Friday, April 30, 2004

UNCOMMON SENSE

I can hear it in the background - the soothing, dulcet tones of Ted Koppel as he reads off the names of all the U.S. servicemen and women killed in the invasion of Iraq. It is 11:44 p.m., he's been reading the names almost non-stop for ten minutes now and it sounds like Ted's still in the middle of the alphabet. There's no commentary, just Ted's smooth anchor voice and a picture. And all those names. (And the occasional jarring commercial interruption, but this is America by God). I keep thinking to myself, what could Sinclair Broadcasting be afraid of? What about this in their words, "undermines the efforts of the United States in Iraq"? I find myself wondering, what exactly are the efforts of the United States in Iraq?

So many names. I wonder to myself, if someone is getting killed in Iraq right at this very moment. Will they get their name read at the end of the broadcast? Is it more or less patriotic to have your name read or to be just a nameless, faceless grunt carrying out the latest American imperial campaign. A friend of mine who I respect said that ABC is grandstanding, using the sensationalism of reading the names of the dead as a cheap ratings stunt. Maybe so. But who, in journalism, American politics, on the left of the political spectrum or on the right, who speaks for the dead in this day and age? Who speaks for the sons and daughters that actually go out and fight the battles, rebuild the roads and try to bring order out of chaos? Who mentions the soldiers at all? Certainly not the Bush administration, which authorizes the extension of the troops' tours of duty while often leaving them woefully underequipped. The soldiers come home to find their benefits cut precisely at a time when they will require more medical and psychological support, not less. The soldiers go to Iraq and do what they're told, because that's what you do in the military, because they believe that they can make a difference, that Iraq can be democratic, that in the long run no matter how much suffering goes on over there, somehow something noble and good can come out of all of it. Does our government really believe that? Do you?

A half hour's worth of names. If Nightline does this show again in six months, how long will it take to read all the names then? Someone suggested that they should read the names of all the victims of 9/11. What does one have to do with the other? And how many of those same names would be duplicated, if you think about it? And by victims of 9/11, do you include the names of everyone in the world who was in some way victimized by the politics of 9/11, by the loss of freedom we're supposed to endure because of 9/11? How long would it take to read 280 million names? Or a billion? Or six billion?

I honestly don't believe Nightline did this because they thought it would end the occupation. Only two things could end the occupation at this point: 1) an extraordinary escalation of conflict and casualties, which would drive the U.S., and eventually, the U.N. out or 2) a Utopian miracle of Iraqi democracy and freedom (those two terms are not necessarily related - see Florida, 2000) that results in a democratic oasis in the Middle East. The former sounds more likely than the latter, but even John Kerry faces a lose-lose situation if he tries to gracefully exit Iraq in his term (should he get elected). Leave before "the job is done" and in the eyes of the world the great United States would have again been defeated after a land war in Asia. Stay for years in some capacity, and it validates many people's beliefs that we invaded for oil and intend to create a "puppet state" in the Middle East that will do our bidding. These are the consequences of war. This is the Macro.

The Micro are the 700 plus names read on Nightline. They should not be ignored, forgotten or censored. Whatever the producer's motivation behind reading them, their names deserve to be read, the scope of our loss deserves to be revealed, the true result of war needs to be brought into our living rooms. This is the roll call of the dead. If we take their attendance, maybe some people will realize exactly why war is something that should be fought as a last resort, not carelessly, not under false pretenses and not strictly for the profit of the world's elites. Maybe if the names are read and there are no surnames like Bush, Ashcroft, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney or Rice, a little bell will go off with some people in the audience, as the gap between the architects of war and its craftspeople is more fully revealed.

It is rarely bad to read a name. It is almost always bad to sit in silence.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

WHO'S BEEN NAUGHTY AND WHO'S BEEN NICE?

The Ten Worst Corporations in the United States

Bayer

2003 may be remembered as the year of the headache at Bayer. In May, the company agreed to plead guilty to a criminal count and pay more than $250 million to resolve allegations that it denied Medicaid discounts. The company was also beleaguered with litigation related to its anti- cholesterol drug Baycol. Bayer pulled the drug—which has been linked to a sometimes fatal muscle disorder—but is facing thousands of suits from patients who allege they were harmed by Baycol. In June, the New York Times reported on internal company memos which appear to show that the company continued to promote the drug even when its own analysis revealed the dangers of the product. Bayer denied the allegations.

Boeing

In one of the grandest schemes of corporate welfare in recent memory, Boeing engineered a deal whereby the Pentagon would lease tanker planes—767s that refuel fighter planes in the air—from Boeing. The price tag of $27.6 billion was billions more than the cost of simply buying the planes. The deal may unravel, though, because in November the company fired for wrongdoing both the employee that negotiated the contract for Boeing (the company’s chief financial officer) and the employee that negotiated the contract for the government. How could Boeing fire a Pentagon employee? Simple. She was no longer a Pentagon employee. Boeing had hired her shortly after the company clinched the deal.

Brighthouse

A new-age advertising/consulting/strategic advice company, Brighthouse’s claim to infamy is its Neurostrategies Institute, which undertakes research to see how the brain responds to advertising campaigns. In a cutting-edge effort to extend and sharpen the commercial reach in ways never previously before possible, the institute is using MRIs to monitor activity in people’s brains triggered by advertisements.

Clear Channel

This radio behemoth specializes in consuming or squashing locally owned radio stations, imposing a homogenized music play list on once interesting stations and offering cultural support for U.S. imperial adventures. It has also compiled a record of “repeated law-breaking”—including prohibitions on deceptive advertising and broadcasting conversations without obtaining permission of the second party to the conversation—on 36 separate occasions over the previous 3 years.

Diebold

A North Canton, Ohio-based company that is one of the largest U.S. voting machine manufacturers and an aggressive peddler of its electronic voting machines, Diebold fails any reasonable test of qualifications for involvement with the voting process. Its CEO has worked as a major fundraiser for President George Bush. Computer experts revealed serious flaws in its voting technology and activists showed how careless it was with confidential information. In response, it threatened lawsuits against activists who published company documents on the Internet showing its failures.

Halliburton

The company, which initially drafted plans for privatization of U.S. military functions in Iraq—plans drafted during the Bush I administration when former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense—is pulling in billions in revenues for contract work providing logistical support ranging from oil to food. Tens of millions, at least, appear to be overcharges. Some analysts say the charges for oil provision amount to “highway robbery.”

HealthSouth

Fifteen of its top executives have pled guilty in connection with a multi-billion dollar scheme to defraud investors, the public, and the U.S. government about the company’s financial condition. The founder and CEO of the company that runs a network of outpatient surgery, diagnostic imagery, and rehabilitative health- care centers, Richard Scrushy, is fighting the charges. But thanks to the slick maneuvering of attorney Bob Bennett, it appears the company will get off—no indictments, no pleas, no fines, no probation.

Inamed

The California-based company sought FDA approval for silicone breast implants, even though it was not able to present long-term safety data—the very thing that led the FDA to restrict sales of silicone implants a decade ago. In light of what is unknown and what is known about the implants’ effects—including painful breast hardening, which can lead to deformity, and very high rupture rates—the FDA in January 2004 denied Inamed’s application for marketing approval.

Merrill Lynch

Fresh from a $100 million fine levied because analysts were recommending stocks that they trashed in private emails, the company saw three former executives indicted for shady dealings with Enron. Merill Lynch managed to escape with no prosecution in exchange for “oversight.”

Safeway

One of the largest U.S. grocery chains, Safeway led the charge to demand givebacks from striking and locked-out grocery workers in Southern California. Along with Albertsons and Ralphs (Kroger’s), Safeway’s Vons and Pavilion stores asked employees to pay for a major chunk of their health insurance. Under the company’s proposals, workers and their families would lose $4,000 to $6,000 a year in health insurance benefits. (Bloggers Editorial: Safeway is worse than Walmart? I might quibble with this one...)

SOURCE:

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, DC-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, DC-based Multinational Monitor (www.multinational monitor.org). They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Common Courage).

Forwarded to me by holycstings@aol.com. Thanks!

The Answer to the Bush Rape Allegations

From the Fort Bend Star, forwarded to me by Picklechick ;-) Muchas gracias! Read and decide for yourself:

http://www.geocities.com/theawakeningnews/Conspiracy-Bush_Rapist.html

I'll have something witty (or at least more creative) for y'all tomorrow...

Monday, April 26, 2004

BLACK NOISE

Playing Your Opponent's Game

In sports, there is a term called "playing your opponent's game". It's also commonly known as "not controlling the tempo" or "going against your strengths." It happens when a team or individual goes away from their best qualities, the qualities that got them to where they are and starts playing to their opponent's strengths or at least in a style their opponent is more comfortable with. A fast break team goes half court. A football team that loves to pass suddenly hands the ball off four times in a row, and so on and so forth.

The Democrats are getting dangerously close to playing by the Republicans' rules. All the news from the Kerry camp lately has had to do with the Iraq war, with the relative merits of Kerry's military record as opposed to Bush's and the different fine points of each candidate's national security positions. These are certainly important issues in the campaign, especially since the Iraq Occupation has moved into a new, deadlier phase. But the momentum the Kerry campaign took through the Democratic primaries wasn't built solely on opposition to the Iraq war. If Kerry is serious about defining himself as an alternative to the Resident, he must relentlessly hammer away at not just Iraq or military service but at the following points as well:

1) Even if the economy recovers, Americans have less real income and fewer high paying jobs then they did under the Clinton administration.

2) Bush has done more for elite special interests--and conversely, less for most middle-class Americans--than any president in the past century.

Add these two talking points to the arsenal and it should all but the most diehard right-wing Republicans wonder just what the President has to offer America for the next four years--other than a probable military draft, a stagnant economy, more foreign conflict and probably, no freedom of abortion choice.

Liberals Can Cheat Too

If anyone out there knows the name of the small town Texas newspaper that ran the seriously underreported story about rape allegations against Bush when he was Governor, please let me know. My own search has turned up nothing, but before I run with it in my blog, I'd sure like to back up some of the facts. While I'm liable to believe that Bush and his cadre are capable of just about anything, an unsubstantiated allegation like that can get a guy put in jail in this era of the Patriot Act, and I've long maintained that I'm too pretty for jail. You have the email address...feel free to drop me a line.

Man On Fire - Two Pretty Good Movies for the Price of One

Man On Fire is the new Denzel Washington starrer that finished atop the national box office this past weekend. Dakota Fanning (the cute moppet from I Am Sam), Christopher Walken and Marc Anthony co-star in this story of a down-and-out former "counterterrorist" hired to play bodyguard to the daughter of a wealthy Mexican industrialist and his wife living in Mexico City.

The movie can be neatly divided into two almost equal halves: the first half introduces us to Washington's character of John Creasy and the family he's hired to protect. There is a lot of bonding with the daughter, (named "Pita") and a lot of jagged editing and camerawork designed to mirror the tortured state of Creasy's mind. Creasy is a man who has goodness in him, but he only really knows killing, and his inability to reconcile this within him leads him to attempt suicide. It's not spoiling anything to say he fails (after all, Washington's name is first in the credits) and he makes an effort to give us all to not only protect Pita but act as a surrogate father to her, as her parents seem to be all too busy jetsetting and nightclubbing.

The second part of the movie, while featuring all the same characters, is darker in tone and extremely violent, more in the spirit of a Charles Bronson or Dirty Harry movie than the PG-13 material that has come before it. There is a kidnapping, some torture, an explosion, corrupt cops, a sexy, intrepid reporter and of course, Christopher Walken, who may have appeared in every movie released this year (I'm just kidding, but was that him as one of the centurions in Passion of the Christ?). If you allow yourself to become obsessed with logic, some of the events of the 2nd half of the movie may strain believability, but all of it is entertaining, largely because Washington is one of those few movie stars that brings a certain integrity, intensity and vulnerability to every role he plays. He carries the movie and drags the audience along with him over the plot's weaker points, although the script is stronger than in most action movies, largely owing to scripter Brian Helgeland's (Mystic River) ability to write subtle dialog that trusts the actors.

I saw Man On Fire for free, but it is totally worth full price admission at most theaters, although whether you ever want to see it again will depend on your comfort level with violence and with children being put in harm's way. This movie is a good appetizer for the summer movie season lurking right around the corner.

I will review Kill Bill: Volume 2--just as soon as I can find time to see it!








Friday, April 23, 2004

DRIPS AND DROPS

A Few Interesting Postings & Links

A bag company makes an inadvertant political statement that has more truth than any of Bush's press conferences:

http://www.salon.com/news/wire/2004/04/23/bushlabel/index.html

We are in a war, a Holy War. Check out this posting from The Guardian (UK) about the Fundamentalist wing of the GOP that now rules America, and what is at stake in 2004:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uselections2004/story/0,13918,1201933,00.html

Coming Attractions...

Later this weekend, I'll follow up on some open items from my Wednesday blog, particularly the possibility of covered-up sexual assault charges against President Bush. Also, a review of MAN ON FIRE and maybe KILL BILL: Vol. 2.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

LIVING IN ENTROPY

Where Is The Integrity in This World?

It's tough to teach children ideals about being honest, forthright and charitable when nothing in the real world is like that. Nobody is perfect of course, but would it kill anyone to try? As adults, we like to think that we can have ideals while being aware that most people in the world don't share them; if you believe there are more important things in the world than money, your neighbor is probably writing $1,000 checks to charity while secretly engaging in insider trading. I honestly believe that most of the people who rail against marital infidelity are probably cheating on their spouses. An upper middle class liberal in Santa Monica who would never vote for a Republican because of their anti-union, pro big business policies, probably nevertheless has a gardener or nanny who they pay at far below the minimum wage. A principal to must people is someone in charge of a school. The world has become all gray area, no black and white.

It is not a given that invading Iraq is completely bad. In fact, there's a lot good that could come out of it--the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the eventual rebuilding of the decayed Iraqi infrastructure, the eventual establishment of (some kind) of democratic system. But look at all the lies, bad policy and gross mismanagement we get as side dishes to this unpalatable main course: we were lied to about the purpose of the war; we were lied to about the thoroughness of the plans for occupation; the troops weren't given all the tools they needed when they needed them; we were even lied to about the funding for the war effort (see NY Times and CNN for articles on how $700 million appropriated for Afghanistan wound up being spent in Iraq). It seems as if there isn't a single truth in this world that doesn't have two lies as best friends and that isn't anything new, it seems to be one of the hallmark's of the human condition. It's The Way We Are and perhaps the way we always be.

Still, just once it would be truly refreshing for an athlete to admit they don't take it one game at a time; for a politician to admit that he or she is probably going to raise taxes once elected; for an actress to say, "yes, they're fake"; for a non-profit organization to fess up that, yes, a certain percentage of their budget probably bought a board member a new car; for the DEA to admit that there's more profit to the government in a drug war than in legalizing drugs; for the Catholic Church to say that having an abortion or getting a divorce won't consign you to the depths of hell; for George W. Bush to admit that he's only interested in making his dad's friends rich; for John Kerry to admit he stole half of his stump speech (that part that works) from Howard Dean.

It would be refreshing to admit that the main reason I blog is to vent and maybe, just maybe, have somebody stumble across it and think I'm cool.

But I guess that's just not human nature. Perhaps we have to take it all one lie and one truth at a time.

Headlines Under the Radar

Some talking points of my own that I'm trying to follow up on:

--Is the President involved in a seedy scandal involving a woman who claimed he raped her? Is there a connection to her eventual disappearance and murder in 2002? How did Matt Drudge miss this one? This story was reported in the local Missouri, Texas paper and repeated on airamericaradio.com.

--It has been reported the Neil Bush (George and Jeb's little brother and a man once implicated in the Silverado Savings & Loan scandal in Colorado about 20 years ago) has a new business--distributing new electronic voting machines in Florida. "Wait for it..."

--Bush's nominee as the new U.S. ambassador or attache to Iraq is none other than John Negroponte, one of the key people in the center of the Iran Contra scandal and a man with what can be described as a checkered past in the diplomatic circles of the Reagan and Bush I administrations.

I've got to go get my laundry now and do a little research. I promise I'll come back a little faster than I did this time to spread the truth and ask the questions the mainstream media won't.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

CNN's "Sources" Don't Pass the Smell Test -- This Reeks!

Dear CNN,
The excerpt below comes from a story on your website ("Fellow vet blasts Kerry's anti-war comments"):

'I saw some war heroes ... John Kerry is not a war hero,' said John O'Neill, a Houston lawyer who joined the Navy's Coastal Division 11 two months after the future senator left Vietnam. 'He couldn't tie the shoes of some of the people in Coastal Division 11.'

In keeping with CNN's practice of providing a forum to people who did not serve with John Kerry to criticize his documented heroic service to his country, I expect that you will do the fair and balanced thing and allow the same standards of criticism about George W. Bush’s service record.

To that end, I would like to provide Wolf Blitzer with a quote for tomorrow’s show:

I state without equivocation that George W. Bush is by far the worst airman I never served with and that an addiction to cocaine had absolutely nothing to do with his being grounded after failing to show up for his physical in May 1972.

Thank you for your unparalleled pursuit of Truth, evidenced by your giving my and John O'Neill's commentary equal weight. (Like you, I see no need to drag John Kerry into this. He would only complicate the allegations with, well, the truth, and who nee
ds that?) I look forward to my assertion being played ad nauseum on CNN tomorrow where it will be heard by the literally dozens of people who watch your very "informative" and "balanced" news program.

Yours in manufactured hysteria and flag waving,
ae

P.S. Blog note: 1972 just happens to be the year that the National Guard instituted random drug testing. Coinkydink? We report. You decide.


Sunday, April 11, 2004

SIX SOMEWHAT SHORT RIFFS ON A SATURDAY NIGHT

Youth Not Always Wasted on the Young

I was on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica on Saturday afternoon, doing what I frequently do--performing Amiri Baraka poems pantsless for cash--when I saw a gaggle of attractive young people set up at a table with John Kerry bumper stickers, buttons and mini-flyers that advertised "Cocktails for Kerry" every Wednesday night at the Cat & the Fiddle. I marvelled to myself at how young and eager they were and wondered if I were ever that way. Inspired, I put on my pants and sauntered over to their table. One of the young women, undoubtedly a college student, smiled brightly and gave me the spiel, "Have you thought about volunteering for John Kerry? We have to defeat Bush this November. If you have any time or interest at all, perhaps you could fill out this information sheet?" While I'm loathe to give out any personal information or fill out any forms (what a perfect ruse for The Man--masquerading as a young liberal!), I do feel like I want to do SOMETHING other than rail in my blog against the Bush administration. So I filled out the form, turned it in, wished them all luck and picked up the cocktail flier. While I'd rather be having Cocktails WITH John Kerry, maybe I'll drop by and have a 7 & 7 for the cause. After all, I just want to do my part and maybe the best way to feel young again is to rediscover some of the idealism and work ethic of my youth. Besides, no one really reads this blog anyway and there is a certain satisfaction that comes from putting up a flyer or making a phone call to a supporter. You feel invested in the machine instead of at odds with it and that is always a good thing.

Janet's No Boob

I caught some of Janet Jackson's hosting of Saturday Night Live tonight. She's one of the best hosts they've had for a while and for at least the half hour I watched, the show was unusually funny. Jackson's impression of Condoleeza Rice was so dead-on perfect, it actually gave me the creeps. She showed the requisite ability to make fun of herself (the boob incident, her crazy family, even the high cost of her own concert tickets) and she seemed looser and more at ease than she has at any time since the infamous halftime "show".
It was a good reminder that "Damita Jo" actually started as an actress (Good Times, Different Strokes) and has occasionally shown a natural presence on the big screen (mainly in Poetic Justice). Two pet peeves about Janet on SNL: 1) her song was terrible, although she and her dancers engaged in their usual spectacular choreography. It's easy to see why her album has been so panned by critics and 2) what's with all the so-called SNL alums coming back for repeated cameos? Are Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan off the show or not? I'm not a fan of anything that gives more air time to those two and less to Maya Rudolph, the brilliantly weird Rachel Dratch or the host.

WMD Update

I haven't mentioned the ongoing cash reward offer for finding Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq lately because of the high body count and ongoing struggle in the attempt to subdue Fallujah. I'm a satirist at heart, not a sadist and with American lives being put increasingly in harm's way (not to mention all the Iraqi's) it seemed petty at best and obnoxious at worst to keep hammering away at what should now be obvious--there are not now, nor have there been for several years, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Therefore, by the Bush Misadministration rationale, we are dying there for no reason other than imperial hubris.

I am prepared to raise the stakes even further. If legitimate WMD's are found in Iraq at any time prior to the general election, I will videotape myself walking down Sunset Boulevard wearing both a sandwich board that reads "Vote For Bush" and an Uncle Sam hat. Then I'll write an open letter to liberal billionaire George Soros and conservative billionaire (redundant?) Rupert Murdoch encouraging them to provide a million dollars to the first person or troop that comes across the WMD's. That's how confident I am that I'll never have to pay up...

The Amazing $4.29 Economic Recovery

Bush and his campaign have lately been trumpeting the economic recovery that some economists say has begun. Forgive me for not having the numbers in front of me, but supposedly well over 100,000 jobs were created in the last economic quarter. Problem is, and it's funny how Bush leaves this part out, the vast majority of those jobs are low paying clerical jobs or service jobs or even temporary employment, which I personally don't think should be included in the totals. And of course, conservatives are dead set against raising the minimum wage, so everyone on the bottom might be finding work, but they're making less money while the people at the top get filthy rich and send most of the real jobs overseas, most notably to India, China, Mexico and Southeast Asia. (Well, you don't have to cross a sea to go to Mexico, but I digress.) There, you can pay somebody 11 cents an hour to make Nike gear, or you could pay them substantially more to do basic software programming (see LA Times, 4/4) but Big Business comes out ahead no matter what and John Q. America (or, more likely, Jane Q. America) is wondering if they're hiring at Micky D's.

NOTE FROM RES (4/12): The figure quoted by the Labor Department is 308,000 new jobs, which means only 1.7 million jobs have now been lost during the Bush administration's rule. No word on how many of the 308,000 new jobs are actually high paying enough to offset the rising costs of gasoline and health care.

Why Sports Really Is Just Like Real Life

After their overtime 110-100 victory against the Portland Trailblazers tonight, the Denver Nuggets are in excellent position to make the playoffs for the first time in nine years, where they will almost certainly be dismantled by either the Minnesota Timberwolves or the LA Lakers in the first round. What should be an amazing Cinderella story of how a team improves by 25-plus wins and develops a new star in Carmelo Anthony, is marred by the fact that ownership not so secretly wants to fire the coach who guided this transformation, Jeff Bzdelik. The reason? Aside from Coach Bzdelik's lack of vowels, he is known as a hard-working, overachieving, basketball geek who doesn't relate well to the modern, pampered, overpaid professional athlete but nontheless is able to get results out of them. The Nuggets, who will never be confused with any of the marquee franchises in sports, want a sexier name that the players will "respect" and that might help sell tickets (George Karl is out of work and well-known by even more casual basketball fans, although like Bzdelik, he's never won an NBA championship either). This is like re-casting a part that has Kathy Bates written all over it with Cameron Diaz, even though it's a good bet Diaz won't be nearly as good no matter how pretty she is to look at. Or, it's like the guy in the cubicle down the hall who gets the promotion because he kisses the boss' ass better than you do and isn't losing all of his hair. None of this is anything to get pissed off about, it's just sports, but it does strike me as odd that somebody can improve the performance of their team by 150 PERCENT from one year to the next while adding only a rookie scorer and two other supporting players and then be blamed for why the team isn't doing any better. Logic often fails us.

A Parting Quote

"Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie!', until you can find a rock."
--Wynn Catlin

For those who celebrate it, Happy Easter! Until I blog again...




Friday, April 09, 2004

CONDI CAN'T CON COMMISSION (but what's the point?)

My Bologna Has A First Name, It's C-o-n-d-i

First let me say that I will be the last person to try and scapegoat Condoleeza Rice for the increasing quagmire that is Iraq or for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Dissent Channel is dedicated to the truth, and the truth is, no matter how painful it might be for us Liberals to admit, both the Clinton and Dubya administrations had warnings, intelligence and plans about potential al-Qaeda attacks and neither administration effectively dealt with them. Clinton had authorized a plan to assassinate Osama bin Laden, but as I believe I pointed out in my last blog about 26 years ago (it only seems that long), it's debatable at best that a successful assassination would have done anything to stop the attacks. Both administrations had to deal with an outmoded and ridiculously "macho" intelligence structure that put the FBI and CIA in competition with each other instead of in cooperation with each other.

That all being said, Condi's performance testifying this week at the 9/11 hearings was both mesmerizing and sickening. Twisting her testimony into pretzel-like polysyllabic doubletalk in an effort to deflect as much blame from the Bush Misadministration as possible, Condi stated that any intelligence about the planned attacks was "vague" and "unspecfic". She said there was no "silver bullet" that could have headed off the attacks and she insisted that the President was engaged and aware of the threat even while on the marathon 30-day vacation he took right before the attacks. She was at times combative with her interrogators, at other times coy but she never once came off as truly forthright. And all this while the United States endured it's worst week of violence in Iraq since the "end" of the war last April. We've been there now for 12 1/2 months and over 600 U.S. soldiers have died, not to mention countless Iraqi civilians, with nary a single W.M.D. to be found. Timing wise, this was Pepto-Bismol week in the White House, which had to have Democrats licking their chops and we Americans ourselves also feeling a bit nauseous about the whole thing.

Where do we go from here? Into the downward spiral of quagmire abroad and pointless accusations at home. Politics will rule but nothing of real value will be gained. The commission will undoubtedly conclude that more steps should have been taken to prepare the nation against the deadly attacks. The 3,000 plus dead from that day will still be dead and their families will have no more comfort. We'll all have a little less faith in our government and there was precious little to be had in the first place. But if the hearings accomplish one positive thing, it is this: many of the behind-the-scenes machinations that have gotten us to where we are now in this election year have been laid bare. People have a better idea what the thought process of the current administration is and it will be harder for people to believe that this party is truly "the party of security". Where we will all end up is anyone's guess.

The Good Friday Review

So I skipped a Friday, so what? :-) Work has been miserable and I sometimes have a life, so what are you gonna do? (I'm sure nobody reading this really cares.) I saw a couple of underwhelming movies in the last two weeks--THE LADYKILLERS and JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION. Of the two, THE LADYKILLERS is definitely far and away the better movie, but it suffers from many of the flaws that seem to plague Hollywood comedies today--an undercooked script, an overreliance on caricature and too much scatalogical humor for anyone over 12. Tom Hanks does a good job playing the "professor" with the $10 vocabulary who is the criminal mastermind of the piece, while Marlon Wayans steals a couple of scenes as the comic Negro stereotype--I, mean, er, the conspirators Black inside man. (The biggest laugh in the movie is when he incredulously repeats the line, "You brought your bitch, to the Waffle House?" Trust me, it's funnier than it sounds here.) All in all, it's a matinee movie that won't make you feel like you completely wasted your time, but nothing more. The Coen Brothers last couple of efforts have felt kind of stale and that's a bad thing, because their cinematic style demands engaging characters and a breakneck story pace to make it work. This movie and INTOLERABLE CRUELTY don't hit the target.

JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION on the other hand, will definitely make you feel like you wasted your time. A black rip-off of the National Lampoon Vacation movies, Johnson Family stars Cedric the Entertainer as Nate Johnson, the patriarch who gathers his family together for a cross-country road trip from LA to Missouri so that they can participate in a reunion--and, of course, heal the marriage with his wife Dorothy (played by Vanessa Williams, stunning as always but looking kind of bored here). There are a couple (only a couple) of nice gags, although they aren't nearly as funny as they should be. Shannon Elizabeth makes an appearance as babe-witch hitchhiker in a subplot that makes no sense and should have been dropped. Steve Harvey mugs his way through his small part as Nate's older brother. All in all, if you must see it, wait until it shows up on Cable--on Black Starz, no doubt.

Last time, I promised a review of the Prince concert in L.A. Well, here it is--it was awesome! I managed to lose the set list and two weeks away from it has dulled my enthusiasm for writing about it, but trust me, if you're anywhere near Prince's current tour and you can afford to go, you should. Prince is still the King, with more genius in his pinkie finger than Justin Timberlake can dream up on his best day. And his new release Musicology sounds like his best album since 1996's Emancipation (it turns up in regular music stores on Tuesday, April 20th). If you're hankering for a real review, I suggest you check out the one in Rolling Stone from last week, it's actually pretty good.

That's it for now. I'll be back tomorrow (that's right, tomorrow, can you tell I don't have many plans this weekend?) with more takes on the headlines, the presidential campaign and all things great and true...