Friday, January 02, 2009

Did you hear the one about FDR and the Great Depression?

Did you hear the latest nonsense from dimbulbs on the right? Yes, I know, it is hard to keep track. But specifically I mean the bit about how FDR’s New Deal programs and government spending actually prolonged The Great Depression?
It sounds contrary to everything that we learned in history. Well, that’s because it is. It’s complete bullshit.
David Sirota does us all the favor of quashing it in this piece for Salon.
Of course, that won’t matter for most rightwingers. Things like the truth, logic and rational argument are all easily discarded whenever it conflicts with their ideology. The “FDR prolonged the Depression” nonsense fits in well with their preconceived notions, so they naturally embrace it irregardless of how completely stupid it is.

Here is a good example of how this kind of silliness gets perpetuated in rightwing circles.
JimmyK takes an article by historian Alan Brinkley and carefully extracts a section that is critical of the New Deal to support the meme about prolonging the Great Depression. But left out is the all the stuff at the beginning of the article praising 90 percent of the New Deal programs....

Does the New Deal provide a useful model for fixing our own troubled economy? In many respects, yes. The frenzy of activity and innovation that marked Franklin Roosevelt's initial months in office--a welcome contrast to the seeming paralysis of the discredited Hoover regime--helped first and foremost to lessen the panic that had gripped the nation. And, during the prewar years of his presidency, Roosevelt's actions produced an unprecedented array of tangible achievements as well. He moved quickly and effectively to address a wave of bank failures that threatened to shut down the financial system. He created the Securities and Exchange Commission, which helped make the beleaguered stock market more transparent and thus more trustworthy. He responded to out-of-control unemployment by launching the Civil Works Administration, the Public Works Administration, and the Works Progress Administration, which created jobs for millions of the unemployed. He passed the Social Security Act, which over time provided support to the jobless, the indigent, and the elderly--and the Wagner Act, which eventually raised wages by giving unions the right to bargain collectively with employers. He signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which created the minimum wage and the 40-hour workweek.

And even in his criticism, Brinkley notes that one of the biggest mistakes of the period - the Federal Reserve Boards insistence on keeping interest rates high - was not a product of New Deal policy.

And now we have the rest of the story...

Theme from ‘Shaft’ reinterpreted

This just proves that music is the universal language. The late-great Isaac Hayes’ masterpiece “Theme from ‘Shaft’” as reinterpreted by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.


Please don’t embarrass us

I sure hope the Senate Democrats rethink their plan to physically block Roland Burris from entering the Senate chamber next week. I don’t care how righteous they think they are, it will turn into a huge and embarrassing fiasco if the all-white Senate were to bar the door on the only black man.
Go ahead and launch the silly investigation and such - it will all be decided in the courts anyway, but spare us all the theatrics of having Burris escorted from the chamber by the Sergeant at Arms.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Blagojevich and bluster

I think the U.S. Senate will have no choice but to seat Roland Burris as the new Senator from Illinois.
As distasteful as it may seem, Rod Blagojevich is still the governor of Illinois - innocent until proven guilty - and now it looks like it may be another couple of months before we even know if an indictment will be handed down. In the meantime, the rules say that Blago gets to make the Senate appointment. There is nothing in the law that says the Illinois Secretary of State has to approve of the choice, so this business of him not certifying the paperwork seems kind of silly. If he won’t do his job, the governor will just find someone else who will.

And on what grounds could the leadership in the U.S. Senate block Burris from being seated in the chamber? He is in no way implicated in the scandal swirling around Blago. All things considered, he seems to be a pretty good choice. So I think the courts will ultimately rule in his favor.
Blago pulled a fast one and it looks like he will get away with it. He is still going to be impeached and possibly indicted and could end up serving prison time along with his immediate predecessor. But for now he has demonstrated that he can still play politics and the only thing his critics can do is bluster.

Pop culture prowess

The movies are one of the touchstones of our culture. We share a common culture in part by seeing the same movies (or watching the same TV shows, or listening to the same music) as everyone else.
Here is an interesting way to gauge your pop culture prowess: See how many of the top grossing films ($100M-plus domestic gross) that you have seen over the years. In other words, how many of the films that everyone else saw did you see too?
It is easy to do if you go to Box Office Mojo and browse through their yearly list of box office results.

Here is how I measure up:
2000 - 14 of 22
2001 - 14 of 20
2002 - 15 of 24
2003 - 15 of 29
2004 - 17 of 24
2005 - 13 of 19
2006 - 11 of 19
2007 - 8 of 28
2008 - 4 of 24 (so far)

I’ve also seen every one of the highest grossing films for each year (not counting 2008) going back to 1980 with the exception of “Three Men and a Baby” from 1987.

I will probably never have a perfect score for any particular year because there are always going to be some popular films that I have no interest in seeing. If it is a horror film or a gross-out comedy you can usually count me out.
But overall we tend to be exposed to popular movies even when we don’t see them. For instance, I know who Michael Myers, Freddie Krueger and Jason Voorhees are despite the fact that I have never seen any of the Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th movies.

2008 Movies recap

This was a pretty good year for the movies overall thanks largely to the super heroric efforts of Batman, Iron Man and Indiana Jones.
The film industry seemed to be in a slump in 2005-06 when it failed to put out more than 20 films either year that cleared the $100 million mark in domestic box office grosses. There was a big jump in $100M grossing movies in 2007 with 28 and so far this year we are at 24 and counting. You can clearly see the slump here:

2001 - 20
2002 - 24
2003 - 29
2004 - 24
2005 - 19
2006 - 19
2007 - 28
2008 - 24 and counting

I’m not sure if the slump was due to the miserable Bush economy, anxiety over the Iraq war or what, but now, even with the economy fully down the drain, we seem to be going back to the cinema in droves trying to make it all go away for a few hours at a time.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve seen very few 2008 films so far. Here are the ones I’ve seen in order of preference. (* indicates a video/DVD I own).

*Kung Fu Panda
*Iron Man
Horton Hears A Who
*Speed Racer

There are still many 2008 films I want to see including:

*Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
The Dark Knight
*Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Gran Torino
Quantum of Solace
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Hell Boy II: The Golden Army
Burn After Reading
Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
In Bruges
Shine A Light
*Nim’s Island
Bedtime Stories
The Tale of Despereaux
The Spiderwick Chronicles
The X-Files: I Want To Believe
The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything

Revisiting my list of films from 2007, I am now up to 16 films I have seen:

*Spider Man 3
*Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
No Reservations
*The Bee Movie
*Meet the Robinsons
*The Bourne Ultimatum
*National Treasure: Book of Secrets
*The Golden Compass
*The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep
*Charlie Wilson’s War
The Simpsons Movie
*Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

And here are the 2007 films I still want to see:

I Am Legend
I’m Not There
The Great Debaters
*Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
No End in Sight
American Gangster
Sweeney Todd
There Will Be Blood
No Country For Old Men
Talk To Me
Bridge To Terabithia
Rescue Dawn
Walk Hard
Eastern Promises
*Michael Clayton
3:10 to Yuma
Live Free or Die Hard
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Incompetence Dodge

I have harped on this before, but I think it is worth repeating that it is a mistake to focus too much on George W. Bush’s incompetence as a president and not on the intellectual bankruptcy of the ideas that he championed.
I saw recently where the word “incompetent” is the most frequent one associated with President Bush. While that may be well deserved, it also serves to give Republicans an out as to why their political policies have failed during the past decade. They can say, “It wasn’t our ideas that failed, it was the man who tried to put them into action who was at fault. He was incompetent and screwed things up, thus our ideas were never given their due.”
So it serves Republicans’ interests right now to jump on the “Bush was incompetent” bandwagon so that they can come back in four years with a new standard bearer and the same old failed policies and take another shot at running our country into the ground.
We can’t afford to let them get away with that. So don’t fall for that dodge. Bush was a bad president, there is no doubt. But it was ultimately the failed policies he promoted that sank his presidency, not any personal foibles or missteps. If the taxcuts had actually boosted the economy, rather than creating huge new deficits, then people would not have cared so much about Bush’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina or his efforts to politicize the Justice Department. If toppling Saddam would have really resulted in a flowering of democracy across the Middle East, people would have dismissed reports of abuse at Abu Gharib and Guantanamo and yawned over reports of domestic spying.
The policies failed. Everything else was the icing on the cake.

Cycle of violence

Is it just me? Or does it seem like the Israeli government always picks Christmastime every year to start bombing the hell out of their neighbors?
I’m not going to try and defend Hamas, but the Israeli military action is, as usual, big-time overkill. I never could find out how many Israeli’s were killed by the missile attacks which purportedly sparked this latest offensive, but the death toll on the other side is now at 350 and climbing. That is typical of the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But no matter how lop-sided the death ratio is, (100-to-1?) it never solves anything but rather perpetuates the cycle of violence and death. Israel has maintained an economic death grip on the Palestinian territories for years now, not allowing any kind of normal commerce to take place and keeping the populace in a state of near squalor and starvation. At the same time, the government has allowed the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories to grow and expand almost unheeded. Then they act surprised when radical factions launch rockets on a sporadic basis.
Then over here, our government acts like the Israeli response is appropriate and necessary even as every other country on the planet is appropriately appalled. It makes me sick.
I don’t know if Obama can change things and I know if he even tries to moderate the U.S.’s current Israel-can-do-no-wrong approach to the Middle East he will be viciously attacked by the rightwing spin machine and its media lapdogs. But do something he must because it is clear that the current Israeli government is not going to pull itself out of this cycle of violence on its own.