17 March 2014

will someone explain obama’s midterm strategy

I lean very heavily left on almost every social, economic, and diplomatic issue, so naturally I would like to see Senate Democrats retain their majority (actually, I feel the Democratic Party is too centrist and verges on conservatism, but at some point we must be political realists).

Maybe this is a flawed methodology, but I, like a majority of political commentators, am viewing the actions and rhetoric coming out of the White House through the lens of close 2014 races in the Senate. I can’t come up with any legitimate reason why the President would be placing a priority on anything other than not losing six seats, because preventing a Republican majority in both houses is a prerequisite to doing… anything… in the next two years.

Here’s a list of issues/initiatives which are being pressed/sold presently and concurrently by the White House:

1.     Obama’s new, $3.9 trillion dollar budget (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/05/us/politics/obama-submits-budget-to-congress.html)




5.     Three or four different foreign policy objectives tangled up in the Russia-Ukrainian situation (How do we respond to Russian invasion? Do we let Crimea vote on whether or not to become a part of Russia? How do we respond to the overwhelmingly positive response to annexation? Do we start employing fracked nat-gas as a geopolitical tool against Russia to prevent this in the future?) (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/06/world/europe/ukraine.html?partner=rss&emc=rss, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/06/world/europe/us-seeks-to-reduce-ukraines-reliance-on-russia-for-natural-gas.html?partner=rss&emc=rss)

6.     Although this doesn’t come directly from the White House, the Senate controversy regarding whether or not to reform sexual assault in the military is absolutely relevant (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/07/us/politics/military-sexual-assault-legislation.html?hpw&rref=politics)

7.     A last-minute ACA signup drive targeting Latino, Black, and young people who were originally the target demographic of the legislation but are not turning out as expected

The immediate problem with this list is that it is HUMONGOUS. The presidency confers certain politically valuable tools to s/he who holds the office, but there are definite limitations on even Obama’s influence; each additional objective the White House stakes out as a goal reduces the potency of any potential political strategy which might be used by the Party to actually bring policy home. If Obama fails to deliver in a public fashion on any issue, then the capacity of the White House to effectively politicize would be absolutely crushed under the weight of negative press; progress on every other front would grind to a halt. Failure snowballs, and the party has planted a fuckload of snow. Establishing this many distinct political objectives in the months leading up to a key set of midterms makes southern Democrats who are struggling to hold on to their seats even more vulnerable.

The effects of disaster would primarily manifest themselves in A) ancillary attack ads available to Republicans for tough senate races (the key point will, naturally, be the ACA, but having secondary material is beneficial from a campaign point of view), and B) a further reduction in Obama’s already dismal approval rate. Each implication independently makes convincing swing voters to cast blue ballots a lot more difficult, and makes the party less attractive on the national stage. The left already failed to deliver on immigration reform, made dramatic budgetary concessions to keep the government functioning, and really hasn’t even touched any of the core planks of the Democratic Party in the last two years; the last thing we need is to be brandishing the sword and agitating for performance in a congress which has already proven to be systemically incapable of passing legislation.


Even if some policy fairy magically delivers on every point, senate targets already have bacon to wave: An economically stellar 2014 Q1 and a highly positive financial outlook for the rest of the year (http://www.kiplinger.com/tool/business/T019-S000-kiplinger-s-economic-outlooks/). There’s not much to be gained from having the option to parade a misshapen and rather unambitious set of policies in front of largely southern voters who are overwhelmingly concerned with the economy. It seems like any basic risk/reward calculus would quickly reveal that the plan currently being pursued is profoundly dangerous and lacks meaningful upside.

07 March 2014

script schematic

This is the outline of a script I’m working on.

PREMISE –
This script follows the life of a young homeless man in a large city; he tries to find a positive space for himself in a world defined by denial of difference and cold isolation.

BACKGROUND -   
The protagonist, Nathaniel, sustains himself by playing Beatles music on an urban corner. He is a strikingly attractive nineteen year old with a piercing directness about him, who appears more tempered than defined by homelessness. His contrasting traits of vague fragility and audacious abandon inform many of the interactions the audience is shown between him and other characters.

SCHEMATIC -        
This is a story about life, people, and the way people deal with the unfamiliar. It hopes to retain the grandiose cinematic beauty of A Place Beyond the Pines while infusing touches of personality, realism, and flair for each character in a manner reminiscent of Incendies. Each character should, as more events occur, become part of an ever-larger tapestry of social criticism; even Nathaniel is ultimately a vehicle for commentary. The most ambitious goal of the story is to provide the audience with the ability to look at people and happenings metaphorically, while also retaining that personal involvement that makes characters come alive.
               
A long expository period features Nathaniel in a largely faceless city, where we fall in love with his naivety, fragility, munificence, and optimism. We eventually get to meet his two friends, a black man and child, whose interaction with Nathaniel is largely informed by abject poverty and the burdens it places on the poor. In contrast to the persevering (albeit delicate) image of the protagonist, these two are in the mire of utter despair and could be said to be subhuman. He spends a night with them. He is awoken in the early hours of the morning, restrained, and raped by an unknown and unclearly pictured figure, probably large and unkempt, while the two others watch with a startled sort of helplessness. After spending some time groveling, he attempts to solicit respite at a variety of shelters, all of which deny him, being institutions available only to women.
               
We return to Nathaniel after some indiscriminate period of time. He retains many of the same characteristics, but the optimism that had earlier defined him is perhaps now tempered by a certain hardness of soul. His skin is yellow, and he displays various symptoms of HIV. He is again playing on a street corner, distinct from the first one. A young white woman is shown to have a unique visual connection with the protagonist, and she waits for him to finish his performance. She asks him why he chooses to be homeless and profane the Lord’s creation, illustrating repulsive moral conviction and prejudice. Nathaniel responds with a beautiful oration about enjoying the world free of human contrivance, of comfort with mortality and vitality. She appears to be progressively more and more frustrated, and when Nathaniel offers her the take from his day of performance, she knocks his container to the ground and stalks off. She turns around momentarily, crying, but hurries away.
               

The following day Nathaniel is detained by the police, on charges of assault. He is sentenced to several years in federal prison based on the testimony of the woman. Once his stay begins, she and her pastor visit him, telling him that they are doing him a favor and bringing him into the Lord’s light. We are shown several times how they proselytize to Nathaniel, while he remains silent and removed, appearing profoundly depressed and disturbed. After a span of time, he is released on parole under the condition that he attend some sort of service frequently with the woman and her pastor. The film ends with Nathaniel, although much dilapidated, walking out of the penitentiary, turning a corner, and rejoining the busy, faceless city atmosphere where we originally found him with the same fragile optimism. He hums Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

06 March 2014

eek homeless ppl

A few nights ago I was in my car listening to NPR. It was late. They were doing one of their fund-raising drives, and I was vaguely irritated with the constant requests for money – I wanted to hear more about the situation in Ukraine. It’s always “five dollars makes a difference” with crowd-funded projects, because that sort of sentiment tends to motivate a lot of people. I've always preferred to believe that the only things which make a difference are the things we do emphatically, with commitment, without the chance of return, without the shadow of insignificance. I was munching on fries, thinking about what we can do to really change the world.

A man came up to my car. Even though I was parked under a flood-light, I was so absorbed in whatever I was doing that I didn't see him approach. He tapped on my window with a white knuckle. His clothing was worn, his face dirty, and he scared me. Even so, he had these electric-blue eyes which seemed to implore me to let him connect, so I rolled down the window of my shiny red coupe.

I looked up at this guy, with his missing teeth and his taut skin. I looked up at him and he looked down at me. He asked me for five dollars – he said he was out of cash and he just needed a few bucks to put enough gas in his car to get to Conroe. I froze – I recognized the nature of the request and the action which it requested that I perform, but I didn't recognize that I was the one who was supposed to perform the action. It seemed like the sort of dialogue which represents whole sections of the human experience. I scrambled for my wallet after a moment and handed him a few bills. In between the profuse thanks of one who achieves an end due to the generosity of another, I mumbled, “pay it forward, man.” I was happy to see him walk away when he was done demonstrating gratitude.

He was probably just a drug addict looking to get high. Even if he wasn't, I doubt my stupid platitude motivated him to do anything good for anyone else that he wasn't already going to do. I don’t even know if I did something good for him – I don’t even know what motivated me. Was it fear? A sense of duty?  Genuine altruism? A desire to be revered?


I’m pretty sure we’re just here for a few years, us and all of the other people who suffer through this lived terror. One day you die, and then a different day after that, the last person says your name for the last time, and you’re forgotten. It will be as if you were never there. We can make little ripples in the pond which each proliferate with our own mark, but ripples quickly become indistinguishable from one another when they form a part of a much larger movement of water.