Tuesday, July 31, 2007


It's impossible to go another day without commenting, even witlessly, about the passing of two legendary film directors, Ingmar Bergman (b.1918) and Michelangelo Antonioni (b.1912), two artists who redefined the medium in different ways, elevated the medium, and added to the vocabulary of what was possible. They achieved their greatest artistic and popular triumphs outside of the Hollywood studio system. They were among the first generation born after the birth of the movies, essentially the first generation of great directors to follow those who got their start in the Silent Era, and both rose to prominence in the 1950's and 1960's

Most importantly, they both took advantage of the silence of cinema, long moments between the words, to illuminate humankind's spiritual longings, shortcomings and blasphemies -- in exquisite imagery.

I won't go into deep histories or analyses, as there are well-prepared ones these past two days in The New York Times alone for both Bergman and Antonioni as well as what they meant together to their era. I'll just hit on a few personal experiences with their work.

Per his output of over 50 features, I've seen only a bare handful of Bergman's pictures, but I can say three of them were his international breakthrough run from 1955 to 1957.

Smiles of a Summer Night, a rare Bergman comedy -- but not without bite -- is a sexy roundelay amongst some very attractive Swedes in a period setting. There was one conversation between two female characters that was clearly so adult that there's no translation, not for 1950's America.

The Seventh Seal, arguably his most famous work (and a surprising #84 on the IMDB Top 250 list) due to the iconic image of a Crusades-weary knight playing chess for his life against Death personified. What struck me when I finally saw it wasn't so much the well-discussed angst, but again the humor, this time most black as when Death takes an actual hand in sawing down a tree to make a corpse out of the man who's climbed it.

Then there's the extraordinary Wild Strawberries, the story of an elderly, emotionally cold professor forced to examine his life and his effect on his family while on the way to receive a final accolade. Bergman cast the legendary director Victor Sjostrom who, as both a seminal Swedish filmmaker and successful Hollywood filmmaker in the 1920's, was essentially his forebearer if not father figure. Sjostrom directed maybe my favorite silent film, The Wind (1927, starring Lillian Gish at her most riveting). Being in my 20's, I wasn't looking forward to watching some old geezer dwell on his boring old past, but sure enough I was enthralled, like most everyone else who sees it.

My introduction to Antonioni was actually watching Blow-up on television, back when there were only three channels plus a grainy PBS on UHF. One of the major networks -- I think it was CBS -- started running great films on Thursday nights at 9:00pm, maybe in 1971 or so, and my parents were cinephiles enough to let me stay up way past my bedtime to see them. These were the movies that introduced me to the adult work, heaven forbid, and unlike the Disney flicks and regular TV I'd been raised on, things weren't always tied up in neat little packages.

While educated filmpeople cite L'Avventura (1960) as the ground-breaking one, or the boldness of L'Eclisse (1962) with the actorless ending that got truncated in the U.S., or Antonioni's visionary first foray into color film, Red Desert (1964), Blow-up was his first English-language film, released in 1966, and thus accessible to me as a young kid.

Both hailed and derided as a evocation of swinging mid-1960's London of the time, the unsettling story of a consciously amoral high-fashion photographer stumbling into the center of a mystery has a slow-boiling threat filled with spiritual foreboding. The famous central scene, featuring a young and impassioned Vanessa Redgrave, has the photographer witnessing what may or may not be a murder, the truth somehow depending if he caught it on film.

I was blown-away by Blow-up. Antonioni had a gift for taking a quiet, unassuming moment and turning on the acceleration to a fever pitch. He did it in the run-on-the-stock-market sequence in L'Eclisse and without a crowd in the sequence where the photographer starts enlarging one particular image from his film roll at the park, the one in which he sees something, desperate for the proof.

Another indelible scene, a more spark-like frenzy, occurs during the photographers desperate search through hip London at night, somehow winding up at a Yardbirds club gig, where impassive young audience suddenly only springs to life when guitarist Jeff Beck smashes his guitar and offers up the neck for the taking.

The movie increasingly frustrates the protagonist, and it couldn't happen to a nicer guy, leading to an open ending that's somehow simultaneously a prison and a gaping chasm, and did much to prepare me for Tony Soprano's close.

As with the work of Stanley Kubrick, I've always thought that it's okay to slow down the standard rhythms of a film, to delve more deeply into character and into the psyche, even (in Antonioni's case) the sociology of architecture, as long as you give the viewer something special to look at.

Bergman had his theatrical and spiritually loaded spaces, Antonioni his modern and spiritually empty ones. Both mesmerizing and, in sudden moments, electrifying.

Let's hope that the sadness of their collective passing yields the joy of some big screen re-releases -- it's time for a whole new generation to catch some of their genius in the cinema, not just at home on DVD.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Power is Taken

There's a crazy load of news today:

- Legendary, historically pivotal Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman (b.1918) dies at age 89.

- The vacation home of Sen. Theodore Fulton "Ted" Stevens (R-AK, b.1923), at age 83 the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, is raided by the FBI looking for corrupt links to the Alaskan oil business.

- Ground-breaking late night talk show host Tom Snyder (b.1936) dies of leukemia at age 71 in San Francisco.

- Brand new Chief Justice John Glover Roberts Jr. (b.1955) has his second publicly known seizure while on at his summer home in Maine.

- The move to impeach Attorney General Albert Gonzales (b. 1955) begins, not appearing to having been initiated by the leadership, but rather Congressman Jay Inslee (D-WA). It is no longer inconceivable that he could be impeached. As of tomorrow, it will be underway.

Is there any hope for the current generation, i.e. those leaders born in the 1950's?

The only Presidential candidate in the Democratic Party that is strictly about speaking truth to power is Senator John Edwards (b. 1953), and there's video of him doing twice, publicly, this past week.

He did it first at the CNN YouTube debate. He said the words regular American need to hear:
If you listen to these questions, they all have exactly the same thing, which is how do we bring about big change? And I think that’s a fundamental threshold question. And the question is: Do you believe that compromise, triangulation will bring about big change? I don’t.

I think the people who are powerful in Washington -- big insurance companies, big drug companies, big oil companies -- they are not going to negotiate. They are not going to give away their power. The only way that they are going to give away their power is if we take it away from them.

He did it again, with some added kick, in a smalltown gathering in New Hampshire:
I believe America needs change in the worst kind of way. And I don't mean little change, I mean big change. And I don't believe that change is going to come from negotiation and compromise. I think there are powerful interests in Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C. is broken. It does not work. The entire system is rigged, and it's rigged against you...the insurance companies to drug companies to oil companies, those people run this country now...

I think you've got to take them on and beat them, I don't think you can sit at a table and negotiate with them. The idea that they're going to voluntarily give up their power, that's a fantasy, and that will never happen.

And we will never be able to have universal health care, be able to change the way we use energy and tackle global warming. The big issues that face this country. They are standing in between and the change that we need. It's that simple.

Be still my heart. Truth, so rare, so liberating.

What is there to really disagree with in here? Of course, he's right! Power never yields just because you wish it would, that it would make great sacrifices to take care of you. It only yields when forced to. And the corporate powers he speaks of are some of the richest in the span of human history.

Is it any wonder that the media just wants you to think about haircuts? They may not be scared of Edwards yet, but they're clearly invested in stopping him. And well they should be.

More here.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mad About the Sixties

There's something in the entertainment air, a callback to the 1960s I've experienced these past couple weeks. It started with the premiere episode of AMC's new series set in the year 1960 among the advertising agency gods of Madison Avenue, Mad Men; continued with a visit to 1962 Baltimore in the movie musical Hairspray; jumped to 1966 with Don Cheadle's Oscarbait turn as legendary D.C. deejay Petey Greene in Talk to Me; then circled back tonight with ep. 2 (TiVo) of Mad Men.

What is it about the '60's that's got it coming back? Is it the failed policies of the anti-evolutionary forces these past seven years? And why start with 1960 -- picking up in the cigarette haze where George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck left off?

My own theory is that these creators were all children during that era. I, personally, was born somewhere in the middle of what will be the first season of Mad Men. So this isn't the nostalgia of those who lived through that decade as adults or even cognizant teens. These are the legends, the revisionist legends, filtered through a child's view of that mysterious, threatening, alluring adult world of the time.

Since Talk to Me takes place both later and is based on true material, I'm thinking to discuss it later. I can tell you that it is well worth seeing, not just to see Don Cheadle break out like you've always known he could, but also for the power of the story, and a great evocation of the constant tensions of the times.

In the middle of watching Hairspray I realized why it was succeeding in an age where the numbers in movie musicals are either performed onstage in sagas about musicals, or awkward breaks in otherwise naturalistic direction. The difference is that this adaptation of the recent Broadway smash hit, itself based on the 1988 film by indie camp king John Waters, is the first Mad magazine movie musical, applying that populist ironic voice to the very decade where its readership blossomed. Just enough youthful disrespect has survived.

When I watched Batman back in the mid-1960's, I was a little kid so I took it seriously. I'm generally not a big fan of camp, which I find replaces subtext with a rather obvious mocking knowingness. The rare exception would include The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which not only had subtext but showed a lot of reality in the shooting (vast landscapes, faces with age) and was genuinely moving. While his movies have always been satiric and filled with meshes of parody, what makes John Waters the biggest exception of all, at least for me, is that his career-spanning theme is so honestly delivered, the floor upon which all his laughs dance:

Accept yourself for yourself; accept everybody else for who they are or "kiss my ass." (That last quip courtesy of the character Link to the racist authorities in the movie.)

The genius of the core Hairspray story has always been a previously unrecognized equation of overweight people with the Civil Rights Movement. Tracy Turnblad goes from local dance show aspirant to crusading protester over the course of the picture, with the enemy being prejudice, plain and simple. But beyond where it gets all the metaphors right, it's as far from reverential as you've ever seen in successful mainstream musical, opening with a number about Baltimore that includes Tracy singing to sidewalk rats, the neighborhood barfly, pregnant ladies smoking as they drink martinis, and Waters himself in a cameo as the local flasher.

The whole cast is great, with John Travolta bringing a well-suited new version of Tracy's mom, Edna, a somehow mandatory cross-dressing role played by Divine in the original movie and Harvey Fierstein among others on Broadway. Travolta goes for the vulnerability, with no obvious winks at the audience, and his performance somehow endorses the movie: Waters' vision finally hits the big time.

When I was a kid movie musicals had the ability to get you choked up, but these days overflowing emotion in musical numbers provoke audience embarrassment more than any desired effect. But I found myself wiping tears away at crazy moments in Hairspray. Is it that purity of theme, or the commitment to depicting that very real racial equality struggle from our lifetime, or maybe just the joy of seeing John Waters writ large?

I'll have more to say about Mad Men in the future as well, but I can say that also reaches towards parody of real world early-1960's conventions, albeit in a different kind of high stakes dramatic setting. AMC has boldly evolved itself to where they've now launched the best new drama series since The Sopranos, and lo and behold it's written and directed by vets from David Chase's show.

If Hairspray is a blast of exhilarating teenage life accelerating a ready to rock culture into new openings and acceptance, one struggles hard here to discern the sprouts of life desperate to pop through a crack in the morally bankrupt affluence that kicked off our modern era. There are clues all over the place, in the free-spirited career girl, in the closeted Art Director, in the cracking-up suburban wife.

For those of us who remember from growing up in that era, the populace of Mad Men had best start fastening those seatbelts -- the ones none of them appear to be wearing.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


The New York Times tells it like it is:

As far as we can tell, there are three possible explanations for Mr. Gonzales’s talk about a dispute over other — unspecified — intelligence activities. One, he lied to Congress. Two, he used a bureaucratic dodge to mislead lawmakers and the public: the spying program was modified after Mr. Ashcroft refused to endorse it, which made it “different” from the one Mr. Bush has acknowledged. The third is that there was more wiretapping than has been disclosed, perhaps even purely domestic wiretapping, and Mr. Gonzales is helping Mr. Bush cover it up.

Democratic lawmakers are asking for a special prosecutor to look into Mr. Gonzales’s words and deeds. Solicitor General Paul Clement has a last chance to show that the Justice Department is still minimally functional by fulfilling that request.

If that does not happen, Congress should impeach Mr. Gonzales.



The Cheney/Bush Administration is using their favorite criminality dodge, "executive privilege" (not in the Constitution), to keep us, America, from knowing what they did in the Pat Tillman death incident.

Tillman was a role model, a young, impossibly handsome NFL football player who selflessly put his career on hold to enlist after 9/11. When he was killed in Afghanistan the Iraq War-hungry Administration spun it as a brave death by enemy fire.

Then they stonewalled his family on the truth.

Turns out not only is it obvious at this point that Tillman was killed by friendly fire, but new documents reveal it was at a lot closer range than previously thought:
"The medical evidence did not match up with the scenario as described," a doctor who examined Tillman's body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.

The doctors — whose names were blacked out — said the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.

The Defense Department launched no criminal investigation. So what else has just come to light:
• In his last words moments before he was killed, Tillman snapped at a panicky comrade under fire to shut up and stop "sniveling."

• Army attorneys sent each other congratulatory e-mails for keeping criminal investigators at bay as the Army conducted an internal friendly-fire investigation that resulted in administrative, or non-criminal, punishments.

• The three-star general who kept the truth about Tillman's death from his family and the public told investigators some 70 times that he had a bad memory and could not recall details of his actions.

• No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene — no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck.

This is obviously bad for democracy, bad for the military and bad for the republic. But what's starting to get creepy is that it turns out Pat was nothing like the GOP-policy supporting stereotype they fabricated. He was against the move into Iraq, even planning to meet with noted anti-war/anti-imperialism thinker Noam Chomsky and evidently supported John Kerry for President.

So now that it appears to have been friendly fire that killed him, the looming question is whether this was an accident, or was Pat Tillman murdered?

And if he was, and the Administration knew, all the way up to President Bush, aren't they all guilty of covering up the crime?

Is that what this "executive privilege" is all about -- finally a very vivid grounds for impeachment of both Mister Bush and President Cheney?

And while some might even wonder if an order to kill Pat Tillman came from the executive branch, it sure cannot be true.

It just can't.

Can it?

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Republican once were though "strong on defense", mostly thanks to two 1950's terms by President (former General and WWII Supreme Commander) Dwight D. Eisenhower. Now, however, they seem to purr, screech and meow.

While the Democratic Party just had a highly successful YouTube format debate with rather braver-than-journalist user-gen questions, it seems the Republicans are just too scared to face regular American voters. Per Andrew Sullivan:
Rudy won't bite, apparently. Romney's decidedly cool to the idea. The others are getting iffy. Hewitt declares YouTube and CNN biased. Heh. For my part, the current old white men running for the GOP already seem from some other planet. Ducking YouTube after the Dems did so well will look like a party uncomfortable with the culture and uncomfortable with democracy. But then, we kind of knew that already, I guess, didn't we?

Ho ho, we did!

But a reader of Talking Points Memo thinks that maybe the problem isn't American voters, maybe the GOP is terrified to reveal exactly who are the core Republican voters:
As far as issues like illegal immigration and "coercive interrogation techniques" go, how does one ask questions like this in a Youtube format in an amusing way? The differences between the GOP base and the political mainstream can seem less extreme when asked by someone like Wolf Blitzer, but if presented from the standard GOP rank-and-file member of the base, it seemed like a great way to show how unhinged the GOP has become on some of these issues. Personally, I'm surprised the GOP ever got close to agreeing to this format, and once the Democratic debate happened and showed the format in action, I didn't see how it could have been pulled off by the GOP.

Mark my words: if they do hold the debate, filter will be on Rovian. You know, like 11.

Who else is making like a kittykat in the crazy camp? Why, none other than Bill O'Reilly, who has been trying his damnedest to demonize DailyKos, a place where people can go and express their opinions for all to read. You know, Participatory Democracy. O'Reilly has made such a massive misfire (he'll fail at anything here but playing to his base -- this is just strengthening Kos) that Stephen Colbert is getting into the act. By condemning...uh...promoting the site himself.

Unlike with his target, to post on O'Reilly's site you have to pay $5/month. That's $60 per year for "free" speech. And he sure can't take the heat when he's called on the hate speech posted to his site -- he's so feline he has to turn off Jane Hall's microphone and smear her, shouting, as a liar. (You can help fight back here.)

I guess when they're not chicken or chickenhawk, they're abusing their seats of power by breaking the law. In this New York Times article, they name 14 Federal lawmakers from sea-to-shining-sea who are current subjects of criminal investigations.

Yes, two of them are Democrats, well deserving of inclusion. That leaves 86% as Republicans.

They also commit perjury.

They've got that cat scratch fever.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cooking Geese

Two or three more nails in the coffin of the Cheney/Bush Administration today, depending how you count them. Are the contempt of Congress indictments approved out of committee for vote in the House of Representatives one nail as they came together, or two, as one is for current White House Chief of Staff John Bolton, while the other is for Former Supreme Court Nominee Harriet Miers.

Both Mr. Bolton and Ms. Miers decided they could ignore a Congressional subpoena. Unless we let them get away with it, they can't, it's like getting a subpoena to appear in court. And Ms. Miers is no longer even working for our government -- CheneyBush's claim of Executive Privilege is moot.

You can always come and refuse to answer questions under the Fifth Amendment, at which point you can be investigated. You're not supposed to come and just lie -- as in court, that's perjury, and that is against the law. Even for Republicans. Even for Attorney Generals. Just because the Attorney General does it, that doesn't make it legal.

Which is why Alberto Gonzales wasn't just funny yesterday, he committed clear and actionable perjury:
Documents indicate eight congressional leaders were briefed about the Bush administration's terrorist surveillance program on the eve of its expiration in 2004, contradicting sworn Senate testimony this week by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The documents underscore questions about Gonzales' credibility as senators consider whether a perjury investigation should be opened into conflicting accounts about the program and a dramatic March 2004 confrontation leading up to its potentially illegal reauthorization.

A Gonzales spokesman maintained Wednesday that the attorney general stands by his testimony.

I give him a week. Oh, but what henchman could CheneyBush possibly get to replace him -- both continue to cover up their crimes and get confirmed by Congress?

And if you can't fill the top job at Justice, are you even operating as a President anymore?

I hear goose is a little gamy, but if you cook it just right...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Somebody should make a sitcom based on Alberto Gonzales' misadventures as Attorney General for Mister George W. Bush. "Make Room for Gonzo" could work. Or, "Everybody Hates Alberto." Or maybe, "Leave it to Liar."

Alberto went up to Capitol Hill on Tuesday and was even funnier than his last appearance. This time his brick wall act was made comical by how threadbare it's become, even less of a pas a deux of question, evasion, delaying than in the past with both sides knowing what he was doing but the Senators being frustrated.

This time he thought he could coast and didn't prepare, kind of like his boss does with warfare. This time they're not only itching to indict him for perjury, he practically begging them to. This time his lies seem like mean little middle school trick, only now those questioning him have moved on to college, and Gonzo is not, whatever his cock-eyed fantasies, going to ride this out. They even talk to him like he's a child.

He's a loser. Only today, for the first time, he started to sense it.

Dense little liar.

The thing to remember about all liars is that first and foremost they're lying to themselves. Think of it: most times when we lie we have to take at least a moment to convince ourselves that it's all for the best and we won't get caught. So Gonzales is not only lying to the country, he's living a lie. The Big Lie that is Bush, Cheney and the GOP scourge they still ride astride.

Ha, ha, Gonzo, you laughed at us after your last appearance. But America thinks you suck, and now you know it. You will become pariah once you are forced out of office. That could be funny, too. Or dramatic. Branded.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering why Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is actually not all that funny in person but more just repulsive and scummy, it's because he's a torturer.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Light It Up

I was blown away by Danny Boyle's Sunshine last night. It's the sense of scale. The plot is simple: our sun is dying. Nearly a decade ago the nations of Earth got it together to send a manned nuclear payload straight into the sun, the plan to set it off and reboot. Maybe the crew members of Icarus would make it back, but you wouldn't bet on it. Problem is, seven years ago we lost radio contact with Icarus.

Icarus II has been on this way for 16 months when we pick up the story. Eight crew members living in a long straight tail in the middle of the back side of a mirror-lined disk that faces the relentless sun the entire trip. There are countless mirrors on the front side, and the back tail includes a full oxygen generating, food generating eco-pod. Icarus II recycles water, has all the solar energy it could possible want, and a governing computer that can be queried verbally at any time, anywhere in the ship, by any crewperson wearing their voice transmitting badge around their neck.

The main motif of the film is the human eye, in relationship to the sun. There's the similarity of form, echoed by the design of the spaceship, as well as a constant fascination with looking into the sun. The original Icarus of myth saw something no other human ever did, and paid for it with his fall. This is the central mythos of Sunshine, which along with the increasingly inconceivable heat, as the Icarus II gets closer and closer, passing Mercury, aimed straight into the heart of that huge, spinning ball of hot gas and nuclear reactions,

The actors are all good, but I particularly enjoyed seeing rising star Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Cliff Curtis and Michelle Yeoh. Byrne is a rapidly rising star, and looks great in the previews for Damages, which starts this week on FX. Glenn Close is rightfully getting all the advance press on the show, but Byrne bodes the next wave in Australian talent. Evans, ironically enough, plays the Human Torch, and having seen the recent Fantastic Four movie I knew he looked familiar but didn't recognize him at first -- not expecting him to be in such a high-tone project, but there he is, under a beard at first, plenty of depth. Cliff Curtis is a fan favorite going way back to Three Kings, and Michelle Yeoh, well...she's such an icon now, it's a pleasure to see her in a purely dramatic role. And in one moment when Murphy and Evans have a tussle, you can see her roll her eyes and think of how much more likely it would be for her to kick both their asses, were this one of the Jackie Chan movies where she did her own stunts, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or even Wing Chun.

While I've read some griping and gainsaying about a particular twist leading to the film's final act, I find some of it McKeeism gone haywire. At this point I consider director Danny Boyle an artist, because he takes chances by switching genres every time, from Shallow Grave to Trainspotting to Millions to 28 Days Later etc., learned how to keep his independence, and made accessible but intelligent flicks that leave an impression long after viewing. If I think of someone as an artist, even a pop artist, and there's this kind of question about an aspect of their work, I'm more interested in trying to tease out their intention rather than make a critical point. In this case, I think that Boyle wanted to find an extreme psychological reaction to this unprecedented situation, and believes pays off for the suspense that's been building on this particular plotline.

Maybe when you see it you'll tell me I'm wrong.

As for me, I was overwhelmed by the trajectory of Icarus II. Like all great science fiction, the concept itself is mind-expanding aspect to it, conceiving of the ramifications while witnessing it, taking up a compelling vision of how it all might work out. Our eternal human frailty, futuristic technology, amped together into our imagination.

Sunshine is a suspense machine, sequence after edge-of-seat sequence, but perhaps due to the relentlessness of the mission, of the ship's movement, into the terrible vastness of our sun through the endless vastness of outer space, there's a permeating existential quality to the movie that provides the resonance.

Heading straight into the sun...is the loneliest place in the universe.


Happy Monday, and to start off the week, here's a memory jogger for all those reasons you want our current Executive Federal leadership impeached.

Amazing how far back some of this footage goes. Hard to believe most of these criminals are still in office.

Tell your Senator and Representative what you'd like them to do about it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I'm for: Mitt!

I've decided to commence a series on all the Republican candidates I support for the nomination -- and I do support each and every one of them. The reason I support them all is that none of them scare me (including Ron Paul, and that could change if he catches on). They are each an individual facet of what is catastrophically wrong with Mister Bush, and every week there is another excellent news drop on why each one is a trainwreck waiting to get nominated.

Today's endorsement: former "Taxachusetts" Governor, Willard Mitt Romney.

Like George W. Bush, he's a never-been-in-touch rich kid claiming CEO-type leadership, as if running our nation is just like running GM.

(It's not.)

How never-in-touch is Mitty?

His campaign is desperately trying to explain this latest moment of brilliant Presidential, character, judgment and prostitution, via TMZ.

He's a genius, really.


Friday, July 20, 2007


Via Huffington Post:
President Bush will have a colonoscopy Saturday and temporarily hand presidential powers to Vice President Dick Cheney, the White House said.

Wow, not much to be added. If it were any other President, even a bad one, I'd end it here. But since the President we're talking about is President Richard Bruce Cheney, one has to wonder if he'll use his time as the official Chief Executive, er, wisely.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


It took me a day to realize that just like all the earlier Werner Herzog pictures I've seen, whether the brutal German productions that established his international reputation back in the 1970's or the ensuing documentaries generally about extreme individuals, Rescue Dawn is not a normal movie. It is, of course, something different and, I'll argue, something more.

I was deceived by the trappings -- it's Herzog's first English-language non-documentary feature, it stars Christian "Batman" Bale while featuring other major actors (Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies) in key supporting roles, and the genre is a guy favorite: escape from a POW camp. Think The Great Escape but without the soundstages, without the fake-y emotional moments, without the cleanliness.

The two biggest differences, and this is where the financial success of the film becomes a betting man's questions, are the production style and the character development.

Based on his excellent 1997 short documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, this narrative version tells the same story, of a German-born U.S. bomber pilot shot down behind enemy lines in Laos during the Vietnam War. (You know, the last war we didn't need to fight, couldn't win, and took many more years than it should have to admit our bamboozlement and get out.) Dieter (Bale) has wanted to fly ever since the Americans bombed his house, nearly killing him and his family, during World War II when he was a child.

Bale plays Dieter exactly this way, as an amiable, apolitical individual who possesses some necessary tools for escape: deathless optimism and an organized mind. While the two main POW camp veterans he's thrown in with when captured, Zahn and Davies (both brilliant and having undergone arresting physical transformations for the roles), evince different degrees of hopelessness, Dieter doesn't give up. He plans an amazing escape, and if anyone is going to trudge barefoot through the endlessly dense jungle as his empty stomach turns in on itself, you know it's gotta be Dieter.

The most impressive thing that sets Herzog apart from other filmmakers is his extreme production style. He's been to the jungle before (Aguirre: The Wrath of God, with Klaus Kinski in the title role of a Portugese conquistador going beyond extreme to crazy is one of the best movies ever made, astonishing) and seems to thrive on a certain kind of chaos. He wants it to be real, to bring back something you can't get through computer graphics or any other falsified staging, more in line with the great adventurist filmmakers of the 1920's like Merian Cooper and Ernest Shoedsack. This is what makes Rescue Dawn highly recommendable, although likely to draw more of a male audience. Quite simply, it sets a new standard for entertainingly brutal realism in the escape film genre.

On the other hand, while the travails of the POWs and all the points of Dieter's journey are totally gripping, from his powerfully shot and staged airplane crash through his various breakthroughs and trials, his character is essentially the same at the end of the picture as when it began, in a manner atypical for a Hollywood feature. There's not even a sense of ruefulness, that masculine-movie closing where the character is "sadder but wiser" which provides a satisfying and customary type of closure, one we expect from every war movie going back to The Big Parade (1925) and before.

I'd like to think this is a choice for Herzog rather than a predilection or, to some, a failing. It's an essentially Brechtian approach to character, one that's justified if the film (or play) has more than escapism on its mind, but instead has a political point to make within the theatrical framework. Instead of getting lost in an actor's performance through seamless identification, we're meant to have a degree of critical distance, forcing a kind of consciousness that (when it works best) makes the work ultimately more meaningful, more powerful, and an indictment.

Going to Rescue Dawn for the thrill of adventure and sweet agony of suspense is fine, but there's that chance of disappointment in how the physical journey is so much more compelling than the character journey, which is not what we are usually served.

But if Herzog's made that sacrifice for Brechtian effect, what is his political point?

The answer is found in how Herzog opens the film. He uses a very long, very gripping aerial tracking shot, real documentary footage (or so it sure seemed) from the Vietnam War, out of the back of an aircraft flying in a straight line over countless fields, rice paddies, farmhouses and little villages, watching remorselessly as American bomber planes drop all kinds of hell and tear the shit out of the landscape. Out of people's homes, livelihoods, lives.

It's like all that Iraq War footage our mainstream news media never shows us. You know, where the shots where we're the bad guys.

At a time when Mister Bush, President Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove and their enablers have plunged our international reputation into the sewer through careless and bloodthirsty destruction, directly or indirectly snuffing or crushing hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, the first act of Rescue Dawn is clearly the world's view:

Dieter deserves to be shot down and captured.

He's an undeniable cog in America's war machine, and I believe Herzog is condemning him for his apolitical ignorance, just as any Americans tacitly going along with our criminally disastrous Iraq War can appear, in the eyes of the rest of the world, tacitly guilty as sin. You don't care to examine how your actions are demolishing innocent families forever? You deserve a bamboo prison, your ankles locked in stocks while you sleep, eating living slugs from a bowl provided by your captors.

The funny thing is, by the end of the movie Herzog doesn't seem to be passing judgment on his protagonist at all. While little Dieter may not have had his political consciousness raised, he has proven something impressive of the human spirit, in a way that may be more real than dramatically compelling.

I'd call it the mystery of Dieter's character, the conundrum to be unlocked in every post-screening conversation, but in the end it seems more like Herzog just wanting to portray the real (now deceased) Dieter's story and character just as he observed it in his documentary. The story of a guy he ultimately identifies with and really likes.

So what you're left with is the overwhelmingly physical journey. If you're psyched to be taken on that very extraordinary trip itself, do yourself a favor and go buy a ticket before it leaves the theaters.

On TV it'll be a gripping adventure story. It's the big screen that puts you right there with Werner, Christian, Steve and Jeremy.

In the jungle.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Since Dickens

When I was in high school reading Great Expectations by superstar 19th Century novelist Charles Dickens for the first or second time (9th Grade + 12th), as we got wrapped up in Pip, Estrella and Miss Havisham, I remember hearing a few times about how Dickens wrote in serialized form, and in a kind of height of the printed word distribution technology, people would read the chapters as soon as they came out.

The anticipation surrounding the final chapters of The Old Curiosity Shop, and the fate of the ill-starred girl at the center of it, was unprecedented:
In January 1841, passengers arriving in New York from Europe would be greeted by anxious people on the docks. They all had the same question: "Is Little Nell dead?" Such was the hysteria created by Charles Dickens' novel The Old Curiosity Shop.

Back then, of course, consuming media meant reading, but today that activity is for the minority of media consumers. Except for this:
Copies of the final Harry Potter book have already been shipped to customers by one U.S. online retailer, U.S. publisher Scholastic said on Wednesday, and purported copies of the novel have flooded the Internet...

...Photographs have also been posted on the Internet of what is claimed to be each page of the book, but Scholastic would not comment on whether they were real. Links to the pictures quickly flooded Web sites around the world...

...Rowling fueled speculation about the ending of the last book when she said last year that at least two characters would be killed off and a third got a reprieve.

Tight security has surrounded Rowling's eagerly awaited final novel about the teenage wizard. The first six books have sold 325 million copies worldwide.

Potter fans reacted angrily to purported Internet leaks...

So many people are so passionate about a book?

Has my whole world turned upside down?

I'm reading about literary authority Harold Bloom getting his panties in a knot because kids are reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows instead of The Wind in the Willows. For his information, the latter bored both my kids, no matter how much I loved it in 1964. However, I'm up to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with my 7-year-old, and we're having a grand time.

(Personal favorite character: Sirius Black, and not just because Gary "Sid Vicious" Oldman portrays him in the moveeeez.)

I'm sure I'll get spoiled by spoilers before my son and I work our way through the next two books and several thousand pages to even start this final volume but who cares, it's amazing that people are going so nuts for a plain ol' epic story, one told with style, intelligent character development, and imagination by a caring author.

Notoriously tough New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani summarizes this book and the series in her thoughtful review today:
The world of Harry Potter is a place where the mundane and the marvelous, the ordinary and the surreal coexist. It’s a place where cars can fly and owls can deliver the mail, a place where paintings talk and a mirror reflects people’s innermost desires. It’s also a place utterly recognizable to readers, a place where death and the catastrophes of daily life are inevitable, and people’s lives are defined by love and loss and hope — the same way they are in our own mortal world.

Congratulations, Ms. Rowling, on an epic achievement. Enjoy this time of glory and the loooong tail to follow.

But most of all, good luck and godspeed on your next creative adventure.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Slumber Party

Right on Harry Reid and fellow Democratic Senators and Representatives. (And be ashamed of yourself for once, Joe Lieberman.)

Right on Tom Harkin.

What the hell are you thinking, Diane Sawyer?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Yes, Please

It's about time (via Think Progress):
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that in response to conservative obstructionism, he plans to force war supporters to physically remain in the Senate and filibuster Iraq withdrawal legislation.

Reid accused conservatives of “protecting the President rather than protecting our troops” by “denying us an up or down vote on the most important issue our country faces.” He said that if a vote on the Reed/Levin Iraq legislation is not allowed today or tomorrow, he will keep the Senate in session “straight through the night on Tuesday” and force a filibuster. From Reid’s speech:

Republicans are using a filibuster to block us from even voting on an amendment that could bring the war to a responsible end. They are protecting the President rather than protecting our troops.

They are denying us an up or down — yes or no — vote on the most important issue our country faces.

I would like to inform the Republican leadership and all my colleagues that we have no intention of backing down.

If Republicans do not allow a vote on Levin/Reed today or tomorrow, we will work straight through the night on Tuesday.

The American people deserve an open and honest debate on this war, and they deserve an up or down vote on this amendment to end it.

Can't wait to see what happens, especially now that a prominent Republican Congressman is on the record saying that the administration “f—ed up” the war.

Now that yet another hypocritical "Family Values" brand Republican is caught for buying hookers, oh and another for soliciting fellatio from an undercover cop (McCain's Florida Campaign Chairman), you have to wonder what new ideas the once-deluded "Party of New Ideas" (like, uh, squeezing the Middle Class) has to offer.

Back in the Senate, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) lays into the opposition party for obstructionism and cowardice:
"A stunt! A stunt that we would stay in session. A stunt that we would have a sleepless night for Senators. I don’t think it’s a stunt. I think it reflects the reality of this war. How many sleepless night have our soldiers and their families spent?"

Hence the cots.

I just hope the filibuster does happen, and that it goes all night long and into the following day.

Give 'em enough rope.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Racism Party

Just in case you've forgotten which party came up with "The Southern Strategy" to say-without-saying that they were the party for segregationists, just in case you've forgotten which party only has middle-aged (or aged) white men running for President, here's a reminder from rightwing columnist Robert Novak on today's all-white, all middle-aged men Meet the Press panel (via Media Matters):
"Republicans are very pessimistic about 2008. When you talk to them off the record, they don't see how they can win this thing. And then they think for a minute, and only the Democratic Party, with everything in their favor, would say that, 'OK, this is the year either to have a woman or an African-American to break precedent, to do things the country has never done before.' And it gives the Republicans hope."

That's right. The last hope for the GOP is that the American voting public may actually be misogynistic or racist enough to keep them in power.

The cynics among you may think that's right. But on the face of it, it is not only an insult to our electorate, it's an admission of evil on the part of the Republican Party. Why don't they all just wear black hats at the next debate and twirl their mustaches?

Even more damning is that not Tim Russert, not a single other middle-aged white man on that panel made the slightest comment as to the rancid nature of Novak's remark. You won't see a better example of why the blogosphere is so important -- it's just a round table of self-perpetuating Washington insider "journalists" chortling over and over as if the average American citizen is a dope, a mark, a rube.

I know plenty of registered Republicans who are not themselves racist in the way the party so clearly appears, but the leadership can certainly be fairly labeled as such.

If not, than how come the only GOP Presidential candidate to show up at last week's NAACP GOP Presidential Candidate Forum was anti-immigration activist Rep. Tom Tancredo? Check out the above link to the picture -- eight empty podiums, whereas all the Democratic Presidential candidates showed up for their day.

It actually speaks rather well of Rep. Tancredo that he honored the NAACP with his presence. While he wants to limit those coming into the country both legally and illegally, by showing up at least he seems sincere about wanting to be President for all us Americans who are already here.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


This is the most bracing discussion clip I've seen on television since I can't tell you when, a discussion from Friday's Bill Moyers PBS show episode all about impeaching Bush/Cheney, a show that has now, in effect, put impeachment squarely on the table. Via Crooks & Liars (of course):
In this clip PBS’ Bill Moyers sits down with The Nation’s John Nichols and conservative constitutional attorney Bruce Fein from the American Freedom Agenda to discuss the crimes and abuse of power by George Bush and Dick Cheney and the need to impeach them both. While Nichols and Fein come from different ends of the political spectrum, they are in total agreement on this issue. Congress must put impeachment on the table because if they do nothing to stop Bush and Cheney now, we will see future presidents follow in their footsteps which would be a disaster for our country.

To hear Nichols, author of The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism, impeaching these Constitutional law-breakers, even if on the last day of their office, is far from a disruptive measure. It is, in fact, restoring order to our nation.

Fein, who worked in the Justice Department for President Ronald Reagan, and just wrote compellingly in Slate advocating entering into impeachment proceedings immediately against Shadow President Cheney, concurs that this is about when the Roman Empire fell -- when the populace gave up on being citizens and allowed themselves to become subjects.

Bush and Cheney and their operation have been running our government by executive fiat and they are running America into the ground. Bush is obviously completely walled-off, completely insane, i.e. sociopathological in, as Wes Clark identifies, how his entire governing style has boiled down to "a President who is fighting for his personal survival."

This means impeachment isn't a dream, at this moment it is starting to feel like an inevitability.

In willfully walling himself off from reality, criticism, self-criticism, some might cut Bush slack for psychological excusey reasons. The fact is that he's an adult who has chosen his isolation, and the real story is, of course, that he's been so willing to do it because he is at the center of a criminal operation, and thus needs maximum protection from evident culpability.

But as Booman23 on Kos points out, "The Showdown is Here":
I never thought that Bush and Cheney could be removed for their past crimes, but only for refusing to cooperate with subpoenas that would expose those past crimes. And, for that strategy to be effective, the Dems had to plausibly 'take impeachment off the table' and take the abuse of the angry left.

Well...they've done it. We have reached the breaking point. The administration won't turn over documents related to Pat Tillman, they won't turn over RNC emails, they won't let Harriet Miers testify before the House Judiciary Committee, they won't let Karl Rove testify, and they severely limited what Sara Taylor was able to say in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. All of this is based on dubious assertions of Executive Privilege which must not be acceded to.

Booman goes on to lay out how there's still a few more steps to impeachment, starting with Congress charging Harriet Miers with "Inherent Contempt" for not appearing as subpoenaed (under "orders" from the President -- even though she doesn't work for him anymore!). The goal is to get all the information the Presidents and Mr. Rove are desperate to hide or destroy.

The impeachable offenses.

Friday, July 13, 2007


The Dems are running a television ad against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in his home state.

The ad ties McConnell to his support of Mister W's endlessly failed Iraq policy and, in doing so, serves a number of functions:

- With more Americans than ever before wanting our involvement in the War to end ASAP, it brands him strong enough to follow him into his reelection race next year.

- If it scares him enough maybe he really will do the right thing and help us get the hell out. Even better if he smears Cheney and Bush with their own fecal matter, but that's unlikely in today's lock$tep Republican Party.

- It reminds any viewer that Bush has lost this one a long, long time ago. He's just too stubborn, arrogant and, yes, corrupt.

His corruption is one of needy ego rather than need for wealth (he was born with that), but at the same time he's appointed and encouraged others to seek personal wealth at the expense of The Common Good. He is a sworn enemy of The Common Good, no matter what lie intended or otherwise that shoots out of his lips.

Here's the ad, from Matthew Yglesias's always excellent blog.

Smell the Progress.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Prepare Yourself

Having grown up in the late 20th Century, I've felt that American Exceptionalism myself, and the feeling that it was going to last forever. But now I hear that the 21st Century is all about BRIC -- Brazil, Russia, India, China. Steve Clemons has this:

A widespread view among elite Germans and the non-elite normal types I spoke to is that America is in fast decline -- sort of like Britain after World War II. I think that the impressions foreigners have of this decline is "overshooting reality" as there are many substantive realities about America's ability to deploy force and purpose in the world that remain formidable.

But conversation in some serious circles is turning to what Europe can do to help America stabilize in some position of "lesser global stature." There is also a sense that the nation that is filling much of America's previous geopolitical space is China and that Europe feels tension in its strong alliance with U.S. power in decline and its strategic distance from China clearly ascending.

Just fifteen years before I was born, America had gone over and saved Europe. Now in 2007 we have Europe pitying us?

While this site is nakedly partisan, one of the core reasons, if not the core reason itself, is that the Republican Party has potentially "ruined" America. At home it has undermined the notion of "the common good" and replaced it with "what good for the greedy is good for America"; militarily, for all our death-bringing technology it has laid bare our weaknesses to the world; and overseas it has proven to the world that the most atavistic, exploitative, unevolved American capitalist-imperialists actually do still exist, that they can get control of our most powerful political levers, and that they will kill or allow hundreds of thousands of innocents die to get their way.

Given that last one, why would Europe want to help America, except maybe to make sure we stay in our diminished corner from now on?

It's articles like Clemons' that makes me think the only person who can possibly reverse America's decline, among the current generation of senior U.S. political leadership, is Al Gore.

No one currently running for President comes prepacked with a comparable amount of international respect. No one currently running has shown remotely the amount of vision and translated it into real world action. No one currently running for President showed the level of courage over the decision to go into Iraq that Al Gore did back when the Cheney/Bush/Rumsfeld/Rove war machine was setting the country up like so many country fair rubes.

America in decline. We got the 20th Century, maybe China gets the 21st. It didn't have to be that way.

Ultimately the fault is not only in our leaders. We've gotten morally soft, and I don't mean in the way religious conservatives might espouse. We need to recommit to a Franklin Delano Roosevelt type morality, where we know we're all in it together, we act rationally to help rebuild our nation as a whole, not just those with big capital gains income, we have to change our ways.

Al Gore says that the American political will is a renewable resource. He may just have to drum it up himself, and so far he doesn't look interested.

In any case, the Democratic electoral dominance last November wasn't an end, it was only the very start. The Augean Stables of our government and media still need a good, strong flushing. Before it's too late.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Something to Hide

Today Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) gave former Karl Rove aide Sara Taylor a civics lesson:
"I took an oath the president, and I take that oath very seriously," Sara Taylor said in answer to a question early in the hearing.
And right after a break, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked her if she was sure about that. "Did you mean, perhaps, you took an oath to the Constitution?"

There you have it, the story of the past 7 years in a nutshell. The Constitution, in the GOP Cheney/Bush/Rove crime organization is for bathroom use. All the rest is just expressions of power for the advancement and protection of the privileged few.

In the clip Ms. Taylor looks crazy, like she's either not been sleeping or hitting some sort of pharmaceutical. Clearly as another of the vacuously ambitious Republican hired henchpeople for the Cheney/Bush/Rove crime family, what we're seeing revealed on the outside is her moral interior, a house of cards in free-fall collapse.

All of this comes from the Federal Prosecutor purge that clearly the highest officials directed. Why else would they have so much to hide? Why else would Mister Bush direct former aide Harriet Miers (the once and never Supreme Court nominee) to not honor her subpoena to appear before the committee tomorrow?

I don't care how long Ms. Miers worked for George "Junior Soprano" Bush. She doesn't work for him now -- he has no authority to stop her from appearing!

Better yet, welcome a clear and immediate impeachable offense -- per a TPM reader, Bush just committed a felony:
18 U.S.C. Sec. 1505 : ... Whoever corruptly ... influences, obstructs, or impedes ... the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress ... [s]hall be fined under this title, [or] imprisoned not more than 5 years ... or both.

For the record, I don't care on what charge President Dick "Tony Soprano" Cheney or Mister Bush are impeached.

After all, they only got Al Capone on tax evasion.


I'm for impeaching Cheney first, and getting going quickly, but if Nostradamus was on the mark then Bush himself is the Antichrist.

He was speaking to another hand-picked audience of yahoos and suck-ups, this time in obvious panicked response to Michael Moore's brilliant Sicko, but without actually addressing his points. Of course Bush hasn't seen the movie -- he's just advocating the Republican/corporate Democratic line of off-loading risk from our nation's pooled resources onto individual Americans.

Government programs that lock you in to private health care! Control those costs...by limiting your right to sure for mismanagement and malpractice! Fuck you, American citizen!

It strikes me that The Big Lie of this rhetoric is an embedded assumption at the beginning of the segment:
"The objective has got to be to make sure that America is the best place in the world to get health care."
I don't actually believe it. I think the objective is make America a good or great place to get health care -- it doesn't actually have to be the best in the world. We're #37 right now. I'd be a lot happier with #8, even. This "best" fixation is part of the American Exceptionalism fallacy, like we're somehow touched by God and our shit doesn't stink like any other industrialized nation's. Hey, we're all flawed. Just take the thieves out of the equation.

Then he states his true goal as health monopoly tool:
"The immediate goal is to make sure more people are on private health plans."
Sure, sell more indentured servitudes to Kaisers.

In fact, as you listen to his argument after having seen Sicko, the video takes a stark turn into overdetermined speech. Bush claims to be in favor of some children and old folks getting public health assistance -- he's just against all the rest of us getting the help we need. In fact, as you listen to his crazy "plan", it sounds more and more like the complicated formulas Hillary Clinton was (rightly, in my view, although I opposed the overall demonization of her effort) criticized for when she tried to create a national system back in the early 1990's. It's exceptions here, incentives there, cover you who need here, cut back accountability there...it's a parody of a complicated liberal government nannystate program.

Once you simplify the health care question down to one of the government serving the people rather than for-profit managed care cartels, the rest is just anecdotal. Cut out the profit motive, pay doctors out of taxes, suddenly you jet-fuel the economy by taking the stress out of everyone's life so they can be more productive, and open up employment fungibility so that people can move around to different jobs without worrying that won't be able to afford his digitalis at the next one.

Yesterday I linked (thanks to Crooks & Liars) to Michael Moore savaging Wolf Blitzer for having run Dr. Sanjay Gupta's hit piece just before their interview. That was "Part I" and here's "Part II", although as de-mystified-in-chief Moore reveals, it was all shot in the same session. Moore has calmed down in this one which may appeal to folks who don't like Moore when he's so strident, but the message is the same: truth to power, and Wolf is just a functionary of the power elite.

It turns out there's email evidence that Dr. Gupta received the correct information before altering it in his set-up piece.

Maybe Moore is obnoxious. Maybe he's not in particularly good health himself. Maybe he's just a working class guy who got lucky and turned into the most successful populist documentarian in film history.

But in comparison, Mistah Bush just does The Devil's work.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Michael on Fire

There's nothing like watching Michael Moore go off on Wolf Blitzer.

Here's what set him off.

The "Health-Car Analyst" in the story works for Deloitte US -- a major financial company, and his "facts," while authoritative-sounding, are actually ambiguous in nature, such as his statement of a percentage of household income that goes to health care costs, without any comparison to other systems, or taking into account employer costs.

One of the reasons I'm for a single-payer system in the U.S. with health care on demand is a purely capitalistic one. America is losing jobs to other countries because corporations would rather pay higher taxes but not the full burden of health insurance for their employees, hence counties with universal health coverage are more attractive to them.

I love Michael Moore because he fights like he means it, like you would in a bar discussion, for something that will take massive public support to make happen. Will Americans stay divided and fearful on national health care, or will they organized and successfully scare the politicians off the health company tit and give us what every other industrialized nation has?

And that is freedom from having to worry about your health insurance. Before the other countries leapfrog further ahead of us.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Everything is falling into place, in a rather frightening way.

The White House knows, everyone except Bush and probably Cheney and maybe Rove if he's drunk his own Kool-Aid, that the Iraq War has failed. They are failures. And they are just trying to get through their days...good luck with history:
White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush’s Iraq strategy are collapsing around them, according to several administration officials and outsiders they are consulting. They say that inside the administration, debate is intensifying over whether Mr. Bush should try to prevent more defections by announcing his intention to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from the high-casualty neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities.
The scary part of the NY Times article:
The views of many of the participants in that discussion were unclear, and the officials interviewed could not provide any insight into what Vice President Dick Cheney had been telling President Bush.

All the Republicans in Congress have finally realized that they are screwed as long as Bush holds that office. as long as the War goes on. Andrew Sullivan has a terrific piece in today's Sunday Times, "Emperor Bush Unnerves Republicans". It's worth a read, particularly the second half. Here's the ending:

The only thing Washington loves less than a lame-duck president is a completely unpredictable lame-duck president. They are scared that he could do anything, without real consultation. The Libby decision was made just like the decision to author-ise torture: it was done outside the normal channels of government, blindsiding key aides, and shocking the establishment. If he did this once – and he has done it many times – he could do it again. And so, for all his failure and polling dive, he retains the capacity for surprise. Which is the capacity for relevance.

This is all he’s got left. The mighty power of the presidency, a predilection for sudden action, and absolutely nothing to lose. This lame duck, in other words, could quack or fly without warning. And Washington, for all its increasingly open contempt for him, is rattled by the possibility. They don’t know what’s coming; but they know they’ll have to adjust.

In this, perhaps for the first time, even Republicans are having a familiar experience. They now know what it’s like to be a European with this president. And they are longing for it to be over.

All they ever had was the fear card. And now they're even scaring their own. Nearly 40% of the country favors impeaching Mister Bush. I say impeach Cheney first, guilty with Libby, filthy guilty with everything. But it's still a growing number. He may lie about it, but he's not going to reverse himself. It's all just their corporation. It's in their DNA.

How bad is it in Iraq? After a 250 weekend exploded corpse count, the two main factions of the Iraqi government are BOTH urging their people to arm themselves. That's right: defend your family with firepower. As in: No Rule of Law.

The New York Times said in an extraordinarily long editorial this weekend to be orderly about it but just get out. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) senses it is time to set up a vote on the exit. Meanwhile there's an ex-Karl Rove aide whom the Cheney/Bush Administration is trying to block from testifying in Congress on the politicized Federal Prosecutors crime investigation. There's a potential visit to the Senate Judiciary Committee by successful Libby prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

What makes this all so scary is that there are reports that, if true, up the ante with Iran nuclear development stand-off, about tunneling in mountains, most likely to hide or shelter something big, related and dangerous.

At a time when we need true, intelligent, reliable leadership more than ever, all we may get is World War III. I don't believe any of this would be happening had Al Gore been appointed President rather than Mister Bush.

I've noted a number of times that I expect Bush to leave his term, should that come to pass, radioactive. Even if Cheney gets painted as The Influencer, it's The Decider who will seem like a ghoul, a nightmare figure to haunt the dreams of Iraqi children and ours. His henchmen are already unpopular, even if retired.

But if you want to know how unpopular he has become, check out tourism in Crawford, TX, per The Houston Chronicle:
From a wooden bench in front of a shop selling mementos of "The Western White House," tourist Chuck Yorde wondered aloud why he seemed to be the only visitor in town.

"If his poll numbers were up there above 50-60 percent, this place would probably be a little more jumping," said Yorde, surveying the empty parking spots up and down Lone Star Parkway...

...Shuttered storefronts and eroding retail sales figures show tourism and the Bush memorabilia business are slumping in this once-sleepy farm-and-ranch town of 732 residents.

A for-sale sign is the only thing in the smudged window of the turn-of-the-century, two-story brick building that once housed the Crawford Country Style store. "The numbers just weren't working," said Norma Nelson Crow, who closed the shop at the beginning of the year.

Republicanism. Good for the economy.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Another Green World

Even with so much cultural dissonance like watching Simon Le Bon break into a global warming entreaty in the middle of a hard-rocking "Girls on Film" live in London, I have nothing but kind words for Live Earth.

If anyone still doesn't understand why Al Gore isn't running for President again, this is it. Performances on all seven (7) continents. Even Antarctica.

Now that's what I call on-message.

An event like this is such a great concert value, tons of great acts, and this time not a bunch of 60's holdovers.. The Police were the granddaddy act, and even they did a duet ("Message in a Bottle") with Kanye West, some of which worked very nicely, some of which was happily dissonant.

The first clip to pop-up on the Net was, funnily enough, Spinal Tap doing "Big Bottom"...along with every single bassist backstage at Wembley. I'm guessing this is the largest audience that the fake heavy metal band has ever played, and there it was...on message?
The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin'
That's what I said
The looser the waistband, the deeper the quicksand
Or so I have read...

...Big bottom, big bottom
Talk about mud flaps, my girl's got 'em
Big bottom drive me out of my mind
How could I leave this behind?

Maybe a methane tie-in?

One of the finest pleasures of Live Earth is that Gore actually stuck it to everyone by pulling it off, and by everyone I mean the Republican leadership. Here we've got President Cheney and Vessel Bush killing off the Kyoto Treaty and then just a month ago sandbagging German Chancellor Angela Merkel's global environmental initiative.

Even better, Gore got it over on satanic Sen. Jame Inhofe (R-OK), a vociferous global-warming denier who treated Gore with an alarming lack of respect, even insult when Al came back to Capitol Hill to testify. Inhofe was so petty, so beholden to his oil-agarchy masters, so much of a fascist that he vowed to personally block Live Earth from using the U.S. Capitol as a venue.

Gore looked particularly pleased to announce that Inhofe had failed to keep Live Earth off Federal property:

"Some who don't understand what is now at stake tried to stop this event on the Mall," the former Democratic presidential candidate said in a thinly veiled hit on members of President George W. Bush's Republican party.

"But here we are," he said as an image of a bright Earth shined behind him. "And it wasn't the cavalry who came to our rescue, it was the American Indian."

Per Jackson Williams at HuffPost:
Gore took the concert denial in stride and quietly made arrangements with the Smithsonian, specifically their National Museum of the American Indian, to sponsor a Washington concert under their auspices, to take place on the Mall, just two blocks from the Capitol. The surprise announcement only came this week, just 24 hours before today's Live Earth concerts. Inhofe has no control over what takes place on the Mall, of course, but he could have - and no doubt would have - made a stink if he knew that the Smithsonian, a federal institution, was partnering with Gore to get around the roadblock he'd threatened...

...Oh, and just who are the headliners performing at this last minute added concert in D.C.? Why, none other than the superstar Couple of Country Music, Oklahoma native and favorite son Garth Brooks and his wife Tricia Yearwood...

Best served cold.

Finally, can I say how happy am to have James Hatfield in our army? He opened MetallicA's apocalyptic "Sandman" hollering:
"Are you out there?
(crowd roar)

"Make some noise if you give a shit!"

And they vamped under him leading into the next song:
"Are you alive?"

"Are you ALIVE?"

"So tell me, how does it feel to be alive?"
(Crazy Roaring)

"Yeah! Me, too!"

Sound pro-Earth to me.

Oh, and if you want the goodness to continue past the final encore, sign up for saving your planet here.

Friday, July 06, 2007

War on Moore

If the health insurance companies are this scared, eliminating them and finally creating a single-payer national health service must be the right thing to do.

If Fox News is spreading the lie that Universal Health Care leads to terrorism, it must be the right thing to do.

If Fred Thompson worked to help the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association with abortion rights lobbying in 1991, he will almost certainly not be the Republican Presidential nominee in 2008.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


I just saw Ratatouille yesterday, which is excellent and often astonishing and a lot of fun for adults, but it's funny how now I'm thinking about rats and there's Irving Lewis "Scooter" Libby and Fred Thompson.

With Libby there's been a lot of GOP mouthpiece bloviating about how Bush commuting Libby's sentence is somehow the moral equivalent of Bill Clinton as one of his final acts of office pardoning millionaire crook Marc Rich.

While sure, Clinton was wrong to do it, Rich wasn't material to a potential high crime perpetrated in conspiracy including Mister Bush and directed by President Cheney. In fact, there's ample evidence that the Libby defense team put the squeeze on Cheney and got the guaranteed fix from Cheney in return for not calling Dick to testify.

But the most delectable twist of all is this:

Guess who was Marc Rich's lawyer, instrumental in getting the pardon in front of then-President Clinton, and one of the first to call and congratulate Rich once the fix was in?

That's right. The Scoot.

Meanwhile, supposed GOP Presidential savior candidate Fred Thompson turns out to have been a rat who actually squealed, during the 1974 Watergate Hearings, which led to the last Republican President resignation. He was Minority Counsel. He leaked to Nixon and his henchmen what was going on in committee:
The day before Senate Watergate Committee minority counsel Fred Thompson made the inquiry that launched him into the national spotlight -- asking an aide to President Nixon whether there was a White House taping system -- he telephoned Nixon's lawyer.

Thompson tipped off the White House that the committee knew about the taping system and would be making the information public. In his all-but-forgotten Watergate memoir, "At That Point in Time," Thompson said he acted with "no authority" in divulging the committee's knowledge of the tapes, which provided the evidence that led to Nixon's resignation. It was one of many Thompson leaks to the Nixon team, according to a former investigator for Democrats on the committee, Scott Armstrong , who remains upset at Thompson's actions.

"Thompson was a mole for the White House," Armstrong said in an interview. "Fred was working hammer and tong to defeat the investigation of finding out what happened to authorize Watergate and find out what the role of the president was."

They can't handle the truth. They never could.

American Independence

Happy 4th to all U.S. citizens and sympathizers.

We have a great county which needs the resurgence of democracy in the new mega-wealth media web age. That's happening, but maybe not fast enough. Bush/Cheney's FTC has reportedly abandoned Net Neutrality, so I hope Congress saves that freedom. (Here's an easy explanation of what that means.)

America has a virus of which Mister George Bush is one of the most damaging symptoms and President Cheney is Typhoid Mary. Hopefully, in response to the latest infection (Libby's "Get of Jail Free" card), this will help lead to a cure:

The House Judiciary Committee, upset over President Bush's decision to grant clemency to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, will hold a hearing on July 11 to examine presidential clemency power, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the panel's chairman, announced on Tuesday afternoon. No witness list has been released yet.

"In light of Monday's announcement by the president that he was commuting the prison sentence for Scooter Libby, it is imperative that Congress look into presidential authority to grant clemency, and how such power may be abused," Conyers said in a statement released by his office. "Taken to its extreme, the use of such authority could completely circumvent the law enforcement process and prevent credible efforts to investigate wrongdoing in the executive branch."

Let's hope the doctors are effective, and move quickly. America needs its rosy, glorious health back.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Just saw Michael Moore's Sicko tonight. Go go go go go. This is a big agenda-setting movie like An Inconvenient Truth, and I believe that like Al Gore's movie, this one will put a long-dormant issue front and center, right where it needs to be.

If Gore's movie is about what it will take for us to survive as a species, Moore's is about what it will take for us to survive as a nation.

I was just listening on the radio about how President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's defining phrase, "The New Deal", was actually just a single mention near the climax of his first Democratic Convention acceptance speech.

For those of us who are old enough to remember when nobody even imagined Ronald Reagan could be elected President, remember "the common good?" Lower case, but covering everybody?

France does. England and Canada do. Cuba...be prepared to wonder if we've really got it so good. You know, that American exceptionalism thing, that lock on material wealth, at least in the big spreadsheets, that gives us a little license to be smug?

Nobody is working at Moore's level in agitprop documentary. Feature film level, and our audience erupted many times, applauding at the end. He even manages to make George Bush, in the brief shot that opens the movie, entertaining.

Think of it:

1989 Roger and Me
2002 Bowling for Columbine
2004 Fahrenheit 9/11
2007 Sicko

That's a serious body of work. And the in-theater experience of the new one is so good because the stories and the people are great. Although he narrates throughout, Moore keeps his physical presence out of the first half of the movie, building to the picture's great set piece when the filmmaker rents a yacht and takes three 9/11 workers, heroes who can't get the proper treatment in the U.S. for ailments suffered during their volunteer rescue effort, to Guantanamo and then Cuba in search of a cure.

Per former British Labour Party hero Tony Benn, governments should be scared of the people, not the people afraid of the government (V), as Cheney/Rove/Bush have made us. He says the two biggest tools of repression are fear and demoralization. We know what he's talking about. Now Americans need to be pissed enough that we scare our government.

The fact is that everyone knows the U.S. health care system is a nightmare. Moore does a big service digging back to actual Nixon/Ehrlichman moment in 1971 (on tape, natch') when they greenlit starting our current system -- putting our national health care system on a profit basis.

I once read that master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa said his job was to expose the troubles of mankind, that as an artist it was not his job to provide the solutions. But in his practice Moore goes further and, by example and a simple, elegant "common good" summarizing polemic, points the way.

Without overly saying it Moore is basically saying we just have to nationalize the whole thing. Single payer = free and guaranteed health care for all Americans, on demand. Close down and delist Kaiser Permanente, Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

We're the last industrialized Western nation to lack it. We're the wealthiest nation in the world.

If the rest of them get to live a life free of the constant worrying about their family's cost and coverage, why not you and all your fellow Americans?