The mostly Californian cast of Innocence of Muslims is beginning to speak out against the strange film’s even stranger producers for their betrayal and manipulation. The wild protests against the film and the US “role” in it have ramped down, though they broadened geographically over the weekend.
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … ANATOMY OF A CRISIS: WHAT ROMNEY SHOULD HAVE CRITICIZED OBAMA FOR.
** QUICK HITS. A good day for Governor Jerry Brown in populous Southern California. (Note to governor: The real dividing line between the northern half of the state in population and its southern half is Wilshire Blvd. in LA.) Brown, working hard to demonstrate reform as he asks Californians to approve temporary tax hikes, signed a major update to the workers compensation system at events in San Diego and LA, joined by business and labor leaders. (Left in the lurch in this bipartisan legislation biz/labor kumbaya are lawyers and doctors in the work comp system.) … Meanwhile, Brown’s would-be initiative rival, heiress Molly Munger, who wants to raise income taxes for virtually all to fund education, put another $5 million into her essentially self-funded initiative drive, bring the total to $47 million. (That’s a little joke. I don’t know off-hand how much she’s spent, and suspect it won’t particularly matter.) … And yes to the obvious, conservative Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Meg Whitman’s mentor, is continuing to struggle to deal with revelations of his various fundraiser remarks denouncing nearly half of all Americans as supposed free ride junkies who won’t take responsibility for their lives and blah blah which is why they are all voting for Barack Obama. … Actually, they are not all voting for Obama, as Romney should know.
** NEW SURVEY: UNEMPLOYMENT DIPS. A new Gallup Poll survey has some good news for the country, and for President Barack Obama, on the economy.
The unemployment rate appears to be heading down, somewhat, and is at a low in Gallup surveys since they began in January 2010.
The rate without seasonal adjustment is 7.9%, down from 8.1% in August, and down from 8.6% a year ago.
That’s a nice little improvement over the last year, but it is only a little improvement for a 12-month period, reminding again how tepid this economic recovery.
But it may well be that, to borrow an old Jerry Brown phrase, people’s expectations have been lowered, and that, to use a newer phrase, the tepid recovery is “baked in” to popular expectations with regard to the election. It’s all part of what I call “muddling through,” the new American economic aspiration.
It doesn’t hurt Obama that he is running against Mitt Romney, who advocates doubling down on the Bush/Cheney policies that most moderate voters identify as the cause of the ongoing economic malaise.
The percentage of Americans working part time but looking for full-time work is 8.6% in mid-September, as measured without seasonal adjustment, down from the 9.0% in August. This is also down from 9.7% a year ago and the lowest level for this measure since the 8.4% of November 2010. …
Gallup’s U.S. underemployment measure, which combines the unemployed with those working part time but looking for full-time work, is 16.6% in mid-September, down from 17.1% in August. The underemployment rate is also down substantially from 18.3% last September and is at its lowest level since January 2010. …
While unadjusted unemployment has improved so far in September, at least part of the improvement is likely due to a seasonal increase in hiring related to Halloween — which is now a major sales period for the nation’s retailers. In fact, the 0.2 seasonal adjustment that the government applied in September 2011 would suggest virtually all the improvement is seasonally related. Further, Gallup’s unadjusted unemployment rate has remained between 7.9% and 8.2% since May — implying a relatively flat job market. Still, the mid-September unadjusted unemployment rate, if maintained for the remainder of the month, is at a new low and is substantially below the 8.6% of a year ago.
It is also worth noting that the percentage of those working part-time but wanting full-time work is near the 8.4% low for this measure. As a result, the underemployment rate is at a new low. This is often seen as a good sign for the U. S. economy because it implies more part-time workers are getting full-time jobs.
Republican Mitt Romney, in a hastily called press conference late Monday prior to a fundraiser in Orange County, said a video clip in which he called nearly half of Americans self-anointed “victims” who “refuse to take responsibility for their lives” was “not elegantly stated” and was “spoken off the cuff.”
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … ANATOMY OF A CRISIS: WHAT ROMNEY SHOULD HAVE CRITICIZED OBAMA ON.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington and New York City.
Obama has received the intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
He then welcomed the Women’s National Basketball Association Champion Minnesota Lynx to the White House
At 11:15 AM Pacific, Obama departs Joint Base Andrews on Air Force One en route to New York City.
At 12:10 PM Pacific, Obama arrives in New York City.
At 1:40 PM Pacific, Obama sits for an interview on The Late Show with David Letterman at the Ed Sullivan Theater.
At 4:40 PM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks at a fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
At 6:45 PM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks at a fundraiser at the 40/40 Club.
At 8:05 PM Pacific, Obama departs New York City on Air Force One en route Joint Base Andrews.
At 9:10 PM Pacific, Obama arrives at Joint Base Andrews, where he boards Marine One.
At 9:25 PM Pacific, Obama lands on the South Lawn of the White House.
Mitt Romney was largely off the campaign trail over the weekend.
It seems like he does best staying off the campaign trail, something he should be able to fully embrace in seven weeks.
Some particularly clueless, but not at all atypical remarks, of Romney’s at a Florida fundraiser hosted by a hedge fund billionaire in May are reverberating throughout the campaign.
In these remarks, Romney manages to insult nearly half of America, as well Latinos and Palestinians for good measure.
I’m not going to indulge in much on this, other than to say that it’s all of a piece with attitudes he has expressed before and doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Romney’s key quote:
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what … These are people who pay no income tax … My job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Meanwhile, in matters that will matter after the election, the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate in spectacular fashion, with several spectacular Taliban attacks, including a continuation of “green on blue” violence leading to the US and NATO calling off joint operations with their Afghan colleagues.
But on the other hand, the wave of protests against the ludicrously anti-Islamic video Innocence of Muslims is abating.
A Taliban suicide bomber today killed more than a dozen people outside Kabul International Airport. It’s the latest in a wave of attacks, largely carried out by Afghan security personnel against Americans and other NATO troops.
Much more to follow.
On the other side of the world, tension between China and Japan is escalating with the 81st anniversary of the Japanese invasion of China and accelerating claims by both nations to a group of islands in the East China Sea.
This led over the weekend to waves of anti-Japanese demonstrations across China.
While this develops, nations on the South China Sea are meeting in Manila to discuss how to deal with China’s claim to virtually the entire body of water.
Obama is monitoring several geopolitical crises involving the Arab Awakening, Iran and Israel, Syria, Iraq, AfPak, and the South China Sea.
Military Crisis Zone Times: The Persian/Arabian Gulf is ten hours ahead of Pacific time and Afghanistan is eleven and a half hours ahead of Pacific time. The time in Manila, on the South China Sea, is fifteen hours ahead of Pacific time.
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Southern California.
Brown signs his updating of workers compensation reform today at events in San Diego and Los Angeles.
He signed the bill at an event early this morning at Diego & Son Printing Inc. in San Diego.
At 2 PM, he repeats the event at the Walt Disney Studio Lot in Burbank.
In both events, he is joined by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker John Perez, and business, labor, and community leaders including state Chamber of Commerce president Alan Zaremberg and state Federation of Labor chief Art Pulaski.
Brown is continuing to go through bills from the recently concluded legislative session.
And he is working on his Prop 30 revenue initiative.
** CONSIDERING THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY.
“The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”
The Dark Knight
Summer is nearly over and the summer movie season is winding down to its customary clunker of a conclusion. The two films expected to achieve popular dominance, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, both did. But tragedy intervened from the start to blunt the latter film’s commercial impact — it was on a near record opening weekend trajectory when madness struck (though having passed a billion dollars in global box office over Labor Day can hardly be a disappointment) — and blur its cultural impact.
There are, of course, major spoilers ahead, so please be aware.
Consideration of The Dark Knight Rises and the trilogy of films it completes, has been obscured by the horrific shootings at its midnight debut in Aurora, Colorado. Naturally, our culture worried and kvetched endlessly and, in the end (which always comes when a tragedy is milked to its limit), did nothing about the tragedy, as I suggested would be the case at the time in The Dark Knight Shootings: “All It Takes Is A Little Push.”
The Avengers is a fun and very entertaining film, a marketing triumph for Marvel’s audacious plan to launch multiple superhero franchises and grow them not only for their own sake but for the ultimate goal of launching a superhero super-group. While it’s amusing to spend time with the gang as they prepare to save New York from alien retribution/invasion, especially as they squabble like a ’60s or ’70s rock supergroup, the story is pretty lightweight. There are moments with this estimable cast, but anyone looking for much in the way of depth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to rely on the first Iron Man movie and last year’s Captain America.
In contrast to this, The Dark Knight Rises completes an epic journey into, yes, darkness, personal, social, and political. (With more than a dash of Bond in this 50th year of the film franchise, as it happens.) And in the end, it was darkest, as Harvey Dent proclaimed in The Dark Knight, just before the dawn. Just not for him.
The Dark Knight showed that a comic book movie could be not only big, but epic. That it could thoughtfully engage major themes and concerns in society while providing a thoroughly satisfying entertainment experience. (Though clearly no easy answers on the big questions.) And that it could be one of the most popular films ever while doing it.
The Dark Knight is one of my favorite films, arguably the key film of the past decade. The Dark Knight Rises, powered by Hans Zimmer’s massive score, is busier, juggling multiple threads, but ends as a very satisfying and provocative conclusion to the trilogy.
The Dark Knight Trilogy, which engages many aspects of contemporary culture, has one overarching storyline: Bruce Wayne’s efforts to prevent the destruction of New York City.
Each of the Nolan Batman films revolves around provocateurs and terrorists out to destroy Gotham, i.e., New York City, by bringing out its contradictions and, in the first and final films, finally wiping its people off the map. This is a New York far past the peak we see in the early ’60s heyday period of Mad Men.
New York has been deemed too corrupt and decadent to continue to exist by a highly sophisticated terrorist network. The League of Shadows is not Al Qaeda, but in its ascetic, bone-deep disdain for the lush life of Gotham — more clearly than ever an analogue for Manhattan with all the scenes filmed there — it has some similar concerns.
When we meet the League in Batman Begins, it’s based in a mountain fastness. Nepal in South Asia rather than Afghanistan in Central Asia. Islam is not a factor but some vague sort of Eastern spiritualism is in the wind. Seemingly wrecked by its defeat at Batman’s hands at the end of the first film, it is a factor in the second film only by virtue of having helped create the context for the Joker to flourish.
Yet he, too, wants to destroy Gotham. By manipulating it into destroying itself. (The films tell us nothing of the Joker’s background, as he turns its mystery into a running gag. “Wanna know how I got these scars?” Which does not rule out a League role in his creation.)
Bruce Wayne is one of the most famous of fictional super-rich guys. But Wayne sure doesn’t seem to like his class all that much. In The Dark Knight Rises, he excoriates a big society do he attends as he ends his tenure as a recluse and dashes out again investigating, saying that the money raised for charity is really just to fund self-aggrandizement. The people are “phonies,” the contributions a tax write-off to fuel partying, the events nothing more than celebrations of the ego rather than sincere efforts to help make a difference.
Wayne intrigues for many reasons, not the least of which that he employs his fortune to make a difference. There’s no poking around the edges of things, indulging in lightweight philanthropy, or simple indulgence while concentrating on racking up the profits.
In fact, Wayne only returned to Gotham, and his life as “billionaire Bruce Wayne,” in the first film as a means to an end. He’s very single-minded. There’s no poking around the edges of things, indulging in lightweight philanthropy, or simple indulgence while concentrating on racking up the profits.
Indeed, Wayne never appears in the trilogy as a figure particularly interested in his role as billionaire capitalist. After his seven-year sojourn away from Gotham, depicted in the first film, he returns to begin his fight to change Gotham by taking on its rampant crime and corruption.
He creates the public persona of Bruce Wayne in a calculated manner, just as he creates the Batman. The eccentric playboy billionaire is every bit the fictional creation that the caped crusader is. Perhaps more so, because Wayne seems much less interested in it.
After all, he relied on family butler/confidante Alfred for the concept of “Bruce Wayne.” He certainly didn’t turn to Alfred to come up with the Batman.
Notwithstanding its somewhat corrosive view of the very rich, the trilogy doesn’t see see liberalism, noblesse oblige variant or otherwise, as an effective answer, either. Nor does it embrace Occupy-style social revolt, viewing it rather sardonically as something prone to manipulation, as well as another form of self-aggrandizement. Which, given the evaporation of the Occupy movement, may lend it more weight than it deserves. But Nolan understands the power of the idea, if not its brief and shaky manifestation in the real world last year.
As for liberalism, the trilogy presents it as a failure, albeit one that was only incompletely tried. Bruce Wayne’s father was a sort of New Deal liberal, spending massively on anti-poverty projects and building an extensive cheap public transit system to link the city together before being murdered by a poor man turned to crime.
Wayne’s opponent for most of the The Dark Knight Rises, before his true enemy is revealed, Bane, manipulates populist sentiment to build his power as a warlord.
This is why Bane is able, utilizing Occupy rhetoric, to emerge so successfully as Gotham’s war lord with his coup.
But he is no liberator, he’s a destroyer.
While Bane undoubtedly despises the gullibility and greed of his new Gotham followers, though not his dedicated soldiers, he especially despises the capitalists of Gotham. Told during a daring raid that there is no money for him to steal in the stock exchange, he asks his yuppie interlocutor: “Then why are you here?” One especially unfortunate tycoon learns all too late that paying Bane and his mercenaries to aid in his bid to take over Wayne Enterprises leads only to disaster, as Bane asks him disdainfully if he really imagined that the money gave him power over Bane shortly before crushing his skull.
In addition to engaging, albeit in comic book style, questions of economic crisis and class central to the current American experience, the trilogy engages the changes wrought in the wake of 9/11.
The Dark Knight presents its own version of a “Total Information Awareness” system. Developed in secret by Bruce Wayne as a means of spying on anyone in Gotham, to the horror of Lucius Fox, it’s a thinly veiled metaphorical representation for the surveillance society envisioned by the Bush/Cheney Administration after 9/11.
Lucius Fox is appalled to see some of an earlier invention of his used for the purpose of spying on everyone in Gotham, insisting that is too much power to be concentrated in anyone’s hands. Wayne, insisting that it must be used to find the Joker, tells him that is why he has left the power in Fox’s hands. In the end, with the Joker found and stopped, Wayne allows Fox, who has vowed to resign in protest once the Joker is found, to destroy the system.
And there is the cynical deal to preserve a semblance of public idealism and pass convenient new anti-crime legislation.
The Joker succeeded in bringing Harvey Dent, Gotham’s “white knight” district attorney, down to his level, successfully driving him insane and turning him into a ruthless murderer. But Batman and Police Commissioner James Gordon contrive to sweep all that under the rug and place the blame for Dent’s actions on Batman.
Dent’s unblemished reputation is used to pass sweeping anti-crime legislation which, though the third film is vague about this, apparently does away with some criminal defenses previously in use. But the film makes the subversive point that, although the crime rate is substantially lowered, the corruption of Gotham continues and opportunity for all is not increased.
The trilogy showcases the danger, and at times the necessity, of elements of the surveillance state. But the films argue that it only can stand on a temporary basis. On any permanent basis, it breeds fascism.
As for the public myth, it turns out to be corrosive. Not only for Gordon — on whom it eats away, helping wreck his family — but for the city as well. The law that the myth enables makes it possible to crater the crime rate, but the city is nearly as corrupt and inequitable as before.
It’s certainly bad for Bruce Wayne/Batman as well. Saddened by the loss of childhood sweetheart/crusading prosecutor Rachel Dawes, whom he believes, in another myth, had chosen him over Dent, he becomes a recluse, paying little attention to his business or his life. This is especially so after his one stab at renewed world-changing, a cheap clean energy system from nuclear fusion, becomes untenable. His body significantly damaged from his nocturnal pursuits — remember, Batman has no superpowers, only the technological edge afforded him by great wealth, and can’t afford to lose even one fight — he is something of an emotional and physical wreck as The Dark Knight Rises begins.
And as always, he is a most problematic hero/anti-hero. He’s not a solution for society’s problems, he’s a last resort.
Bruce Wayne, after all, is a vigilante, in the checkered tradition of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance, which emerged amidst the chaos of the California Gold Rush, and many others long before the term “vigilante” was used. And Wayne is a vigilante with a difference; he is a masked vigilante. Right up until the conclusion of the trilogy, he is a masked man in all aspects of his life.
Rachel Dawes, well-played by Katie Holmes in the first picture and also well-played by Maggie Gyllenhall in the second, tells him at the end of Batman Begins that her fundamental problem with him is “your mask.” Bruce protests that the Batman mask doesn’t represent who he is, but Rachel tells him his real mask is the face she’s looking at.
“The man I loved, the man who vanished – he never came back at all.”
By the final film, he seems all too aware of this. It’s part of his despair. …
** WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED SINCE 9/11? … From my September 11th essay.
** PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE ELEPHANT: THE CONVENTIONS AND THE CLIMATE. … From my September 8th essay.
** WHILE ONE CLINTON WOWS AT THE OBAMARAMA, ANOTHER PIVOTS TO THE LONG GAME. … From my September 6th essay.
** SO WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED WITH CLINT EASTWOOD? (AND THE PERILS OF ARGUING WITH IMAGINARY OBAMAS). … From my September 4th essay.
** AFTER THE ROMNEYRAMA, AND MORE SERIOUS MATTERS. … From my August 30th essay.
** SPACE, JERRY BROWN’S PLACE, AND A RACE. … From my August 27th essay.
** AN INSULAR ROMNEY STRUGGLES WITH HIS SURPRISINGLY HEARTFELT VEEP PICK AFTER STRIKING OUT INTERNATIONALLY. … From my August 23rd essay.
** RECALLING TOTAL RECALL: INTRIGUE, ULTRA-VIOLENCE, HUMOR AND WHAT ELSE THAT IS MISSING FROM THE SCHWARZENEGGER REMAKES. … From my August 17th essay.
** FROM GOVERNATOR TO MOONBEAM. … From my January 3rd, 2011 feature.
** OBAMA: RIDING WITH HISTORY. (NOTE: As Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, this column was the featured column on the top of the front page of the Huffington Post.) … From my January 19th, 2009 Huffington Post column.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM AL JAZEERA. With the US entangled in major military operations in the region, and the Arab awakening underway, it’s valuable to keep up with news and perspectives from the leading Middle Eastern-based TV news network. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer. The NWN live link to AJ does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM RUSSIA TODAY. Russia has re-emerged as one of the world’s great powers. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer from the Russia Today channel. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the state-run channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND NATIONAL ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. Having crashed over $147 for yet another record on July 11th, 2008, crude oil is trading around $95 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $61 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, reflecting a low point in global economic activity, and down about $19 per barrel from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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