Jack Bauer utilizes advanced interrogation techniques.
** 24 STIRS IT UP. Ever a controversial show, 24 is stirring it up again. The critically acclaimed Fox TV series, which depicts a dramatic day fighting terrorism in the faux real time of 24 one-hour episodes, won the Emmy Awards last year for best drama and best actor (Kiefer Sutherland, seen in the video above). Agent Jack Bauer always manages, just, to save the day, but last week fell a little behind the curve as a suitcase nuke at last detonated in Los Angeles. The good news? He has the opportunity to stop the detonation of four more suitcase nukes spread somewhere around America by Islamic jihadist terrorists.
Some American Muslim groups are upset about the current storyline on 24. They don’t like that their co-religionists are the bad guys.
There is, of course, one problem with this. Islamic jihadist terrorists are at war with America in the real world, not just in a TV series. Actually, 24 mixes the equation quite a lot. In seasons past, the ultimate Big Bad has not infrequently turned out to be not what you would guess. In addition to radical Islamists, the leading candidates (see, I’m not going to spoil too much for those who will watch on DVD) have included Eastern Europeans, American-based transnational oil interests, Latin American drug kingpins, a Russian oligarch, a shadowy German on a yacht, and, in last year’s memorable season, the WASP President of the United States. And we’re not really sure what the Chinese are doing. The ultimate hero politician of the show is an assassinated former president who happened to be an African American Democrat. (His brother and former chief of staff is the new president, dealing with a series of horrific terrorist attacks around America which led up to, at the end of last week’s two-part, four-hour season premiere, the suitcase nuke going off in LA.)
Still it’s not exactly a kumbayah show. The martyred ex-president, David Palmer (played by the estimable Dennis Haysbert, who also starred in the, ah, great action movie classic Navy Seals), while working assiduously and barely successfully to avoid being manipulated into launching a big war in the Middle East, didn’t flinch from ordering ruthless operations. And his favored agent, Jack Bauer, does not operate under the Geneva Convention. (Which, incidentally, does not apply to terrorists.) He is notorious for obtaining information through torture. In real life, torture frequently doesn’t work, for the obvious reason that people will tell you anything — especially what they think you want to hear — to get the pain to stop. But in some cases, as in the video above, it can work.
** BECKHAM AND POSH. LA Mayor Antonio Villagaraigosa, a fan of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and something of an Anglophile — a not unusual situation among clothesehorse politicians — mentioned the arrival of British soccer superstar David Beckham as one of the signs of LA’s fitness for the 2016 Olympics at his Friday event to push the city’s bid with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. But is Beckham, the fabled England captain’s skills beginning to fade in his early ’30s, enough to further LA’s multifaceted celebritydom? Or is his fabled wife, Lady Victoria Beckham, the former Posh Spice of the late Spice Girls, more on point? To ask the question may, of course, be to answer it.
** BELATED BERKELEY CONFERENCE ON CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S RACE. Every January after the election of the governor of California, the University of California at Berkeley sponsors a forum on the campaign past. I’ve been to every one of these since 1990. It occurred to me yesterday, after skipping the first day on Friday, which focused on the primary, that its time has passed. This conference now feels like a relic of an older media era. Why? Because there’s nothing new. The fare was reheated, refried beans.
I got reports on Day One, which I was too busy after my scouting trip for the Nevada presidential caucuses to attend. There was the expected blame of others and denial of responsibility on the part of the Phil Angelides for Governor participants to account for their ultimate landslide defeat at the hands of Arnold Schwarzenegger in what was otherwise a big Democratic year. (Although pollster Paul Maslin reportedly expressed the opinion that Arnold Schwarzenegger was unbeatable.) Day Two, when I got there, was more of the same.
Angelides was wiped out because he didn’t have enough money. Of course, the day before, the line had been that his narrow primary win over the more electable Steve Westly was NOT because of a highly questionable $10 million “independent” expenditure on his behalf, almost all of it from his longtime patron and business partner, development kingpin Angelo Tsakopoulos. Let’s see. Having the extra $10 million made no difference in the primary. Not having it made all the difference in the general. Got it.
Oh, and the media (most of which probably voted for him, incidentally) didn’t cover his brilliant policy pronouncements. Which generally had no more real substance than an op-ed piece and were thoroughly hedged in key areas like taxes, the budget, and health care. You know, the core of his candidacy. The fact that the Angelides campaign had the wrong message(s) — Arnold equals Bush, etc. — and wrong messenger, while the Schwarzenegger campaign had the opposite was, in this strange view, immaterial.
Aside from the bitter attitude of the Angelides crew, which is also not new, there wasn’t much striking about the conference. Questions didn’t get beneath the surface of what is already known. Which, while a problem in itself, gets at the real problem of the conference. By the time it’s held, it’s all old news. In days of yore, when all that was available was daily newspaper stories and local TV packages and things moved much more slowly, hearing the “inside scoop” on the campaign was worth waiting two months. But now it’s all out there. NWN alone published enough last year on the governor’s race to be compiled into a book. Perish the thought.
Of course, one group moves into the future and that is Team Arnold. Interestingly, the ex-Terminator was represented by campaign and stateside people, the latter of which “moonlighted” on the campaign and also drove much of the year’s dynamics by the time-honored practice of “campaigning by governing.” It was amusing to hear gubernatorial chief of staff Susan Kennedy, the lifelong Democrat, mention her regular phone sessions with former Secretary of State George Shultz, something she never dreamed of back in the Campaign for Economic Democracy days. She and gubernatorial communications director Adam Mendelsohn got along swimmingly, as advertised and contrary to months of Democratic rumor-mongering, with campaign manger Steve Schmidt, chief strategist Matthew Dowd, and deputy campaign manager Reed Galen, all notable Bush/Cheney veterans. What did they say about Arnold and the campaign? You’ve already read it.
** AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI SHIFTING ON IRANIAN NUKES? The Sunday Times of London, owned by the Rupert Murdoch empire, reports that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is in the process of pulling the rug out from under controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the critical issue of Iran’s nuclear program. According to the Times, Khamenei wants a more moderate team of negotiators and would allow the UN Security Council to oversee and monitor Iran’s nuclear program, which is officially for nuclear power but actually for nuclear weapons. This movement on Khamenei’s part probably won’t be enough to cause the pressure to cease.
While Ahmadinejad has been fulminating on the global stage about destroying Israel and hosting a ludicrous Tehran conference denying the Holocaust, his economic policies have proved disastrous. Prices for food and housing, along with unemployment, have skyrocketed. In the somewhat opaque world of Iranian politics, the religious supreme leader, Aytollah Khamenei, is essentially the head of state while the president, Ahmadinejad, is the head of the government. Ultimate power rests with the supreme leader, who is in turn overseen by the national Assembly of Experts. The ultra hardline faction behind Ahmadinejad lost major ground in elections for that body last month.