Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Left vs. The First Amendment

Could last week have gone any better?  And of course the icing on the cake was the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election CommissionGreat news for liberty and the First Amendment, but not so great news for the liberal blogosphere, as ekg’s “ corporatist dystopia demonstrates.  After reading her blog, I felt I had just read a science fiction story of a corporate controlled future, in which nation states no longer exist and only corporate allegiance survives.  “Me?  Why I’m a citizen of Microsoft!”


But who are these gigantic corporate oligarchs bent on buying and selling Congressmen like shares of penny stocks?  In this case, the corporate behemoth was Citizens United.   “CZ” as we hip kool kids like to inappropriately nickname everything, is an non profit conservative organization set up to distribute films and documentaries to promote conservative causes.  In this case, they intended to buy time to air their film, Hillary: The Movie on DirectTV.  The Federal Elections Commission found that running the movie and commercials for the movie was considered “electioneering” and prohibited both the commercials and the movie itself from being shown.


Now, I’m not some big city lawyer, just a simple country boy blessed with the common sense that God has seen fit to bestow upon all of his non-attorney children, so really that is already more information I need to know to decide in which direction to go on this decision.


The government banned a movie.


That really should be all that needs to be said about this.


Sadly though, in times like these, when the word freedom is generally interpreted to mean getting something for free, the plain language of the First Amendment…


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


…just doesn’t seem to be a good enough argument anymore.


Have we really slipped so far off our moorings that a law that allows the government to ban books if they have a hint of political advocacy within a certain time frame to a federal election is supported by much of the country?


My first amendment rights are fully protected if I want to create “art” of a crucifix in piss, or make a sculpture of Mary out of shit.  Why then, that calls for a NEA grant!  But political speech, which was the very core of the Founders intent in crafting the 1st amendment in the first place, should be regulated and banned?


I can’t imagine these same liberals would have felt that justice was being served if the FEC had banned Fahrenheit 911 from being shown in the 60 days leading up to the 2004 general election.  Apparently some right leaning legal group never thought of it, but up until the overturning of much of McCain–Feingold last week, that would have been perfectly legal to do.


A further irony is that McCain-Feingold explicitly exempts media corporations, such as major newspapers and broadcast companies.  These are corporations after all.  However specifically excluding them from McCain-Feingold is telling in itself.  Is it the government’s position that if they were not specifically excluded from the law, the FEC could regulate the coverage of media companies?  That’s why the canard about corporations being treated as people ring false to me.  The founders clearly didn’t intend that a newspaper owned as a joint stock company had no right to publish. That makes free expression a privilege granted by the government, not a right.  Equally ridiculous, if the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to corporations, does that mean the police require no warrant to search a company building?  Can a local government forbid a company from allowing prayer breakfasts on its premises?  Wouldn’t want a corporation treated like a person with the right to worship would we?



Although I think ekg’s vision of a return to the draft, banning of abortion, and evolution tossed out of the classroom in favor of the Old Testament is off the wall wacky, I can’t really predict what the long term results of this decision will be on the body politic. I don’t know that we will like the results.  However I know that I have to default to freedom.  This is not “hiding behind the 1st Amendment” or judicial activism, but a return to upholding the literal meaning of the 1st Amendment.

Liberals love to toss Ben Franklin’s warning of choosing security over liberty around as if they were playing catch in the backyard, but I’ve come to realize that they don’t really know what that means.  They will gladly toss freedom of speech over the side of the ship of state if they think they can accrue some short term political benefit from it. 


“Liberals” sure have changed.


I am sad that we’ve gone so far down the road away from liberty that this argument even has to be made.  Forty years ago, a liberal would have defined himself by how supportive he was of free expression.  No more.  Now he merely defines himself by what he hates.

For Sale! One Politician! Taking bids from any interest group.. any business..all offers considered. Supplies of politicians from local,state federal and even judicial are Unlimited! Bid high and bid often!

Well, it was nice while it lasted.

Now that the Supreme Court has made ‘whoring’ legal, we can all look around at the last time our Government wasn’t bought and paid for by big business.  Sure, there have always been politicians in the pockets of these groups  but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the politician that is specifically sponsored by some interest group like a  NASCAR driver or what can now be called, the “Future of politics in this country”.

Imagine, Big Tobacco gets tired of the FDA restrictions and bad publicity they’ve gotten.. what to do- what to do.. Now they have the answer, they hire X amount of politicians and pay for all the attacks ads and smearing propagandist movies  that they can and then run them 24/7 on every channel and in every paper they can find in the politicians area all the way up to election.. and on election day.. Viola! Instant game changer, now they have X amount of paid senators who will work to change the laws against tobacco so they can start to rehabilitation their selves with the new “Pro-Smoking” TV spots they will be allowed to run after their candidates trim a few laws in their favor.  If that doesn’t work? Hell, they’ll just buy  more candidates in the next election.

The 1st thing we’ll see to go are the Unions. That of course makes the GOP happy! In fact this decision has them squirming for joy right now, they are salivating and as we speak placing “For Sale” signs on their office doors. This is a republicans wet-dream and at 1st they will be extremely happy with their new toy. Eventually though they will come to find out what all whores find out, it’s not always easy fucking for money… sometimes you’re forced to do things with that creepy guy who smells bad and afterward you just feel dirty and used inside. But guess what? By that time it’s too late, even the GOP will be disillusioned when they realize Pandora’s box is opened and looking them in the eye, it’s just a shame they won’t be able to do anything about it.

We all know there are some people out there who can be bought for any price so what happens when that person is given unlimited funds to win an election? I’ll give you a hint: Sarah Palin Wins Presidential ElectionAs Alan Grayson said it will no longer be the senator from Iowa, it will now be the Senator from Exxon-Mobile.

So what can we look forward to and why is this a bad thing? Well for starters, after the Unions go then any Wall Street reform will be out the door as well and if we thought Wall Street was getting away with murder before… you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Think about it, before… groups like AIG or Bank of America were barred from spending too much money to directly influence an election.. but now the money we gave them to get back on their feet can go towards electing a Congressman who doesn’t believe Wall Street should have to pay anything back, or start loaning any money again, or  have any restrictions,checks or balances in any way..What’s that you say? You don’t like that idea? Well sorry my friend, you are just a single voter with limited funds.. AIG and BOA are now more important voters with billions to spend electing their chosen candidate. C’mon, do you really think your $25 dollar donation can compete with their $25 million? Of course  it can’t  so that means candidates will no longer listen to their constituents, they won’t have to.. they only have to listen to and help the interests of the big corporation who funded their campaign.

How does this change things? Ohh count the ways..

EPA? HA! Corporation can now buy candidates to lessens dumping restrictions.. the money they save from the loosened restriction can go towards buying more politicians.

FDA? Hey, hormone infused animals, irradiated produce and weeding out the ‘downer cows’ from the healthy ones all effect the bottom line.. In the ‘New world’  paid-for politicians can change FDA guidelines to help these companies and their bottom line. Not that their bottom line and our health go hand in hand and in fact they are mostly on opposite sides of the room, but look.. your $25 donation just doesn’t go as far as it used to.

New and untested drugs going on the market whenever the Big Pharma wants is another gift that’s been bestowed upon us by the infinite wisdom of John Roberts, Antonin Scalia,Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Anthony Kennedy.

Global warming Out! Pollution control out! Toxic dumping Out! Bad meat recall Out! Dangerous toy recall Out! Bad tires out!  Low cost housing Out! All social programs Out! Abortion and divorce Out! Reducing age limits on cigarettes and alcohol In! Reinstating the draft In! Drilling and strip mining In! Anti-trust laws Out! Monopolies In! Separation of Church and State Out! No prayers in school Out! Evolution in class rooms Out! Creationism In! Mom and Pop small town stores Out! Wal-mart on every corner In! Untested drugs In! Lawsuits against drug companies for knowingly testing unsafe material on the population Out! Reduction or banishment of minimum wage In! Low to no taxes on the rich and business In! Taxation without representation In! The middle class Out!

The list is endless, anything..anything any big corporation or special interest wants is now up for sale. The insurance conglomerates admitted to spending millions on ads to disprove the need for health reform. $20 million from 6 of the largest health insurers  was quietly being pumped  into third-party television ads aimed at killing or significantly modifying the major health reform bills moving through Congress. Now add another $100 million to buy a few politicians and what do you think the health debate will look like then? I see it as a war, a war over which Congressman can give the most to whichever insurance company pays the best. We the people? I laugh.. We don’t exit anymore.. how can we, we are single entities with limited funds going against massive blocks whose primary goal is not the best interest of the common man, but the best interest of the share-holder, and if buying a few dozen school board superintendents,mayors,governors,Congressmen, Judges  and a President increases the bottom line..then the CEO and Board members are required by law to do it. Now they have the pathway to accomplish it.

Hyperbolic fiction? Does it really matter now? You can’t do anything to change it even if this isn’t dooms-day, conspiracy, fiction.. do you get that part yet? It doesn’t matter anymore, the country can be bought and paid for by big business and interest groups and they have more money than you so there’s no stopping it now.  Think about this, Presidents select Supreme Court Justices, if Big Tobacco gets their paid-for President and Congress in.. they also get their Supreme Court Justice nominated.

According to the New York Times, during the last election cycled, the Fortune 100 companies alone had combined revenues of $13 trillion and profits of $605 billion. A third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years. Let’s say the largest corporations give an average of $10 million to each Senatorial Candidate. (Of course, to sway an election, it would be more in big states like New York, Texas and California, and less in small states Wyoming, Montana and Rhode Island.) That would be $3.3-$3.4 billion every two years. Let’s say they spent another $4 billion on the Presidential election every 4 years or an average of another $1 billion a year.

For less than 1% of their profits, the 100 largest corporations would likely be able to control the Senate and the Presidency, and through that, the Supreme Court. (This doesn’t even count contributions from the next 400 companies in the Fortune 500, or from slightly smaller corporations.) Good luck passing legislation to limit greenhouse gases, regulate insurance companies, or to reign in the power of the big banks.

So you see, it doesn’t matter if this is fictional bullshit or the reality waiting for us… nothing can be done to stop it from happening. It’s now trust we are to give companies like Big Tobacco,Big Oil, Big Pharma,Wall Street, Big Insurance and we all know they would never do a thing to harm us, they would never screw the public to better their bottom line and bonus’, would they…

We had a good run while it lasted.. But now? Well, corporatist dystopia here we come.

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Avatar in Black and White (and Blue)

Image by gunthert via Flickr

Christmas Day found my mother in law insisting that we all go to the movies to see Avatar; specifically the IMAX 3D version, but the IMAX Theater was all the way across town… whahh….  I was not averse to seeing the movie, far from it.  It was a movie I was waiting for.  But I would have been happy to see just the regular movie version much closer to where I live.


But… I would have been wrong.  Seeing that movie, in IMAX and 3D, is the only way to see it.  The movie’s raison d’etre is after all, visuals.  That’s the big selling point; something that looks fantastic on screen that you’ve never seen before.  On that basis, the movie fulfilled the hype.  The visuals are lush, fantastic, and certainly something much beyond what I’m used to seeing on the screen. It provides the perfect beauty of a painting with the realism of … well real life.  The visuals of the movie are art, in and of itself.


As for the story… well if you’ve already seen the movie, you know it.  In fact, if you haven’t seen the movie, you still know it.  It’s pulled intact from Hollywood’s grab bag of twenty or thirty standard movie plots.  If you’ve seen any Hollywood movies in your life time, then you’ve already seen this one.  Dances with Aliens is a pretty succinct description.  But good story telling is good story telling.  I enjoyed the movie immensely even knowing how the story would play out.  Knowing the formula doesn’t necessarily ruin a movie for me.  The fun is the journey.


But I didn’t see much more than that.  Good popcorn type fun, but others saw much more into the movie than I did.  Science Fiction author Steven Barnes, who wrote about the movie at the author’s website, had a more unique view of the movie, If Spike Lee had directed Avatar?  Although that seems to be a subject ripe for a Mad Magazine satire, to Barnes it brought up issues of light skinned Na’vi lording over the darker blue skinned ones.  I didn’t even notice if there were various shades of blue among the alien Na’vi.  My view of a Spike Lee directed Avatar would have included the Na’vi calling each other “motherfucker” a lot and including an ending that would be totally incomprehensible to me.


But what really struck me was a finally throw away line at the end of the piece:


Oh…and if Spike had directed Avatar, there would have been at least one black male character to identify with. Say…the other Avatar scientist? Maybe one of the support staff?


What made me marvel a bit at this line is that after watching the movie, I never realized nor had it occurred to me that there were no black characters in the film.  True Zoe Saldana was one of the major characters of the film, but she was in blueface for the entire film so her film character was that of the alien Neytiri.  Anyway, she’s Dominican so it’s unclear to me if she regards herself as Hispanic or as Black.  That’s a whole nuther kettle of fish.


But Barnes comment was a reminder to me of how on a day to day basis that white people are isolated from race.  In America, we live in a white world.  If you’re white in the US, you just don’t have to think about race that much.  If I turn on the TV, I don’t worry about finding someone on the screen to identify with.  Firstly, because there is no one like me, and secondly, being able to live so removed from race and racial issues, the odds are against me not finding a “character to identify with.”  For Barnes, the issue is probably in his face on an almost daily basis.


Thanks to the television of Norman Lear, I grew up watching shows with predominately black casts, such as The Jefferson’s, Sanford and Son, and Good Times.  At least as a child, I had no problem identifying with the characters.  But television, like me, grew up.  Television expanded from 4 or 5 channels in a metropolitan area to 30, 40, then 70 or more channels on cable television, not counting digital channels.  Thirty or forty years ago, everyone, black and white, watched the same shows.  Now both the television and movie audience is much more segregated.  There is a channel for every taste, and ethnic and racial group.  We are gaining in choice, but we are clearly losing something else.  Perhaps a common popular culture?


But maybe, just maybe, there was more to James Cameron’s vision than a casting oversight.  Among the “human” cast, actors Dileep Rao (Dr. Max Patel), Sigourney Weaver (Grace Augustine), and Michelle Rodriguez (Judy Chacon) were the only “good guys” in the film.  Other than Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully, all of the “white” males were bad guys.  Women and Asians were the good guys.  Given Cameron’s politics, that was probably intentional.  It rather fits into the story and Cameron’s worldview.  Maybe Barnes should be glad that black males were left off this list, although in a broader sense, he may have brought up a good point.  One that I would never have noticed if it hadn’t been pointed out to me.


Most stories, but particularly in science fiction, require a sympathetic character that we need to identify with in order to be drawn into the story and to introduce whatever strange world we are being introduced to.  But how much does that sympathetic character need to be like us in order for us to really empathize with him or her?  Do they have to have the same skin tone, the same sex?  And if the movie doesn’t provide that, is it a slap in the face to the viewers who don’t look like our protagonist? 


But I didn’t notice those things watching the film, but I’m pretty sure that if I had walked into that theater and every character had been black, I would have noticed.  The question I can’t answer is, would I have felt as excluded by that theoretical movie as Steven Barnes did from Avatar?


Maybe Spike Lee should take a crack at a remake…




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