Monday, July 04, 2005

Democracy Now, BuzzFlash, Bill Scher, Matthew Rothschild, Jude (Iddybud) and Katrina Vanden Heuvel

Democracy Now! ("always worth watching," as Marcia says).

A People's History of the United States: Dramatic Reading of Howard Zinn's Classic Work
This weekend is a national holiday commemorating July 4th when American colonies declared their independence from England in 1776. While many in the US hang flags, attend parades and watch fireworks, Independence Day is not a cause of celebration for everyone.
For Native Americans it is a bitter reminder of colonialism, which brought disease, genocide and the destruction of their culture and way of life.
For African Americans Independence Day did not extend to them. While white colonists were declaring their freedom from the crown, that liberation was not shared with millions of Africans who were captured, beaten, separated from their families and forced into slavery thousands of miles from home.
Today we’ll hear excerpts of Howard Zinn’s classic work: A People’s History of the United States. It was first published 24 years ago. The millionth copy of the book was recently sold.
To celebrate this feat, the great historian gathered with a group of actors, writers and editors for a public reading of the book at the 92nd Street Y in New York. The cast included Alice Walker, Kurt Vonnegut, Danny Glover and James Earl Jones.

And since that's the topic of Democracy Now!, we'll note (again) Howard Zinn's "The Scourge of Nationalism:"

I cannot get out of my mind the recent news photos of ordinary Americans sitting on chairs, guns on laps, standing unofficial guard on the Arizona border, to make sure no Mexicans cross over into the United States. There was something horrifying in the realization that, in this twenty-first century of what we call "civilization," we have carved up what we claim is one world into 200 artificially created entities we call "nations" and armed to apprehend or kill anyone who crosses a boundary.
Is not nationalism--that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder--one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred? These ways of thinking--cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on--have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.
National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica, and many more). But in a nation like ours--huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction--what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.
Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.
That self-deception started early. When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession."

Lloyd e-mails to note Katrina vanden Heuvel's "Toward a More Perfect Union:"

On this July 4th, when it comes to challenges facing America, the Bush Administration demonstrates that the conservative agenda is, to borrow a phrase, part of the problem, not the solution. But progressives need to seize the opening created by the reckless, reactionary and divisive rightwing policies to put forth positive initiatives that address the challenges facing the country.
These initiatives not only need to be large enough to address the festering problems facing us, but also broad enough to engage new allies and attract new supporters, and clear enough to be both compelling and comprehensible.
Anyone interested in a savvy primer on good progressive ideas would have found it at a featured panel--"Five Initiatives for a More Perfect Union,"--at the Campaign for America's "Taking Back America" conference last month in Washington, DC.
Five leading thinkers and organizers argued--as Yale Professor Jacob Hacker put it--that while conservative policies are "in shambles," the Right has managed to "transform the straw of slim margins and unpopular policies into the gold of big policy victories." Progressives, then, need to communicate to the American people that they have good ideas, and that government has a critical role to play in "a new and uncertain era."

For the "five initiatives" click the link.

Cedric e-mails to note BuzzFlash's editorial "In Plain Sight: Why the Betrayal of Our National Security by the Bush White House Matters:"

It is two years since PlameGate broke open as a national story, but its implications have long been underplayed by the White House and the Press.
In essence, whatever the legal outcome (which has been driven by political considerations -- that is why it has taken two years to move the "investigation" forward, if it is moving forward), this fact remains clear: In order to send a message to anyone who would expose that the White House lied America into war, the White House -- in an action that could have only been authorized by Karl Rove, perhaps with a nod and a wink from Bush -- deliberately endangered the national security of the United States.
As a warning to those who would expose Bush lies about WMDs -- or any of the daily Bush deceptions -- in July of 2003 the White House revealed to their newspaper water boy, Bob Novak, that Valerie Plame, the wife of Ambassador Joe Wilson, was a CIA operative, and she specialized in the illicit trafficking of Weapons of Mass Destruction. It is befitting the morally corrupt Bush Administration that they would neutralize an American asset in the war against the proliferation of WMDs, while fighting a war allegedly launched against WMDs, in order to make an example of a man, Joe Wilson, who had written a commentary in the New York Times arguing that the Bush Administration evidence claiming WMD evidence regarding a transaction between Niger and Saddam Hussein was false.
In short, the Bush Administration doesn't care if it endangers our national security by undercutting our efforts to curtail the very weapons that they claim they were saving us from. That is how dangerous the Bush Administration is to our national security -- and it is has been before us in plain sight for two years. But the mainstream media has focused on periodic reports that emerge about the "investigation" of the Chicago U.S. Attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, who was appointed by John Ashcroft, then Attorney General, to see if any laws were broken.

Click the link to continue reading.

Tiffany e-mails to note Bill Scher's latest at Liberal Oasis (it's Monday, he's critiquing the Sunday Chat & Chews so you don't have to sit through them):

Puting aside Neas’ glorification of O’Connor (which LiberalOasis could do without), this is the exact juxtaposition that we want.
If we’re talking about how these judges will affect people’s lives, and they’re talking about what Bush is owed, we should be able win the public opinion battle.
They’re acting as if democracy is only in effect on Election Day, and in between elections, people’s views don’t matter anymore.
Ergo, “Bush won. He gets his way. Don’t bother telling your representatives how you feel. You didn’t win nothing. So shut up.”
That attitude may have had a shot of working if Bush had rock solid approval in the 60s. But he doesn’t.
And regardless of poll numbers, if people are concerned that a nomination or a bill is going to hurt them, they really won’t care what happened on Election Day. They will speak up.

Keesha e-mails to note Jude's "solid commentary everyone should know about" at Iddybud:

..The compromise was a bad deal for Dems - They look like dogs on GOP leashesLast May, I wrote about the Senate compromise on the Filibuster. I'd given the opinion that it was a "no-win" for the Democrats, and had they showed strong conviction, they could have stuck to their guns and avoided a politically fruitless compromise. The flame that was once a part of the Democrats' book of rhetoric seems to have been extinguished by political fear.
[. . .]
The way that this compromise was written, should the Democrats "renege" on the terms of the compromise, the Republicans can attempt to outlaw the filibuster altogether.
We're screwed.

Read the full commentary by clicking the link.

Rob e-mails to note Matthew Rothschild's latest "McCarthyism Watch" entitled "California National Guard Suspected of Spying on CodePink and Raging Grannies:"

Unbeknownst to the protesters, the National Guard was monitoring their action, according to a June 26 article in the San Jose Mercury News by Dion Nissenbaum.
"Three days before the rally, as a courtesy to the military, an aide in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's press office alerted the Guard to the event, according to e-mails obtained by the Mercury News," the story said. One of those e-mails was from National Guard Chief of Staff Colonel John Moorman, who was writing to Major General Thomas Eres, head of the Guard: "Sir, Information you wanted on Sunday's demonstration at the Capitol." Moorman copied the e-mail to other top commanders, including Colonel Jeff Davis, who oversees a new intelligence gathering operation by the California National Guard, the paper said. Davis responded to the e-mail: "Thanks, Forwarding same to our Intell. folks who continue to monitor."
When Wormeli heard about this, she was taken aback. "I was both kind of angry and sad at the same time," she says. "Angry that they would waste their time and money on this, and sad because I don't know how it would impact activists who might not want to deal with the National Guard."
Pat Sheehan also denounced the apparent surveillance: "I think itís ridiculous," he says.
Medea Benjamin, one of the founders of CodePink, said, "What has this country come to when our National Guard is off fighting in Iraq instead of home protecting us from natural disasters, and the few Guardsmen and women who are still here are assigned to investigate women who are calling for peace?"

We're staying with Rothschild to note "Canada, Spain Lead the Way:"

The rightwing evangelicals in America would have us believe that same-sex marriage is something for remote, unknown people.
But the more that Americans come to realize that gays and lesbians are our neighbors, colleagues, friends, and relatives, the more the opposition to same-sex marriage will fade.
Spain and Canada are joining the Netherlands and Belgium on the frontiers of justice.As Zapatero added, "We were not the first, but I am sure we will not be the last. After us will come many other countries driven by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality."

And we'll note Rothschild's "Bush Vows More of the Same" on the Bully Boy's speech last week:

Barely had he cleared his throat before he mentioned September 11, uttering the date a mere 115 words into the speech. And he cited it four more times, including in his last paragraph, in case we weren't paying attention.
Just as he manipulated the horror of 9/11 to drag the country into war against Iraq, which had nothing whatsoever to do with that attack, so he is using the specter of 9/11 to justify keeping U.S. troops there with no end in sight.
The only news in the whole speech was that Bush remembered Osama bin Laden's name. For practically three years, Bush has barely let it pass his lips, lest the American people remember the hugely embarrassing fact that the commander in chief has failed to find the mastermind of 9/11.
But now that Bush doesn't need to win another election, the risk for him in mentioning bin Laden is not as great as it was before November 2.

On the last Rothschild, Martha e-mailed to note it and she also wants the piece Ava and I wrote on it noted ("TV Review: Make Room for Bully"):

After two weeks of body wash operettas, it was like a spray of Axis on our skins to watch something where thirty-year-olds didn't pretend to be high schoolers. And we were so excited to discover that Tuesday night would feature a brave programming choice in a nation grown timid -- Make Room for Bully!
That's what we dubbed it because, honestly, we must have missed the opening credits. Our apologies to our loyal readers for that but, believe us, no one regrets that more than we do. We've tried to imagine the theme song that played over those opening credits:
He's screwed up Afghanistan
Turned Iraq into the killing land
Make Room for Bully
Make Room for Bully
Bully Boy is on his way.
We pictured that theme playing while he wonders around the oval office, shaking hands, flipping the bird and choking on pretzels. We especially liked the choking on the pretzel because it would be kind of like when Dick Van Dyke would trip during the opening credits of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Tuesday was innovative television like we haven't seen since Julia Louis Dreyfuss tried to do her show in real time. Make Room for Bully appeared to run in real time as well. And no laugh track! It takes a brave spirit to put on a sitcom without the canned laughter. You're never sure if the folks watching at home will get it if you don't have laughs-a-plenty blasting through their speakers.
The star, fortunately, is a natural born comedian. We were confused early on but finally figured out it was Timothy Bottoms in the lead. (Again, we missed the opening credits.) He's gifted. He didn't break character once.
Our biggest laugh early on was when he said this line:
The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror.
The troops here are fighting! We were rolling! Only someone parodying the Bully Boy could make such an idiotic comment with a straight face! What? We're under martial law?
It got better. He followed that with:
The war reached our shores on September the 11th, 2001.
See, there Timothy Bottoms and the writers were sending up the real Bully Boy's incessant attempts to make a connection between 9-11 and Iraq. That seemed a little unfair, maybe even a cheap shot, because, in real life, Bully Boy did admit there was no connection so even he wouldn't dare try to trick the people again. Would he?
Regardless, this was really strong, social commentary comedy. And we started wondering if Larry Gelbart had returned to television? Take, for example, this moment when Bottoms said, "After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again." We can imagine the protests letters from the fright wing on that. I mean Bottoms (as Bully) is admitting that he did nothing before the attacks of 9-11. (Well, he "waited.") Bottoms (as Bully) is admitting that only after the attacks did he make a committment to national security. That was pointed commentary.
We're sure lines like that scared off the sponsors (the program aired commercial free).
We're sorry that the emperor has no clothes but don't blame the comedy writers for sending up the obvious.
And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces.
No higher calling? A line like that only works because in real life the Bully Boy has made statements like that about teachers and mothers and assorted other groups before. It's completley meaningless and for the writers to put it in the part where Bottoms is talking about the lives lost (and saying he's seen "the pictures" -- not of coffins!) makes it especially biting and strong.
Bottoms is giving empty lip service (he captured that perfectly!) when reciting the lines on "sacrifice." The character he's playing is infamous not just for "Bring it on" but also for the "brave" sacrifice of giving up sweets when Operation Enduring Falsehood began. Judging by the size of the Bully's gut during the 2004 campaign, that's just one more promise he broke.
Here are the words of Osama bin Laden.That line may have crossed the line since in real life Bully Boy's gone from "Wanted Dead or Alive" to "Who cares?" But we think with brave writing, you give a little leeway to the ones willing to go out on limb since so many people just recycle the obvious. Here were writers trying to send up the Bully Boy and coming up with things that even he would never say.
Yes, we're focusing a great deal on the writing -- that's because there really wasn't much action. Bottoms basically stood at the podium for about an hour. The extras they got to play the crowd were perfection. If only the real Bully Boy's speech could be greeted with such silence, huh? Would that not say once and for all that the tide has turned, hit the lights and go home because Bully Boy is so out of here?
Bottoms deserves an Emmy. He not only had the mannerisms down (from the idiotic blank expression to that smug smile), he also demonstrated the core of the character: a man completely divorced from reality, willing to resort to any lie to fool the people.
We do have some concerns about future episodes. The real-time thing has never really worked (even with the drama 24, you're talking about a specialized audience -- read "small"). It was a bravo performance from Bottoms. Okay, we saw it, we know he can do it. Now stick to rounding out the supporting cast.
Obviously Bully's the madcap one, so he needs a sidekick who's a little more serious and a lot more prissy. We think they should create a character named Cheney who goes around hiding maps of the Middle East and stroking his stuffed cat that he calls Boo-Boo Kitty WMD. We think Jonathan Winters would be perfection in the role.
Yeah, it's a steal from Laverne & Shirley but imagine the opening credits as they skip down Pennsylvania Lane singing "Give us any treaty we'll break it . . ."
And think of how humorous it would be if Bottoms had a big "B" on all his outfits. Especially if they dressed him up in military garb! The AWOL Bully in military garb would bring the house down. It would be "high-larious" to use a word none of the kids are saying but What I Like About You tries to convince us they are.
The biggest obstacle we can see is the lack of sex appeal. We're sure Bottoms tickled everyone's funny bone Tuesday night but with that squat figure and the hair that screams "I Remember Mama!" we're just not so sure that people would tune in each Tuesday. There's got to be some eye candy and, frankly, what we saw on our screens Tuesday night was physically repugnant, if not repulsive.
So we started wondering who they could bring on to up the sex quotient?
Then we remembered that Nick Lachey. He truly has no career beyond serving as a display model for Jessica Simpson. So what about Lachey?
He's already guested on Hope & Faith this year as well as Charmed. We suggest that they bring him on. (Bring Him On! We even amuse ourselves!) Granted, with his fading teen-throb looks and stiff mannerism, there's not much he'd be believable as. Then we remembered how a certain hairball was all the rage in the nineties until he became All Too Human and now hosts a chat & chew. Maybe a character who had something to do with the press would work for Lachey?
We were just brain storming and trying to come up with the wildest premise, high concept comedy, when we thought, "What if he regularly attends press conferences and asks really stupid questions?" Okay, it could work (and wouldn't require Lachey to stretch as an "actor"), but what's the back story?
Here's the high concept part, he's not really a reporter! No, he's not. He's a male porn star. Maybe a male prostitute!
Now we know that seems unbelievable and could never happen -- a male prostitute/porn star in a White House press conference! -- but comedy is about inflating reality. So suspend your disbelief and just picture Lachey in that role. We even have a name for the character: Jeff Guckert! "Guckert!" It's got yucks all over it (at least we hope those are yucks) -- just saying it makes you laugh.
So we've got the sidekick Cheney (Winters) and we've got the sex appeal factor with Guckert (Lachey). But we needed a strong first season storyline to make sure that the show gets picked up for the fall. What could the story arc be? We thought of a coming out episode for the Bully but Ellen's already 'been there, done that, shocked the Baptists.' So what's left? We finally had to put the storyline arc on hold and focus on something else. But that was okay because our brainstorming had underscored how Bottoms would be playing a character who repeatedly screws up. That means we need a catch phrase!
Fonzie had "Aaaay." Arnold had, "What you talking 'bout Willis?" Dee had "I'm telling!" What could be Bully's catch phrase?
We had trouble with this one. Maybe when ever things lagged, this was one idea, Bully could start nosing around the basement apartment he shares with Cheney and saying dopey things like, "Those weapons of mass destruction have to be around here somewhere." But then we thought, "Surely no one would be stupid enough to laugh at that." Not after all the lives lost, right? No one would, right? They'd be embarrassed to show their face if they laughed at that, right?
So what about, if every time the show lagged, Bottoms turned to the camera (a la Norman Fell) and asked, "What Downing Street Memo?" We think it would bring the house down, show after show.
Bottoms proved Tuesday night that he's perfectly captured the Bully Boy's essence (aggressive posturing and little activity in the brain). But we worry that if the show isn't fleshed out with other characters and other sets, it's a one trick pony. We hope that Gelbart, or whomever was behind the hilarity on Tuesday, we'll give serious consideration to bringing on a supporting cast. Maybe a someone who worships the boss and always almost calls him her "husband" while sporting a hair cut that appears to be a homage to Peanut's Lucy?
We finally did figure out the season one arc that would make the network pick up the show for this fall: impeachment!
All season long, Bottoms would play the bumbling fool and all around him people would be revealed to be liars (and worse) as we worked up to the season ending cliffhanger where Bottoms gets told the House has just voted to impeach him. As the shot tightens, Bottoms turns to the camera and says "What Downing Street Memo?" Freeze frame, stamp on production credit and then a dissolve.

("That's some long excerpt!" you say. It's in full. Martha didn't pull quote and I don't know that any of it's funny. Like Ava, I'm still remembering the headache of writing it and am not able to be objective about it. Martha thinks it funny. And Zach had wanted an excerpt yesterday.)

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