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Category: General

A Great Leftist Film

[ 49 ] December 17, 2014 |

wolf_wall_street2

I finally watched The Wolf of Wall Street last night. No leftist has ever made a stronger indictment of capitalism. Nor an indictment of capitalism with more cocaine and sex. That it is not a leftist movie and in fact is totally apolitical only makes it stronger. I also find people fretting over Scorsese’s own position amusing, an issue which Andrew O’Hehir writes well about.

It’s not really one of Scorsese’s very best films because it is a good bit too long, but it is right there with Hugo as his best of the 21st century. Of course these days he’s too busy chronicling the heroes of his generation with lame documentaries, but when Scorsese tries, he’s still one of the greatest living directors.

In any case, I’d be hard pressed to give a reason why capitalism is a moral disaster than what is portrayed in this film.

But He Totally Bully Pulpited the Overton Window!

[ 46 ] December 17, 2014 |

Thank you Ted Cruz:

Over the weekend Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) went to battle with Democrats, but his gambit backfired and ironically gave Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and President Barack Obama an unexpected Christmas gift.

It began on Friday evening, when Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were close to securing an agreement to quickly vote on the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus” spending bill to avert a government shutdown. Cruz, along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), blindsided Republican leaders by objecting and dragging out the process as they demanded a vote to defund Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

What Cruz didn’t count on was Reid instead seizing on the occasion — which forced the Senate to stay in session for procedural votes — to move forward with starting the confirmation vote clock on a whopping 24 Obama nominations that otherwise might have been jettisoned. The Texan’s tactic angered numerous Republican colleagues.

“I think most Republicans think that Christmas came early for Democrats,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, according to Roll Call, blaming Cruz. “I haven’t seen Harry smile this much in years, and I didn’t particularly like it.”

I’ve said before that I wished more movement conservatives shared the bizarre fetish for third parties that some people on the left have, which would produce a much better political world. But at least Cruz and Lee seem to be bringing some of this strategic illogic to legislative tactics.

Of course, there’s a bigger related story — namely, the effects of the postmature decision to end the filibuster for judicial nominees:

If there’s one thing from 2014 that will define President Barack Obama’s legacy after he’s left the White House, it’s the number of lifetime judges he put on the federal bench.

In its final act of the year, the Senate blew through a dozen U.S. district court nominees on Tuesday night. That puts Obama at a whopping 89 district court and circuit court confirmations for the year, and means he’ll wrap up his sixth year in office with a grand total of 305 district court and circuit court confirmations — a tally that puts him well beyond where his predecessors were by this point in their presidencies.

President George W. Bush confirmed just 32 district court and circuit court judges during his sixth year in office, according to data provided by Alliance for Justice, a progressive advocacy group focused on the federal judiciary. President Bill Clinton confirmed 65 judges in his sixth year. In total, Bush confirmed 256 district and circuit court nominees after six years in office, Clinton confirmed 302, and President Ronald Reagan confirmed 295. Those numbers include a handful of Court of International Trade confirmations.

Senate filibuster reform played a major role in Obama’s spike in judicial confirmations this year. Democrats changed the rules last year to require a simple majority, or 51 votes, instead of 60 votes to advance most judicial nominees. They made the change in response to Republicans abusing the filibuster rule to block several of Obama’s nominees — even noncontroversial picks.

And tying the two together, as Bernstein points out this was made possible by a much broader group of Republicans engaging in Cruz-style tactics that managed the enormously difficult task of convincing even Pat Leahy that the filibuster for most judicial and executive branch nominees had to go. It’s not quite the same thing — thinking that Senate Democrats had no breaking point at all was an understandable mistake — but Republican overreaching consistently played into Reid’s hands for the last two years.

Ebola-infected land shark threatens holiday moviegoers with weaponized cannabis

[ 82 ] December 17, 2014 |

Eternal hysteria is the price of vigilance.

Most of the country’s largest theater chains have decided not to show Sony’s “The Interview,” according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

The decision follows a strange warning on Tuesday from anonymous hackers that people should avoid going to theaters where “The Interview” is playing.

The comedic film is still scheduled to come out on Christmas Day. Sony (SNE) does not plan to pull the film altogether, but the studio has indicated it won’t object if theaters decide not to show the film, a second source said.

Among the top chains that have decided to not show the movie are Regal (RGC), Cinemark (CNK), Carmike Cinemas (CKEC), Arclight and Southern.

Another smaller chain, Bow Tie Cinemas, has also dropped its plans to show the film.

“It is our mission to ensure the safety and comfort of our guests and employees,” the company said in a statement.

Also:

The shockwaves from the Sony hack have finally reached Hollywood’s development community, as New Regency has pulled the plug on the Steve Carell movie “Pyongyang,” which Gore Verbinski had been prepping for a March start date, an individual familiar with the project has told TheWrap.

Based on the graphic novel by Guy Delisle, “Pyongyang” is a paranoid thriller about a Westerner’s experiences working in North Korea for a year.

The Embargo Cannot Fail, It Can Only Be Failed

[ 110 ] December 17, 2014 |

Shorter Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio: “How dare Obama discuss ending the embargo on Cuba when it’s probably only a few years away from causing Fidel Castro’s death and therefore being vindicated?”

On Seattle’s Policy Catastrophe

[ 81 ] December 17, 2014 |

djw has been on this for a while, but as a supplement David Roberts has an excellent summary of Seattle’s monumentally stupid tunnel project. Whenever you choose an option that is by far the 1)riskiest, 2)most expensive, and 3)least potentially useful of the available options, you might as well go all the way and make Michael Brown in charge of all infrastructure spending for the state.

Jeb Bush is running for president

[ 198 ] December 16, 2014 |

dale's

Of the United States of America.

OK technically he’s “actively exploring the possibility.” We all know that’s like actively exploring the possibility of of drinking this can of Dale’s Pale Ale I just opened.

So, campaign slogans?

I’ll start: “In five years the Bush family will be completely legitimate.”

BTW Chelsea Clinton becomes constitutionally eligible for the office in February. (If you turn 35 after the general election but before the Electoral College vote are you eligible? What about after the College but before the inauguration? What if you’re from a culture that calls people “35″ during their 35th year of life? I’ve heard Germans do this. They’re not constitutionally eligible though).

Pundits

[ 40 ] December 16, 2014 |

If I was a parent and two of my children were partisan pundits yelling at each other on C-SPAN, I wouldn’t want them home for Thanksgiving either. I’d also probably admit I was a terrible parent for them to turn out this way.

Oh my Lord, shut it down, here is the greatest moment in the history of C-SPAN: A (very Southern) mama called into one of their shows to yell at the guests. Not because she disagrees, but because the guests are brothers and both her sons and she is sick and tired of their shit.

This perfect moment comes via the eagle-eyes at the Washington Post. You see, brothers Brad and Dallas Woodhouse sit on opposite sides of the the aisle, politically, and so they make joint appearances to argue bitterly about things like Obamacare. And their mother has had enough, by God, and so she called into their latest C-SPAN appearance from Raleigh, North Carolina to say that she is glad they both went to their in-laws’ this year for Thanksgiving and she wants this nonsense out of their system BEFORE they come home for Christmas, goddammit. She loves them both, but she wants a peaceful Noel.

Watch and cringe as one of the brothers drops his head into his hands and bemoans, “Oh God, it’s mom.” At least they’ve got something to bond over before the trip home for the holidays.

“Wherever They’s A Fight to Defend the Preposterous Arguments of People Responsible for Arbitrary Detention And Torture, I’ll Be There”

[ 60 ] December 16, 2014 |

Shorter Ann Althouse: “That Dick Cheney was so tough and steadfast and dreamy when he defended his administration’s policy of torturing people, including the innocent. And you betcha the sexual assault rectal dehydration and feeding probably had a legitimate medical purpose, just as Jose Padilla may well have been tortured to stop him from blinking signals to the many people watching him being taken to the denitist at Gitmo.”

As a desperately needed chaser, Chait has a good summary of the various ways Cheney has defended torture now that it’s even harder to pretend that it didn’t happen. My guess is that #1 — by definition, it’s not torture if the right Americans do it to the wrong paper — will be the dominant theme. It’s sad and outrageous that apologias for gross violations of human rights that really should be confined to eighth-rate webcomics will persuade many people, but we are living in a polity in which Dick Cheney could be part of a winning presidential ticket twice.

The Tangled Web of Oppression

[ 35 ] December 16, 2014 |

We all support professional athletes wearing shirts protesting the horrors of police violence against people of color. But what happens when that protest runs up against a horror equally as disturbing? As in, where were those shirts made?

Last week, NBA stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Deron Williams donned “I CAN’T BREATHE” T-shirts in support of Michael Brown and Eric Garner — two unarmed black men killed by police over the summer. But now, a political activist who helped organize and produce some of the shirts says he regrets they were manufactured by a company that has long been accused of poor labor practices.

“I think we want to assume sometimes when we’re ordering shirts that they’re not being made in a sweatshop,” Michael Skolnick, political director for hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “We’ve got to do better.”

Skolnick was featured in a New York Times article last week that detailed how the shirts were secured for players in less than 24 hours to show support for protest movements around the country. But revelations that the T-shirts were made by a company that has faced criticism for mistreating workers — an accusation the firm rejects — is now raising questions about whether a movement for racial justice has a responsibility to make sure it also advances economic fairness.

Political activists have gotten in trouble for their choice of T-shirt manufacturers before. Last month, a shirt that read “This is what a feminist looks like” worn by, among others, U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, was pulled from store shelves in the United Kingdom after allegations it was produced in a sweatshop.

I’m not trying to be overly negative or nitpick here–obviously what these athletes are doing is a pure good. But we also need to remember that the wealthy oppressing the poor in the United States–which is much of what police violence is about–is connected to the world’s wealthy oppressing the world’s poor, in this case through exploitative production methods that can lead to the death of over 1100 workers. All apparel operators need to do more to ensure their clothes are made in dignified conditions. It’s unfortunate that it takes the contradictions of this sort of protest to bring this to our attention, but at least it does.

Lima

[ 52 ] December 15, 2014 |

Seems unlikely that the meaningless toothless climate reductions agreed to in Lima will mitigate the carbon emissions it took to get everyone to Peru to make the deal.

Child Labor on Mexican Farms

[ 20 ] December 15, 2014 |

The Los Angeles Times has another installment in its outstanding series of labor exploitation on the Mexican vegetable farms that supply U.S. markets. This piece is on the rampant use of child labor that picks your vegetables. Once again, American corporations openly seek these arrangements out to lower costs. It should be illegal and they should be prosecuted for selling products made with child labor.

The False Promises of Prison Labor

[ 29 ] December 15, 2014 |

Prison labor not only takes jobs away from non-prisoners who earn wages, but it is a corrupt system that does not save the state money, as the Seattle Times reports. There is also no evidence this unpaid labor creates skills for prisoners they can use upon their release.

But behind CI’s glossy brochures and polished YouTube videos is a broken program that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars, charged exorbitant markups to state agencies to make up for losses, and taken jobs from private businesses that can’t compete with cheap prison labor, a Seattle Times investigation has found.

Far from being self-sufficient, CI has cost taxpayers at least $20 million since 2007, including $750,000 spent over three years on a fish farm to raise tilapia that has yet to yield a single meal.

CI has reaped millions of dollars — money it keeps — by inflating prices of furniture it sells to state agencies and public universities, capitalizing on a law that requires they buy from prison factories. In many cases, prisoners didn’t make the items, but CI instead bought prebuilt furniture then resold it with markups, previously undisclosed state records show.

The Times also found dozens of private business owners in Seattle and statewide who say they’ve had to stop hiring or lay off workers, victimized by unfair competition from an inmate workforce paid as little as 55 cents an hour.

“Have we had some problems?” said Danielle Armbruster, director of Correctional Industries. “Absolutely.”

“I believe in this program. We hope to expand and reach even more inmates. If we help just one inmate, then that’s one less victim in the future.”

But CI can’t substantiate that key claim — that inmates who work in Correctional Industries commit fewer crimes after release than those who do not. State recidivism studies often contradict each other and are rife with shortcomings, failing to account for thousands of inmates who commit new crimes, according to a Times analysis.

Likewise, officials have publicly claimed that CI inmates more successfully gained jobs after release, but they actually have no idea which offenders get jobs or where they’re working.

While for prisoners themselves, doing something with their time is better than sitting in their cell, the problems with prison labor are myriad.

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