Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bully Pulpit

At 3:00 in, the President gives it to the Wall Street bonus gang:

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) goes all the way to offering a bill capping their salaries. If that doesn't scare the high capitalist class, I'm not sure what will. Yes, regulating prices, wages and productivity is what the GOP would call Socialism. But at an average of $2,600,000 in executive pay for the execs at banks bailed out by taxpayers -- $18 billion worth -- they deserve nothing less. In fact, I'd like to see if any of it is actionable. Like, prison actionable.

As for the Republicans trying to win by standing in the way of Obama's stimulus package or maybe twisting it into another tax giveaway to the wealthy, Frank Rich has the goods:

If anything, the Republican Congressional leadership seems to be emulating John McCain’s September stunt of “suspending” his campaign to “fix” the Wall Street meltdown. For all his bluster, McCain in the end had no fixes to offer and sat like a pet rock at the White House meeting on the crisis before capitulating to the bailout. His imitators likewise posture in public about their determination to take action, then do nothing while more and more Americans cry for help.

The problem is not that House Republicans gave the stimulus bill zero votes last week. That’s transitory political symbolism, and it had no effect on the outcome. Some of the naysayers will vote for the revised final bill anyway (and claim, Kerry-style, that they were against it before they were for it). The more disturbing problem is that the party has zero leaders and zero ideas. It is as AWOL in this disaster as the Bush administration was during Katrina.

While the GOP likes to complain about "class warfare" the fact is that they have brought it on and it is plain for every American to see. The plutocratic class in this country has derivative-ized the financial assets of the masses to the point that the Middle Class are losing their homes, their jobs, their life savings all in one fell swoop -- while those at the top reward themselves with taxpayer money, i.e. more dollar from the very classes they have shat upon. They're lucky there aren't guillotines on Wall Street, but then again this ain't over yet.

The face of the 2009 Republican Party isn't Michael Steele, it's Rush Limbaugh. If an elected Republican criticizes him he is forced to turn around and grovel for forgiveness. Rush is the voice of the GOP in openly articulating the desire for Obama to fail -- and, hence, for this economic meltdown to metastasize all the way into a second, even more devastating Great Depression. But they'll still have their radio contract money, their bonuses, their Oxycontin.

But the ads using Rush are coming now, being used against the GOP by progressive interest groups:

That face, I've seen it somewhere before...on HBO Sunday nights for almost a decade.

And maybe, like Tony himself, he won't see what's coming.

Friday, January 30, 2009


I could write about Obama on greed or Biden's new Middle Class Task Force or McCain defending Limbaugh or House Republican Leader John Boehner lying that there is $200 million for contraception in the stimulus package (it's actually a $200 million savings in the same area) or Michael Steele -- congrats to the GOP for breaking the color line in party leadership, even if it did have to be with a Republican. But all that really matters is that Battlestar Galactica ends in seven episodes, and tonight it once again proved why it is so far and away the best dramatic series currently on television.


No other American series (or one anywhere?) is dealing seriously with the ambiguities of armed insurrection by a democratic populace. I don't know another series that would even try. It seems like a feature film theme, Costa-Gavros or Winterbottom or Greengrass. Or Warren Beatty. But BSG (the acronym isn't exactly proper, but it's what's caught on) is going all the way, every single character we care about in a jackpot situation at tonight's "To Be Continued" card -- the President about to be assassinated, the Commander of Galactica and his first mate are cornered, holding off a squadron, the first cylon mother of a human-cylon hybrid is imprisoned with her child and wounded husband and threatened with rape, and the Commander's son and their best flyer, the young romantic leads, with a skeletal crew of loyalists, are the only hope for retaking the ship from the mutineer uprising.

Emotional arcs set in motion back in the first season (this is #4, or 4.5 as it seem to have broadcast) are paying off big-time, and based on the preview for next week it seems there's cashing out to be had as well. Ron Moore and David Eick, and their team of writers have been grappling with all the darkest questions that have run through the Bush years, and its fitting that the series is ending now, one wonders if it might be a note of ambiguity or a definitive verdict on the ability of humankind to both survive and evolve. Because ever since the cylon fleets destroyed all known human planetary populations, leaving us finally with @ 39,000 nomads looking for a new home, it's been a very material jackpot situation for humanity itself.

While this sci-fi series is played for real, nothing hokey, never metatextually jokey, it does have one particularly larger than life character at the center, and that's Katee Sackhoff's Starbuck. When Starbuck finally kicked into what she does best tonight, i.e. devastating righteous violence, I stood up in front of the TV and stayed there for the rest of the episode. Sackhoff is leaving it all on the floor now, ever since hollering "What am I?" over and over two episodes ago on Earth, maybe before, but she's created a new kind of female hero, the next generation past Sarah Connors of Terminator fame, the most lethal character with the strongest, simplest code. It's a more extreme form of role reversal than we've ever seen on television before, and the directness, the sudden firmness of her move to kiss Lee Adama in their strategy huddle between action sequences was her signaling her return, her leadership, her assurance.

And then there was other kiss between Commander Adama and President Roslin, the elder romantic leads and leaders of our civilization,finally revealing their love without pretense on the forgotten storage flight deck, their friends around them for the first time, an on-the-fly wedding, on the edge of their dangerous parting. Olmos, McDonnell, Sackhoff all Emmy-worthy.

They got John Dahl to direct and he did a feature-style job, particular Adama and Tigh setting up their last stand -- all Kurosawa and Peckinpah in masculinity and camera placement, especially the three shot sequence of Adama firing at the door just before the grenade is thrown in on them.

Unlike more typical series, BSG has rarely sat still, and the tension has been up and down over the past four years. But this is something bigger, and I hope it does turn out to be both surprising and satisfying in the conclusion. Where is that destination? I can't say for sure, but tonight I had an epiphany.

The ultimate arc of the series is about human evolution. There hybrid babies were all flukes, unprecidented, hence the product of either a plan we don't understand or, more likely in retrospect, natural evolution, Darwin 101. The natural mutations that occur and are needed to survive external changes in climate, food source, and interspecies threat.

So my theory is that the drama we're seeing played out is, with a step back from the intricate human stories taking us through, really about winnowing out the race to those most equipped to survive, in this case those willing to accept that the very machines we created are now independently sentient enough for us interbreed with them in order to survive as a species. Yes, we'll be different. But (and this is where the cylon search for God folds in) we'll still have a soul.

It's not dissimilar from the ultimate theme of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, where an alien race intercedes with our species every 200,000-odd years to goose our evolution. In that film a signal trace sends a crew of humanity's best and most fit -- astronauts -- to reach the signal source. However, only one representative of humanity makes it all the way, ultimately being evolved (after "death") into the Nietzchean Star-Child. Our best and our brightest, the individual apex of humanity as he has proven himself -- ironically (in light of BSG) by disabling mankind's most advanced tool, the mutinous H.A.L. supercomputer.

So while BSG doesn't have the particular formalism of Kubrick's masterwork, it is grappling with similarly monumental themes, albeit within the rubric of the best action show on television since Band of Brothers. It's obviously more character-oriented than 2001 (what isn't, the dictionary?) and warmer for that reason, but it doesn't skimp on bad news, hard choices, good guys doing questionable things like, say, America for the past eight years.

So as Bush goes out, leaving behind the stench of his doomsday, mounting in his wake (will we eventually count over 100,000 jobs lost this past week?), the question BSG asks is whether we've got what it takes to survive and prevail. It's the question we're asking ourselves as our one sliver of light has taken office. And it's going to take all of us making choices, all of us balancing our perceived needs for our selves and our families with a sense of the common good.

Will we pull together enough to survive?

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Another distraction eliminated. On his own terms Illinois Ex-Governor Rod Blagojavich might be making sense in his comparisons to nobility, but once you got past the buttery radio voice and pathological self-assurance, it was as if Rod lived in an alternative universe and was just trying to slide you into it as well, while you were listening:

The Obama team has been mum ever since Patrick Fitzgerald went public with the wiretap reveal, but today the President released a simple, clear, consistent statement:
Today ends a painful episode for Illinois. For months, the state had been crippled by a crisis of leadership. Now that cloud has lifted. I wish Governor Quinn the best and pledge my full cooperation as he undertakes his new responsibilities.

Next distraction-elimination target: obstructionist Limbaugh Republicans.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Andrew Sullivan nails the difference, evident in just one week on the job, between new President Obama and ex-President Bushie:
At times, Bush's indifference to the system around him bordered on a kind of political autism. And so one of the oddest aspects of Bush's presidency was his tendency to declare things as if merely saying them as president could make them so...

...Now look at Obama. What the critics misread in his Inaugural was its classical structure. He was not running any more. He was presiding. His job was not to rally vast crowds, but to set the scene for the broader constitutional tableau to come to life. Hence the obvious shock of some Republican Congressman at debating with a president who seemed interested in actual conversation, as opposed to pure politics...

...If Bush was about the presidency as power, Obama is about the presidency as authority.

What has that self-restraint wrought so far? Obama's stimulus bill passed the House today -- with every single Republican Representative voting against it. The Asian markets have, in immediate response, rallied. Obama has just hosted a cocktail party of GOP and Dem Senate and House members. Who's going to turn down that invite? He walks into the Capitol to negotiate, unimaginable for George W. Bush, and rather than diminishing his stature, he seizes the spotlight -- cool and at the helm.

What does the GOP have to show for its collective strategic genius? Only 5 states out of 50 are solid or lean Republican now. And they can't even agree on a new leader.

Of course they voted against the stimulus. It was essentially their abstention, no longer a critical element of the discourse -- to a Representative.

How it will go in the Senate, I don't know. McCain says he'll vote against, which is essentially the endorsement of that position by the definitive loser of the entire political scene. I'm not sure if it will happen in the Senate this time around, but my prediction is that as Obama's program goes through, he keeps the Dems in Congress fairly in line, markets start to rally on confidence of investment and leadership, and some of these GOoPers start to break free. Especially in states where Obama's approval rating is way above where he polled on Election Day, states he might have lost back then but could be on track to win for the Party in 2010 or himself again in 2012.

And when that happens, if it happens enough, the Republican Party will hit maximum chaos. If they're smart, they'll redefine themselves in relation to The Presider's vision rather than in opposition to it.

Because Obama is, as a community organizer, part teacher. But the Republicans still haven't learned their lesson.

They will.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Actor Chat

Oscar time coming up again, and Newsweek with the actor round table. They shoot these in advance of the nominations and invariably there's an actor in the group who doesn't get a nod, some might say they get robbed. This time it's Sally Hawkins who won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Music for Happy-Go-Lucky. But the conversation is almost 100% interesting, an insight into process and camaraderie.

Besides Ms. Hawkins the participants are Frank Langella, Brad Pitt, Anne Hathaway, Robert Downey Jr., and Mr. Mickey Rourke.

The article has a few passages not in the accompanying clips, but most of it is on video. Here's a taste:

Monday, January 26, 2009

America's Return

The old site was Sorry Everybody and had zillions of submissions from all over the U.S. -- and all over the World.

The new site is Hello Everybody and it is just kicking in, big blast fresh air. I like the folks representing America, and I especially love the wonderful support from our friend around the World.

Here's my fave so far.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Last Week/This Week

These are the nicest First Family photos rounding out the Inauguration, emphasis on family. It's been over forty years since there was a family of four with young kids in the White House. (With two boys similar in ages to Malia and Sasha, it's easy to relate.) More of our national return to normal, which will hopefully include an economic rebound within the next 12-18 months.

Looking ahead, there's word that Obama will do exactly what California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked, another fit of sanity, allowing states to set tougher auto emissions standards -- something Ex-Presidente Bush/Cheney would not allow. It's another campaign promise being acted upon swiftly.

In fact, you can track them here.

Post-Inaugural Bump

Here's the first weekly video address from the Office of the PRESIDENT:

How cool is it that we have a President with a YouTube page? And how cool is it that we have a President who can do The Bump?

Tomorrow: Week 2 Begins.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Yes We Did

Any thought that Barack Obama might be the kind of weak-kneed librul so often caricatured by Republicans (and so often played into by Democrats past) was belied by several events on the Friday of his first week as President.

First, the use of military force:
Suspected U.S. missiles killed 18 people on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border Friday, security officials said, the first attacks on the al-Qaida stronghold since President Barack Obama took office. At least five foreign militants were among those killed in the strikes by unmanned aircraft in two parts of the frontier region, an intelligence official said without naming them. There was no information on the identities of the others.

Then, the "abortion gag rule" overturned by Executive Order:
President Barack Obama on Friday struck down the Bush administration's ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information -- an inflammatory policy that has bounced in and out of law for the past quarter-century.

Obama's move, the latest in an aggressive first week reversing contentious Bush policies, was warmly welcomed by liberal groups and denounced by abortion rights foes.

But perhaps best of all, during a bipartisan informational session on the economic stimulus bill that the new President wishes to have in place by mid-February:
President Obama listened to Republican gripes about his stimulus package during a meeting with congressional leaders Friday morning - but he also left no doubt about who's in charge of these negotiations. "I won," Obama noted matter-of-factly, according to sources familiar with the conversation.

So while the Republican leadership is falsifying talking points based on non-existent Congressional Budget Office reports, Obama is once again reminding them of reality, something they haven't really had to deal with for eight years.

He won, big time. The first completely indisputable (not a plurality, no Supreme Court decision) first-time Presidential candidate victory since George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Yes. He. Did.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Man of his Word

A friend of mine who worked for George Bush in 2000, turned against him but abstained in 2004, and worked for Obama in 2008 always used to say that he couldn't vote for any politician if he didn't know where he stood. Case in point was Hillary Clinton, who's famous "triangulation" meant that he was never sure if she meant what she said or would flip it around based on political winds. Same with John Kerry -- not enough definition.

Hence his staunch support for Barack Obama, and here's yet another case study from just a couple days of actual governance that our new President meant what he said:

And yet another:

Seems almost lost in the hub bub of all that is happening these past few days, but yesterday President Obama issued an order that eliminates one of George Bush and Alberto Gonzalez's first vile collaborations.

A nasty little executive order Bush issued to make secrecy the rule of his administration.

Executive Order 13233 limited access to the records of former United States Presidents. It was drafted by then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and issued by President George W. Bush on November 1, 2001.

At the time it was issued in November of 2001, the Society of American Archivists and the American Library Association felt that the order

"violates both the spirit and letter of existing U.S. law on access to presidential papers..." and "potentially threatens to undermine one of the very foundations of our nation."

...Well yesterday when President Obama issued his Executive order to

...establish policies and procedures governing the assertion of executive privilege by incumbent and former Presidents in connection with the release of Presidential records by the National Archives...

Reading though that order I was struck by his assertion that outside of certain

"Presidential records (that) might impair national security (including the conduct of foreign relations), law enforcement, or the deliberative processes of the executive branch.

There is now established a specific way for these records to be released. There is also a bill H.R.35to codify "procedures for the consideration of claims of constitutionally based privilege against disclosure of Presidential records." But until this happens this is a good start and makes me feel all the more confident in our new President and his intention to act as a real agent of change.

I was just so heartened to get to the end of reading the Executive Order and reading the words...

Sec. 6. Revocation. Executive Order 13233 of November 1, 2001, is revoked.

When the history of Obama's transition and first 100 days is written, it will be as textbook.

This is how it is done.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story

Here's some interesting stories in pictures, starting with a phenomenal satellite view of the Inauguration here. You can see the crowds gathering by the Capitol and more of the ant-like collections around the various Jumbotron stations. Extraordinary.

And here's a collection of clickable newspaper covers from around the world.


And as for governing, check out the man on the job in shirtsleeves. Getting it done.

Preparing to close down Gitmo.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

At Last

This was certainly the day to get choked up. I was flying to Washington, D.C., watching the Inaugural ceremonies on the satellite TV, with lots of annoying freeze-frames due to Rocky Mountain signal interference. At the same time my kids were watching it on TV in their classrooms, with my 9-year-old seeing the whole speech by PRESIDENT Obama.

Tonight I enjoyed a drink on my new friends from South Carolina, Dale and Tom, drove up suddenly when Tom called Dale yesterday after lunch and said, "I'm going," and extended the invitation. Tom said he hadn't slept int 48 hours. Dale says he had waterworks when Obama spoke. They were in the white minority in their pocket of the crowd on The Mall and their first drink was from an African-American gentleman at the other end of the bar bought their drinks, a guy they had stood in line with to enjoy being a part of history along with 1,999,998 of their other attending fellow Americans.

There is a unity in this country that may not last forever, but I'd sure be pleased to see eight years or so. It should have been ours after 9/11/2001 but was squandered by the opportunists -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove. But it was slightly over a year ago, January 2, 2008, when I became a supporter of Barack Obama, the night of the Iowa caucuses, when he earned his first extraordinary victory on a chain of extraordinary victories, leading to the historical victory on November 4, 2008.

The electoral process produced the individual American most suited to the job of President at this particular time of crisis, a cool, calm, collected, strategic, book-smart and people-smart man who synthesizes ideas, nationalities and cultures in a uniquely American way. America's traditional friends and all those around the world who want to believe in the power of our American Dream seem to be celebrating as hardily as we are, and per the new PRESIDENT's very sober speech today, let our enemies be put on notice. Come to us in peace and we're all (big) ears.

Otherwise, I expect they will learn who they are up against now that the feeble ones are swept away.

God bless America.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Countdown to Ecstasy

The hour draws nigh. Tuesday, January 20, 2009, 12:00 noon EST.

Yes he will.

Some interesting items in the shuffle between yesterday's Lincoln Memorial celebration, today's MLK Day commemoration, and tomorrow's restoration of democracy jubilation:
  • Many supporters of both John McCain and Hillary Clinton are getting Obamafied, at least willing to give him a solid chance, heartened by his transition and appointments.
  • Obama held a bipartisan dinner with John McCain as guest of honor, calls to make such a pre-Inauguration dinner a tradition going forward.
  • Vice President (the last time I'll write that w/out "Former") Richard Bruce Cheney injured his back during his move out of the VP residence and will show up for the Inauguration in a wheelchair. I don't quite have the perfect metaphor, but how about, "Don't let the door snap your back on the way out?"
  • Final Bush protest: shoes thrown onto the White House lawn. Will this be his greeting wherever he goes -- any speech, public appearance, even if by infiltration?
  • Obama Lego Inauguration:

  • And finally, at the official Bush farewell party, El Presidente speaks to his peeps and gives a closing address, which closes with:
"It has been an awesome eight years," he went on. "The days are long, but the years are short. … If you ever want a nice meal, come and knock on our door in Dallas, Texas." He waved goodbye over the opening chords of "Don't Stop Believin'."
That's right, Bush goes out with the very same song made famous again by the closing moments of The Sopranos. This leaped out at me for two reasons.

For one, unauthorized Bush Family biographer Kitty Kelley compared El Presidente's family to that fictional organized crime clan.

And then there's the whole ending of The Sopranos thing, the blackout that by now is pretty much considered to be Tony's POV as his lights go out, offed by the man in the Members Only jacket.

Back in Semiotics class in college we used to discuss overdetermination in movies, books, other works of art. Overdetermination might be best translated as obviousness, when the metaphor is all too apt, as in all too pat. But the counterargument to this was also real-world examples where life itself, by coincidence or grand design, is itself overdetermined. You know, those "if they put it in a movie you'd never believe it" moments we've all read about or experienced ourselves on occasion.

Has there ever been a Presidency as overdetermined as the Bush/Cheney Administration?

Don't. Stop. Believin'.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Big Sunday

Not just the games sending Arizona and Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl, but a remarkable collection of actors and musicians saluting the upcoming Inauguration, with Abraham Lincoln gazing down upon the proceedings, the incoming President and his family, the half million people gathered there.

Here's the end of what he said when he spoke at the end:
That is the belief with which we began this campaign, and that is how we will overcome what ails us now. There is no doubt that our road will be long. That our climb will be steep. But never forget that the true character of our nation is revealed not during times of comfort and ease, but by the right we do when the moment is hard. I ask you to help me reveal that character once more, and together, we can carry forward as one nation, and one people, the legacy of our forefathers that we celebrate today.

Here's how Pete Seeger and Bruce Springstein closed it out, with 500,000 singing along:

Hell, yes he can.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Waltz to Peace

Clearly anticipating the start of the Obama Era on Tuesday and maybe hoping that by cooling off now they keep him as a friend, Israel has declared a unilateral ceasefire while keeping their troops stationed in Gaza. While I commend the ceasefire and understand that it made more sense for them to do it themselves rather than as the result of negotiation with Hamas, I don't hold much hope of it lasting. Hamas or some Palestinian whose family has been killed by Israeli bombing or gunfire will strike, Israel with strike back...we've all seen this dance before.

I don't have the intestinal fortitude to get into a huge discussion of Israel re-occupation of Gaza, as I have my own conflicted feelings about it. On one hand, Hamas is an Iranian-backed terrorist/political organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel, and they clearly brought this response upon themselves by firing rockets at Israeli home in violation of the previous ceasefire or perhaps to take advantage of its end. Israel, on the other hand, attacks Hamas where they have embedded themselves with regular citizens already living in degraded conditions due to the control of the border by Israel, bringing holy hell down upon many innocent people along with the more guilty.

It is in this context that Waltz with Bashir arrives with so timely a release, a view from the Israeli side that is fraught with guilt, pain, and a clear plea for the end of violence against civilians. It is the story of a former Israeli soldier (service is, of course, mandatory for all Israeli citizens with some sometimes galling exceptions) who is trying to recover his memory of events two decades earlier, when he was stationed by the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during the incident when Ariel Sharon allowed the Lebanese Christian Phalangists, blood-crazed from the murder of their leader, Bashir, into the camps to massacre Muslim civilians -- men, women, children.

While such a soul-searching by a nation still under siege is remarkable, what makes the film even more remarkable and even unmissable is it's form. Made over the course of four years, Waltz with Bashir is an entirely new genre of film, the animated documentary:

Filmmaker Ari Folman is telling his own story, filming and rotoscoping his fellow veterans, creating a graphic novel on film that's somewhere between the very moving comic book reportage of Joe Sacco and the experimental Waking Life. Folman's vision is at times magical or humorous, but most of all it is relateable. By using the ostensibly distancing format he ends up drawing us closer, and sets us up for the tragic punchline of real footage, the kind that the most repressed memories are made of.

Here's to the candor and artistry of Folman and those like him who would seek to beat swords into ploughshares. As we stand poised on the edge of what so many around the world hope and pray is a new era, may their voices be those that are triumphant.

Friday, January 16, 2009

And Hell Froze Over

About the off-the-record dinner Obama had on Wednesday night with Conservative columnists:

BAIER: It was at George Will's house, and I saw our friends at "The Politico" called it a dinner and said "The silence of the lamb chops" because no one is talking about it. But what can you say about it?

KRAUTHAMMER: What is interesting is the fact that he would want to do this. And you see that since his election he has kind of reached out to people that may not be ideological allies, to Rick Warren, the pastor who will be at his inaugural, to John McCain, whom he has treated with a lot of dignity and respect, and to a bunch of right wing columnists last night, in part, because I think he is a guy who is intellectually curious and wants to exchange ideas, but also in part he wants to co-opt the vast right wing conspiracy.

And I'm here to tell you that, speaking for myself, he has succeeded. I am brainwashed entirely. I'm in the tank, and I am a believer of hope and change and, above all, audacity.

I'm sorry, but Obama is smarter than we are. If he can get arch-rightwing headcase Charles Krauthammer to say something like this, even if maybe this was in jest?...well, I guess he deserves to be President.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


There are hard landings and then there are soft ones. President Bush is trying to bring the plane down gently with a "farewell" address, but the only silence is everything he doesn't mention and his general lack of anyone listening.

That's what happens when you end a horrible flight with a reckless pilot with a huge crash.

On the other hand, a cool, capable, experienced pilot with sound judgment and high integrity appears appears capable of turning what should have been the all-but-guaranteed slaughter of 155 lives into a heroic communal experience with no lives lost.

Am I just a little too euphoric, or does this seem like the first of what we will come to call Obama Era moments?

Expect to see one Chesley Sullenberger ringside at a big event on Tuesday.

And Bush didn't even mention it in his speech tonight.

Your Government

Here's who's going to be working for you at the highest levels of the United States of America's Federal government starting at 12:00noon EST on Tuesday.

Here's their boss.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Enfeebling

George W. Bush is the smallest President in the history of the United States. His tininess of character was settled once and for all with his final press conference yesterday, the last in a record few for any modern President. His entire sentiment was devoted to, of course, himself:

"In terms of the economy...look, I inherited a recession, I'm ending on a recession."

"Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake."

"You don't get to have information after you've made the decision, that's not the way it works."

"Not having weapons of mass destructive was a...significant disappointment."

"Why me? Oh the burdens and what not. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It's just pathetic, isn't it. Self-pity."

This press conference is an historical document that will be studied throughout history, as fascinating as watching Richard Nixon for total human pathology. But unlike with Nixon, there's no real intellectual threat running under the procedings. It's just a freak show.

George Bush made very many bad decision, but the worst decision he made was his Vice Presidential choice. Richard Bruce Cheney may be the man most capable of running roughshod over the bureaucracy of democracy in modern U.S. history, but with this choice Bush essentially confined himself to the secondary role, not so much The Decider as The Approver. Like some fantasy notion of kings of yore, he believed that he did not have to worry about anything but the top-level choice itself, not how it might be carried out, not how the information brought to him by his ministers might be cooked, he was most certainly in charge but he didn't always have to be present.

In fact, better that he be less present -- less waking hours, less office hours, less working days. Less time answering questions from real journalists on the spot, less dialogue with the broader swathe of American people, less development of our foreign alliances. Less oversight over those who might rape our treasuries, less respect for the Constitution. Less concern about how his policies, both domestic and foreign, might affect the real lives of others. Less grammer.

Less popular.

Ultimately, less presence.

I've said before that the most damaging thing that the Cheney/Bush Administration did to America's perception by the world was that it showed the world our ass. By that I mean, it showed our limits, both moral (torture) and, simultaneously, militarily, completely shown up by the assymetrical war fought right after the Iraq War. Now countries know how to stop us. And if they get an A-bomb fast enough, they can stop us (Korea, now Iran?) before we even suit up.

Maybe Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove were the power, but at some level America is defined for four to eight years by its President. This feeble one enfeebled out country.

Thank goodness that the one coming in is sportin' a six-pack.

Monday, January 12, 2009


There were a few entertaining moments in last night's Golden Globes telecast and some genuine over-emotion, but the most moving speech of the night was by The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan in accepting the Best Supporting Actor award for the late Heath Ledger:

The way of looking at the loss, as significance to cinema. James Dean but with another forty years of sophistication behind it. Torn from cinema's side.

Nolan is the secret identity of the cinema man of the year. Think how pitch black Batman is, especially as informed by the real life tragedy that followed. It's vision of endless conflict leaving it the #1 Bush Era blockbuster, an anti-utopian vision of modern justice. And now think how many people have seen it, and continue to do over and over on DVD. This movie is going to be with us a long time, and Ledger's performance is the centerpiece that holds it all together.

At the Beverly Hills Hilton last night Christopher Nolan channeled real pain, real gravity, but in a disarmingly modest way where he put himself in the same position as the filmgoer in relation to the loss of Ledger.

Even as one imagines the future movies they would have made together.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


So more on the Bush/Cheney sunset. It's leaving dangerous residue -- erroneous history:
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an opponent of the Iraq war, is asking the Smithsonian to change some wording about the war that accompanies the newly installed portrait of President George W. Bush.

Sanders, an independent, objects to a portion of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s text that says Bush’s two terms in office were “marked by a series of catastrophic events” including “the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

The senator said the notion that the attacks were linked in any way to Iraq has been widely debunked and shouldn’t be perpetuated in the museum exhibit.

“The 9/11 attacks did not lead to the war in Iraq,” Sanders said in an interview. “What President Bush was telling us (before the war) was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq was somehow in collusion with Al Qaeda. Those were misstatements of fact, as even President Bush has since acknowledged.”

Per Thomas Jefferson, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." There will be a battle fought over the history of the past eight years. There will be a huge tendency to want to whitewash the past, even from those who were most alert and informed during this period. To brush it off with comforting notions like, "they did what they sincerely believed was best for the country" or "things have changed so it could never have been that bad" or "maybe int twenty years we will be grateful for their vision."

The truth is that they knowingly lied to the American people, they subverted the Constitution and sought near-dictatorial powers, they drained the Treasury to line the coffers of their cronies, they viciously smeared their critics even if they had once been with them. They alienated our traditional international allies and made our name synonymous with torture in the world. They let a city drown and, it can be argued, their willful neglect allowed another to be burned.

The price of freedom is to remember.

And remind.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Buh-Bye Continued

I may run out of material, or I may continue to devote nightly blog posts for the next week to saying goodbye to all that. And by all that I mean, George W. Bush, Richard Bruce Cheney, and Republicanism.

Here's the opening paragraph from Jim Kunstler's "Farewell GWB" post:
A prankish fate put George W. Bush in the oval office to keep America stupid. The nation was far from ready to see where it was going in the 21st century, and he was just the figure to keep it that way, with his void of curiosity, his allergy to reading, and his panderings to wealth-worshipping, Ponzi-loving, science-hating Jesus cultists. He goes out of office broadly regarded as an object of horror and loathing while the nation, now facing wholesale bankruptcy, struggles to imagine a plausible future, like someone who has just awakened from a cheap red wine drunk into the grip of a vicious hangover.

Kunstler goes on to indict the entire nation for our own massive self-delusion, positing that Bush/Cheney didn't trick the country into the Iraq War, we tricked ourselves.

As for his own legacy efforts, the Administration is right on top of it:
The White House Web site features an extensive recitation of Mr. Bush’s “highlights and accomplishments,” including a document titled “100 Things Americans May Not Know About the Bush Administration Record.” (First on the list: “Kept America Safe.”)

I take issue with that first claim, of course, since it was the Bush/Cheney policy to do the opposite of whatever President Bill Clinton had done, including ignoring Richard Clarke and anybody not of their partisanship telling them about the threat that was 9/11. The proof of their having kept America far from same is the infamous skipping of the "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S." memo. That supposed National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice kept her job after that is one for the ages.

Also from the NY Times article quoted above, on all the legacy talk by El Presidente and crew:

“They’re working hard to build their historical reputations,” said the presidential historian Robert Dallek. “Generally, presidents don’t spend the last days and weeks in office defending their record. They produce a memoir, they write a volume.

“To spend your waking hours on a defense of yourself speaks volumes about how, in a sense, defeated they’ve been.”

And, somehow, being in this particular White House might not be the same resume builder as with other administrations:
“Working on the White House staff is an honor and will always look good on a résumé,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist, who said several Bush officials had sought his career advice. “It just doesn’t look that good right now.”

Since the causes of this horrific job market can arguably be laid at the feet of this Administration and the ideology that drove it, one might call it poetic justice.

Just for the record, here's David Letterman's Top Ten George Bush moments, with #4 always my favorite, the defining moment of eight years of tragic misrule:

Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

On second thought, let it.

Friday, January 09, 2009


We're coming out of a kind of dark age where what came out of the mouth of the leader of our country simply did not make sense:

The citizenry rejoice:

These guys rhyme "I'm taking my country back" with "Bye-bye you lying sack":

He's inspiring insanely well-edited monologuing:

Like they sang in front of the White House on Election Night:

Now the official theme song of the end to the incomprehensible Bush/Cheney Administration farewell:

You forget how bad it was. The body has no memory of pain for a reason. But does the number 7.2% mean anything to you?

The Chaos Administration.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I just finished reading our President-Elect's autobiography, Dreams from My Father, his first and least political book, and it's an extremely engaging story of a young man's search for his identity, compounded not only by being of mixed race but of mixed nationality.

The book begins in New York, his walk-up in Spanish Harlem, a key moment in his life, and then the first of three major sections, his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia, adolescence in Hawaii, Occidental College in SoCal, transfer to Columbia. The second section is Chicago, his start and growth as an organizer in pretty tough conditions. The third is his first visit to Kenya where he meets his whole family, including his step-grandmother, grand uncle, half-sibling. His father's absence informs the book, but it never kills his spirit.

What I find most interesting today about how frankly Obama speaks about the challenges facing our country is how natural it is, not just in style, but in substance. He's not giving speeches, he's in a steady conversation with us. He's been part of the conversation ever since he connected with his African sister, Auma. He's been part of the conversation ever since he went to college and made his first public political speech, against apartheid in South Africa. He's been part of the conversation ever since he tried to process the way his black friend on the high school basketball team referred to white as well as other black people. It's a conversation his/my generation has been having ever since we got deep into our teens in the 1970's and now, thirty years later, it's the mainstream conversation.

Barack then per the friend who named him.

Barack now:

Eleven more days.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Ex-Presidents

It wasn't a Freudian slip per se, it was more like an entire Freudian press avail when El Presidente Bush welcomed President-Elect Obama to the Oval Office today:
"I want to thank the president-elect for joining the ex-presidents for lunch," Bush said, even though he's not quite a member of that club yet.
Sadly, he is not. El Presidente may be wrapping it up, but he still has the levers of government. However, the leadership of the people is all Obama, ever since legitimized on Election Day and he's been building on it since.

Promising new Obama change: Chief Performance Officer:
President-elect Barack Obama, who faces trillion-dollar government deficits stretching into coming years, named on Wednesday a former Treasury official as the first U.S. "chief performance officer" to oversee budget and spending reform.

Nancy Killefer, a director at McKinsey & Company and a former assistant Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, will work with economic officials to increase efficiencies and eliminate waste in government spending.

"We can no longer afford to sustain the old ways when we know there are new and more efficient ways of getting the job done," Obama told a news conference just hours after new official projections put the fiscal 2009 U.S. budget deficit at a record $1.186 trillion.


Per Hope Reborn on DailyKos:
I'm floored by the move today that President Elect Obama made in creating an office Chief Performance Officer... I haven't seen much if anything mentioned anywhere about this, but consider for a moment what this means. Hopefully, gone are the day's of "bloated, wasteful" government because there is now an agent of direct oversight with Presidential level access & authority to ensure that programs are meeting metrics set by the President and that cabinet secretaries and key personnel are meeting goals laid out.

If we'd only had this when we went to war with Iraq.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


I've missed seeing The Fountain thus far, so I've missed director Darren Aronofsky's big budget picture which was reportedly big on metaphor, but I've seen his indie breakthrough, Pi, and his bold, super-strong adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.'s Requiem for a Dream, and a few nights ago I saw his low budget/high power comeback hit The Wrestler, so I think I can say a few things about his work.

If you just want to hear how compelling it is to watch Mickey Rourke come roaring back, or about the meat metaphors or play with real vs. illusion both in the ring and on the screen, or the high-spirited camaraderie amongst elder statesman The Ram and his fellow wrestlers, this is not the post for you.

All that is true but what I'm interested in Aronofsky's vision, since he's pretty successfully staked out a decidedly off-Hollywood position with what appears to be total creative control over artfully assaultive, the only big-time purveyor of the Antonin Artaud Theatre O' Cruelty-style movies. Is there a more ambitious "New York" voice in the movies right now?

If you've ridden the trainwreck of lives in Requiem for a Dream, where Aronofsky honed his capacity to create both dread and imagery even more scarring than you thought you'd imagined, and now witnessed Randy "The Ram" Robinson's bad steroid habit, you know that Aronofsky creates Hell on Earth. Imagine "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" where instead of killing an albatross the protagonist is cursed by his youthful success in the ring, but he never had the smarts to plan for anything other than what happened in the ring, no future.

It's impossible to adequately analyze the new movie without talking about the ending, so here's the

The Wrestler has an open ending, but it's open in the way that the final scene of The Sopranos is open, i.e. it's implied that we're watching the final moments in the main character's life and that the next frame, the one a moment after the movie just ended, is that character's death.

It all started falling into place in the last act when Robinson screws up with his daughter. The rule of thumb is that whichever character goes through the biggest chance is your main character, but that if it's proven that a character ultimately can't change, then he or she dies, usually to end the movie. And, if nothing else, Ram's musical taste indicates that he hasn't changed one iota in twenty years.

This isn't an afterschool special about a man's redemption. It's about a guy who realizes there's no other place for him than in the ring, and that it makes sense to play there until he dies there. We're watching a pessimistic character study of a man's final days. He knows when he walks in, when he walks away from Marissa Tomei that he's not coming back to her world again. We know when he falters twice after dropping the Ayatollah.

And the final shot, projecting himself over our heads, is literally a swan dive. From his final monologue tribute to his audience it's a swan song.

So why go on this death trip? Does Aronofsky actually have something to say with it, and can we ask with the poledancing scenes as well?

The movie is a fable. It's a cautionary fable about how any of us can get caught short-sighted, but especially if we're all about the body, all about the adulation. If it's too late when we try to start thinking, chastised, beyond ourselves.

But it's particularly arresting at this moment of cascading unemployment, where the American Dream is turning into the American Hell-on-Earth for so many people. Which is interesting within the context of the patriotism of the wrestlers, from the American flag hung over Randy's trailer home bed to the wrestling ring righting of the 80's U.S. vs. Iraq conflict.

Whether or not Aronofsky is deliberately making a statement or just providing a credibly damning political context, it's a world where the simple may be physically powerful, but the simple have been duped. They've believed the hype, about what's valuable and about what's true. They willingly, joyfully, for profit participate in the denigration of the latter. It's entertaining. It's good for the ego as long as you can keep it going.

And it's the very end of the American Century.

Monday, January 05, 2009


The prodigal son returns, and ma is very, very happy:

Meanwhile Obama makes the brilliant choice of Leon Panetta, not a career intelligence guy, to head the CIA, is adding an almost Jacksonian, affordable Neighborhood Ball to the Inaugural festivities, makes cool unannounced appearances...and he's sending Joe Biden on a mission to Southwest Asia.

It's already a relief.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

He's In

Obama travels to D.C.

The change has begun.


Israel has sent ground troops into Gaza. Two good pieces trying to explain what the hell is really going on in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

What it looks like.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Memories Can't Wait

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button says it's about the passage of time, but it's really about the passage of memory. The biggest change that screenwriter Eric Roth made to F. Scott Fitzgerald's original short story, written in 1921 and based on a Mark Twain quote about what a pity that the best things in life happened at the beginning and the worst at the end, is the addition of the love story plot and, in fact, build the whole movie around it.

Well, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett sell that story. After all, they're not only excellent actors, they're also uncommonly great to look at. Their scenes once they're out of all the computer-generated make-up are a welcome heart of the story -- their ages meet, but the visual path director David Fincher surrounds them with is all Orson Welles meets Mark Twain -- elegance with a riverlike pulse, the story almost a corrective to Welles' own tale of unrequited love over many decades of societal change, The Magnificent Ambersons.

I'm not sure the ultimate significance of the film, but it's just lined with diorama time pieces, moments that play off the gentle loneliness of the age-flipped protagonist and, without too much pain, lull you into reflecting on your own journey, what moments are more poignant for being lost, but mainly what happens when all that you are slips away, and how do you slip out of history.

The answer, of course, is when everyone who ever knew you, who knew you well, passes on as well. We seek mates in large part because we seek witnesses. If we choose it constancy it may be for that reason alone, a desire for the line, a metaphor spoken by Blanchett in the dance studio, the dancer's neverending quest to be the perfect line.

Death, however, breaks a line every time, and maybe the movie is germane to our moment because it is the scope of the 20st Century, from WWI getting us out of the 19th Century, through Hurricane Katrina turning the page on that failed ideology and burying the 20th Century in her wake.

Has it been nine years? Just a memory.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Solid Gold

Here's the video with Josh Marshall announcing winners of Talking Points Memo's annual Golden Duke Awards for sleazy, scandalous behavior by politicians in 2008:

Text version here, with detailed breakdown of individual judges votes.

Here's to hoping the next President never even gets nominated.

Goodbye to All That

Turn the page.

Happy New Year to all!