President Obama on Leno’s Tonight Show: I’m Stunned By Those AIG Bonuses

President Obama on Leno’s Tonight Show: Stunned By Those AIG Bonuses

Whenever a late-night television show features a sitting president, it usually comes as material for a stand-up comedy routine. But on Thursday night, President Obama overturned another tradition when he appeared on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show to promote his economic recovery plan. President Obama held his own with the comedian, countering Mr. Leno’s jabs about the executive bonuses given out by the American International Group, saying, “The only place where I think this might work is Hollywood.” Obama did not explicitly endorse the House bill passed on Thursday, which would tax bonuses paid to those whose companies have gotten large amounts of federal bailout money, saying “The money’s already gone out.” “I think the best way to handle this is to make sure you’ve closed the door before the horse gets out of the barn,” he said.

When Mr. Leno asked whether someone should go to jail for the AIG debacle, President Obama replied, “Most of what got us into trouble was perfectly legal.” In his appearance with Mr. Leno, Obama carefully balanced his comments between projecting a sense of good humor and projecting a presidential bearing. For example, he momentarily appeared to look startled when Mr. Leno joked that the president had laid the problems of the banking sector at the doorstep of the Treasury Secretary, Timothy F. Geithner. “I love how you say it’s his problem,” Mr. Leno said. For a moment, President Obama gave a stone-faced look to Leno. Then he broke into a laugh, as if he suddenly realized that Leno’s put-down was meant as a joke. “All of this is my responsibility,” Obama said. “I’m trying to break a pattern in Washington where everybody’s always looking for someone to blame.”

President Obama with Jay Leno: I’m Stunned By Those AIG Bonuses

Interested readers will find more in today’s edition of The New York Times here.

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Drux and Flux: The Flow of Progress into Tragic Social Decay

Drux and Flux: The Flow of Progress into Tragic Social Decay

It is only for the sake of those without hope
that hope is given to us
.”

Walter Benjamin

Drux and Flux: Visual Comments on Today’s Deepening Economic Crisis

Drux and Flux won the Canadian Film Institute’s 2008 Award for Best Canadian Animation, as well as an Honorable Mention for Best Experimental/Abstract Animation at the 2008 International Animation Festival in Otowa, Canada. Director Theodore Ushev’s Drux and Flux presents an oppressive and miserable vision of how both the contemporary commitment to an over-arching belief in progress and to the ever-expanding industrialism in society have effected modern life. The five-minute short film opens with shots of a printing press, which are used to present the film’s opening titles. That scene then switches away and shifts, through rapidly choreographed cuts, to an elevated train, a dimly-lit manufacturing city-scape, the interior of a factory, then to the manufacturing building’s inner workings. The cuts are rapid, and the fast pace is maintained throughout the film.

The quickly cut scenes track the rise and fall of industry and are accompanied by increasingly discordant sounds on its background music track. Scenes from Soviet propaganda posters and the clashing of gears and girders are juxtaposed, along with almost subliminal flashes of the words “1932” (the year of Hitler’s first election-run for Chancellor of Germany) and “Juggernaut” (a possible reference to perceptions of WWII Germany as an “unstoppable force”). The latter disturbing associations between ever-increasing industrialization, exponential technological advance and the rise of totalitarian political regimes can be quite unsettling. Drux and Flux culminates with clip-art style images of a human skeleton that is reinforced with building materials, yet it’s still unable to support itself. The overall result for the viewer of this film is a vision of the potential horrors of modern-day industrialization, which has been summoned like a nightmare brought about by watching too many hours of late-night horror films while listening to a constantly-looping off-speed recording of Verdi’s Il Travatore Anvil Chorus.

Ushev drew his inspiration for Drux and Flux from a variety of sources. Sociologist-philosopher-political radical Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man (1964) is cited as his starting point, a work that presents a wide-ranging critique of both advanced capitalist and communist societies. This book theorized about the inevitable decline of revolutionary potential in capitalist societies and about the development of new and potent forms of social control, especially over the common working person. Marcuse argued that “advanced industrial society” created false needs which fused individuals into homogenized particles that comprised the existing system of production and consumption. Advertising, industrial management, politicians and the mass-media cooperated to brainwash members of the working class, eliminating their potential for effective expressions of negativity, critique, and opposition. The result, according to Marcuse, was a “one-dimensional” universe of thought and behavior, in which the very aptitude and ability for critical thinking and for developing either opposing or alternative social positions was withering away.

As Drux and Flux travels through its series of dismal industrial scenes, one is left with a deeply sad mood about the frightening impressions of the enormous slabs of metal and rust, the smells of rotting death. By the end of this short five-minute journey, the viewer is left to wonder whether this is what things actually might be like when our industrial world finally reaches its end.

Drux and Flux: The Flow of Progress into Tragic Social Decay

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Stock Market Plunges: Hard Times for the Rich, Poor and Homeless

Stock Market Plunges: Hard Times for the Rich, Poor and Homeless

The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index was down nearly 7.6 percent yesterday and the Dow Jones industrial average was down 678.91 points, both posting one of their worst days in post-war history. In addition, new data released on Thursday showed that retail investors were withdrawing tens of billions of dollars from stock mutual funds, a sign that the panic on Wall Street is spreading. This stupendous stock market crash should serve as a stark reminder to us that ultimately, no one is much different from people who are either very poor or homeless.

Stock Market Plunges: Hard Times for the Rich, Poor and Homeless

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The Katty Wall Street Bailout

The Katty Wall Street Bailout

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The Wall Street Blues: Dark Humor in Hard Times

The Wall Street Blues: Dark Humor

The Wall Street Blues: Hard Times

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Urban Wanderers: The Itinerant Lives of Artists in the Modern City

Brooke Berman is lucky enough to be living in Seventh Heaven this week. That’s the name of the dormitory rooms that New Dramatists, a non-profit center for playwrights housed in an old church on West 44th Street, offers to its 49 artists-in-residence for short stays. Ms. Berman, who is now 38, has made the small garret room feel homey by decorating it with a few of her warm personal objects: a necklace of buttons hanging from a nail, her laptop computer decorated with stickers and a collage of words and pictures, across the middle of which is glued the word “HOME.”

Ms. Berman came to New York when she was 18 to attend Barnard College. Seven years ago, she won a $20,000 playwright’s grant, the Helen Merrill Award. She has had some recognition for her playwriting over the years. Some of her plays have been workshopped or produced in cities like Chicago, New Haven, Los Angeles and London. Three years ago, she sold the film rights to one of her plays, Smashing, to Natalie Portman and wrote another screenplay for Ms. Portman.

Her new play Hunting and Gathering has just opened at an Off-Broadway theater. The idea for Hunting and Gathering came six years ago when Ms. Berman was asked by an arts organization to write a 10-minute play on the subject of home. “I listed every apartment I’d ever lived in,” said Ms. Berman. She was 32 at the time and already had 15 addresses behind her. “I was interested in the juxtaposition between our home life and our ability to connect with other people. And I was just beginning to realize that after 30 an air mattress isn’t charming.” Reviewers have described Hunting and Gathering as a saga of artists who go through sublets and house-sits as if they were Kleenex, which also speaks to the lives of many young and youngish, apartment-seeking New Yorkers who either don’t have trust funds or jobs on Wall Street.

At this point, Ms. Berman has lived in more than 30 apartments during the last 20 years, three in the last six months alone, and she has become superbly adept at rapidly making herself feel comfortable almost anywhere. Living on money from unexpected grants, temporary jobs and teaching positions, she is symbolic of a modern urban wandering clan. Theater people have long been considered to be an integral part of the original urban nomads, and they are currently clear examples of the increasingly unstable domestic lives of artists who are trying to continue living and working in New York City today.

A well-publicized example of this plight being experienced by artists in Manhattan is the story of what has been happening at The Chelsea Hotel on West 23d Street, an elegantly shabby Victorian-Gothic hotel, which is registered as a national historic landmark. The Chelsea has had a long history of serving as a sanctuary for the avant-garde. Last year, a corporate management team took over running the Chelsea, and its artist-residents have correctly worried that the plans are for the hotel to be transformed into a posh New York “boutique” hotel. The corporate team has already expended a great deal of energy finding ways to empty the hotel of its artist-residents.

Another illustration of the obstacles confronting the artistic community is the present-day rental market: rent for a studio or a one-bedroom apartment in the East Village alone has more than doubled in the last 10 years. When the rent on Ms. Berman’s Mott Street one-bedroom apartment, where she had lived for three years, rose to $1,550 from $1,350 a year ago, she just gave up her lease, beginning another bout of itinerancy. “It’s all about money,” Ms. Berman said cheerfully. “It’s not like I have a penchant for the transient life.”

According to Emily Morse, the director of artistic development at New Dramatists, “You used to be able to work a 20-hour week, pay the rent on your tiny studio, and still have the time to write your plays. That’s no longer possible.” New Dramatists, which Ms. Morse described as “part hotel, for people who are in transient positions in their lives,” allows its artists-in-residence to stay in the Seventh Heaven rooms for three weeks at a time. “They are always full,” she said.

Brooke Berman: Life as an Urban Artist-Nomad

Readers who are interested in learning more about Brooke Berman’s story, as well as the difficulties faced by other artists trying to live and work in New York City today, will find a detailed account in The New York Times here.

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Matt Drudge Continues His Crusade as a Shameless Disgrace

Matt Drudge: The Drudge Report

I have already pointed out here and also here on my blog what I believe to be the intentionally venomous effects of Matt Drudge’s so-called corrupt reporting at The Drudge ReportJoe Klein posts this in Time Magazine today:

“I know this is old news, but this guy is shameless.  The headline, with a photo of a three-quarters crazed Hillary, is HEALTH INSURANCE PROOF REQUIRED FOR WORK but the linked story says this:

At this point, we don’t have anything punitive that we have proposed,” the presidential candidate said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We’re providing incentives and tax credits which we think will be very attractive to the vast majority of Americans.  “She said she could envision a day when “you have to show proof to your employer that you’re insured as a part of the job interview — like when your kid goes to school and has to show proof of vaccination,” but said such details would be worked out through negotiations with Congress.

How stupid does he think we are?  Answer: Extremely dumbolic.

I’ll have more about Clinton’s health plan in this week’s print column.”

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