Monday, February 23, 2009

A Real Song And Dance

I really liked the Oscars. I did. I thought the new approach was brilliant. It was fresh and exciting. Hugh Jackman was a great host. The musical numbers were fun. I even like the five-headed hydra presenters. Of course, there is a “but” here.

They had slyly put out the word that this would be a “stripped down” Oscars due to the current economy. But that that wasn’t really true. The million dollar Swarovski crystal curtain put the lie to that, as did Queen Latifa’s sultry eulogy to the stars. No, what it was was a retro Oscars, one that had less glam and more class, and a lot more music. The retro theme, the swing tempos to the music, the band on stage, was all a pean to Hollywood glamour of the golden age. Jackman, who in spite of being known as Wolverine is really an accomplished song and dance man who, before X Men, won raves as Curly in Oklahoma in the West End and who has sung at Carnegie Hall, and is also the reigning “sexiest man alive” was the perfect host. I am a comedy guy, but for too long the Oscars have been under the thumbs of comedians who, while they might individually be great, have sapped the Oscars of life and energy and, especially, elegance. The whole evening, in a way, had a message that is born out of the current recession. In the 1930s musicals were Hollywood’s bread and butter. People went to the theatre to escape. Last night’s message, shouted out by Jackman at one point, was “the musical is back!” The evening was mostly a setup for the musical numbers. His “stripped down” medley about the nominated films (Billy Crystal eat your heart out), with its cardboard cut out oscars, was in fact a set up for the main production number, a true Busby Berkeley style song and dance for which Jackman donned white tie and tails and, along with Beyonce, the casts of Mama Mia and High School Musical, and a huge chorus, sang a medley of show tunes that appropriately started and ended with “Top Hat.” The winners? Who cares? Well, ok Slumdog won, and the celebration included a Bollywood dance number to its two nominated songs (one of which won). Jackman pointed out that Mama Mia had outgrossed The Dark Night in Europe.

The “but” is that, at four hours plus the red carpet, it was still deadly by the end.

Friday, February 20, 2009

In this case PETA might have a point.

There is no way in hell the forty niners can sign Michael Vick.

I honestly think Vick should be allowed to play again. I come from a land called "America" which beleives in secon dchances, and where, once you serve your time in jail, you have paid your debt and should be allowed to continue your life. Vick should not be barred from playing again. The ravenous mobs calling for his blood like a bunch of half-starved pit bulls are not out for any kind of justice. They are out for revenge and, more to the point, to whip up thier ideological supporters. Vick should play again.

But it should not be in San Francisco. It's not that I don't want him on the home town team. It's that there is no way it would work. San Francisco is the animal rights capital of the US. PETA is in charge around here. Witness the attempt to get the "must spay" law passed at a state level, the anti coursing campaign a few years ago, and the way people reacted to the death of a tiger that had killed one human being and was about to kill another. Animal rights are a passion around here.

And if the Niners bring in the poster boy for animal cruelty, they will have to deal with denounciations, recriminations, and protests outside the stadium for every game next season. Want to waste all the good will they earned by hiring Mike Singletary? Just hire Mike Vick and it will all be forgotten.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

At Last!

Well, it looks like we have a budget. By “we” I mean California which I feel a kinship for even though I don’t vote there anymore. It’s a very painful budget, but a budget, nonetheless. And that’s a good thing. I drove cab in SacTown during the budget crises in the early 90s and it totally shut us down. I understand that state workers will still have one furlough day a month, and will end up with about a 4% pay cut, which is better than the 10% they were facing, but a pay cut at any time is scary.

I would just like to say that State Senator Able Maldonado meets my definition of a statesman. He was the “last republican.” For days the legislature had been one republican vote shy of passing a budget. Maldonado, from Santa Maria, finally stepped up to the plate. He is a hero. He put the good of the state over party politics. Some people in Washington could learn from him. He also made a deal that some Republicans can support: one of his demands was that the state scrap a proposed .12 cent per gallon hike in the gas tax. That alone could save his job.

But maybe not. “I know there will be dire political ramifications for me,” he said, “but I know the ramifications for the people of California would be more dire.”

Those ramifications are that he will face a furious republican party and, worse yet, a furious conservative media. One thing this crisis proved was the power of conservative talk radio. For months Republican legislators have been quaking in their boots lest the make a legion of wannabe Rush Limbaugh’s mad at them. Sitting in their hermetically sealed broadcast booths, spouting out their foul vitriol, they have held California hostage for three months. The “no new taxes” mantra, long ago proven to be worthless in a time of crisis, has become not merely an idea or a policy but a sword of Damocles. Republican legislators know that breaking the no-tax Dogma got Bush 41 kicked out of office. They know that the average middle class Californian conservative cares more about filling up the SUV than he does about the roads he drives on (or the schools his kids go to, and who needs beaches, parks, prisons, cops or firemen anyway?). And he knows it is easy to get people whipped into a frenzy by appealing to their pocket books. So when conservative radio hosts promise to launch recall efforts against anyone who supports any form of new taxes, it leads to a lot of panicked Republican state senators and a lot of really bad public policy. The budget couldn’t be closed without taxes. The governor pointed out months ago: the math just isn’t there. Democrats were willing to compromise from the word go. But Republicans, some out of ideology and some out of fear, were willing to bankrupt the state, put thousands of people out of work, cause billions of dollars in shut-down costs for roads projects, put peoples lives and property in danger, and basically sell the state down the road toward Armageddon, all for the sake of a political ideal which pretends beyond hope or rationality that the answer to any problem is “no taxes.”

The republicans who held up the budget need to learn what it means to be statesmen.

The talk radio hosts who held them at gunpoint need to be run out of the state on a rail. Or at the very least not listened to.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

February is Rain Time

President's Day Weekend is one of the best sports weekends of the year. I never get to enjoy it because I am always at the Estrella War in Arizona. But this weekend there are big rivalry games in college basketball, there is the greatest golf tournament in the world, the Crosby Clamebake (aka the Pebble Beach Pro-am), the tour of California, and of course the Daytona 500.

The final day of the Pro-am has been postponed due to rain and the amateur portion called. Rain is preventing the Tour of California from broadcasting any images of the race because the network's aircraft are all grounded. And as I type the Dayton 500 is under red flag due to--you guessed it--rain. I am really sorry Matt Kenseth passed Eliot Sadler, because this race is probably going to be called, as Sadler winning the 500 would be fantastic.

But that's the problem with February.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Whither The Great Liberal Lions

With Teddy Kennedy battling terminal cancer, it's worthwhile aksing what happened tot he great liberal lions? Or, maybe a simpler question is in order: is David Patterson the best we can come up with?

I mean, he is for all intents and purposes the represented of the Liberal wing of the democratic party. He is a New York City liberal and governor of the state. That should mean that he has gravitas and substance. He has none of that. I like the man, I like him a lot, but after the fiasco of the senate appointment I have to ask: is this the best we can do?

The left in New York is completely bankrupt. We just elected a black democrat from the south-side of Chicago as president, for crying out loud. But Barack is much closer tot he center than most New York democrats (though not closer than Kristen Gillibrand). But he has some real liberal credentials. He has support of minority groups, teachers, labor unions, intellectuals, New Yorkers and Hollywood. But more than that, he has ideas. New York's left has none. They are still fighting the same old fights over unionization and police brutality, and engaging in destructive politics centered primarily on race. They have nothing new to offer. After thirty years of allowing conservatives to dominate the debate in Amerrica, and after sixteen years of having republican mayors (only barely in Bloomberg's case to be sure), the left has lost its center. Now that the tide has turned and the Republicans are sailing blissfully into the seas of irrelevancy, you would expect New York's liberal establishment to be at the forefront of change and new ideas and great thinking: in short, to be leading the way toward building a new America. Instead we have David Patterson as out leader.

Don't get me wrong: I like Kristen Gillibrand. I said it before, she is closer to my political views than any of the other people under consideration would have been, including the person I was pulling for, Caroline Kennedy. I don't consider her a place holder. Everything I read tells me she is the real deal, and I intend to support her from here on out. And she is exactly the type of new democrat we need to help this party maintain control of congress and change the course of America. But the way Patterson handled her appointment was shameful. Granted, Caroline Kennedy didn't help any, withdrawing at the 11th hour (and 58 minutes). But the awful way Ms Kennedy was treated by the Governor's office afterward warrants more than just a few people getting sacked. Yes, Gillibrand seems to have been Hilary's choice to replace her, but Patterson still managed to get on Hilary's bad side by the way he dropped the ball. And he was bound to piss off Andrew Cuomo if he appointed anybody else. So in one fell swoop Patterson managed to anger the Kennedys, the Clintons, and the Cuomos. How on earth does he expect to survive as a democrat in New York with an enemies list like that?

Friday, February 13, 2009

The New New Deal

According to a story on the AP wire, the House today passed, with no Republican support, the President' stimulus package. A lot of people on Tuesday said there was no way this was getting done by President's day, but they were wrong. The line was that the House and Senate versions were so far aparo on the 800 Billion dollar stimulus bill that there was no way they could be reconciled quickly and that possibly they couldn't be reconciled at all. People who believed that don't understand politics. It was important for every democrat involved that the President get some bill--any bill--on his desk by next Monday. There was never any doubt that once it went to the conference committee it was going to fly quickly. It did so in the most likely way, with yet more trimming of House priorities. The differences in the House and Senate versions were very real--so real, in fact, that Nancy Pelosi (who by the way I voted for and would continue to do so if I still lived in her district) skipped the press conference where the compromise was announced. Clearly the amount of spending was too low, the amount of tax cuts too high, and the concessions to moderates in the Senate too great for her to bear. A priority of the House was to restore some of the draconian cuts made to government programs during the Bush administration, and to help shore up state and local governments, some of which are facing the prospect of total financial collapse in the current economy. The Senate's priorities were getting a bill that could be sold to the American people, especially the three moderate republicans needed to prevent a filibuster (since the new bill is a heavily trimmed package it should fly in that regard, but the Dems better hope that all their guys are there to vote this weekend. JP used to say that the measure of a bill is that if everybody is unhappy with the final result it is probably a good bill. By that regard this seems pretty good. The President is giving it a thumbs up, and Harry Reid is patting himself on the back, but nobody else seems ecstatic.

In response to the bill's passage, House minority leader John Boehner threw a temper tantrum on the House floor. No word if he was sent to his room.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ther's news and there's news

The Israeli election is not big news most places in the US. Oh, it will make the papers, maybe even the front page, but a lot of papers will push it back. That is somewhat understandable. We do have this financial crisis, a controversial bailout, a hopeful stimulus package, a charismatic new president and, for entertainment value, an increasingly partisan Washington featuring a cast of republican characters who seem hell bent on destroying America, and themselves, in the name of scoring points with thier rabid, ridiculous base. In most papers the Israeli elections will probably take a distant back seat to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (how can you not love a ten year old Sussex named "stump?").

But not in the New York Times, where the Israeli elections hold the pace of honor today as the big above the fold photograph (which isn't actually the lead story but might as well be since it's the most prominent). Israeli politics is huge in New York. If Florida is the sixth borough then Israel is the seventh. As with Florida, a lot of people in NYC live both in Israel and New York. I don't know how many people in New York vote in the Israeli elections, but I'll bet it's a lot (I also don't know how many people in Israel vote in New York elections). The pro-Israel faction of the electorate is very powerful here in the apple, even as it's losing steam to an increasingly large pro-Palestine Muslim population. So here it is a big deal.

It is said that the left in America is an enemy of Israel because of the way the left promotes peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians. It's not true but it keeps the fund raising machines operating. The left (most of the left) doesn't hate Israel, they just feel sorry for the Palestinians. The left is always attracted to the downtrodden, so there is likely some truth to that. The left's love of Palestinians today is very like the left's love of Jews in the 1930s. The blessed are those who are persecuted etc. So it's nice to once again have a prominent Israeli politician that the left can get behind. Tzipi Livini, a former Mossad agent, for cryin out loud, is the leader of Kadima, the centrist party that formed when Ariel Sharon broke with the conservative Likud Party. Her party is leading by one seat in the Israeli elections over Likud. That doens't mean she wil get to form the new government, but it seems likely. The picture in the Times shows her standing Nixon like with her arms stretched out and displaying two "victory" signs with her fingers. I'm attracted to her from an interview she did with 60 mintues a couple of seeks ago (Israeli politicians do campaing in the US, as I said) in shich she said peace with the Palestinians was an imperative, and that it had to involve a two state solution that included the dismantling of settlements. Everybody--even the Israeli's who oppose it--know that that is indeed the only way to peace. But to have the Israeli foreign minister say it is something yet again.

So in New York this is big news.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Circling Sharks

Ok. Crimes should be prosecuted. I get it. But, like the Republicans after they gained control of congress during the Clinton administration, and especially after Bush 43's second election, when he actually got a majority, the democrats are on a feeding frenzy. And, as Rush Limbaugh did then, Keith Olberman and Rachel Madow are leading the charge now. They are whipping up the torch and pitchfork crowd like Kenneth Mars in Young Frankenstein. Watch them. Madow devotes about 25% to every show on why Bush administration officials should be prosecuted. Olberman is even more bloodthirsty. He has devoted up to half his show some nights--but not to the small fry. Olberman's mission is to have Bush prosecuted for war crimes. Chris Mathews is on the train too (natch). Tune in and watch them drool. They are like half starved rottweilers straining against their chains. They want blood.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


This blog was originally set up to talk about topics that came up in my media studies class. Well I also teach public speaking. My sweetie wanted to launch a mini-website where we sold a product. After lots of research, we found that there wasn't a lot of space devoted to Demonstration Speech Topics, but it was a term with a llot of search traffic. So we decided to set up a page with seven good demo topics and sell them for $5. Well, Google must have changed its algorithm, because now they've got hundreds of pages coming up. Hanna worked hard on this, and she is bummed. Anyway, send anybody you know taking speech to our site,

Friday, February 06, 2009

Whither Leadership?

The Obama administration is getting off to nearly as rocky a start as the Clinton administration, and from where I sit it all has to do with leadership. There has been none, and it has hurt.

Senator Obama showed brilliance on the campaign trail. He was nimble, responsive, and sharp. He was everything that John Kerry had not been. When his opponents tried to use race as an issue to attack him he turned the issue back on them with one of the most eloquent speeches on the topic since Dr. King's death. When they attacked him on Bill Ayers or on his record he shined the spotlight back at them.

But lately he has seemed adrift. How on earth could he let the house pass a package so vulnerable to republican attacks? He wanted a stimulus package. He need to spend money on infrastructure, one public works, perhaps on a WPA style work program, but not on the NEA. Hey, I am a huge supporter of the NEA, but that is for a later bill, not the one that is supposed to be the center piece of your first hundred days.

And as Republicans have attacked he has wavered, as if he didn't know what to do. He stayed above the fray during the election, but attempting to do so now makes him look indecisive and passive. It allows the Republicans to control the spin cycle. Today he has barked back a bit, and it's been good. There seems to be a compromise on the stimulus package, but it still looks weak. As the job numbers get more and more and bleak and we keep giving more and more tax cuts and less and less spending, which is the only way to stimulate the economy, we are slipping more and more toward recession. Hey republicans! Read your Keynes and stop drinking the Regan/Friedman tax-cut Cool Aid.


It's like their strategy is being set by Rush Limbaugh, who said last month that he hopes the president fails--showing clearly that he cares more about returning his party to power than he does about the nation. Shame on him and shame on every republican in the house and senate. If our legislature keeps acting like this we are going to vote more and more power to the President and we will have an emperor. Ok, not really. Hanna told me to write that part, but it sounds good.

I don't think Obama will end up what the elephants predicted and what they are trying to force him to look like, all style and no substance. But I do think he needs to right the ship. Bill Clinton started out with two big failures on Gays in the military and universal health care, and ended up with the most successful presidency since Eisenhower. Obama can still be great. But he's got to start now.

Monday, February 02, 2009


Ok, I know I am a liberal, profligate New Yorker. I know that I don't have a soul or anything like that, at least according to most Fox News pundits. But I have to say something.

I'm not all that worked up about executive pay. I don't care about corporate jets. I don't sweat that some bozo remodeled his office. Sue me.

I'm willing to entertain the idea that the guys who got us into this mess shouldn't be living the same lavish lifestyle as they were before--except that I envy them that lavish life style, and would love to live it myself some day, so I'm not going to begrudge it of anybody else. I also get the idea that if you've run your company into the ground you shouldn't be getting a "bonus."

But did they really run their companies into the ground? Did BofA and Citi-Bank really cause this? It is a great Midwestern tradition to hate banks and bankers and all things New York. It is a great liberal tradition to hate and bash the rich. But really: is it their fault that the economy is in the toilet?

Or is it the fault of some moron in the White House who spent 800 Billion dollars (the same amount as the bailout) on a phony, illegal war?

Or is it the fault of a federal reserve that for fifteen years lived by the philosophy that if you keep interest rates as low as possible then the economy will basically fix itself? Never mind the way it will inflate housing prices.

Or is it the fault of millions upon millions of speculators (your humble narrator included) who bought into the get rich quick "ownership society" and took on risky real estate investments with interest only adjustable loans?

Or is it the fault of Joe Average America, who borrowed and borrowed and borrowed like there was no tomorrow and it would never have to be paid back (you should see my student loan statement).

I mean, I understand the jealousy. I understand that Bernie Madoff should go to jail. But I don't hate the bankers and executives (well, except the ones at GM, but that's a different issue). I really don't. We've got a saying in New York City: don't hate the player, hate the game.

So I sit here and I listen patiently to all of Rachel Maddow's rhetoric about the Great American Ripoff, about remodeled offices and bonuses and corporate jets, and I really don't care.

First of all, I live in New York, and while I may feel a bit of resentment toward people who get bonuses for running companies that are failing, those bonuses are our life blood. We need them. Desperately. The economy of New York City relies disproportionately on money generated from Wall Street, on money Wall Street pumps into our economy, particularly in regards to bonuses. Those bonuses get taxed at a rate of close to fifty percent. Of that fifty billion in bonuses that Wall Street gave itself this season, a big chunk went into our city coffers, and we are hurting like everybody else. Without those bonuses more schools close, more workers get laid off, streets don't get paved, crime goes get the picture. And then there is the fact that the people who get those bonuses spend them. Yes, sometimes it's on a trip to Africa, but more often than not it is in remolding the house in the Hamptons, or purchasing a new suit from Brooks Brothers, or a new Beemer, or throwing a big party. In other words, it puts New Yorkers to work. We need those bonuses, thank you very much: not for the rich folks but for the rest of us.

I don't expect that to play in the Midwest, where as far as most people are concerned me and everybody else who lives in sinful, un-American New York City ("get a rope") deserves to hang. But excuse me if I don't share that opinion. Those bonuses are good for me and mine, so I want them given out.

Ok, ok: I know that trickle down doesn't really work. I've never been a supporter of it. But the fact that we get to tax the bonuses means it's not really trickle down.

But here is something that is: those corporate jets have pilots. They have crew members. They have maintenance workers and security guards. They rent space at the airports. They buy fuel. The same thing with the remodel of the office, and the corporate retreat at the five star resort. They keep people employed. Cut them off and you are putting a lot of people out of work. Yes, I know, the economy is suffering and millions of jobs were lost last year. But why add to the carnage?

I have a particular reason for feeling the way I do. I have made money off the plane, and off the conference, and off the remodel. I used to work for a catering contractor in San Francisco. We did conferences and conventions, mostly at Moscone Center. When the economy tanked and the corporations stopped coming, I was out of a job and suddenly my rent wasn't being paid. So in my little world conferences and retreats are a good thing. I temped three different times, for a total of nearly three years, for Bank of America. Yes, I am still mad at them for moving their headquarters out of San Francisco: but they did pay my rent and feed me for all that time. But the biggest reason I don't mind the jet and the remodel is that when I worked for Richard Cardello Interior Design we did all that stuff. We did hotels, residences, offices, and other stuff, but it was all strictly luxury. Our biggest customer was a rich CEO. We started out by doing his corporate office, and by the time we were done had done the interior of his corporate jet, three of his houses, his huge yacht, his daughter's house, his condo, his ex-wife's get the idea. I didn't make a huge amount of money off of this: $20 an hour. But on an annual basis that was more money than I had ever made before or have made since. And it was the most fun. And we employed carpenters, contractors, electricians, plumbers, landscapers, painters, muralists, florists, furniture makers, artists, auctioneers, upholsterers, cabinet makers, tilers, masons, roofers, and aquarium guys (to tend the koi ponds we designed). And they spent their money at the mall.

So no. I may be a liberal, and it may sound a bit Freidman-esque, but I really don't mind the corporate jet, the yacht, the house in the Hamptons or the remodel, because even though I have never owned any of those things I have made money off them. They have been good to *my* economy.

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