Sunday, March 13, 2005
ARNOLD GETS HIS SCRIPT REWRITTEN
By: Thomas McKelvey Cleaver
Editor's Note: This is a follow up to last week's article about California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Click here
to go to that article
Last week I commented about Der Governator, that he's only The Hero when the script is written that way. The news is out that there?s a new draft of the movie "Der Governator Reforms California."
This draft of the script has Der Governator's parties being crashed by opponents, forcing Ahnuld The Hero to alter his schedule and duck into his events through the back door, at locations from California to New York City to Washington D.C. He's getting testy with this opposition - A-listers like him aren't supposed to deal with the "below-the-line" folks. (For those not in the know, that?s a Hollywood term for those whose names appear in the credits "below the title", in other words, all the hard workers without whom the movie doesn't get made.)
When he appeared at "21" in New York to meet his $22,300-a-person out-of-state supporters for his "local" reforms here in Kahleeforneeah, Arnold found himself slipping inside through the service entrance while Governor Pataki went in through the front door, to avoid fire-fighters, policemen and nurses yelling "Screw Arnold!" outside.
Inside, San Jose firefighter Jeremy Ray, secretary of Santa Clara Firefighters Local 1171 had reserved a table for dinner. Once there, he slipped in to Big Boy's reception on the floor above and confronted Der Governator over his "reform" of the state retirement system, turning it into a Wall Street-run 401(k) system that the California Attorney General has said will deny pensions to the widows and children of firefighters and policemen who die in the line of duty. According to Ray, "He said 'I'm a friend of the firefighters and would never take anything away from them.' I said 'No, you're not a friend to us, sir. And what you're doing is wrong.'" The NYPD was called to remove the "unruly extra" from Arnold's set. As Ray remembered, "while I was being led away, one of the officers introduced himself and said 'God bless you, brother, we're on the same side. Thanks for doing what you did.'"
When Arnie showed up in Columbus Ohio over the weekend for his Arnold Classic bodybuilding competition, nurses from California marched outside, providing information to passers-by about Der Governator's move to sidestep a state law requiring sufficient hospital nurse staffing to provide proper care for patients.
Arnold isn't used to this. For the past thirty-odd years, he's basked in the adoration of the crowd, whether it was at a Mr. Universe competition, a Hollywood blockbuster opening, or his campaign for Governor in 2003. While speaking before groups who make five-figure individual contributions to sit in the same room with him, he calls the nurses, firefighters and policemen picketing outside "special interests."
Still, 75 of them were waiting for him outside the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C., when he arrived for a "business roundtable" with national corporate donors for his "local" reforms. Der Governator's cavalcade drove up to the side of the building where he walked down a flight of stairs to an underground rear entrance. Still, he couldn?t avoid the demonstrators, who crowded around the stairwell chanting "Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Schwarzenegger's got to go!!"
Arnold Schwarzenegger is not a "new kind of Republican." He shills for the far right just like any other standard-issue Rightie. He's even been caught with his own "Karen Ryan" scandal. For those with short memories, "Karen Ryan" was the actress portraying a news reporter in the stealth campaign by the Department of Health and Human Services to promote Bush's Medicare prescription drug "reform" that was being hit in the "real" news. Here in California, Der Governator spent $1,262 of the taxpayers' money for a "video news release" that supports his proposal to wipe out mandatory meal breaks for hourly workers. An ex-reporter now working in Arnold's publicity office is heard over professionally-shot "B-roll" footage of men and women at work, saying "Many working Californians can benefit from the proposed regulations because the change provides real-life relief." With the text helpfully provided for the local anchor to open and close with, the unwary viewer might think they were watching an actual "news" report. This past Wednesday, it was revealed the Governor?s office has prepared other "video press releases" on the subject of nurse staffing ratios and public employee retirement. Unlike official press releases, however, neither of these have any statement on them that they come from the office of the Governor, either. What we have is more Republican lies, just like the President's.
The good news is, the California press is beginning to clear their heads of Der Governator's Cubano smokescreen and see him for the right-wing shill he is and always has been. The rest of the country needs to wake up to the truth of Arnold. Speaking to his corporate sponsors at "21", he said "As California goes, so goes the nation." He's right. George Bush?s campaign against Middle America?s greatest asset - Social Security - is only the first wave of a far right attempt to cosset the comfortable and roll back the rights won over the past 70 years by the rest of us who work for a living.
at 10:54 PM EST
Updated: Monday, March 14, 2005 12:28 AM EST
Inspiration From a Real Hero
Although this site is relatively new, my love of politics and country have been in existence for years. As I stated in bio piece in the "About Us" section, the events of September 11, 2001 had such an effect on me that I decided to go back to college, get my degree, and do what I could to try and make things better for as many people as I could.
My interest in 9-11 has caused me to read as much material as I can on the subject, and I recently read 102 Minutes
by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. The purpose of this piece is not to review this book, although I highly recommend it. I would rather use this time to introduce America to a hero. All too often we throw the term hero around and its meaning can become somewhat diluted. When you hear the story of Frank De Martini you will full appreciate the definition of a hero.
In 102 Minutes there is a picture of Frank, and underneath it a bio. It reads "Frank De Martini, the Port Authority construction manager, worked on the 88th floor of the north tower. He loved the World Trade Center and all its gadgetry ever since he started work as a consultant following the 1993 bombings. After a 1994 project to overhaul the window-washing and maintenance rigs, he took an inspection ride along the side of the building, boarding at the roof, 1,350 feet above the street. On September 11, De Martini helped rescue people on his floor and then led a group that pried open doors on twelve floors along the boundary of the crash zone, rescuing dozens of others."
After the plane hit the north tower, while so many people fled for safety, Frank disregarded his own well-being, and worked his way around the crash area. Frank, along with the help of some others, was able to pry open doors and break through walls, which in the end would directly result in the safe exit for dozens of people who would have otherwise perished. Frank was a rare breed of person, because even as he saved one group, it was not enough. He would seek out other groups of people who were trapped and free them. With death staring down at him and countless others, Frank did not flinch, and through selfless actions he personally kept death at bay for numerous survivors.
In a perfect world, Frank's story would have ended with him escorting the final group of survivors out of the North Floor and he would be able to return home to his family after an unimaginable day. But, as September 11, 2001 showed us, we do not live in a perfect world. Frank De Martini died on 9-11, at the age of 49, when the North Tower collapsed. For those of you that have seen the History Channel's documentary on the World Trade Center, you may remember Frank stating his belief that he felt the towers could withstand the impact of an airliner. That sentiment stayed with Frank until the day he died, as he refused to exit the North Tower, confidant that it would remain standing. His faith in his building, coupled with his selfless behavior, fueled the rescue effort that he led. His mind set saved lives.
When I watched the towers fall on September 11, 2001 I had no idea who Frank De Martini was. All I knew is that people had died, families had been shattered, and a landmark that I had the pleasure of seeing grace the skyline of Manhattan was gone. Yet, when I read the story of Frank De Martini I was both devastated and inspired. I was devastated that a husband, a father, a son, had died in the attacks of September 11th 2001, and yet I was inspired that in his final moments on this planet, he spent his time saving lives. Unlike the firefighters, police officers, and port authority, Frank was not trained in any emergency rescue. Frank was not employed for his ability to save lives. Yet, with all of the people around him fleeing for safety, and all of the carnage in his building, Frank chose to stay and save lives. Frank chose to do what he could to make sure other people could get away from the crash site, and ultimately out of the building prior to its collapse.
There were many heroes on September 11, 2001, but for some reason the story of Frank De Martini seemed especially profound. I am sure we would all like to think that we would have done what Frank did if we ever faced the same horrific situation, and even though we say we would do what Frank did, most of us would not. Most of us would have rushed down those flights of stairs as fast as we could, bursting through the lobby and out on to the street, calling our loved ones as soon as we could just to let them know we made it. Frank De Martini never got to make that phone call, but through his actions, dozens of others were able to call a loved one that day and told them "I made it out." That is what makes Frank De Martini a hero.
Frank De Martini and thousands of other died on Tuesday September 11th. The events of that day changed the skyline of New York City and the fabric of our nation forever. The images of the Twin Towers on fire, and later collapsing will be forever etched in the memories of anyone who saw it unfold, either in person or on television. Yet for me, and others like me, September 11th 2001 was not just the end of thousands of lives, it was the beginning of the rest of my life. I will never cease to stop feeling grateful to be alive, and I will never cease to be inspired by the actions of heroes like Frank De Martini. Although their time on earth is over, we owe it to their memories to make the most out of our lives. Doing so, will forever ensure that heroes like Frank De Martini did not die in vein.
at 10:40 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, March 13, 2005 10:41 PM EST
Monday, March 7, 2005
THE AMERICAN DELUSION
By: Thomas McKelvey Cleaver
In the weeks and months since the election, and most particularly the weeks since the Emperor's Coronation, I have been thinking about our role in the world, and how that differs from what many of my fellow citizens - on both sides of the political aisle - appear to think about that role.
As Andrew Moravcsik put it in Newsweek International in late January: "Not long ago, the American Dream was a global fantasy. Not only Americans saw themselves as a beacon unto nations. So did much of the rest of the world. East Europeans tuned into Radio Free Europe. Chinese students erected a replica of the Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square."
The other week, a good friend of mine in France wrote his thoughts about Bush's inauguration.
"I have been involved in American culture for years and I am a Frenchman who knows about the Boston Tea Party, the Stamp and the Sugar Act, and who is well aware of the fact that the fathers of the US Constitution, like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Georges Washington had all strong links with Freemasonry in France... but the Humanist lessons have been lost along the way. Charles Peguy, a French poet who was killed in 1914 on the Marne river, wrote: 'It is by the means of suffering that God comes in to Man. In normal times the shield is too strong.' But the God who has come in to your leaders from the suffering of America on 9/11 is not one the rest can understand."
Last week I received an e-mail from another friend, a fellow American who was writing to tell me how surprised he finds it that he's catching a plane to go spend two months out of the country, looking at places to retire to later this year, places from which he intends to never return to the land of his birth. He explained his reasons this way:
"I think the US is in quite a bit of danger of becoming much like Cuba or Albania used to be; an isolationist country deeply suspicious of everyone else and living a fantasy regarding its own merits and place in the world. The big difference will be that those places had no clout and posed little danger; the U.S. has plenty of clout and is rapidly becoming a problem for everyone. While the neocons are not Nazis, there are far too many parallels to the growth of a militaristic, leader-based, single party government for my comfort."
Thinking back to Bush's intonation of "freedom" and "liberty" so liberally (if you will) in his speech, it's interesting to contemplate the results of a world-wide opinion poll taken by the BBC shortly before the coronation.
Fully 71 percent of the Americans polled see the United States as a source of good in the world, and more than half of them view Bush's election as good for global security; nearly 80 percent believe "American ideas and customs" should spread globally.
In counterpoint to this American optimism, the rest of the world comes to very different conclusions. 58 percent of the rest of the world sees Bush's re-election as a threat to world peace. Among our traditional allies, that figure is even higher. In Germany, 77 percent hold that belief, while a 64% majority in Britain agrees with that position, as do 82 percent in Turkey. Former Brazilian president Jose Sarney expressed the sentiments of the 78 percent of his countrymen who see America as a threat: "Now that Bush has been re-elected, all I can say is, God bless the rest of the world."
How did we get here? When did we stop being the country She Who Must Be Obeyed here at Le Chateau du Chat remembers as a three year old Lithuanian refugee born in a post-war Displaced Persons camp in southern Germany, looking out a porthole of the troopship bringing her family to New York to see the Statue of Liberty, and thinking to herself that "everything's going to be wonderful here"?
As one of those "blue state elitists" who is among the 15 percent of Americans to hold - and have used - a passport, who has friends around the world who like Americans, this hasn't been surprising to me since I first learned the limits of American goodness in Southeast Asia 40 years ago - this crisis has been a long time coming. Various "red state patriots" I have had run-ins with in recent years call me "Tommie the Commie" for my willingness to see the less-desirable blemishes in the American profile. Still, I look at my neighbors in this "immigrant neighborhood" I live in, and I see people whose only difference with SWMBO is that they didn't have to cross an ocean to get here, and I find I have hopes that America's best days are still ahead of us.
Unfortunately, President Bush - by turning himself into a hated figure - has sabotaged America by making it popular to oppose him. Thus, when we've got an unpopular political, economic or military priority that the Administration is pushing, it makes domestic sense for other countries to deny us our wish.
As Michael Lind wrote in The Financial Times in late January, "A new world order is indeed emerging - but its architecture is being drafted in Asia and Europe, at meetings to which Americans have not been invited."
In the field of international economics, ASEAN Plus Three (APT) unites the Association of Southeast Asia Nations with China, Japan and South Korea, creating the potential to become the world's largest trading bloc - one that would easily dwarf both the European Union and North American Free Trade Association. These deepening ties are a major diplomatic defeat for the Bush Administration, which had hoped to use the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum to limit Asian economic regionalism. Similarly, recent actions by South American countries to build an economic community among themselves represents a clear rejection of American aims to create and dominate a western-hemisphere free trade zone.
Militarily, the progress of the European Union toward military independence has come in the face of American protests which failed to prevent the establishment of the EU's own military planning agency - independent of NATO and thus American control - and the creation of a European rapid-reaction military force.
As a fairly prominent for-instance, the military and commercial monopoly of the American global positioning satellite system is threatened by the Galileo project, which is designed to create a European GPS capability. The Pentagon has expressed alarm that China - which shares an interest with other aspiring space powers in preventing American control of space for military and commercial uses - is collaborating with Europe on Galileo and is now a partner with Brazil to launch satellites. In an unprecedented move, China agreed this past December to host Russian forces in China for joint military exercises.
America used to be the great moral leader of the world, a role that was crucial to the winning of both the Second World War and the Cold War. Yet today, the United States is a follower rather than a leader. Europe has banned both the death penalty and torture, while the United States is a leading practitioner of execution, with the state of Texas alone being a world leader in executions. After 9/11, the Bush Administration created an international military gulag in which the torture of suspects has frequently been proven recently and was supported by the man most recently appointed the chief law enforcement officer of the country - this is supposed to demonstrate our moral and cultural superiority to the enemy?
For generations, we were the leader in promoting international law in collaboration with other nations. Today, the Republican-controlled government in Washington mocks the very idea of international law.
Today, it's hard to look around and not see the rest of the world taking actions to reduce American influence in nearly every area of activity. The United States may well have the strongest military in the world, but the rest of the planet can see every day the limits of American military power clearly demonstrated in Iraq. This may be George W. Bush's greatest crime against the country he claims to love. Clearly demonstrating the limits of American power is not the way one goes about establishing a system in which countries like Iran and North Korea conform their actions to American policies out of fear of the consequences. Our failure to cooperate with Britain, France and Germany in dealing with the Iranian nuclear program - while obviously having no extra-diplomatic way of enforcing our will on the Iranians - has made it possible for the world to become a far more dangerous place. A few weeks ago, Kim Jong Il announced that North Korea actually has weapons of mass destruction! One immediate result of this is that Japan has announced they plan to reduce their spending in support of the stationing of U.S. forces in Japan. The Japanese plan to spend more funds on their own forces - which they can count on - rather than ours, about which they have increasingly-reasonable doubt. With the U.S. unable to influence events in North Korea, it will not be unreasonable for the Japanese to amend their U.S.-dictated pacifist constitution and begin developing their own nuclear deterrent. This makes the world safer?
If they were willing to accept reality - rather than their faith-based military analyses - even the most vociferous neoconservatives would admit that America's Afghan and Iraq operations have pushed us to our military and economic limits.
When the President proclaims "democracy" his method of ensuring his goal of "national safety," and then welcomes General Pervez Musharraf to the White House - a man who overthrew democracy in Pakistan and reneged on his promise to step down as commander of the Pakistani military, a position from which he could not have failed to know about the nuclear proliferation activities of A.Q. Khan and most likely was their protector - the 49 invocations of"freedom" and "liberty" and promised commitment to "make Americans safer" ring hollow indeed. "Parade" magazine recently released a list of "the world's ten worst dictators." Six of them could not hold the position they do without the active support of the United States.
The news that the rest of the world is creating alliances and institutions to shut out the influence of the United States cannot be surprising. The belief that American leaders can be trusted to act for the good of humanity as they make use of a monopoly of military and economic power is not one that has ever been widely shared by the rest of the world. Irony abounds to realize that America - the nation that won the Cold War - now hopes raw military power will intimidate other great powers alienated by our belligerence. We have adopted the very strategy that brought about the defeat and destruction of the Soviet Union in that struggle.
What the red state patriots whose breasts beat with pride when they watch a B-2 stealth bomber fly low over a local military celebration fail to realize is that it won't take military force to put the Republican dream of an American Empire on history's scrapheap. All it will take is for the businessmen and bankers around the world - and the politicians they support - realizing that George W. Bush's looming $400 billion-plus annual deficits and his current economic proposals will only result in greater growth of this mountain of debt, with a resultant fall in the dollar wiping out the value of the treasury bonds they hold, for them to adopt the Euro as the planetary reserve currency.
Just in case you think the above is the fantasy of some "America-hater," the news from the World Economic Forum going on at Davos, Switzerland, this past January was that, at a standing-room only session focusing on the world's fastest-growing economy, Fan Gang - Director of the National Economic Research Institute at the China Reform Foundation - said the issue for China isn't whether to devalue the Yuan but "to limit it from the U.S. Dollar." He went on to say (in English, to be sure he was not misunderstood) that "The U.S. dollar, in our opinion, is no longer seen as a stable currency, and is devaluating all the time, and that's putting troubles all the time. So the real issue is how to change the regime from a U.S. dollar pegging to a more manageable reference...say Euros, Yen, Dollars, those kind of more diversified systems." If that doesn't send a chill down your spine to read it, then you don't understand International Econ 101. I have heard friends on the right say that our international financial problems are like Donald Trump's financial problems - i.e., a problem for those holding the debt, not for the debtor. What will these "patriots" say the day China decides to forcibly reincorporate Taiwan, and rather than launch a nuclear missile at the United States begins selling off their Treasury bonds? The destruction of a nuclear bomb over an American city will be as nothing compared to the national devastation such a financial first strike would create.
Domestically, economic inequality was once tolerable because America was the land of opportunity. This is no longer so. Twenty years ago, the average American CEO earned 39 times as much as the average worker. Today, that CEO is paid 1,000 times as much. Are the leaders of America 1,000 times better than they were twenty years ago? In a study of the American economy, Briton George Monbiot summarized the data: "In Sweden, you are three times more likely to rise out of the economic class into which you were born than you are in the U.S." Wal-Mart has destroyed what was left of American domestic manufacturing with its race to the bottom, a race that is turning those very red-state Bush voters into denizens of a Third World economy of minimum-wage jobs with no future.
The Republicans and their "f--k yeah!" supporters may think America is big enough and strong enough to thumb our collective nose at the rest of the world, but these Good Christians would do themselves a favor if they consulted their Good Book and remembered just what it is that "goeth before a fall." As Seymour Hersh put it in a recent interview with Democracy Now, "Europe is not going to tolerate us much longer. The rage there is enormous. I'm talking about our old-fashioned allies. We could see something there -- collective action against us. Certainly, nobody -- it's going to be an awful lot of dancing on our graves as the dollar goes bad and everybody stops buying our bonds, our
credit -- we're spending $2 billion a day to float the debt, and one of these days, the Japanese and the Russians -- everybody -- is going to start buying oil in Euros instead of dollars."
Hersh may be talking to governmental and business leaders in Europe, but I hear the same thing from my European friends - common, ordinary, everyday people, people who like Americans and detest America.
As my soon-to-be-expatriate friend concluded, "We've become everyone's worst nightmare: a banana republic with a huge military - think Mexico with one party running the country for 70 years, then toss in the world's largest nuclear strike force for good measure."
My friend in France finished thus: "We are probably at the end of a cycle. All the great empires have turned to rubble, and this one will too."
The next four years of the Second Bush Administration are going to be "interesting" - as that word is used in the ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times."
at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: Monday, March 7, 2005 12:53 AM EST
THE MYTH AND REALITY OF ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER
By: Thomas McKelvey Cleaver
I first saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in action 21 years ago. As an aspiring screenwriter, I had figured out that writing about the movies was a way to be around the movies, and a damn good way to learn about making them from an otherwise-unobtainable perspective. That summer of 1984, an actor friend told me he was working on "The Terminator" with a genius director and an original scripts - it would be worth my time to write about it.
"Starlog" magazine set me up to do an interview of the star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. This was back when Arnold was mostly thought of as a joke in Hollywood. Friends said I should be sure I only used simple questions to get a "yes" or "no" answer, since that would be the maximum extent of his ability.
The day I was there they were on location, shooting the scene where the Terminator kills the second Sarah Connor. I'm sure you've all seen this great movie - still to my mind the best of the three - so you'll know the scene as I tell you what went on there in the working class suburb of Van Nuys. The action required Arnold to drive up in front of the house, get out, walk to the front door, grab "second Sarah Connor" when she answers, go inside and kill her, come out, get back in the car, and drive off - crushing a child's toy under the tire. That's a total of perhaps three minutes of final screen time - including the scene inside where he does the deed (which they were shooting at the same time in order to stay on budget). Those three minutes are a day's work in movie production - and a long day's work at that when the director is James Cameron, who even back then was a big believer in multiple takes of each shot.
Arnold was holding court from a captain's chair in the front yard. The news had gone through the neighborhood about who was there like a bucket of water spilled on a kitchen floor. Every kid for several blocks around - and their mom - was there. They were in awe of Arnold. I had covered a few productions, and had never seen a movie star acting like this. A kid would decide if he had the guts to approach Mr. Schwarzenegger, who would spot him (or her), and beckon them over. While he was talking with that kid, there was no one more important in the world. Then he'd ask mom over and the moment would end with a picture taken by mom of the kid sitting on Mr. Universe's lap. Every once in awhile, the Assistant Director would come over to tell him they were ready for the next shot. Arnold would turn to his fans and tell them he needed their help, that it would be really, really helpful if no one made noise. "That way, I can do this, come back, and we can all talk some more." There was dead silence on the street - something I've never seen before or since. True to his word, he was right back, socializing with those kids.
Lunch break came and it was time for the interview. I commented I'd never seen another movie star act the way he was. He answered, "Then you have only been hanging around with idiots! Those kids - without them, I'm nothing, I'm nobody. They're the ones who give me the chance to do this." That was the moment I realized Arnold Schwarzenegger was completely unlike his public image, that those who thought he was an idiot were the idiots.
The interview - conducted in a haze of cigar smoke ("hahve a cigah?" as he handed me a 12 inch Cubano) over a very good Cabernet Sauvignon from his personal collection - had a lot more to it than grunts. He gave me a very detailed analysis of why "The Terminator" was going to be very successful commercially and would as a result "make my career." Film history proves he was right. He demonstrated a detailed knowledge of the business of "the industry," and a deep awareness of exactly what he had to do to make things click in his chosen profession. In all the years since, I've never been surprised by anything Arnold - who really does qualify as Hollywood's most unlikely star - has done.
There was another story he told me, which is also of interest. When asked how he'd become involved in the project, he said the head of Orion Pictures had offered him the script, to play Reese - the hero. "But I immediately saw that the role for me was the Terminator, it's the one everyone will remember." He told that story with complete believability, and most film historians believe that's how he turned himself into a major star. The truth is otherwise. Arnold was originally offered the role of the Terminator, which he turned down because he wanted to play the hero. He had to be convinced to take the role that made his career! If you hooked him up to a lie detector and asked him to tell you the story, his version would record as the truth, he's that good at believing his own baloney. This is important in understanding Arnold Der Governator today.
I wasn't surprised when he ran for Governor of California. While I didn't vote for him - being biologically incapable of voting for a Republican - I didn't vote with any expectation other than that Arnold would win (all those 7 and 8 year old kids who sat on his lap in 1984 were old enough to vote in 2003, as I am sure they did, as well as their mommies and daddies). I wasn't surprised when he hit the deck running and scored some impressive political victories right off - he had the other side thoroughly cowed. And I'm not surprised by what he's doing at present for his "reform" agenda, with his attacks on the "special interests" as he plays the role of a modern Hiram Johnson while he seeks the support of the same sector of society the great reformer saw as The Enemy, or by his breaking all the political promises he made last year. What does surprise me is the number of otherwise-intelligent, politically-experienced people who are surprised by all this. Their problem is they fail to understand Hollywood. And you can't understand Arnold Schwarzenegger if you don't understand the jungle he came out of.
Probably the biggest thing the Sacramento Democrats don't understand is that, in Hollywood, a promise is only good for so long as it makes profitable business sense to the party in the strongest power position of those participating in the promise. As that most-astute observer Samuel Goldwyn once put it, "A verbal contract's not worth the paper it's written on."
In fact, a written contract's not much better, as any number of famous contract fights going back to the beginning of Hollywood demonstrate. The party with the power in a contract knows that the other - less-powerful - party most likely wants to continue working in their chosen field, and is in no economic condition to make a fight of it in the Delaware Chancery Court (there's a reason why so many corporations are chartered there, and it's not for the Chesapeake crab). Thus, the more powerful party - usually the one who can say "yes" and thus "greenlight" the less-powerful one's desire to make a movie, or one whose "yes" to doing the movie (like Arnold) will lead those who can do the greenlighting to say yes - can and will do what they want, secure in the knowledge that the other party won't complain, since complaining will to insure one doesn't do further business.
This is not to say people in "Duh Biz" go around making promises they are planning not to keep. Far from it!! They are notably sincere when they make such promises. At the time they make a promise, they are absolutely committed to carrying it out.
The important words are "at the time."
In Hollywood, a screenwriter knows as he or she options a script to a producer who promises they'll fight to the last ditch to insure said screenwriter is the sole writer on the script, that this will only last till the first executive the producer believes can get the picture made suggests "why don't you use so-and-so for a rewrite?" Even if the promise is in writing, it will only say the producer will "use best efforts" to insure a solo credit. That's why the Writer's Guild pisses off lots of writers every year with a credits arbitration system that strongly favors protecting the original writer.
The same is true for any director or actor. Even when they've signed a "pay or play" contract, the possibility still exists that decisions and events down the road will result in them not seeing their name in lights on that particular project.
So far as Hollywood is concerned, none of these people should complain, since they're being compensated for their pain with money (though not as much as most people outside the business think - when you survive to the point where they pay you Serious Money, they stop this stuff).
Promises are different in politics. In Hollywood, someone who is powerful will likely remain powerful; the studios will always be powerful vis-a-vis the supplicants seeking to get their movie made. In politics, this year's majority may become next year's minority - in the back of their minds, politicians know ultimately they are subject to the will of the people. Thus, promises are more sacrosanct, since messing someone over today means that at some point in the future that person may be able to mess you over back. In politics, revenge is "a dish best eaten cold," and everyone knows it. Thus, it's in everyone's interest to not create future fights where none need exist.
This is why the "special interests" - who were promised a year ago by Der Governator that he would not only not ask them to make such a sacrifice again as he was then asking, but would restore them to their previous condition - are so angry now.
The fact he has no political experience, and thus no personal knowledge of why in politics one does certain things in a certain way, is why he is so genuinely surprised people are angry over the broken promises. He's a Hollywood Boy. Don't they understand he sincerely tried to do as he promised, but that the situation is such that despite his "best efforts" he can't make good? He can't upset those who can "greenlight" his career, can he? Don't they understand "best efforts" don't always pan out? What are they doing, being "complainers"? Don't they know complaining means you don't get to keep doing business?
It's time for the Sacramento Democrats to stop behaving like a gaggle of 8-year old kids in a Van Nuys neighborhood standing in awe of Mr. Universe. Of course, given the facts of political life with Term Limits, we in California have the situation of a Governor with no experience playing against Democratic leaders in the Assembly and the Senate who don't know where the bathrooms are. As someone who used to play the game when there were real players around - guys like Jesse Unruh and Willie Brown - the current gaggle of amateur stickballers trying to convince everyone they're the New York Yankees are a joke. If there's any hope for this gaggle of sandbox superstars to not be outmaneuvered, outplayed, and defeated, it's time they learn The Five Rules of Hollywood:
Rules Number 1-3: As the great screenwriter William Goldman once put it: "The three rules of Hollywood are: Nobody. Knows. Anything." Hollywood is a crapshoot. Nobody - not Steven Spielberg, not Michael Eisner, not any of them - knows if a movie's going to be a hit until the receipts are in from the opening weekend. I'll transfer this to Sacramento in simple terms: Make a real fight of it - he's not a dead-set winner unless you morons let him win.
Rule Number 4: You're only as successful and powerful as your last success. "Bad buzz" kills movies more surely than bad reviews. This means for the Sacramento Democrats that if you can actually figure out what in hell you believe in, and organize a real opposition, you can win. Especially since your "special interests" really are THE PEOPLE OF CALIFORNIA.
Rule Number 5: As that very astute observer of Hollywood David Freeman said, "the difference between a producer who calls you from his office on the Paramount lot, and a producer who calls you from a pay phone at Santa Monica and Fairfax, is one hit." What this means for the Sacramento Democrats is: CAMPAIGN FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE - the worst that will happen is you lose.
Der Governator has spent his life sucking up to the people with the power to "greenlight" his career and really does believe his own baloney: to him, the teachers, the nurses, the public employees and all the others who work for a living by helping create a civilized society are "special interests," while banks and corporations and those who can pay $100,000 per person to sit within spitting distance of him at a fund-raising dinner are "the people of Kaleeforneeya." The man who campaigned against Grey Davis by accusing him of being a tool of the"special interests" for having raised some $70 million dollars in political contributions over six years is on the way to raising $150 million in three years!
In 2003, even a majority of Democrats voted for Arnold. His approval ratings have been "stratospheric" for a year. But his approval polls are now down to 54 percent overall, well within striking distance. Among Democrats - a majority in California - his disapproval rating is twice the size of his approval rating. He isn't "Der Governator," unless you mistake hype for reality.
It's time for California Democrats - and Democrats across the country - to step out of Arnold's tent, shake their heads to clear their lungs and their eyes of the cigar smoke, and realize that Arnold Schwarzenegger is only The Hero when the script is written that way. And that only works in the movies.
at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: Monday, March 7, 2005 12:53 AM EST
THE FORGOTTEN RACE
By: Xaivier Martin
Watching TV during the month of February, I was both pleased and disappointed by what I saw. Many cable channels like ESPN, MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon's "TV Land" chose different ways to pay homage to those African-Americans who have had a profound effect on our society. As important as these people who graced my screen may have been, they all have something in common, other than being Black. They all affected the world of sports & entertainment.
I recognize African-Americans have made some of their greatest advancements through athletics and entertainment. Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby breaking baseball's color barrier in the National and American Leagues, respectively. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, using the 1968 Olympics to bring world attention to the poor conditions of Blacks in the U.S. Music legends like Jelly-Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald helped bring African-Americans to the forefront of art and culture both here and abroad.
Still, the fact that in the 21st century we as Blacks can't move past recognition for contributions in sports and entertainment is a sad reality. I remember as a child seeing tributes to George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Frederick Douglass, Barbara Jordan, Sojourner Truth, Phillis Weatley and Harriet Tubman, to name a few. Granted, I didn't understand their importance at the time, but I knew the names and eventually I asked about them and discovered the tremendous roles they played in our country's and my people's history.
All this reflection made me think about where the state of African-Americans ranks among the country's priorities and where it ranks among the Democratic Party's priorities.
Somewhere around 2020 - depending who you ask - minorities will become the majority in these United States. Of those grouped in the minority, Latinos will be the dominant race/ethnicity by numbers. People of color are not foolish enough to believe there will be a sudden paradigm shift of power just because our numbers may increase. Numbers are great, but anyone who has a clue knows the direction of our country is decided at the top.
Despite the strides made by the U.S. in expanding equality and opportunity, most of the people at the top are still melanoma-deficient. In response to this impending demographic change, the last five years have seen a greater emphasis on issues that affect Latino-Americans such as immigration, identification/documentation and bilingual education.
Events like 9-11 and Operation Iraqi Freedom have brought about a greater emphasis on issues of defense, intelligence and privacy. The state of Massachusetts' controversial decision concerning same-sex marriages has brought issues involving homosexuality and the definition of marriage to the forefront. Republican sweeps in 2000 and 2004 have given the Christian Right and such leaders as Pat Robertson even more clout than in the '80s, allowing them to bring out golden oldies like school prayer and abortion. Not one issue relating to the welfare of Blacks outside of Bush's attack on Social Security is being discussed on the national stage.
It used to be that during the month of February one could expect to be inundated with gestures, proclamations and declarations from elected officials all over the nation. February used to be a month where a general "state of the race" assessment would be taken for African-Americans. Now, many of the requests and complaints made by Black leaders were often explained away or denied, but at least there was an opportunity to be heard.
In the latest contest for the Democratic National Committee Chairmanship; there was but one African-American candidate, former Dallas mayor and failed senator candidate Ron Kirk. Kirk's bid ended before it began and one of the most powerful Blacks in the Democratic Party is freshman Senator Barack Obama (IL), a captivating speaker and rising star, but far from having the power to make any significant change.
Obama is only the third African-American to be elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction and only the fifth in this nation's history - the first two being Republican Reconstructionists from Mississippi. The first Black Vice Presidential candidate would have come from the Republican Party, but Colin Powell - in what is probably one of the smartest moves he has made - decided against it.
African-American voters have been a consistent and strong base for the Democratic Party since the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement fifty years ago. Yet one could argue that the African-American voter has made more progress towards gaining positions of influence and power in the nation-at-large than it has in the party he or she supports year in and year out.
High School Drop-Out rates continue to climb, and of those who are able to graduate and get into college, an alarming 41 percent have to take remedial classes to make up for a lack of basic skills. Prisons continue to teem with Black men and women, most of whom are there on marijuana possession charges. With public schools getting worse, things will just get more crowded.
A disproportionate percentage of Blacks continue to make up the working poor or the impoverished. Affirmative Action continues to get attacked in favor of "merit programs" like the "10 Percent Program" in Texas that allows any high school senior who is in the top 10 percent of their class admission to any state college of their choice. At first, the merit before race argument makes sense, but when one considers the lack of educational opportunities for the average African-American student as compared to the average White student, the failure of "merit based" programs to address issues of inequity comes a bit more into focus.
I am not dense or insensitive to the plethora of issues facing our nation and its people, but this country's ever-so-subtle shift in issues of national concern is quite troubling. Even more so is the Democratic Party's failure to keep issues that directly concern Black America either in or somewhere around the national discussion. Still, the most troubling thing for me is that more African-Americans have not brought attention to their own race's lack of attention. Until then I guess I'll just have to comfort myself with a viewing of Ken Burn's Jazz series or another 15 second Black History Month tribute on TV next year.
at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: Monday, March 7, 2005 12:52 AM EST
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