Sunday, February 22, 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009
I mainly take issue with Stone's portrayal of George W. Bush as an amiable, well-intentioned doofus who just wasn't raised right because his "Poppy" insisted on bailing him out of one self-created crisis after another. How could junior have ever learned to stand on his own two feet if his daddy was always there to rescue him? So you see, when W. got to the White House, all eager to please and finally make his Poppy proud of him, he just wasn't equipped to see through the machinations of Dick Cheney or the delusional rantings of Donald Rumsfeld when they pressed him to invade and occupy Iraq.
This conception of Bush seems to be the most popular (thus rendering the film a bit predictable), but in my opinion it's way too easy on him. I can't say with any certainty that I know why Bush was so insistent on invading Iraq, or why he did any of the other things he did as president, but this kind of cheap psychologizing by Stone is every bit as speculative as any theory that I or anyone else could ever propose, so I fail to see what purpose it serves. Of course, the trailers for this film made it fairly clear from the get-go that it's an attempt at psychological portraiture, so I guess I have no right to complain.
I have to say that I was also a bit disappointed in Josh Brolin's performance of the title role, who seemed to be doing little more than a George W. Bush impression throughout the entire film, and a relatively flat one at that. And what in the name of the gods was Thandie Newton doing with her performance as Condoleeza Rice? For goodness sake, her mugging and weird facial contortions were downright distracting. It seemed as though she was trying for a Condoleeza Rice imitation, but she just came across as a strange and awkward performer, which is certainly atypical of Newton, who's a fine actress. She probably would have served the film a lot more effectively if she had merely tried to capture Rice's essence, as Richard Dreyfuss did so skillfully in his portrayal of Dick Cheney.
There are some things to recommend this flick, however, in addition to Dreyfuss' performance. If one objects to the rather innocuous portrayal of the film's leading character, at least it displays the horrifying dangers of the vast powers vested in the U.S. presidency, a demonstration that any libertarian can appreciate. Watching someone of Bush's ill-informed worldview (at least as portrayed in the movie) arrogantly plot to invade Iraq from today's vantage point imbues one with the flavor of a surreal Greek tragedy: I knew the blood-drenched disaster that was about to follow, a very far cry from the flowering of peace and democracy in the Middle East that Bush obliviously predicts. (One scene depicting Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Tommy Franks and Colin Powell wandering around lost on Bush's Texas ranch as they discussed the war made for a particularly potent visual metaphor.) And following the overly indulged Bush early in the film as he wanders his way through one job after another in smug and yet Gumpesque fashion makes for some somewhat entertaining comedy.
But as the credits rolled, I couldn't help but think that the laughs are on us.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Case in point: Network.
Everything in this film is as relevant today as it ever was. Hell, more so.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Let's take a quick look at the disingenuous-o-meter.
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — A fired-up Barack Obama ditched his TelePrompter to rally House Democrats and rip Republican opponents of his recovery package Thursday night – at one point openly mocking the GOP for failing to follow through on promises of bipartisanship.
In what was the most pointedly partisan speech of his young presidency, Obama rejected Republican arguments that massive spending in the $819 billion stimulus bill that passed the House should be replaced by a new round of massive tax cuts.
“I welcome this debate, but we are not going to get relief by turning back to the same policies that for the last eight years doubled the national debt and threw our economy into a tailspin,” said President Obama – sounding more like Candidate Obama than at any time since he took the oath of office less than a month ago.
For one thing, it makes absolutely no sense to talk of possibly "turning back" to a previous practice if in fact the "new" practice being proposed is exactly the same. How is Obama's proposed $800 billion or so "stimulus package" any different than George W. Bush's rushed $700 billion or so bailout of Wall Street and assorted financial institutions? (For those who think delivering tax dollars to the coffers of state governments is materially different from delivering tax dollars straight to the coffers of commercial banks, here's a hint: Where do you expect the state governments to deposit the money?) For that matter, how was overall Bush economic policy any different from overall Clinton economic policy, or how was Clinton policy any different from Bush 41 policy, or how was Bush 41 policy any different from Reagan policy, or how was Reagan policy any different from...? Well, you get my drift. Any and all differences are essentially technical or a matter of degree, not differences in kind.
The premise of Obama's statement is, of course, that enacting any new tax cuts proposed by Republicans is what would constitute "turning back" to the same old policies that increased the "national" debt. But when you're talking about spending $3 trillion of other people's money on an annual government budget even without the proposed "stimulus" bill in question, what the hell difference does a little tinkering with current tax rates make, especially when you consider the politicians' ability to simply resort to the U.S. Treasury's power to issue vast mountains of debt and the Federal Reserve's power to print more money?
That is itself a type of tax as it diminishes the purchasing power of the dollars in your wallet. The inflated supply of money negates any trivial tax cuts that may be enacted as it drives the average wage earner into a higher income tax bracket as prices correspondingly rise, a phenomenon known as "bracket creep". Such a Trojan horse policy renders any so-called "tax cut" completely impotent on net balance. Any benefit that may be derived from a tax cut is purely for the politicians: Republicans get to rhetorically pose as night watchmen of the taxpayer's wallet while both Democrats and Republicans alike take full advantage of the fact that there is no such thing as a net tax reduction just so long as government spending constantly increases year after year. Their voracious fiscal appetites are never curbed, and they continue coercing everyone else into financing all the guns and butter they want.
Sky's the limit!
In short, if the new Dear Leader really does recognize that the skyrocketing increase in the U.S. government's debt is a real problem, that the policies of the preceding eight years "threw our economy into a tailspin," then he needs to follow this very simple advice: Stop spending vast amounts of other people's money. Not only should he not be proposing any $800 billion "stimulus" bill, but he should also be slashing the entire Federal budget to as much of a bare minimum as possible. Now that would be real change that would also be a truly radical departure from the economic philosophy of nearly every one of Barack Obama's predecessors going back at least a century and a half, let alone eight years. The problem isn't a lack of taxation, it's the massive spending, stupid. How is more of the same any kind of change?
But anyone who has any sense of reality whatsoever knows that it's pure fantasy to ever expect Washington to make such a radical change in policy:
After the speech, Obama fielded a range of questions from Democrats in the room.
Hoping to keep jobs in his district, Georgia Rep. David Scott appealed to Obama to continue production of the F-22 fighter plane.
Can somebody please explain to me where the "change" is?
UPDATE: Please see Arthur Silber's great blog post of February 5th, "Fear Itself, and the Deadly Varieties of State Terrorism", in which he notes the similarities between Obama style fearmongering and Bush style fearmongering.