Thursday, December 30, 2010

Three Nights At The Movies: The New 'True Grit' Is Excellent

By Manifesto Joe

I've been studiously ignoring politics until the New Year arrives. Being the hardworking sort that I am, I don't make it to the cinema nowadays as much as I once did. But lately I've been going a little more.

True Grit

I was very pleasantly surprised that the new True Grit is an excellent movie. This is the one they should have made in the first place. The old one, with John Wayne and directed by Henry Hathaway, seems like Hollywood gloss in comparison. This one, by the Coen brothers, has a very "gritty" and authentic feel to it.

Jeff Bridges' take on Rooster Cogburn is most interesting. Rooster is a 53-year-old drunk with a literal hair-trigger temper, a guy who has obviously spent about as much time on the bad side of the law as on the good. Matt Damon pretty well matches him as LeBeauff (sp?), the Texas Ranger. He comes across as a lot more authentic than Glen Campbell (In the 1969 flick, I remember Glen still having that perfect hairstyle, mutton chops and all, when he's supposed to be dead of a head injury).

And when it comes to the 14-year-old girl, there's no comparison. Hailee Steinfeld is great, totally lacking the stilted pomposity of Kim Darby. A star may be born here.

The Black Swan

This one is an art film that's doing far better at the box office than art films usually do in America. I thought it was decent. My wife was far less impressed.

The gist is that Natalie Portman plays a ballet dancer who gets cast as the lead dancer in Swan Lake, but must tap into the dark reaches of her psyche to be able to dance as the dark side of the lead character. She's just not ready for it, and becomes hallucinatory and unbalanced as she has to reach into that side of herself. I won't tell more so as not to spoil it for those who want to see it. My wife and I both mused that the only thing this lacks that would gratify film snobs is the subtitles.

Being male, it did not escape my attention that Mila Kunis, in a supporting role, is a very sexy woman.

And, the music from Swan Lake, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, is an earwig in the best sense of the term.

Boxing Gym

Frederick Wiseman is one of America's great documentarians. He's going on 81, so this may well be his last film.

He took his camera to Austin, Texas, to film at a boxing gym owned and operated by Richard Lord, a one-time pro boxer who also happens to have a degree from the University of Texas. Lord's gym is open to anyone who can pay $50 a month. There were people there who were obviously just trying to lose weight. Fred does most of his work in the cutting room, so he gradually builds a crescendo up to a gym war between two of the pros who work out there.

Meanwhile, you get a good slice of life. Lord tells a person who's becoming a member that, basically, everybody is welcome there. One woman who comes in here is 68, he says, and she hits the speed bag better than some of our pros do.

Wiseman has made many superb documentaries, but is perhaps best-known for Primates in 1974. I remember that one for the disturbing images. They have a box on top of a research monkey's head, with electrodes that penetrate his brain. Activating the electrodes induces all kinds of behavior. They can make him fuck, then stop; fuck, then stop; and so on. By the time the movie is over, you'd like to join the animals in a revolution to kill all the researchers. But, Wiseman never judges -- he just records.

His camera is very unobtrusive. At one point in Primates, he's in a boardroom with the researchers, with a couple of them raising objections and asking if this sort of research is really necessary.

Anyway, Boxing Gym is a good one, as all of Fred's are. Catch it if you can. It's pretty much an art house film.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Brief Thought On Commonality

It occurred to me, after the fact of my latest post, that I mentioned that FDR and LBJ perhaps did more for the common people of this country than any other presidents.

I have an IQ that actually got me into the Mensa Society. (Although, admittedly, I am a relatively dumb Mensan. I got in by all of 2 points.) Anyway, some people would ask me, why in the hell I would want to identify with common people? Shouldn't I regard myself as above them?

I certainly haven't found a position in life that has been above them. I generally work for people who I know are not nearly as smart as I am. Perhaps their EQs (emotional quotients) are higher than mine. I've taken a test on that, and my EQ is very average.

Life is a strange and fascinating journey, and you never know where you're going to end up. God, if he's there, blessed me with high intelligence. But I sense that he also blessed me with a life in which I began poor, and then saw what poor people have to run up against in their struggles for a better life. This, too, was sort of a blessing, and it's a major reason why I trudge on, writing this blog.

There, but for the grace of God, go you. There, perhaps with the grace of God, I have gone. -- MJ

Bring On The Bitch And Boner Show

By Manifesto Joe

The 112th Congress will take office in just a couple of weeks, and America's Millenial Generation may be getting a harsh civics lesson in the bargain. I suspect that some of our young folks may wish they hadn't been texting while the political science teacher was discussing the powers of the legislative branch.

Pardon me for indulging in stereotypes here. But sometimes those can be appropriate and descriptive. William John Cox, writing for Truthout last month (here's a link), went over the numbers that show abysmal participation among young voters since they went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

Cox discusses the disappointment that many young voters feel about Obama, who (surprise, surprise!) has turned out to be a compromising politician, not a crusader for unwinnable causes. A good many of the 18-through-29 folks just didn't vote because they now regard Obama as a sellout. They see him making deals that ultimately benefit Wall Street moguls and corporate CEOs much, much more than they help jobless or underemployed twentysomethings. That's understandable.

I have still another theory about the poor turnout. Because of the failures of our schools, and arguably more so, those of our culture at large, many people, among them the young, are too ignorant and politically illiterate to know how much power the legislative branch can wield over the federal government. Because of my work hours, I was seldom home in recent years during the time when Jay Leno's "Jaywalking" segment of the Tonight Show would be on, but I recall seeing a bit of video in which typical men or women on the street would be at a loss to answer tough questions like, "Who was the first president of the United States?"

So, it's my suspicion that a great many younger people didn't vote in the 2010 midterm elections because they were simply unaware of their importance.

I've got news for the less experienced out there: The president is not a dictator. In our system, change often comes about gradually and as a result of wheeler-dealer compromises. FDR and LBJ got a whole lot more done for the common people of this country than Jimmy Carter. Why? Because they knew how the system works -- how to wheel and deal and compromise when necessary to get something done. Even Bill Clinton was much more effective than Carter, though they were philosophically about the same (neoliberals).

Cox, in his Truthout op-ed article, wrote:

Leading up to last week's election, an October McClatchy-Marist Poll found that only 11 percent of registered voters under 30 were "very enthusiastic" about voting, compared to 48 percent of voters over 60 years of age. An earlier Rock the Vote poll in September found 34 percent of young voters favoring Democrats with another 28 percent rooting for a Republican takeover - but, significantly, 36 percent believed it did not matter which party controlled Congress.

An estimated 20.4 percent of young people voted on November 2, representing about a million fewer than voted in 2006 and less than half of the youth turnout for the 2008 presidential election.

You're about to find out why it matters

The most significant number I glean from this is that 36% who don't think it matters which party controls Congress.

This is where our grim little civics lesson comes in, boys and girls. The Bitch and Boner Show commences in just a couple of weeks. Brace yourselves.

The 112th Congress, featuring Senate Minority Leader Mitch "The Bitch" McConnell of Kentucky and incoming House Speaker John "The Boner" Boehner, takes office bright and early next month. There's already a movement under foot, apparently very well-bankrolled by special interests, to repeal the watered-down Obama health care reforms. Judging from the TV ads with Mike Huckabee, you would think that there was an immense groundswell behind this, but polls show that only about 37% of respondents want outright repeal.

A reflection of our confused electorate is that polls also show that about as many Americans -- 36%, I recall -- have a completely different problem with Obamacare. They don't think it goes far enough.

But the next U.S. House has a solid Republican majority, and assorted court battles are under way. You're going to see a blitz for total repeal of that messy compromise that Obama got, for the next 22-plus months. I have no doubt that the House will vote on it, and then it will be up to Obama and the Senate to block repeal.

You're going to see the Obama presidency hamstrung by numerous House committees and investigations. I'm not sure exactly how they'll do it, but bet on an effort to impeach Obama within the next 18 months. I'd wager on that coming to a head around October 2012, just before the presidential election.

Cox, in the Truthout piece, continued, anticipating the agenda of the more right-wing Congress:

The corporate artillery is lined up and the guns are locked and loaded with high explosive shells. Here are the announced targets: campaign finance reform, consumer-protection laws, expiration of tax cuts for the wealthy, environmental controls on businesses, workers'ability to organize unions, health care reform, unemployment insurance, social security and Medicare.

As Samuel Johnson famously said, "Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging." The young people of America are being hung out to dry politically, and they will continue to flap in the wind as the new Congress rolls back even the modest gains of the Obama administration.

I can well understand many people's disappointment. It's demoralizing to have to choose, time after time, between one party that has turned agonizingly center-right, versus what Bill Maher has called the "crazy party." (A further observation by Maher: "Over the last 30 years, the Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved into a mental hospital.")

But it definitely matters which party controls Congress, and our Millenials are about to learn that lesson the hard way.

Bring on the Bitch and Boner Show.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

They Don't Make Music Like This Anymore: Be-Bop Deluxe, 1974

No Trains to Heaven

With the great Bill Nelson on lead guitar.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Governor Goodhair, Texas' Dimwitted Demagogue, Part II

By Manifesto Joe

So, after his bogus comparison of Social Security to a Ponzi scheme, now Rick "Governor Goodhair" Perry wants to pull Texas out of the Medicaid system?

Not so fast, some of his fellow Republicans warn.

Such a move would be a disaster for the state -- at least for everyone who relies on that system for medical care. It would also be very bad in pure fiscal terms.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has warned that the state would lose $15 billion in federal matching funds and would have 2.6 million more Texans thrown into the ranks of the uninsured if our state did such a stupid thing.

Our state already faces a budget shortfall that, by some estimates, could exceed $20 billion. This has been a consequence of stupidity in itself, for which Governor Goodhair was somehow not held responsible on Nov. 2 by the voters of this state. More such stupidity would be far more than the taxpayers of Texas could afford.

State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, a physician from the Houston area, had this to say: "I don't think (opting out) of Medicaid is really viable. If you dropped out today, the human and economic consequences are pretty immediate."

Perry's response was to sort of pull back some, him and haw, and call for "increasing flexibility and innovation in Medicaid."

Here are quotes from the report: "Opting out of Medicaid means giving up federal dollars paid by the state's residents to provide healthcare for our most vulnerable residents."

But the report wasn't without cautions about the status quo: "Staying in the program forces states to pay for a federally-mandated expansion of Medicaid with little control over the program's ever-rising costs ..."

I'm shocked, shocked to be told that things actually have to be paid for. Texas has never been known for its largess for the poor -- much more known for its vast hospitality toward the rich and relocating corporations. Part of that lure is our "low" taxes. We're the second-most-populous state in the U.S., and there's still no personal state income tax here -- just very high sales taxes, user fees, and just about everything else you can imagine that's regressive.

Politicians like Governor Goodhair aim to keep it that way. Their demagoguery comes in when they start talking this sort of neo-secessionism. That plays very well in this state with Ballcap Bubba, and with Bubbette, too. He gets 80% of the vote in some areas of this state.

Granted, the gap between what the state is getting from the federal government in Medicaid dollars, compared with the need, is great. Texas has far more impoverished and uninsured people than it is getting money for. But, please explain to me how opting out of the system is going to solve that problem?

Somehow, Governor Goodhair's office always takes full credit whenever Texas gets federal disaster relief funds, like after hurricanes and such. They never turn down any military-base money or defense contracts, either. The game seems to be getting as many of the perks as possible, and then leaving the poor and sick to die in some shithole. It's all the perks we can get, with as few of the bills as we are forced to pay.

More on Governor Goodhair's moronic demagoguery, coming to this blog soon.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Governor Goodhair, Texas' Dimwitted Demagogue, Part I

By Manifesto Joe

In 1984, I was a hungry young reporter about 6 years out of college and 3 years out of grad school. I have a vivid memory of interviewing a 34-year-old rancher named Rick Perry, who was then at the dawn of his now-storied political career. Rick was running for state representative in our district, as a right-wing Democrat.

I'd have to dig up that clip for particulars, but I got the definite impression of a good-ol'-boy Ken doll, not the sharpest pencil in the box. If you had mentioned something to him about Ponzi back then, I think he would have said that the Ponz was his favorite character on the TV show Happy Days.

Over 26 years later, Rick "Governor Goodhair" Perry has been re-elected by a solid majority to become Texas' longest-serving governor. And, of course, he's now a Republican. Switched back around 1990, when he decided to run for Agriculture Commissioner.

He recently made the rounds on national talking-heads TV, and among other things, he compared Social Security to a Ponzi scheme, unsustainable. You could almost hear him say that down hiear in the great Republic of Texas, we has a better way of pensionin' folks off than that thar Washington federal Democrat nonsense.

A Ponzi scheme?

Let's think this through a bit. Charles Ponzi, back around the 1920s, became notorious for running an investment scam in which new investors put up money to pay the older investors, thus keeping the scam going in a manner sort of like check-kiting.

I suppose that the reason that Governor Goodhair makes this comparison -- and of course it wasn't his original idea -- is that Social Security's current contributors, those now employed and employing, are putting up the money to support the current retirees. And, as the pool of retirees grows larger as more baby boomers retire, that puts an increasingly heavy burden on the current contributors. So, it is supposed to be doomed to fail.

But the differences are being ignored. In the first place, Social Security contributions are not "invested." It's a trust fund. And there are no guarantees of anything. A worker can conceivably pay into the system for 45 years, and if he or she dies just before becoming eligible to collect, they get nothing if no surviving spouse is there to claim it.

It is not, and has never been, an "investment." It is social insurance. And in the world of insurance, one must meet certain criteria in order to collect after the premiums have been paid. That has always been the way the system worked, and it has always been very upfront. I get an annual statement that details how much taxable income the system has recorded for me, and how much I would get if I meet certain conditions. But if I die before I can collect, and if my spouse dies, too, we get -- zip. That's the way it works, and no one has been misled in the least. Someone else who lives a longer time may benefit from what my spouse and I did not have the longevity to need. That's the system, and it always has been. It's not much different from any other insurance program. With, say, a life insurance policy, if I die young, and my spouse/beneficiary outlives me, she collects. If we both live to be decrepit, nobody will generally see much of anything. Place your bets, boys and girls.

Governor Goodhair lives in a house in Austin for which the rent approaches $10,000 a month, while the Governor's Mansion is being restored largely at taxpayer expense. He will never have to depend on Social Security. He has become a wealthy man during his time as a "public servant," and is therefore far above such things. His children won't have to worry about it, either.

His comparison of the system to a Ponzi scheme is the most self-centered and hypocritical sort of demagoguery that one can imagine. But this isn't unusual for Rick Perry. He's built a political career on such right-wing bilge, and now he seems to have his sights set on bigger things. We live in a time in which a dude who pulled a 2.3 GPA at Texas A&M, majoring in animal husbandry, can aspire to some of the nation's highest offices.

Next up on Governor Goodhair: the harebrained notion of pulling Texas out of the Medicaid system.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.