Friday, July 21, 2006

 

Open Thread

Middle East, British Open, Barry Bonds, Yankees, Mets...

Lots of things to busy yourselves with.

Fire away!

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Fell On Black Days

From a purely rhetorical standpoint, Bush gave a pretty good speech Thursday to the NAACP.

It was interesting to call the civil rights movement America's "
second founding." However, given what America looked like before and after the Civil War, I might be tempted to consider that the true second founding. Look at the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments.

The Civil War is one reason why historians consider Lincoln an "honorary" Founder.

However, it's not too bad to recognize the importance of the civil rights movement in the nation's history.

On the other hand, I found this line interesting: "I believe in opportunity scholarships to be able to enable parents to move their child out of a school that's not teaching, for the benefit of the United States of America."

Um, well, yeah, but it should be, first and foremost, for the benefit of the child, right? Patriotism is all well and good, but really now...

The speech also made nice points about education, home ownership, asset accumulation, HIV-AIDS, etc.

However, it was this morning, while being interviewed by a liberal morning radio host from Florida, that I suddenly had an epiphany and I now have a more neutral or less positive view of the speech.

The host asked, "Why didn't we hear anything about Iraq? Why not talk about immigration or affirmative action and other issues?" My immediate reaction was, "Well, when a president is giving a speech in an environment expected to be unfriendly, the speaker will want to stick to the topics with which he is most comfortable and puts his administration in the best light."


That's what I said and I believed it.

However, after I got off the phone, I reconsidered. The host had a legitimate point. No president wants to take the chance that he will get booed. But, hey, Bush was already there, so why not put his full cards on the table?

Alas, it seems that what we have now when it comes to addressing black audiences, there are now partisan panders: The Democrats will talk about the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action, poverty, etc. Now, the Republicans have their preferred panders -- education (No Child Left Behind), home ownership, AIDS in Africa, etc.

Yada, yada, yada.

But, why couldn't Bush have actually raised the Iraq issue -- which is the central political issue of his presidency and the most important public policy topic of the moment?

Couldn't the president have said something to the NAACP like this:

"This is an issue upon which I know your organization seriously disagrees with my administration. I know you don't agree with my decision to remove Saddam Hussein from Iraq. However, I want to recognize the men and woman of the U.S. military -- many of them from communities of color, many of your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. They have made a similar choice as my first Secretary of State Colin Powell -- and saw the armed services as an ideal vehicle to success in America.

"Entering the service is a major decision itself and a major sacrifice for the families involved. And, yes, I recognize and honor the ultimate sacrifice that many of them have made for this nation. I understand that -- I want to say that I thank them for their service to their country and I thank you for the support that you give your loved ones as they fight to keep America secure and the world free from terrorism. "
But, unfortunately, neither Democrats nor Republicans can see black people as people living in the same world as everyone else, with common concerns. Part of the problem, of course, arises from organizations such as the NAACP with its focus on race above all. But, as I believe I pointed out with my impromptu speech insert, it is possible to recognize race in society, but in a broader context than just areas of political and social deprivation. Just as it is possible to recognize the contributions that black people have made and continue to make in ways far removed from mere "civil rights."

UPDATE: The Washington Post's Colbert King has some similar thoughts.


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Thank You, Lord

Will Eisner's "The Spirit".

Major motion picture.


Directed by Frank Miller.

After debuting as a co-director with Richard Rodriguez on
Sin City, this is Miller's first flick "helming" by himself!

Oh baby, oh baby, oh baby!!!


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"Culture of Corruption" Comeback?

Linking to a Washington Post article on the ramifications of Ralph Reed's loss in Georgia, Josh Marshall wonders whether the corruption angle might actually be more of a factor in this year's races than previously thought:


Now, I know that national polls haven't registered too strongly on the issue of corruption per se. And readers might fairly wonder whether I have some professional investment in the issue of corruption, given that I founded a site dedicated to muckraking. But I've wondered for a while whether the conventional wisdom VandeHei is stating here is really accurate. It seems to me that the constant stories of indictments and pay-offs and lobbying scams have, all together, had a strong atmospheric effect, weighing heavily on the popularity of the Republican majority. When we see the GOP double digits behind the Democrats and voter perceptions that they're out-of-touch, not serving the voters' interests, self-seeking, etc., I think the corruption issue has had more to do with that than people realize.
I'm not sure yet.

Yes, it is obvious that Republicans are still quite nervous about November. How can you tell?

Hint Number One: Voting Rights Act
fast-forwarded through a GOP Congress. Forgive my cynicism, but anything going through Congress that fast (Senate vote, 98-0 today after the 390-33 vote in the House last week) on an issue (race relations) which is not Top 10 on most GOP issue lists is cause for some quick eye-rolling.

Hint Number Two: Republicans becoming
more, ahem, "nuanced" on Iraq.

So, this suggests that the GOP is trying to cover all possible bases going into the fall -- as they should.

However, it should be kept in mind the other story coming out of the Tuesday primary -- Cynthia McKinney forced
into a runoff. Assuming that challenger Hank Johnson gets most of the votes from the third party candidate, McKinney may be toast.

Given McKinney's publicized boxing match with a Capitol Hill police officer and Reed's dance with Jack Abramoff, it may be the case that Georgia voters -- Democrat and Republican just decided that, yes, we can do better. Political embarrassments are just that -- political embarrassments that the voters don't need.

So, it may be too soon to tell whether this means that the "culture of corruption" meme is back -- to the GOP's detriment -- or whether this is sui generis to the Peach State.



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Thursday, July 20, 2006

 

When Democrats Go To War -- With Each Other

Last week, we tracked the undercard fight on the big Lieberman-Lamont title fight: Democrat activist and author David Sirota against former Lieberman staffer Dan Gerstein.

Feel free to read the back and forth between the two. It looks like your basic to-and-fro between political pundits.

Well, it may be going to another level.

Earlier this week, Sirota sent the following (including the cool promo for his book included):

*************************************************************************************From: David Sirota
Date: Jul 17, 2006 11:54 PM
Subject: your blog post
To:


Robert:

I saw your blog post on Gerstein's accusation of mine. As an FYI - you should know we are in the process of finding the emails right now - the ones between he, I and the Lieberman staff in 2003 and 2004 where my account is fully documented. I am also exploring legal action against him for libel, on the grounds that his accusations go beyond just lies, they are malicious lies in that he knows they are lies and published them anyway. Stay tuned...

David

_________________________________
DUE IN BOOKSTORES SPRING 2006: Hostile Takeover - How Big Money & Corruption Conquered Our Government – And How We Take It Back, By David Sirota ( Advance order the book by clicking here )

"Hostile Takeover makes a strong case that American democracy is under attack. Every politically engaged citizen who wants to know what challenges we face and how we can rebuild our country's democracy should read this book." - Former Vice President Al Gore

"Here are the horrifying facts about how our government works today - and for whom it works - delivered in a tone of outrage that is not only merited but appropriate. Read it and scream." – Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter With Kansas

"David Sirota is the kind of pundit you'd like to have on your side in a knife fight and wouldn't want to cross in a dark alley...Right-wing talking points on the full spectrum of economic issues are debunked [by Hostile Takeover], progressive alternatives vociferously defended, and no hint of doubt or hesitation enters the picture at any point." - American Prospect, April 2006

********************************************************************************************************

Now, once again, I have no dog in the Lieberman-Lamont fight. I'm not even one of those conservatives decrying what the loss of Joe Lieberman in a Democratic Party primary might mean for the party. Hey, I'm a Republican: Why should I care? Gosh knows, our party has problems of its own.

As mentioned before, Dan Gerstein is a professional colleague -- we host a monthly dinner.

But, it seems to me that -- ideology and relationships aside -- considering legal action over a blog post seems somewhat, uh, extreme. I'm not a lawyer, but libel is a very difficult thing to prove -- knowledge that something is demonstrably false, malicious intent, etc.

And for what -- a debate over a frickin' Senate primary campaign? I thought people waited until the general campaign before the lawsuits got bandied about (ballot access issues aside). No wonder the Democratic Party is in such condition. To each his own.

Is this what happens when we over-emphasize the word "hostile"?

UPDATE: New Quinnipiac poll has Lamont edging ahead of Lieberman, but the senator winning a three-way race as an independent.

Anti-war Connecticut U.S. Senate candidate Ned Lamont has surged to a razor-thin 51 - 47 percent lead over incumbent Sen. Joseph Lieberman among likely Democratic primary voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
This compares to a 55 - 40 percent lead for Sen. Lieberman among likely Democratic primary voters in a June 8 poll by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University.

In possible general election matchups:

  • Lieberman defeats Republican challenger Alan Schlesinger 68 - 15 percent;
  • Lamont beats Schlesinger 45 - 22 percent, with 24 percent undecided;
  • Running as an independent, Lieberman gets 51 percent, to 27 percent for Lamont and 9 percent for Schlesinger.

"Lamont has turned what looked like a blowout into a very close Democratic primary race," said Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas Schwartz, Ph.D.

As the saying goes -- stay tuned...

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

 

The First Gangsta Rapper?

Karol points to my Post collegue Tom Elliott on the powers of "that" word and the ability for American culture to transform it:

"As I've written, there's something positively American about people turning a word formerly used to oppress them into something celebrating their brotherhood. "

Well, it's open to question as to whether there is anything "positive" about it. However, while Americans may have perfected it, they didn't exactly come up with the idea of trying to turn a negative word into an empowerement device. Not only isn't it American -- it predates the 20th century by quite a bit.


Credit a certain English Bard. King Lear, Act I, Scene 2:
EDMUND
Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law
My services are bound.
Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moon-shines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us
With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops,
Got 'tween asleep and wake?
Well, then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:
Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate: fine word,--legitimate!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive,
Edmund the base
Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper:
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

Thematically, that sure as heck sounds a fair bit like this:

Why do I call myself a nigger, you ask me?
Because my mouth is so motherf***in nasty
Bitch this, bitch that
Nigger this, nigger that
In the meanwhile my pockets are gettin fat
Gettin paid to say this sh*t here
Makin more in a week than a doctor makes in a year
So, why not call myself a nigger?
It's better than pulling the trigger and goin up the river
And don't I get called a nigger anyway?
Booked as a motherfucker and locked away
So... so, cut out all that bullsh*t
Yo! I guess I'll be a nigga for life

{ Niggers, crack-heads, thieves.
If there's a hell below, we're all gonna go. }
And, would add Edmund, throw in the bastards too.

(This analogy actually occurred to me several years ago. I wrote a lengthy piece discussing, "bastard", "nigger", "queer" and other such words for a now-defunct journal on culture and politics. If I can find a copy, I'll see if I can recreate the piece).


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Right-on-Right Violence, Take Two

Return of the conservative crack-up:

Conservative intellectuals and commentators who once lauded Bush for what they saw as a willingness to aggressively confront threats and advance U.S. interests said in interviews that they perceive timidity and confusion about long-standing problems including Iran and North Korea, as well as urgent new ones such as the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah.

"It is Topic A of every single conversation," said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has had strong influence in staffing the administration and shaping its ideas. "I don't have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration."

....

As the White House listens to what one official called the "chattering classes," it hears a level of disdain from its own side of the ideological spectrum that would have been unthinkable a year ago. It is an odd irony for a president who has inflamed liberals and many allies around the world for what they see as an overly confrontational, go-it-alone approach. The discontent on the right could also color the 2008 presidential debate.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considering a bid for president, called the administration's latest moves abroad a form of appeasement. "We have accepted the lawyer-diplomatic fantasy that talking while North Korea builds bombs and missiles and talking while the Iranians build bombs and missiles is progress," he said in an interview. "Is the next stage for Condi to go dancing with Kim Jong Il?" he asked, referring to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the North Korean leader.

"I am utterly puzzled," Gingrich added.

......

In fact, it has been Bush's willingness to respond to criticism from the foreign policy establishment -- which has long urged him to do more to pursue a more "multilateral" diplomacy in concert with allies -- that has led to distress among many conservatives outside Congress, particularly the band of aggressive "neoconservatives" who four years ago were most enthusiastic about the Iraq war.

Bill Kristol and colleagues associated with his Weekly Standard have been agitating for several years about what they see as inadequate troop levels in Iraq, an incompetently managed war effort and a failure to move aggressively enough to defeat the insurgency.

For many neoconservatives, a final straw came with the U.S. decision to offer direct talks and potential benefits to Iran as an inducement to curb its nuclear program. There appears little confidence that Bush will be able to muster support for strong international action against Iran, including air strikes to take out nuclear facilities.

"They are starting to see multilateral talks as an end to themselves," said Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They are fooling themselves to think it could lead to tough sanctions."
And so it goes.

This should be an interesting series of conversations developing over the coming months.


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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

 

Next Verse, Same As The First...

Since the House version of the Federal Marriage Amendment on Tuesday met the same fate as the Senate version -- though with a clear majority -- I reprise my earlier take on the amendment.

Meanwhile, see how your Member of Congress voted
here.

In terms of "hmmm, that's interesting," note how Ohio House Democrats Sherrod Brown and Ted Strickland -- running for Senate and Governor respectively -- both managed
to skip the vote on the amendment. It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that Ohio voters two years ago passed a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, could it? There's a profile in courage!

Another Democrat running statewide, Harold Ford in Tennessee, voted for it.

Twenty-seven Republicans
voted "No" -- the only ones south of the Mason-Dixon line being Ron Paul from Texas and FOUR Floridians -- Mark Foley and the three Cuban-Americans, Iliana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balert. Oh, yeah, and the lone out-GOPer, Jim Kolbe from Arizona (technically below the Mason-Dixon line). John Sweeney was the lone New York Republican voting "No."

By the way, the Post database is really cool: You can even check the member vote by astrological sign!

It seems that Geminis are the most (take your pick) traditionalist/homophobic(33-14 in favor of the amendment). Scorpios are the most (take your pick) tolerant/deviant freaks (12-17 against the amendment (more signs had greater total "No" votes, but a greater percentage of, ahem, us Scorps voted against).



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Right-on-Right Violence

Where there's a Will, there's a fray -- by George! It's a rhetorical drive-by -- and it ain't pretty:

The administration, justly criticized for its Iraq premises and their execution, is suddenly receiving some criticism so untethered from reality as to defy caricature. The national, ethnic and religious dynamics of the Middle East are opaque to most people, but to the Weekly Standard -- voice of a spectacularly misnamed radicalism, "neoconservatism" -- everything is crystal clear: Iran is the key to everything .

"No Islamic Republic of Iran, no Hezbollah. No Islamic Republic of Iran, no one to prop up the Assad regime in Syria. No Iranian support for Syria . . ." You get the drift. So, the Weekly Standard says:

"We might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions -- and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement."

"Why wait?" Perhaps because the U.S. military has enough on its plate in the deteriorating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which both border Iran. And perhaps because containment, although of uncertain success, did work against Stalin and his successors, and might be preferable to a war against a nation much larger and more formidable than Iraq. And if Bashar Assad's regime does not fall after the Weekly Standard's hoped-for third war, with Iran, does the magazine hope for a fourth?

As for the "healthy" repercussions that the Weekly Standard is so eager to experience from yet another war: One envies that publication's powers of prophecy but wishes it had exercised them on the nation's behalf before all of the surprises -- all of them unpleasant -- that Iraq has inflicted. And regarding the "appeasement" that the Weekly Standard decries: Does the magazine really wish the administration had heeded its earlier (Dec. 20, 2004) editorial advocating war with yet another nation -- the bombing of Syria?

Neoconservatives have much to learn, even from Buddy Bell, manager of the Kansas City Royals. After his team lost its 10th consecutive game in April, Bell said, "I never say it can't get worse." In their next game, the Royals extended their losing streak to 11 and in May lost 13 in a row.

More on this later.

UPDATE: The column was forecast on Sunday's This Week With George Stephanopolous, as noted by Steve Clemons:
George Will let loose on Kristol in a similar way during a discussion between George Stephanopoulos, Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson, and Fareed Zakaria on This Week. (Podcast audio of the show available here).

In reaction to the editorial that William Kristol penned this week in the Weekly Standard titled "
It's Our War" which advocates initiation of war against Iran, George Will remarked about Kristol and the neocons: "The most magnificently misnamed
neoconservatives are the most radical people in this town."

George Will goes on to comment that America has its hands full with Iraq and that Iraq may, in fact, get worse because of the flare-up around Israel.
Josh Marshall might feel somewhat prescient. This was his article from three years ago:
Imagine it's six months from now. The Iraq war is over. After an initial burst of joy and gratitude at being liberated from Saddam's rule, the people of Iraq are watching, and waiting, and beginning to chafe under American occupation. Across the border, in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, our conquering presence has brought street protests and escalating violence. The United Nations and NATO are in disarray, so America is pretty much on its own. Hemmed in by budget deficits at home and limited financial assistance from allies, the Bush administration is talking again about tapping Iraq's oil reserves to offset some of the costs of the American presence--talk that is further inflaming the region. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence has discovered fresh evidence that, prior to the war, Saddam moved quantities of biological and chemical weapons to Syria. When Syria denies having such weapons, the administration starts massing troops on the Syrian border. But as they begin to move, there is an explosion: Hezbollah terrorists from southern Lebanon blow themselves up in a Baghdad restaurant, killing dozens of Western aid workers and journalists. Knowing that Hezbollah has cells in America, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge puts the nation back on Orange Alert. FBI agents start sweeping through mosques, with a new round of arrests of Saudis, Pakistanis, Palestinians, and Yemenis.

To most Americans, this would sound like a frightening state of affairs, the kind that would lead them to wonder how and why we had got ourselves into this mess in the first place. But to the Bush administration hawks who are guiding American foreign policy, this isn't the nightmare scenario. It's everything going as anticipated.
Why prescient? Well, the first part of Will's column today reads:
"Grotesque" was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's characterization of the charge that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was responsible for the current Middle East conflagration. She is correct, up to a point. This point: Hezbollah and Hamas were alive and toxic long before March 2003. Still, it is not perverse to wonder whether the spectacle of America, currently learning a lesson -- one that conservatives should not have to learn on the job -- about the limits of power to subdue an unruly world, has emboldened many enemies.

Speaking on ABC's "This Week," Rice called it "shortsighted" to judge the success of the administration's transformational ambitions by a "snapshot" of progress "some couple of years" into the transformation. She seems to consider today's turmoil preferable to the Middle East's "false stability" of the past 60 years, during which U.S. policy "turned a blind eye to the absence of the democratic forces."

There is, however, a sense in which that argument creates a blind eye: It makes instability, no matter how pandemic or lethal, necessarily a sign of progress. Violence is vindication: Hamas and Hezbollah have, Rice says, "determined that it is time now to try and arrest the move toward moderate democratic forces in the Middle East."

But there also is democratic movement toward extremism. America's intervention was supposed to democratize Iraq, which, by benign infection, would transform the region. Early on in the Iraq occupation, Rice argued that democratic institutions do not just spring from a hospitable political culture, they also can help create such a culture. Perhaps.

But elections have transformed Hamas into the government of the Palestinian territories, and elections have turned Hezbollah into a significant faction in Lebanon's parliament, from which it operates as a state within the state. And as a possible harbinger of future horrors, last year's elections gave the Muslim Brotherhood 19 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliament. [Emphasis added.]
One argument is that this might turn out all to the good if it draws out the extremists: The distinction will be made moot between the terrorists and their "state sponsors." However, there is also the other possibility -- that the democratic moderate forces could end up being crushed by the extremists. Lebanon currently has a very fragile democracy that came to life a year ago in the so-called "Cedar Revoloution." Is that democracy strong enough to excise Hezbollah from its parliament -- or is it more likely that Hezbollah might use the Israeli onslaught to strengthen its popularity among the Lebanese people?

What if the end result of this is indeed a further radicalized Lebanon, not necessarily a client-state of Syria -- but wholly grown from the inside?




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Monday, July 17, 2006

 

Elevator To The Lobby

Ben Smith writes today in the dead-tree version of the Daily News about the "[endangered] political species with deep roots in New York: the liberal hawk. In certain ways, this is another example of some of the dynamics that are fueling the Lieberman-Lamont race and the role that support for Israel plays in the broader context of America's Middle East policy.

On a related note, the Washington Post's oft-overlooked weekend magazine has an in-depth piece on the
entire question of the "Israel Lobby", the controversial Stephen Walt-John Mearsheimer paper from last spring and related matters.

It's an interesting read and rather balanced look at a very dicey topic.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

 

What Up, Doc?

The Times explores the lack of right-leaning documentaries:

"THERE are exceptions to every rule,” said the writer, director and producer Charles E. Sellier Jr. “But I’ve been at this 34 years, and I really, honestly, believe that the more creative you are, the more likely you are to be a liberal.”

“I think there is a huge disconnect between conservatives and film,” said the festival director Jim Hubbard. “I don’t know if it’s in their DNA or what, but there’s definitely a reason conservatives tend to shun the arts.”

“The conservative movement has been about talk radio, maybe books,” said the filmmaker Michael Wilson. “Film — and music, to a large degree — has long been considered in the realm of liberal thought.”

It would be natural to assume that the three men quoted above labor somewhere on the left side of Hollywood, or make movies about free-trade coffee pickers and Chinese sneaker factories. None is the case. Mr. Sellier, chief executive of Grizzly Adams Productions, has been responsible for documentaries like “George W. Bush: Faith in the White House” and the religiously themed “Breaking the Da Vinci Code.” Mr. Hubbard, with his wife, Ellen Gard Hubbard, founded the right-leaning, Dallas-based American Film Renaissance festival in 2004. And Mr. Wilson was responsible for one of the more successful conservative documentaries of recent years, “Michael Moore Hates America.”

What the three acknowledge, however, is that something besides liberal bias is responsible for the striking shortage of conservative nonfiction cinema at a time when filmmakers on the other end of the spectrum are flooding screens with messages about global warming, the war in Iraq and the downside of Wal-Mart.

Mr. Hubbard, for one, is out to fill the void. He said a philanthropist, whom he declined to identify, had come forward with money to help finance a series of six documentaries that Mr. Hubbard wanted to produce, on various subjects, including the growth of government and whether it is “potentially a threat to our freedom.”
The article never fully explains the paucity of conservative docs. However, it may ultimately have something to do with being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Individuals -- and various groups that form around a given values- and belief-driven identity -- tend to gravitate to self-sustaining cultures.

Conservatives excelled in talk-radio, thus you find more throughout the field (both behind the microphones and on the production side. Obviously, the Fox News Channel has managed to be a safe haven for various conservative and libertarian voices and viewpoints.

Liberals manage to find a niche in documentaries and continue to be over-represented in the field.

However, now that money-men are willing to put up funds for documentaries, it's inevitable that quality right-leaning docs will be made -- though it won't happen immediately.

Some of the "conservative" documentaries that came out in the '90s -- such as the conspiracy-driven "
Clinton Chronicles" -- were embarrassing from both their conception to their quality.

However, surprisingly, the Timez doesn't mention last year's film, Broken Promises, which, though highly critical of the United Nations, was professionally produced and narrated by actor and Bush-backer
Ron Silver.

While co-produced by veteran Clinton-hater David Bossie, one couldn't argue with the final product (the sections involving UN failures in the Balkans and Rwanda were particularly effective).


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The Gospel of Kal-El

This was originally going to be called, "The Passion of the Super-Christ," when the idea came to me as I was finishing up my review of Superman Returns. Unfortunately, in the interim a few NRO writers mentioned at least some aspects of the movie's religious imagery.

Actually, director Bryan Singer has made a far more subversive film in its use of Biblical themes than he is being give credit for. (By the way, my praise for what Singer seems to be doing here in no ways mitigates my feelings toward the movie's logical flaws, though it does cause me to rethink my objections to at least one of the creative decisions Singer made).

Furthermore, it puts the entire controversy about the jettisoning of the "...and the American Way" line in a completely different light. Whether one should find this interpretation ultimately inspirational -- or sacriligeous --- is a determination that will have to be made on an individual basis.

Jonah Goldberg puts the ejecting of the traditional "American" phrase in the context of the moviemakers
making a cultural-financial determination:

In the new film Superman Returns, the Man of Steel no longer stands for “truth, justice, and the American way.” Now he’s dedicated to, according to the movie’s promotional materials, “truth, justice, and all that is good.” Though, in the movie, the phrase gets edited down by Daily Planet editor Perry White to “truth, justice, and all that stuff.” Typical editorial arrogance, if you ask me.

Although conservative talk radio has surely gone overboard in bashing the film, the movie does represent something of a retreat from Superman’s traditional patriotism. “The world has changed. The world is a different place,” the movie’s co-writer, Dan Harris, told the Hollywood Reporter. “The truth is he’s an alien. He was sent from another planet . . . and he is here for everybody. He’s an international superhero.” And in the movie, Superman’s traditional backdrop of the American flag is replaced by the whole world.

Of course, it’s good business to make Superman much less American because moviegoers are so much less American too. A pushy, all-powerful, self-proclaimed superhero who stands for the “American” way might turn off, say, Pakistani audiences.

Jonah's colleague Iain Murray is somewhat tongue-in-cheek in noting the film's religious element, . while John Hood is completely dismissive, assuming the religious/spiritual stuff is just thrown in as a trendy gimmick to appeal to the Chronicles of Narnia crowd.

On the contrary, though not often commented on, Superman's connection to the Bible has been there from the beginning -- even before "the American Way" sensibility was grafted on (explicitly in the 1950s TV show, thought it was implicit very early in the comics).

While this author touched upon the
Jewish origins of super-heroes in a review of the first Spider-Man movie, Mad magazine writer Arie Kaplan went even more in-depth in three issues of Reform Judaism (later reprinted in the comic fanzine Comic Book Marketplace).
In Part I, he discussed some of the
cultural inspiration of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster:
The Superman narrative is also rich in Jewish symbolism. He is a child survivor named Kal-El (in Hebrew, "All that is God") from the planet Krypton, whose population, a race of brilliant scientists, is decimated. His parents send him to Earth in a tiny rocket ship, reminiscent of how baby Moses survived Pharaoh's decree to kill all Jewish newborn sons. In the context of the 1930s, the story also reflects the saga of the Kindertransports--the evacuation to safety of hundreds of Jewish children, without their parents, from Austria, Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia to Great Britain.
Thus, the Superman Returns writers and director Bryan Singer have slyly referenced that Hebrew beginning by replacing "...and the American Way" with "...and all that is good."

But they go much farther. Superficially, the movie plays on imagery of Superman as Christ -- beaten by Lex Luthor and his men, stabbed in the side with a shard of Kryptonite, falling into a death-like coma after saving Earth -- and then suddenly being revived (how many days later?). For that matter, Lois's Pulitzer-Prize winning op-ed piece, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman" could be considered something of a stand-in for, "Why the World Doesn't Need God."

However, Singer and company are doing something else.

As I wrote in my review of Superman Returns, it bothered me that the hero of the movie is not the emotional center of the story. The viewer is never really made to feel for the hero -- even when he's being beaten up. Superman -- even when he is sacrificing himself -- never seems to have an emotional connection to what he is doing. The conversation between he and Lois is always on a very polite and distant level.

Conversely, the truly emotional figure -- the truly passionate individual -- is Perry White's nephew Richard who loves Lois, despite her unresolved longing for another, and loves the boy, Jason -- who calls him "Daddy."
It is quite obvious early on that Richard is not Jason's biological father, yet he is quite content to act as a surrogate father for Jason.

It is also interesting that, in a traditional comic-book setting, Richard would be relegated to the background as an after-thought. But that's not what happens. On the contrary, Richard is the one to first arrive to "save" Lois and Jason -- before Superman gets there. Richard is the one who -- at Lois's pleading -- turns around the plane he's piloting so he and Lois can save Superman. Finally, when Superman is laying in a coma near death, Richard tells Lois that she can be more useful somewhere else. He takes Lois and Jason to the hospital. As they get out of the car, he tells Lois that he will always be there for her.

One could say, "What sort of wimp is this that he's essentially surrendering the woman he loves to this being from another planet -- and allowing the child he has treated as his own to go to someone who has been away for five years."

But, it makes a whole lot more sense, if one considers someone else who acted as a faithful protector of a woman carrying a child that was not his. This other person raised him as his own, even though he knew different. He was a good, solid individual comfortable with who he was and recognizing that he was playing an important role -- but ultimately secondary in the great scheme of things.

There is much talk in Superman Returns about whether Earth needs a "super-savior." The question is -- who's the savior? While on level, the movie is a "Passion" manque, with the Man of Steel standing in for an end-of-his-life Christ, there is a dual messsage being imparted: In the other reading, the movie is also a post-Nativity allegory for the Holy Family. Thus, Lois and Jason are meant to represent Mary and Jesus -- and Richard White becomes modeled after Jesus' stepfather,
Joseph.

While Lois is hardly the "Virgin Mary," the fact is that the movie portrays the live-in relationship between Lois and Richard about as chastely as possible (and not, I believe, just because this is a PG-13) movie. Indeed, just the idea of Lois Lane shacking up with some guy and becoming a single mother was, for me, rather shocking when I first heard about it -- particularly in light of what has been discussed before of comic books'
quaint traditionalism when it comes to marriage and divorce.

However, it makes a whole lot more sense in this context. Richard/Joseph is thus considered a hero in his own right -- and as essential in the development and protection of the "divine offspring" as the actual non-terrestrial parent is.

And all that's up for consumption -- without even noting the similarity between the names Jesus and Jason.



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