I now don my Kevlar vest once again, to offer up my picks for the best films that opened in 2011. I should qualify that. These are my picks for the “top ten” movies out of the 50+ first run features I have selected to review on Hullabaloo since January. Since I am (literally) a “weekend movie critic”, I don’t have the time (or the bucks, frankly, with admission prices these days) to screen every new release; especially with that soul-sucking 9 to 5 gig that takes up my weekdays (so I can eat and pay rent and junk). Unless, of course, you’d like to offer me a six-figure salary, and cover my expenses to attend Cannes, Toronto, Sundance and Tribeca…no? Then I’m afraid this is as good as it gets, dear reader-presented in alphabetical order, as per usual. Oh, and Happy New Year!
Another Earth-I will bet you dollars to donuts that you heard blather aplenty in 2011 regarding Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (which I reviewed here) yet next to nothing about this thematically similar gem. Funny thing…Malick’s film cost $32,000,000 to produce, and this one cost, well, next to nothing ($150,000). I’m just saying. In essence a two-character drama, writer-director Mike Cahill’s auspicious narrative feature debut is a “sci-fi” film mostly in the academic sense; don’t expect to see CGI aliens in 3-D. Orbiting somewhere in proximity of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, its concerns are more metaphysical than astrophysical. And not unlike Tarkovsky, it demands your full and undivided attention. The emotionally raw performances from (co-scripter) Brit Marling and William Mapother are quite remarkable, and will haunt you for days. Full review
Certified Copy - Just when you’re being lulled into thinking this is going to be one of those brainy, talky, yet pleasantly diverting romantic romps where you and your date can amuse yourselves by placing bets on “will they or won’t they-that is, if they can both shut up long enough to get down to business before the credits roll” propositions, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami throws you a curveball. Then again, maybe this film isn’t so much about “thinking”, as it is about “perceiving”. Because if it’s true that a “film” is merely (if I may quote Orson Welles) “a ribbon of dreams”-then Certified Copy, like any true work of art, is simply what you perceive it to be-nothing more, nothing less. Even if it leaves you scratching your head, you get to revel in the luminosity of Juliette Binoche’s amazing performance; there’s pure poetry in every glance, every gesture. Full review
The Descendants- In the course of (what passes for) my “career” as a movie critic, I have avowed to avoid the trite phrase “heartwarming family film” as a descriptive. Well, so much for principles. The Descendants is a heartwarming family film. There, I said it. Now, let me qualify that. Since it is directed by Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, Sideways) it is not a typical heartwarming family film. It is a heartwarming family film riddled with dysfunction and middle-aged angst (which is how I prefer my heartwarming family films, thank you very much). Think of it as Terms of Endearment goes Hawaiian. Payne’s screenplay (co-adapted with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, from the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings) consistently hits the sweet spot between comedy and drama, giving us characters who, in spite of (or perhaps, due to) their contradictions and flaws, are people to whom we can all (un)easily relate to. Full review
3 (Drei)- German director Tom Tykwer finally answers that age-old question: What would happen if a bio-ethicist and an art engineer, who have had a loving, 20-year relationship should find themselves falling head-over-heels in love (unbeknownst to each other) with the same genetics research scientist? This is a relatively low-key effort from a director who has built his rep from kinetic, stylized fare like Run Lola Run and The International. Still, I found this surprisingly conventional romantic romp about an unconventional love triangle amongst the Berlin intelligentsia playful, erotic and smart. And if there is a message, it’s surely imbedded within the film’s most quotable line: “Say goodbye to your deterministic understanding of biology.” Uh, bon voyage? Full Review
Drive- Ryan Gosling gives one of his best performances to date as a Hollywood stuntman by day, a wheelman-for-hire by night in this richly atmospheric, top-notch crime thriller from Danish director Nicolas Winding. Paradoxically (and in true Steve McQueen fashion) Gosling is technically giving more of a non-performance; he is not quite all there, yet he is wholly present (i.e. the less he “does”, the more intriguing he becomes). From a purely cinematic standpoint, the director proves himself to be on a par with masters of modern noir like Michael Mann, David Lynch and Christopher Nolan. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Albert Brooks, whose quietly menacing turn as a mean, spiteful, razor-toting viper goes against type (don’t expect Albert to be the “ ha-ha” kind of clown in this outing; this is more like the, er, John Wayne Gacy kind of clown). Full review
The First Grader- Even though I knew from frame one that this year’s SIFF opening night selection was one of those “triumph of the human spirit over insurmountable socio-economic and/or political odds” tales engineered to tug mercilessly at the strings of my big ol’ pinko-commie, anti-imperialist, bleeding softie lib’rul heart, I nonetheless loved every minute of it. Beautifully directed by Justin Chadwick, the film dramatizes the true story of an illiterate 84 year-old Kikuyu tribesman (Oliver Litando) who had been a freedom fighter during the Mau-Mau uprising that took place in Kenya in the 1950s. Fired up by a 2002 Kenyan law that guaranteed free education for all citizens, he shows up at his local one-room schoolhouse one day, eager to hit the books and realize a long-time dream. The real story, however, lies in his past. The sacrifices he made and personal tragedy he suffered comes slowly and deliberately into focus; resulting in a denouement that packs a powerful, bittersweet emotional gut punch a la Sophie’s Choice. Full review
Midnight in Paris- Let’s put this to bed once and for all. Were Woody Allen’s early movies really “funnier”-or are they simply portals back to a carefree time when we still had our whole life ahead of us? Lest you think that this is one of his gloomy, Bergman-esque excursions-I assure you that it’s not. It’s romantic, intelligent, perceptive, funny, and yes…it’s magical. There’s a fantastic supporting cast, including Rachael MacAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody. And to think that Woody could make me love a film starring Owen Wilson? Now, that is some kinda magic trick. Full review
Summer Wars-Don’t be misled by the cartoonish title of Mamoru Hosoda’s eye-popping movie-this could be the Gone with the Wind of Japanese anime. OK…that’s a tad hyperbolic. But it does have drama, romance, comedy, and war-centering around a bucolic family estate. Maybe Tokyo Story meets War Games? At any rate, it’s one of the better animes of recent years. Although a few narrative devices in Satoko Ohuder’s screenplay will feel somewhat familiar to anime fans (particularly when it comes to the more bombastic “cyber-punk” elements of the story), it’s the humanistic touches and subtle social observations (quite reminiscent of the films by the great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu) that make it such a worthwhile and satisfying entertainment. BTW...just to head some smarty pants off at the pass: Yes, I know the film was released in Japan in 2009. However, it did not open in the U.S. until Christmas 2010 (as a limited engagement). It opened here in Seattle February 2011. Get it? Got it. Good! Full review
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy- When I say that Swedish director Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carre’s classic espionage thriller is “byzantine and multi-layered”, I mean that in the best way possible, thanks in no small part to that rarest of animals found at the multiplex these days: The Intelligent Script (#1 on the endangered species list). Not only do Alfredson, his writers (Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan) and actors (an exemplary stable of British thesps led by Gary Oldman) stubbornly refuse to insult our intelligence, but they aren’t afraid to make us do something else that we haven’t done in a while: lean forward in our seat to catch every nuance of plot and character. Full Review
The Trip- The latest from eclectic British director Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour PartyPeople, The Road to Guantanamo). Pared down into feature film length from the 6-episode BBC TV series, it could be seen as a highlight reel of that show-which is not to denigrate, because it is the most genuinely hilarious comedy I’ve seen in many a moon. The levity is due in no small part to Winterbottom’s two stars-Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, essentially playing themselves in this mashup of My Dinner with Andre and Sideways. The simple narrative setup is basically an excuse to sit back and enjoy Coogan and Brydon’s brilliant comic riffing (much of it feels improvised) on everything from relationships to the “proper” way to do Michael Caine impressions. There’s some unexpected poignancy as well-but for the most part, it’s pure comedy gold. Full Review
"A sample of the hopes, fears and reflections on that last night of American history’s most momentous year"
Here's a nice piece from the New York Times, recalling where the nation was exactly 150 years ago today:
Camp Wood, near Munfordville, Ky., Dec. 31, 1861
Near a half-ruined railroad bridge along the Green River, a fresh Union Army recruit stood on lonely sentry duty as the year 1861 passed into history. Pvt. Lyman Widney, a 19-year-old farmer’s son, wrote in his diary:
December 31, 1861.
Being detailed on guard duty today, it was my lot to stand solitary and alone at my post when the old year died. Watching its dying hours from ten to twelve, my mind reverted to the watch meetings of previous years. All was so quiet in the camp before me and in the deep shadows of the towering hills behind me that life and animation seemed to be ebbing away with the old year, leaving me alone with my gun to guard the camp of the dead; and as the lengthened moments of the eleventh hour gave place to the twelfth and last, I was almost tempted to commit a breach of discipline and discharge my musket to warn my comrades that the old year was about to slip away unobserved and a new year of untried, undiscoverable dangers, victories and peace, or defeats and death, was spreading its wings of light or darkness, who could tell, to envelop us all.
The young soldier’s reverie was interrupted at midnight by distant cheers and a burst of music from the regimental band. The year ahead was indeed to bring undiscoverable dangers for his comrades in the 34th Illinois Infantry, many of whom would lie dead or injured on the field at Shiloh before the leaves of springtime had fully bloomed.
On that first New Year’s Eve of the Civil War, Private Widney was not alone in pondering what the past 12 months had meant and wondering what the next 12 might bring. Neither he nor most other Americans could have guessed that the final moments of 1862 would see thousands of African-Americans standing vigil in churches and meeting halls, awaiting midnight and a new birth of freedom.
For now, emancipation still lay in the unseen future. But herewith is a sample of the hopes, fears and reflections on that last night of American history’s most momentous year, as expressed in newspaper editorials both Northern and Southern.
Read on for those. (And ponder the eloquence of this 19 year old farmer's son of 150 years ago.)
Our late and much missed comrade in blogging, journalist and writer Al Weisel, revered and admired across the bandwidth as the “reasonable conservative” blogger Modest Jon Swift, was a champion of the lesser known and little known bloggers working tirelessly in the shadows...
One of his projects was a year-end Blogger Round Up. Al/Jon asked bloggers far and wide, famous and in- and not at all, to submit a link to their favorite post of the past twelve months and then he sorted, compiled, blurbed, hyperlinked and posted them on his popular blog. His round-ups presented readers with a huge banquet table of links to work many of has had missed the first time around and brought those bloggers traffic and, more important, new readers they wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed.
It may not have been the most heroic endeavor, but it was kind and generous and a lot of us owe our continued presence in the blogging biz to Al.
Click this link to read a collection of fantastic writing from around the blogosphere this year that you may have missed.
And kudos to Hullabaloo Contributor and my pal Batocchio for keeping the tradition alive.
As a way of reducing national deficits, austerity is terribly ineffective policy, as it weakens the middle-class tax base and long-term economic growth. But as a way of raking more money out of the middle class and into the pockets of the super-wealthy parasitic brigands, it's fantastic policy.
When Newt Gingrich opened up a sizable lead in Iowa last month, he was promptly broadsided by a torrent of negative Super PAC advertisements that now threaten to sink his once-promising campaign...
According to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, 264 Super PACs have raised more than $32 million and spent nearly $16 million in the 2012 election cycle so far.
The plurality of the funds spent in the GOP presidential primary have targeted Gingrich, whose surprising rise in the polls far surpassed the brief booms by other second-tier candidates, such as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain...
The impact is clear: With the Iowa caucus only four days away, Gingrich has fallen into the second tier of candidates and currently sits in fifth place, according to an NBC-Marist poll released Friday. [...] But the former House Speaker doesn’t need to look too far back to find historical context for what plagues him: Gingrich was a vocal supporter of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in favor of Citizens United against the Federal Election Commission that opened the door for the unlimited spending the Super PACs that back his rivals are now using against him.
With his familiar grandiloquent flair, Gingrich at the time called the Supreme Court ruling “one of the most sophisticated, methodological and serious strategies I’ve seen in my years in looking at government.”
“We need to recognize the effect of virtually all efforts to limit political speech, which I believe are unconstitutional,” Gingrich said. “You would have a much freer and healthier system if you say any American can give any amount of after-tax income as long as they report it every night on the Internet so that everybody else can determine who is supporting who.”
The Restore Our Future (ROF) PAC reports its numbers on the Internet, and it supports Mitt Romney. ROF has spent more than $4 million this cycle in ads against Gingrich, and now seems as if it’s just piling on him: It spent more than $1.2 million this week alone, even though Gingrich no longer poses the threat he once did.
I don't think Newtie was serious about becoming president and he knows which side his Tiffany credit card is buttered on so he won't say anything. But he's got to feel like he was run over by a Mack truck. Live by Citizens United, die by Citizens United.
This New York Times article has more details. If this continues, there really won't be much point in having primaries. It basically adds up to very rich rich people in very expensive smoke filled rooms buying the nomination. How it affects the general remains to be seen but it's hard to imagine that it won't have an impact. All we can hope for is that these ads become so ubiquitous and the bombardment so annoying that people's subconscious rebels and they cancel themselves out. Then all that money will be a sort of economic stimulus and nothing more.
Here’s a recent story that didn’t get much notice; a firefighter aboard a flight to Kansas City subdued and restrained a man who was trying to break into the airplane’s cockpit, potentially saving the lives of everyone aboard: Action aboard airplane creates a reluctant hero. You might suspect that this incident involved a Muslim, and you’d be right.
Paging Pam Geller. They're coming to get us!
His name is Jabir Hazziez Jr., and he’s the firefighter who saved the plane.
Ooops. How are we going to tell the good guys from the bad guys now?
Apparently, ole Mitt is ashamed of his ... assets:
We already know Mitt Romney is a really, really wealthy guy. And, though he was born to wealth, he has also made a lot of money himself. He’s also said he’ll release information about his wealth, his assets … a lot of stuff. But just not the taxes.
So what’s the deal? It’s pretty simple. We might say that a specter is haunting Mitt Romney — the specter of the Buffett Rule.
This is Romney’s problem. While we don’t know the specifics of Romney’s tax returns, we know enough about his finances and sources of incomes to know that he is the poster-boy for the Buffett Rule. As Romney likes to say, he’s unemployed. He doesn’t draw a salary. But he seems to still be making big big money off capital gains which are currently taxed at a very low rate. He doesn’t seem to have drawn a salary at any time recently. So he likely pays no payroll taxes. And that’s before you get into legal but aggressive tax-sheltering. It seems virtually impossible that Mitt Romney doesn’t pay the sort of effective tax rate that would make people’s eyes pop when compared to middle income and even relatively wealthy (by normal standards) people who pay considerably higher rates.
Perhaps. But well-bred candidates of a certain class simply don't go around showing their taxes to just anyone. Why buy the politician if he already owns the cow?
I think people should show up at all his events and whistle and catcall him to show his tax(es).
As always, Adele Stan nails the story when it comes to the connections among the far right fringies. In today's piece she draws together the strands that bring Ron Paul and the lunatic Christian Reconstructionists together. I urge you to read the whole thing -- it's quite illuminating. Here's the conclusion:
Ron Paul seeks to shrink the federal government to minimal size not because it intrudes in the lives of individuals, but because it stands in the way of allowing the states and localities to enact laws as they see fit -- even laws that govern people's behavior in their bedrooms.
Here's what Paul published on the Web site of Lew Rockwell -- allegedly one of the authors of his racist, homophobic newsletters -- about the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas that struck down the state's anti-sodomy laws, which prohibited sex between men:
The Court determined that Texas had no right to establish its own standards for private sexual conduct, because gay sodomy is somehow protected under the 14th amendment "right to privacy." Ridiculous as sodomy laws may be, there clearly is no right to privacy nor sodomy found anywhere in the Constitution. There are, however, states' rights — rights plainly affirmed in the Ninth and Tenth amendments. Under those amendments, the State of Texas has the right to decide for itself how to regulate social matters like sex, using its own local standards. But rather than applying the real Constitution and declining jurisdiction over a properly state matter, the Court decided to apply the imaginary Constitution and impose its vision on the people of Texas.
This plays neatly into the hands of Paul's Christian Reconstructionist friends, who seek the destruction of the federal government for the opportunity to implement "God's law" on earth. Via Warren Throckmorton's invaluable Web site, comes this quote from the Christian Reconstructionist Bojidar Marinov, who writes of why "theonomists," as Reconstructionists define themselves, should root for Ron Paul:
The theonomic solution to the problems of sodomy and abortion can not be achieved at the Federal level because at that level liberals outnumber conservatives 20 to 1. And theonomic Christians are almost non-existent at that level. It is only when the socialist state is dismantled and power returned back to the states and the counties that we will be able to successfully deal with the other social and moral issues. As long as sin is protected at the Federal level, our political job as Christians is to dismantle the Federal bureaucracy and return all power to the local communities. Therefore, the great battle is against the socialist state.
Given that, Ron Paul is the man with the best position to work for that goal on the national level.
I continue to wonder why Ron Paul is considered a libertarian. He's an isolationist Tenther. If that's your philosophy, then fine. But I think an awful lot of libertarians are missing the bait and switch.
Update: There's a lot of talk about how all this libertarian white supremacy was just a political pact with the devil 30 years ago, along the lines of the Southern Strategy. That may be true. But it seems that Ron Paul has bought his own hype, if that's the case.
He could be crusading to end the drug war, for instance, on a moral or philosophical level. But as with his defense of Lawrence as a states' rights issue, he isn't. He crusading for it to be devolved to a state by state issue. That is not the same thing.
Libertarianism has a real position on this and it's universal:
Individuals should be free to make choices for themselves and to accept responsibility for the consequences of the choices they make. No individual, group, or government may initiate force against any other individual, group, or government.
Nothing in that says force is ok as long as its used by the state of Texas instead of the FBI. And yet, that's Ron Paul's position on sodomy laws and drug laws and choice and a whole host of issues pertaining to individual liberties and human rights. So all of you who believe that Ron Paul would release the millions incarcerated for the victimless crime of using drugs should realize that he would only release those held in federal prisons. If you're locked up in the State Penitentiary, he sympathizes, but thinks that States have a perfect right to do it.
In case you were wondering, the total federal prison population in 2010 was around 200,000 people while the state and local prison population was about 1.5 million. Paul says there's nothing he can do about the latter and wouldn't dream of telling those states what they should and shouldn't do. That's his principle, not freeing the victims of the drug war.
Update II: More on Paul's Antebellum politics here and here. .
Sam Stein reports that little Newtie is feeling all sorry for himself now that he's tanking in Iowa after being barraged by 10 million dollars worth of negative ads:
At the Rotary Club, he waxed nostalgic about the old days, recalling -- in a sanitized way -- how he had run a "positive" campaign to taker over the House based on his "Contract with America."
"It was a positive, issue-oriented campaign that fall," he told the Rotarians. He said he had wanted to do the same in the presidential campaign but had been blindsided by how nasty and "cynical" the contest was. "We got off to a bad start," he said. "I can't do modern politics." A tired Gingrich suddenly looked the part of the college professor he once was.
Right. He don't know nothin' bout all this negativity. He's just an old country perfesser --- a political Mr Chips, if you will --- who got caught in the crossfire of modern political warfare.
As you know, one of the key points in the GOPAC tapes is that "language matters." In the video "We are a Majority," Language is listed as a key mechanism of control used by a majority party, along with Agenda, Rules, Attitude and Learning. As the tapes have been used in training sessions across the country and mailed to candidates we have heard a plaintive plea: "I wish I could speak like Newt."
That takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases.
All those years of practice paid off --- for his opponents.
Update: He's a very sensitive fellow:
The Villagers are all calling it a "Hillary moment." But when she welled up in New Hampshire they all claimed it was a ruthlessly calculated "Madame DeFarge" moment. Newtie's just showing his softer side.
Yesterday, the Rude Pundit was walking down near Ground Zero, New York City, as one must sometimes do in the course of day-to-day activities, when heard someone over a megaphone say, "Never forget. Never forget," repeatedly, flatly, almost mournfully. This was on the corner of Broadway and Fulton, across the street from St. Paul's Chapel, one block from the former World Trade Center twin towers. He turned to see what this was, thinking perhaps another protest.
Instead, he saw four figures. Two men, one with a voice that sounded like a megaphone and a sign that read, "Support Our Heroes," the other with an American flag. And two people wearing what seemed to be brightly smiling ping-pong ball outfits. And, oh, dear, kind readers, the Rude Pundit is not lying to you when he says that one of the ping-pong balls had a "9" emblazoned on it and the other had an "11." They also wore caps.
Ah, the people on the street were delighted at the sight. And when they took out their cameras or phones to snap a picture, the entire group stopped and waved at the grinning photographers. Then, the photo op done, the foursome would move on, with the first man continuing his sad wail of "Never forget." read on...
It's a good thing those ping pong balls weren't Muslim, that's all I can say. That would have been so disrespectful.
I'll be getting married today at 1pm Pacific time to my lovely fiancee and life partner of 7 years KK Holland. The only thing that dims the brightness of this day is the knowledge that the freedom to share the same expression of devotion is still denied by force of discriminatory law to same-sex couples across America. Hopefully those barriers will come down soon as the long arc of justice continues on its course.
In the meantime, here's hoping for a beautiful day for you and your loved ones as we approach a new year.
And much hand-wringing will ensue on the left, as they try to decide whether or not they like a racist anti-war isolationist who favors a society of bare-foot, pregnant women smoking dope in the kitchen.
Egyptian security forces stormed the offices of 17 nonprofit groups around the country on Thursday, including at least three democracy-promotion groups financed by the United States, as part of an investigation that the military rulers say will reveal foreign hands in the recent outbreak of protests.
In Cairo, heavily armed men wearing the black uniforms of the central security police tore through boxes, hauled away files and computers and prevented employees from leaving the offices of the two American groups, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, which are affiliated with American political parties and financed by the United States government. The security forces also raided the offices of Washington-based Freedom House.
The raids were a stark escalation in what has appeared to be a campaign by the country’s military rulers to rally support by playing to nationalist and anti-American sentiment here.
The military has the money and guns in Egypt. When the people gathered en masse in Tahrir Square, the military eventually found it more convenient to dump Mubarak than to keep him.
I honestly don't see how this resolves well. Certainly, history tells us that military juntas do sometimes end without the need for external war, civil war or bloody revolution. But they tend to stay in power for a long time once they're created, and there's not a whole lot the people can do about it.
Nobody of whom I'm aware ever thought of President Obama as Mr. Happy Fun Guy. The last guy, you may recall, was bouncy and gregarious and handed out alpha-male frat-boy nicknames, and then he got in there and screwed up the country. Moreover, if there are five people of value who still care what James Carville — let alone Gerald Rafshoon — thinks about anything, I don't know them. But perhaps the singular failure of this particular "White House Memo" is its argument that things would be better all around if the president had "reached out" to the Congress. Good god, there are even some Democrats in there saying it, which is a very good indication of the problems the president has, none of which will be solved by some discreet hand-holding over the canapes at Ben and Sally's.
There is a lot to criticize president Obama for, but failing to properly kiss the Village Tabbies' rings is not one of them. Indeed, if he's aloof toward these people, all the better.
TNR is running a "most overlooked stories" of the year feature that covers everything from the odd demise of the Do Not Call registry to state level budget slashing.
But this one stands out because I had completely forgotten about it and yet it frames the entire economic argument of the past year:
Walter Shapiro: Obama’s Failed Fireside Chat
Last July 25, on his 916th day in the White House, Barack Obama finally delivered a formal Oval Office address on the issue that will define his presidency—the economy. Obama’s words that night were devoid of Clinton-esque empathy over the plight of the unemployed and Roosevelt-ian attacks on Wall Street power brokers. Instead, playing to the sensible center in the debt-ceiling fight, Obama called for “a balanced approach to reducing the deficit” and urged viewers to send the message to Congress that “we can solve this problem through compromise.” For a president elected because of his eloquence, Obama summoned up all the poetry of the collected workout routines of George W. Bush. [...] The point is not to re-argue the wisdom of Obama’s ever-shifting strategy in the debt-ceiling fight or to retroactively reward the Republicans for their dangerous intransigence. Rather, the goal is to highlight one of the central mysteries of Obama’s presidency: Why has his rhetoric about the troubled economy been so consistently turgid? Much of the Oval Office address sounded like it was written by a focus group. At times of trouble, there is nothing so stirring as a president calling for a “balanced approach” and raising the dread specter of “kicking the can further down the road.”
A single off-key speech does not jeopardize a presidency. But Obama resisted an Oval Office address on the economy during all the dark days of double-digit unemployment, preferring speeches to Congress punctuated by partisan cheering sections and prime-time press conferences punctuated by preening reporters. The problem was that neither forum allowed Obama to make a sustained economic argument rather than simply offering applause lines or jousting with journalists. As a result, Obama has never been able to convince voters that increasing the deficit during hard times hastens the speed of an economy recovery. Small wonder Obama is heading into his reelection campaign with Republicans believing that he is a European-style socialist and too many Democrats worrying that he is a trimmer with no more inner convictions than Mitt Romney.
To revive an old joke: On July 25, 2011, Barack Obama gave a fireside address—and the fire went out.
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I think the President and his men believed in his Grand Bargain from the very beginning and embraced the cracked idea that the people would reward them for being "balanced" and the "only grown-up in the room." They thought that Americans wanted turgid scolds about "skin in the game" and "kicking the can down the road" --- that placid technocratic "no drama Obama" was the selling point.
I agree that it was bizarre considering the circumstances. And the president seems to have realized somewhere down the line that he needed to show the public that he has a pulse. But Shapiro is probably correct in highlighting that moment as the one where a whole lot of supporters stared at the screen and sighed. Everything about this speech was just ... wrong.
As we celebrate another Yuletide season, it's hard not to notice that Christmas in America simply doesn't feel the same anymore. Although an overwhelming majority of Americans celebrate Christmas, and those who don't celebrate it overwhelmingly accept and respect our nation's Christmas traditions, a certain shared public sentiment slowly has disappeared. The Christmas spirit, marked by a wonderful feeling of goodwill among men, is in danger of being lost in the ongoing war against religion.
Through perverse court decisions and years of cultural indoctrination, the elitist, secular Left has managed to convince many in our nation that religion must be driven from public view. The justification is always that someone, somewhere, might possibly be offended or feel uncomfortable living in the midst of a largely Christian society, so all must yield to the fragile sensibilities of the few. The ultimate goal of the anti-religious elites is to transform America into a completely secular nation, a nation that is legally and culturally biased against Christianity.
This growing bias explains why many of our wonderful Christmas traditions have been lost. Christmas pageants and plays, including Handel's Messiah, have been banned from schools and community halls. Nativity scenes have been ordered removed from town squares, and even criticized as offensive when placed on private church lawns. Office Christmas parties have become taboo, replaced by colorless seasonal parties to ensure no employees feel threatened by a “hostile environment.” Even wholly non-religious decorations featuring Santa Claus, snowmen, and the like have been called into question as Christmas symbols that might cause discomfort. Earlier this month, firemen near Chicago reluctantly removed Christmas decorations from their firehouse after a complaint by some embittered busybody. Most noticeably, however, the once commonplace refrain of “Merry Christmas” has been replaced by the vague, ubiquitous “Happy Holidays.” But what holiday? Is Christmas some kind of secret, a word that cannot be uttered in public? Why have we allowed the secularists to intimidate us into downplaying our most cherished and meaningful Christian celebration?
The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers. On the contrary, our Founders' political views were strongly informed by their religious beliefs. Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be aghast at the federal government's hostility to religion. The establishment clause of the First Amendment was simply intended to forbid the creation of an official state church like the Church of England, not to drive religion out of public life.
The Founding Fathers envisioned a robustly Christian yet religiously tolerant America, with churches serving as vital institutions that would eclipse the state in importance. Throughout our nation's history, churches have done what no government can ever do, namely teach morality and civility. Moral and civil individuals are largely governed by their own sense of right and wrong, and hence have little need for external government. This is the real reason the collectivist Left hates religion: Churches as institutions compete with the state for the people's allegiance, and many devout people put their faith in God before their faith in the state. Knowing this, the secularists wage an ongoing war against religion, chipping away bit by bit at our nation's Christian heritage. Christmas itself may soon be a casualty of that war.
“Every barrel of oil that comes out of those sands in Canada is a barrel of oil that we don’t have to buy from a foreign source,” Mr. Perry said in Clarinda, earning a loud round of enthusiastic applause.
Later, the audience reacted again to Mr. Perry’s assertion that buying so much energy from foreign countries is “not good policy, it’s not good politics and frankly it’s un-American.”
In Republican land, "foreign" doesn't mean what it does to you and me. It means "vaguely brown, Mooslim countries with names likes Ooz-beki-beki-beki-stan."
By Republican definitions, Canada isn't a foreign country. That's white Christian American oil right there.
Unless the subject is healthcare. Then Canada's as foreign as can be.
On this day 38 years ago Richard Nixon signed into law the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a landmark moment in human development when we formally recognized that animals and plants—imperiled as "a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation"—deserved to survive... and need our protection in order to survive.
The ESA has been embattled since its birth. But so is every advance in human thinking that expands the rights and humane treatment of nonhuman others.
Currently, there are ~1,990 species listed under the ESA. Some 1,380 of these inhabit the US and its waters. The rest are foreign species.
I'm sure most of you are aware of all this. (And if you aren't you should be reading Greenwald and Emptywheel more often.) But this time it's in the Washington Post, mentioned as blithely as one might talk about the naming of airports and post offices:
The Obama administration’s counterterrorism accomplishments are most apparent in what it has been able to dismantle, including CIA prisons and entire tiers of al-Qaeda’s leadership. But what the administration has assembled, hidden from public view, may be equally consequential.
In the space of three years, the administration has built an extensive apparatus for using drones to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists and stealth surveillance of other adversaries. The apparatus involves dozens of secret facilities, including two operational hubs on the East Coast, virtual Air Force cockpits in the Southwest and clandestine bases in at least six countries on two continents.
Other commanders in chief have presided over wars with far higher casualty counts. But no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.
The article doesn't seem to find any of this particularly shocking. They ran it on the Monday after Christmas, so they certainly weren't looking for any publicity. But it is just a little bit disconcerting that a President who ran as an anti-war candidate and received the Nobel Peace Prize is doing it, don't you think?
Sources indicate that much of the growth of this program came about because of the growth of the technology. I guess that, like children with toys, those who have access to them simply have to use them.
This, by the way, is why racism, theocracy and libertarianism go hand in hand, when from a philosophical point of view they should have little to do with one another. The negative effects of the lack of a central government are so obvious in developing countries that wherever the social order fails as in Somalia, it must have been due to bad religion, or the defect of having been born to an inferior race.
Ron Paul fans must reassure themselves that such things would never happen to white, Christian folk. They're immune from the Somali problem by virtue being of different stock and different values, you see.
The "Somalia" argument is a sore spot for libertarians. They either fall back on the old line of race and religious prejudice I outlined, or they claim that it isn't true Libertarianism, you see: it's anarchy. True Libertarians believe in just enough government to protect private property and personal safety; without those protections, they argue, anarchy ensues.
The only problem for libertarians is that they cannot point to even a single current or historical example of a government that functions as they imagine it should. They have no concrete, real world examples, so they ply their arguments in a theoretical construct.
Each and every example of places with little centralized government is dismissed by libertarians as an anarchistic situation, not a "true" Libertarianism. It's the "no true Scotman" fallacy, Ron Paul edition. The hellish situation in Afghanistan is blamed on 30 years of war and tribal anarchy, rather than the lack of a central government. The case of Somalia is blamed again on war, on American intervention, and again on tribal anarchy. Historical examples of feudalism arising in the absence of a centralized state, or the repeated Dark Ages that arise after civilization collapses, are dismissed as either irrelevant to the modern world or invalid because of war and anarchy. The fact that corruption and the Mafia are more prevalent in southern Italy where tax collection and central government are weaker than in the North, is again dismissed as a cultural or anarchistic issue. It's always the same argument.
Libertarianism, in other words, is infallible. Wherever it fails, it does so because the people weren't ready for it, or there was too much violence to allow it to work, or because the government wasn't powerful enough to protect people from harm.
Libertarians fail to realize that there has never been--and never will be--a government that functions according to their principles because it runs entirely contrary to human nature.
As any libertarian understands when it comes to statist authoritarians, power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. When you decentralize and remove the modern welfare state, leaving only essentially a glorified police force in charge to protect private property and personal safety, one of two things happens:
1) The central police force turns into a right-wing military dictatorship invested in stamping out all leftist thinking, then appropriating the country's wealth for themselves and their friends (e.g., Chile under Pinochet);
2) All central authority and protection break down completely as power localizes into the hands of local criminals and feudal/tribal warlords with little compunction about abusing and terrorizing the local population (e.g., feudal France, Afghanistan, Somalia, western Pakistan, etc.) As I said before:
Feudalism is the inevitable historical consequence of the decline of a centralized cosmopolitan state. That's because the exercise of power by those in a position to wield it does not end with the elimination of federal authority: rather, it simply shifts to those of a more localized, more tyrannical, and less democratically accountable bent.
Urban street gangs in under-policed neighborhoods, mafias in under-taxed countries, and groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon invariably step in to fill the void where government fails. When the Japanese government wasn't able to adequately help the population after the earthquake and tsunami, the yakuza helpfully stepped in to do it for them. The devolution of local authority and taxation into the hands of criminal groups willing to provide a safety net in exchange for their cut of the action is the invariable pre-feudal result of the breakdown of the government-backed safety net. It happens every single time. The people will want a safety net where utter chaos doesn't prevent it: they'll either get it from an accountable governmental authority, or from a non-governmental authority of shadowy legality. Both kinds of authority will levy their own form of taxation, be it legal and official, or part of an illegal protection scheme.
In its own way, the "No True Libertarianism" argument is very similar to the "No True Communism" of those on the far left, who argue that the fault of Communism lies not with the idea, but with the practice--despite the fact that no successful large-scale Communism has ever been implemented in the world. Neither ideology can fail its adherents. They can only be failed by imperfect practitioners.
Both ideologies run counter to human nature for the same reason: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The people with the money and guns will always abuse the people who don't have the money and guns, unless there are multiple levels of checks, balances, and legal and economic protections to ensure the existence of a middle-class tax base with a stake in maintaining a stable society. The modern welfare state didn't arise by accident or conspiracy: it evolved as a means of avoiding the failures of other models.
Libertarianism is a philosophical game played by those without either enough real-world experience of localized, non-state-actor tyranny, or enough awareness of history to understand the immaturity of their political worldview. Unfortunately, the harm they do to the social safety net and to governmental checks and balances is all too real, and all too damaging.
Reached by phone, Kayser confirmed to TPM that he believed in reinstating BIblical punishments for homosexuals — including the death penalty — even if he didn’t see much hope for it happening anytime soon. While he said he and Paul disagree on gay rights, noting that Paul recently voted for repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, he supported the campaign because he believed Paul’s federalist take on the Constitution would allow states more latitude to implement fundamentalist law. Especially since Kayser believes that there is no separation of Church and State under his own interpretation of the Constitution.
“Under a Ron Paul presidency, states would be freed up to not have political correctness imposed on them, but obviously some state would follow what’s politically correct,” he said. “What he’s trying to do, whether he agrees with the Constitution’s position or not, is restrict himself to the Constitution. That is something I very much appreciate.”
When I talk about Ron Paul's antebellum politics this is what I mean --- a reversion to the way the country was fashioned before 1860. Indeed, these states' rights arguments stem from the original arguments over slavery. In this case, the position is being held by someone who believes that gays should be executed under biblical law. The entire idea of inalienable rights under the US Constitution is called into question by this kind of states' rights (which is interesting since the whole thing is supposedly predicated on an originalist view of the Constitution.)
Evidently, there is more support for this than just among the Paul supporters. I've had some conversations with liberals who see this as a logical outgrowth of people's frustration with the federal government although I certainly don't think they would be in favor of allowing former American states to secede so that they can execute gays. But that's the game plan among many of these states' rights advocates, so these battles will inevitably be had. Again. It's the most long running feature of American political life.
Ron Paul, who is against drug prohibition, believes that states should be able to lock up people for drug possession:
Q: In your 1988 campaign you said, “All drugs should be decriminalized. Drugs should be distributed by any adult to other adults. There should be no controls on production, supply or purchase for adults.” Is that still your position?
A: Yeah. It’s sort of like alcohol. Alcohol’s a deadly drug, kills more people than anything else. And today the absurdity on this war on drugs has just been horrible. Now the federal government takes over and overrules states where state laws permit medicinal marijuana 1 for people dying of cancer. The federal government goes in and arrests these people, put them in prison with mandatory sentences. This war on drugs is totally out of control. If you want to regulate cigarettes and alcohol and drugs, it should be at the state level. That’s where I stand on it. The federal government has no prerogatives on this.
Q: But you would decriminalize it?
A: I would, at the federal level. I don’t have control over the states. And that’s why the Constitution’s there.
I guess I just don't see why that is considered to be libertarian. Just because you break up state power into fifty entities instead of one, it doesn't make their infringements on liberty ok, does it? On a philosophical and ideological level, libertarians should be clear that infringements of people's rights should never be subject to the whims of the state --- whether it's Hawaii or the United States of America. So why doesn't Ron Paul say this? There's no reason that his quixotic career couldn't also entail a drive to change the constitution, or ensure that all 50 states overturn drug prohibition. He has nothing to lose by stating the libertarian principles and saying that basic individual rights are inalienable.
But he doesn't. He defends states' rights to infringe on individual liberty as being under the Constitution but what he's really defending are the Articles of Confederation. This isn't libertarianism. It's "tentherism" disguised as libertarianism.
There are a lot of top 10 lists going around, but this one is especially interesting. Peter Laarman at Religion Dispatches has put together a list of religious developments that have gone under the radar. They're all fascinating little observations, but this one stuck out at me:
Latino Catholics Distinctly More Gay-Friendly Than Latino Evangelicals
A too-little-noticed 2010 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that a majority of Latino Catholics in California (57%) said they would vote to allow gay and lesbian couple to marry, compared to just 22% of Latino Protestants. This same Catholic-Protestant divide within the Latino community was evident across a wide range of public policy issues related to gay and lesbian rights. The Latino Catholic latitudinariansm on marriage tracks another almost-unreported finding , to wit: that the single most gay-friendly religious body in the U.S., bar none, is the lay Catholic community. Bishops, are you listening?
"Common ground" Religion Industrial Complex are you listening?
The bad news is that Evangelical Christianity is growing in leaps and bounds in the Latino world, but still. This is yet another example of how the Catholic Hierarchy and the social conservatives are out of step with many of those who they seem to think they represent.
This is how a powerful interest group gains influence in a contested presidential primary:
Last night, four GOP candidates—Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry—took part in a “tele-town hall” sponsored by Personhood USA, which was broadcast on the radio program of Steve Deace, an influential Iowa evangelical. The event demonstrated that a commitment to banning all abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, and threats to a woman’s health, is now the normative position among the party’s presidential contenders.
Indeed, the big news to come out of the forum was the rightward shift in Rick Perry’s already very conservative position. In the past, Perry has been committed to banning abortion with very narrow exceptions. But last night, he said he’d changed his mind, and now doesn’t support any exceptions at all. “This is something that is relatively new,” he said, citing a meeting with Rebecca Kiessling, a spokeswoman for Personhood USA who was adopted after her mother, a rape victim, tried and failed to abort her. “Looking in her eyes, I couldn’t come up with an answer to defend the exemptions for rape and incest,” he said. “And over the course of the last few weeks, the Christmas holidays and reflecting on that…all I can say is that God was working on my heart.”
Right. And so were his political consultants.
But if you want to see some real choots-paa get a load of this:
Bachmann distinguished herself with her dishonesty, claiming at one point that Obama is “putting abortion pills for young minors, girls as young as 8 years of age or 11 years of age, on [the] bubblegum aisle.” (Obama, of course, recently overrode an FDA recommendation to make emergency contraception available over the counter for all ages, infuriating women’s-health activists.)
In some alternate universe where one of these loons becomes president, they would still claim that here's nothing they could practically do to advance this goal. (Well, Gingrich could -- he's going to arrest judges who don't agree with him.) But there is huge value in getting these candidates on the record supporting something that was considered fairly cruel and barbaric outside of doctrinaire Catholicism until about five minutes ago.
Did the "pro-life" cause really need an actual martyr? The conservative website "Hot Air" has published a doting ode to Stacy Crimm, a woman who refused chemotherapy that would save her life in order to not endanger her long awaited pregnancy.
And anti-choice supporters couldn't be more proud of her.
Tina Korbe writes:
Crimm truly did have a choice: Even if abortion were illegal, she could have opted to receive chemotherapy. That she bravely chose to place her child’s life before her own recalls forcibly to mind why the phrase “a mother’s love” has such resonance. When we talk about abortion, rarely do we talk about the ache many women feel after they choose to abort their babies. Crimm’s physical suffering must have been unimaginable — and, yet, three days before she died, she was able to hold close the fruit of her choice in what Phillips said was a perfect moment. Would that her story might help all mothers see nothing is worth the sacrifice of their own child.
Crimm did have a choice, and acted out on her own wishes. But when you switch that to "nothing," including the life of the mother, is worth ending a pregnancy, well, then that's not really a choice, is it?
Evidently, the pro-life movement is now calling for women to die rather than have an abortion or even treat their illnesses if it might result in fetal death. I guess some lives are more valuable than others after all. And it isn't the woman's.
This archaic belief has now entered the national consciousness and is being validated by the Republican candidates for President.