Friday, February 13, 2009

Camera Obscura Part 2: Dollhouse Tonite; New Tarantino Trailer; Denzel vs Travolta

Since today is all about sequels at the movies, I made sure I had a sequel movie post. And there's some great twists ahead.

Tonight at 9 p.m., a terrible time slot for ratings, the FOX network will start the brand new series from Joss Whedon, "Dollhouse." I am still amazed that Whedon agreed to work with FOX again, after the way they dumped "Firefly" into the ash heap before it even aired. But Dollhouse star Eliza Dushku had a deal with him and she wanted to do another show with Josh after her career-starter with him as the bad-girl vamp slayer named Faith in "Buffy".

So, after some serious problems and re-shoots the series lands at 9 p.m. Tracking Whedon's career is a real lesson in how the business end of Hollywood works and how the creative end works - often at cross-purposes. Even last year, as Hollywood worried thru a Writer's Strike, Whedon crafted an end run around the mess with an Internet-Only mini-series sci-fi musical with the improbable name of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog" which became a smash hit on iTunes and DVD.

So now - "Dollhouse" -- the pitch here is a series about a group of young people who are utilized by a shadowy (government?) organization as agents for various missions via a method of DNA-alterations and mind-wipeouts. They are 'dolls', called "Actives", who get fed mission info and key personality traits for missions, get it all erased at the end, and sort of live in a weird dorm complex. Dushku plays a girl named "Echo".

Yeah, I know audiences and FOX execs are going "whaa?" to all that. But the man has proved more than once he can take a jumble of genres and styles and make something pretty unique and entertaining. And the word complex scares TV people.

In an interview with Salon, Whedon talks about the confusion and the plans for the series, which gets into some fairly intense stuff ... though not at first glance:

Well, the question of whether they've actually volunteered or not is obviously somewhat dicey. And as we'll begin to learn, every Active has a different backstory. What I wanted to do was talk about the idea of sex and what we expect from each other. Power, love, how these things are all connected. We're positing the idea of, if people were in a position to give up their lives, how many of them would?

We saw a thing on "This American Life," where guys had found a way to block a memory stream on mice and they got flooded with letters from people begging them to be test subjects, because they were like, I don't want to remember my life. Something bad happened or I want to cut out something. There is also this fantasy of not having control, of not having responsibility. These people are taken care of like children. They live in the best spa ever.


"I think television is getting smarter and dumber at the same time. As it gets harder for the networks to figure out how to make their money and what's going to happen structurally with advertising, at the same time, on cable and even on some of the bigs, people are taking chances. It's a time of crisis, which means a lot of entrenching, a lot of let's just go for exactly what we know how to do, and a certain amount of let's shake it up. And those will be the shows people remember."

Read the full interview here, and their review here. As for me, I figured out long ago, he makes things worth the time it takes to read or watch.


Warning!!! The following trailer, while not R-rated, is from the gritty and explosive brain of Quentin Tarantino and his new World War II movie, "Inglourious Basterds". Heck, with that title, I'm not even sure he can advertise the thing on TV or in newspapers. But we have the Internet, we have You Tube, and whether anyone wants or deserves it --- now we have Tarantino tackling the Big One. Brad Pitt calls out the marching orders:

I think Tarantino turns a lot of folks off - but, like Whedon, I'm gonna be watching what he does. And is it just me, or does Pitt sound a little bit like George W. Bush there??


A best-selling novel and movie from the 1970s has been remade for summer 2009 release, "The Taking of Pelham 123" -- a tense tale of a subway hijacking. The original still holds up very well today thanks to acting from Walter Matthau as a subway supervisor against terrorist Robert Shaw.

The remake puts Denzel Washington into Matthau's part and John Travolta in Shaw's. This adaptation is by Oscar winner Brian Helgeland and the director is Tony Scott, which means lots of rapid cuts and edits and somehow, doves and pigeons flying will be shown at various points in the movie. I think this is the 3rd time Denzel and Tony have teamed up, and to be honest, I like what they've done so far. Here's the preview:

Camera Obscura: Jason Eats The Box Office Alive

It's going to be a monster weekend at the box office for Jason Voorhees. So let me begin this movie post with the simple warning from the first "Friday the 13th" film in 1980 ... "You're doomed. You're all doomed."

Box office returns have always been hefty when the nation is in Economic Hell. And returning after 29 years as a cash cow, Mr. Voorhees and his murderous mythos will slay the box office once again. I know kids who are skipping school to see it today, adults who have been planning for months to gather at the ticket booth, and the ads promoting this movie have been everywhere. Technically speaking, this is the 12th Jason movie. The series sort of stopped when Jason X concluded, but then we had the kabuki-style theatrical fountains of crimson streams with "Freddy vs Jason" (his 11th appearance) so this is number 12. I am pretty sure they are already working on the 13th Friday the 13th.

I was there at the beginning (as I always am) when not Jason, but his mom slashed and hacked her way thru carnal camp counselors in the first movie, though a moldy, rotten, water-bloated boy-Jason arose from the waters of Camp Crystal Lake by the movie's end. Because, like Spring, like the time-traveling Groundhog Day, Jason rises eternal. It's his basic charm - that and a hockey mask and a machete.

I do want to suggest you enjoy the musings and writings at The McClane Tirade, as Matt is one of the most faithful fans of the movie series I've ever met. He takes such loopy joy in the horrible plots and contradictions, and has a vast knowledge of characters and timelines. He just re-posted his 2007 piece on the movie series and it's a great read. Here's a sample of his "Friday the 13th: Best Chronology Ever!"

It's a simple fact that Friday the 13th has the MOST jacked up, inconsistent, insane chronology in the history of serial cinema. Characters are all over the map, times are changed up and rearranged and consistencies are thrown out the window for really piss-poor plot devices. Sometimes, perhaps directors and writers just forget things. Maybe they don't bother with research, or... watching...the...previous... films? Maybe they actually just didn't give a damn and decided to do it their own way.

When Paramount sold the rights to the entire franchise to New Line Cinema sometime around 1990, it was pretty apparent that the powers-that-be straight-up didn't give two bowls of monkey crap WHAT they did with these characters. It's conceivably a very remote possibility that they might have even PLANNED for it to end up this way.

Whatever the case may be, it's worth taking a look and breaking some of this down.
I feel that in most films, this kind of blatant factual disregard for continuity would be a huge hindrance—and the distractive nature of such things would generate more hatred than Sheriff Garris hated Tommy Jarvis for checking out his daughter in Friday the 13: Jason Lives—but in this case, I believe it's absolutely ingenious comedy."

Matt has a real knack for pointing out the awful hilarity in these movies -- for proof, just check out the clip he included from "Jason Takes Manhattan", the 6th movie, and the 'boxing match' between Jason and a character named Julius. As Matt advises, "
You may want to go ahead and watch that again, just in case you thought I made it up, or you were dreaming, or maybe ate some bad hot dogs or something and imagined it. Go ahead, induldge."

Also worth a peek, something I mentioned last Halloween, was Cinematical's Friday the 13th Obsessive-Compulsive Guide, wherein this jewel of observation occurs:

Finally, and most disturbingly, four of the 10 films feature men wearing Daisy Duke shorts. Was this acceptable in the 1980s?"

Indeed. You can chart much American fashion thru these movies. I'm not saying it's a great experience, but it is there, from feathered haircuts to nano-bots.

Take the tour at the all-modern Friday the 13th website and blog, so you can just be, you know, all modern and stuff.

And if you are asking "is this movie going to be any good?", well you haven't been paying attention. I will say that the folks who are re-booting this series also attempted a re-boot of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" which was bad, bad, bad. Of course, TCM is not in the same class as Jason's movies, though it might appear to be. TCM was and is different and about 7 years ahead of Jason. In other words, the new production team - or let me call his name, Michael "Can't Make A Movie Worth A Crap" Bay - has a pretty dreadful history, which will likely add to enjoyability of the remake.

Let me twist the machete a little before we leave Jason to the cinema history books.

After you go see it, after you watch the DVD collections and laugh at it all, there is another movie horror fans and Jason fans should watch next. It too is a remake, and released last year, called "Funny Games." Here too are some relentless killers on a lakeside community. And they can't be stopped. But I guarantee you the experience of watching "Funny Games" will become nearly unbearable and a true test of your endurance (and one you will likely regret competing in). In a way, director Micahel Haneke made his movie especially for fans of violence/slasher/revenge movies.

And he does not like you.

It's a movie that you dare people to watch and it will leave you in a bad, bad way. That's what a scary movie should do. Jason is just a comedian.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Packing Heat In The Pews

Arkansas lawmakers have approved a bill which would allow for concealed weapons to be carried into church. The measure now moves to their state Senate for a vote, and the governor has already said he'd sign it into law if it lands on his desk.

Currently, only churches and bars are exempt in that state from conceal and carry laws. Under this new law, churches would have the option of allowing or not allowing concealed weapons as long as they posted a visible sign at their church as to their stance. About 20 states already have similar laws.

The bill was pushed before and failed, but this time Republican Rep. Beverly Pyle got the vote thru on a 57 to 42 vote.

During committee hearings on the bill prior to the vote, one representative, who is also a pastor, John Phillips Jr. said:

As a group of lawmakers, are we really wanting to send the message that we are raising the white flag of surrender to the anarchy that's in the streets and that the only way that our citizens can feel safe in their houses of worship and churches is that we come packing heat in the pews?"

Phillips, now a minister at the Central Church of Christ in Little Rock, testified that a "deranged individual" shot him in 1986 while Phillips was working at another Little Rock church. Phillips said his life was saved by a member of the congregation, who came to his defense.

"I don't know that having a concealed weapons individual designated to bear arms in the church that day would have made any difference in that situation," he said.

Another minister spoke to the press in favor of the bill:

To me, being in church is probably one of the most vulnerable places anyone can be as far as an attack happening," said Pastor Mark Thorton of the Big Creek Missionary Baptist Church in Malvern. "And if there's no one there who can legally carry a handgun, we're going to be on the 6 o'clock news."

My father was a Baptist minister and I wonder what his reaction to such a plan might be.

I think perhaps first he would not be happy that government was taking up church operations and regulations as part of legislative activity. He would often talk politics while sharing coffee with folks at the local diner in the mornings, and we'd often have heated debates about politics at home, and he often wrote letters to elected officials to weigh in on all kinds of issues.

But I can't really recall a time when he spoke out on a political issue from the pulpit -- one on one with folks, yes, but not as part of sermon. Of course, you have to realize that as a squirrely young boy I was usually not paying real close attention during all the thousands of sermons I heard as I would sneak in a couple of little toys, Matchbox cars, army men or cowboys or little guys in spacesuits. Or I'd play tic-tac-toe with some nearby fellow ne'er-do-well who, like me, was surely headed to Perdition.

Dad's no longer among us, so I can't ask him directly for a reaction. But all the while he was alive and even after he was not, I always have a sort of talk with him in my head about pretty much everything. I did pay attention often to how he worked as a pastor, as a person, and as a father. We might agree or disagree on many things, but he always seemed pretty smart to me and he did educate me to consider the effects which might follow any and all decisions I made or failed to make. So I ponder about a lot of things and yes, even this humble-but-lovable blog is often my wee little pulpit and sermonette.

I know that in the past both recent and ancient, people have been attacked in churches by folks who bring in a gun or other weapon and inflict much harm on those within. Sometimes those people are stopped and their plans foiled, and sometimes they are not. Both good things and bad things happen in this world - in or out of a church house. I also know that compared to the rest of the world, this country is a mighty safe place. I don't think that more bad than good is happening, I think we just hear and see more due to the speed at which information travels today.

I tend to think my father would be opposed to folks feeling a need or a right to bring a gun into church in our times. Might have been different in centuries past, but as for our times, I think he might see such behavior as a general lack of Faith. He might say that while in church, your thoughts should not be on worldly things but on spiritual ones. I also think he would be far more eloquent addressing this topic than me.

It was a rather shocking day last year when a crazed gunman strolled into a Unitarian church in Knoxville and began shooting, so the reality of what can and does happen looms large in most minds in East Tennessee. I also marvel at the selfless acts of members of that church who took on that killer with nothing more than their hands and their desires to stop the violence. I'd like to think, should some similar event take place where I might be, that I would have the courage to resist an attack. I think I would. I hope I never have to find out.

Oddly, while I may not have always been the keenest listener in my father's churches, I do see that the words 'hope' and 'faith' still have a hefty place in my writing and my thinking. Most of the time anyway, though not always.

Seeing a sign posted at a church saying they allowed for concealed weapons or had armed security guards would not be very inviting to me, though I suppose some might feel comforted by such. For me, it indicates just how a person and a church regard the spiritual realm in many, many ways.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's Just Getting Weird Out There

It would be a nice change of pace to have, say, a week ease past that isn't loaded with these thorny revelations of corrupt mayors and governors, or seedy details of voraciously greedy business folks, poison-tainted food, the clueless cluckings of cable TV and radio clowns, and poverty growth at rates which seem akin to the plot lines of really bad science-gone-mad B-movies.

I mean really, I have to ponder if it's safe to eat some peanut butter?

I have enough anxiety all on my own without getting drowned by the excesses and horrors of incompetence which seem to gleefully tumble across our world today. It's as if the planet is devoured by each person at war with everyone else and with themselves for what they are or what they are not and all chattering and protesting it all at the same time. It sure seems that the one television show which defines the times we live in is rightfully called "Lost".

I used to make a joke that there should be these giant blocks of Valium located every few miles, so that, like cows who lap up a salt lick, humans could lap up a little bit of anti-anxiety medicine as they moseyed about their day. Now, I realize what would happen were such to exist - all out war for control of these Valium licks plus the stacks of dead folks who decided to break off huge chunks of it and wolf it down like it was the latest triple-bacon cheeseburger.

I was reading today about some poor bloke in England who somehow fell and got trapped beneath his own sofa for two days and could not move as he had some sort of back problems. Once rescued, he told reporters he had been able to snag a bottle of whiskey which was within reach there under his couch and he thought to himself - well, things are not that bad. Luckily a neighbor noticed his window shades had not been moved and actually bothered to check and see if he was OK. I suppose he was being an optimist regarding the whiskey, but I'm more sure he was grateful for friends and neighbors.

But really, it's just getting weird out there.

Take the rather odd marketing plan from DC Comics, who have decided the way to boost sales of their product is to kill off Batman and have a whole bunch of other people in Gotham City have a "Battle for The Cowl" come the first of March. The image below is supposed to be clues as to what will happen.

I know all the having two identities deal is problematic and neurotic for old Batman, and outrageous marketing is sometimes needed to help push sales. And then I read that Bat's longtime comic title Detective Comics, following this "battle", will be about a brand new Batwoman. Or, as the headlines proclaim "Batwoman, The Red-Headed Lesbian Is Unleashed".


You know things are bad when the lives of the imaginary super-heroes turn into Warholian dreamscapes. Perhaps they have always been so.

Maybe I'm just getting too old. But it would be nice for just one week to pass when the lead story in the news is something like "Family Thinks Tuesday's Meat Loaf Dinner Was OK."

As I've been sitting here noodling on the keyboard to somehow compose my stray and ponderous thoughts, I began to recall a song by John Prine which seems to fit right in here somehow. It's called "Big Old Goofy World".

Campfield's Energy Plan: Stay in Cave, Scrounge Firewood, Ignore Technology

When Gov. Bredesen spoke this week to promote state efforts in developing and expanding solar energy, Rep. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville said:

Lastly was the solar panels. You must be kidding. This is not Arizona. Solar has yet to produce energy in any sort of efficient way at all. it is actually worse for the environment then a lot of other types of non PC energy forms we have."

Oh, Stacey. As a teacher in elementary school used to say to certain students - "Honey, you need to hush and just listen and learn from the rest of the class."

R. Neal at KnoxViews has real and current information about our state and about solar energy:

Rep. Campfield apparently wasn't paying attention to the R&D part, which is already being done right here in Tennessee. He's probably not aware that one of the goals of research is to make solar power conversion more efficient so it can be used virtually anywhere. Perhaps he's also not aware that East and West Tennessee are only one step down from Florida on the solar radiation scale.

And maybe he isn't aware that one of the world's largest producers of solar panels has a factory in Memphis, or that a leading supplier of silicon for solar panels is investing more than a billion dollars, one of the largest manufacturing investments in state history, to build a facility in Clarksville. He probably missed the announcement that Knoxville was selected by the DOE to be a Solar America City. He must also not be aware of the many homes and businesses in the Knoxville area that are already using solar power, including one that frequently gets negative utility bills."

Also, on Tuesday the Solar Energy Industries Association offered the following facts about solar power research, growth and development:

(SEIA) president and CEO Rhone Resch today touted the vast potential for solar energy development in the Southeast United States.

“The United States has some of the best solar resources in the world – resources that are more than double that of Germany, the current world leader in solar. With the right policies, solar can play a significant role in creating jobs, growing local economies and cutting energy costs for consumers and businesses,” said Resch
“Those who claim the U.S. does not have enough sun to power our nation are simply wrong. In the Southeast, 24 percent of electricity could come from rooftop solar alone*. As a policy investment, solar is one of the best values for putting Americans back to work and creating growth opportunities for utilities and small businesses alike in the Southeast and across the country,” added Resch.
After the Southwest, the Southeastern United States boasts some of the best solar resources in the country. North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia have solar resources 60 percent better than Germany and are home to hundreds of companies that manufacture and install solar energy equipment. Likewise, Florida has several hundred solar manufacturers, installers and project developers and solar resources that are 70 percent better than Germany – the world’s leader in solar power development.
Utilities are also beginning to embrace the sun’s fuel. Notably, Duke Energy in North Carolina plans to buy more than 10 megawatts of electricity from a solar farm that SunEdison is building in Davidson County. In early December, Florida Power & Light (FPL) broke ground on the first concentrating solar power plant north of Palm Beach County. In July, FPL selected SunPower to build two solar photovoltaic plants. When these projects are completed and brought online, they will make Florida the country's second-largest solar energy producer.
The mid-Atlantic is another emerging solar energy powerhouse. While New Jersey has somewhat lower solar resources than the southeastern states, it’s aggressive policies and incentives has led it to be the third largest solar market in the U.S. behind California and Nevada. Recently, Pennsylvania and Ohio have instituted state policies to stimulate development of renewable energy, including solar."
*Source: EIA, DOE, Navigant Consulting, SEIA

For many years, much work has been done to coax elected and appointed officials out of their fearful crouching in ignorance, to educate them and others that Renewable Energy Sources (RES) are not only within reach, it's an economic machine which creates jobs and new technology. From the Southern Alliance For Clean Energy, information and assistance was provided to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and National Resources. Executive Director Stephen Smith said it well:

We urge Congress to reject the myth that the Southeast cannot meet an RES. We can, and in doing so, we will find the economic solutions our region needs as well,” Dr. Smith stated. “We look forward to working with members of Congress to craft a workable policy that enables our region’s renewable energy resources to be part of a clean energy solution. The time for delay and distraction is over. Now is the time to develop our region’s renewable energy potential.”

TVA Ash Spill Prompts New Senate Hearing To Set New Standards on Thursday

A U.S. Senate sub-committee will hold hearings 10.a.m Thursday to address the lack of oversight and the need for new standards regarding coal ash impoundments, hearings prompted by the December 2008 TVA ash spill which has devastated hundreds of acres in Roane County.

The Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing Thursday will focus on the Coal Ash Reclamation, Environment, and Safety Act of 2009 (H.R. 493).

It would require the Interior Department to set uniform design, engineering and inspection standards for structures like the one that ruptured at TVA's Kingston plant on Dec. 22, damaging homes, knocking down trees and power lines and filling two inlets of the Emory River.

The hearing be webcast live and archived on the Committee's Web site at" (via a report in The Tennessean)

Here's a list from the main committee's website of witnesses expected to appear:

Mr. John R. Craynon
Division of Regulatory Support
Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement
Department of the Interior

Ms. Sandy Gruzesky
Division of Water
Department for Environmental Protection
State of Kentucky

Mr. Tom FitzGerald
Kentucky Resources Council

Mr. Davitt McAteer
Vice President for Sponsored Programs
CEO of the Center for Educational Technologies & National Technology Transfer Center
Wheeling Jesuit University

Mr. Nick Akins
Executive Vice President for Generation
American Electric Power Service Corporation

Tom Fitzgerald, as head of the Kentucky Resources Council, spoke before the National Academy of Sciences regarding Coal Combustion Waste in 2005, where he warned:

"What is known concerning the potential toxicity of the leachate from coal combustion ash suggests that a federal floor of management standards is needed.

It is a myth of dangerous proportion to suggest that there is no potential public health and environmental impact of improper management of coal combustion wastes because the wastes are not classified as “hazardous.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Never-Ending Kent Williams Saga, or, Here's An Editorial That Won't Go Away

I know blogging about politics tends to be the sport o' the moment for some while also being as dull as three-day-old dirt to many others. But I keep at it because the political back and forth is more than the sum of its parts. Political wrangling and fights have formed the backdrop for much of human history, though sometimes the stage can be either quite small or quite large.

I had been reading and enjoying the teacup tempest between members of the Tennessee House of Representatives as the GOP seemed poised to take the Speaker of the House position for the first time in a very, very long time in 2009. Then Carter County Republican Kent Williams went rogue and ditched the plans of party leaders like Robin Smith and got himself named to the position. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. Security guards were actually called in to shield him from the angry House members.

Biblical damnations were issued on the floor of the House, Democrats snickered or laughed loudly, and the press and the blogging world hummed with the Sturm und Drang of events. I really tried to stay out of that, but, just like Michael Corleone, I got pulled back in.

This morning I read an editorial from the Elizabethton Star about Rep. Williams with a most stern talking-to aimed at Robin Smith for ejecting Williams as a member of the Republican party. I made a reference to it and quoted from it in a comment I made for Michael Silence's blog at the Knoxville News Sentinel. But when he asked for a link to that editorial, it was gone. Vanished into some digital wasteland.

Well, foo. I know I did not imagine it. So I called the Star's offices and was transferred to their IT department. I was told that was the editorial for Sunday the 8th and they don't keep archives online. I asked if he could email me a copy of the editorial and he did so, quite promptly in fact. I thank them for that.

I thought the piece was a pretty strong taste of 'Don't-Tread-On-Me' Americana, and so, that a copy of said editorial can be found online here at your humble-but-lovable-Cup Of Joe Powell, I am reprinting it in full:

"Republican Party Is Bigger Than One Person

Robin Smith, Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, has called a press conference Monday to announce her decision regarding House Speaker Kent Williams's membership in the Republican Party. The decision rests solely with Smith, and perhaps nothing would delight her more than to kick the Carter County lawmaker out of the party.

Williams' re-election last November helped give the Republicans a majority in the state House. Williams, who claims to be a Republican, who was elected as a Republican, and we do believe has Republican values, was elected Speaker with his vote and that of the 49 Democrats in the House. He defeated the GOP's hand-picked candidate for Speaker, Jason Mumpower, who, too, voted for himself. He received all the Republican votes in the House except for Williams'.

Should the chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party have that much power? Power to decide who has membership in the party, who can be a Republican and who can not? Rep. Williams has said that he will leave the party voluntarily, Ms. Smith only has to ask.

This decision will be made by one person, who has never run for political office -- someone who has a lot of experience campaigning for Republicans. Her goal in life is to elect Republicans at all levels of government to every office.

The Republican Party is bigger than any one person. It is bigger than Robin Smith and it is bigger than Kent Williams. No one person should ever have the say of who can and cannot be a member of any political party - be it Republican or Democrat.

The two-party system has served this country well. There is never going to be a time when everyone agrees on the same candidate. We all have different values, different views and different opinions on how government can best serve the people, and how people can best serve their government. To disagree is not wrong. Not every Republican agrees on every matter nor does every Democrat. Heaven help us if they do.

Furthermore, we do not think that Republicans in Memphis and Chattanooga, where Ms. Smith is from, should be meddling in Carter County politics. We may live in the mountains, but we aren't ignorant. We are learned enough in politics to vote. We don't need the bright out-spoken lawyer from Memphis nor the "blonde" saleswoman from Chattanooga to tell us how to vote, nor do we need them to select our candidates. My gosh, our ancestors were the first to settle in Tennessee. They formed the first independent government west of the Alleghenies. Long before there was a Tennessee or a Chattanooga or a Memphis, our folks were living here in the Watauga Settlement. They were busy building a community and forming a government. I don't know if they were Republicans or Democrats, but it really doesn't matter. They were daring, brave and they sure didn't let the British tell them what to do.

Perhaps, Ms. Smith should know that when she kicks our representative out of the Republican Party, she has dealt a blow to every Williams voter in Carter County.

And, what's more, the members of the Republican Party will have shot themselves in the foot -- they no longer will have the majority in the Tennessee House. It keeps getting worse for Rep. Jason Mumpower. First, he was shot out of the saddle as House Speaker. Now, if Williams is kicked out of the Republican Party, he will become chairman of the minority party rather than the majority.

You know, the Baptist Church is more democratic than the Republicans. They do allow the membership to vote on who to let in the church and to dismiss from their ranks."

NOTE: The editorial today in the Star, taken from the Jackson Sun, was a kinder-gentler shift in opinion. I suppose I should give kudos to the Star for offering very different views on one topic. This editorial is titled "Williams Was Foolish" and included these paragraphs:

Tennessee Republicans had every right to banish House Speaker Kent Williams from their party. But the political get-back seems counter productive for a party with a one-vote, now no-vote, majority. At a time when Tennesseans are worried about their jobs and suffering along with the ailing economy, political bipartisanship is what people want to see. Instead, the state GOP chose to put hard-line conservative ideology first, and to its own detriment.
"Hard line, ideologically driven partisan politics can become destructive and self-defeating, regardless of which party is involved. Americans want more from their elected officials than mere party loyalty. They want to see things getting done. They want to see politicians coming together to put citizens ahead of partisanship. The state GOP didn't help itself or Tennesseans by punishing the House speaker."


Now the commedia dell'arte of our political world can continue. And I know it will. I think I'll write up a post next time about kitties or something.

Economic Realities vs. Republican Nonsense

Josh at TPM points to recent polls which show Americans have enormous confidence in the economic plans projected by President Obama, and very few who think Republicans have a clue as to how to proceed. Josh features the video below --

Now compare those comments to the outrageous nonsense put forth by Senate Republican Jim DeMint that this stimulus package is all about banning the Bible:

Or how about Tennessee's own Senator Bob Corker, who wants to wait and see just how lousy and disastrous the national economy can become before taking action to change directions:

I know there are many people in this country that believe we have trillions of dollars of losses still left in our financial system before we hit bottom, and I think that everybody realizes that as housing continues to drop, it is not just hurting our economy directly, it is also dragging our financial systems down.

Again, I appreciate those folks who are trying to work together to make this bill, which is a disaster in my opinion, slightly better. But, I wonder if it wouldn't make more sense for us as a country to just wait for a week or two to hear the rest of the administration's plans as it relates to solving this problem.

"Let's ask the administration to come forth and talk to us about the price tag of dealing appropriately with the credit markets, with housing, and with maybe some directed spending on infrastructure or something that is not programmatic and doesn't disrupt the way that state government is run."

Since Sen. Corker already has earned his millions, his advice to the rest of us is to just try and hang on until he thinks the president asks him in a nice way if he has any ideas of use to America.

Then there is the hypocrisy of Senator Lamar Alexander. His 'press release' page at his website hails federal dollars being spent on a grant for a Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Grant Funding for Tennessee Firemen, Requesting Emergency Aid for Disaster Declarations in seven TN counties, a million dollars for Memphis Fire Department Services --- however, the stimulus package which would bring billions to Tennessee for school construction and repairs, science research and development, and much, much more are all part of a Giant Job Killer.

Apparently, he needs some kind of assurance he'll get a good photo of himself in the local media before he'll actually consider taking action on the economy when it is most needed.

Young Girl Finally Cleared In Texas Police Chaos

For reasons I cannot fathom - other than reasons originating from the most vile places of the human heart - it has taken two trials and three years for officials in Galveston, Texas to realize the near-lethal mistake made when un-uniformed police beat up a 12 year old girl in her front yard.

She had gone into her yard around 8 pm at her mother's request. A breaker had tripped and the breaker box was outside, so the daughter was sent out to reset it. Four police officers in an unmarked van had been told that reports had been made that three white female prostitutes were working in the area and selling drugs. Though the officers were several blocks away from where the incident was reported, they sighted young Dymond Milburn, who is black, in her yard and immediately swarmed out of the van and rushed at the child.

Terrified, she ran to hide under a bush outside her home, screaming for help from her father. Police beat the child severely, blacking both eyes, choking her and beating on her ears, using a flashlight and also allegedly threatening to shoot (or "arrest") her puppy if she did not come with them. Her father ran out to the scene, seeing grown men assaulting his daughter -- men not in anyway dressed as police or identifying themselves as such. (Prosecutors refuted those claims.) He fought these strangers on his lawn allowing his daughter to flee as best she could. Ultimately, Milburn was hospitalized for her injuries.

Three weeks later, police arrived at her school, where she was an honor student, and arrested her for assaulting a police officer.

On the first day of the trial against her in 2007, the judge declared a mistrial and reset the case.

Yesterday, after some eight hours of deliberation, the jury reported they were hopelessly deadlocked. The judge declared a mistrial as five jurors were adamant the child was not guilty of any crime. Prosecutors now say they will not attempt to try the case again.

Background on the case here and here, from the first trial, where an officer lied on the stand to implicate Mr. Milburn was a drug dealer.

A civil lawsuit filed against the officers in the case. (See also BoingBoing)

Monday, February 09, 2009

Applebee's And Many Other Companies Have Removed Employee Rights

The story of what happened between one employee at Applebee's exhibits just one way modern companies have dispensed with employee rights and any citizen's rights to address wrongs through the judicial system. Currently, a conservative estimate of 30 million American workers have lost their rights to a trial by jury in a public forum. So the trend in coming years means millions more will soon lose their rights too. The companies which invoke these conditions are at every level of commerce in the country - the following is but one example.

A post at the blog Overruled lays out the details about how the use of "arbitration" circumvents rights to due process and has made it all legal:

One day, when Dantz arrived at work a paper was shoved into her hands and she was ordered to sign it. The paper contained something called a “binding mandatory arbitration agreement” which said that, if Applebees broke the law, Dantz no longer had the right to hold it accountable in court and instead would be shunted into a privatized, biased justice system. Dantz refused to sign, and was told that until she did, she would be paid nothing but tips—a violation of federal minimum wage laws. Nevertheless, Dantz needed her job, so she didn’t quit.

After nearly three years of harassment, abuse and long hours for little or no pay, Dantz finally decided that she’d had enough. She filed suit against her employer—and the court kicked her to the curb. Even though Dantz refused to sign the binding arbitration agreement, the court said that merely by continuing to work for Applebees, she was bound by its terms. Debbie Dantz’ employer illegally abused her for almost three years, and Dantz was powerless to hold it accountable.[NOTE: She did not receive a paycheck and her only earnings were from tips.However, the wisdom of her decision, or lack of it, is not the point here.]

Lest there be any doubt, when Dantz was thrown out of court and relegated to privatized arbitration, her opportunity for justice ended right there. Let’s explore a few ways that arbitration differs from real courts:

  • Most importantly arbitration is biased in favor of corporate interests. According to a study by Public Citizen which examined almost 20,000 arbitration decisions, the corporate party won a massive 94% of the time. In one case, an arbitrator awarded $11,000 to a debt collector against a woman who owed no money whatsoever, but who had the same name as a woman who did.
  • Arbitration is often pay to play. If you bring a suit in federal court, you pay a $350 filing fee, and that’s it. Arbitrators, on the other hand, frequently offer an a la carte menu. If you want to file a motion, that’s $500. If you want a live hearing, $1500. If you want a written explanation of the arbitrator’s ruling, $1500 more. In some cases, consumers have been charged $10,000 or more for the privilege of losing their case before a biased arbitrator.
  • Arbitration is secret. Except in California, arbitrators are not required to publicly disclose their decisions. Because they can keep their past history from the public, many arbitration companies market their services to corporations by highlighting their pro-business bias, even as they lobby Congress with claims that they are just as fair and balanced as real live judges.

So in summary, arbitration is expensive; it is secretive, and it is fundamentally unfair. Even worse, it is almost always forced on ordinary Americans. If you have a credit card. Or if you have a job. Or if you have a cell phone. Or if you have a loved one in a nursing home. You have probably been forced to sign an arbitration agreement. Virtually all banks, many employers and some nursing homes will even refuse to do business with you unless you sign away your power to hold them accountable for their actions. If you refuse to sign an arbitration agreement you can lose your credit card, lose your phone service, or even be fired.

The reason why these binding mandatory arbitration agreements are legal is a series of wrongly decided Supreme Court decisions that began in the 1980s. Needless to say, business groups like the Chamber of Commerce are very interested in blocking any legislation which might overturn these wrongful decisions, and they have hired a veritable army of lobbyists to block a bill called the Arbitration Fairness Act, which would prevent companies from coercing their customers and employees into signing away their rights."

Sen. Russ Feingold sponsored a bill, the Arbitration Fairness Act, which died in committee last year. Perhaps now with the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, it's time to bring up that bill again.

In 2007, the National Employment Lawyers Association offered the following testimony before Congress -- their testimony includes documentation on just how many U.S. companies offering just about any type of service have warped the rights of employees nationwide:

"As NELA members can attest from the cases they see in their practices, the use of MA programs as a tool for companies to “stack the deck” in their favor in disputes with their employees has grown exponentially over the last 15 years. Today, 15% to 25% of United States employers use MA programs – covering a conservatively estimated 30 million workers, a greater number than union contracts cover. The attached NELA fact sheet, “Data Points: Increasing Prevalence of Mandatory Arbitration Programs Imposed on Employees,” reviews available statistics showing the dramatic growth of these programs.

"Thousands of American companies use or have used mandatory arbitration, including such household names as Circuit City, Hooter’s, Dillard’s Department Stores, Cisco Systems, Anheuser-Busch, and Halliburton. These companies are in virtually every industry – retail, food services, manufacturing, and financial services, to name a few. The attached list of companies for which the American Arbitration Association (AAA) held at least five employment arbitrations between January 1, 2003, and March 31, 2007, is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg, but it again shows that the use of mandatory arbitration is alive and well in the United States in the 21st Century."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Republican Stimulus Package Clown Car Keeps Unloading Clowns

That "liberal media' who is in love with all things related to President Obama? They do not want to actually provide airtime on their networks for him to talk about the status of our economic problems and his ideas on how to improve the current fiasco.


Do people really want to come home after looking for a job, or after being at a job they hate, sit down to veg out in front of their favorite show -- and he's on again?" said one TV suit, who suspects/hopes the Average Joe's reaction to too much Obamavision might be "nothing he's going to say is going to help me get a job, or put food on the table."

Eric Bohlert responds:

"Combined, the networks control more than one hundred hours of primetime programming each week. Obviously, they can make-up a handful of lost ad slots because of Obama's primetime address, just as networks have done for decades. And then there are the bitter, nameless TV execs quoted in the article. (Ungrateful suits whose networks have made billions using the public airwaves free of charge.) The unvarnished disdain for Obama and the contempt for public discourse expressed is just astounding."

Yeah, God forbid your sit-com might get a delay in order to get information about how to plan to improve an economy which is tanking faster than a cement-shoed average Joe.

The Republican idea of reducing or eliminating assistance to states (most of which are in economic freefall as tax revenues fall and fall) is nonsense worthy of Alice in Wonderland and is soundly rejected here:

"The idea that it would be good for states to cut back in the midst of the recession is stupid. The idea that the recession won’t, absent federal aid, lead to layoffs of state employees such as teachers and firefighters is also stupid. But the idea that it’s simultaneously true that the reason we should eschew aid is that states need to cut back and also true that it’s fearmongering to warn of layoffs is doubleplus stupid. What does Ensign think cutbacks consist of? States will be reducing vital services. The cutbacks will have the immediate impact of reducing the incomes of laid-off families and beneficiaries of state programs. That will have an additional impact on businesses where the newly laid-off teachers and cops used to work.

And the reduced level of service will have its own bad economic impacts. Cutting back public safety budgets will mean fewer cops on the beat. That means more crime which will further reduce economic activity. State cutbacks to child care subsidies will make it harder for people who lose jobs to find and accept new ones. The cutbacks to mass transit services that are happening across the country will introduce additional rigidity into the labor market and reduce patronage of businesses that people are accustomed to reaching via transit. And in the most severe cases, cutbacks in assistant to the severely impoverished will have a decades-long impact on the well-being of their children."

Already cut from the stimulus projects:

• $10 million state and local law enforcement

• $50 million for NASA

• $122 million for Coast Guard polar icebreaker/cutters

• $100 million for Farm Service Agency modernization

• $50 million for aeronautics

• $50 million for exploration

• $50 million for Cross Agency Support

• $200 million for National Science Foundation

• $100 million for science

• $1 billion for Energy Loan Guarantees

• $1 billion for Head Start/Early Start

• $5.8 billion for Health Prevention Activity

• $2 billion for Health Information Technology Grants

• $600 million for Title I (No Child Left Behind)

• $16 billion for school construction

• $40 billion for state fiscal stabilization (includes $7.5 billion of state incentive grants)

$3.5 billion for higher education construction

Failed nominee for president Mitt Romney says to heck with spending on programs which will better educate, inspire scientific and economic development, improve energy efficiency -- he says the must would be best if it went to:

"And what better place to begin than repairing and replacing military equipment that was damaged or destroyed in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan?"

Gosh, how did this guy lose? He's an economic soooper-genius!

Here's a reality check - if your state and city and county cannot afford the necessities of public education or public safety or funds to insure the safety of bridges and roads, guess whose tax rates will go thru the roof?

The Center on Budget and Policy Issues writes:

"The Stabilization Fund would provide funds to partially close state and local budget shortfalls and allow states to avoid some of the most harmful actions they otherwise would have to take to meet their balanced budget requirements. In particular, it would help avert damaging cuts in state aid to education at a time when school districts are reeling from declines in property taxes caused by sinking property values. The economic recovery bill that the House passed includes a similar provision.

The Fiscal Stabilization Fund and the Medicaid assistance also provided in the bill together would fill less than half of projected state deficits for the next 2½ years. Diminution of the proposed funding would increase the extent to which states must take budgetary actions that are likely to undercut efforts to stimulate the economy."


"States are facing their worst fiscal crisis since the Second World War. The recession has reduced state revenues, while increasing the need for state services such as Medicaid. Forty-six states face budget deficits in the 2009 and/or 2010 state fiscal year, and state deficits are expected to total $350 billion through state fiscal year 2011.[1]

The state fiscal crisis is a direct result of the economic downturn. Before the downturn, states had amassed reserves totaling 11.5 percent of state spending. Moreover, total state spending, which fell sharply relative to the economy during the 2001 recession, remains below its fiscal year 2001 level as a share of the economy.

Because most states are required to balance their operating budgets, states with deficits are forced to cut spending and/or increase taxes. At least 39 states have enacted or proposed spending reductions.[2]

Among the budget cuts, 34 states have cut funding for elementary, secondary, and/or higher education or have proposed such cuts.

  • At least 20 states have implements cuts to K-12 and early education, and other five have proposed such cuts.

  • At least 27 states have implemented cuts in funding for public colleges and universities, and another three have proposed such cuts. The result is reductions in faculty and staff and tuition increases of 4 percent to 15 percent.[3] Tuition increases and cutbacks in faculty and enrollment reduce access to higher education for many low- and middle-income students.

When states cut spending, they lay off employees, cancel contracts with vendors, reduce payments to businesses and nonprofits that provide services, and cut benefit payments to individuals. All of these steps remove demand from the economy and compound the economic slowdown, counteracting the effects of the recovery bill. If states raise taxes to balance their budgets, the effects on demand are similar. The Stabilization Fund would help prevent further cuts to K-12 and higher education, as well as other critical state and local services.

How the Stabilization Fund Would Work. The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund creates two block grants. The larger block grant would provide $38.8 billion, be earmarked for education, and be allocated by each state’s population of individuals between the ages of 5 and 24. A portion of the funds would be dedicated to helping states maintain their education funding commitments; the remainder would flow directly to local school districts. The smaller block grant would provide $24.8 billion, allocated based on each state’s total population, to support other basic state services, such as public safety and law enforcement, services for the elderly and people with serious disabilities, child care, and the like.

The $39-billion block grant would provide vital protection for education funding. To receive either block grant, states would be required to fund both K-12 and higher education at no less than their fiscal year 2006 level. States could use the funds to help fulfill their commitments under their regular school funding formulas, which in most states would include increases in state funding to compensate for declining property values and property taxes on which most local school districts rely for funding.[4] In combination, these provisions would help to protect school districts and public colleges against the steep budgets cuts they otherwise would face.

The $25-billion block grant provides vital protection for other key services. Most of the assistance for states in the recovery bill is dedicated to either Medicaid or education. The sole piece not so dedicated is the smaller, $25-billion Stabilization block grant. States provide a wide range of other vital services that also are threatened by budget deficits, including public safety, corrections, and services for the elderly and disabled. State budget cuts in these areas, as well, reduce demand and increase unemployment, thereby deepening the recession.

  • At least 22 states plus the District of Columbia are cutting, or proposing cuts to, medical, rehabilitative, home care, or other services needed by low-income people who are elderly or have disabilities, or significantly increasing the cost of these services.[5]

  • Cuts in other states are reducing funding for law enforcement, programs to prevent child abuse, funding for homeless shelters, and the like.

  • Many states are cutting state aid to localities, which will reduce funding for local programs including police and fire protection, meals for the elderly, hospice care, and seniors’ services.

  • At least 36 states and the District of Columbia have made, or have proposed making, cuts affecting their state workforces, including layoffs.

The $25-billion grant can help to reduce the depth of the cuts states and localities will otherwise have to make, preserving essential services and jobs and sustaining economic demand.

Total fiscal assistance for states in the recovery bill will cover less than half of state deficits. The direct budget assistance to states in the recovery bill will cover less than half of the $350 billion in combined deficits that states are likely to face over the next two and a half years.[6] Besides the two Stabilization Fund grants totaling $64 billion, the bill includes an estimated $87 billion in Medicaid funding, which would help pay for Medicaid costs and avert Medicaid cuts. Together, these pieces add up to about $151 billion, or about 43 percent of expected state deficits. (States will also receive funding for infrastructure, but that is not fiscal relief that helps close holes in state operating budgets, which are the budgets that states must balance each year. States fund most infrastructure projects out of their capital budgets, which are separate.)

States would be required to spend the funds quickly. The Senate bill includes a provision requiring states that fail to spend any portion of a Stabilization grant within one year to return the unspent portion, which would then be redistributed to the other states. And while the bill allows grants to be made through September 30, 2010, states are likely to request their grants much earlier than that in order to address immediate budget needs. Some 43 states face mid-year deficits in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2009 in most states, and a comparable number of states face deficits for the next fiscal year, which generally runs from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. As a result, a large portion of the grants is likely to be spent within a year and a half of the bill's passage."

Fellow Tennessee blogger Southern Beale tries mightily to remind folks that the same plans being pushed now by Washington Republicans were pushed in 2001 and 2008 helped create the financial mess we are in now -- read her post here. As she notes:

"How is this not a repeat of the exact same failed policies of the past eight years?

Who are these Republican “moderates” and spineless Democrats and why have they not learned a thing from the past administration? Who are these people who insist on doing the same thing but expecting different results?

Jon at C&L reminds us of the Republican Party’s own $1.4 trillion economic stimulus of 2001. On Friday I reminded everyone of the Republican’s last great economic stimulus idea of 2008.

It didn’t work. We’re worse off now than we were then. Every person got a check for $600 and we’re still in the toilet.

Look, people can’t eat tax cuts. They can’t pay their rent with them. People don’t need just one check in their bank account: they need a regular paycheck, every two weeks, month after month, year after year.


The rather empty-headed arguments from Senate Republicans gets called out quite well courtesy of Rachel Maddow:

How much are Senators, such as failed presidential candidate John McCain, and Mitch McConnel willing to distort and warp facts - and just lie - in hopes of stirring up anti-Obama sentiment when it comes to aiding our economy? Let's call it the "Bee Insurance Lie".

It turns out that the Senate minority leader took his cue from Neil Cavuto of Fox News, who has been carrying on about the topic for more than a week. Their campaign was joined Tuesday by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who stood on the floor of the chamber challenging "any member to come and explain what that provision was."

I'm no senator, but I'm pleased to inform Vitter that it is, in fact, a disaster insurance program for all livestock producers. Beekeepers obviously would be minor beneficiaries next to, say, cattle ranchers, so it's a tad bit dishonest to label the whole program "honeybee insurance."

The provision simply continues a program enacted by Congress last year, overriding a veto by President Bush. In other words, the Senate voted on it twice in 2008 -- once to enact and once to override. Connoisseurs of political comedy will see the punch line coming: McConnell and Vitter voted yea both times.

So it turns out that McConnell isn't really against honeybees. He's only using them to pretend that he's got a principled objection to a stimulus plan aimed at pulling the country out of the most severe recession in decades.

The honeybees, and the rest of us, are merely collateral damage.