BowfingerIt’s always interesting to revisit films you liked a long time ago. So when I saw Bowfinger at the library today, I grabbed it. I wondered if I would find it as funny as I had back in 1999 when it was released. And I did. It is an extremely funny film. It has a solid script by Steve Martin. And Frank Oz directs it for its full comedic potential — matching his great comedy, Death at a Funeral. Eddie Murphy is truly brilliant. And the rest of the cast does a great job supporting him. (Steve Martin still annoys me as an actor, but I’ll admit that’s more about me than him.)

Bowfinger is one of the silliest films I’ve ever seen. In terms of the broad outline of the film, there isn’t much there. The Kit Ramsey stuff regarding the “Laker Girls” is not subtle. The Heather Graham character sleeping with everyone is tired. And the film they are making is inexplicably the kind of things people were making in the late 1950s. It’s on the edges where Bowfinger is at its best. The MindHead cult is probably a good rendering of how Scientology actually works. It’s take on both studio and independent film are about right. And I especially like the way it shows Hollywood to be effectively a class based system. And like all class based systems, power is distributed randomly.

But the best part of the film is the crew. Bowfinger needs to get a crew that will work cheap, so he goes to the Mexican border and picks up three guys who are crossing illegally. It is done in typical over-the-top fashion with bullets flying. At first, the trio are terrified and befuddled. But halfway through the film, they are having a Spanish language discussion of great films like Citizen Kane and Apocalypse Now. By the end, they are polished film technicians — speaking English and tied to their cell phones.

Thematically, it is hard to know which way to go with the film. On the one hand, the “losers” manage to make their film. And given that they were not given any help, they really are the betters of the establishment types who seem to spend more effort on their fancy cars than on any project they are working on. On the other hand, the film they produce is embarrassing. And the film they go on to make in Taiwan is ridiculous. No effort is expended to give them even the smallest amount of dignity.

What’s more, ultimately, the heroes of the film are so caught up in their effort to make this film that they don’t have any care for the fact that they are causing Kit Ramsey to have a nervous breakdown. But as I discussed in my article No Special Pleading From Hollywood, this behavior is the norm. No one seems to believe the Hollywood myth quite as much as the people in the industry itself. So we can forgive desperate people with big dreams for doing this, given that the studio executives would do it as a matter of course if they thought they could make a couple of bucks at it.

But as pure entertainment, it is hard not to like Bowfinger. It certainly isn’t great. But it is damned good comedy — especially by American standards.

Rights Yielded Are Rights Denied

Daniele WattsSome experiences stay with us. When I was 16, my father was driving me home from a school play when we saw flashing lights. We hadn’t been speeding. I remember my father asking the police officer what was wrong. The officer ignored his question and demanded identification.

He pointed to me and asked in a tone I had never encountered before, “Who is she?” He made a condescending remark about my costume and questioned my father again: was he sure of “his story”? The questions had nothing to do with the rules of the road or how my father had been driving. Eventually, he checked my father’s license and, after what felt like a long time, let us go without a ticket.

I could tell my father was disturbed. We had been stopped for no reason, and he was powerless to stop the questioning or protect me from the officer’s judgments. As we drove off, I asked my dad why he had given up his license when he had done nothing wrong. He gently explained to me what so many African Americans of his generation know too well: “You don’t want to mess with the police. They can judge you unfairly and make life very hard.”

These words took on a special significance for me in recent months. Since late spring, I have experienced four disturbing stops by law enforcement…

Then there was the last stop, this month, which has become the subject of so many headlines. Many people believe they know what happened that day.

Here’s what I know. I was standing on the grass near a public sidewalk when a Los Angeles Police Department officer approached Brian. He said he had received a call about a couple engaged in lewd conduct and asked for our IDs. A few minutes before, Brian and I had been making out in his car; I was sitting on his lap. We were not having sex, and both of us had our clothes on…

Do I think the officer was “racially profiling” me by answering a call? I know police have to answer calls for service. But does that render invalid my initial question to the sergeant — “Do you know how many times the cops have been called… because I’m black and he’s white?”

Would someone have called the police if it had been a white couple? Would the sergeant have been so zealous in “investigating” what was clearly not a crime? Does bias have something to do with how and why Brian and I have been stopped this year? I think it probably does. And I think that the conversations our country has been having about the role of race in minor incidents, such as mine, and life-and-death ones, must continue.

One last question I can answer: if I had nothing to hide, why didn’t I just hand over my identification? I might have ended the stop much sooner, and I certainly would have avoided the avalanche of accusations, insults, slurs and even threats that I’ve received.

But in saving myself time and pain, I would have lost something far more valuable: my right as an American to limit intrusions by police. When I was forced into handcuffs, the detaining officer said it was because Sgt Parker ordered me to stay and I left. But the sergeant said no such thing. And California law does not require you to produce identification simply because a police officer demands it.

I objected — and I continue to object — because if we are unclear about our rights, and we continue to believe that in every case when a police officer tells you to do something, you have to do it, as I was told, we allow the police to abuse their power.

We have rights because people throughout history struggled and even died to secure them. If I had handed over my ID, I would have denied their efforts. And I would have turned my back on the 16-year-old who watched her father endure an unfair and humiliating stop by police.

—Daniele Watts
Daniele Watts, in Her Own Words

H/T: Steven D

Economic Inequality and the Israeli Voter

Benjamin NetanyahuOn Tuesday, while the elections were going on, Jonathan Chait wrote, Netanyahu Clarifies His Chilling Vision for Post-Democratic Israel. The title refers to Netanyahu’s statement that he is against a two state solution — which he followed with a blatantly racist speech about the scary Arabs who were being brought in to vote in buses. So Netanyahu is an imperialist bigot. Everyone has always known that, but now it is explicit. And more to the point, now that is pretty much official Israeli policy.

Had the center-left Zionist Union managed to put together a coalition, it wouldn’t have changed much from an international standpoint. It would have been far better for the Israeli people. The Likud Party is basically libertarian. And domestically, they have overseen a huge increase in inequality. We know how this works from our experience here in the United States: people vote based upon their fears and while they are cowering in their homes, the power elite rob them blind. At least in Israel, there are actual things to fear. Americans are just pathetic.

But Chait wrote something that I am very skeptical about, “If Netanyahu prevails, the nature of Israel’s diplomatic alliance with the United States will have to change — the US cannot continue to extend its UN veto to a country whose government has formally disavowed negotiations.” I seriously doubt that. Chait seems to think our support of Israel is contingent on its good behavior. That isn’t true. I discussed the fundamental issue just last week, Ever More Anti-Venezuela Media Coverage. What our government thinks of other countries is not based upon them being good democracies; it is based on them allowing foreign investment and generally being positive toward the interests of our power elite. Israel could become an official apartheid state and we would claim it was fine just because. The mainstream media, of course, would follow along as it always does.

Interestingly, advocates for Palestine don’t seem to be upset about the election. Abir Kopty wrote, Knesset Elections Prove Again and Again That a Change From Within Is not Possible. Ali Abunimah at The Electronic Intifada wrote, Why I’m Relieved Netanyahu Won. He provided the take away line that seems to be shared among Palestine advocates, “Netanyahu’s re-election is like the ‘Nutrition Facts’ label on a box of junk food: it tells you about the toxic ingredients inside.”

It must be the case that Netanyahu knows that the United States will never abandon Israel. If he isn’t, he’s playing a very dangerous game. If Israel didn’t have the United States to back it, I’m afraid it would have been destroyed a long time ago. But even with US support, this is a questionable way to move. The explicit repudiation of a two state solution is likely to alienate a lot of countries. Of course, from Netanyahu’s standpoint, that may be great. The more external pressure there is on Israel, the more he and Likud can use it to push their elitist agenda to impoverish the poor and enrich the rich.

H/T: Max Blumenthal

Another Ridiculous Republican Budget

Tom PriceAccording to Rebecca Shabad at The Hill, House GOP Budget Cuts $5.5T in Spending, Balances in Nine Years. She apparently does not mean this as a joke. And it is true that there is this thing that House Republicans are calling a budget and it offers up general categories where various committees should make cuts to programs that are under their authority. It’s the usual thing from Republicans: don’t get specific about cuts because the people generally don’t like what you would have to cut. And balancing the budget in eight years would require absolutely horrible cuts — cuts that would especially affect all those red states that voted in most of these bozos.

What’s especially interesting in the budget is how it does everything it can to repeal Obamacare. But as everyone should know by now, Obamacare actually saves the federal government money. What the Republicans don’t like about the healthcare law is that it raised taxes on the rich. That’s always been their primary problem with the law. So their attacks on Obamacare are a way to un-balance the federal government budget, in the name of giving — What a surprise! — tax cuts to rich people. Well played, oligarchs; well played!

Michael Hiltzik discussed cruelty of this, House Budget Proposes Repeal of an Incredibly Effective Law. He showed how the budget is at odds with the facts about Obamacare, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security’s disability program. As usual, it is all about pushing the same old conservative ideas. This isn’t about balancing the budget. It is about helping their rich constituents and harming everyone else. And regardless of this fact, they will still get roughly half the votes in the next election.

A big part of the budget is the “block granting” of food stamps and Medicare. This is where they just take the money that they are currently providing in these programs and dump them on the states to do with as they please. But as Ezra Klein reported, How Republican Budgets Hide Huge Spending Cuts in Block Grants. The way this works is by locking in the funding levels. We all know that healthcare costs are rising at more than the rate of inflation; so over time, the funding would die out. Similarly, with food stamps, when a recession comes and more people need help, there won’t be any more money available to help them. The Republicans know what they want to is unpopular, so they come up with these kind of gimmicks to hide what they are doing.

Just how serious is the budget? Not very. Shabad reported that Tom Price’s new budget would “reduce $400 billion in spending from [Paul] Ryan’s budget.” That’s the already savage and unrealistic pseudo-budget that Paul Ryan produced last year. You see, it has to be. When Ryan proposed to balance the budget in ten years, many Republicans were against this. How could it take ten years to balance the budget! That was deeply un-serious — a political con job. But still the far right of the party are delusional. So this year, they come back, thinking that the loons might accept eight years. They won’t, of course. They think you just cut everything but the military and everything will be fine. Deep thinkers they ain’t — and I’m not even talking about the social costs; such a move would throw the US economy (and thus also the world’s) into a far worse situation than we were in during the Great Depression. But government is the problem, am I right?!

Note also that if the Republicans did quickly balance the budget and throw the country into depression, this would change the results of the budget projections. The budget uses dynamic scoring — but very deceptively, of course. Price uses it to claim that cutting all this government spending is going to make the economy take off. But that won’t happen. Not only will the budget not be propped up as they suggest, it will go the other way. In fact, it could be so bad that the deficit gets worse because so much less tax revenue comes in.

But the budget is not meant to be serious. Even before the budget was released, Stan Collender at Forbes reported, GOP Has Nothing but Bad Choices on the Budget. He explained that the Republicans are trying to create a budget that can make its way to reconciliation — thus bypassing the Senate filibuster. But who cares? Obama will just veto it anyway. And because of that, there are a lot of hard-line conservatives who probably won’t vote for it. Because, you know, they should just balance the budget this year.

This is the status of the Republican Congress. This is what they call governing. They can’t even make their symbolic gestures work. It’s pathetic. So why is it that they control Congress?

Morning Music: Pal Shazar

Shazar No 5 - Pal ShazarDo you know what happened this week? Dancing With the Stars reappeared on the television. Just knowing that makes me feel dirty. I would go take a bath, but I’m not that keen on bathing. But somehow, the world must be cleansed. We could use many things, but at the moment I don’t feel like any Dead Kennedys or Minutemen. And given that I’ve been thinking a lot about Jules Shear, I thought it might be nice to listen to some of Pal Shazar’s music.

It really is hard to choose. For one thing, she just isn’t well enough known to have a lot of material online. And nothing is quite perfect for the occasion. But I’ve decided on “Hang Me” from Shazar No 5. But People Talk and When I First Met You are also excellent.

Birthday Post: Hawaii

HawaiiFifty-six years ago, President Eisenhower signed into law Hawaii becoming a state. Now I haven’t giving a lot of thought to that usurper in the White House and the fact that he is not qualified to be president. But now I see just how deep this conspiracy goes. So apparently, Obama’s mother (while still in high school) got together with his father — a full year before they officially met. And somehow, they got to Congress and eventually even the president himself to make Hawaii a state because they knew that they were going to have a child that would go on to become President of the United States. This conspiracy is so deep that I’m almost inclined to think that I made the whole thing up. But this a fact: I’ve never actually seen Obama’s birth certificate. (Not that it matters, because clearly the lobbying done by Obama’s parents was illegal and we shouldn’t even consider Hawaii a state.)

But in all honesty, why was Hawaii the last state? I remember getting into a twitter argument with a guy. He finally decided to ask me a question that would settle the issue of whether I was a decent human being, “What’s your position on Puerto Rican statehood?” I responded, “Honestly, I don’t know enough to have a public opinion. But personally, it seems an outrage that it isn’t already a state.” That satisfied him. But what is that all about, anyway? Why do we leave all of our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and Guam and many other places in a kind of limbo?

I know the reason. I often find that Americans have a certain kind of privilege and feel that others shouldn’t be included. And it is sad. To me, what’s great about the America of my aspirations is that it says, “Come join us!” But especially (but in no way, exclusively) among conservatives, the more exclusive America is, the better. So it has been 56 years since we last expanded the franchise. It doesn’t speak well of us.

Happy “birthday” Hawaii!