Friday, February 25, 2011

Camera Obscura: Oscar Snark-Fest; HBO's 'Mildred Pierce'; Peace, Love and Bieber

Live-streaming from backstage at Sunday's Oscar awards, red carpet cams, and endless online access are all set via the Academy's main Oscars page here. With two young hosts, Anne Hathaway and James Franco pumping the show with snarky oh-so-hip-n-funny ad campaigns, this year's show certainly is opening up to younger viewers and all manner of online social networks, which will allow trolls and hecklers around the world to slop snark bait in real time in virtual arenas.

As a movie-holic, I almost always watch the show, which is sometimes worth watching and sometimes not. While this year's online acts seem interesting, it will be tough to top Ricky Gervais' savage satire on Hollywood at the recent Golden Globes.

One aspect of this year's nominees worth noting - there's plenty of class and economic warfare in the featured films. Odds are favoring "The King's Speech" but I find it nearly impossible to relate to the troubles and triumphs of monarchs. This weekend I'm really hoping that Greta Gerwig lands the Best Actress award at Saturday's Spirit Awards for her work in "Greenberg". Her performance was the best of the year.

On a more technical side - a recent short film exploring the low-tech but vital work of the Foley artist featuring Gary Hecker is a must see. As high-tech as movies have become, the art of creating the sounds that fill every scene and every movement is fascinating. Hecker's work in over 234 films - and in video games too - is profiled in the following video.

The film noir classic "Mildred Pierce" by novelist James M. Cain lands on HBO in late March as a 5-episode series starring Kate Winslet and Evan Rachel Wood as her daughter Veda. Directed by Todd Haynes, the new preview looks like 1930s technicolor and still keeps the grim and graphic tone of Cain's book. Cain, who also wrote "Double Indemnity" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice", expertly captured a visceral time in America, as social and personal roles were radically changing.


America's pop culture machine went into high gear this week reporting that singer Justin Beiber got a haircut. Teen pop stars have been making news for decades in America, but they seem to keep replaying the same things - for example, as noted at the always fascinating blog Cinebeats, at one time it was singer Bobby Sherman who was all the rage, and they include a hilarious peek at one of Bobby's comic book series, well worth a look.

Their post includes the following video of Sherman's first hit single, "Little Woman", and looking at it, I realized Bieber had the same haircut ... before his new adult look anyway. And dig those love beads. Groovy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Will The American Worker Do?

Tennessee - like Wisconsin and Indiana - is joining the battle against collective bargaining by unions, claiming it is a measure to reduce government spending. The state's teachers, already over-burdened with Federal demands and decreasing state revenues, certainly appear to be the first to find how bad of shape the American economy really is in.

And Tennessee, as in many other states, is pondering dropping guaranteed retirement benefits for those fortunate enough to have joined the program and instead switch to a 401(k) plan.

A recent Wall Street Journal reports, however, that those 401(k) plans won't really provide for much, while the program was worth trillions of dollars to money managers and financial planners:

Initially envisioned as a way for management-level people to put aside extra retirement money, the 401(k) was embraced by big companies in the 1980s as a replacement for costly pension funds. Suddenly, they were able to transfer the burden of funding employees' retirement to the employees themselves. Employees had control over their savings, and were able carry them to new jobs.

They were a gold mine for money-management firms. In 30 years, the 401(k) went from a small program to a multi-trillion-dollar industry supporting thousands of financial planners and money managers.

But a 401(k) also requires steady, significant savings. And unlike corporate pension plans, which are guaranteed by the U.S. government, 401(k) plans have no such backstop.

The government and employers aren't going to pay more for people's retirements. Unless people begin saving earlier and contributing more to their 401(k) plans, advisers say, they are destined to hit retirement age with too little money."

It's clear that for decades now, an individual's salary and benefits have been on dead end roads - salaries remain flat, health care costs exploded, and retirement funds shriveled in the economic collapse.

I understand the anger of many in Wisconsin and Tennessee, who see enormous gaps between what an individual can create financially with income and benefits and what state-backed employees can create. But rather than wanting everyone to pay more - why aren't they demanding that private sectors offer the same advantages? Do government plans get a massive break because companies then seek some returns through legislation, which is the one thing a private sector company cannot do - make laws?

Southern Beale has been quite eloquent on this topic lately:

"It doesn't make sense unless your entire worldview is based on the idea that everything is peachy when workers are slaves to their employers, that all of the power should be handed up to big business and workers should be silent and take what lumps of coal they are given. You know, I get why billionaire corporate elites think this way, but I don't get why anyone else does."

The job market is a bloody mess, salaries for the middle class aren't middle class salaries, retirement is becoming more and more elusive, hacking away at how much government spends will surely make millions realize that government spending has been the one thing keeping personal and state finances stay afloat, and negotiations between workers and owners has stalled. And those who are seeking jobs - no one wants to hire the unemployed.

I'm beginning to think that I better drop all my current plans and get licensed as a government lobbyist, as that's the one job safe from cutbacks and since everyone is arguing louder and longer about every aspect of private and public life. Oops, wait, their spending is winding down, to only about 3 and a half billion a year. Seems the one hope for lobbyists and government is to continue arguing so they can all keep their jobs.

What will the American worker do?

BONUS: Graphs depict depressing state of American jobs and income, such as the following depiction of what people think about wealth, where the money actually is, and what some would like income levels to be:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rep. Don Miller's Legislation Lacks Jobs Plan, Attacks Unions Instead

Elected to the Tennessee General Assembly last fall, State Rep. Don Miller of Morristown has not been front and center in the news. So finding out what he's been working on, what bills he has submitted and supported -- you'll have to dig that out on your own.

Fortunately, the state's General Assembly website offers a brief peek at his proposals.

Removing the rights of union members is a priority for Rep. Miller.

For instance, his bill, HB1833, would make it a crime for any state employee to engage in a strike or "work stoppage". As of this date, there is not a summary of the bill introduced other than a one-line summation. But have strikes crippled Morristown, Hamblen County or Tennessee in recent years? Why make a legitimate form of free speech a crime?

He's a co-sponsor of HB0130, which "abolishes teachers' unions ability to negotiate terms and conditions of professional service with local boards of education." As with the legislation creating chaos in Wisconsin, the proposal is aimed at outlawing collective bargaining. But unlike Wisconsin, this isn't meant to curb collective bargaining on insurance premiums or pensions, but all negotiations.

I fail to see how deconstructing labor unions will create jobs in this community -- and creating jobs was supposed to be a priority, according to what remains of his political campaign online.

Another bill he's introduced, HB1837, would change the law to allow for the Morristown Utility Commission to sell cable and internet service 10 miles outside of their service area ... I suppose that might mean a few extra jobs for the utility company.

Mostly all I'm seeing from Rep. Miller is that he is working for the national Republican party, as they create ways to remove rights from labor unions and workers, and attempt to stall the Health Care Reform Act. I suppose, as a newcomer to the political landscape, he has to, as they say "dance with the one that brought him to the dance".

State Senator Steve Southerland, meanwhile, has introduced legislation to redefine the legal definition of "rickshaw" in Tennessee. A long list of all legislation he has introduced is here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Week In Review - Feb 12-19, 2011

- Singer Billy Ray Cyrus tells GQ magazine that the Hannah Montana Show "destroyed his family". Yet another case of how television, music, fame, wealth, dual and triple identities, divorce, success, and friends will eat your goodness.

- Espranza Spalding wins the Best New Artist Grammy award, proving that jazz is way cooler than pop music. New fans rush to listen to her music for free on the internet since radio only plays uncool things.

- South Dakota politician Phil Jensen introduces and then withdraws legislation to legalize the murder of doctors.

- Tennessee state Senator Stacey Campfield introduces legislation to outlaw the presence of dogs in cars unless they wear seat belts, have insurance, can pass a driver's license test (in English) and do not say the word "gay" out loud. As a commenter at Sen. Campfield's blog says "Now if you can just get them to stop talking/texting on their phones."

- Republicans in Washington sharpened their cutting knives on the current budget year to slash funding for education, job training, food safety, community development and health center funds -- but decided to approve $7 million dollars for the military to advertise on decals for NASCAR. (Congressman John Boehner continues to claim "We're broke!!") A member of Congress who opposed the funding received death threats for her opposition.

- We learned this week that breastfeeding is a Socialist plot to destroy America, according to presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann, who also admitted she did breastfeed all her children, but now is against it because a mother might get a tax break if they breastfeed. Since the government already is the world's largest buyer of infant formula (to replace breastfeeding) then opposing the tax savings idea will insure the government spends more money ... wait, what?? Is Bachmann fighting big government or supporting it??

- In Pennsylvania, a former juvenile court judge was convicted Friday of racketeering in a case that accused him of sending youth offenders to for-profit detention centers in exchange for millions of dollars in illicit payments from the builder and owner of the lockups.

- An "end-times prophet" joins Glenn Beck to warn Fox News viewers that the protests over collective bargaining in Wisconsin really mean President Obama is the Antichrist. Also, it turns out that Abraham Lincoln was really a vampire hunter. Whoops, sorry, that's just a new movie in production now.

- A man in Buffalo, N.Y. was acquitted of charges that he was marinating his cat so he could eat it. Turns out the cat got into some garbage and the owner was taking the cat to be washed and groomed.

- Sales of soup are down, while sales of mac and cheese and pizza are on the rise.

- PICTURE OF THE WEEK - A celebration of the birthday of Korea's Kim Jong-il with synchronized swimmers (via Time).