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9

2010 Top Movies of the Year

I do this every year…and every year, I get more hate mail than support.  And yet, I come back for more.  I guess I am a glutton for punishment.  Well, for what its worth (not much, I know), here we go…

Honorable Mentions:  Millenium Trilogy, Exit Through The Gift Shop, Black Swan, 127 Hours, The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Shutter Island, Splice, Let Me In, How To Train Your Dragon.

10.  Tangled

Tangled is the first non-Pixar movie in a long time that really captured the Disney spirit.  First and foremost, the main character was Rapunzel, a princess…a character that obviously appeals to all those little girls out there.  Mix that with a tried and true storyline that Disney has perfected over the decades, along with a beautiful cinematography, and Disney had an obvious hit on their hands.  This is a film that every little girl should be taken to.

9.  True Grit

It is a rarity when a movie remake is better than the original…but this is a prime example.  The Coen Brothers (No Country For Old Men) took the Charles Portis novel, and renewed the story with a beautiful cast and artistry.  The original, the 1969 film that gave John Wayne his only Oscar, is considered by many Western film afficionados as a classic…I still think this movie is better.   It has a deeper artistry and reality about it.  And in this time and age, when Westerns simply are not in vogue anymore, the ability of the Coen brothers to time and again make films such as these is remarkable.

8.  Winter’s Bone

You want a real, unflinching view of where the dark side of America exists?  This is it.  From Daniel Woodrell’s novel from which the story is adapted, the movie is set in Missouri’s secretive Ozarks, where families deal with their own problems, for good or ill.  Ree Dally (Jennifer Lawrence) is taking care of her two younger siblings, as well as her virtually mentally incompetent mother, while her father, a crystal meth dealer, is MIA.  The movie follows Ree as she searches for her father, and tries to keep her family together, all at the same time.

7.  Waiting For Superman

Davis Guggenheim also directed and produced An Inconvenient Truth…an excellent reason to ignore him.  But don’t ignore this movie.  Really.  The prior movie was a travesty…Waiting For Superman was a necessity.  Guggenheim weaves an emotional story of students fighting for spots in an elite school.  He doesn’t pull punches, going after traditional liberal third rails such as the public education system and the teachers union.  You think America needs to reform?  It all starts with education, and Guggenheim shows us why reform needs to start now.

6.  The Social Network

I, like many of you, are Facebook fanatics. So, it is definitely fascinating to see this documentary on the partially factual tale of how Jeffrey Zutterberg and friends created the largest and most powerful social network on the internet…and in turn, created a world wide phenomenon.

5.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

J.K. Rowling’s saga of the magical world takes a turn to the dark side, as we see the forces of good and evil battling to the death.  We see destruction, murder, and mayhem.  And all that stands between the totalitarian magical takeover and peace in our time is…three teenagers, led by Harry Potter.  This movie is nothing like those that came before it in the series…this is a war film, a film about rebellion and jungle warfare.  I know people think that I am taking that too far, but that is what I believe.  This movie sets up beautifully for the climactic battle in part 2, arriving next summer.  I can’t wait.

4.  KickAss

This is a violent and dirty look at what happens when an ordinary kid is dumb enough to think he can be a Superhero.  In a movie that is certainly NOT for children, this movie does not show any of the glory or heroism you see in most superhero flicks.  It is bloody, gory, and downright disturbing at times.  But if you don’t think HitGirl is one of the best new characters this year…you simply are missing something.

3.  Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

This is a movie that most of you won’t get.  I know that, and accept that.  This is a very, very geeky movie.  Basically, if you were born before 1970 or after 1990, you don’t have a real chance of getting this movie.  But it is a novel way of showing what is, at its heart, a simple concept:  boy is geek, boy falls for girl, girl has baggage, boy has to deal with the baggage.  Now mix in ninja fighting, video game type artistry, a very gay roommate…and you have what I considered one of the more entertaining movies of the year.  But beyond those superficial things, this is a movie about all the difficulty that comes with being in a relationship.   We all enter relationships with a lot of baggage, and figuratively have to fight through the ‘Evil Exes’ of our past to really stay with the one we love.

2.  Toy Story 3

A top 10 list is not complete without a Pixar movie…and Pixar didn’t disappoint.  Toy Story 3 may be the best of the ‘trilogy’, a movie where men cried, children relearned the joy of ordinary toys, and we all continue to be amazed at the magic of Disney/Pixar.  May it never end.

1.  Inception

Inception is one of those unique films that blend visual artistry, a fundamentally unique story, and superb acting, and puts it all together into a beautiful story.  Christopher Nolan is turning into one of the great Directors of our time, with this coming after maybe the best superhero movie of all time, The Dark Knight. Nolan’s view of dreams, with the futuristic prospect of invasion of those most protected spaces of our minds, is a movie like no other…and I believe, by far the best movie of the year.

4

The Census and Electoral Shift: Palin Is Right…She Could Beat Obama

Unlikely

Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No.

I am not Sarah Palin’s biggest fan.  I am not a hater either.  In fact, when she was chosen by John McCain in the summer of 2008, I was pretty excited.  Here was a young, attractive, conservative governor, who could have been the new voice of the Republican Party.

Ms. Palin then went on to have, in polite terms, a less than successful interview circuit in 2008. Her interviews with Katie Couric and Charles Gibson were not exactly the best coming out party in modern political history, to say the least.  Some was the mainstream media was attacking her, to be sure…but much was her lack of preparedness.  Some have blamed the Palin camp, the others the McCain camp, but in the end, it didn’t matter.   Ms. Palin did not rise to the occasion.

Now, as Ms. Palin and others start to think about a run in 2012, the hardest knock against her candidacy is the conventional wisdom that she simply cannot beat President Barack Obama.  There is evidence to support that.  In most polls, Palin is by far the most polarizing candidate, and her favorables right now are upside down.  So, with those ‘facts’, at least, the political elites and beltway pundits do have something to support their thought process.

In lieu of that conventional thinking, Sarah Palin shocked many in the mainstream press by stating her belief that she could beat Barack Obama in the 2012 Presidential election.  In an interview with Barbara Walters last month, Palin was quite open about considering a run for the top job.

“I’m looking at the lay of the land now, and … trying to figure that out, if it’s a good thing for the country, for the discourse, for my family, if it’s a good thing,” Palin said, according to a short video clip released by ABC News.

Walters followed up with the key question: “If you ran for president, could you beat Barack Obama?”

Palin’s response: “I believe so.”

Almost every pundit I have heard on TV and elsewhere laughed at the suggestion.

There is only problem:  Sarah Palin could be right.

How is that possible?  How am I, and Palin for that matter, challenging the conventional wisdom of the smartest of the smart?

Well, first of all, today the results of the 2010 census returned.  The results?

The gainers:

Arizona +1
Florida +2
Georgia +1
Nevada +1
South Carolina +1
Texas +4
Utah +1
Washington +1

The losers:

Illinois -1
Iowa -1
Louisiana -1
Massachusetts -1
Michigan -1
Missouri -1
New Jersey -1
New York -2
Ohio -2
Pennsylvania -1

With the above electoral changes, and the shift we have begun to see after the 2010 midterm election, you have to make significant alterations to the Presidential map.  Here are my predictions, as of today, for 2012 in a theoretical matchup of Palin v. Obama:

Palin 275, Obama 263

Conventional Wisdom?  Let me show you to the window.

Couple points are key to this analysis.  First of all, what, if anything, has changed since 2008?

  • First, electoral votes have shifted from red to blue states, giving Republicans a slight edge.
  • Second, Obama is no longer viewed as a moderate.  In 2008, he was able to convince center-right suburban women that he was a middle of the road pragmatist.  That belief no longer exists.
  • In 2008, Obama’s favorables, even in deeply red states, was quite high.  His popularity is now in the tank.

So what changed on the map itself?

  1. I think we can safely assume that Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana will switch back to Republican hands; it was shocking they went to Obama in the first place.  All three states have been solidly in the hands of Republicans since then.   Electoral Votes:  39.
  2. I feel safe in saying Nebraska’s one split vote will go red.  Electoral Votes:  1.
  3. Ohio and Florida seem to have shifted rightward in the 2010 campaign.  For example, look at the Ohio Congressional map today…that, my friends, is dominance.   The same goes for Florida.  I don’t think either state should be considered a lock, but a decent get-out-the-vote apparatus, and solid campaigning, and it is very reasonable to believe both states could switch from Obama to Palin.   Electoral votes: 47.

4.  Now comes the hard part; and admittedly, on my part, a leap of faith.  Assuming my above guesses, that would give Palin 265 electoral votes.  She would need to pick up 5 more somewhere.  There are a lot of choices.  I think the most likely is Wisconsin (which is what I used in the map above), where Russ Feingold was crushed.  That would give her 10 votes, and the Presidency.  Other options would be Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado, or a combination of Maine and New Hampshire.  All of those states had either close elections in 2008 or 2010, and could potentially trend Republican in 2012.  Many of those states are unlikely, to be sure. But at the same time…would any of us put a significant bet that a Republican, even Sarah Palin, couldn’t flip just one of those states?

Now, I am not saying Palin, or any Republican for that matter, would definitively win in 2012.  That would simply be ridiculous at this point. But for the media and conventional wisdom to discount any Republican, even Palin, with the above dynamic, now seems foolish beyond reason.

0

Voyager 1…Leaving The Solar System

Voyager 1, a space probe launched in 1977, was planned as a 20 year trip to photograph the most distant aspects of our local neighborhood.  Since its launch on September 5, 1977, Voyager 1 has traveled almost 11 billion miles, giving us spectacular pictures of Earth and our closest neighbors.

Voyager has become one of the most famous of items of ‘space junk’.  Several movies, including the first Star Trek movie, had Voyager as a core plot point.  A series of messages and sounds were added to the probe, intended to be a greeting to any alien race that encounters the probe.  In recent years, Stephen Hawking lamented the sending of the message, stating that any race that encounters it will likely lead to humanity’s doom.

Crescent-shaped Earth and moon

Earth and the Moon, 1977

Voyager also gave us some perspective of our small place in the Solar System, let alone the universe…

Earth as the 'Pale Blue Dot', 1990

It gave us our first look at our neighboring planets as well.

Great Red Spot

Jupiter's Great Red Spot

Most of the great space adventures of our generation have passed with the end of the cold war…but Voyager simply keeps going on into the depths of the eternal darkness.

2

2010 Predictions…A Look Back

So you can see my predictions of the year 2010 here, if you wish.  My 2010 predictions weren’t too bad…but in hindsight, I have to say that I have outdone myself.  Regular typeface is my original prediction, and bold is my current commentary…

  • President Barack Obama will sign a health care reform bill…but not until well after the State of the Union, and only with a lot of difficulty.  Democrats will fight another civil war on the public option, taxes, abortion, and illegal immigrants.  CORRECT!
  • Democrats will try for a third stimulus, in which Obama will try to focus on tax cuts, but progressives in the House will push him to spend more on government programs.  CORRECT!  ASSUMING YOU ARE COUNTING THE CURRENT TAX BATTLE.
  • Obama’s Budget Director forecasts a 4.0% growth rate next year…the rate of growth will be much less, closer to 2.5% for the year.  SO FAR, ACCURATE.
  • We will see narrowing of job losses in the beginning of the year, but some of it will be smoke and mirrors as the government hires 700,000 temporary workers to carry out the 2010 census.  By the end of 2010, the overall rate of unemployment will still be in the double digits.  CLOSE.  WE ARE SLIGHTLY UNDER 10%.
  • The stock market will have a mediocre year, rising 7-8% to around Dow 11,300 by the end of next year.  Businesses, however, will again be profitable.  Hiring will start in earnest in the end of 2010.  NOT BAD…THE DOW IS UP ABOUT 8% FOR THE YEAR.
  • The Federal Reserve, in a bid to halt inflationary pressures, will increase Fed rates by middle of the year.  The dollar will actually gain value…and gold will stabilize or drop in price.  However, oil prices will rise to around $100/barrel.  WRONG.  THE FED IS STILL TRYING TO FLUSH MONEY INTO THE SYSTEM.  OIL IS AROUND $80.
  • Legislatively, Democrats will have greater and greater difficulty in passing anything.  Cap-and-trade, immigration reform, and card check will all die an ignoble death.  TRUE.
  • Obama’s attempts at budget deficit control will go to naught, as Democrats fight among themselves over which they should do:  tax increases or budget cuts.  Ultimately, nothing will be done, and the deficit for 2010 will be around $1.5 trillion…or about the same as 2009.  In other words, matching the largest national yearly deficit in world history.  CORRECT!
  • Almost nothing will get done by Congress, as Democrats (not Republicans) will virtually bring the legislature to a standstill.  FALSE.  REPUBLICANS STOPPED MOST EVERYTHING, TO THEIR CREDIT.
  • By summer, Tea Party protests will be ravaging the nation, as the protesters fight for control of the Republican Party.  Conservatives will be pitted against moderates, and in most races, the conservative will triumph; for example, Rubio probably will oust Crist in Florida.  Democrats will giggle in glee, remembering the outcome of NY-23.  But who has the last laugh?  ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY CORRECT!
  • Obama’s poll numbers will stabilize in the spring, as unemployment numbers artificially are leveled off.  However, as the year progresses, and unemployment stays in double digits, Obama’s popularity will drop below 40%.  As time goes on, Obama will be blamed more and more for the economy, and his laying the blame with the prior administration will sound more and more like whining.  FALSE.  ALTHOUGH MUCH IS TRUE, OBAMA’S POPULARITY HAS LEVELED IN THE MID-FORTIES.
  • Republicans will gain 8 Senate seats.  I will be more specific in my 2010 election prediction article, but briefly I predict Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and New York to flip (I know, I am an optimist).  I predict Republicans will pick up 40 seats in the House, just short of the majority, but will try to entice additional Blue Dogs to switch parties.  It will be that close.  2010 will be a historic landslide, ala the Second Republican Revolution.  NOT BAD!  REPUBLICANS GAINED 6, NOT 8, SENATE SEATS.   AS FOR CONGRESS, I WAS CLEARLY PESSIMISTIC, AS THE GOP PICKED UP 63 SEATS…BUT CORRECT ABOUT THE LANDSLIDE!

As for my ever pathetic sports predictions:

  • Alabama will defeat Texas for the BCS Championship.  CORRECT!
  • The San Diego Chargers will finally break through and win the Super Bowl.  NOT QUITE.
  • Kansas Jayhawks will win the NCAA Basketball championship.  NOPE.
  • Pittsburgh Penguins will repeat as NHL Champions; the L.A. Lakers will repeat as NBA championships in a classic series over the Boston Celtics.  LAKERS CORRECT, PITTSBURGH NOT SO MUCH.
  • The United States will finish 3rd in the medal count at the Olympics.  WAY TOO PESSIMISTIC!
  • The Red Sox will outduel the Yankees, and win the World Series.  NOT EVEN CLOSE.
  • O.K., my ‘homer’ picks were horrendous last year.  Here we go:  The Pistons will miss the playoffs, and get the 8th pick in the Lottery.  The Red Wings will lose in the 2nd round of the NHL playoffs.  The Tigers will miss the postseason once again, this time by 5 games.  The Lions…who cares; I am a Redskins fan!  The Skins will get Mike Shanahan as coach, dump Jason Campbell as QB, and will draft Sam Bradford with their first round pick, which will guarantee that he will be a major flop in the NFL.  And my beloved Michigan Wolverines will get back to a bowl…but only an average one.  FRANKLY, NOT BAD, NO?

Oh, and of course, the obligatory JibJab piece:

2

Obama On Tax Cuts: Read My Lips, Or Triangulation?

Political Cartoons by Lisa Benson

This may be the most pivotal moment in Barack Obama’s Presidency.

After passing his stimulus, which produced negligible results, and Obamacare, which is now disliked by 3 out of 5 Americans, it is ironic that his moment comes regarding, of all things, the much despised Bush tax cuts.

The surprise is that Obama would be forced to compromise such as he did, when he had huge majorities to do as he wished for the last two years.  So why did Obama agree to the this largely Republican compromise?  The reason, ultimately, is simple.  First, Obama ultimately realizes (and has in the past clearly stated) that raising taxes in the midst of a recession is a bad idea.  For all his liberal ideology, Obama wants to get re-elected…and that takes primacy over his belief in higher taxes.  So, it was in his self interest, as well as in the country’s interests, to keep tax levels as they are.

In return, Obama needed a carrot to liberals.  That came in lieu of extension of the unemployment benefits.  Sure, it is not much of a carrot, but Obama has little to no leverage with Republicans, especially with the Republican majority taking over the House in early January.

So, Obama made the best deal he could in the very short window available to him. It was not much of a deal, but had a few attributes.  First, it is relatively popular with the public at large. Since Obama has spent much of the last two years going against public opinion, this is a major plus.   Second, even liberal Obama believes that this will likely help, not hurt, the economy…and definitely short term will spur the economy much more than more spending.

But this is where the rubber hits the road.  If Obama becomes as politically adept as Bill Clinton (and there is absolutely no evidence to show that at this point in time), this could be Obama’s beginning of a triangulation strategy:  make Republicans and Democrats look like novices and children, and show himself above the fray, looking out for the best interests of the American people.

That might have begun to work…except for Obama’s sniveling and, ultimately damaging, press conference.  He spent much of it on the defensive, against liberals who should be protecting him.  The press corps was having a field day.  And even worse, when he had the chance to look like ‘the adult in the room’…he couldn’t bring himself to do it.  Instead, he accused Republicans of ‘hostage taking’ in discussions over taxes.  He just could not be the bigger man.

The risk, of course, is the ‘Read My Lips’ pledge.  George H. W. Bush was never a true red-blooded conservative.  And when he made his ‘no taxes’ pledge, he was firming up his political base in 1988 from the likes of Pat Robertson.  When Bush ultimately broke his promise because of threats from Congressional Democrats in 1990, the economy dropped further into recession, ultimately leading to the election of Bill Clinton.  Bush never recovered his base.

This could be Obama’s equivalent moment.  Obama, like all Democrats since 2003, have promised to remove the ‘evil’ Bush tax cuts.  For him now to reinstate those tax levels is, to liberals, almost an act of treason.  Remember, liberals are still infected with Bush Derangement Syndrome; nothing Bush did should ever stand.  So after electing the ‘anti-Bush’ in Obama…they get more of the same.  Obama now has virtually the same policy as Bush on Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Iran.  He capitulated on Gitmo on terror trials.   And now this.  The anger from the left is palpable.  And thus, liberals may not be willing to blindly support this President anymore, unless he can give them a reason to Hope.

Could this possibly lead to a primary challenge, ala Bush in 1992?  Possible…but unlikely.  Obama was wise to remove the main challenge to his re-election back in 2008, by nominating her to be Secretary of State.  No one else of the stature necessary remains.

Joan Walsh of Salon.com has a piece which is quite emblematic of where progressives stand right now.  This is the most informative part:

Still, the rush to proclaim Obama the one, true progressive in 2008 was foolish, and I’d suggest that those who wound up disappointed in Obama think more about what they can learn from that race, rather than plotting to bring him down in 2012. Switching candidates now would be just another symptom of progressives’ inability to dig in for a long haul of taking our country back from the plutocrats who now run it. It’s tough work. I think, sadly, Obama is probably the most progressive Democrat who could be elected right now.

That is far from a glowing endorsement of the most progressive President in modern history.

This doesn’t mean that Obama doesn’t  have opportunities to redeem himself.  He certainly does.  At this point in Reagan’s Presidency, Reagan was all but assured to be a one term President.  Same for Bill Clinton.  Obama could do the same.  But that would take a level of political aptitude that this President is so far lacking.

0

White House Raises White Flag On Taxes…

It took a little over a month…but there are now tangible results from the midterm elections.

In a remarkable turn of events, President Obama yesterday came to a compromise with Congressional Republicans on the Bush tax cuts, unemployment benefits, as well as a new tax cut temporarily reducing the payroll tax.  Bush tax cuts would be extended until 2012 for all Americans.  The deal also includes a payroll tax cut for workers in 2011 — trimming the Social Security tax rate by 2 percentage points and saving $1,400 for a family earning $70,000. Republicans agreed to renew jobless benefits for an additional 13 months without paying for them, a policy Republicans were weakly fighting.

All in all, this is a broad based capitulation by Mr. Obama.  The victories?

1.  The Republicans campaigned on extending the Bush tax cuts for all Americans, and did all that.  There one compromise was that for the top earners, this is only a temporary cut.  But the bonus?  It expires in 2012…right after the next elections.  I can see the political ads already.

2.  The payroll tax cut is a bonus.  Many Republicans have asked for this for a long time, including John McCain who campaigned on this exact policy in 2008.   Obama argued that this was a hard fought victory over Republican opposition.  It was nothing of the sort.  Republicans happily capitulated on this.  If Republican equivalent of compromise is to agree to more taxes with this President, it is going to be a very good 2 years for Republicans in Congress.

3.  Republicans never wanted to really fight on unemployment benefit extentions.  Even hard core conservatives who don’t want this added to the deficit admit that there is an economic benefit to unemployment benefits.  Additionally, the political damage to making this a fight between tax cuts for millionaires versus no benefits for the unemployed should have been a losing proposition.  The only problem is, this president is not astute enough to take advantage of it.

4.  The estate tax only goes up to 35% after the first $5 million, rather than 55% after the first $3.5 million, as would have happened without any intervention.

You know it is bad for the President when the only praise he is getting…is from Republicans.  From the Politico:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a central figure in the talks, was positively effusive. “I appreciate the determined efforts of the president and vice president in working with Republicans on a bipartisan plan to prevent a tax hike on any American and in creating incentives for economic growth,” McConnell said in a statement. “I am optimistic that Democrats in Congress will show the same openness to preventing tax hikes the administration has already shown.”

“This is the president’s Gettysburg,” Rep. Jim McDermott, a leading progressive and a subcommittee chairman on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, told POLITICO Monday. Referring to Obama’s choice about whether to compromise or stand firm against Republicans on the question of higher taxes for the wealthy, the Washington Democrat said: “He’s going to have to decide whether he’s going to withstand Pickett’s Charge … I worry.”

Outspoken Democrat Anthony Weiner of New York compared it to “punting on 3rd down — it seems the president is not seeing the value of being on [the] offense.”

“You can’t let Republicans win on this. There’s no more central campaign promise made by President Obama than to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and he needs to be willing to fight on this,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which on Monday circulated quotations from some of Obama’s 2008 campaign organizers who are threatening to pull their support in 2012 over the tax cut.

Actually, the Democrat opposition is right, in a way.  Other than the Iraq War, there was no policy that Obama was more adamant was wrong for America than the Bush tax cuts.  He stated that is was not only bad policy, but actually destructive to the American economy.  And he is now willing to sign that same policy into law.

Is this a political victory for Republicans?  Absolutely.  They basically got everything they wanted, and had to give up the unemployment benefit extention.  That is not the best conservative policy in the world, but politically it less damaging to allow for it than to fight it tooth and nail.

Additionally, this puts both the President and Congressional Democrats in quite a quandary.  Obama agreed to this for his own self interest.  Congressional Democrats, who have already taken a hit for Obama’s policies, see no reason to capitulate on this as well.  And remember:  those Democrats who remain in Congress are even more liberal than the group that existed before.

If Congressional Democrats don’t approve this, then they will further weaken Obama’s already precarious position. They also discredit themselves:  for two years, they have argued that Republicans have been the obstructionists and refused to work with Obama.  Now the positions are exactly reversed.

Every one of the Democrats catch phrases that won them election in 2006 and 2008 is slowly falling apart.  If you can’t claim that is a Republican victory, what is?

1

Wikileaks: Making The World A Less Safe Place…

There are now thousands upon thousands of pages open to the public eye, showing the intricacies of America’s foreign relations with virtually every major world power.  The details are engrossing, down to what people had for dinner to major initiatives.

There are numerous sources to obtain the essential material leaked, primarily from the New York Times and the Guardian.  And I will leave the particulars to them, the experts.

But the repercussions of these leaks are widespread, and may not end for months, if not years.  And mostly, it damages the security of not just the United States, but world peace in many regions around the world.

Just a few examples:

1.  Leaks showing the Sunni regimes around the Middle East fear the Iranian military threat much more than Israel.  It significantly increases the likelihood of Iran considering attacking its Arab neighbors long before threatening Israel, which further destabilizes the region.  The irony of these leaks, however, is that Israel has largely been proven to be correct in their assessment of the situation, while the Obama Administration appears to be once again one step behind.

2. Apparently the Chinese are starting to realize the growing threat of North Korea to their own best interests.  In that vein, senior Chinese officials have stated that they would prefer a unified Korea under the control of Seoul.  This likely diminishes the leverage China has with the already insane North Korean leadership, and likely just increases that states already extreme paranoia.

3.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (and predecessor Condoleeza Rice before her) actively tried to obtain intelligence material at the United Nations.  No surprise, but doesn’t really increase our standing in that world body.

4.  Iran is actively obtaining missile technology from North Korea that can easily threaten the entire continent of Europe.

5.  In the never ending quest to close Guantanamo, American diplomats waved large carrots in front of foreign nations to take the multitude of dangerous suspects remaining in the Cuban base.

6.  Numerous stories about Turkey, an American ally, have brought about a possible leadership battle.  Turkey was accused of possibly supporting Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI ), and several top ministers were accused of islamist tendencies, making Turkey a questionable ally at best.

7.  Supposed American ally Pakistan would not allow the United States to secure highly enriched nuclear fuel from a Pakistani nuclear research facility, largely because of local political considerations.

This lists go on and on.

This is less a political scandal than a diplomatic nightmare.  Diplomacy can not occur without secret negotiations.  The needs and wants of countries, aired in the open, can only lead to disaster.

Wikileaks argues that they are performing a humanitarian duty.  Nonsense.  This is one of two things.  It could be that these fools have such a belief of self importance that they don’t realize the damage they are doing, that simply that the concept of open information is a goal unto itself.

The second possibility is that these idiots are purposefully trying to damage the United States and its relative hegemony as the world’s only superpower.

I think the latter is more likely.  These are people who hated George W. Bush with a passion, but generally hate America’s standing in the world.  They understand that we deal with a lot of gruesome world figures, and the clean cloth civilization we live in often cannot accept that dichotomy.  And so, the release of this information, without any forethought on consequences, damages us all.

Some liberals, such as Peter Beinart, are trying to minimize the significance of this document dump.  Maybe it is being overplayed, but the damage, whatever and however severe it may be, may last for a very long time.  This does real damage to American diplomacy, and in turn, to President Barack Obama’s standing in the world.  And since one of his primary goals was to elevate American prestige, this does damage to his administration as well.  Liberals can spin that any way they would like…but that is the reality.  If you were a foreign country, trying to keep something secret…would you share information to this State Department?  I doubt it.   That loss of faith in our foreign diplomats makes every diplomatic mission around the world more difficult, and less likely to achieve its goals.

Ultimately, there is little America or its allies can do about Wikileaks.  In an era of free press and internet access, Wikileaks is a demon we must live with.  But the investigations of how such sensitive information could land in the hands of a low Private First Class member of the military, Bradley Manning, will have to be investigated.  Clearly, access to information is essential to those that need it…but allowing to fall into anyone’s hands who at a whim can release that information is unacceptable.

But one thing is sure.  In this dangerous world, release of this information, largely documenting the work that honest people trying to keep world peace and save lives, does exactly the opposite.  Lives will be lost because of this leak…it is just a question of where, when, and how many.

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Tangled: Movie Review

Tangled, Disney’s take on the folk tale classic Rapunzel, hearkens back to the hayday of Disney pictures.  A princess, in dire straights.  A handsome lead.  And an evil witch/stepmother/etc.

There is nothing new here.  This movie could have been written 50 years ago by Walt Disney himself.

But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t do a fantastic job at what it is trying to do.  This is the classic Disney fare for the young princesses in your family.  It has been a long time since Disney has had a successful movie geared specifically for girls (Up, Toy Story series, and Wall-E are fantastic movies, but not exactly the stories little girls dream about).  And the singing, dancing, and love story are enough that every little girl will want to be Rapunzel for Christmas.

There is certainly enough comedy and story to keep adults entertained as well.  Honestly, some of the comedic scenes had me laughing quite heartily.  And although the story is utterly predictable, this is a good showing for Disney.  Maybe not at the level of Toy Story 3, but certainly as good as other animated movies this year, including How to Train Your Dragon.  Compared to older movies, this movie is not up to the level of the zenith of Disney storytelling, Beauty and the Beast, but is certainly as good as many other of the hit movies of Disney past.

This movie is certainly recommended, but if you have a little girl in your house…I think you will do yourself a disservice not going and seeing this movie.  There are a few dark scenes that my 5 year old son certainly was frightened of, so this may be too dark for really young children.  But for most little girls, this may be the best Disney movie in decades.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I: Movie Review

I am a Potterhead, or Pottermaniac, or whatever you want to call the illogical devotees to J.K. Rowling’s books on the magical world of Harry Potter.  And as such, we crazies have been devoted to the movies from the beginning.

But no movie in the series has been looked forward to like these last two, that will bring the Harry Potter saga to a close.

Deathly Hallows is a clear divergence from the rest of the series.  Although each iteration of the Potter storyline gets darker and darker, Deathly Hallows magnifies that darkness geometrically.  All the other movies, including the ever dark Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince still took place at Hogwarts, with school surroundings that made the entire storyline just a little less deep.  You still had the school age crushes, teenage angst, and of course, schoolwork to worry about.

No more.  As the above poster shows…this is war.  This is pure and unadulterated war, in all of its destructive elements.

The bulk of the movie (without giving away any of the true storyline; don’t worry, NO SPOILERS!!!) is largely with our three heroes surviving on their own.  There are no parents, no schoolteachers, no Dumbledore (literally) to look after them.  They have, for all practical purposes, entered the reality of adulthood…with all of its drawbacks.

As has been the case for several volumes of the movie, the three continue their goal of finding a way to destroy the evil Voldemort, while at the same time being the primary target of the forces of darkness.  As Voldemort’s power increases, the security that Harry had enjoyed through out his childhood continues to wane, to the point of nonexistence.

But the movie is remarkable in its ability to really delve deep into the thoughts and fears of the characters.  Director David Yates, with the freedom of splitting the last volume of Rowling’s saga into two movies, spends more time in the relationship between Ron, Hermione, and Harry…a friendship based on trials, survivals and blood.

Ultimately, it is the unknown future that Harry Potter faces.  And although he has his friends at his side, more or less, the weight of the world is on Harry’s shoulders.  That is what drives the movie.  He knows, ultimately, that the fate of the world lies in his less-than-qualified shoulders.  But, even knowing his fallibility, Potter shows strength, tenderness, and resolve that we look from the great leaders.  And that, ultimately, is what drives the three heroes to their goal.

Yates has woven a beautiful film, dramatically different than the other iterations of the Potter saga.  This movie is very dark…so dark, in fact, that I wonder at what age I would feel comfortable showing this to my children.  As I said at the start…this is about the harsh realities of good and evil, of adulthood, and of war.  Yes, it is still a Harry Potter story, but in its darkest realm.  And Yates does a magnificent job of blending cinematographic artistry with the elements of emotion essential to the story.  The three main actors, additionally, show that they too have grown up, and are now able to place the weight into their roles necessary to carry out the story.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 in many ways is not the most enjoyable of the Potter series, because of the death and destruction and hopelessness of our heroes cause.  But it might well be the best movie of the series so far.  Watch this movie, and try not to be excited for Part 2, arriving next summer.   I dare you.

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Obama As Hindu God Lord Shiva?

This is Newsweek cover for this up coming week.  It is a play on the Hindu God Shiva…

The irony, first of all, is that Shiva is the Hindu God that is responsible for destroying the world, as part of the triumvirate of Hindu deities.

Look, I am not offended, being a Hindu myself…and most Hindus are too laid back to care.  But if this was, say, Muhammed, could you imagine the uproar?  It seems those religions that don’t violently react to such caricatures have their deities easily misused.

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