The Post

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The Post

**

 

After the indefensible disaster of the Iraq War, we are not as quick to trust politicians when they try to get involved in foreign conflicts.

In 2013, President Obama tried his best to rally our support for war when Syrian President Assad defied Obama’s Line in the Sand. We were just about to go to war against Damascus and possibly Russia when the American people resoundingly and smartly rose up against it.

So… what is a militarist regime to do when its people don’t trust it and are sick of war? Battle secretly, of course!

The US is still actively involved in Libya. Our bombing raids destroyed a stable, anti-Islamist, pro-minority regime and replaced it with chaos, Al-Qaeda, and a return to the slave trade. And we’re still there finding new ways to mess the place up.

Our military has been working hand in hand with Saudi Arabia to decimate Yemen since 2015. It never bothered to tell us why.

There are US boots in Pakistan even though it is not even clear whether the regime in Islamabad is our ally or a pro-Taliban, pro-terrorism arch enemy.

There is an enduring military and CIA presence in Chad, Congo, Ethiopia and Somalia. They figure that you don’t know where those countries are and don’t care how many people we kill there.

Oh, by the way, the military is still meddling in Syria, too, even though we told them not to.

THE story of the Obama years was how the War on Terror went underground. But it wasn’t covered because the Establishment Media is shameless and terrible.

 

Apparently, that was not always the case.

Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” tells the semi-gripping story of how the feisty editor (Tom Hanks) and the brave publisher (Meryl Streep) of the Washington Post defied the Nixon Administration and published the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

The Pentagon Papers were a secret report by then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara that explored the consequences of American actions in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.

The two most damning aspects of the Pentagon Papers was the revelation that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson actively lied to the American people about what was really happening in Vietnam. And the upsetting fact that the military agreed that the war was unwinnable as early as 1965 but sent two million more men there, anyway.

We are supposed to feel like the Washington Post reporters were brave to publish the Pentagon Papers because the Nixon White House had filed a court injunction trying to criminalize the publication of military secrets.

Spielberg tried to spin this into a life and death battle for the free press. It wasn’t. It was little more than an ill-conceived dirty trick by the White House against hostile newspapers that Nixon feared were working to destroy him. He was dead right, by the way.

The more compelling drama comes from publisher Kay Graham’s difficult decision to betray her close friends Lady Bird Johnson and Robert McNamara by making them look bad in her newspaper.

“The Post” is an awkward failure by an aging director who may be losing his edge for good. Every conclusion that Spielberg makes is either childishly obvious or completely wrong.

His primary argument is that the Pentagon Papers marks the end of the era where newspaper bigwigs befriended and protected politicians.

The last decade proves that this is total hogwash. The press kept silent about the secret wars of the Obama years because it adored the President.

And if American reporters ever decide to shine a spotlight on the lies and abuses of our military and CIA, it will not be because they care about the lives of brown and black people. It will be because they want to destroy a President who refuses to be friends with them.

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Saving Capitalism

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Saving Capitalism

**1/2

 

The year was 1993. President Clinton nominated his old college pal Robert Reich as Labor Secretary.

Mr. Reich wasn’t just another juiced-in Friend of Bill with big pockets. Reich was a man of character and vision. He still is.

Secretary Reich understood the relationship between the government and the economy more clearly than his contemporaries.

At the time, Conservatives consistently clamored for less Federal intervention. They perceived government as the natural enemy of the free market. Liberals at the time, meanwhile, viewed government as the heroic police officer that stepped in and stopped rapacious businesses from getting their way.

Reich knew what we know now: both sides were preposterously wrong.

There is no free market. There is always government. Government sets the rules of capitalism in each country. But the rules aren’t always anti-business. Far from it. There are times when a government makes rules that are outrageously pro-business.

To Robert Reich, our economy is like an NFL game between two AFC powerhouses. There are always referees. You can’t have the game without them. But there is a serious problem when the referees rule that the go-ahead fourth quarter touchdown is an incomplete pass. Because then the refs have basically handed the game to one team. And now everyone is starting to lose faith in the sport.

The refs are the government. The New England Patriots are big corporations. And the Pittsburgh Steelers – the poor fools who had their winning touchdown stolen away in Week 15 – are the American workers.

For Secretary Reich, the solution was simple: next time there was a big rule change in Washington, he needed to make sure the new rule was NOT written by lobbyists for Bill Belichick.

Simple is not the same as easy. Reich completely failed. He resigned in quiet frustration in 1997.

Mr. Reich is too polite and loyal to explicitly say it, but he subtly admits the ugly truth: when it came to twisting the rules to give big business more power, Clinton was like Reagan on steroids. Corporate sponsored steroids.

“Saving Capitalism” – as the name suggests – doesn’t condemn capitalism at all. It states that the biggest threat to our glorious economic system is resentment caused by wealth inequality. And wealth inequality is caused by too much corporate money influencing Washington.

It’s a reasonable premise. Robert Reich is a reasonable man. I must warn you, my leftist readers, you may be horrified as he talks to Republican congressmen and lobbyists as if they are fellow human beings worthy of living. Indeed, you may faint when Reich chats with Trump voters and suggests that they are essentially on his side – the side of anti-Trust government action and populist reform.

His premise is reasonable. His dialogue with all sides is reasonable. His conclusion is idiotic.

Robert Reich concludes – quixotically – that if people get politically active we can turn the tide of history. We can boot big money out of Washington. We can change the rules and turn the Patriots into a .500 team again.

Reich is dead wrong. He was Secretary of Labor for a Democratic President with a Democrat-controlled Congress before Citizens United. And he accomplished nothing. Now he is suggesting that getting out the vote is going to solve our problems. Ha.

Downsizing

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Downsizing

*1/2

 

Around 1900, progressive dreamers wrote a series of Utopian novels, sharing their vision of a perfect Socialist future.

One thing that they all had in common is communal living. In the perfect future, they assumed, people would live together in large apartment complexes.

Communal living is just rudimentary common sense. It saves lumber, brick, and steel. It saves electricity. It saves fuel because people are close to town and closer to work. It saves heating oil.

Somewhere in the 20th Century, this efficient communal ideal was tossed in the garbage and was replaced by the ideal that a respectable American has to live in a house.

Nothing, it seems, can shake the ideal of the single-family home.

It has been proven that home ownership primarily benefits big banks, oil companies, IKEA, and Home Depot. It doesn’t make the people who live inside the houses happier – just more indebted.

But check out any commercial during the playoff games this weekend. Whether they are selling Fabreze, Fritos, or Pharmaceuticals, the smiling Americans in the ads are all living in spacious single-family houses. It’s as if apartment dwellers or people who share their houses with renters are too poor or too uncivilized to even show on television.

 

“Downsizing” shows us a 21st Century Utopia where almost everyone can afford to buy a house in cash.

In writer/director Alexander Payne’s imaginative new world, people have the choice to undergo an irreversible procedure that reduces their size by approximately 99%.

Living a new life at 5 inches tall is extremely appealing to two very different types of people: environmentalists who want to leave a smaller carbon footprint. And hedonists who want to enjoy all the finer things in life (diamonds, drugs, and mansions) for a fraction of the price of regular-sized people.

Alexander Payne’s point is that people are eager to buy any product that makes them feel like they are saving the planet or keeping up with the Joneses. But they aren’t willing to do the one thing that will actually lead to environmental conservation and happiness: stop wanting more things.

If Payne had nailed this point home and given us a few laughs along the way, “Downsizing” would have been an American classic. But he takes the film in a very different direction. “Downsizing” is full of surprises, but each surprise takes the story further off course.

Matt Damon’s lead character is so boring and bland that you never care whether he finds himself.

Matt Damon was once a great movie star with a cool sense of humor. Now he seems more and more like the dense marionette caricature version of him from “Team America: World Police.” When Damon isn’t educating us about the difference between butt slapping and sexual assault (wow, thanks Matt!), he is making lousy movies. What was his last decent film? 2006’s “The Departed” maybe?

 

“Downsizing” is an over-long, unfocused bummer of a film. I haven’t felt this ripped off since that time that I foolishly bought a house.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

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Star Wars

Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

****

 

2015’s “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” was a horrible movie.

To me, it was easily the worst Star Wars installment to date. I’ve watched all the other episodes dozens of times. I tried watching “The Force Awakens” a second time at home and I turned it off after fifteen boring minutes.

When Disney bought the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas for $4 billion, I figured that there would be some greedy, uninspired Star Wars flicks. But, honestly, I never imagined that it was possible to make one as childishly bad as JJ Abrams’s Episode VII.

 

Star Wars is back. “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” is a splendid adventure that is worthy of the Star Wars name.

“The Last Jedi” begins with the good guys in a bad spot. The Resistance is outnumbered and outgunned by the evil First Order. All the rebels want to do is retreat and regroup in order to fight another day. And it isn’t easy. The film is essentially “Dunkirk” in space.

Meanwhile, Rey – the new Resistance hero – has traveled to the far reaches of the galaxy to enlist Luke Skywalker in the fight. But Luke isn’t interested in fighting.

Luke isn’t just retired, he is cynical. In my favorite scene, Luke Skywalker rails against the Jedi for losing to the Emperor. He rightly observes that the Jedi failed as leaders due their lack of vision and their hubris. The Jedi were so certain that they were in the right that they waged a self-destructive war that ended the Republic.

 

“The Last Jedi” is everything “The Force Awakens” failed to be. “Force” was an action flick; “Jedi” is a philosophy-filled drama. “Force” was an improbable story of underdogs winning against all odds; “Jedi” is a story of underdogs failing again and again.

JJ Abrams’s Kylo Ren was the worst thing about “The Force Awakens” and the worst villain in Star Wars history.

Kylo Ren is reborn in “The Last Jedi” as an interesting character. You believe that he’s powerful. You believe that he’s conflicted. You see him harnessing the Dark Side of the Force to feed his mad ambition. I can’t wait to see what he does in Episode IX.

 

“The Last Jedi” is so darn solid that you could almost be fooled into thinking that “The Force Awakens” served a purpose. With his disgraceful stupidity, JJ Abrams showed Disney everything NOT to do when making a Star Wars film.

As Yoda explains: “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

The Hateful Eight

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The Hateful Eight

***1/2

 

Some people interpret “Thou shalt not bear false witness” to mean that God prohibits lying completely.

I’m not so sure. I think that it makes more sense that the 8th Commandment is intended to condemn those who have sworn to tell the truth in a specific circumstance and then lie. Perjury=breaking a commandment. Lying=not great, but what are you going to do?

Lies are like Dollar Stores. They’re everywhere. They’re bad. The world would be better without them, but there’s no sense in trying to stop them entirely. The best thing a wise person can do is learn to spot them and deal with them.

Someday you’ll get a pop up on your computer or a call from someone who says that your computer is infected with viruses.

If you don’t recognize that the “Microsoft” guy on the other end of the phone is lying, you will be giving him your credit card number and you’ll rightly feel like a fool.

The consequences of gullibility in that case is $200. In Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” the consequences of believing lies is swift violent death.

 

The story begins in a covered wagon plodding through the Wyoming snow circa 1875. All four passengers (Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Coggins, and Samuel L Jackson) are on their way to the town of Red Rock. But they may never get there.

Because of a blinding blizzard, the four hearty old westerners end up stopping for night at Minnie’s Haberdashery. But Minnie isn’t there, four unknown men are. Our eight anti-heroes need to be smart about who they trust or they won’t live through the night.

If you like Agatha Christie-style whodunnits and don’t mind hearing the n-word every three minutes, you’ll love “The Hateful Eight.”

Quentin Tarantino’s best film, “Pulp Fiction,” was about the supernatural power of faith. The two lead characters who follow their moral instincts – Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson – survive. Meanwhile, John Travolta ignores a miracle and dies ignominiously.

“The Hateful Eight” puts a dark spin on the same theme. In Tarantino’s post-Civil War America, God has turned the other way. There are no miracles and there are no moral people. There are only savvy men and gullible corpses.

In the film’s most memorable scene, Samuel L Jackson’s character tries to infuriate an old Confederate General with a vivid, lurid tall-tale. It’s fairly obvious to us that Jackson’s story is made up. The General partly understands it, too. All he needs to do is control his foolish instincts to believe what he is told and he will live…

“The Hateful Eight” isn’t Tarantino’s best. But even mediocre Tarantino films contain more memorable dialogue and outrageous comedy than anything else out there.

 

In this deception-filled world, learning to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not is one of the greatest skills you can have. And that’s no lie.

 

 

 

 

Cuba and the Cameraman

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Netflix Original Documentary

Cuba and the Cameraman

***1/2

 

In the 20th Century, leftists around the world were rooting for Revolutionary Cuba.

Cuba was the best chance of having a classless, Socialist Utopia in the Western Hemisphere. If Cubans could succeed while thumbing their noses at the decadent Americans at the same time, all the better.

Cuba became a political Rorschach Test. Conservative critics pointed to the thousands of political prisoners who never received a trial and the overcrowded boats filled with desperate refugees. Michael Moore, on the other hand, concluded that Cuba’s free healthcare system is more efficient and humane than our own.

Well, the debate is over. In his epic documentary “Cuba and the Cameraman,” journalist Jon Alpert has proven that Cuba is terrible. How do you know he’s right? Because he was trying desperately to prove the opposite.

Alpert began sneaking into Cuba by boat every few years in the 1970s. He would always meet up with the same locals to see how their lives were affected by the Castro regime.

He befriended Luis: a Havana slum-dweller. Young Luis was a happy dude in a free apartment with running water. All was well. Jon befriended the Borrego brothers: three 60-something farmers who joyfully worked the fields all day, did extra labor for the government in the late afternoon, and sipped rum at night.

Young Jon Alpert had a good reason for only wanting to see the best in Cuba. He knew Fidel Castro.

In addition to the intimate portraits of average Cubans, Jon introduces us to El Comandante. Fidel Castro comes off as eloquent, witty, kind, and even humble. Castro is so generous with Jon that it is only natural that Jon is unable to find anything bad to say about the dictator.

But history has a way of speaking for itself.

When Jon returns to Cuba in the 1990s, he finds that Castro’s Socialist Utopia has become a 3rd World nightmare.

Jon knocks on Luis’s door. Luis’s brother reports that he was dragged off and imprisoned. No one knows why.

Luis’s brother shows Jon the dilapidated state of the apartment building. There’s no more running water. The path leading to the outhouses has collapsed so now residents have to urinate in the street.

Everyone looks fatter than before. At least Castro is feeding the people well, right? Not exactly. With no supply of meat or vegetables, citizens are stuck living on rations of sugar and rice.

Incredibly, the situation is even worse for the poor Borrego brothers. They are in their 80s now and as strong and eager to work as ever. But they can’t.

The country-wide meat shortage has taken an ugly turn. Machete-wielding bandits have been raiding the Borrego farm at night. Now all of their farm animals have been stolen and slaughtered, including their two oxen. They can’t even plow their own fields. It is a heart-wrenching scene. Even Castro-pal Jon Alpert can’t put a positive spin on it.

The conclusion is unavoidable: With a steady influx of foreign money pouring in, Cubans were able to live a tolerable 19th Century existence. Left to its own devices, Cuba became a hungry dystopian police state.

The debate about Cuba is over: President Kennedy was right. And Michael Moore is full of it.

Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond

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Netflix Original

Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond

****

 

When I watch something where an actor is playing an insane character, I wonder to myself: is the actor truly crazy? Did he start off sane and lose his mind for the role?

The craziest TV character I can think of is Claire Danes’s Carrie Mathison in “Homeland.” When she’s not completely devoted to her dangerous job, she goes home and becomes an immediate danger to herself with booze and pills.

It is possible that Claire Danes is simply a terrific actress who can turn it on and off at will. But I’ll bet no one who watched “Homeland” has ever taken a chance and allowed Ms. Danes to babysit their children.

When it comes to entertainers acting insane, Andy Kaufman is the all-time champion. Kaufman became a celebrity in the late 70s with his goofy appearances on Saturday Night Live and his lovable immigrant character on the sitcom “Taxi.”

For his own artistic vision and amusement, Andy Kaufman decided to take the love America had for him and turn it into hate.

When he would appear on a talk show, Kaufman would come out wearing a one-piece wresting unitard. He would stand in the middle of a makeshift wresting ring and go on a chauvinist rant. Finally, a woman in the audience would become so furious that she was eager to wrestle him.

Andy Kaufman would pin the woman, dance around proudly, hold a golden belt above his head, and gloat that he was the World Intergender Wrestling Champion.

Was he a brave performance artist or was he actually insane? No one knows. But I assure you no one ever allowed Mr. Kaufman to babysit their children.

Most people found Andy Kaufman’s antics weird and troubling. Jim Carrey thought he was amazing.
In 1999, at the height of his popularity, Carrey successfully lobbied to win the role of Andy Kaufman in the biopic “Man in the Moon.”

And Jim Carrey didn’t play Andy Kaufman, he became him. For four months, Carrey remained in character, day and night. Half of the documentary “Jim and Andy” shows us behind the scenes video of Jim Carrey – as Andy Kaufman – causing mischief and making life uncomfortable for everyone around him.

But the star of this film isn’t crazy 1999 Jim Carrey: it’s super crazy 2017 Jim Carrey.

Bearded, haggard, and soft-spoken, Jim Carrey looks and sounds like a homeless New Age poet.

Sometimes he’s smart, sometimes he’s wise, often he’s off in space. It’s as if he’s having a conversation at the psychiatrist’s office but he wrongly thinks he’s the doctor.

Carrey describes the liberating experience of getting to live outside himself and be a jerk for a whole summer. Then he describes the horror and confusion of leaving the character and not remembering who Jim Carrey is.

“Jim and Andy” powerfully underscores the message that becoming a celebrity is a terrible disaster for your identity, self-worth, and happiness.

 

There is no way of knowing whether becoming a Method Actor and being Andy Kaufman broke Jim Carrey’s brain or if he was messed up already.

All I know is, no one is hiring Jim Carrey to babysit their kids. Man, I wouldn’t even trust him to come over and feed my cats for a weekend.

Bush and Clinton: A New World Order

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Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States

Vol IX

Bush and Clinton: A New World Order

****

 

One of the lessons from the novel “1984” is that an oppressive government needs to have an enemy.

In the beginning of “1984,” Big Brother is at war with Eurasia. Suddenly, halfway through the book, the country is at war with Eastasia.

It doesn’t especially matter whether the threat is real. The point of having an enemy isn’t just perpetual warfare; it is total control over the minds of your own people.

Only in this context is it possible to understand American foreign policy from 1989 to 2001. On paper, the US acted with foolishness and needless bellicosity. When compared to the government in “1984,” it was a splendid success.

 

The story begins with the fall of Communism and the election of George H. W. Bush.

With visionary leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Oliver Stone asserts, we had a golden opportunity to change history and make Russia our lasting ally. Our leaders didn’t want that at all, though.

To make sure we stayed arch-enemies with the Russians, we shamelessly betrayed them. In 1990, the Kremlin agreed to let East Germany reunite with NATO country West Germany. In exchange, Washington agreed to halt the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe.

We what we should have done was disband NATO entirely. Its stated purpose was to guard Western Europe against the aggressive onslaught of Stalinist Communism. What the US did, however, was actively betray Moscow’s trust during its hour of weakness.

During the 90s, NATO began a belligerent advance right up to Russia’s doorstep. Today, the US is officially obligated to come to the defense of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania if Russia attacks them. Do our leaders genuinely care about the Estonians? Nah, they just want to antagonize Moscow.

Our leaders successfully ensured that the Russians continue to fear and hate us. Bravo. For their next trick, they found a way to have endless war in the Middle East.

 

In 1990, a US envoy told our old friend Saddam Hussein that he could take over Kuwait without inference. When Iraq invaded its neighbor, however, the Bush Administration changed its mind.

Operation Desert Storm was a splendid military success. But it had severe long-term consequences.

Osama Bin Laden had formerly viewed Communist Russia and the decadent Saudi monarchy as the ultimate enemies of Islam. After seeing thousands of US soldiers stationed in the Holy Land, Al-Qaeda had a new #1 target: America.

To Oliver Stone, Bill Clinton was a neo-con wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Under Clinton, our military became the ever-present policemen wherever there were Muslims misbehaving or in danger. US boots and bombs were active in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, and Iraq – often without the American people’s knowledge.

Stone argues that when 9/11 sparked the War on Terror, it wasn’t a real change; it was just a continuation of the Clinton policy of multi-theater warfare in the Muslim World.

After the Cold War, the United States could have chosen peace. Instead, it mapped out a path of perpetual conflict with Russia and Islam.

 

Essentially, we are at War with Eurasia and Eastasia. And the only winner is Big Brother.