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Flick Story

Haunted Hollywood

By 3.2.15

Part of the reason David Cronenberg’s new Maps to the Stars is so engrossing is that it’s two kinds of movie at once. The surface is all brutal Hollywood satire, the child star who only eats red Skittles and the washed-up actress demanding that her assistant fetch her Xanax and Kozy Shack pudding. This stuff is breathtaking: the massage therapist who helps his scantily-clad clients work through child abuse (“I’m going to press on a personal history point now”), the hateful cheek-kissing and the jaded, foul-mouthed tweens.

But all of that satire is in the service of another kind of movie. Maps to the Stars is a ghost movie, both literally and figuratively. Slowly its weirdnesses, its hallucinations and catchphrases, start to focus on one central concern: How do we free ourselves from the past?

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The Public Policy

Time for Congress to Gut the FCC

By 2.28.15

A couple of weekends ago, when my entire family was down with illness and rain was pouring outside, the Internet was our best friend. What better to do while sick in bed than catch up on all of my Facebook friends’ lives, find new ebooks to download from, catch up on a backlog of movies over Netflix, and tweet until my fingers were tired? And I don’t just mean myself—the whole family was doing all of that, and more. Watching YouTube videos, posting YouTube videos. Between coughs and sneezes.

Here’s what’s remarkable: According to the FCC our Internet connection, which facilitated all of that activity flawlessly, without a glitch, no longer counts as broadband.

There is literally nothing we want to do on the Internet that our connection can’t handle. And we have a teenager, for a clincher. We’re reasonably early adopters of just about every Internet connected device and service. But our Internet connection no longer meets the FCC’s definition of broadband.

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Patriot Nation

It Wasn’t My Call, Says Pete Carroll

By 2.28.15

This just in from the Seattle Seahawks: In a press conference early next week, head coach Pete Carroll is prepared to disavow his earlier statements and deny any personal responsibility for what many have called “the worst play call” at an absolutely critical moment in the history of major sporting events.

In short, he will perform an amazing feat — rising up and walking away from the sword he fell upon four weeks ago when he refused to blame anyone except himself for the team’s shocking last-minute loss to the New England Patriots on Super Bowl Sunday.

With the New England Patriot defenders gasping for breath and the Seattle Seahawks down on their 1-yard line with 26 seconds remaining in the game, every diehard football fan in America knew what Carroll and the Seahawks had to do to ice their second consecutive Super Bowl championship.

All they had to do was to give the football to Marshawn Lynch and let their rampaging, unstoppable “beast” of a running back take it in for the game-winning score.

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Last Call

The Lessons of Recent History

By 2.27.15

On Tuesday, we learned that Islamic State militants had kidnapped some 220 Assyrian Christians in northeastern Syria. The week before, ISIS released a video of 21 Egyptian Christians getting beheaded, in which a jihadist declares, “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.”

Preceding these atrocities was another controversy, this one oratorical. At the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month, President Obama beseeched his listeners to “remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” Many people took offense at this remark, not because of its historical veracity but because of its context. Here was the president, like a middle-aged man reminiscing about high school, discoursing on ancient history because he didn’t want to talk about the present.

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Another Perspective

CPAC, An Idea Whose Time Has Gone

By 2.27.15

Attending the Conservative Political Action Conference for right-wingers plays much as losing one’s virginity does for many teenagers. An initial euphoria during the obligatory passage rite gives way to the overwhelming need for a shower.

The event won pseudo-event status for me moments before my big moment in the big ballroom more than a decade ago. A conference functionary inquired, as though I would be addressing a WWE audience rather than CPAC, about my theme music. The dilemma tormented. Should I make a grand entrance to old-school “Eye of the Tiger” Hulkster? Rock-n-Wrestling-Connection era “Real American”? Or perhaps “Voodoo Chile” of the circa-NWO Hollywood Hogan?

Naturally, the inquiry made me laugh. He told a joke, right? So why did he sternly look upon my hysterics—surely something much more than a solidarity snicker—about entrance music? If the introduction of stadium-style sonic accompaniment didn’t cue me into the infotainment vibe of the gathering, certainly the late Jane Russell—herself a bit overwhelmed by the Hollywood quality of it all but still all alpha female in her eighties—sitting to my right on the dais did.

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The Health Care Spectator

What If Obamacare Subsidies Disappear?

By 2.27.15

Does the Affordable Care Act really mean what it says?

The Supreme Court will be answering that question in King v. Burwell in the coming months. The question, which surfaced in the public awareness with the Gruber videos, emanates from one line in the Affordable Care Act which says that premium tax credits will be paid only to individuals who obtain medical coverage “through an Exchange established by [a] State.”

Turns out, thirty-six states didn’t create their own exchanges. Instead, they used the Federally Facilitated Marketplace, and the federal government made the executive decision to allow them to receive tax credits anyway. However, the language of the law says their residents are ineligible for subsidies, and the ones currently being paid are illegal.

If the Supreme Court sides with King, how would it affect American citizens?

A great deal.

Let’s review just what’s at stake.

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A Bigger Perspective

Cracking the Enemy Networks in Our Midst

By 2.27.15

According to Reuters — this was on news spread on the Internet — which in turn referred to reporting in the Washington Post (not spotted in today’s paper but, like justice, I could be blind), British police agencies have identified a notorious jihad man as the scion of a wealthy Arab, Muslim — Kuwaiti, as it happens, now there’s gratitude for you — family that has taken up residence in London. The fellow speaks with a Brit accent, has a good education. However, education does not always guarantee good citizenship, and he is believed to be the executioner of American, British, and Japanese nationals seen in recent videos. He is a killer, a serial mass murderer.

Note, first, that to call him a serial mass murderer is not ipso facto to try to depict him as any worse than the rest: they are all, until proven otherwise, mass murderers. Given these people’s motives, capabilities, and declared intentions, it is well within the rules of warfare to obliterate them from the air, despite the devastation this causes to surrounding areas. This is a matter for military tacticians.

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Special Report

Net Neutrality Is About Regulating Speech

By 2.27.15

Thursday’s historic vote by the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband was not the first but merely the latest step toward regulating speech. The FCC voted to no longer classify broadband as a Title I entity (of the Communications Act) but instead as a Title II entity, like common carriers such as telephone service. The commission’s three Democrats approved the change over the dissent of the agency’s two Republican commissioners.

Anyone who believes this vote was about preserving a free and open Internet as so-called “net neutrality” supporters have claimed has not been paying close attention. One only has to revisit statements and actions undertaken by Administration officials in the last several years to understand the end-game.

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A Further Perspective

How Not to Fight Violent Extremism

By 2.27.15

What could the White House have been thinking? The Obama administration’s recently concluded Summit on Countering Violent Extremism was a high-profile affair, bringing together key world leaders and decisionmakers on a critical topic at a critical time. But it was also punctuated by instances of stunning tone-deafness, and a profound failure to understand the dynamics of terrorism in its many forms. 

A case in point is Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB (Federal Security Service), who was invited to Washington as the head of Russia’s delegation to the Summit. Ostensibly, Bortnikov was here to talk about “the role of the state” in Russia, and the techniques used by Russian law enforcement agencies against “foreign terrorist operatives.” The FSB noted in an official statement ahead of the parlay that “Bortnikov will inform the participants of the forum about the functioning of the Russian Federation in the national system to counter extremism, while focusing attention on the importance of the central role of the state in countering the ideology of terrorism.” 

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The Environmental Spectator

Cynicism United: President Obama and the Sierra Club

By 2.27.15

A good five decades ago, the late David Brower, long-time executive director of the Sierra Club, warned his supporters that an upcoming mountain road battle should be fought as if it were Armageddon, for if it weren’t the next one very well could be.

Sierra Club zealots and their allies have been doing that ever since achieving more than a few victories in their determination to reduce industrial production and force all Americans to adopt a lower standard of living (all in the name of “saving” the planet).

President Obama, perhaps because he believes this or because he loves their votes, has repeatedly supported their agenda. His veto of the Keystone XL pipeline is the latest example.

The zealots repeated their message over and over: Terrible environmental damage would be done by the inevitable pipeline leaks; not a drop of the Canadian oil going through it would benefit the United States; and virtually no jobs would be created to build it.

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