Quick Movie Reviews: Comedy Dictator Edition

The Death of Stalin

I came across this little gem on Showtime.  If it ever hit the movie theaters, I don’t have a memory of it, however this film has a great cast with some…interesting casting choices (Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev?).   Wikipedia called this a “political satire black comedy,” which is one way to describe it.  I would have called it an absurdist comedy, but in any case, the movie takes a real historical event and makes it absurd.

In 1953, Josef Stalin abruptly dies, throwing his coterie of yes men and toadies into a frenzied panic.  After years of being kept in an almost continuous state of terror in which one wrong slip could land one in prison or worse by the mercurial Stalin, they suddenly find themselves in a continuous state of terror by each other, as they maneuver to preserve and extend their power and keep their heads.  It’s no spoiler to say that Khrushchev eventually wins the power struggle, but the constant scheming and casual betrayals makes for some high comedy.

Of note is that the character of Lavrentiy Beria, played by British Actor Simon Russel Beale, is probably one of the most evil men of the 20th Century (Beria, not Beale of course).  However in this telling, he comes across as the most sympathetic, as he moves to undo some of the damage he caused under Stalin. Naturally, no good deed goes unpunished, and no; that’s not a spoiler, its history.  Educate yourselves (as any college freshman is happy to tell anyone twice as old with twice the formal education).

This is 1984 if done as a comedy, and if you look at it just the right way, totalitarianism, and its oppressive orthodoxies, are comedic.  As Stalin’s inner circle changes their opinions to fit the current party line, we can laugh at such an absurd society, and carefully delete what we just wrote on twitter, since what was an ordinary comment yesterday becomes a thought crime today. The bobbing, weaving and careful choosing of words among Stalin’s men might be reminiscent of a modern college social science class, making this a movie that is relevant in the current year.

Plus, this movie is banned in Russia!

 

My Netflix Review: Look Who’s Back

Finally, here is the story of a politician who is literally Hitler.

In the same way that the buffet at the Golden Corral is larger than my stomach, my list in Netflix is much larger than my available time to view the cornucopia of shows. However prompted by a friend’s recommendation, I pulled this one out of my list and into the “watching now” category. Look Who’s Back is a German language film that I still thought Germany wasn’t ready for.  How to deal with Hitler has been an annoying hangnail of German discourse for over seventy years, and this movie is an interesting take on Germany’s “Hitler Question.”

Instead of pulling the trigger in his Berlin bunker, Hitler finds himself hurled forward in time to the far future year of 2014. Found by recently fired TV producer, Fabian Sawatzki, Fabian plots to return to TV by filming a documentary on the person he perceives as a Hitler performance artist. So Hitler and Fabian go on a road trip across modern Germany to film German’s reaction to “Hitler.”  Hitler of course, sees this as the groundwork to return to power, and much of the film is devoted to laughing locals asking Hitler questions and Hitler responding.  In one scene, while talking with a married couple, Hitler asks for their vote.  When they laughing decline to vote for him; Hitler asks for their address for the first round of mass arrests.  They laugh again because that’s the bit; no one takes him seriously, it’s all a joke; a gag for television.

For Hitler, it’s not a joke.  And eventually, even Fabian starts to get suspicions that this “performance artist” may be a bit darker than he thought.  But it’s still all fun and games until finally, someone really recognizes him for who he is.

As an American, I’m not a fan of foreign films that are filmed in funny talk, or as most people know it, a foreign language.  I’m also suspicious of foreign comedy films since comedy is a shifting target across cultures and languages.  However this was a comedy that was actually funny, even across cultures and language.  In fact, it provided a couple of laugh out loud moments, which is becoming rarer in so called “comedy” movies.

So my advice is to go see both of these films.  The Party commands it.

 

 

Assange Indictment Sounds like BS to Me

Julian Assange, looking like a demented Santa Claus, was booted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Thursday in preparation to be extradited to the United States. Ecuador; tired of his antics, finally let the other shoe drop and kicked him out. Of course this was bound to happen eventually, which makes me wonder how Assange thought that remaining a prisoner in the Ecuadorian Embassy for years was actually better than serving a prison sentence (for whatever real or imaginary crimes) and then getting out.

The internet comments on Assange’s arrest don’t line up in the usual left/right way you would expect.  Assange is an anti-American leftist and normally should expect support from…anti-American leftists.  Although that still seems true for the international set, the domestic anti-American leftists are split.  Most applaud his work in helping to severely damage US national security by releasing a treasure trove of classified information from the Manning leaks, but hurting Hillary and helping the Orange Man to win the Presidency?  Unforgivable!   On the right, the split is reversed.  Some applaud Wikileaks in preventing a Hillary-Apocalypse, but others hate the national security damage he helped cause.

And where do I come down?  I think he’s an anti-American leftist who hates the US and would do anything he can to bring it down.  However, that’s no different than the Publishers and editorial staff of The New York Times, Washington Post, and many if not most US newspapers and media outlets.  They also are anti-American leftists who hate the US and would do anything to bring it down.  And all of those newspapers and TV news outlets have published or reported on all matter of stolen classified information from Manning, Snowden, and innumerable leaks over the years; all damaging to the US.  And they are all, Assange included, protected by the First Amendment.

As a work around, the Department of Justice has made up a charge of conspiring to hack government computers, something I don’t recall ever being mentioned during Manning’s trial.  You can read the indictment here.

A few years ago, I would have just swallowed that story and accepted it, however the past few years have worn away any trust I might have had in the DoJ. Simply put, I just don’t believe it. Manning already had access to the SIPRNET, the Secret level government classified network, and apparently had so few, or no duties while deployed in Iraq that he could sit in front of his workstation for his entire shift, for weeks and months on end, copying files to a CD.  Manning didn’t need any extra passwords to unload a treasure trove of classified information.

If this case gets as far as discovery, I imagine his lawyers should demand some sort of evidence that the information was not already available on SIPRNET with the passwords and accesses that Manning already had.  I have a sneaking suspicion though that it will never get that far.

Tucker, Ben Shapiro, and John Adams

I came across this video over the weekend of Tucker Carlson and Ben Shapiro, engaged in a newish debate of populism versus traditional conservatism™.  You can easily guess who was taking what side.

Where those two differ, I’ve already decided which side of the line I’m on, but what caught my eye about this mini-debate occurred about five minutes in.

Shapiro: “…the John Adams formulation was that this constitution was only built for a moral and virtuous people, it wasn’t built for any other.  There are two ways to actually tackle that.  One is to say we are no longer moral and no longer virtuous, so we have to change-freedom, and the other is to say, well, if we want to maintain the freedom we have to become moral and virtuous again.”

Hmmm…that is the question isn’t it?

The John Adams quote…

…was considered a truism in an earlier age, particularly in the mass democracy distrusting founding fathers. Carlson and Shapiro never resolve the issue in the few minutes of the debate, but it’s a good question none the less.  A representative government is the trickiest and most difficult type of government to pull off, and requires several preconditions, including those mentioned here.  If you don’t have an ethical electorate, how are you going to have ethical electoral results?  Obviously you can’t, and although Shapiro seems to hold out some hope that the populace can be made virtuous again, I see no mechanism to do that.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tolled the bell for our system of government.  It’s been wobbly for a long time and shows no signs of righting itself.  Historically, aging democracies end in some sort of tyranny.  Is that where we are heading? I confess I don’t have any answers for this, but it’s important to at least be aware of the questions.

Election Interference and the Mueller Report

When first writing about the Russia! Russia! Russia! hysteria right after the Presidential election, I made mention of the fact that this wasn’t the first time that foreign powers had interfered with a US election, but in the two plus years since then, there has been barely a mention of that in the media, as if the Russian interference in the 2016 election was some sort of singular event, unprecedented in history.

Nope.

In 2012, both the Obama and Romney campaigns were under continuous cyber assault during election, with the National Republican Congressional Committee hardest hit.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo stated last year that Russians interfered in the 2012 elections as well as previous ones.

In 2008, China hacked the computer systems of both the Obama and McCain campaigns.

The Obama Administration was not exactly gung ho about doing anything to prevent Russian hacking. It rejected an attempt to “create an executive-branch task force to battle Russia’s covert information operations…”  But as I’ve noted, there has been a history of exactly this sort of interference, long before Trump made his live TV request to Russia, “Russia if you’re listening…”

Believe it or not, much of the Russia collusion conspiracy theory rests on this joke.

With that kind of history, one can only wonder why the Obama administration took such a lackadaisical approach to foreign powers “hacking” US elections, and why that’s Trump’s problem?

With the Mueller investigation rumored to be near its close, a healthy reminder is required of a few things I’ve previously mentioned:

No collusion.  As I’ve predicted for the past two years, I’m still sticking by my prediction that the Mueller Investigation will not show any collusion between Trump or the Trump campaign and Russia to “hack” the election.

However I don’t think that Mueller would actually wrap up the investigation unless he felt he had something that he could put in a report that would provide fodder for the original purpose of the investigation: Impeaching Trump. Based on the theory that a 70 plus year old billionaire is bound to have done something, there will probably be some slim reed the Democrats and never-Trumpers can grasp.  It probably wouldn’t be considered anything like an impeachable offense in an earlier age, but we’re still in the midst of hysteria so anything goes.

I would like to think that the Mueller investigation coming to a close would put to bed this nonsense conspiracy theory, but I suspect that the media will seamlessly move to a lot of other brand new phony conspiracy theories.

 

The Reparations Gambit

I have been waiting for this ball to drop for a long time.  I thought maybe that 2014 would be the year that the Democrats would pull the electoral ripcord on the reparations issue, but they seemed to drop the ball on it and suffered in the elections accordingly.  Then in 2016 I thought Hillary would pull reparations out of her purse (it was right beside the hot sauce) and close the enthusiasm gap among black voters.  But she was so confident that she couldn’t lose that she decided it could stay in her purse.  Like Trump was really going to beat her?  After all, once you pull the reparations card, it’s out for good.  You can’t change your mind and stick in back in your oversized purse.

But now the issue is out, and it looks like 2020 will be the first Presidential election year (and forever more) that reparations become a real political issue. According to The New York Times, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Julián Castro have all come out in support of some type of reparations.  They are rather vague on the details and price tag, but eh, it’s still early, and besides, those sorts of details are not very important or at least no more important than details and price tag for a “Green Deal.”

By the time we get to the nomination, some form of reparations will be part of the candidate’s agenda and part of the Democratic Party platform.  And it can join the other trillion dollar promises, like Medicare for all, Green Dreams, Universal Basic Income (UBI), Universal Daycare, Free College, and the hundreds of other spending fantasies.  However unlike the other high dollar promises, reparations promise to be eternally racially divisive.

Just what this country needs.

To be fair, slavery reparations do have the tug of moral authority to them.  In a perfect world, I would support them myself. A great evil was done and there should be some sort of compensation for it. However it’s 150 years later. There is no one alive that was a slave, and the practicalities of coming up with a fair and just system to compensate their descendants seem pretty daunting.  I’ve thought long and hard on this subject myself and have yet to figure out a way, or have read of any such plan, that would be workable and just.

Never has the devil been more in the details of a policy than in reparations.  If Abraham Lincoln’s Freedman’s Bureau had been allowed to continue its work, and the newly freed slaves had gotten their 40 acres and a mule, this issue would have been one and done.  But now, who do you compensate?  If, for example, you have theoretical reparations of a $50,000 credit, to be applied to either college or home down payment (the two gateways to the middle class), do you give it to the man, his, son, or his son (assuming all living)?  Should it be given to the oldest living relative in a family, or the youngest?  Or do you just give it to every descendant of slaves from now on?

Of course, that means Barrack Obama, Colin Powell, or Kamala Harris would be entitled to zero reparations since none of them are descendants of American slaves. What about Malia Obama, the President’s daughter?  Would she get half of reparations? And how would you determine eligibility?  There are probably a lot of African Americans who would have a great deal of difficulty laying their hands on all of the documentation necessary to prove ancestry from the slaves freed in 1865.  So would you just go by skin color? Self Identification? DNA?  Imagine, Rachel Dolezal being eligible for reparations. Or imagine the millions of white people with sub-Saharan ancestry thanks to DNA testing, who want their piece of the reparations pie.  If the one drop rule is good for the goose…

But in a way, the very difficulty in figuring out the right policy is a feature, not a bug.  It’s more useful as an issue than an actual policy. And with the added benefit of being racially divisive, it’s the perfect issue for Democrats to run on in 2020.

And every election thereafter.

 

Jussie Smollett’s New Martyrdom

I’ve had a fascination with hate hoaxes, ever since I followed, and was fooled by, the OG of racial hate hoaxes, Tawana Brawley. The key element of believability (at least in those innocent times) was who would actually do that to themselves?  She has to be telling the truth.  I mean, who writes racial slurs on their bodies and covers themselves in feces?  After a long, publicity laden story, it turned out that Tawana Brawley did.  As memory serves, I was genuinely shocked at that revelation. But the Tom Wolfe novel come to life that describes the entire sordid tale is still a well-known story and is still the template for numerous racial hoaxes over the years.

However once the cherry is busted on the idea that people will do damn near anything to claim the mantle of righteous victim, these stories become a predictable source of entertainment.  In fact a few years ago I wrote a post summarizing some of the best (IMHO) hate hoaxes for the year.  Two from the list come to mind as hoaxers that were really willing to go the distance to pull this off:

Charlie Rodgers (Charlie is a girl), an ex-college basketball star who made the false claim that she was raped by attackers who carved anti-gay slurs into her.  Under the slightest bit of police investigation, the story fell apart and wonder of wonders; she actually got jail time for it.  But I direct you to the dedication she showed to her craft:  she actually carved anti-gay slogans into her own skin.  That’s dedication to the cause.  I’m not into giving awards or rating these hoaxes, but if there was a Tawana Brawley award for willing to go the distance to pull off a hoax, I believe Ms. Rodgers would make the short list for that.

But why, you may ask, not the winner?  Could there be another candidate with similar dedication?  You’re darn right!  May I present, Morgan Triplet.  She was determined to have the best presentation at the University of California-Santa Cruz Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues by announcing she was a victim of rape, a real one.  As reported:

“Prosecutors said Friday that Triplett allegedly placed two ads on Craigslist, one requesting someone to shoot her in the shoulder with a small caliber gun in exchange for sex. The second ad was a request for someone to punch, kick and bruise her in exchange for sex. In the ads, placed in the Santa Cruz County region of Craigslist, Triplett also stated that she would not file charges.”

That’s definitely being a good sport about the whole thing.”

 

And then we come to Jussie Smollett…

The story sounded fishy from the start Two MAGA guys, who watch Empire and actually know who Jussie Smollett is, hang around Chicago at 2 AM during the polar vortex on the off chance that Smollett would leave his apartment in the middle of the night to get a Subway sandwich.  Then when finding him, they…punch him a few times (I’ve never been clear on that), place a clothesline (the “noose”) around his neck, and then leave?  As highly improbable as that story sounded, I guess it was still barely possible.

Except for that “noose.”

For future observers of the racial hate hoax scene, if there is a noose involved, the story is fake.  Lynching and nooses are an overwhelming part of being woke in America.  There is a noose around every corner, and every gun shop or Trump rally is stocked with nooses, ready to go.  In real life, the bulk of the 3,500 or so African Americans who were actually lynched were done by the 1960’s.  But as a symbol, the Noose is just as vibrant as it was a century ago.  In fact, Smollett even hosted a documentary about lynching.  It’s clear he has noose on the mind.

As of this writing, Smollett is still proclaiming his innocence, or perhaps with a bit more clarity, his victim-hood.  Whether his evolving legal situation eventually requires him to publicly fess up or not, my guess is that won’t matter to the many people who still believe him, and any future confessions won’t matter.  Tawana Brawley still has her believers after all.  But even more so now than in Brawley’s time, this is an age in which narrative is more important than truth. At a certain level of wokeness hate hoaxes are not just OK but necessary in order to reveal a greater “truth.”  Or as Dan Rather might have put it, fake but accurate.

 

Trump Bombed on the Border, Bigley

Last month I wrote a post on Trump’s Mid-Term Report Card, and on the subject of political negotiations, I gave him an F, particularly in the case of the wall and immigration issues, the Wall Street Journal gave a pretty close account of how Trump’s inattention and Congressional leadership’s opposition, allowed the issue to languish until the Democrats won the House.  At that point, it became an impossible dream. Still he persisted…

But to no avail. After initiating the longest shut down in history, the end result of that was Trump signing a bill today that was far worse than if he had never shut down the government at all. Conservative Review had a breakdown of the 5 worst parts of the bill, but in an 1,169 page bill, we will still be discovering Easter eggs even though the bill is already signed.

  1. Less wall than the Democrats had previously agreed to.
  2. Local officials can veto wall portions in their area.
  3. Amnesty (!) for child traffickers and smugglers.
  4. Resettling illegals throughout the country.
  5. Increases low skilled Visa categories.

In other words, this bill sucks.  I would have been angry if Obama or Hillary had signed this sort of garbage, but when the most immigration restrictionist President since Eisenhower signs it, where do you go?

Trump should not have signed this.  Never mind whatever “Emergency Declaration” he thinks may get him more money for the wall sometime in a year or two (assuming it survives all the court challenges).  In the meantime he’s made US immigration law much worse.

He’s looking at another F.