Thomas "What's The Matter With Kansas?" Frank nails it:
You've got people [in the Republican party] whose philosophy is one of cynicism towards government and one
of complete disrespect towards particular branches of government. ...
They've run these branches of government completely in reverse, put
people in charge of them who don't believe in the mission, and done
everything else to make government accountable not to the voters, but
to the business community.
This has resulted in disaster in
numerous cases. Now, when you look upon the disaster, do you say this
is because government doesn't work? Or do you say, this is because a philosophy
of government doesn't work? The obvious conclusion to anybody watching
this stuff unfold is to say government just can't do anything right --
look how badly it's botched this job.
But the correct answer is
that government obviously does work in certain circumstances, in other
countries, and it's even worked here when it wants to. What they're
doing right now at the Fed and the Department of Treasury is they're
playing the game exactly right -- they're intervening decisively,
quickly -- they're doing it exactly right. When the chips are down and
when it's something conservatives care about, they can make government
But the natural conclusion is just to blow it all off with
cynicism. It's so easy to be cynical. We confuse cynicism with
sophistication. The correct answer is that it's a philosophy of
government that's failed, but you can't say that in the media.
This is what I've been saying in my argument that Republican rule actually imposes more taxes on society than Democratic rule does. It's disastrous to put people antithetical to the whole idea of economic, industrial and environmental regulation in charge of the agencies charged with enforcing those regulations. It's a disaster that hits squarely in the wallet. It's a tax on bad economic and social philosophy.
I gnash my environmentally-correct teeth when I see how what used to be called "coal" has now rebranded itself as "clean coal." As this article in Slate points out, there ain't no such thing.
The rebranding of coal, however, has got me thinking about why different political parties favor certain types of energy.
There are some ways of getting the energy we need that involve converting stuff to energy--stuff like coal, oil, natural gas, grain, and (to a lesser extent) uranium. Extracting, processing and selling that stuff is a very profitable and big business. Naturally, this energy options are favored by the party of big business.
There are also ways of getting energy that don't require the selling of stuff. These non-stuff sources include solar, geothermal, tidal, wind, and hydroelectric. Sure, there are big initial investments, as there are with any energy infrastructure. But once you've got your solar panels up and your windmill turning, you don't have to keep buying stuff to get energy out. Then there is no business for ExxonMobil, BP, etc.
This is not an especially deep or original insight, but it's still good to keep in mind as we make energy policy. Our energy mix twenty years from now is going to be quite different from what it is today--at least, I hope so (because if it's not, we're doomed). Both major party Presidential candidates are talking up this issue. But when it's time to cut deals, write funding lines, create programs, give tax breaks and otherwise use the power of the government to influence our energy future, it's a good idea to remember that we can have an energy future that doesn't involve the consumption of so much stuff. That kind of future, however, is not at all what Big Energy wants, and they will fight to block it.
What's more, because there isn't a massive and continuous revenue stream to be gained from non-stuff energy sources, it's less likely that our richest and strongest corporations will push for them. If you were the CEO of ExxonMobil, for example, would you invest in plants that make the equipment needed to harness the wind, solar, tidal, and geothermal energy, knowing that once your customers bought it, they wouldn't need you anymore? Or would you invest in "clean coal" and biofuels, both of which you can keep selling to consumers for years and years?
Capitalist self-interest, in other words, is not going to take us into the kind of non-stuff energy future we could--and should--have. It's going to be up to the government to change the economics of energy production, maybe by taxing stuff-energy and giving tax breaks for non-stuff energy. I can hear the oil companies screaming now.
For the last ten years, I've enjoyed picking my sons up from school at lunchtime and taking them to the nearby Pizza Hut for the lunch buffet there. My schedule this semester doesn't permit me to do that as often as I'd like now, but I was able to fit it in yesterday. It was only my second time there this school year, and the first in over a month.
I was surprised to see only two cars in the parking lot when I pulled into the restaurant at about 11:25. In the recent past, the joint would be jumping at that hour, full of high school students, healthcare workers, tradesmen, and the obese. I had the fleeting thought: are they closed? Was there a botulism outbreak I didn't hear about?
But no: the Pizza Hut was open, though no food was on the buffet yet, which was also unusual. Apart from my son and me, there were only two customers in the place.
I talked with Cindy, the waitress who has served us for a decade or more. "It's been like this," she shrugged. "People are just staying home more, not spending money if they don't have to." Another fleeting thought crossed my mind: how long will they survive with so few lunchtime customers?
By the time we left the restaurant at 11:45, there were more people there. I felt somewhat relieved--until I recalled that we used to pass by people lined up to come in at that hour as we exited. They just weren't there.
OK, it was Monday--but I couldn't help but read the relative quiet of the Pizza Hut as evidence that our economy is in serious trouble.
Winger wackiness notwithstanding, the law does not prohibit any church from endorsing or opposing specific political candidates or parties. The First Amendment applies just as strongly in churches as it does anywhere else.
So the issue being raised by those ministers who are overtly urging the election of John McCain is not really the entalgment of religion and politics. The real issue is the entanglement of the federal treasury and political campaigns.
The government has chosen to exempt non-profit organizations such as churches from taxation. In effect, the exemption amounts to a subsidy of those organizations by everyone else. So the question is not whether a minister has the right to endorse a candidate from the pulpit. He certainly does. Rather, the question is, does the government have the right to compel me (and all other taxpayers) to subsidize that endorsement? If a church--or any other nonprofit entity--wants to endorse a candidate, it can. Just don't ask the government to subsidize that endorsement.
To my neighbor, who fears that Obama win will raise his taxes if he wins:
Look, I don't like taxes. Nobody does. And I know that we live in the high rent district here, and that you might very well fall to the north of the $250.000 income line above which Obama's tax plan will indeed raise taxes. Even those raises, however, will only take your taxes as high as they were in the Reagan administration, but again, I understand that for you and lot of people, any tax is vexatious.
The thing of it is, though, that under Bush, your taxes have already gone up considerably. Oh, I know you think Bush gave you a tax cut, but think of all the things you pay more for after eight years of Republican misrule than you did in the Clinton administration. We may not call those increases "taxes" in the usual sense of the word, but in a way they are.
Gasoline cost $1.46 a gallon when Bush took office, and it's about $2.00 a gallon more than that now. That's a tax on the Bush administration's failure to have an intelligent energy policy designed to move the country away from its over-reliance on oil.
Your stock portfolio has probably taken a big hit in the last couple of months, due in part to the near-collapse of the investment finance sector. Your market losses are a tax on lax regulation of the securities and banking industries and on the Republican practice of putting people who are firmly philosophically opposed to the whole notion of market regulation. And so is the $700 billion bailout: a $3,000 tax on look-the-other-way regulation to be paid by every man, woman and child in the country.
Food costs more now, sometimes significantly. That's a tax on the administration's push for biofuels, which are consuming a significant portion of our feedstocks now, thereby increasing demand and price.
Every time you fly somewhere now, you pay a homeland security tax that's added to your ticket. More significantly, though, your travel time has been increased as you are forced to move slowly through security queues--and time is money. This is a tax on the Bush administration's failure to prevent 9/11 (despite explicit warnings from the outgoing Clinton administration) and on their cumbersome and questionably effective administration of airport security.
When you go to sell your house, chances are that you won't get what you paid for it a few years ago, and that it will remain on the market for a long time before it sells. This is a tax on government policies that encouraged Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to underwrite riskier and riskier mortgages, which fueled a building boom, resulting in a glut of unsold homes.
Health care costs have increased for most people over the last eight years. Deductables and co-pays are higher, and restrictions on what doctors you can see and what medications your insurer will pay for are more onerous. This is a tax on the failure of the Bush administration to enact a comprehensive national health care plan. Maybe you fear having your "official" taxes raised if such a plan were to become law--but the fact is that your "unofficial" health care taxes are increasing anyway.
If you travel abroad or if, like most Americans, you buy a lot of imported goods, you have been affected by the decline of the value of the American dollar. Imports are more expensive now, and unfortunately in many product categories imports are the only good available. This is a tax on the record budget deficit policies of the Bush administration. Of course, a more substantial tax on the deficit will be born by all taxpayers in the coming years as the interest on the national debt eats up a larger and larger portion of the budget.
There are a lot of things that happen in the economy that are beyond the government's control. No President can fairly take all of the credit or the blame for the economy's performance. But policy does have consequences. Personnel has consequences. Philosophy has consequences. Right now, we have a governmental philosophy that holds that regulation of financial institutions is somehow illegitimate. We've seen the appointment of financial foxes to administer the regulatory chicken coop. We've been subjected to a policy of forwarding the bills for our current public expenditures on to the taxpayers of the future. The consequences of those choices have been taxing indeed.
The selection of Sarah "Mooseburgers" Palin as the vice-presidential candidate on a ticket headed by a 72 year old man who's had cancer four times absolutely boggles the mind. It's not without its amusing aspects, but ultimately its cynicism and dangerousness contribute more to my summer-long disgust with American politics.
This is America, where any boy or girl can grow up to be President, right? Well, yes--but I don't think that our celebration of that fact contemplates any old boy or girl becoming Presdent without having had some sort of relevant experience. I'm hard pressed to think of any major party Presidential or vice-presidential candidate having a thinner resume than Mooseburgers Palin.
But while she is barely qualified for the vice-presidency, she is by virtue of her gender and her ideology definitely qualified leadership in the Republican Party. If you liked Michael "Heckuva job!" Brown, the hapless Republican hack who was in charge of FEMA when Katrina hit, you'll love a woman who was elected as the part-time mayor of a city of 5,000 by virtue of her opposition to abortion.
Though unprecedented, Palin's selection is actually well within the American tradition of anti-intellectualism. This hardy strain of populism was on full display last night as Rudy Giuliani and Mooseburgers made the argument that being a non-pol from a tiny town in the third least-populous state was actually a qualification, not a disqualification, for the highest office in the land. Obama is just too smart; time we had some people just like you and me in Washington.
In any normal country, a candidate like Sarah Palin would not be taken seriously by most people. That's why she is so dangerous to Obama and the Democrats; ours is not a normal country. "Ignorant and Proud" is our real motto. The realization of this truth is killing my lifelong passion for politics.
The lawsuit filed by 9/11 conspiracy nutcase "Philip J. Berg, Esquire" against Barack Obama seeking to disqualify Obama from seeking the Presidency by challenging his citizenship is an hilarious example of how not to write a legal pleading. It appears to be little more than a compendium of rumors and unsubstantiated gossip floating around the internet, lashed together with eccentric Capitalization And haphazard spacing, written by a high school sophomore, and put into service of a ludicrous legal theory.
Having taught legal writing before, I may use Mr. Esquire's complaint in this case as an amusing example of what to avoid in drafting pleadings. Real pleadings
--do not cite either the English or Italian versions of Wikipedia;
--do not contain bizarre sentences like "The Democratic National Committee and 'We the People' who believe in the Democratic Vision."
--do not present allegations derived from "further references circulating on the internet."
--do not cite news accounts of the findings of a GOP "research team."
--do not take the findings of "Inside Edition" seriously.
--do not cite allegations "posted all over the internet."
--do not contain horribly written sentences like "All the efforts of supporters of legitimate citizens were for nothing because the Obama cheated his way into a fraudulent candidacy and cheated legitimately eligible natural born citizens from competing in a fair process and the supporters of their citizen choice for the nomination."
--contain requests for relief directed to the court, rather than the defendant.
Of course, this lawsuit is not intended for hearing by the court system, but by the media. When it is laughed out of court, the right wing will claim that it's all a conspiracy to cover up the truth, and thereby keep the smears alive.
With some now questioning whether The Dark Knight is the best movie of all time, I can't stand it anymore. Yes, it's one
of those rare films that gets both popular and critical acclaim. It’s set new box office records. People talk about a posthumous Oscar for
Heath Ledger. I went to see it last
night with my son (who loves it and was seeing it for the third time).
I’ve got to say, I don’t see what
all the fuss is about. I think it was a
load of batcrap.
of the few critics who panned the movie said it was a visually incoherent
film. I didn’t quite know what that
meant until I saw it and began thinking about why I thought it was so bad. Film is primarily a visual medium, and a good
director should tell his story primarily through visuals. That’s even more imperative in a comic book
movie, where the stories were originally told in images; no one buys a comic
book (excuse me, graphic novel) because it has great dialogue. So the chief problem with this movie is that
significant plot points are conveyed in quickly-spoken dialogue rather than in
Two major characters are kidnapped, but we don’t see the kidnapping or even see the aftermath of their abductions (i.e., no anguished spouses or coworkers realizing that so-and-so has disappeared). Hostages are taken, but who are they? I'm told that there was one quick line of dialogue that explained it, and I’m sure he’s right, but I missed it, and once again, there were no pictures to tell the story either of the hostage-taking or to explain who these people are. In one scene, the Joker is in an interrogation room of a police station, and in the next he’s in a different room holding a knife to a cop’s throat. How did that happen? We don’t know. Another character is apparently shot and killed, but not really—and we never find out if he planned to fake his own death, if it was a spur-of-the-moment improvisation, or if he was really even shot.
The script is a mess. One major monologue appears to have been written without any reference to the film in which they are encased. How else to explain the nice soliloquy by The Joker about how Batman and the police commissioner are all full of plans and schemes while he, The Joker, is not about plans but about chaos? Didn’t the screen writers remember The Joker’s elaborate bank robbery plan which opens the film? Or The Joker’s use of multiple vehicles and weapons during an attempt to kill one of the main characters? Or his elaborate double-ferryboat explosion scheme? Or his plan to force Batman to rescue one character or the other but not both?
The script introduces interesting ideas and characters and then drops them. The inclusion of a subplot about a Chinese financier appears to have been inserted just to give the director the excuse to film Batman swooping around Hong Kong’s skyscrapers. The idea of having costumed Batman wannabes trying to fight crime was a nice dig at fanboy enthusiasm, but it's dropped after the first third of the film. The climactic final battle between Batman and The Joker ends, well, anticlimactically. I couldn’t even remember what happened to The Joker at the end of the movie, until my son reminded me he was left hanging upside down off a building while Batman dashed off to fight evil elsewhere. Instead of a dramatic arc, the filmmakers have given us a series of zigzags and squiggles.
What I liked about Batman Begins was its exploration of how Bruce Wayne came to be Batman. That movie was all about characterization. In this one, however, there is no characterization of anyone except The Joker—and his motivations are deliberately left unexplained. He’s sort of an existential villain; he just is evil. This isn’t a bad narrative choice; indeed, it makes The Joker all the more frightening because we don’t know what really motivates him or how he got to be the way he is. The problem comes in when you drop him into a movie where no one else’s motivations are explained either, except in the most cartoonish two-dimensional terms. At no time did I feel emotionally moved, because the filmmakers didn’t allow the audience any real points of emotional access to their characters.
Christian Bale has the unenviable job, for an actor, of trying to communicate from behind a mask. While Hugo Weaving did that well in V for Vendetta by using his voice, whenever Bale dons the batcowl, he talks like he is incredibly constipated. Without an expressive face or voice, what’s an actor to do? Bale is much better as Bruce Wayne, when he talks normally and we can see his face and the many subtle and arch expressions that flit across it.
Was there ever an actress so ill-served by makeup, costuming and cinematography than Maggie Gyllenhaal in this movie? You know those two lines that everyone has running vertically from their noses to their upper lips in the mustache area? Gyllenthal’s are so prominently visible here as to make her look alien. While she’s not a knockout under any circumstances, this film made her look almost dumpy, which was surely not its intention. And she has absolutely zero romantic chemistry either of the two men her character is supposedly attracted to.
As to Heath Ledger, it’s clear that dying was an excellent career move for him. He turns in a fine performance as The Joker, but it’s not amazing, it’s not extraordinary, it’s not astonishing. He did a very good job with a mediocre script, and I think that had he not died everyone would recognize it as such. Instead, he’s being praised to the high heavens. Apparently death bumps you up one letter grade.
The chase and fight scenes are ho-hum and did not convey to me any sense of excitement or peril. A lot of them are filmed in murky lighting, with the director using a lot of rapid-fire jump cuts to give the impression of much action and excitement rather than to actually tell what is happening in the action. I couldn’t help but compare the action shots in this movie unfavorably to those of Vantage Point, another summer popcorn flick that for me succeeded in many areas where Batman failed.
I wanted to like this film. I like Batman. I was really in the mood for a summer movie. Oh well.
When in the course of human events the government becomes
destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the Right
of the People to alter it and demand restoration of those
Constitutional Principles that have so long assured their Liberty,
Safety, and Happiness. Therefore, on the anniversary of our
Independence, we offer this new declaration for our times.
The history of this president is one of arbitrary usurpations of power, the effect of which is to establish tyranny through false promises of gerater security.
He has created a multitude of secret programs and sent swarms of petty officers to spy on Americans
in a misguided effort to combat foreign terrorism. He has invested
these agents with sweeping new powers to monitor our conversations and
ransack our personal papers and effects without judicial supervision or
any reason to believe -- as the Constitution requires -- that a crime
has been committed.
He has further claimed the power to disregard legislation that Congress has passed.
He has suspended the laws and treaties against torture,
authorized the kidnapping of mere suspects, and transported hundreds of
prisoners beyond seas so that no independent judiciary could question
the legality of their mistreatment.
He and his supporters in Congress have granted amnesty to the officials who unleashed torture and humiliation upon helpless prisoners, to the disgrace of our nation.
He has denied these prisoners access to attorneys, family, and friends
and has claimed the right to try them before military tribunals
specifically designed to disregard the most basic principles of law.
He has imprisoned thousands of lawful immigrants for
months without charges, under brutal conditions, until his agents,
rather than independent courts, decide that they posed no threat.
He has wrapped his usurpations of power and his deprivations of liberty in thick cloaks of secrecy, thereby showing contempt for the rule of law and the proper functions of Congress, the courts, and the press.
At every stage of these oppressions we have sought redress, but our petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.
We, therefore, resolve to resist these usurpations by all lawful means at our disposal.
We insist that the powers of our national government be shared by all
branches of that government and not concentrated in one alone. And we
call upon Congress, the courts, and the press to reassert their
constitutional functions and restore the promise that is America.
To these ends, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes
for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make
no mistake about it: We are At War now -- with somebody -- and we will
stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.
It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled
by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It
will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no
identifiable enemy. Osama bin Laden may be a primitive "figurehead" --
or even dead, for all we know -- but whoever put those All-American jet
planes loaded with All-American fuel into the Twin Towers and the
Pentagon did it with chilling precision and accuracy. The second one
was a dead-on bullseye. Straight into the middle of the skyscraper.
Nothing -- even George Bush's $350 billion "Star Wars" missile defense
system -- could have prevented Tuesday's attack, and it cost next to
nothing to pull off. Fewer than 20 unarmed Suicide soldiers from some
apparently primitive country somewhere on the other side of the world
took out the World Trade Center and half the Pentagon with three quick
and costless strikes on one day. The efficiency of it was terrifying.
We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what
will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan,
maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not
even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York
papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for
This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not
guaranteed -- for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as
George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long
time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by
Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a
National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter
where they live or why. If the guilty won't hold up their hands and
confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.
Major Briggs (drugged with sodium pentothal): The possibility that love is not enough.
Don S. Davis--Major Garland Briggs in Twin Peaks--died of a heart attack last weekend. Characters in that show were never two-dimensional. In his first appearances in the series, The Major seems like a slightly off-kilter stereotype of a emotionally stunted law-and-order military man. But as the series unwinds, it becomes evident that he is so much more, thanks in large part to Davis's understated performance. There was always more to The Major than Davis revealed--which is why his scenes ended with me always wanting to see more of him.