Posted by Brad @ 9:57 pm on February 28th 2009

News Story of the Day

Like I said man

Louisiana’s transportation department plans to request federal dollars for a New Orleans to Baton Rouge passenger rail service from the same pot of railroad money in the president’s economic stimulus package that Gov. Bobby Jindal criticized as unnecessary pork on national television Tuesday night.

In related news, his story about the Katrina sheriff has also been unraveling in the Louisiana press over the last week.

Posted by Brad @ 9:42 pm on February 28th 2009

Sebelius at HHS

Can’t help but think that that’s bad news for Kansas. It means that Sam Brownback may well win the governor’s mansion in 2010, and his Senate seat will almost certainly stay red.

We shall see.

Posted by Jerrod @ 9:00 pm on February 28th 2009

Obama should kick-start the space program by sending 1 person to Mars, forever.

It isn’t a new idea (the link is from a year ago), but the proposal is that sending a single person on a one-way trip to Mars removes the biggest obstacle to such a program (the need to relaunch off the surface to get back home) and reduces the amount of gear and stuff that the team needs to have to travel. A lot of the living quarters and materials can be sent by unmanned rockets. George Dyson mentioned a similar idea, only he was thinking about sending a group of people and some video cameras for making reality TV out of it.

I think it’s a grand idea. I’m sure there are plenty of people who volunteer to go. There’s no reason they could NEVER come back, either. In a few years we could build a return vehicle and send it out to them unmanned to be built and returned in. More people could take one-way trips out there as well, establishing a real colony.

I think it would be great on all accounts. If we’re going to go, this is the way to do it.

Posted by Rojas @ 8:20 pm on February 28th 2009

Lucky thirteen?

Wait for it…

WASHINGTON (Feb. 28) — Conservative activists on Saturday named former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney the winner of a poll for best 2012 GOP presidential candidate.

The poll marked the third consecutive year Romney came out on top.

No suprise there. The Republicans are royalists, and tend to nominate whosever turn it is. Still…waaaaait for it…

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal placed second in the annual poll, conducted at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Romney received 20 percent of the vote and Jindal got 14 percent.

Reasonable, given the de facto Limbaugh endorsement. And waaaaaaaaaaait for it…

Close behind were Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who each received 13 percent of the vote.

OK. Yes, I understand, the Paulites had a chance to rally at CPAC. But…thirteen percent??? And a tie with Palin in a poll of her core constituency? I damn well GUARANTEE you that the CfL rally did not involve thirteen percent of the attendees.

And all of this, mind you, after Dr. Paul has formally ruled out a run.

I did not expect this. Not at all. Strange things are afoot in the GOP.

Posted by Brad @ 11:46 pm on February 27th 2009

Obamicon

Apparently there’s a site that lets users submit their own Obama-esque posters. One of the entries is a retouch of a photograph our friend Clay took in a dispatch I posted here (no idea what happened to the code in that post).

Posted by Brad @ 2:14 am on February 27th 2009

Kentucky Senate 2010: a Big Bucket of Awesome

So I don’t know if anybody has been following the barely-below-the-surface dustups over the Kentucky Senate seat currently held by Jim Bunning, but it’s been one of those insider D.C. stories that’s really amusing.

Background: Jim Bunning is not a very good Senator. That’s not just me talking—even Time magazine singled him out in 2006 as one of America’s Worst. And it’s not just that he does very little with the office, it’s that he has a reputation for being very difficult to work with, and for constantly sticking his foot in his mouth. You’ll remember last week when he openly speculated about Justice Ginbsburg’s prognosis, which is pretty par for the course for him. From that Time writeup, describing his last election:

Having served Kentucky for 12 years in the House before moving to the Senate in 1998, Bunning exhibited bizarre behavior during his 2004 re-election campaign. He said his Democratic opponent, a child of Italian immigrants, looked like one of Saddam Hussein’s sons. He refused to go to Kentucky for the campaign’s only debate and took part instead from Washington. It was later revealed that he had read some of his answers in the debate from a teleprompter. He was returned to office by just two points in a state that President Bush carried by 20.

It was actually even weirder than that. That was also the election in which he had to repeatedly and publicly deny that he was senile—a denial that became less and less convincing the more he talked. When you have to go on the record as saying you are not, in fact, suffering from some form of dementia—not once, but often—you know you’re in some trouble. If you want a full accounting of that race, and the questions about Bunning’s mental fitness, Salon has a piece simply titled “Weirdness in Kentucky” that’s worth reading.

In any case, Bunning barely squeaked by in 2004, winning in Kentucky by, as the Time article mentions, a mere two points.

Since 2004, things have only gotten worse for Republican in Kentucky. The Democratic party in the state, like in North Carolina and a few other southern bellweathers, has been aggressively getting its act together in the last 6 years. They’ve put up top-tier challengers to every Republican incumbent of note in the state, and have gotten a pretty good grassroots volunteer and fundraising machine up, running, and now pretty battle-tested. And of course, Kentucky has been mired in Illinois-levels of corruption. Governor Ernie Fletcher was one of the victims. Knee-deep in all sorts of scandal, he was asked by every Republican in America to step down in the hopes that the GOP could manage to save the seat for the party, but he refused them all, determining to stay the course. The result was he was booted and a Democrat took the governor’s mansion. To make matters worse, Bunning’s opponent from 2004, who he beat only by the skin of his teeth, is now Lieutenant Governor Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, and he promises that he’s going to challenge Bunning again. Early polling being circulated around the hill shows him winning that rematch. Bunning, for his part, promises to have 10 million dollars for that race. But the clock is running, and so far he’s up $150,000 to date (i.e. since 2004).

So the importance of all that context is that, even in the best of times, Bunning would face a problem retaining his seat in 2010, and for the Kentucky GOP, these are far from the best of times. Given all that, it’s hard to blame them for gently trying to get Bunning to retire gracefully and allow them to draw some new blood up-ticket.

At least, it’s hard to blame them unless you’re Jim Bunning.

See, over the last six months, when asked if Bunning would run, Mitch McConnell—the other Senator from Kentucky, and also the GOP minority leader—has given a lot of mealy-mouthed answers, saying he isn’t sure. It’s the same line that John Cornyn, Chairman of the NRSC (and thus in charge of recruiting and party fundraising for Senate race) is giving. In private, most everybody agrees that McConnell and Cornyn are really, really hoping they don’t have to deal with Bunning trying to run again in 2010. Both have “suggested”, repeatedly, that Bunning might decide to retire, and both have been meeting with Kentucky Republicans widely speculated to be considering runs for the seat (including the Senate President in Kentucky). This has apparantly come as news to Bunning.

McConnell and Bunning’s relationship reached a low last week when an aide to McConnell suggested that a potential primary challenger meet with National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) officials.

NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said committee officials met with Kentucky Senate President David Williams, who is exploring a challenge to Bunning, as a “courtesy.”

Despite this, Cornyn said this week that he would support Bunning’s reelection bid.

That failed to appease the cantankerous Kentuckian.

“I don’t believe anything John Cornyn says. I’ve had miscommunications with John Cornyn from, I guess, the first week of this current session of the Senate,” Bunning fumed in a conference call with reporters.

“He either doesn’t understand English or he doesn’t understand direct: ‘I’m going to run,’ which I said to him in the cloakroom of our chamber,” Bunning said, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

But wait, it gets better. So upset is Bunning, that he’s now threatening to, somehow, sue the Republican party.

In a sign of how desperate Bunning’s political situation has become, he threatened during the same call to sue the NRSC if it supported a primary challenger. He argued that the committee was created to support incumbents and that backing a challenger would violate its bylaws.

Nobody is really sure how that lawsuit would work, but whatever.

All of this has been pretty hilarious, and if Bunning does decide to run, it puts McConnell and Cornyn in a helluva spot. Even if they DO get behind Bunning 100%, Bunning is the sort of candidate that is going to be a nightmare in terms of handling, and Kentucky will be one of the Top Three Senate contests of the cycle. But if they make any further attempts to quietly push Bunning out, or to get behind a primary challenger who would give them a better shot at retaining the seat, Bunning has let it be known that he has no qualms using his soapbox to blast anybody and everybody who he perceives as slighting him.

BUT WAIT, there’s more. Now, via some chatter in email, I’ve been told that even if the best case scenario happens and Bunning does decide to retire, that will very likely prompt the son of a recent Presidential candidate to enter the race. Dr. Rand Paul.

After several phone and e-mail conversations with Dr. Rand Paul in the last couple days he has made it clear that he is indeed seriously considering running for Senate in 2010!

Dr. Rand Paul is son of current Congressman and 2008 Republican Presidential candidate Dr. Ron Paul of Texas.

Dr. Rand Paul lives in Kentucky and is currently weighing his options. Rand has mentioned the two major factors in his forming of an exploratory committee:

“much hinges on whether [Senator] Bunning runs [again]. It is very unlikely that I would oppose him.”

and

“AP in KY is writing a story tonight (2/26) that should be online tomorrow (2/27). I want to see what kind of legs the story gets and begin to filter my interest out online”…[I want to] “gauge the interest out on the internet among our folks”

Dr. Rand Paul is an ophthalmologist in Bowling Green, KY.
His website is: http://randpaulmd.com.

The reason, incidentally, that Rand wouldn’t run against Bunning is one of the few things Bunning is known for engaging in, in terms of policy, is criticism of the Federal Reserve (what that might say about critics of the Federal Reserve is another matter entirely). He’s been Greenspan/Bernake’s inquisitor in the Senate in much the same fashion that Ron Paul is in the House, and he was one of the few and most vocal Republican critics of the Bush/Paulson Wall Street bailout (which McConnell was in favor of). That means both that the Paul people are generally favorable to him, and also that they’d have no great desire to primary him because a big chunk of their message wouldn’t really work. That also means that potential primary contenders for the seat face a problem. If Bunning runs, they can’t run to his right on economics. If Bunning doesn’t run, then it seems likely that Rand Paul does, who you definitely can’t get to the right of on economics.

And, of course, as Ron’s son, Rand Paul is more than just a Paulite running for something, he’s a Paul, making his primary campaign the likely focal point of all of Dr. Paul and the Campaign for Liberty’s agenda in 2010. To put that another way, Paulites have been relatively scattered in terms of supporting Paulite-ish candidates, but Rand Paul running is a different animal entirely. There will be no debate in the Paul community about whether to support him or not, or what other goals to mess around with. Rand running is the equivalent of a conch shell blow reassembling the hordes.

This Senate race was going to be a top tier one no matter what. But with all the developments over the last few months, it’s now shaping up to be an election-geek’s wet dream.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:41 pm on February 26th 2009

With a bang

The Obama campaign managed, quite deftly, to defuse any possible NRA uprising during the campaign, in spite of the omnipresence of the issue in the weeks following the Supreme Court ruling. I cannot quite manage to find any evidence that any promises were made on the issue; I guess we all sort of assumed that gun control was on the back burner while we sorted out other matters.

I guess we assumed wrong. Today, Obama’s attorney general called for the revival of the assault weapons ban.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:34 pm on February 26th 2009

Not with a bang, but with a whimper

NYU students’ protest occupation of a campus building goes awry…

Posted by Brad @ 7:36 pm on February 26th 2009

Just in Case You Were Worried

Both the President and now the Congress have re-killed (?) the Fairness Doctrine. The Senate actually just preemptively voted to disallow the FCC from reinstating it, despite the fact that the FCC wasn’t doing anything of the kind. It seems most everybody admits that the Senate action was in response to right-wing talk radio, which has been trumpeting the claim that Obama and the Democratic Congress intended to reinstate the rule, despite their assurances to the contrary. No matter. It’s dead…again.

Posted by Brad @ 3:26 pm on February 26th 2009

Sad Loss in Britain

If you haven’t heard yet, David Cameron, Tory leader and probable next prime minister of England, lost his 6-year-old son Ivan yesterday. Ivan had a pretty severe form of cerebral palsy, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but the news appears to have genuinely shattered much of the country today. The New York Times has a good account. And for the first time in 15 years, they canceled Prime Minister Questions, replacing them with expressions of condolences.

Posted by Jerrod @ 5:11 am on February 26th 2009

Schiff: 1 Everyone else: Minus 47 bajillion

I know who I’m listening to now.

Posted by James @ 8:50 pm on February 25th 2009

Tom Waits for no one but me.

Because he is awesome, like me.

Posted by Brad @ 6:11 pm on February 25th 2009

CPAC 2009 Agenda

So, what’s the future of the party look like?

Amazingly, and I did not know this, Ron Paul will be speaking at 4:00 on Friday. He’s following Stephen Baldwin and preceding Mitt Romney and Ralph Reed. The Campaign for Liberty also has a half hour slot immediately prior to the Ronald Reagan dinner.

A bit diluted by the presentation of the Defender of the Constitution award to Rush Limbaugh, but still.

Posted by James @ 4:59 pm on February 25th 2009

Mid-week Music Video

Jason Mraz

Posted by Jerrod @ 9:09 am on February 25th 2009

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

I don’t know who James Kunstler is but Eric posted about a recent post of his that I liked.

Dear Mr. President, you are presiding over an epochal contraction, not a pause in the growth epic. Your assignment is to manage that contraction in a way that does not lead to world war, civil disorder or both. Among other things, contraction means that all the activities of everyday life need to be downscaled including standards of living, ranges of commerce, and levels of governance. “Consumerism” is dead. Revolving credit is dead — at least at the scale that became normal the last thirty years. The wealth of several future generations has already been spent and there is no equity left there to re-finance.

If contraction and downscaling are indeed the case, then the better question is: why don’t we get started on it right away instead of flogging rescue plans to restart something that is DOA? Downscaling the price of over-priced houses would be a good place to start. This gets to the heart of Rick Santelli’s crowd-stirring moment. Let the chumps and weasels who over-reached take their lumps and move into rentals. Let the bankers who parlayed these fraudulent mortgages into investment swindles lose their jobs, surrender their perqs, and maybe even go to jail (if attorney general Eric Holder can be induced to investigate their deeds). No good will come of propping up the false values of mis-priced things.

We’re living in an unsustainable system as it is. Carbon Capitalism can’t last. It’s based on growth but its in a finite system. It will collapse some time. It’s a physical fact that oil will peak sometime. Demand will outstrip production long before the oil itself is gone. The carbon energy economy is pushing the ecosystem into a whole different state that is very likely to prove very very different from what our species has dealt with over its history, much less under civilization. Carbon Capitalism won’t last and there isn’t going to be a smooth transition to whatever comes next.

So why are we still pussyfooting around? High oil prices of last year gave us a taste of what’s to come and we started thinking seriously about maybe perhaps trying to stave off the inevitable, or at least cushion it. But then we’re faced with this economic calamity that is proving to be so big and so bad that it really might just be THAT big and THAT bad. It might not be an issue of fixing the problem because it simply cannot be fixed. Maybe it can, but it’s going to be extremely difficult to do and even if it succeeds, it only pushes back the inevitable.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s start preparing for what comes after this. Let’s take our lumps and get cracking on the next chapter. Getting a head start on what’s next and cutting our losses is a far better strategy when any effort putting into the perpetuating the past is going to evaporate in the end, leaving us with nothing.

I’m not crying that civilization is about to collapse. Americans need to understand that we overshot the goal by quite a margin. We need to reel it in now, and that’s going to take the shape of a “reduced standard of living.” Thankfully that doesn’t have any existential impact on us and will still leave us better off than pretty much every other human who’s ever lived. Making this effort now is going to prove great experience for dealing with the other changes on our near horizon associated with much greater adjustments in standards of living.

Posted by Brad @ 12:28 am on February 25th 2009

Time To Jump for Rick Perry

In retrospect, it may not seem like a great idea tomorrow to have put up one of the GOP’s rising stars—who still needs to ripen on the vine a little—as a following act for Barack Obama.

For Rick Perry, another GOP rising star, it might also not seem like a great idea to run for re-election if he hopes to eventually become a leading GOP contender.

Perry, who won in 2002 and 2006, but who will almost certainly be challenged in 2010 by Kay Bailey Hutchinson, starts out that race in a 25 point hole. Perry’s a decently popular governor, but by 2010 he’ll have been in office for ten years (he took over for W in 2000). Against a power heavyweight like Hutchinson, with ten years of Perry fatigue, that’s a recipe for an inglorious exit. And up-and-comers lose an awful lot of their shine if their last feat was a major loss.

2012 might not seem like an ideal year for a Republican to run, but if I were Jindal I might consider passing until 2016. If I were Perry, I might run up my timetable.

Posted by Brad @ 11:46 pm on February 24th 2009

The Speeches

I didn’t liveblog, though I should have. Obama’s address was surprisingly forceful and very well constructed. He spent a great deal of time re-framing matters, acknowledging the views of the other side, and essentially co-opting them. He expressed the populist backlash better than most of the backlashers have been able to, and redirected it outward. I also very much like how he cast health care reform as first and foremost a fiscal issue. And, in terms of tone and whatnot, I think Sully’s reader captures it:

Sitting here watching the speech I have been thinking that something is wrong. My first thought was that he is talking too fast. Then it dawned on me: he knows what he is talking about and expecting me to keep up. After eight years of being talked to like a child (or an idiot), my president is speaking to me like I am an intelligent adult. This is going to take some getting used to.

All in all, it reminded me of watching an outstanding 1AR in my high school debate days. You listen to 13 minutes (or in this case, weeks) of negative argumentation, and then a great affirmative rebuttal comes along and, in a breezy five minutes (or in this case, an hour), makes you sit back and think “well shit; what else is there to say?” This speech had that effect on me.

And Jindal, for his part, did nothing to dispel that. In fact, what was most striking about it was how nearly everything substantive Jindal brought up, Obama had already talked about, only it made a lot more sense (and sounded a lot better) when Obama said it. Tax cuts, reinvesting in the middle class and small businesses, energy reform, deficit wrangling, and the foundations of American innovation and believing in the American people. It was like the same speech Obama gave, only given by somebody who sounded mildly retarded. It left me scratching my head and trying to figure out what, exactly, the Republican agenda is. Even Peggy Noonan (or whoever that is speaking on MSNBC right now) agrees with me, saying “I…I’m not quite sure that Jindal actually read Obama’s speech before he wrote his.”

The only material that was original and not utterly preempted and owned by Obama immediately beforehand were all of Jindal’s odes to Louisiana and his personal anecdotes, which amazingly made up about 40% of his response. You could almost read it on his face. “Obligatory Republican stuff, obligatory Republican stuff…but how about me, folks? Bobby Jindal, comin’ atchya!”

All in all, a very good night for the President.

Posted by Brad @ 4:07 pm on February 24th 2009

Voting Rights for the District of Columbia?

That’s what it looks like.

Quietly, a bill allowing for the District of Columbia to receive a representative in Congress—and Utah to get one more, to keep Republicans happy—has cleared its last procedural hurdle and will now face a full Senate vote likely next week. It remains unclear to me if the extra seat for Utah merely preempts the extra seat it’ll likely get from the Census, but it seems like that’s the case, meaning Utah will just get an extra seat earlier (their added seat from the Census would take effect in 2012).

Similar legislation has already passed the House, and indeed passed the Senate as well but shy of 60, which is apparantly the new majority needed to pass anything even the least bit controversial. Now it’ll hit the House and Senate, and given previous votes and the new makeup, looks likely to pass. Bush threatened to veto it, but Obama is a former co-sponsor of the legislation, so is likely to sign it.

Of course, it passing both houses of Congress marks passage of a historic hurdle, but in this case the real fight will likely be further down the road, as the courts determine whether the new law passed and signed is constitutional. Short answer: no. Long answer: no, but…

If the bill is enacted, it faces a trip to the Supreme Court to decide whether it passes constitutional muster. Opponents say the District of Columbia isn’t a state, and cite the Constitution’s Article 1, Section 2: “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.”

Supporters also refer to Article 1, specifically the “Seat of Government” clause — Section 8 — authorizing Congress “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District.”

Ken Thomas, legislative attorney with the American Law Division at the Library of Congress, says D.C. voting rights “would certainly be viable by constitutional amendment, but not by statute.” And he is convinced the high court would agree. “It would not be a difficult question for the Supreme Court,” he says.

Former federal judge and Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, a supporter of D.C. voting rights, disagrees. On this matter, he says, the Constitution is ambiguous, and that gives Congress the upper hand. “It’s a very important structural issue to which the Constitution doesn’t specifically speak,” says Mr. Starr, dean of Pepperdine University’s Law School. “In my view, Congress has very broad powers under the Seat of Government clause.”

If the Supreme Court allows the legislation to stand, Mr. Thomas sees a potential cascade: “It would seem reasonable that if they uphold this statute, it would also provide senators to D.C. and might well provide precedent for representatives for U.S. territories like Puerto Rico or Guam.”

Ms. Norton dismisses the notion of a slippery slope: “I don’t think you could find any serious scholar who would say one thing leads to another.”

Proponents unsuccessfully tried the amendment approach in 1978, when Congress proposed a constitutional amendment to recognize the District as a state “for purposes of representation,” giving it a voice in both the House and Senate. Only 16 of the required 38 states voted to ratify it.

I am very much an advocate of voting rights for D.C. in some fashion. It seems inconceivable to me that the framers would have anticipated or supported the idea of the disenfranchisement of 600,000 people (and I could give a toss what their partisan leanings reliably are). But how to do it is a thorny question. I am not ready to dismiss out-of-hand this measure as unconstitutional—at least if history is any judge, things that are otherwise flagrantly unconstitutional are generally accepted when it comes to governing D.C. by fiat, or to put that another way it remains unclear to me if the present situation is at all constitutional. Allowing this measure to pass constitutional measure would have to be a bit of finessed reasoning to be sure, but it is a case where perhaps the framers did not in fact know best. My sympathy, in other words, rests with the measure.

But I’m a rule of law guy, and my reason rests elsewhere. It is hard to get past the plain truth that, on the face of it, the measure appears out-of-bounds. And, as with other measures, whether or not something is constitutional is not necessarily just a technicality. There is no state superstructure in place to deal with the seat, its election, its potential challenges (i.e. if they wanted someone to be removed from that office), etc. Making it essentially a gimmie seat run by the House of Representatives itself. To put that another way, for 436 seats, the final word will always be with the people themselves. For this one, it will be with the federal legislature. That may never play out to be a problem, but it’s still an extra-constitutional situation, and as with most extra-constitutional situations, there are a whole host of problems that short-term political interests may not have the foresight for.

There is another solution, of course. The federal legislature can simply re-define the boundaries of D.C. as they see fit, making the actual district only include working government property (as was, I believe, the original intent), and the rest to be zoned into an existing state (probably Maryland, maybe cutting some up for Virginia). But as far as I’ve read that option has never really been seriously discussed, and I’m still not sure why. It is the most direct path to both representation and constitutionality.

It’ll be an interesting case to watch once it passes the legislature. My hope is that, if the law is indeed struck down, that forces the legislature to think more creatively. My fear is it’ll just make them throw up their hands and forget the whole thing for another ten or twenty years.

Posted by Brad @ 12:12 am on February 24th 2009

Filipino WWII Vets Get Their Due

More than 60 years after reneging on a promise to the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who fought for the United States during World War II, the U.S. government will soon be sending out checks — to the few who are still alive.

During the war, the Philippines was a U.S. commonwealth. The U.S. military promised full veterans benefits to Filipinos who volunteered to fight. More than 250,000 joined.

Then, in 1946, President Truman signed the Rescission Act, taking that promise away.

Today, only about about 15,000 of those troops are still alive, according to the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans. A provision tucked inside the stimulus bill that President Obama signed calls for releasing $198 million that was appropriated last year for those veterans. Those who have become U.S. citizens get $15,000 each; non-citizens get $9,000.

“I’m very thankful,” said Patrick Ganio, 88, the coalition’s president. “We Filipinos are a grateful people.”

Someone here will surely object to this being in the stimulus bill. Hard to object to the independent merits though.

Posted by Brad @ 10:01 pm on February 23rd 2009

5 Ways People Are Trying to Save the Earth That Don’t Work

A list from Cracked that’s highly debatable but still worth reading.

Posted by Brad @ 10:14 pm on February 22nd 2009

The Oscars

Is it just me, or are they really good this year? Like, the most well done I’ve ever seen them.

Posted by Brad @ 4:53 pm on February 22nd 2009

Bipartisanship

This is just bizarre. Glenn Beck and guests sketch a path from the stimulus package to an American civil war, and “play with some scenarios”.

Glenn Beck has always struck me as a guy who, on some level, is probably clinically insane. I don’t say that just as a way of pigeon-holing someone I disagree with: he’s likable enough at times, but he reminds me of a lot of recovering alcoholics who nevertheless never quite get a handle on ego issues, where it’s like 90% normal but 10% sheer nuttiness under a thin veneer of normalcy. But I digress.

Glenn Greenwald talks extensively about the clip, and draws a line between what we’re starting to see with the “Angry White Male” decade of Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 gave rise to the American “militia movement”: hordes of overwhelmingly white, middle-aged men from suburban and rural areas who convinced themselves they were defending the American way of life from the “liberals” and “leftists” running the country by dressing up in military costumes on weekends, wobbling around together with guns, and play-acting the role of patriot-warriors. Those theater groups — the cultural precursor to George Bush’s prancing 2003 performance dressed in a fighter pilot outfit on Mission Accomplished Day — spawned the decade of the so-called “Angry White Male,” the movement behind the 1994 takeover of the U.S. Congress by Newt Gingrich and his band of federal-government-cursing, pseudo-revolutionary, play-acting tough guys.

What was most remarkable about this allegedly “anti-government” movement was that — with some isolated and principled exceptions — it completely vanished upon the election of Republican George Bush, and it stayed invisible even as Bush presided over the most extreme and invasive expansion of federal government power in memory. Even as Bush seized and used all of the powers which that movement claimed in the 1990s to find so tyrannical and unconstitutional — limitless, unchecked surveillance activities, detention powers with no oversight, expanding federal police powers, secret prison camps, even massively exploding and debt-financed domestic spending — they meekly submitted to all of it, even enthusiastically cheered it all on.

[…]
In doing so, they revealed themselves as motivated by no ideological principles or political values of any kind. It was a purely tribalistic movement motivated by fear of losing its cultural and demographic supremacy. In that sense — the only sense that mattered — George Bush was one of them, even though, with his actions, he did everything they long claimed to fear and despise. Nonetheless, his mere occupancy of the White House was sufficient to pacify them and convert them almost overnight from limited-government militants into foot soldiers supporting the endless expansion of federal government power.

But now, only four weeks into the presidency of Barack Obama, they are back — angrier and more chest-beating than ever. Actually, the mere threat of an Obama presidency was enough to revitalize them from their eight-year slumber, awaken them from their camouflaged, well-armed suburban caves. […]

But it’s now inflamed by declining imperial power, genuine economic crises, an exotic Other occupying the White House, and potent technology harnessed by right-wing corporations such as Fox News to broadcast and disseminate it widely and continuously. At the very least, it’s worth taking note of. And I wonder what would happen if MSNBC broadcast a similar discussion of leftists plotting and planning the imminent, violent Socialist Revolution against the U.S. Government.

Posted by James @ 3:51 pm on February 22nd 2009

Gibbs and take

Posted without comment because there is little to add.

Posted by Brad @ 4:11 am on February 22nd 2009

The Best Pictures

So, I used to be something of an Oscar nut. Not so much anymore, but I used to pretty fastidiously try to go out and see all the ringers and all the surprisers. All the usual caveats about how meaningless the Oscars are apply, of course, but it is the chiseled-in-stone variety of movie history.

Anyway, today I did one of those things you always see and think about doing but never get around to. Namely, went to a theater as it was showing, in one program, all five Best Picture nominees back to back. This is one of the only years in memory where I hadn’t seen a single one of them. It was fun—I’d definitely do it again. My brief takes:

Overall: A weak year, and I’m not one of those guys that says that every year. Not a one of the pictures, I think, will be particularly remembered in five, ten, twenty years. All were good, but none struck me as a classic. There seem to be about two kinds of years. One in which the Best Picture category has one or two obvious mega-heavy hitters, and then the rest are a lot of much smaller releases, kind of a scattershot (and often, those one or two sleepers are genuinely the best movies of the years). The other kind of year is where there is a half a dozen or so essentially Oscar-bait middlebrow obvious choices, and the only sleepers you can find are if you pick through the acting and screenplay categories for the only non-obvious choices. This is that kind of year. I haven’t put out a Top Ten list of movies for the year since…oh, 2004 I guess (though I wrote one for 2005 and never put it out), and I won’t this year as I really haven’t seen enough (easier where I worked on a film festival). But my hunch is if I did, only one of the movies nominated would make my Top Ten list.

Anyway, in reverse order of how much I liked them (no spoilers, to the point where I’ll be frustratingly vague, though I can’t promise I won’t get into them in the comments if anybody cares to discuss).

5. Milk. Meh. Maybe it’s just that the biopic has been so overdone. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an incredibly compelling subject, and Sean Penn is the best actor ofhisgeneration/alive/ever/blahblahblah, but it just seemed almost obligatory. I would have felt better off watching a two hour documentary on Harvey Milk than from seeing this film. Penn, Franco, and Brolin all give fairly wildly overrated performances that are technically good, in a serviceable sort of way, but that’s their downfall too. They just seemed…well, almost mundane (Franco and Brolin in particular seemed to me to be phoning it in). The only real great acting performance in the movie is the least talked about, Emile Hirsch. The story is compelling, but only because the actual story is compelling…the movie, and Gus Van Sant, don’t really wring any new oomph out of it. I didn’t hate it, mind you, and there was some pretty good stuff about a guy like Milk—an ultimate outsider—getting inside the halls of power and operating there, despite the radical instincts of most of his supporters. And it was certainly compelling in its treatment of civil liberties for gays…we forget how far we’ve come, in a very short time, in that regard. But as you can tell, I was pretty decidedly underwhelmed. Three stars (out of four), being kind.

My Oscar Nod: If I were able to nominate it for something, would be Best Supporting Actor for Hirsch. But just the nomination.

4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Both the plus and the minus is that it’s more or less exactly what you’d hope/expect it to be. It’s a less compelling but creepier/darker version of Forest Gump, essentially. And in the moments where it worked, it really really worked…there were some scenes or moments in the film that are some of the most compelling I’ve seen all year. It also had one facet to it that I found weirdly and unexpectedly compelling—whereas most movies of this sort will come away with a pretty clear, obvious, almost perfunctory message or tone (“love conquers all” or “love is all you need” or whatever), this one actually seemed, at times, to be consciously resisting that template. David Fincher, even when engaged in such obvious Oscar-bait as this, can’t help himself—he’s got to get a mildly subversive, unsettling undercurrent in there somewhere. On the whole, it was very watchable, interesting enough to not fall too much into trope, hit or miss at times, but with some great, great moments. Three stars.

My Oscar Nod: Best Makeup/Visual Effects. Seriously, the shit they managed to pull off in terms of Pitt’s transformations is startling.

3. The Reader. This was the pleasant surprise of the day for me. I roundabout knew what the movie was about (15 year old German kid has an affair with an older woman; she later pops into his life again when he sees her being tried for her role as a guard at Auschwitz), and wasn’t all that excited for it, but it turned out to be pretty intriguing for me, for three reasons. The first is Kate Winslet—she deserves the acclaim for this one. A lesser actress—most actresses—would have ruined this movie. It hinges on the fact that Winslet, as an actor, never goes for what’s not there. She’s never acting with a capital A, and through that paints a much much more compelling and nuanced character portrait than someone else might otherwise. Bleeding into the second reason: the treatment of Winslet’s character could have gone all hackneyed, the whole “nazi” angle played to death, but instead it presents a very quiet kind of portrait about her that strikes as both more authentic and mines a lot more interesting territory than if it had been cardboarded. Finally, Ralph Fiennes, but really the whole story of that kid years later, turns out to be something that really sneaks up on you. Obviously, the “loud” parts of the story are the first act, the love affair, and the second act, the nazi war crime stuff, but then, towards the end, it starts coming together in a third act about the mark all that stuff made on a man (the boy all growed up). It ends on a very nice note that sort of reshapes your idea of what the movie was about. Like I said, a nice surprise of a picture. Three and a half stars.

My Oscar Nod: Kate Winslet for Best Actress. She deserves this one. I think the Academy is getting some flak saying she was nominated for the wrong role (i.e. it should have been Revolutionary Road), but I don’t agree, and I think this performance will look better and better the further down the line we get.

2. Slumdog Millionare. Upon reflection, I may be inclined to reverse this with The Reader in terms of rankings, but this really is a movie that’s firing on all cylinders. First of all, it really does pop—the soundtrack, the direction, all of it works to put a genuinely entertaining veneer on a movie that could have been done a totally different way. The movie is just plain a lot of fun, which is kind of weird, because 90% of the material is very dark, very gritty, which is one of its other very compelling assets. This is about as good a depiction of a specific milieu of poverty as there will ever likely be, up there with City of God in that sense. It’s also a helluva good chronicle of an entire culture (in this case, India—this will forevermore be the definitive Western movie on Bombay). And the story structure works to keep things fresh every time the script turns—it goes back and forth between, well, the slumdog part (growing up in the slums, the lives, the people, the choices, etc), the millionaire part (flashy gameshow story of Boy Makes Good), and both wrapped around a love story which is its weakest link perhaps but still works well, and of the three gets the best payoff. Most people predict this’ll win tomorrow, and it’s a perfectly defensible choice. Three and a half stars.

My Oscar Nod: Danny Boyle for Best Director.

1. Frost/Nixon. This is the one that I most wanted to see but also the one that I felt would be most likely to fall in under expectations. It’s a crime that Frank Langella doesn’t seem in that serious consideration for his performance here—this is an acting performance that could be studied for the ages. It’s just one of the finest acting jobs I’ve seen in ages. Langella manages to perfectly, and I mean perfectly capture the essence of one of 20th century American history’s most convoluted and muddy figures, and he does all that almost entirely by just inhabiting the character, he does it through mannerism, expression, etc. This is one of those acting performances where the lines spoken are actually one of the least interesting things about it, it’s all about the inner life of the character and the ways you’re given a window into that by the actor. The movie itself is a great story, and I love how it’s laid out, with Frost only stepping into the right size shoes at the single moment maybe in his life where it counted. My only complaint is the first act, and maybe a bit of over-dependence on Frost’s three handlers, but once the payoff comes, when it comes, it’s worth every minute. Four stars.

My Oscar Nod: Frank Langella for Best Actor. I really can’t say enough about how good he is.

Posted by James @ 3:49 pm on February 21st 2009

Heroes.

Interesting.

Americans named President Obama as their No. 1 hero, followed by Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King, in a new Harris poll.

People were asked whom they admired enough to call their heroes. Those surveyed were not shown a list of people to choose from. The Harris Poll was conducted online among a sample of 2,634 U.S. adults by Harris Interactive.

The top ten might surprise you, especially #5.

1. Barack Obama
2. Jesus Christ
3. Martin Luther King, Jr.
4. Ronald Reagan
5. George W. Bush
6. Abraham Lincoln
7. John McCain
8. John F. Kennedy
9. Chesley Sullenberger (US Airways pilot)
10. Mother Teresa

I have no idea how scientific such an online Harris pole is, but but if it has any merit, George W. Bush’s ranking must have had the folks at MSNBC taking off their Obama hats momentarily to scratch their heads.

Posted by Brad @ 11:24 pm on February 20th 2009

The New Cult Cannon

Since I’m blogging about totally random stuff tonight, I may as well give a shout-out to one of my favorite features at my favorite popular culture/entertainment blog, the Onion’s AV Club. The feature is “The New Cult Canon“, which began with the intention of simply cataloging my generation’s new…well, cult cannon (movies like Donnie Darko, Big Lebowski, Pi, etc), but has turned into a bit of a rediscovery project, dusting off great movies unfairly forgotten (though not to be confused with their feature “Films that Time Forgot“, which is another matter entirely) and arguing for their relevancy in the cannon. I’ve had a similar mental project going for years—I used to say that if I ever taught a Film Studies class, it would have to be called “The Great Forgotten” or somesuch, movies, not necessarily (or even usually) obscure that nevertheless are a lot better than people gave them credit for.

A good example is this week’s entry on Eyes Wide Shut, which I think is a positively brilliant film but which was semi-universally panned. It’s not the best entry in the series (certainly not the best essay arguing that EWS got the short end), but it’s indicative. Other great entries include Rounders, Office Space, and my absolute favorites, Gremlins 2 and Babe: Pig in the City. Babe: Pig in the City has had its advocates (and for me, makes my list of Top Ten Best Movies of the 90s), but Gremlins 2 is one that, aside from me, I’ve never heard anyone else take up the banner for.

Anyway, great feature, the AV Club remains a great site. And for the record, two of the other best movies of the 90s are Joe Versus the Volcano and Six Degrees of Separation. I will fight you on that.

Posted by Brad @ 10:13 pm on February 20th 2009

Music Video of the Week

You know who never gets the respect they deserve regarding the mainstream popularizing of rap in the early to mid 90s?

Cypress Hill – How I Could Just Kill a Man

Posted by Brad @ 9:47 pm on February 20th 2009

Massive Increase in Deficit Under Obama

2.7 trillion more than last year’s budget.

Though it’s not what you think.

WASHINGTON — For his first annual budget next week, President Obama has banned four accounting gimmicks that President George W. Bush used to make deficit projections look smaller. The price of more honest bookkeeping: A budget that is $2.7 trillion deeper in the red over the next decade than it would otherwise appear, according to administration officials.

The new accounting involves spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Medicare reimbursements to physicians and the cost of disaster responses.

But the biggest adjustment will deal with revenues from the alternative minimum tax, a parallel tax system enacted in 1969 to prevent the wealthy from using tax shelters to avoid paying any income tax.

Mr. Obama’s banishment of the gimmicks, which have been widely criticized, is in keeping with his promise to run a more transparent government.

Fiscal sleight of hand has long been a staple of federal budgets, giving rise to phrases like “rosy scenario” and “magic asterisks.”

The $2.7 trillion in additional deficit spending, Mr. Orszag said, is “a huge amount of money that would just be kind of a magic asterisk in previous budgets.”

“The president prefers to tell the truth,” he said, “rather than make the numbers look better by pretending.”

Good for him.

Cue deluge of AP articles and Republican talking heads next week tacking that on to deficit figures and used as evidence of Obama’s fiscal irresponsibility.

Posted by Brad @ 9:10 pm on February 20th 2009

8 Year Olds, Dude

That is apparantly the average age at which children are now receiving their first cell phone.

The Decline of Western Civilization continues apace.

H/t: Doug

Posted by Brad @ 9:01 pm on February 20th 2009

George Mason University: Coolest College Ever

George Mason University has been on my radar for the last few years. Since I ostensibly (at the moment) work in higher education marketing and development, the fact that it’s undergoing a $400 million expansion and was recently named (rightly) the #1 national university to watch by U.S. News & World Report makes it interesting. But it also seems to keep hitting these awesome niches. It was, of course, the shocking Final Four school in 2006’s NCAA tournament, it’s named after my favorite founding father, perhaps most notable it’s built its economics department into a shockingly impressive powerhouse, arguably making it the premier libertarian, hell even conservative university in America, and today, one more feather in its awesome cap…it named, as its Homecoming Queen this year, 22-year-old senior Ms. Reann Ballslee, aka Ryan Allen.

Spend time with George Mason University senior Ryan Allen and it’s clear why he’s a Big Man on Campus. He wears size 12 pumps.

Allen is now — as of halftime at Saturday’s sold-out basketball game against Northeastern at the Patriot Center — the school’s homecoming queen. He received more votes than the two women who vied for the crown.
[…]

Allen said he decided to enter the Ms. Mason contest this year as a joke, a last hurrah for his senior year. Soon he had donned a silver bra and zebra-print pants and was lip-syncing to Britney Spears’s “Womanizer” at the qualifying pageant Feb. 9, overseen by Miss Virginia 2009. Competitors included a government and politics major from Chesapeake and a Chi Omega sorority member who told the school newspaper she should win because “I have pride in Mason to the point where my towels are green and gold.”

Allen grew up in tiny Goochland, Va., about 30 miles northwest of Richmond, and endured years of taunts from classmates after coming out during his freshman year in high school. When Allen came to Mason in 2005, his world grew wider. His drag alter ego, Reann, began performing at nightclubs including Freddie’s Beach Bar in Crystal City and Apex in the District. Over the years, Allen perfected his stagecraft, learning how to apply shading makeup to look more feminine and buying gowns on a student budget from other drag queens. His fame grew as each year he emceed Mason’s drag show, held during Pride Week. And with fame, acceptance.

Then came Saturday.

“When they said ‘Ms. Mason 2009 is Reann Ballslee,’ the crowd went wild,” Allen said. “It was one of the best feelings I’ve felt in a long time.”

Like I said, awesome.

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