State of the Union

WALL-E’s Conservative Critics

Over the past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing Disney-Pixar’s new animated movie “WALL-E.” Set in the apocalyptic-lite 28th century, WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) is a small robot left behind on an abandoned planet Earth, which you discover through a set of video clips has been evacuated due to heavy pollution, brought on by mass consumerism and exploitative big business. His chance encounter with EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) is the catalyst for a surprisingly poignant love story that becomes the center of the movie’s plot. Without delving too much into my own personal opinions on the film–this post is not meant to be a review–I thought it was visually stunning, powerful, and deeply touching, and by my estimation the first Disney movie that is more meaningful and enjoyable for adults than for children.

The film has been received warmly by an overwhelming majority of critics, but some on the right are upset about some of the movie’s themes. Greg Pollowitz at the NRO blog “Planet Gore” writes:

I saw WALL-E with my five year old on Saturday night. It was like a 90-minute lecture on the dangers of over consumption, big corporations, and the destruction of the environment. All this from mega-company Disney, who wants us to buy WALL-E kitsch for our kids that are manufactured in China at environment-destroying factories and packed in plastic that will take hundreds of year to biodegrade in our landfills.

Much to Disney’s chagrin, I will do my part to avoid future environmental armageddon by boycotting any and all WALL-E merchandise and I hope others join my crusade.

These sentiments have been echoed by Shannen Coffin on The Corner, claiming the movie is a “Godforsaken dreck” and was upset about being “bombarded with leftist propaganda about the evils of mankind.” Indeed, a point that Coffin makes that is echoed by outraged film critic Kyle Smith is that, when the audience is introduced to the fat, dumb, technologically-enslaved humans, Pixar is insulting their target audience:

Wall-E…supposes that the human race of the future will become a flabby mass of peabrained idiots who are literally too fat to walk. Instead they zip around in flying wheelchairs surfing the Web, chatting on phone lines and stuffing their faces with food meant to be sucked down like milkshakes while unquestioningly taking orders from the master corporation that controls all aspects of their existence. I’m trying to think of a major Disney cartoon feature that was anywhere near as dark or cynical as this. I’m coming up blank. I’m also not sure I’ve ever seen a major corporation spend so much money to issue an insult to its customers.

The real tragedy of these callous conservative critics (say that three times fast) is that they are missing the real lessons of the movie, ones I found immediately attractive to a traditional conservative. In the film, it becomes clear that mass consumerism is not just the product of big business, but of big business wedded with big government. In fact, the two are indistinguishable in WALL-E’s future. The government unilaterally provided it’s citizens with everything they needed, and this lack of variety led to Earth’s downfall.

Another lesson missed is portrayed perfectly in Coffin’s claim that WALL-E points out the “evils of mankind.” The only evils of mankind portrayed are those that come about from losing touch with our own humanity. Staples of small-town conservative life such as the small farm, the “atomic family,” and old-fashioned and wholesome entertainment like “Hello, Dolly” are looked upon by the suddenly awakened humans as beautiful and desirable. By steering conservative families away from WALL-E, these commentators are doing their readers a great disservice.

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The Deciders

West Virginian Don Surber is in excessive thrall of the power of hill folk:

Newsweek discovers that hey, those dumb hillbillies may decide the 2008 race — like they did the 2000 race. . .

The hill people (I include Jed Clampett’s Ozarks and Ma and Pa Kettle’s Cascade Mountains) decided the 2000 race. If Al Gore, boy genius, had taken Arkansas or Tennessee or West Virginia, Florida would not have mattered.

I’m not sure how dumb hillbillies decided the 2000 race when every single state mattered–had George Bush lost one more state anywhere, he would not have been president. If you compare the 1996 and 2000 electoral maps, you see that Gore lost a lot of states, with more than 100 electoral votes, that Clinton carried in 1996.

And what’s that about “Ma and Pa Kettle’s Cascade Mountains”? As a commenter notes, the Kettles lived on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, west of the Cascade Range. It doesn’t matter though, since Gore carried Washington in the 2000 election.

Of course, a Don Surber rant isn’t complete until Glenn Reynolds gives it his uncritical endorsement.

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Eye Spy

Barack Obama should be grateful for Britain’s restrictive free speech laws, according to London’s most fearless magazine, Private Eye. The Eye, which often covers stories other magazines won’t touch, claims that aggressive libel lawyers in Britain have censored web reports on Nadhmi Auchi, the mysterious London-based Iraqi billionaire who has been linked to Obama.

In February, the American press picked up on the possible Obama-Auchi connection. The key–and widely known–allegation is that there is a cash trial between and Auchi and Obama, via the notorious slum landlord Tony Rezko. It is understood that Auchi wired $3.5 million to Rezko, who in turn gave $625, 000 to the Obamas so they could buy a mock Georgian house on Chicago’s south side.

There is of course no evidence that Obama did anything wrong or illegal. Still, the candidate’s association with Rezko, who is still on trail for 16 counts of corruption, and Auchi, who was given a 15-month suspended sentence for his part in the French Elf Scandal, could have severely damaged his campaign. As it was, the story lost its legs, in part because–in the words of Private Eye–Auchi’s lawyers had “scrubbed the web of newspaper reports which displeased their master”.

For example, the Observer, fearing a libel suit, pulled down a series of articles on Auchi printed in 2003, which some U.S. bloggers had started to notice. The reports described how the arms and oil tycoon, who left Iraq in 1979, had kept close enough ties with Saddam’s regime to help with the sale of Italian Frigates to the Iraqi Defense Ministry. One report noted how Auchi collected politicians “the way other men collect stamps” .

The Eye report concludes,

Barack Obama is a lucky politician. If American journalists had led the way in investigating his shady connections, the U.S first amendment would have protected their work. As it was, the British press took the lead–and libel lawyers can censor it [sic] without anyone noticing.

Murky stuff.

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Obama’s Faithful

Ross Douthat has some spot on thoughts here:

Obama’s overt religiosity, his emphasis on social justice, and his team’s savvy religious outreach make him a more attractive figure to many evangelical voters than any other Democratic nominee of recent vintage. Factor in John McCain’s reticence about his own faith, his much-publicized spats with religious-right pooh-bahs, his obvious discomfort with issues like abortion and gay marriage and his disorganized, behind-the-eight-ball staff, and you seem to have a recipe for real Democratic inroads among a constituency that the GOP has owned for a long time now.

I think this is basically right. Unless John McCain can become more convincing on judicial appointments (he won’t), there is bound to be some drift. When I was reporting on how the candidates were reaching out to churchgoers in the lead-up to the South Carolina primary, I got a good idea of how organized Obama’s campaign could be. Obama’s staffers weren’t only name-dropping Marshal Ganz, a famed progressive organizer, they were putting his ideas to work. The Obama campaign was identifying the most influential members of important congregations at it’s “faith forums,” allowing the Clinton campaign to pursue the more expensive (and less effective) strategy of hiring important ministers as “consultants.”

For years progressives have dreamed of getting Evangelicals to connect with anti-poverty and environmental programs. Obama may be the one to do it. As Ross says, he is just better than McCain at framing his progressive policies as part of a moral mission. McCain would be foolish to counter this by using the Rev. Wright card. Many religious conservatives know what it is like to have a pastor called out as an “extremist” and they recognize this as a technique of their liberal enemies.

But I would caution my progressive friends from thinking they can capture these voters for the long-term. White evangelicals may be for Democrats what Hispanics are for Republicans. Each party has certain policy commitments that make winning a majority among these groups almost impossible. There is no wedge issue that is big enough to divide white evangelicals from economic conservatives — anti-poverty programs won’t do it. Likewise Republicans have been unable to use abortion or family-issues to separate Hispanics from the party that seems a natural fit for recent immigrants.

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Yesterday’s Other Ruling

Much has been made of the Supreme Court’s rejection of D.C.’s ban on handguns in the home, but the high court handed down another 5-4 ruling as well. It has gone relatively unnoticed–due most likely to the gravity of the handgun ruling–but is nevertheless worth mentioning, if for no other reason than it put a dent in one of the Presidential candidate’s signature pieces of legislation.

In Davis v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court struck a blow to McCain’s treasured “campaign finance reform” by declaring the so-called “Millionaire’s amendment” unconstitutional. It was arguably the most volatile clause in McCain-Feingold because it was not an attempt at fighting political corruption–the stated objective of McCain-Feingold–but rather it protected entrenched incumbents from wealthy challengers. The amendment created a new rule where federal candidates facing a self-financed opponent who contributes more than $350,000 to their own campaign are permitted to accept donations at triple the normal contribution limits ($6,900 rather than $2,300).

In George Will’s column on yesterday’s two decisions, he correctly argues:

Declaring the Millionaires’ Amendment unconstitutional, the court, in an opinion written by Alito, reaffirmed two propositions. First, because money is indispensable for the dissemination of political speech, regulating campaign contributions and expenditures is problematic and justified only by government’s interest in combating “corruption” or the “appearance” thereof. Second, government may not regulate fundraising and spending in order to fine-tune electoral competition by equalizing candidates’ financial resources.

One of the main arguments used to convince disillusioned conservatives to go to the ballot box this November and pull the lever for McCain has been just how destructive Obama’s court nominees will be, as opposed to McCain’s. Presidents primarily nominate judges that hold a view of the Constitution similar to their own, and this is said to be one of McCain’s conservative strengths. But while the second amendment has been–to a certain extent–upheld, the same five judges to uphold the second amendment against a liberal D.C. law voted to uphold the first against one of the Arizona Senator’s pet projects. The type of judges McCain has pledged to nominate (he has used Roberts and Alito as examples) have upheld the first amendment against McCain’s “clean government” proposals, and unless we can expect McCain to nominate justices that disagree with him on a fundamental interpretation of the first amendment, the Supreme Court case for McCain has been weakened.

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All Pain, No Gain


Things we learned from John Yoo and David Addington’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday:

1. The president can probably bury someone alive—though it’s doubtful he would. (He would probably crush his child’s testicles first.)
2. Yoo—who wrote the memo arguing that pain not equivalent to organ failure of death doesn’t qualify as torture—isn’t sure “what you mean by waterboarding” since “it seems like when people say waterboarding that they mean all sorts of different things.” It could well be a synonym for surfing or refer to a charming children’s game…played in a secret Romanian prison.
3. You can be a law professor at University of California Berkeley and not know what “implement” means.
4. “Yes” is not the answer to “Are there things the president could not order?”
5. Addington can’t tell the truth in a Congressional hearing because “al-Qaeda may be watching C-SPAN.”
6. “Smoke was still rising” from the wreckage of the World Trade Center two years later—and smoke gets in your eyes.
7. The vice president is still not part of the executive branch. Neither is he a barnacle. Other light-averse creatures have not been eliminated.
8. It’s possible to go to Gitmo “probably five times” and remember nothing.
9. Addington “didn’t have nothing to do with it.” Read that twice.
10. “Enhanced interrogation techniques” may be required to get straight answers from these two.

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This is Grimly Amusing. Or Just Grim.

 Update:  hoax confirmed

Someone please tell me that  Juan Cole has been hoaxed: self-described former Guiliani and future McCain adviser plans casino in the Green Zone.

“What happens in the Green Zone stays in the Green Zone” ; confessional representation in employment ; off-track betting on “camel races”; “a sauna, a golf course can transform a people” ; a mosque and muezzin calling to prayer five times a day in the casino. I’m not buying it. No one survives into adulthood with this combination of greed and obtuseness. Besides, I think I recognize this guy from somewhere.

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We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting to Spy On

Commit yourself to party loyalty and you must go along for the stomach-churning moral roller coaster ride. But fall in with a cult of personality and you won’t even notice the contortions of logic necessary to stay true. Keith Olbermann has been a keen, if personally annoying (no humorous remark shall pass out of his mouth unescorted by a smirk and not saluted by raised eyebrows) critic of the various excesses of the Bush Administration, eloquent even (perhaps that accolade should go to whoever’s writing his copy). But such is the transformative power of Barack Obama’s personality that his royal imprimatur renders inert the “fascism” Olbermann saw in the new FISA law way back in Jan. 2008, BO (before Obama).

Via Glenn Greenwald, here’s Olbermann twisting himself into knots to cover the Crown Prince’s* backside:

Asked by “Rolling Stone” publisher, Jann Wenner, about how Democrats have cowered in the wake of past Republican attacks, Senator Obama responding, quote, “Yeah, I don’t do cowering.” That’s evident today in at least three issues . . .
Senator Obama also refusing to cower even to the left on the subject of warrantless wiretapping. He’s planning to vote for the FISA compromise legislation, putting him at odds with members of his own party . . . .

You see, Obama is not capitulating to the “Right” on the FISA bill, he’s standing up to the far Left, which is even more impressive. But of course we can assume that if he did oppose the new law, he would still be standing resolute against the Right, with whom he is currently standing against the Left (it’s all less confusing if you just accept the blue pill and ignore that creepy voice coming over a loudspeaker compelling us all to go ahead and drink, drink the kool-aid) . Truly, there is nothing Barack Obama cannot do! Warrantless wiretapping? Oh no you don’t, but yes we he can!

*Moniker lifted from and coined by the Stiftung Leo Strauss

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Jet-Setting=Foreign Policy Experience?

In the Huffington Post, Wesley Clark challenges the Conventional Wisdom’s axiom that “John McCain has foreign policy/national security experience”.

While I respect John McCain’s service, I know exactly what he stands for — Bush’s third term. And in national security terms, John McCain is largely untested and untried. He’s never been responsible for policy formulation. John McCain is calculating that he will use the national security debate to his advantage. He’s wrong. Like Bush, McCain has always been for the use of force, force, and more force. In my experience, the only time to use force is as a last resort. When John McCain talks about throwing Russia out of the G8 and makes irresponsible comments about bombing Iran, he reveals his own disrespect for the office of the presidency.

Much of McCain’s experience in international relations has to do with international travel and mingling with the world’s VIPs. In fact, according to a long profile in The New York Times, the jet-setting opportunities seemed to have been one of the reasons for his decision to leave the Navy and choose a career as a law-maker in Congress. Join Congress and see the world:

McCain has often said that he decided to run for office because he felt that his war injuries would make attaining the same rank as his father and grandfather “impossible.” But Lehman, now an adviser to the McCain campaign, and two other top navy officers familiar with McCain’s file insist that was not the case.
Instead, many who knew him say, McCain seemed bored by navy life. “Sitting down with Anwar Sadat or Deng Xiaoping and being treated as an equal – that is pretty heady stuff,” said Rhett Dawson, a former aide to Tower who is now president of an electronics trade group. “It had opened his eyes to a much broader world.”
McCain was captivated, recalled Jeffrey Record, then an aide to former Senator Sam Nunn, the hawkish Georgia Democrat. “He thrives on competition, and he thrives on political combat,” Record said. “He saw the glamour of it. I think he really got smitten with the celebrity of power.”

Indeed, cruising the Geisha bars in Tokyo with Gary Hart and Bill Cohen seemed to have been a defining moment in his career search:

A trip to Asia in late 1978 cemented their bond. McCain and the two senators stole away from official briefings to stroll in Tokyo’s Ginza district of nightclubs and restaurants, visit the Temple of the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok and take a memorable midnight tour of what Hart remembered as that city’s “light and dark sides.” In a memoir, Cohen recalled drinking beer with McCain at the Hyatt Regency bar overlooking Seoul, watching beautiful Korean women seduce a tipsy traveler.

Interestingly enough, I’ve been surprised by the numerous references to McCain’s foreign travels in the press recently. The guy travels quite a lot (paid for by the tax-payers and business cronies. For example, this is from Wednesday’s article in the Wall Street Journal about financier Raffaello Follieri:

In 2006, Mr Follieri entertained Sen. John McCain on a yacht leased by Mr Follieri and moored off the coast of Montenegro. A spokeswoman for the presumptive presidential nominee has said nothing came of the social encounter, adding that the two met at a dinner party earlier on shore.”

Mmm…La Dolce Vitae… I’m jealous (And BTW, what was the “nothing” that didn’t come of the “social encounter”?)

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I have just been reading about Italian businessman Raffaello Follieri, who reportedly fraudulently convinced New York investors that he was a Vatican financial officer who would be able to obtain redundant church properties at knock down prices for redevelopment.  Follieri would not even be having his fifteen minutes of fame but for the fact that he recently dated actress Anne Hathaway, who starred in”The Devil Wears Prada.”  Follieri had to fork over a bail bond of $21 million to avoid having to spend quality time in Riker’s Island. 

Back in April Ben-Ami Kadish was arrested for providing defense secrets to Israel.  He was released on $350,000 bail bond despite the fact that there was considerable risk that he might flee to Israel to escape prosecution.

Both Kadish and Follieri are awaiting trial at home in comfortable circumstances, the former in Maplewood New Jersey and the latter in his apartment at the Trump Towers.  Based on the respective bails, the US criminal justice system believes that bilking investors is roughly a sixty times worse offense than committing treason.

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