Monthly Archives: September 2012

“Obama Loves American Car Workers”

…and hates American car owners.

Over at In These Times, the President of the United Steelworkers International union, Leo Gerard, is praising President Obama for propping up politically connected businesses, although that’s not quite how he puts it:

President Barack Obama…has given some love to American car companies and American car workers.

He also gave them many billions of taxpayer dollars.

He rescued Chrysler and General Motors, preserving the American icon companies and hundreds of thousands of American car manufacturing jobs.

Icon companies? We spent all that money because they are icons? Fuck.

As for the hundreds of thousands of jobs, does Gerard really expect us to believe that GM and Chrysler would have just closed their doors and never opened them again? People will still want new cars, and someone has to build them. Sure, the other automakers could ramp up production, but increasing their production capacity would take a long time.

Unless, of course, they just buy the GM and Chrysler facilities, complete with an already trained workforce standing by to man the production line. Anyone running a multi-billion dollar manufacturing business would see the advantages of that. In fact, given that the American bankruptcy rules recognize that companies are more valuable to their creditors alive than dead, the factories probably wouldn’t have missed more than a few days of production. American companies go through bankruptcy without closing their doors all the time.

He imposed sanctions on Chinese tires that received improper export subsidies, a move that saved thousands of U.S. tire-building jobs.

In other words, he forced millions of Americans to pay more for tires.

And now he’s challenging illegally subsidized Chinese auto parts to sustain American companies and workers.

And now he wants millions of American car owners to pay more for all the other parts as well. Thanks a lot.

Romney claims he loves American cars. But the actions of his private equity firm, Bain Capital, in buying companies that were “pioneers” in offshoring American jobs, suggest he’s fine with American firms making cars and car parts overseas.

Well, I certainly am. I love my Toyota and Acura. (Both of which are partially manufactured in America.)

Obama, by contrast, took the action necessary to ensure American cars are made in America by American companies employing American workers.

Thus making them cost a lot more for everyone who buys them.

Last Resort – Review

Last Resort is the new military-themed dramatic series by Shawn Ryan, creator of The Shield and The Chicago Code. It premiers this Thursday, September 27, at 7 pm central time on ABC, and it looks intriguing enough to have a future. And don’t worry, it’s not as bad as the publicity materials make it look.

(There are spoilers here, but not much more than you’d get from visiting the show’s website.)

The pilot episode is filled with activity and plot developments, beginning when the USS Colorado, a nuclear missile submarine operating in the Indian Ocean, picks up a SEAL team returning from an unknown mission during which something appears to have gone wrong.

In short order, we are introduced to Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher) and his Executive Officer, Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman), who is considering a transfer to a stateside desk job so he can see more of his wife. We also meet Lieutenant Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts), who is the daughter of an Admiral and therefore suspected of incompetance by a couple of crew and maybe by Master Chief Joseph Prosser (Robert Patrick, looking appropriately gruff).

Almost immediately, the Colorado receives a coded order to launch four nuclear missiles into Pakistan. There’s something strange about the message, so Captain Chaplain reaches out to the chain of command for confirmation. That doesn’t go well, and it leads to a tense situation on board, which is interrupted by a missile attack on the Colorado, apparently launched from another U.S. Navy vessel. The situation has all the signs of some kind of fake incident to start a war.

We are also given glimpses of the situation in the outside world, where we meet the XO’s wife, Christine Kendal (Jesse Schram), as she receives word of the attack on her husband’s sub, and defense contractor Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser), who manages to deliver some incredibly awkward exposition about the Colorado during a sex scene.

Some of this naval activity is being tracked by Sophie Girard (Camille De Pazzis), a scientist working at a NATO radar facility on the tropical island of Sainte Marina, where we also meet a local organized crime boss named Julian Serrat (Sahr Ngaujah) and, for some reason, bar owner Tani Tumrenjak (Dichen Lachman, apparently playing an ordinary human for once).

David Feige tells me that a pilot episode’s job is to wind up a clock that will unwind over the rest of the season, and this episode certainly winds it tight. Before the hour is over, Captain Chaplain will sail the Colorado into the bay at Sainte Marina and basically conquer the island, using the threat of the sub’s nuclear arsenal to fend off a U.S. counterattack. This will buy the crew some time to try to find out what’s happening, clear their names, and work through all the plot threads and conflicts setup in this episode, until they can finally return home to their loved ones.

Works of fiction are traditionally allowed to ask the audience to accept one crazy idea, and as crazy ideas go, this one isn’t too bad. However, the execution is a little shaky. One of the attractions of military thrillers is that they show the audience something interesting — how fighter jets evade missiles, or how Delta Force assaults an enemy compound — but Last Resort doesn’t feel like it has that level of authenticity.

Some of the suspect details can be excused by the shortcuts of television storytelling, such as fake radar screens that show events on the other side of the world, or the simplified procedures for launching missiles. On the other hand, the whole premise of anchoring the Colorado in the middle of the bay kind of defeats the purpose of having a submarine.

There’s something wrong, as well, with some of the characters. Daisy Betts seems to have a flirty smirk that will not go away no matter how angry or upset the script wants her to be. It’s not just a case of bad acting, however, because Autumn Reeser can’t seem to find the right way to say her lines either, and she’s got some acting depth. Maybe it’s because in real life there’s no such thing as a sex-kitten defense contractor?

I’m just saying, parts of the script are kind of hinky. Daniel Lissing plays Navy SEAL James King, who’s feeling worried and guilty about something yet to be revealed, but he can’t convince me his character actually knows what he’s so upset about. I don’t think the scriptwriters have told him yet.

Not that there isn’t some talent on the screen. Andre Braugher nails the role of Captain Chaplin, bringing just the right amount of gravitas, thoughtfulness, and decisiveness to the character, with just a little bit of mystery. And he doesn’t succumb to the TV drama shortcut of demonstrating leadership by yelling. Robert Patrick also turns in a good performance, disappearing into his role as the Chief of the Boat. Between them, they carry the episode.

Despite some of the problems, I still like the basic concept of the show, and I’m willing to believe that it could improve over the regular season, when there’s more time to develop the characters and conflicts. I’m going to keep an eye on Last Resort for at least a few more episodes.

(In case you’re wondering, there is no vessel named Colorado currently commissioned in the U.S. Navy, but a fast attack submarine with that name is under construction at Electric Boat.)

Why Puppycide?

The other day, someone asked Radley Balko why cops seem to shoot so many dogs. It seems Radley has become something of an expert on this subject. He’s the go-to guy on what everybody now calls puppycide. And this was his response:

Because they can. No training, no consequences.

That seemed like a pretty good explanation to me, but New York criminal defense lawyer Scott Greenfield thinks it’s mostly wrong. For one thing, Greenfield thinks it’s not caused by a lack of training, but as a direct result of training:

Cops kill dogs because of the First Rule of Policing, make it home for dinner. If a dog is perceived as a potential threat to the officer’s safety, no matter how slight, the cop will shoot the dog dead. It’s not that he wanted to kill another dog, but that there was no way, none, that he was going to suffer a scratch, no less a vicious bite.

In other words, police officers are taught to value their own safety above all else, and thus their use of force escalates far too steeply, with the result that they kill a lot of dogs for no good reason. And it’s not just dogs, as Scott illustrates with a recent police shooting story out of Houston:

A schizophrenic double amputee waving a writing pen from his wheelchair was fatally shot early Saturday by a Houston police officer, authorities said.

“He was approaching them aggressively,” said Houston Police Department spokes­woman Jodi Silva. “He was attempting to stab them with what is now found to be a pen.”

This is a point that Scott has been hitting over and over. He thinks modern police culture and training have become focused on officer safety to the exclusion of all other goals, including the safety of the people they’re supposed to serve and protect. I was skeptical at first, but he’s convinced me that this is a real problem, and it’s exacerbated by the attitude of some cops that many of the crimes they deal with are NHI, “no humans involved.” Why take risks for inhuman scum?

Nevertheless, I don’t think this is inconsistent with Radley’s statement, properly interpreted. Radley’s point about training is that police officers apparently don’t receive much training in handling overexcited dogs, so they sometimes overreact and resort to the gun when less violent options are available. If we want, as Scott suggests, for officer safety to be less of an all-consuming priority in police departments, that will have to translate to a training program that teaches officers a better way to handle less-than-lethal threats, including dogs. Radley is pointing out that such training is rare.

I also suspect there’s another reason why cops shoot dogs when it’s not necessary, and Scott and Radley both seem to miss it (or else regard it as too obvious to mention). Here’s how Scott puts it:

Cops do not shoot dogs because they hate dogs. They don’t roam the town in search of dogs to shoot. They don’t take independent joy in killing the family pet. It may seem that way, but it’s not the case. So the answer isn’t “because they can,” being of a dog-killing sort and murdering them whenever the opportunity presents itself.

I’m not so sure that’s true. Not for every cop.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about psychopathy — also known as sociopathy and related to anti-social personality disorder — and despite what horror movies tell us, most psychopaths are not serial killers (although many serial killers are psychopaths). They are simply people who have never felt an ounce of sympathy for another human being. They are the abusive boyfriends, the charming con men, the corporate executives who lie to everyone while stealing millions.

According to psychologist Martha Stout, psychopaths tend to relate to other people through manipulation and dominance games, which they can win by making others lose. As children, they are nearly powerless and unable to win against other people, but animals are a different story, and cruelty to animals is one of the diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder.

Psychologists estimate that at least 1% of the people in the U.S. are psychopaths, and it’s not hard to imagine that some of them have become police officers. It’s not hard to imagine that, contrary to Scott’s supposition above, these police officers do roam the town in search of dogs to shoot. They just do it under color of authority. Not only do they get to kill the stupid dog, but they get to watch the owner break down in tears, helpless against their power. For a psychopath, that’s a good day.

I’m not saying that every cop that shoots a dog is a psychopath, but I strongly suspect that some of them are. There may not be many of them, but psychopaths are devastating far beyond their numbers and likely account for more than their share of misery. There may be normal cops who mistakenly shoot friendly family pets in the back as they run away, but that’s far more likely to be a psychopath with a badge and gun.

What the Death Penalty Deters

Jeff Gamso has an interesting post today about what may be the most common use of the death penalty:

And there’s Jared Lee Loughner who might have been found insane rather than guilty of murder and locked away for the rest of his life after a trial rather than quickly pleading guilty and getting locked away for the rest of his life if..Arizona…didn’t have a death penalty.

See, it’s not about actually killing people.  The important part of the death penalty is the threat.

Not because it deters murderers. But because it deters trials.

In some ways, that’s one of the most devastating attacks on the death penalty I’ve ever read — that it’s a way to frighten the accused into waiving the right to a trial. Instead of the death penalty being some form of ultimate justice, it’s just another way for the state to crush people beneath it’s boot.

Read the whole thing.

Romney’s Disturbing Ignorance About the American Economy

The left has been going wild over Mitt Romney’s “47%” comment, and for good reason. What they may not realize is that a fair number of people on the free-market right aren’t too happy with it either, because it shows shocking ignorance of how the American economy works.

Steve Chapman has a takedown of Mitt Romney today which describes the problem pretty well. The angry folks on the right love to use that 47% figure to conjure up visions of lazy people on welfare stealing from us hard-working folks. But all that 47% figure means is that a little less than half of all Americans are not a significant presence in the workforce: Americans such as our children, our spouses who stay home to take care of those children, and our parents who took care of us and are now retired.

The latter group is especially huge:

From where has the growth in “dependency” come? Mainly Social Security and Medicare. Since 1990, the number of people getting Social Security benefits has risen by more than a third. That’s not because the government has suddenly enlarged the program in an effort to undermine self-reliance. It’s because there are more old people.

The advantage of Social Security, for those worried about soul-sapping dependency, is that it rewards work. It’s an earned benefit. The alleged moochers worked when younger so they could take it easy in old age. That’s how things are supposed to work.

In essence, these people are living off of their savings. Or else they’re living on credit, which is not a bad thing if done wisely, with the intent of returning to the workforce, or of joining the workforce, as is the case with students, who make up another big segment of the 47%. Apparently Mitt Romney thinks that someone who takes off a year or two to go to school is mooching off the hard work of others, when they’re really investing in their own ability to do hard work.

There’s also this:

Romney may not realize that one reason many low-income Americans pay no federal income taxes is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which covers some 27 million people, up from 19 million in 2000.

The program does not subsidize sloth but labor, since it’s available almost exclusively to adults who are employed, particularly those with children. It was conceived to give the able-bodied poor greater incentives to enter the labor force, and it works.

Easing the tax burden on those who have the least was not always anathema to conservatives. In signing the historic 1986 tax reform, President Ronald Reagan expressed pride that “millions of the working poor will be dropped from the tax rolls altogether.”

Besides, low-income workers are subject to federal payroll taxes, which are not trivial.

Many people on EITC will eventually get raises or move into better jobs that pay more, and they they will begin paying income tax. So will those students, and so will the parents who took time off to care for their children. So will the temporarily unemployed, and the temporarily disabled, all of whom are in Romney’s 47%. Just because someone isn’t paying income tax right now doesn’t mean they will go their whole lives that way.

Read the whole thing.

Resident Evil: Retribution – Review


So my wife and I went to see Resident Evil: Retribution last weekend. We decided to splurge a bit on the tickets, because if we’re going to watch some trashy hot-chick violence porn, we really should watch it in IMAX 3D.

This movie hits all the key points of the Resident Evil franchise: Zombies, soldiers, zombie soldiers, a giant slimy boss creature, Milla Jovovich face-kicking zombies, Milla Jovovich gunning down zombies with a pair of shiny pistols, Milla Jovovich waking up on the floor half naked… It was exactly what I expected.

I think this film has secured Jovovich’s position as the top name in ass-kicking ladies (although there is much to be said for Kate Beckinsale in Underworld: Awakening — I’d pay money to see a slow-motion 3D catfight between Alice and Selene). But just in case Milla’s not enough, she’s brought a few friends. Sienna Guillory returns as Jill Valentine, although for most of the movie she is acting under the influence of evil forces. Li Bingbing also makes a good impression as Ada Wong, but she doesn’t get a lot of screen time.

The real stand-out guest ass-kicking hot chick, however, is Michele Rodriguez, returning in full bad-girl mode. You may remember that her character, Rain Ocampo, died in the first movie, but as you might also remember, the Umbrella Corporation has can clone full-grown adults. This allows Rodriguez to come back as a badass evil twin of Rain. But it also allows her to come back as another clone of herself that’s been imprinted with a standard-issue suburban soccer mom personality. After seeing Rodriguez playing so many tough chicks with her patented Sleepy-Eyelid Stare of Contempt, I honestly didn’t know she could play anything else. It was kind of fun to discover her versatility.

The plot is the usual Resident Evil goofiness, involving a giant underground Umbrella Corporation testing facility where the aformentioned cloning takes place. It’s mostly just a plot device to allow the filmmakers to bring back some popular characters. In fact, between the regular returning characters, the cloned characters, and the characters who have switched sides, I’ve pretty much lost track of who’s who. They could swap them all around in the next movie, and I’d never notice the discontinuity.

One thing that surprised me about Resident Evil: Retribution was that parts of it were strikingly beautiful. The opening credits begin with Alice floating underwater and then move backwards in slow motion to show how she got there after the ship she was on is attacked. It’s a violent and stunning visual.

Through some more plot goofiness I can’t get into without spoilers, other beautifully-filmed action scenes are set in Tokyo, Moscow, New York, and a submarine pen in the Kamchatka peninsula. There’s also a visually arresting sequence set on the surface of a frozen sea filled with trapped ships.

What more can I say? Do lots of people die? Are lots of zombies shot in the head? Does Alice get away? Does she discover in the end that there is still more fighting to be done in the next movie? I think you can guess.

Still, if you want to see another Resident Evil movie, well, this one is as good as any of them.

in Movies

Don’t Muslims Have Something More Important To Do?

In response to the violence in parts of the Muslim world over The Innocence of Muslims video, Eric Zorn is rightly puzzled:

Why would a robust, enduring worldwide faith pay any mind whatsoever to assorted pesky critics? Don’t their conniptions over the blasphemies of infidels betray weakness rather than strength? What good is respect for one’s religion if it’s maintained through the fear of violent retribution and, in many countries, imprisonment?

Here’s another question: Why would a robust, enduring worldwide faith pay any mind whatsoever to a YouTube video? From accounts, The Innocence of Muslims is an implied porn flick with anti-Islamic overdubbing. Protesting it is the equivalent of protesting an obscene marker drawing of Muhammad scrawled on the wall of a public restroom.


Stupid Muslim Fundamentalists?

When first I read the news that Muslim fundamentalists in Egypt were attacking the U.S. embassy in protest to a movie about Mohammad, my immediate reaction was that they were idiots. Someone, somewhere in the United States made a movie insulting their religion and they’re getting violently pissed off at the embassy? What a bunch of morons.

Then yesterday I read that similar attacks in Libya resulted in the death of Ambassador Stevens and several others.

Again, I was astounded by the dangerous insanity on display. Put simply, if you think your religion demands that you kill people who disrespect it, then your religion is stupid, and you are stupid for following it.

[Update: This first detail section appears to be a false report. It’s now being reported that Ambassador Stevens was killed in the embassy.]

Then I read the details of the attack:

The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staff were killed in a rocket attack on their car, a Libyan official said, as they were rushed from a consular building stormed by militants denouncing a U.S.-made film insulting the Prophet Mohammad.

Gunmen had attacked and burned the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, a center of last year’s uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, late on Tuesday evening, killing one U.S. consular official. The building was evacuated.

The Libyan official said the ambassador, Christopher Stevens, was being driven from the consulate building to a safer location when gunmen opened fire.

“The American ambassador and three staff members were killed when gunmen fired rockets at them,” the official in Benghazi told Reuters.


That doesn’t sound so stupid. In fact, it sounds less like mob action and more like special ops. The crowds gathering outside the embassy may have been the usual ignorant fools, but somebody with tactical smarts was hiding amoung them. Whoever it was, they knew enough to hold off the rocket attack until they had a high-value target out in the open. They may or may not have whipped the mob into a frenzy, but they sure used the mob to suit their purposes.

I’m just guessing from reports, but it looks like our ambassador wasn’t killed by the mob. He was killed by somebody’s soldiers.

Update: And then the story changes again. It now appears the the ambassador died in the fire at the embassy, but the remaining Americans were followed to their safe house, which came under siege:

Here, two more things went wrong. First, Obeidi found four times as many Americans at the single-storey, fortified house as he had been told expect – 37, not just 10. So he did not have enough transport. Then, the villa came under massive attack.

This time, there was little doubt in the minds of Libyans who experienced it that this was a well-organized assault by men who had mastered the complexities of military mortar fire.

“This attack was planned,” Obeid said. “The accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any ordinary revolutionaries.”

While some Libyan officials suggested that former soldiers from Gaddafi’s army may have been involved in Benghazi, some of the Islamist fighters also have substantial military experience from years spent fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

So, yeah, it was a military operation against U.S. personnel. A small act of war.