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Showing posts from January, 2015

Sister Wives

Why is gay marriage OK, but polygamy isn't?

I was curious why Lindsey Graham would ask such a seemingly stupid question during Loretta Lynch's confirmation hearings.  There had to be some ulterior motive behind the question.   Last year, a federal judge ruled Utah's law against polygamy "unconstitutional," essentially decriminalizing polygamy in the state, which had outlawed polygamy to gain statehood.  So whether, Loretta likes it or not, she may have to deal with the issue if the Senate confirms her nomination as US Attorney General.

The Mormon church struck down polygamy in the late 19th century, but various branches still practice the tradition, including the Brown family that parlayed its "experience" into a reality show on TLC.  The same network that gave the world Jon & Kate, which ended in bitter acrimony.  Seems things aren't all peaches and cream with the "Sister Wives" either, judging from this admission by a former "si…

Steve King's Celebrity Apprentice 2016

I fully expected to see Tea Partiers with bread bags on their feet at this rally, after all the attention Joni Ernst got for her SOTU rebuttal.  She was found mingling among the GOP presidential wannabes appealing to the Iowa electorate, dubbed the Freedom Summit, but it was Crazy Sarah Palin who stole the show with her meandering speech that even had many conservative pundits confused as to what she was trying to say.  She should have just broken into a refrain of  "Bread Bags on My Feet."

It is shaping into a very crowded field for 2016.  The religious conservative faction of the Republican Party desperately wants one of its own representing them.  Right now you would have to think Mike ❤ Huckabee is the front runner among this group, but after his sausage speech it is anyone's ball game.  The two Ricks, Dr. Ben, Cruz Missile Ted, and Crazy Sarah will all be vying for their affections.

Probably the biggest surprise was John Bolton.  You figure this old bull had long a…

Curiouser and Curiouser

Someone go buy Joni Ernst a pair of new shoes, preferably ones that won't lose their luster in the rain, so she won't need a pair of bread bags to put over them.  Turns out the Ernst family wasn't quite as poor as Joni made them out to be, as her extended family received close to a half million dollars in farm subsidies.  Much of these subsidies came after her heart-tugging childhood years on an Iowa farm, but if true it means that Reagan's America wasn't all it was cracked up to be.  Joni is only 44, not 84, which she sounded like in this pre-recorded speech.  Joni was just one of several Teabaggers to tank in their Post-State-of-the-Union speeches, making it tough for Jon Stewart to decide who to award his annual "Implody" to.

The Republicans have yet to get this SOTU retort right, but in all fairness the Democrats haven't been very good at it in the past either.  It seems it is better to just let the President have his night and go after him on t…

The World of Wes Anderson, Part I

The Stamp Collector

You would probably never know it but Wes Anderson is from Houston, Texas.  It was at UT Austin that he met Owen Wilson and the two teamed up to create Bottle Rocket, which die-hard Anderson fans still regard as his best movie.  Almost 20 years later, Wes is in the running for Best Director and his film, Grand Hotel Budapest is up for Best Film.

It seems that he has finally reached that rarified air of Hollywood, yet he released the film back in March so that it would be available for the spring film festivals, not Oscar consideration.  But, then came an unexpected Golden Globe win for best comedy film, as well as numerous awards for best screenplay, and this film became the talk of Tinseltown. 
His films have been nominated for Academy awards before, largely for his scripts which are the cornerstone of his productions.  You don't see much great writing today in Hollywood.  Films tend to rely largely on actors' performances, case in point Silver Linings Pla…

Sadr City Blues

It seems that American Sniper is now a cultural phenomenon, hitting a huge target audience much like Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ.  Only this time Hollywood gets to rake in the cash as this is a Warner Bros' production not an independent project like Passion was.  Hollywood would have nothing to to do with Mel's "passion play."

Matt Taibbi tees off on American Sniper, which the Rolling Stone resident movie critic, Peter Travers, did not.  Seems Pete bought into all the hokum, whereas Matt sees the film as a "well-lit fairy tale with the nutritional value of a fortune cookie."  Matt goes onto note how such films deflect attention from the real story behind these wars, noting how the plethora of Vietnam War movies in the 80s focused on the hardships of returning soldiers rather than the mess we left behind in Vietnam, much less the motivations that led to the war.  Here we are 30 years later doing the same thing once again, extolling the virtues of…

Turning the Page

It seems the Republicans aren't the only ones reacting to President Obama's annual State of the Union Address.  Russian officials took exception to it as well.  Obama did mention the impact sanctions were having against Russia, as well as note how the Republican naysayers felt Putin had gotten the upper hand on him diplomatically.  However, the bulk of the speech was about American domestic policy, not foreign policy.

The President offered some very tempting proposals, notably covering the first two years of community college, echoing the GI Bill from 1944.  With so many Americans forced to make readjustments, he felt that the nation should follow in the steps of Tennessee and Chicago in covering initial academic costs.  He used Rebekah and Ben Erler of Minneapolis as his prototypical family forced to rethink their situation in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, comparing America to "a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.&…

Wasted Away Again in Bubbaville

Mike Huckabee seems to believe there are two worlds -- Bubbleville and Bubbaville.  As you might imagine, the real people live in Bubbaville, while those out of touch with reality live in "Bubbles" like New York and Washington and Los Angeles.  Jon Stewart was surprisingly patient with the Reverend Huck until it came to the matter of Beyonce.

For someone who says that Beyonce is not his biggest concern, he sure spends a lot of time talking about her.  Jon noted the hypocrisy in calling out the pop diva when Huck likes to hobnob with the Nuge, who isn't exactly the most wholesome of celebrities. But, Huck wasn't going to be deterred.  In his mind, Beyonce represents a far more pernicious influence since she is so popular among impressionable teenage girls, notably the Obama daughters.
Huckabee, like other conservative pundits, has been actively criticizing the Obamas' parenting skills as of late, believing that they are failing their children as badly as they are…

It's the Economy, Stupid!

The "TurtleBrag" Economic Theory

After six long years of sitting on the sidelines and claiming that Obama has been taking the economy to hell in a hand basket, the Republicans are now trying to claim that their stunning takeover of Congress in November was all it took to reverse the numbers.  This bold gambit initiated by the new Senate majority leader is falling flat but don't expect the GOP to let it go.  Now that they "are in charge" you can expect a whole lot of undeserved credit being meted out to themselves.

The conservative narrative remains that Obama is a failure.  Rep. Andy Harris claims that the President doesn't understand the economy with his latest proposal to soak the rich, finding a friendly audience at Fox.  Meanwhile, the the Republican House, with 20 or more Democrats in tow, passed a bill to ease banking restrictions, exactly what got us into this mess in the first place.  It may clear the new Senate by the thinnest of margins but it is …

You're so vain

It has really been amazing watching the backlash to the Charlie Hebdo shooting.  It brings to mind Carly Simon's classic song from the 70s, You're so vain.  You would think the shooting took place at the Harvard Lampoon Building, given the strange sense of intimacy American television pundits have with the incident.  I don't think it is because they have any special sense of camaraderie with the French.  After all, the French didn't stand behind us when we went to war in Iraq, supposedly to rid the world permanently of such acts of violence.

Here we are 12 years later and we've come no closer to ridding the world of petty despots, much less terrorist cells in our midst.  If anything, the danger is now much more diffuse and harder to contain than it ever was before, given the number of homegrown jihadis who the news media has covered, such as Jihad Jane, apprehended in 2009 and finally sentenced to 10 years in prison for joining al Qaeda.

This is nothing new.  Back…

Clint Eastwood's America, Part IV

Everyone Loves Clint

We can only hope that American Sniper isn't Clint's final statement.  One of the problems with doing a biopic on a figure that is a right wing icon is that you have to keep pretty much to the story.  There wasn't much room, nor does it appear much attempt, to place Chris Kyle within a larger context.  He remains an "American hero."  Clint seems perfectly fine with that.

Just the same, Clint is being lauded for his efforts with a Director's Guild nomination, and an Oscar nomination for the movie.  Everyone loves Clint.  Pauline Kael is no longer around to call his motivations into question, although Amy Nicholson makes a game effort in her review for The Village Voice.

We seem to need Clint almost as much as we need these war movies.  He has become an American icon himself, as witnessed in 2012 when he was called on to give a speech at the Republican National Convention.  It didn't turn out very well, but just the same his presence l…

Charlie Hebdo and a society of perpetual violence

It will probably take much longer to sort out the motives of the gunmen who brutally assaulted Charlie Hebdo than it has to hunt them down.  Of course, some news agencies haven't wasted any time coming up with motives and issuing a call to arms as fear spread quickly of similar attacks in the United States.

Not like the US has been immune to such attacks.  The Boston Marathon bombing was eerily similar, even if the loss of life was substantially less.  It created an even greater panic with the city essentially shut down for a week, as police combed everywhere in the greater metropolitan region for the Tsarnaev brothers, gunning down one and eventually finding the other holed up in a boat in the backyard of someone's house.

By contrast, the manhunt for the Kouachi brothers was much faster and efficient.  French police just didn't factor in another pair of extremists wreaking havoc in the city, holding up a kosher market that led to a bloody shootout, which left four more …

Clint Eastwood's America, Part III

Melodrama in B flat

Every once in awhile the old cowboy could lay his hat down and play a more sensitive role or indulge in a personal project like Bird, the story of Charlie Parker.  Eastwood has a genuine passion for jazz music.  His son Kyle is an accomplished jazz bassist, leading his own band.  Kyle has even helped score some of his father's movies, including Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, and was featured in the "Stork Club Band" in J. Edgar.

Clint plays piano himself, and did the segment "Piano Blues" for Martin Scorsese's PBS documentary on The Blues.  He had previously produced a documentary on Thelonious Monk, built around the great pianist's signature song, Straight No Chaser.  Unfortunately, Clint wasn't as successful with Bird, choosing to indulge in Charlie Parker's slow decay as a result of his heroin addiction, morosely played by Forest Whitaker.

The venerable actor came into adulthood after World War II, growing up in the…

Clint Eastwood's America, Part II

The Dirty Harry Years

Sergio Leone once said Clint Eastwood had two expressions, "one with the hat, one without it."  He apparently meant it as a compliment but it helps to distinguish (if we can call it that) his move from "the man with no name" to Dirty Harry.

Essentially, they are one in the same character, except that his lead character now has a name to go with the face and is planted firmly on the side of justice.  Of course, you can make the argument that Clint represented "Good" in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but there was far more ambiguity to Leone's classic western than there was to the Dirty Harry series, which gave us the quintessential "badass cop."

Clint took over the Dirty Harry project when Warner Brothers failed to get the actor the studio initially wanted for the role.  Eastwood insisted on a leaner meaner Harry Callahan, clearing out all the excess baggage studio bosses imagined in the film.  To make the character &qu…

Clint Eastwood's America, Part I

With the release of American Sniper, Clint Eastwood takes yet another stab at a war movie, albeit of a different nature than Letters from Iwo Jima.  This film is closer to Heartbreak Ridge, his forgotten movie about the invasion of Grenada in 1983.  Clint can always be counted on to support the conservative cause even if there is a sufficient hint of ambiguity in his movies to make you think he is calling the motives into question.  The sad part is that he isn't.

From the accounts I've read he is providing a straight up version of Chris Kyle's autobiography of the same name.  Kyle is a contentious figure in that he is America's most decorated sniper with over 250 "probable kills" while serving in Iraq.  He was apparently known as the "Devil of Ramadi" for his body count and had a bounty put on his head, further endearing him to American conservatives.  Unfortunately, Chris got taken out by a young ex-marine, Eddie Ray Routh, at a shooting range in …

So long, Bess

Bess Myerson had a life far beyond Miss America, which we won in 1945, just days after Japan surrendered to end World War II.  It is indeed rare that we have such transcendent figures in pop culture.  Bess was active in so many ways from her career as a concert pianist to her role as New York's first consumer affairs commissioner, with stops at "The Big Payoff" and "I've Got a Secret" along the way.  She also served three presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.  Most beauty contestants talked about ending world hunger, Bess actually did something about it.

She ran for the Senate seat from New York in 1980, but lost in the Democratic primary to Elizabeth Holtzman, who would lose to Alfonse D'Amato in the general election.  Ed Koch brought her into his administration after she had actively campaigned for him, but scandal brought an end to her role as commissioner of cultural affairs -- the so-called "Bess Mess."  Sad…

R U Ready to Rumble!

2015 is shaping up to be a very contentious year as the new Republican-led Congress is sworn in.  Added to the melee are a majority of state governors and legislatures who vow to pass even more conservative legislation.  This is what you get when you decide to sit out an election year as many voters did in 2014.

Much hinges on the King v. Burwell case brought before the Supreme Court.  This is a case that should have been thrown out, as its premise relies on the literal interpretation of the Affordable Care Act in which only those who purchased insurance from state-run exchanges are eligible for subsidies.  This would rule out a significant number of persons who purchased their insurance through the federal health insurance exchange since most Republican states refused to set up their own exchanges.

This case illustrates just how low Republicans will go to defeat the ACA, as it has to be one of the pettiest cases ever brought before the USSC.  The vote comes down to Roberts or Kenne…

Death and the Maidan

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the movie theater, Uncle Ollie is planning another hard hitting mockumentary on an alleged CIA coup in Ukraine, which led to the downfall of Viktor Yanukovych.  Remember him?

Ollie was in Moscow interviewing the former president for a documentary allegedly produced by "Ukranians."  One can only assume these Ukranians are based in Donetsk, as Yanukovych is generally seen as persona non grata after fleeing the country in the wake of the protests in the Maidan Nezalezhnosti back in February, 2014.  One look at all the portraits to himself is reason to understand why he is held in such low regard.

He's been hiding out in Moscow, believing himself to be the president in exile.  Apparently, Viktor wasn't Ollie's first choice in subject matter, as he initially wanted to build his new documentary around Vladimir Putin.  You might remember from his Untold History of the United States, which was aired on Showtime, that Sto…

He did it his way

I remember listening to Mario Cuomo's keynote speech at the Democratic Convention in 1984 and wishing he was running for President and not Walter Mondale.  I was sure he would run in 1988 and again in 1992, but Cuomo ducked out both times.  My father felt he had too many skeletons in his closet, but it seems that Cuomo preferred Albany to Washington.

His tenure finally ran out in 1994 when he was upset by George Pataki in what proved to be a watershed year for Republicans.  George Bush similarly scored a surprise victory in Texas over the well-liked Ann Richards.  They both had a great sense of humor about it, but I have to think that loss hurt.  His once formidable political clout was gone and he was relegated to a periphery figure in American politics.

It was his good fortune to father a son who would restore his dynasty in New York, but it isn't the same. Andrew is not the great speechmaker his father was and he struggles to place himself at the center of national politic…

All's well that end's well

After a miserable election year for the Democrats, President Obama managed to salvage a good year by taking matters in his own hands the closing months.  He has forced the Republicans to address some real issues in 2015, notably immigration and reshaping American policy toward Cuba.  He also took unilateral steps on addressing climate change with China, as well as extending the length of visas to Chinese working and studying in the United States.

Of course, none of this sat well with Republicans after their resounding nationwide victories in Congressional and gubernatorial elections.  They seemed to feel they finally had the critical mass to overturn "Obamacare" once and for all, but now they find themselves having to deal with much more thorny issues they would have preferred to set aside until 2016 and beyond.
Immigration is a particular sore point.  Obama had held off on taking executive action at the behest of fellow Democrats who felt the issue didn't sit well in t…