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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Pelosi: Princess of Power…

I confess I was a little concerned about this whole debt-ceiling, default, financial ruin, Chinese overlords issue but fortunately, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi provided these calming words of reassurance in an interview regarding Oregon’s tiger-suited embarrassment David Wu:

“He’s resigning from office,” Pelosi said in response to a question from a Washington Post reporter. “So what we’re trying to do is save the world from the Republican budget; we’re trying to save life on this planet as we know it today.”  

Obviously, Pelosi can’t be bothered with this distracting, comic-relief b-plot when she’s busy gearing up to face off against the Death Star that is the Republican budget. Here I had mistakenly presumed this was all a petty partisan squabble with the nation’s economic health on the line but in reality, it’s something that’s previewed after the closing credits for “Captain America.”

Pelosi later referred to Speaker John Boehner’s plan to raise the debt ceiling as a “job-killer.” She apparently still thinks the U.S. has jobs. If that’s the plan’s goal, it’s wasting its time as much as a youth-sucking vampire stalking Larry King.

“If you believe in that the education of our children, the retirement of our seniors, the creation of jobs in a fiscally sound way, you couldn’t possibly vote for the bill that the Republicans are bringing to the floor today,” Pelosi said Thursday.

Wait, there’s a way to create jobs in a non-fiscally sound way? Is she referring to organized crime or the possible return of all those Internet start-ups from the late ’90s?

Regarding seniors, Pelosi claimed that if the Republican proposal passes, “You can just kiss Medicare goodbye.”

I’m afraid now that President Obama will have no choice but to pull a gun on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and demand that he convince Pelosi to “chill out.”

Meanwhile, freshman Republicans are also going bonkers: According to the Washington Post, Rep. Mike Kelly “handed out to colleagues blue-and-orange signs” with the Notre Dame’s football slogan, “Play Like a Champion Today.”

“Put on your helmets. Buckle your chin straps. Run out on the field. Let’s knock the shit out of them,” Kelly told the group.

So on the left, we have She-Ra who believes this is an epic battle between good and the Republican minions of Lord Hordak, and on the right, we have the callow frat boy who thinks this is a college football game. This reminds me of something Thomas Jefferson once said to James Madison:

“I say, the earth belongs to each of these generations during its course, fully and in its own right. The second generation receives it clear of the debts and incumbrances of the first, the third of the second, and so on. For if the first could charge it with a debt, then the earth would belong to the dead and not to the living generation. Then, no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence. Now… let’s go knock the shit out of them and save the planet. By the power of Grayskull!”

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2011 in Political Theatre

 

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Obama on the Bubble…

According to this USA Today article, President Obama’s “weekly ratings” have hit a record low. Google News had 6,010 results for “Obama ratings,” so I suppose it’s as important a measurement tool for Obama’s performance as the Nielsen ratings for TV and the weekend box office results for movies.

The question now is how to improve these numbers? Clearly, the debt-ceiling debacle has been a momentum killer, perhaps even a “jump-the-shark” plot line. If things don’t turn around, there’s a good chance Obama won’t be renewed next year.

Can this “on-the-bubble” administration be saved? Here are some options:

Replace Speaker Boehner: Obama needs a good antagonist, but John Boehner is as supercilious and unlikable as Frank Burns on “M*A*S*H.” When Burns left the series after the fifth season, his replacement was Charles Emerson Winchester III. He still gave Hawkeye a hard time but he was a competent surgeon and frequently demonstrated basic humanity, as opposed to the cartoonish Burns. Unfortunately, the only Republican from Massachusetts — where Winchester hailed — is Scott Brown and he’s a senator. Still, the former “Cosmo” model might have the appeal necessary to increase audience interest.

Bring Back Osama bin Laden: It turns out that killing bin Laden was a short-sighted May sweeps stunt. There was a brief spike in the ratings but now no one remembers or cares. Perhaps Americans realize the ongoing economic crisis is a greater and more immediate threat to their way of life than the machinations of a pornography-viewing madman… or they just could have incredibly short memories and are only ever aware of what’s happening three feet in front of them. Either way, you don’t knock off your star villain and not expect to lose a good chunk of your audience. Does anyone read those “Star Wars” novels that take place after Darth Vader dies? Imagine bin Laden returning from the grave for an epic confrontation in time for November sweeps? That’s entertainment.

Bring Back Bill Clinton: This guy is a ratings bonanza. He once had an approval rating of 73 percentafter being impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. They actually rose 10 percent after his impeachment. Obama’s peaked at 60 percentafter ordering the successful killing of a terrorist mastermind. Only 30 percent of Americans wanted Clinton to resign after his impeachment. That’s just marginally more than the number of Americans who believed Obama was born in another country (no, really). Clearly, Clinton has star wattage.

The face of a time when the U.S. was at peace and had two nickels to rub together. So, that's when we impeached the president ... because I guess that makes sense.

More Tragedy and Romance: As Tolstoy said, “all happy families are alike… and deathly dull.” The highly rated Clintons provided plenty of salacious, soap-opera storylines. There were naughty interns and betrayed spouses. America couldn’t stop watching. Conversely, the Obamas are like the Huxtables but less funny. They should take a cue from David and Sherry Palmer on “24.” That was “Macbeth” with soul. The Obamas should also consider adopting another child — maybe Lindsay Lohan.

Let’s hope this helps. However, if America’s credit rating falls — actually less of a shocker given the national debt than the fact that it was ever deemed “top-notch” — Obama’s own ratings might not matter. Sort of like when Conan O’Brien left NBC for TBS. Expectations are revised.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2011 in Political Theatre

 

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Corporate Patriotism…

Corporate Patriotism…

As the Supreme Court determined last year, corporations are people, and people sort of suck. Thus, it’s not surprising to learn that although the U.S. economy currently has the same stability as an advanced game of Jenga, corporations are raking in sufficient profits to build and stock their own money bins. And like Scrooge McDuck’s shrine to capitalism, the impact on the economy is not especially positive.

According to this AP article, despite strong second quarter corporate earnings, job growth is “moving kind of slow at the Junction” and wages are as stagnant as the crowd at a Pat Boone concert.

Wages and salaries accounted for just 1 percent of economic growth in the first 18 months after economists declared that the recession had ended in June 2009, according to Sum and other Northeastern researchers.

In the same period after the 2001 recession, wages and salaries accounted for 15 percent. They were 50 percent after the 1991-92 recession and 25 percent after the 1981-82 recession.

Corporate profits, by contrast, accounted for an unprecedented 88 percent of economic growth during those first 18 months. That’s compared with 53 percent after the 2001 recession, nothing after the 1991-92 recession and 28 percent after the 1981-82 recession.

Yeah, that’s peculiar. However, there is some logic behind the discrepancy. Corporations, despite their growing coffers, aren’t hiring and they aren’t raising salaries because there’s no need to remain competitive in a job market where no one’s hiring.

I should clarify that many companies are adding jobs overseas. This is often referred to as “optimization,” which is more correctly called “exploitation.” U.S. workers want living wages and health insurance. That does not help the bottom line. But wouldn’t it be a grand show of patriotism to take a relative profit hit and keep those jobs in the states? Instead companies employ a strategy straight from the “Animal Farm Guide to Corporate Management.” The spin is that companies have no choice but to cut these jobs in order to remain viable. Your colleague lost his job but you got to keep yours, right? And that’s why we also can’t increase your salary even though rent and groceries have increased. This is all necessary so that Farmer Jones doesn’t come back.

Meanwhile, the remaining employees trudge on like Boxer, striving to “work harder.” This was discussed in a recent Morning Edition on NPR. Much of these corporate profits stem from “relentless cost cutting” and increased productivity (e.g. one worker doing the job of two while making the same as he did three years ago). Of course, this business model — crafted in the same section of hell that creates abusive spouses — only works as long as employees have no shelter elsewhere. And though there might be some sinister logic in increasing profits by curbing “discretionary spending” (corporate speak for basic, cost-of-living raises that simply ensure you are not effectively making less than you did last year), Vulcan philosophy appears to peter out at the C-level, as evidenced by CEO pay inceasing 24 percent in 2010.

At Viacom, CEO Philippe Dauman got an impressive $84.5 million last year, or 1,990 times what the typical Viacom worker got. This assumes his workers make the $42,500 a year, on average, reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as the typical pay for employees in arts, design, entertainment, sports and media.

Dauman reduced Viacom’s workforce 7 percent (about 850 positions) in 2008. He did volunteer to not accept a pay increase in 2009, but he certainly made up for his year spent scavenging through trashcans and sleeping under the BQE by almost tripling his salary in 2010. Granted, that’s cigar-lighting money compared to what school teachers make, but it does seem a tad excessive for someone with a whopping 38 percent approval rating on Glassdoor.com. OK, I concede that this is based on only 13 reviewers but when you “optimize” your workforce, you also “optimize” your sample size.

You could take Dauman’s $50 million increase and give all 10,000 of his employees a $5,000 bonus (more than 10 percent of their estimated average salaries) or you could hire back the 850 employees he released (about $35 million) and still have a little more than $1,000 left for everyone (George W. Bush only sent me a check for $350 in 2001). Although “punishing” Dauman for his success this way would be quite a blow to the private jet and luxury yacht business, it would be a much-needed injection of cash into the gas, food, and lodging industries.

This is in itself pretty appalling but what’s worse is many of our elected officials would sacrifice your own children — certainly not theirs — on the altar of Baal to preserve tax cuts for people like Dauman, who by accepting such a salary adjustment demonstrated that either he can’t do math, in which case he shouldn’t even be a CEO, or that his soul evaporated around the same time as M. Night Shyamalan’s talent.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Capitalism

 

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Forever Marilyn…

Almost 50 years since her death, Marilyn Monroe still cannot escape exploitation or bad likenesses of her presented as art (a motley crew that includes Catherine Hicks — yes, the mom from “7th Heaven” — and Mira Sorvino — yes, Mira Sorvino).

New Jersey sculptor J. Seward Johnson Jr.’s Forever Marilyn is currently on display on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It is large, obvious, and tacky — everything Marilyn was not — and has so far proven to be the biggest magnet of mediocrity since the creation of the reality TV genre.

An article in the Chicago Tribune describes a throng of “tourists hugging her legs and voyeurs young and old unabashedly shooting upskirt photos on their iPhones.” While this would be rude if the 26-foot statue were a living, breathing entity, it is distinctly irrational and borderline insane behavior when you consider that the statue is an inanimate object.

The statue is based on a famous scene from Marilyn’s 1955 film, The Seven Year Itch. After the range she displayed as the femme fatale in Niagara (1953) and the comedic chops demonstrated in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire (both also 1953), her role is a bit of a come-down. She is the unnamed “girl” who symbolizes the tempation Tom Ewell’s character experiences during a sweltering New York City summer. However, unlike the previously mentioned films, its success is solely attributable to her, as she embues it with the classic Marilyn Monroe persona.

When I saw the scene within the full context of the film, I was moved by Marilyn’s sensitivity. Could anyone else see “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and identify with the monster? “He was kind of scary looking,” she concedes, “but he wasn’t really all bad. I think he just craved a little affection.” This consideration for the outcasts in all of us is what separates Marilyn from all the knock-offs who dress up as her at costume parties. Unfortunately, they probably have only seen the clips of the scene that begin with her hopping on the subway grate and making history. Viewed without this glimpse into her heart, she’s just a tart, desperate for attention from a man. A spontaneous display of innocence is now interpreted as calculated seduction.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGlu06VDCdU

My issue is not with the sculpture itself but with the public’s reaction to it — the lack of respect and the desire to consume. It is an unfortunate reflection of what happened to Marilyn in life. I’m not sure if that was Johnson’s intent but his official statement does encourage people to “…come close and actually touch” the statue.

“There is something about her pose; the exuberance for life without inhibition, which is quintessentially American. It expresses an uninhibited sense of our own vibrancy.”

However, “life without inhibition” could describe Madonna at best or the cast of “Jersey Shore” at worst. Neither is truly Marilyn, but I suppose I should thank Johnson for the resulting performance art the statue has generated and its comment on our society. For example:

Expect to see these guys involved in whatever version of a “sexting” scandal will exist thirty years from now.

Uncertain as to what he’s celebrating. He was photographed between the legs of a statue. Is that the silver or bronze?

I presume this woman is attempting to recreate Marilyn’s famous pose — but without the skirt and with the regrettable side effect of looking like she’s about to relieve herself in the statue’s presence.

Forever Marilyn is scheduled to remain in Chicago’s Pioneer Court until the spring.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2011 in Pop Life

 

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The Victims of Equality…

On July 24, gays in NY will have the ability to legally marry whoever they choose and in the process deny innocent citizens of their God-given right to deprive them of this basic bit of dignity. I suppose when you don’t think about it very hard, it is a tragedy.

The New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms group — a curious name for an anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage organization but there were no runners in Dexys Midnight Runners, either — has set up a self-styled “Courage Fund” for victims of marriage equality, which includes Laura Fotusky, a town clerk in Barker N.Y., who resigned rather than violate her religious beliefs by signing a marriage certificate for a gay couple. Apparently, this is Laura Fotusky’s House of Marriage Licenses (“ask for them by name!”) and gay unions are the Chinatown knock-offs that will devalue her brand.

Gays are apparently not satisfied with robbing Fotusky of all the glitz and glamour associated with her high-stakes position as a town clerk for someplace I just learned about today. They have also targeted Granby NY clerk Ruth Sheldon and Barbara MacEwen, who graciously stated that she didn’t mind her office issuing the licenses to gays, she just didn’t want to sign the designer imposter certificates.

The “Courage Fund” however is set up to protect these individuals who face the hardship of losing their jobs beause they don’t wish to do their jobs:

The New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms website says that the fund exists to “assist courageous municipal clerks and other people of conscience in New York State who oppose same-sex ‘marriage’ from harassment, denial of rightful promotion, or unfair termination for invoking New York State law protecting their sincerely-held religious beliefs.”

Rosemary Centi, another NY clerk who is resigning, has performed “hundreds” of wedding. She told The NY Post’s Andrea Peyser that “I am Catholic… my definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. It is a sacrament.”

Centi is under the mistaken impression that she was performing a religious service. This was a legal contract, and if she performed hundreds of these “sacraments,” there had to have been some stinkers in there: Twentysomething model marrying decrepit millionaire on life support; embezzling hedge fund manager tying the knot with his assistant so she won’t have to testify against him at the trial; anything involving Kelsey Grammer. Did she investigate any of these couples to ensure they were worthy of her? Or is it merely that heterosexual unions, while ocassionally going wrong, have the potential to be great and homosexual unions, by definition, do not.

“I have a number of friends whom I adore” who are gay, Centi told (Peyser). “I respect an individual’s right to live their life however they chose to do.” She paused. “So I would expect the same courtesy.”

Is this really the moral conundrum people are making it? Gays don’t care what Centi thinks of gay marriage. They don’t care that she chooses to resign her job rather than perform a gay marriage. And they probably don’t care that the “number” of gay friends Centi has is either a dubious assertion or cast members on “Project Runway.” Put this way: If Centi were a vegan, those of us who eat meat would respect her choice. If she worked at McDonald’s and they suddenly started serving actual meat, we would not have an issue with her finding another line of work. We would have an issue if she kept her job but refused to make the burgers.

Bronx DJ Clifton McLaughlin also refuses to make the burgers. In Peyser’s piece, he says he won’t spin the slow jams at a gay wedding.

“This is based on God’s law,” McLaughlin told (Peyser). “There is no way man can come with his own law.”

I think he also overstates his role here. The DJ is not one of the twelve apostles. He’s the entertainment. Also, there’s a good chance he’s worked at a mob daughter’s wedding. As long as he doesn’t play the “Electric Slide,” God will not judge him for his participation.

The Wildflower Inn turned away a lesbian couple recently because the innkeepers did not allow same-sex weddings on the site. Perhaps the misperception here is that you have to attend every wedding held at your space or even like the people who are giving you business. This is a more clear-cut violation of public accomodations laws, so I anticipate the owners Jim and Mary O’Reilly being sued into the Phantom Zone.

Peyser and the New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms (*just not yours) lament the apparent inability of people to enjoy freedom of religion in their own state. Granted, if your religion included illegal activities (e.g. ritual sacrifice or line dancing), you could not hide behind your faith in those instances. And in their rush to drape themselves in the cloth of civil rights terminology (i.e. “concientious objectors”), they should take the time to read their history and see that such acts never came without sacrifice. Their wish to defy the law without consequence or discriminate without repudiation is a rather craven fantasy.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Political Theatre

 

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Sartre and “South Park”…

I saw “The Book of Mormon” and it left me cold. My response to anyone who asks my opinion about the show would be a diplomatic and mostly accurate, “If you enjoy ‘South Park,’ you’ll probably enjoy this” or as Lincoln put it best: “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”

There are some who are curious as to why I specifically didn’t enjoy the show. I do support anything that brings people to the theatre that is not based on a movie, a video game, or an injury-prone superhero. I am also pleased to see job opportunities for black stage actors even if it does involve them raising the ghost of Hattie McDaniel in a misguided (and somewhat inaccurate) send-up of Africa: I don’t mind satire but I do mind laziness, and “The Book of Mormon” has all the racial sophistication of a Tarzan movie.

I underscore laziness here because it’s a rather tiresome trope: Blacks in an awful situation who are powerless to do anything to change their circumstances without the aid of a white savior — one they eventually wind up almost worshipping in “Book of Mormon.” It’s been depicted so often, though, that it’s almost a genre in itself, going back to “To Kill a Mockingbird” and later “Dangerous Minds” (though “Amish Paradise” is a great song).

However, that didn’t bother me as much as the prodution’s overall message, which is a promotion of inauthentic living. The Africans start out cursing a non-existent God because their lives are miserable but they make no attempt to alter them through their own force of will. They are essentially frustrated children who blame their parents for why they weren’t born handsome and tall. Their emotional arc, such as it is, has them embracing and uniting over nonsense. Worse, they know it’s nonsense, which is what Sartre would condemn as the worst act of bad faith. The Mormons themselves, especially the show’s leads, are ultimately no better than Professor Hill from “The Music Man.”

Although the show’s villain comes around thanks to all this hocus-pocus, philosophically, I would prefer the Africans resolve their political and social issues honestly… even if the end result is objectively worse. I believe death is better than willful self-delusion, which is probably why I’m such fun at parties.

Upon reflection, it occurs to me that I might be pathologically incapable of connecting to any artistic work that depicts religion or faith as a positive force in any way. I understand and respect that people think otherwise but it’s possible that I am just hardwired differently.

However, there must be some works on this subject that have moved me. Let’s see:

“Jesus Christ Superstar”: One of my favorite shows and films. It’s almost Shakespearan; although Jesus is more Caesar to Judas’s more interesting Brutus. The resurrection is also not depicted.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCfgnMNDcRo

Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” video: Jesus is a black guy, and Madonna dances in front of burning crosses. This one’s a long shot.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lA983t3Rdzs

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Pop Life

 

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“Cut, Cap, and Balance” (the sequel to “Bell, Book, and Candle”)…

“Cut, Cap, and Balance” (the sequel to “Bell, Book, and Candle”)…

U.S. House Set to Pass Doomed Spending-Cut Bill With No Debt Deal Imminent – Bloomberg.

Two weeks from a threatened default, U.S. House Republicans today plan to defy President Barack Obama’s promised veto by voting to slash spending and condition a $2.4 trillion debt-ceiling increase on passage of a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.

“Slashing” spending is and will always be a hyperbolic pronouncement with little chance of follow through. It’s as if the United States is going on a crash diet in which it subsists on a daily concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and water. Within a week, Canada and Mexico will find us unbearable.

No one wants to face the reality of our economic situation. It’s not like we can just cancel our cable (“We don’t even watch half these channels!”) and call it a day. And we’re certainly not going to end our $1,000 a day cocaine habit (replace “cocaine” with “military spending”).

Are there any real businesses that survived the recession with such crack-pipe proposals? There were lay-offs, hiring and wage freezes, and occasionally increased prices for their products. In other words, difficult decisions were made. Meanwhile, the United States wants to cease wasting money on paper clips and plastic spoons in the company cafeteria. That will stop the bleeding.

A constitutional amendment to balance the budget is what is called a “magic pill.” It’s tantamount to the CEO of Borders passing an edict banning Kindles. No one can answer how the law will change the conditions that make it impossible for us to achieve this now. And no one wants to answer the question as to how we balanced the budget the last time.

The Clinton years showed the effects of a large tax increase that Clinton pushed through in his first year… It fell almost exclusively on upper-income taxpayers. Clinton’s fiscal 1994 budget also contained some spending restraints. An equally if not more powerful influence was the booming economy and huge gains in the stock markets, the so-called dot-com bubble, which brought in hundreds of millions in unanticipated tax revenue from taxes on capital gains and rising salaries.

It’s most likely impossible to reproduce the conditions of the Clinton era. Most U.S. citizens are unwilling to wear all that flannel again or go to another Spice Girls concert. However, the political game being played of wanting to make a cheeseburger without using actual cheese or hamburger meat is going to inevitably reduce our economy into the drive-through at McDonald’s.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Political Theatre

 

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