Tuesday, December 30, 2008

GOP Values

It turns out that the teenage pregnancy of Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter is actually good family business:
According to one source, bidding for the baby photos began at $100,000. People won out in the end, but In Touch was the only other weekly to make serious bids, according to several sources involved in the process.

The price didn't soar immediately, according to the sources, because Sarah Palin stories just didn’t sell all that well for the weeklies on newsstands...

...The drug-related arrest of Johnston's mother, however, caused the price tag for the photos to go up.

“The bidding started well before the baby was born, but once Levi’s mom was arrested — well, then you had a story,” says one editor.

As for how much teen parents Bristol and Levi made from the deal — most estimates hover around the $300,000 range (none of the magazines would confirm the exact figure in the end, which is standard).

That'll keep daddy Levi Johnson's family in oxycontin for quite awhile. Or maybe the dough needs to go to Grandma Sarah's wardrobe, as her tastes grew rather expensive this past Fall. Seems almost like a welfare mother play -- will the Palin kids keep the babies coming?

So after Republican family values, how about their much-vaunted social/cultural values?

There's a little ditty in the news:
It's now becoming clear that there is a good-sized contingent of Republicans who are openly defending Chip Saltsman, the former Tennessee GOP chairman and candidate for RNC chair who sent out a CD to committee members that includes a parody song called "Barack The Magic Negro."

Rally 'round the racist, boys. The claim that this is simply a case of appropriate political satire based on a Los Angeles Times editorial doesn't seem to take into account the degrading impersonation of a black singer by Caucasian conservative satirist Paul Shanklin created for Rush Limbaugh. Feel free to listen for yourself, and if you like it maybe we can revive the touring minstrel shows of yore.

If nothing else, it'll remind you why the rightwing needs to keep away from satire.

Not as easy as, say, Jon Stewart makes it look.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bad and Good

Out with the bad:

While Bush has been briefed on the situation by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, he has opted not to interrupt his final vacation as president to make a public statement on the crisis. For someone who has enjoyed the most vacation days as sitting president — including days spent relaxing in comfort during Hurricane Katrina and in the lead-up to 9/11 — it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Bush prioritizes vacationing over crisis management. ABC News reports:

Even an emerging crisis in the Middle East, one he pledged to resolve just 13 months ago, has not drawn President George W. Bush from his final vacation before leaving office. Despite his personal pledge at Annapolis last year to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians before 2009, this weekend Bush sent his spokesmen to comment in his stead. […]

Since departing Washington for Crawford on Friday, President Bush has made no attempt to be seen in public. In fact, he has yet to leave his ranch.

And in with the good:
In Congress, Democrats from the Golden State are in key positions to write laws to mitigate global warming, promote "green" industries and alternative energy, and crack down on toxic chemicals. Down Pennsylvania Avenue, Californians in the new White House will shape environmental, energy and workplace safety policies...

...The current speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is the most prominent member of the California delegation and she was quietly supportive when a California colleague, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, pushed out Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

In a November caucus election, Waxman narrowly beat Dingell, who held the chair for 16 years and was seen by critics as too protective of the auto industry. Waxman, who has crafted an image as a champion of consumers, taxpayers and the environment, takes over next month. Energy and Commerce handles more than half of the legislation that flows through Congress. Its sprawling portfolio includes climate change, air quality and health matters -- issues that have consumed policymakers in California.

Waxman's counterpart in the Senate is Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee.

I just wrote my Representative Waxman a letter of appreciation for slogging it out the first six dark years of this decade, and kicking ass since 2006.

2008: The curse of living in interesting times.

And an interesting 2009 ahead.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


So with less than a month to go before taking the reins of U.S. foreign policy, President-Elect Barack Obama gets some sudden fences, starting with the Israeli attack on Gaza, in retaliation for the recent resumption by Hamas of missile attacks on southern Israel. The upshot:

Part of what is going on today with Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak's unleashing of massive Israeli airpower against Hamas offices in Gaza is a test of Obama's America. Hamas's decision to end its "lull", or temporary ceasefire with Israel, also has a lot to do with testing the U.S. and seeing what the outlines of Obama's policy will be.

Barack Obama cannot afford to allow his presidency and its foreign policy course to be hijacked by either side in this increasingly blurry dispute. Israel's actions today just created thousands of aggrieved and vengeful relatives committed to delivering some blowback against Israel.

Hamas, at the same time, overplayed its hand at a fragile time. Hamas will never play the role of supplicant or subordinate to Israel's interests -- but its resumption of violence before the Israeli elections and during a time of transition in US politics triggered a devastating response from Israel that significantly undermined its own interests as a potentially responsible steward of a Palestinian state.

The violence we are watching is just yet another installment in the blur of tit-for-tat violence from both sides of this chronic foreign affairs ulcer.

If I were Barack, I'd be reaching for the Pepto-Bismol. Especially when George was fencing me in with this:
Agence France-Presse reports that Georgian officials will sign a "strategic partnership" treaty on Jan. 4 in Washington. On Tuesday, the Department of State issued the first confirmation that the United States and Georgia would pursue a more formal security arrangement.

I suppose it beats a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran, but the Cheney Administration still has four weeks to make it happen.

Impeachment articles would have slowed this.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Mysterious or maybe not so much:

At 3:31 PM Friday, December 19, Michael L. Connell, a top Internet consultant for the Republican National Committee and for the Bush and McCain presidential campaigns, left Washington from the small airport in College Park, Md. Alone at the helm of a single engine Piper Saratoga, Connell's flight plan anticipated arrival at his hometown Akron-Canton Airport in a little over two hours, at 5:43 PM.

Instead, about three miles short of the Akron-Canton Airport, Connell's plane crashed to the ground in an upscale section of Lake Township, killing Connell instantly. "I was standing in the kitchen and I looked out the window and all I saw was fire," Taylor Fano told The Akron Beacon Journal. "It took out the flagpole and the cement blocks surrounding the flagpole . . . . It skidded across the driveway and right in-between a line of pine trees and a small fence around an in-ground pool."

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the accident and has not yet filed a report, but there was no immediate evidence of wrong-doing or sabotage.

Many in the blogosphere have called for further investigation of the crash, suggesting that Connell was about to provide crucial information in the case of alleged vote fraud in the 2004 Ohio presidential contest, and that that information would implicate Karl Rove and others in the Bush administration.

Reminds me of all the "accidental" deaths surrounding the key witnesses in the GOP's last major scandal, Iran-Contra.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bad Santa

Someone's been awfully naughty:
At least six people were killed when a man dressed as Santa Claus entered his former in-laws suburban Los Angeles house and opened fire on guests at a Christmas Eve party before setting the home on fire, police said on Thursday.

Let's hope you had a better Xmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Watchmen Watch

Here's the edge-of-seat thriller in Hollywood tonight:
In a surprise ruling, a federal judge in Los Angeles said he intended to grant 20th Century Fox’s claim that it owns a copyright interest in the “Watchmen,” a movie shot by Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures and set for release in March...

...“Fox owns a copyright interest consisting of, at the very least, the right to distribute the ‘Watchmen’ motion picture,” the ruling said.

If you want to piss off a million militant fanboys, just try screwing with the release of this long-awaited adaptation of Alan Moore's epochal graphic novel, illustrated by Dave Gibbons. Messing up the story could be worse, and there's talk of director Zack "300" Snyder having to cut his film down to a potentially damaging running time (and saving the consolation version for DVD). But what's really interesting here is who's going to get what out of this final distribution arrangement, and if it'll be solved in time to hit the March 2009 release date.

For those who may not have seen the most recent trailer, YouTube doesn't do it justice like the infinitely superior Apple's Quicktime Trailer version, but here goes:

So will Warner Bros get their fair share for taking the risk of making the movie? Will Fox get what the judge says is their due?

Will the picture turn out to be worth it?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Constructive Criticism

A lost art? The Republican noise machine doesn't know how to undermine an elected Democratic official's character anymore:

Nearly two months after Barack Obama's election, Republicans are struggling to figure out how - or even whether - to challenge or criticize him as he prepares to assume the presidency.

The president-elect is proving to be an elusive and frustrating target. He has defied attempts to be framed ideologically. His cabinet picks have won wide praise. An effort by the Republican National Committee to link Obama to the unfolding scandal involving Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois and the accusations that he tried to sell Obama's Senate seat was dismissed by no less a figure than John McCain, the Republican whom Obama beat for the presidency.

The toughest criticism of Obama during this period has come not from the right but from the left, primarily over his selection of Rick Warren, a leading opponent of gay marriage, to deliver the invocation on Inauguration Day.


And here's Foreign Policy magazine's "The 10 Worst Predictions for 2008" led so deservedly by Bill Kristol:
“If [Hillary Clinton] gets a race against John Edwards and Barack Obama, she’s going to be the nominee. Gore is the only threat to her, then. … Barack Obama is not going to beat Hillary Clinton in a single Democratic primary. I’ll predict that right now.” —William Kristol, Fox News Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006

Finally, Josh Marshall delivers the "2008 Golden Duke Award Nominees" which I believe is the only major political journalism award where the merit is based on earning the highest -- or most flamboyant -- score in corruption:

I think this is W.'s year.

Auf wiedersehen.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Classic Model

When you have Clint Eastwood, you don't need special effects.

Gran Torino is old school filmmaking telling a new and vital tale, and at the center of it is that face that from efforts both in front of and behind the camera has earned its place as the representation of cinema in our time. It's a face of a movie star in the sense of not being overexposed, much of that value due to how little it gives away. It isn't the face of a man reeking of neediness for our love, it's the face of the man who draws you in due to his reserve.

When we watch Clint, especially those of us who have been watching him since we first snuck into the R-rated Dirty Harry to get our fixin' of righteous body count, we're looking for any clue that might leak from that face, something to tell us what he's feeling and how to feel. He's the ultimate reaction shot, and one little growl or speck of a grimace can send a whole audience into the shared laughter of relief. But whereas the Harry Callahan Clint taught us that might makes right, Eastwood has been steering an increasingly clear course in another direction beginning with his 1992 masterpiece, Unforgiven. While that movie still had the pleasures of violent catharsis to go with the messier moral about killing another human being, Gran Torino, from a spec screenplay by non-Hollywood newcomer Nick Schenk (story by Dave Johannson & Schenk), takes Eastwood's late-career trajectory to a natural conclusion, and makes believable his claim that this will be his last onscreen role.

A friend just asked me if Clint Eastwood is the John Ford of today, and there are two answers to that question. On one hand, yes, Eastwood is carrying on some of the best aspects of the Ford tradition. He makes Westerns, and Gran Torino is nothing if not a "sunset Western" where the sheriff may be retired in a modern day suburban Detroit neighborhood, but he still keeps his rifle clean and ammo close by. Eastwood also shoots simply, like Ford, allowing the actors to fill the screen with life as opposed to overcutting to indicate emotion, the pictorial values being simple but satisfying, and adding some Boyz in the Hood-style slow drifts from passing gang boy cars and similarly sinuous reverses from Walt Kowalski's (Clint's) porch.

Most of all, like Ford, Clint is engaged in America (as Manohla Dargis points out in her perceptive NY Times review). Herein lies the deeper significance of this movie, what gives it such strong resonance through the Archie Bunker-esque comedy as well as Walt's own journey towards peace. What seems very much like the ultimate John McCain movie, with Walt the Korean War vet still carrying around scars for what he did in the name of saving the people he refers to with racial epithets, ends up fitting well into the radically inclusive Barack Obama era.

Without getting into deep spoilers, the picture opens with the funeral of Walt's wife, whom one surmises was the one thing that kept him tethered to humanity. He's eventually forced to connect with his Hmong neighbors, an agrarian hill people who, suitably, were persecuted by the Communists in Southeast Asia. When the local Hmong gang leans on the neighbor's sweet, uncertain son to steal Walt's vintage Gran Torino as his initiation, a mentoring relationship begins, festooned with the politically incorrect language and plenty of lessons on what it really means to be a man.

The ultimate theme is one of passage, a golden years coming of age, with resonance for a nation that will no longer have a white majority by 2060. It is the sacrifice of those stalwart white American, made under our idealistic, pioneering democratic system, that has created the possibility of a similar life for those of far-flung ethnic background. It is history being written as we're watching it.

And, because he understands cinema so well, Clint know that when one gang draws a gun, the other has to draw a bigger one, and that before the lights come up, those guns must be fired.

From beginning to end, the one emotion I felt towards the movie above all others:



Had a quick conversation with a friend I hadn't seen since the election, a high school social studies teacher with a rather challenging student population over in the Valley. A natural liberal per his place of birth, development and habitation (Santa Monica/Pacific Palisades), in recent years he's gone against the grain in understandable reaction against some of the more kneejerk Westside liberalism, as well as disagreement on key issues with his fellow teachers and union.

Despite any of my reasonable arguments prior to the election, he went ahead and voted for John McCain.

But when he collared me in passing the other day he was actually ebullient over the Obama victory. He said that now that the election was over, he was thrilled -- now that Obama was "his President." Moreover, he said that the kids in his classes were completely activated by the election and gave one big example.

As they have every four years, the teachers at his school held a mock debate between the two candidates. Usually the students are beyond (or below?) apathetic. But, guess what, this time was different. The auditorium was packed. The students were attentive. This time really mattered.

So as our President-Elect enjoys something like an 80% approval rating prior to even taking office, I couldn't be happier, even if clear-eyed about the massive challenges he -- and we -- face ahead.

And he's won over at least one Westside skeptic.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

< 1 Month

For your Sunday morning newsgathering pleasure, I once again present the President-Elect who may have had more press conferences since being elected than the current White House resident has in eight years:

By the way, I'm about halfway through his initial autobiography, Dreams from My Father, and am happy to report that my man-crush has only deepened, as he seems to have grappled with the same political and racial concerns my friends and I were constantly discussing at the same time (late 1970's through mid-1980's), and reaching most of the same conclusions. However, he was doing it as a community organizer, theory-into-action.

Props to the man.

Friday, December 19, 2008

This Year's Lay

Bernie Madoff is every bit as emblematic of this financial era as Enron CEO Kenneth Lay was of his. Is anyone really all that surprised that such a Ponzi scheme could exist in this era of electronic purchase and transfer of derivatives based on bullshit? Especially when Bernie was one of the inventors of electronic trading?

Paul Krugman hits the nail on the head:

Most of all, the vast riches being earned — or maybe that should be “earned” — in our bloated financial industry undermined our sense of reality and degraded our judgment.

Think of the way almost everyone important missed the warning signs of an impending crisis. How was that possible? How, for example, could Alan Greenspan have declared, just a few years ago, that “the financial system as a whole has become more resilient” — thanks to derivatives, no less? The answer, I believe, is that there’s an innate tendency on the part of even the elite to idolize men who are making a lot of money, and assume that they know what they’re doing.
So as we've always suspected, nobody knows anything, and with this debilitating crisis, they know even less.

If there's any lesson of intelligentsia on the Internet, it's that the experts so often aren't, that there's trumping intelligence outside of the career track. In the political Web, it really started with the 2000 Gore-Bush recount and developed over the course of the Bush Administration to fully bloom in this past year.

And now for the financial world.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Longtime readers know that I rarely write about my own life outside of my own reactions to politics or entertainment properties, but I do have to drop a shout-out to my new employers, New Media Strategies. The site linked to above will be dramatically improved in January, with literally hundreds of pages of great new material, an updated look and feel, and a company blog, but the overall gist is that NMS provides industry-leading intelligence, promotion and protection in the social media space, from blogs to videos, for corporations, entertainment companies, and on public affairs issues.

And it is the first job I've had where having a daily blog was a significant factor in securing the position.

I'll have more to say in upcoming days, but having just survived the excellent Xmas party, I do need to conserve my resources and get some rest. The take home message is that social media is now prime time media -- you may even be reading this blog between the hallowed hours of 8:00pm-11:00pm -- and a ten year-old company that has grown with the burgeoning medium can be a huge resource for the appropriate companies.

Peace out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


TPM has a snappy look back at the general election. It has some pretty unpleasant memories along the way, but a very happy ending:

By the way, Democratic-ish McCain supporter Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has the lowest approval rating ever recorded in a Quinnipiac poll. Feel the Joementum!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


So President, I mean, Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney, the behind-the-scenes power behind the Iraq War, admits his guilt in our misbegotten torture policy:
Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that he was directly involved in approving severe interrogation methods used by the CIA, and that the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should remain open indefinitely.

Cheney's remarks on Guantanamo appear to put him at odds with President Bush, who has expressed a desire to close the prison, although the decision is expected to be left to the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Cheney's comments also mark the first time that he has acknowledged playing a central role in clearing the CIA's use of an array of controversial interrogation tactics, including a simulated drowning method known as waterboarding.

"I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared," Cheney said in an interview with ABC News.

Watch the evil yourself:

He's got his defenders as well, including rightwing ideologue Frank Gaffney, who's delighted:
MATTHEWS: You guys sold the war as a nuclear threat to the United States. You sold every trick you cold to get us into this war. And now you're backpedaling. And I do find it astounding....four thousand people are dead because of the way you feel and, Frank Gaffney, you're wrong about this.

GAFFNEY: It is regrettable that they had to die, but I believe they did have to die. The danger was inaction could have resulted in the death of a great many more Americans than 4,000. And that's the reason I'm still delighted that we did what we did.

Tell that to the families of the dead U.S. soldiers, the possibly hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi citizens and the millions displaced, Frank.

So is there any hope in hell that Cheney and his henchmen will be brought to justice?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Oh, that's why.

So as anyone could have predicted, the shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist is now a hero across the Middle East:

Newspapers across the Arab world printed front-page photos of Bush ducking the flying shoes, and satellite TV stations repeatedly aired the incident, which was hailed by the president's many critics in the region.

Many are fed up with U.S. policy and still angry over Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam.

As many as 98,000 Iraqi civilians may have been killed since the war began, according to Iraq Body Count, an independent organization that tracks media reports as well as official figures. The war has cost nearly $576 billion so far, according to the National Priorities Project.

Wafa Khayat, 48, a doctor in the West Bank town of Nablus, called the attack "a message to Bush and all the U.S. policy makers that they have to stop killing and humiliating people."

In Jordan, a strong U.S. ally, a 42-year-old businessman, Samer Tabalat, praised al-Zeidi as "the man. ... He did what Arab leaders failed to do."

The web has delivered a load of shoe-throwing parodies as well, my favorite being the last one on this HuffPo page, featuring The Three Stooges.

My guess is that the incident will be repeated here in the U.S., possibly in mass fashion, once/if El Presidente gets in front of another crowd again soon. Maybe it'll spread even further, like the comical Yippie pie-throwing at public figures usually carried out by Aron Kay.

In case anyone has forgotten why El Presidente might deserve the shoe-pie treatment, he's still wrong, even admitting so, and not the least bit sorry about it:

May this be his political epigram and epitaph:

"Yeah, that’s right. So what?"

Taste the leather, baby.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shoe 'nuff

I think Juan Cole has the most telling comparison:
If you search shoes and Iraq, here is how google shows two BBC stories on December 14, five years apart (they came up together like this at the top of my search):

BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Iraqis celebrate Saddam capture
Dec 14, 2003 ... women ululated and crowds beat pictures of Saddam with shoes. ... where the Saddam statue was toppled at the end of the war, ...
news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3317637.stm - 46k

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Shoes thrown at Bush on Iraq trip
Dec 14, 2008 ... President Bush's farewell visit to Iraq is marred by an incident in which two shoes are thrown at him during a news conference.
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7782422.stm - 8 hours ago

Yep, El Presidente Bush dodged a shoe aimed at his head by an Iraqi journalist, with the hurling of shoes considered the utmost expression of contempt in that country:

I guess free speech has finally come to Iraq -- the very reason we took down Saddam.

Mission Accomplished!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


This afternoon I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., which documents the Nazi genocide of the European Jewish population, along with some important documentation of the same treatment of homosexuals, the physically and mentally handicapped, some Slavic peoples (Russian, Polish), Roma (gypsies), Jenovah's Witnesses, Communists and other political dissidents.

The experience is, I believe for almost all who visit, a very emotional one, as it certainly was for me. The self-guided tour starts on the fourth floor and winds down to the first, in a building designed to replicate the look and feel of the concentration camp crematoriums. It begins with Hitler's assumption of power in 1933 (the party never received more than roughly 1/3 of the German electorate vote), with anti-Jewish action happening extremely quickly, the new Chancellor and his party consolidating power in "shock doctrine" fashion must more quickly than anyone imagined. The feeling moving through the fourth floor is somewhat claustrophobic, as the exhibits are mounted facing each other across a relatively narrow hall.

Without going into great detail, the generally feeling welling up inside of me was one of mounting, righteous anger, but as the history progresses down a floor and into the ghettoizing, internment, enslavement, and both mass and mechanized execution of innocent Jewish men, women and children, the anger gives way to horror. The museum wisely puts walls between the visitors and the most disturbing video exhibits so that only adults can look over them -- nightmarish Nazi "medical" experiments and the most graphic concentration camp liberation footage -- but you pass chillingly through a cattle car and Auschwitz barracks along the way.

The stuff that get my tear ducts going is always when, in the face of personal danger, someone who might just as easily look the other way or participate in the evil reaches out to help, and the latter portion of the museum devoted to such heroes as an oppositional Protestant church in the South of France that saved kids, the great people of Denmark who hid Jews in coastal towns and smuggled them to Sweden, the great but doomed Raoul Wallenberg, the brave Sophie and brother Hans Scholl, among a documented (and still added to) list of those who worked against the Nazi genocide, it had the same effect on me.

By the time we get to the liberation and Nuremberg Trials it's all a bit late, not quite enough relief and certainly not enough justice, considering all the declined trials and commuted sentences thanks to both German and American governmental bureaus. A section near the end on the child victims serves as a reminder that the young and old (and pregnant) were taken away and killed right off the cattle cars at most camps. Pure hell on earth.

As a Jew I get into a bit of mental role-playing whenever delving into Holocaust history, imagining if I would have grabbed my family and left at the first sign of trouble, or the second, of the tenth. The problem is that as the 1930's progressed, no matter your means, there was less and less opportunity to go anywhere. You had to pay increasing fees to the Nazi government to get out, you had less and less means as your business was restricted and then confiscated, and worst of all you had a dwindling (to zero) number of places to go. A big shame in our U.S. history is that our State Department was Anti-Semitic -- we didn't even allow our designated quota of Europeans into the country during some of these years. The "ship of fools" boat from Germany tried many ports including Havana and Miami, only to be turned back (more horror). And you would have needed to get far away, as Hitler took over the neighboring countries, none being safe.

My conclusion upon leaving this essential museum is two-fold.

For one, I believe America has taken a huge step towards avoiding a similar situation here with the election of Barack Obama as President. It is by no means a guarantee of backsliding, especially if we get hit with the kind of economic depression that powered such a development of inherent racism in Germany at the Nazi takeover, but it certainly speaks greatly of our nation's values as enshrined in our Constitution, especially after an unsettling consolidation of single party power from which we've just emerged.

The other notion is that we need more museums like this, for other holocausts, like the Turkish genocide against Armenians that Hitler uses to justify his belief that the world would ignore and forget whatever Germany did to the Jews, like the Serbian genocidal program of the 1990's, and the current genocide in Sudan.

The one that's still going on, as I write this.

Friday, December 12, 2008

President Gore

This just in from the U.S. Supreme Court:
WASHINGTON—In an unexpected judicial turnaround, the Supreme Court this week reversed its 2000 ruling in the landmark case of Bush v. Gore, stripping George W. Bush of his earlier political victory, and declaring Albert Arnold Gore the 43rd president of the United States of America.

The court, which called its original decision to halt manual recounts in Florida "a ruling made in haste," voted unanimously on Wednesday in favor of the 2000 Democratic nominee.

Gore will serve as commander in chief from Dec. 10 to Jan. 20.

Wow, that could just make me cry. Like chopping up an Onion.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


So Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's $700,000,000,000 bailout of the finance industry is entirely without oversight. They don't even have office space for the Congressional oversight-ers. And now the Detroit auto bailout is running into major roadblocking from Senate Republicans because they want the auto workers to accept deep cuts in wages.

Yep...it still pays to be rich.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Frosted Dick

I heartily enjoyed Frost/Nixon on a number of levels. For one, it's set up and played like a boxing match, which plays into the second level of enjoyment, that Ron Howard has made a piece of not-very-visually-spectacular history into something that might actually reach people by making it clear and understandable, not unlike my personal favorite of his movies, Apollo 13 (ripped off for Oscars by Mel Gibson/Braveheart?). The third level is performance -- not only is Frank Langella terrific as Nixon, but Michael Sheen does a great David Frost, both reprising their performances from the play by Peter Morgan, who also did the screenplay.

But what I liked best about the movie, and something I felt slightly lacking in Oliver Stone's admirably ambitious W., is the success in capturing Richard Nixon's character. While the Stone movie missed a key element of El Presidente Bush, namely his cruel cunning (he knew how to win elections by undercutting like a preppy frat president might win over a room), Morgan, Howard and Langella caught that particularly needy ambition of Nixon's, where the very thing that made him admirable -- his intelligence pulling him up out of low circumstances of birth -- was his undoing in a way emblematic of the times in which he rose.

Let me explain.

As TV's Mad Men and James Ellroy's American Tabloid so accurately depict, there's a period in 20th Century American history where the difference between what was seen and what was hidden in society was rolling downhill to a tipping point. Even now there are differences between the public perception of how business is done -- and government and sex/romance -- and what really happens behind the scenes. I believe it was a hell of a lot worse back then, as the older, more brutal ways of society bumped up against the powerful image of The American Dream, reaching a tipping point with the lies of the Vietnam War that sent American youth into the streets and led to the first big call for transparency, climaxing with Nixon's Watergate scandal.

In the movie, Nixon asks about the price of things -- just between friends -- and looks for the hidden motives behind everyone's actions, with a predilection to ascribe actions of others to their ethnicity or religion. This fascination with how things really work, clear-eyed to him but cynical to others, was part-and-parcel of his ambition. As a bright young man who got into Harvard and Yale but couldn't attend because he lacked the financial means, Nixon always felt looked down upon by the swells, an inferiority complex that drove him to doing anything to win, hence the dirty tricks dating back to his college election days. He wouldn't really ever apologize for them because that was how the world worked -- to him President Lyndon Johnson installed the tape recorder, President John F. Kennedy got us into Vietnam, he took no real personal responsibility for his own actions extending both of those practices.

It is interesting how the revival of interest in the original interviews with the release of the feature has coincided with El President Bush's interview with Charlie Gibson, a similar attempt to rescue his legacy. While the lack of personal responsibility is similar, the intellectual curiosity level is monumental:

But the failing in Nixon's own intellectual curiosity, as so well depicted in Frost/Nixon, is that he always ended up drawing the same shrunken conclusions. That's how things really work. And I'm the smartest man in the room, so I know I'm right.

What a waste.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Crooked Gov

Nice to see the left side of the blogosphere dumping on disgraceful and felonious Illinois Governor Ron Blagojevich. Since I'm blogging from my Blackberry and it's tiresome to try and embed links, I won't be adding any tonight, but please note if you do surf around that there has been no circling of the wagons as is usual with GOP scandals. Bad is bad, and stupid-bad is just plain hilarious. What is that, 4 out of the 5 most recent Illinois Governors scandal-ridden? And they say the Midwest can get boring.

Also note that while this crook was looking for paydays for himself and his wife along with squeezing local journalists who didn't cover him favorably, it's small potatoes compared to giving away our U.S. Treasury to cronies, pillaging pension funds, or turning over a conquered country to private businesses like Exxon and Halliburton.

Or lying our way into an unnecessary war.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Bad News

So the newspaper industry is going down the tubes, with The Tribune Company declaring bankruptcy (after over-leveraging to purchase newspapers and then shearing off high-quality newsroom talent to try and pay the debt), McClatchy putting The Miami Herald up for sale (staggering under debt used to purchase Knight-Ridder newspapers), and The New York Times taking out a loan against their brand new (super expensive) building like some 2000-2007 homeowner using his house as an ATM.

Why-oh-why are the newspapers dying? Is it the Internet, with Craigslist killing the classified ad business? Could the newspapers have been proactive and cornered that market? Is it the Internet, with its audience expecting to read all the news that's fit to click for free? Is it the Internet, with its real-time reporting on news event?

Maybe, or maybe it was TV before that, or maybe nobody really reads anymore, or maybe the newspapers are cutting the very things that they can do better than everyone else in the first place: in-depth reporting. When you cut the more expensive, i.e. more experienced, reporters, you cut not just the heart but the quality out of the newspaper.

I don't read The Los Angeles Times for the graphic layout, I read it because I want a reflective news experience, the kind you only get with print. That paper is thinner now, with fewer in-depth articles bringing important issues to light, with a Sunday paper that no longer has separate sections for op-eds or book reviews, and a magazine that only comes once a month and then has to built around some sort of sales initiative, like fashion or travel.

Tina Brown, who's Daily Beast website just debuted recently, is even harsher, and since she's been in that biz for ages, she should know:
As great newspapers, magazines, TV networks, and publishing houses dismember themselves around us, it would be marginally consoling if the pink slips were going to those who contributed so vigorously to their companies’ accelerating demise—the feckless zombies at the head of corporate bureaucracies who cared only about the next quarter’s numbers, never troubled to understand the DNA of the companies they took over, and installed swarms of “Business Affairs” drones to oversee and torment the people “under” them. There are floors of these creatures in any behemoth media company, buzzing about each day thwarting new ideas or, worse, having “transformative” ideas of their own when what is usually required is to revive, with a bit of steadfast conviction, the originating creative purpose of the enterprise. It’s the same with the auto companies.
It gets tougher from there, clearly written from experience, including the inability to actually get a meeting with or response from the business affairs types who are doing the dismembering. These papers may be profitable but its not enough in today's day and age, profits have to be big, because they're just "assets" that create "product".

I firmly believe the blogosphere requires real newspaper reporting sources so there's truth to find and link to, but maybe there will be a new age where real journalism grows in an Internet-only (or Internet-to-TV) format. For those of us who like to read letters off reflected light with our early morning tea or coffee, it just won't be the same.

What we lose in journalism, let's just hope we can save in trees.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Thanks to a valued reader for this link to Mark Schmitt's smart-smart (as usual) analysis of the two most vocal sides on how Obama should open his administration in order to take best advantage of political capital, and then presenting his own opinion, drawn from FDR and Reagan as well as how Obama conducted his campaign, "The Audacity of Patience":
Given that Obama's expanding coalition was sustainable through the long journey from Iowa to Election Day, what if we assume it could be sustained and even consolidated in the White House? Rooted in the center-left, but reaching Blue Dog Democrats, independent voters, and a few Republican legislators, it would not always be the same coalition, but like Reagan's, an evolving, overlapping, flexible majority. Reagan brought in very conservative Southern Democrats to pass the first budget cuts but found common ground with liberal and moderate Democrats on the tax reform of 1986 and with each step strengthened the conservative consensus. Obama could do the same for a new liberal consensus.
I highly recommend reading the whole piece, as I think it's so much closer to Obama's temperament than anything you're seeing, hearing, reading anywhere else. And it's not too long.

Speaking of not too long, we're six weeks away from Inauguration, and take a look how it's coming along.

The YouTube President

As a public service, here's President-elect Barack Obama's new Saturday YouTube address, his fourth and most important yet, where he announces his big public works plan to pull us out of recession/depression:

Looking ahead, if Obama does one of these a week for his full term that will be roughly 220 videos @ 5 minutes each. If he gets a second full term we're looking at roughly 18 hours of Obama weekly addresses, surely more than enough for a DVD boxed set.

That is, if DVDs are still being sold in 2016.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Hard Times

The November unemployment figures are the worst in decades -- since 1974 to be exact. Robert Reich asks whether we should call it a depression yet:
We are falling off a cliff. To put these numbers into some perspective, the November losses alone are the worst in 34 years. A significant percentage of Americans are now jobless or underemployed -- far higher than the official rate of 6.7 percent. Simply in order to keep up with population growth, employment needs to increase by 125,000 jobs per month.

Note also that the length of the typical workweek dropped to 33.5 hours. That's the shortest number of hours since the Department of Labor began keeping records on hours worked, back in 1964. A significant number of people are working part-time who'd rather be working full time. Coupled with those who are too discouraged even to look for work, I'd estimate that the percentage of Americans who need work right now is approaching 11 percent of the workforce. And that percent is likely to raise.

When FDR took office in 1933, one out of four American workers was jobless. We're not there yet, but we're trending in that direction.
So is anyone coming out on top through the Bush years?

Funny you should ask:
  • 2006 marked the fourth straight year in which income gains at the top outpaced those among the rest of the population. Since 2002, the average inflation-adjusted income of the top 1 percent of households has risen 42 percent, whereas the average inflation-adjusted income of the bottom 90 percent of households has risen about 4.7 percent.
  • As a result, the share of the nation’s income flowing to the top 1 percent has increased sharply, rising from 15.8 percent in 2002 to 20.0 percent in 2006. Not since 1928, just before the Great Depression, has the top 1 percent held such a large share of the nation’s income. (See Figure 1.) In 2000, at the peak of the 1990s boom, the top 1 percent received 19.3 percent of total income in the nation.
Disparate Wealth = Depression Conditions.

Well, you know what George Santayana famously said about those who cannot -- or, in Bush and his GOP generation's case, refuse -- to learn from history...

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Mumbai Story

I don't want to drop any spoilers for Slumdog Millionaire, but since seeing it last night there's a scene I can't shake that I think gives the movie it's ultimate street cred. This is essentially a very modern Frank Capra movie set in the Mumbai section of Bombay, India, and it's amazing that the movie has come out almost simultaneously with the coordinated assault that killed so many people there last week. The main characters in the movie are, as young children, victims of anti-Muslim violence which leads to their harrowing lives on the streets. Not incidentally, the terrorists who attacked last week claimed to be doing so in retaliation for the pain inflicted by the Hindu majority on their people.

Capra gets a bit maligned for being "corny" but it's his imitators more than the man himself who have tarnished his reputation by not earning their sentiment. There's an argument to be made of a certain commercial calculation in Slumdog Millionaire, but I think the powerful depiction of poverty and indictment of those who inflict cruelty on those less powerful more than balances any of the uplift. And the movie is colorful, jammed full of youthful energy, and musically propulsive, with the best end credit sequence in memory.

This is director Danny Boyle's masterpiece (yes, better even than Trainspotting), from a script by Simon Beaufoy (who wrote The Full Monty) this from an Indian novel source. It's using a certain amount of audience pleasing storytelling to bring the more desperate, urgent vision to our multiplexes.

The National Board of Review just named it their best picture of the year. Looks like the one to beat for the big Oscar at the end of the line.


I'm into the Obama cabinet. It is a cabinet of superstars, filling out with Gov. Bill Richardson at Commerce, Hillary set to get a rescinded pay raise from Congress so she can take over at State, all of it saying that Obama (and America now) means business. With the world.

Here's where Obama predicted Hillary working for him:

Here's all our Presidents, from first to -Elect:

Things are morphing in D.C. Big time.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


If you can't get enough of the Barack Obama brand or at least the now classic Shepard Fairey version of it, try turning your very own photos into Obama '08 versions with a nifty Photo Booth (Mac) plug-in. (Thanks for correction, Dubi!)

Still time to get your special edition Victory T-shirt as well!




Monday, December 01, 2008


Gus Van Sant's Milk, from a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, is a landmark film about a landmark politician, San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician to be elected to major office in the U.S. and a martyr to the cause. What's so striking about the movie, besides the top-level skill with which it's been made and the performances, is the successful melding of a mainstream movie sensibility with an unabashedly, unashamedly gay point of view. So while an elderly woman with whom I saw the movie was a little uncomfortable with the steamy romantic scenes between the male leads, she was nonetheless moved by the picture and found it "excellent." While that may not mean huge box office between the coasts, it does mean that Milk moves the cinematic tolerance bar a previously unimaginable difference -- much as the Presidential Election did less than a month ago.

(WARNING: Some spoilers below, although most of it in the public record.)

On the flip side, there's no doubt that the passage of the gay marriage-bashing Proposition 8 in California lends a greater urgency to the film, particularly as one major sequence covers the battle back then against Proposition 6, which was a rabid attempt to ban gay teachers in schools, as well as (hello, Joe McCarthy) any other teachers who stood up for their gay colleagues. As a piece of agitprop, thanks to that current event, the movie doesn't give the comforting feeling of "work done" that deadens the value of some political pictures. If anything, it deepens the sense that gay rights (i.e. marriage, adoption) are the last major battlefield for civil rights.

Some criticism has been leveled against Milk for being a bit too mainstream in its storytelling. Truth be told, there's a lot of situations here you've seen before -- the rousing "Norma Rae" moments, the long-suffering partner (here James Franco rather than, say, Jennifer Connolly), the dread-implicit destiny a la Gandhi and others. But the twist is a powerful one, giving voice to all those gay men who hid in closets or (per the opening newsreel footage) suffered humiliating arrest for socializing together in the drinking establishment of their choice. And there's a lot more craft in Van Sant's filmmaking here than such critics may be crediting the picture.

Gus Van Sant made a big splash in 1989 with his fantastic second feature, Drugstore Cowboy, an honest, funny, surprisingly entertaining depiction of a criminal gang of prescription medicine dealers. While he hit some commercial peaks with Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester, his most recent movies have been lower-budgeted arthouse experiments: Paranoid Park, Last Days, Elephant, Gerry. With their hyper-extended takes, poetically realistic textures and lack of standard psychologizing, these have been almost determinedly non-commercial projects, even if Elephant, a chilling and unusual take on a Columbine-type massacre, did win the biggest prize at Cannes. In some ways, however, the rigor and discoveries in these endeavors lend special qualities to Milk. Even if the shots aren't held as long, they have great integrity, including some Elephant-ine tracking shots at the climax, echoing the same mortal dread if not as punishingly as in the earlier film.

There are two motifs that stood out for me, albeit neither hit so often as to be overly obvious. One is the reflections that foreshadow death, most prominently on a silver whistle lying on the ground (Harvey and a cop standing over a dead gay-bashing victim) and of Dan White, Harvey's fellow Supervisor, in the television screen as he watches Harvey on TV. The other is the shooting through windows, often the Castro Street camera store out of which Harvey and his political team operated, most memorably with an early scene of getting a nasty greeting from an anti-gay neighboring merchant. The two motifs come together in Harvey's office in his final moments, with a rather startling and poignant view from his window, Harvey's last.

Yet for all the deceptively straight-forward storytelling skill, it is the performances Van Sant has elicited from his actors that takes the movie into that loftier sphere, anchored by Sean Penn in arguably his best performance to date. Penn channels Harvey Milk in a way that pays off the promise of much, much earlier roles -- The Falcon & the Snowman, Carlito's Way, where he seemed like entirely different people than any Sean Penn we've perceived elsewhere, uniquely individual yet highly credible character creations. The rest of the cast is perfect as well, although standouts for me are Emile Hirsch (whom Penn directed so well in Into the Wild) as street hustler-turned-activist Cleve Jones, and Josh Brolin as the ill-fated Dan White, once again disappearing into the role and making him empathetic enough to actually earn some audience sympathy.

I got plenty of tears in my eyes during Milk and was glad to have them for a movie of real and, I believe, lasting value. There's nothing synthetic about the wrongs that Harvey Milk addressed in his life, and one can only hope that the remaining injustices get turned around within the next decade if not the next five years. As with previous civil liberalizations by the American public, a big-hearted, powerful mainstream (studio indie) movie like this is bound to make a difference.

The release timing could not have been better.