress and the move backfired — the admission by Lerner only served to spark public outrage and encourage investigators to dig deeper.

These “front-line” people in Cincinnati are not exactly GS-11 pay grades.  Most are seasoned IRS employees at the GS-20 levels and are well trained and hand picked for their positions because of their knowledge.  The truth has come out that the cases in question were referred to Washington for “special handling” even though they tried to cover it up by having the responses come from several offices. 

Any IT person can tell you that he who controls the electronic correspondence and location of the sender is in charge of the message.  Almost all correspondence goes through the IRS’ IT department before going out so as to properly keep all information within the case file; a move to protect the system from tampering. My question is why not all letters coming from Cincinnati where the tax-exempt division is headquartered and the applications filed?  The answer is they cannot control the electronic file contents once it is assigned to an agent until the agent releases it.  The IRS keeps everything – right or wrong. So the correspondence written in their name would eventually be seen by the agent the next time the agent opened the file.  Easy – create a fictitious employee and email, create a file, send the correspondence, and bury the file in 200 trillion terabytes of data. Easy if you have the keys and no one is looking.

There is a lot more stuff under the covers.  There is mounting and powerful evidence suggesting the IRS activities involved very high-ranking IRS officials in D.C., and they targeted  hundreds of conservative organizations — not ones simply with “tea party” or “patriots” in their organization names but conservative religious groups and any group openly opposed to Obama’s agenda as well.

Look at some of what the IRS tax-exempt status division was doing during that period. Surprise! Evidence is mounting that the Internal Revenue Service gave far better treatment to left-wing groups with data showing the agency approved dozens of liberal and progressive organizations as tax-exempt while leaving conservative groups hanging. No tea party applications were approved in a 27-month period beginning February 2010, but numerous applications from liberal and progressive groups were given tax-exempt status during the same period,” USA Today reported.  Try and convince anyone that is coincidence and not targeting.

These details come at the same time that it was revealed that the IRS expedited tax-exempt status for a charity run by President Barack Obama’s half-brother Abongo “Roy” Malik Obama, despite numerous questions about how it is run and its legal issues over the past few years. The application from the Barack H. Obama Foundation was even backdated.  Lerner signed off on the organization’s tax status in June 2011, right in the middle of the 27-month hiatus for tea-party groups, and granted it retroactive status to within a month of filing.  Wait – what filing?

In the month before the foundation was granted tax-exempt status, the National Legal and Policy Center filed a complaint with the IRS, asking why the group was allowed to solicit tax-deductible contributions when it had not applied for a determination.  “The Obama Foundation raised money on its web page by falsely claiming to be tax deductible. This bogus charity, run by Malik, had not even applied for tax-exempt status and yet subsequently got retroactive tax-deductible status,” complained Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center. Boehm called the attempt to raise money “common law fraud and potentially even federal mail fraud.” 

On Tuesday, four days after Lerner’s admission to Congress, respected elections attorney Cleta Mitchell came forward and claimed that she has evidence the IRS scandal reaches to the White House.  She said she also is aware of nearly 100 other conservative groups that were being targeted by Washington.

“There were nearly 100 groups across the country that got the very egregious set of letters from the IRS that were almost identical in scope and wording and they came from offices all over the country, so I know of at least 85 to 90, maybe more, organizations,” said Mitchell, who represents six groups that say they have been targeted. She added that she had two clients whose groups’ purpose was to lobby against Obamacare, and both received extra IRS scrutiny. Mitchell told reporters she doesn’t believe the president or the White House is as uninvolved in the IRS activities as the administration has claimed.  “They may try to say it was low-level people,” she said. “It was not low-level people. The activities weren’t in Cincinnati. It was being directed out of Washington, and I have them on record saying that.”

We know the White House used the Department of Health and Human Services, the FBI, OSHA and the Labor Department to try to silence critics about Obamacare and intimidate conservative applicants for tax-exempt status. They tried to use the FCC to go after FOX News, Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh.  When congressional action failed they excluded FOX News from the White House Press Corps.  That didn’t go over so well either when many in the press corps complained publicly.  So if we know they used those agencies, why wouldn’t they also use the IRS to try to silence political critics? 

The next day, Wednesday, May 15 is the day Commissioner Steven Miller was forced to resign.  If you watched Miller’s hearing, or any part of it, you can see his contempt for the members of the committee, especially Republicans.  His disdain and arrogance are clearly apparent.  He may think he is above the wrath of Congress, but they made him swear in, something not normally done for a senior level government official.  They did that for one simple reason. They had been lied to before by the person in the same position.  If he lies he can be criminally charged.  He should have thought about that during the hearing but plainly he thought he didn’t need to.  He does have, after all, the Attorney General, the Senate and the Presidency on his side.  But criminal contempt of Congress is not reserved to that purview. Maybe they should fire him, strip him of his pension, and place him in prison for criminal contempt of Congress until he decides his life would be much better if he told the truth – respectfully.  I wonder if any person has ever testified to Congress in a prison uniform.

In the meantime, the IRS reported that the Inspector General’s office is launching a new investigation. Who is it that said, “Always take advantage of a catastrophe.” If the Republicans are smart and the media cooperates just a little, this and Benghazi may prove to be a two-year investigation right through the next election cycle and result in jail time for some and even impeachment for others.  Also the AP matter has hit the press pretty hard.  Let’s see if their airtime, paper and print are where their mouth is, regarding freedom of the press, or if they will continue to cover for the President and the progressive agenda.  I have hope but no confidence.

I invite debate and information contrary to the contents herein, but come to the table prepared because nothing in this piece is not documented.  Come with facts – not ideology.  Respectfully submitted, Jeffrey M. Moritz

 

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