Friday, November 10, 2017

Tax Silly Season in Congress

  
An inside view of deliberations in the Congressional Joint Committe on Taxation.

In the movie Animal House, they used to yell "Food Fight" at random times, and everyone would throw food at each other. It made no sense, and there was no rhyme or reason to it. That is the same decision making process for having a tax cut. It's completely random and makes no sense. Our federal government operates at a large deficit that almost all economists regard as dangerous and unhealthy. There is no surplus to give away in the form of a tax cut. 
     The money has already been spent and we have to borrow to cover existing obligations. It's pathological to believe that Americans can just vote themselves additional money, without consequences to the stability of the economy and money supply.  The Congressional Budget office says that the current tax plan will increase the deficit by $1.7 TRILLION DOLLARS in the next ten years.  Is that sound fiscal policy? 
    Congress needs to cut spending and increase revenue. They don't have the stomach to do either one, and instead inculcate the belief that federal spending is free of cost to the American people.  Thus, they plan to destabilize the country by giving away tax cuts like Halloween candy, while also increasing spending on worthy projects such as wars in the Middle East.  Last time we did this, the economy almost imploded and we needed a trillion dollar bailout of the banks in 2008-2009. Here we go again.... 


Sunday, November 5, 2017

THOR SMASH! HULK SMASH! SMASH HIT!

Thor and Hulk get the opportunity to let off some steam.  

Thor rages and Hulk smashes in the latest of a series of entertaining Marvel movies.  Thor:  Ragnarok is very original and unlike any other superhero movie.   I give them an A for originality, though some of the scenes fall flat individually.  But I would rather see a new original movie rather than watch a re-hash of Batman  . 

Thor has a self deprecating sense of humor, not unlike some of Shakespeare's comedies in which the characters make snide comments to the audience.  In addition, the characters in this movie all have kind of a nerdy Monty Python sense of humor.   This gives the movie a very different feel than previous superhero movies. 

Marvel movies also do a very good job of providing three dimensional bad guys, rather than the stereotypic super-despot who wants to rule the world (see Dr Evil in Austin Power movies for the character profile of moviedom bad guys).  Ragnarok introduces us to several types of evildoers with different motives and a different blend of good and evil characteristics.  

One thing that troubles me is Superhero movies all (all!) have fight scenes like Rocky 2.  Superhero movies have more colorful special effects, but still, a lot of punches land on both sides, but the good guy usually can take one more punch than the bad guy.   Thor and Hulk are not quite as predictable as Rocky.  Still, somebody needs  to create  a different choreographic approach for the next one.  The fight scenes need to be less predictable.  

As far as acting is concerned, Chris Hemsworth is so good that Thor should have been cast to play Chris Hemsworth.  Jeff Goldblum plays Jeff Goldblum in this movie, which is a totally off-the-wall concept.  Jeff is not going to earn an Oscar for his performance in this one, but his uneven performance is outweighed by the originality of the character.  I won't tell you everyone who is in the movie because some of it will come as a surprise.  I will say that Cate Blanchett is an incredibly good actress, and very likely you will be impressed by her performance as one of Thor's Asgardian relatives.  

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, and I just want to assure my young friend George G. that Hulk does indeed SMASH. 

Thor and Hulk reflect on their new life as cosmic gladiators. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

I am SO OLD SCHOOL on this NFL National Anthem Protest Thing

Boy, am I old school on this NFL protest thing. First I was an old school protester, some 40 plus years ago, wanting to desegregate the schools. Back in the day, we always had a purpose for a protest. For example, we wanted to desegregate a school system, or stop the war in Viet Nam, or end Jim Crow practices, or stop polluting the air, or whatever. The protest organizers were usually thoughtful people who had a specific agenda. You might not have agreed with it, but there was a rhyme and a reason for it.
Not so today. Today, it's about being on TV and getting lots of "likes" on social media. We want to "call attention" to issues, without proposing a solution. So, yeah, I'm old school. It is a crock to have a protest just to get on TV.
Now let me fast forward to the 1980s. I served in the US military during that decade, and came to respect the flag and the institutions that it stands for. One of those is the US Constitution, which guarantees you and me the Right to Assemble and the Right to Free Speech. That's the First Amendment to the US Constitution, by God. It's okay if I don't agree with you. You want to demonstrate for some stupid cause of your choosing, fine. I was committed to fight and kill those who would try to take away that right from you. That's what it meant when I wore the uniform. That's Old School. So no, I'm not aghast if kids want to have a do-nothing protest. But I'm not impressed either.
That brings me back to the NFL protest. I think these kids are well intentioned, but they have no idea what they are doing, other than getting on TV. They are getting TV attention by embarrassing the NFL and insulting the flag. To me it's really stupid to damage your employer in order to make a point. Would I protest against my employer in Ohio because police in some other town did something bad? Of course not. I might be willing to work for more police training or something like that, but I don't see how punishing my employer advances that cause. Protest against the NFL if the NFL is at fault. Don't protest against the NFL for what someone else is doing.
There are a lot of things that could be done to improve race relations, police/community relations, police training and other concrete issues. Protesting the National Anthem does not do much to advance those causes, other than getting people invitations to TV talk shows. Ho hum.
But there I go thinking Old School again. Accomplishing something via a protest movement is Old School. The New School is just about getting publicity on TV and social media, while doing absolutely nothing to affect police recruitment and training at the local community level.

Mr. Kaepernick, you want to exercise your FIrst Amendment RIghts? Knock yourself out, man.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Mitch McConnell Harder to Get Along with than Donald Trump

   
Obstruct, obstruct obstruct.  It didn't stop when a Republican was elected President, did it?  If you want to drain the swamp, here is the swampmeister. 

    The American politician who is the most difficult to get along with may not be President Trump after all.  It may be Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.  
    First of all, I called my shot.  Back in January 2016, the Village Elliot predicted both a Trump victory and a strong Sanders candidacy:




The week after Trump was elected, I also predicted  that the President would not be able to get any meaningful legislation on his desk.  My belief was that the Mitch McConnell (and let's give Paul Ryan some credit also) policy of 100% obstruction of President Obama's agenda would carry over to the new Administration.  Check it out: 



You know what?  I was right.   I don't want this article to seem like I am touting President Trump's diplomatic skills, other than in comparison with Senator McConnell's.  
     Senate Republicans could not get along with President Obama; could not get along with Senate Democrats when the Dems were in the majority (highest partisanship and frequency of straight party-line voting in history), and now they still can not get along with Democrats, and they can not get along with the Republican President either. Senator McConnell is the most ineffective personality in US politics.   

Even though President Trump is the most antagonizing and divisive personality in the White House in history, he was able to carry out a bipartisan deal, whereas Senator McConnell could not. Moreover the Senator whined like a child because  the system worked the way it is supposed to.  Is that the best the Republicans can do? 

President Trump, for all the outrageous things he has done, has nevertheless been able to work with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.  This minor diplomacy has been far beyond the capabilities of supposed political mastermind McConnell. 

The Republican agenda is untenable.  There has to be a better health care plan besides destroying the healthcare insurance system and giving more money to the richest Americans in the form of tax breaks.   Tax reform is going to again give money to rich Americans, while deliberately destabilizing the American economy by increasing the deficit. I'm all about fiscal restraint and limited government, but that is not what this is.  Senator McConnell has led the Republican party far, far astray from its roots, or indeed any credible form of government.  

   A few Republicans have broken ranks with McConnell publicly.  My suspicion is that many more have voiced serious concerns to him in private. 

     The fact is, Mitch McConnell can not cut a deal with anyone.  Not with the Democrats.  Not with his own Republicans.  Not with a Democratic President.  Not with a Republican President.

    Can we please get someone else in his place?  


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What Does Russian Meddling Really Mean?



     American politics and news media are going ape over Russian Meddling in the 2016 elections.  It's not just Democrats.   Senator McCain and former Vice President Cheney have called it an "act of war." Okay great, I can get behind a war with Russia that destroys the entire universe, but first I want to find out what exactly this "act of war" actually is.   "Meddling" has no strict definition. So perhaps we should turn to specific actions.  
     
    Things we know the Russians do and have done include 

    a.  Creating fake Facebook and other social media personalities, in order to spread false information.  The Russians are not as good at is the Republicans and Democrats, but that is not the point.  

      b.  Making up fake stories and disparaging information about American politicians.  Again, we do a better job of this than the Russians.  

        c.  Hacking different political sites.  The feds say that they are the ones that hacked the DNC and released emails from Hillary Clinton, leading to confusion.   The emails for the most part are legit, it's just the timing that was objectionable.  
    
    What has not happened, as far as I can tell, is Russian sponsored voter registration fraud.  Zero fake voters creating fake votes.  Zero hacked voting machines or vote counting software.  The Russians did not hand the election over to Donald Trump, as implied by Hillary Clinton.   
     I'm not even sure if any of this is a crime.  Possibly hacking is illegal, but spreading lies about political candidates is an American pastime.  My favorite was an email alleging that John McCain fathered an illegitimate child with an African American woman.  However, this was done by the Bush campaign during the 2000 primaries, not the Russians, and it was totally legal because it was done in the form of a question.  Rather than putting Republicans in jail for spreading lies about a candidate, we stand up and applaud.  
     We used to call obtaining information illegally "spying" and yet Russia does it to us and we do it to them.  We even spy on our so-called allies in Europe.  In that sense, the US "meddles" in elections of other countries, and probably even hacks computers in other countries, and Russia does that also.  But that is not new or out of the ordinary.  
    Is this really worth starting a war over?  Killing a multibillion dollar economic deal?  It would be different if it were found that the Russians committed voter fraud in America  or hacked the vote tallying process.  But that has not occured as far as anyone this side of Hillary Clinton can tell.  
    For some "meddling" is so terrible that war with Russia may be the only solution to alleviate our national humiliation. Maybe someday they will get their way.  But if by some miracle the world survives a third World War, people are still going to make fake Facebook personalities.  

Hello! Captain Jack Sparrow, please, not Comedian Jack Sparrow

 I hope for the sixth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, we get to see Captain Jack Sparrow again.  Some of this character has been lost.   In the early Pirates movies, Captain Jack was a lying, conniving con man and philanderer, and it was funny to watch him try to con his way out of difficult predicaments.  But he was still the Captain, and his crew loved him and (usually!) would gladly follow him to the ends of the earth.  That was cool.  


Johnny Depp is a Great Actor!  Just not nearly as great as he thinks he is.  


     Later on, the Captain gave way to Comedian Jack Sparrow.  The problem is, when you let Johnny Depp do whatever he wants, that's what he does.    Now, when Jack faces a life threatening predicament, his first priority is to make a joke and create an amusing facial expression, rather than saving his life.  That is a huge distraction.   
       It's very hard to worry about Jack's life, when Jack himself does not worry about dying.  The same can be said for his Co-Star in Dead Men Tell No Tales, Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario).  "Ah, facing an imminent painful death, eh?  Well let us engage in witty repartee!"   
    The jokes were not that funny, and at least in the theater I attended, no one laughed. 
      Still the reason I liked Dead Men Tell No Tales was that we did catch a glimpse of the Captain, when  (SPOILER ALERT)  he has a flashback to a brilliant naval maneuver he once used when being chased by a heavily armed attacking ship.
        It's not that the Captain can not be funny, it's just that being funny should not be the focus of the film.  He's supposed to be a Captain of a Pirate ship, rather than a guest on a talk show.
      I hope we can see more of that charismatic leader next time, and less of the B-rated comedian.    )
 



Saturday, July 15, 2017

War of the Planet of the Apes--Off Beat But Entertaining

The Shakespearean Cast of War of the Planet of the Apes
I am definitely willing to suspend my disbelief and accept the premise that in some apocalyptic world, apes may be as smart as humans.  Heck, I think they could give our Congress a run for their money right now.  It's part of a long running series of movies that have mainly flopped, but they keep making enough money to pay for the next generation of gorilla suits.  The latest installment is quirky and thin on plot, but I was interested in the movie all the way through.  Not better than Wonder Woman, but maybe close to Spider-Man.  
     Surprisingly the acting is at a very high level, and it is possible to really believe in the characters even though they all are apes.  They are engaged in a battle with humans, and struggle with their temptation to give into racism (specie-ism?).  I didn't think it was a war though.  You're supposed to believe that there are almost no humans or apes left in the world after a series of apocalyptic events.  Still, the main drama involves a small group of apes, and maybe a battalion of humans.  I found that confusing.  Why is a battle with just a few characters considered a world war?   Meanwhile we find out that there is some other group of humans left, probably the Russians, though they never really do much in the movie.  
     But okay, if you're willing to settle for a Battle for a county involving apes and humans, it's a decent movie.  It could just as well be a cowboys and Indians movie, with the Cowboys tending towards treachery, and the Indians showing much higher morality.    

     You could also draw a parallel with Hogan's Heros, in which the humans play the part of the Nazis.  They are mainly bad, but not very bright and do a lot of dumb things that allow the apes to take advantage of them.  To some extent the apes are also kind of dumb.   I mean if you take some of them prisoner, maybe next time you will remember to post a guard to prevent them from plotting an escape.  
   
       The movie succeeds as a drama, probably not Oscar material, but not that far from it either.  As a science fiction story it's a bit of dud because the story line is weak.  The battle scenes are fairly realistic, and there may be some blood and guts spilled.  Maybe your ten year old doesn't need to see that.  But if you like science fiction, apes, cowboys vs Indians and Hogan's Heroes, you will like this movie. Overall I give it a B.