Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stepping Up

Once again, after everyone else has not only made their positions clear but worked through their tantrums until exhausted like three-year-olds on a sugar bender, President Obama has publicly stepped into the debt ceiling fray with his press conference today. He's once again being entirely reasonable (too much for some) in what Ezra Klein believes indicates the failure of negotiations:
The conventional wisdom is that now this fight moves to the people. I’d put it differently. Now this fight moves to the consequences. Neither side is going to give in the face of purely rhetorical salvos. The White House is expecting Republicans to accuse them of wanting to raise taxes. The Republicans are expecting the White House to accuse them of putting the interests of large corporations and wealthy donors in front of the needs of seniors, children and the poor. Both parties have seen the poll numbers behind their positions. If a few news conferences were going to be sufficient to end this, it would never have started.

What the two parties are really doing is trying to position themselves politically to survive the consequences of their failure. We don’t yet know if we’ll get to the point where the market will panic, but it could. We’re very likely to get to the point where we have to stop funding certain government services, which could mean as little as delaying payments to military contractors and hospitals or as much as halting Social Security checks. Either way, the public is likely to ignore the political breakdown until the consequences begin. At that point, both parties are hoping they will have framed the debate such that the electorate’s fury falls squarely on the other’s shoulders. That’s what today’s news conference was about.
With the GOP leadership unwilling, in the face of their infantile Tea Party wing and Koch-level corporate sponsorship, to cut tax loopholes for the wealthy and their corporations -- let alone actually solve the problem significantly by eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the rich -- there may have to be a rattled financial market to make them act like adults.

And that's the most pointed theme of the Obama presser -- that the GOP is acting like spoiled children. My favorite part:
The White House has been positioning Obama for months as the grown-up willing to make th tough decisiosn, but to make the point again today, Obama pointed to the homework habits of his daughters, Sasha (10) and Malia (13), and suggested that they’re better at completing assignments than Congressional Republicans.

They don't wait until the night before. They're not pulling all-nighters....You know, Congress can do the same thing. If you know you have to do something, just do it.

And further delay, Obama suggested, should not be seen as Republicans standing on principle. Instead, he painted them as cowardly avoiding a difficult situation.

August 2 is a very important date, and there's no reason we can't get this done now. We know what the options are out there. This is not a technical problem anymore. This is a matter of Congress biting the bullet.
Time to start turning the tables. If you don't believe increasing wealth disparity is changing the nature of America, then maybe you need to hear it from Advertising Age itself:
The rich -- and marketers who cater to them -- just keep getting richer as everyone else struggles through a so-called recovery. That fact of economics could reshape marketing strategies this year, and for years to come.

Last year, the only growth in spending came from people making $100,000 or more annually, said David Calhoun, CEO of Nielsen Co., speaking at the Advertising Research Foundation's annual Re:Think conference in March. If anything, the disconnect between the haves and the have-lesses has only kept widening since. The ConsumerEdge Research monthly tracker, based on surveys of more than 2,000 consumers, helps illustrate this vividly.
Like catastrophic climate change and the poisoning of our planet's oceans, I fear it may be too late to reverse the momentum.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Michele Nightmare

Matt Taibbi has the brutal truth about serial liar and Oral Roberts University-trained extreme rightwinger, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). The article is a must-read, with passages like:

Bachmann is a religious zealot whose brain is a raging electrical storm of divine visions and paranoid delusions. She believes that the Chinese are plotting to replace the dollar bill, that light bulbs are killing our dogs and cats, and that God personally chose her to become both an IRS attorney who would spend years hounding taxpayers and a raging anti-tax Tea Party crusader against big government. She kicked off her unofficial presidential campaign in New Hampshire, by mistakenly declaring it the birthplace of the American Revolution. "It's your state that fired the shot that was heard around the world!" she gushed. "You are the state of Lexington and Concord, you started the battle for liberty right here in your backyard."


The theme of socialists scheming to herd children into a factorylike system of predetermined occupations still comes up often in Bachmann's rhetoric. In a recent speech in Iowa, for instance, she talked wistfully of the early Midwest settled by her Norwegian ancestors, a place where "we can choose whatever profession we want, and no one tells us what profession we go in." Bachmann likewise rejected AmeriCorps as an attempt to build "re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward," and blasted a schools program started by Bill Clinton for trying to brainwash kids into accepting "government central planning of our economy and our way of life."

And more ominously:

It has taken just over 10 years for Bachmann to go from small-town PTA maven to serious presidential contender, a testament to both her rare and unerring talent for generating media attention, and to her truly astonishing energy level and narcissistic tenacity. Minnesota politicians who have squared off against Bachmann all speak with a kind of horrified reverence for her martial indomitability, her brilliantly fortifying lack of self-doubt, even the fact that she hasn't appeared to physically age at all in 10 years. "She will not stop," says Cecconi.

She's currently running very close to former Massachusetts Mitt Romney for the Republican Presidential nomination and could steal the Iowa Caucus crown -- the neighbor state of Minnesota and her birthstate. Bachmann is fervently anti-choice and anti-gay, and known for pathological lying to bolster her wingnut arguments (the list is huge).

Like a more focused version of Sarah Palin (and one who I believe is already eclipsing Word Salad Sarah, making her seem obsolete literally this week), she's telegenic as she relentlessly mangles history for her truthiness needs. With her mistaken comparison of herself to serial killer John Wayne Gacy today in Iowa, it was actually unintentionally hilarious:
What I want them to know is just like John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa, that's the spirit that I have too. It's really about not being ashamed of America. It's embracing America.

Uh, Michele, the John Wayne from Waterloo, Iowa isn't the John Wayne you're thinking of. It's John Wayne Gacy, one of the most notorious serial killers in American history.

Yes, the serial killer responsible for over thirty sexualized murders and was known for dressing in a clown suit at children's parties.

I'll leave the metaphor to you, valued reader.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Another Masterpiece

The Tree of Life
is the rare movie you come out of feeling wiser than you went in. I saw it on a fairly large screen, sitting relatively close and low, which worked as much of the movie is shot at kid's eye level as fits the main story, Terrence Malick's autobiographical memory film of growing up with two younger brothers under a domineering father (Brad Pitt, just note perfect throughout, a role for which he'll be remembered) and angelic but subservient mother (Jessica Chastain, luminous) in smalltown Waco, TX in the 1950's. The viewing angle also fit the swirling uber-modern city sequences with Sean Penn as the boy grown up, a successful architect, in spiritual crisis remembering the time and then projecting into some heavenly plane.

And it was fitting for the extraordinary beginning of time sequence, taking us from big bang through dinosaurs, their extinction by asteroid, putting every one of our lifespans in epic historical perspective, as it does the young life that's lost off-screen and off in time.

With a liquidity in the editing that flows backwards and forwards in time, eschewing dialogue in favor of voices drifting in and out, an idyll that asks the deeper questions and begs to be experienced on as big a screen as possible, Malick takes us on a dream journey that feels more bracingly real and natural than anything I can imagine onscreen from recent years. Maybe long passages of Gus Van Sant's Elephant, maybe Malick's last movie, the all-too-overlooked The New World which gave us the origin of our nation, America. It plays like the movie Malick's been working towards ever since Badland back in 1973, at once his most personal and most courageous.

While I've heard quibbles about the end, which were actual boos from one section of a balcony at Cannes, I can't fault Malick for how he tries to wrap things up. I'm left reflecting, haunted by the evocation of a time very close to my youth, just a few years before and in an era when change was not yet fully bubbling, nothing like the lighting lifestyles of today. A time when a young boy could reflect on his place in the world by a stream, running out unlocked screen doors, into the street, by the abandoned house with the windows begging to be smashed, at a dinner table where the wrong word could provoke an awesome wrath.

Not a plot movie, not even really a character movie, more of a time and space movie, a 2001 with an earthly setting and a flickering light. Maybe not for everybody, but it will be known and seen and seen again, because it is truly art and it is truly provocative -- not by violence or shock, but to the spirit.

Malick's next movie is reportedly a romantic story, and one can reasonably hope that by putting so much of what he's wanted to say for so long in The Tree of Life, he'll have a cleansed palate and give us something we truly never expected from him.

But I'll bet one thing: the movie won't unfold in a way that anyone cab anticipate.

Not this artist.