A few months ago, I wrote here about the Bureau of Motion Pictures that had been organized by Robert Riskin, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of It Happened My Night, as well as such movies as Meet John Doe, Lost Horizon and You Can't Take It With You, and father of my friend Vicki, a former president of the Writers Guild of America -- of which her father was one of the founders. (He also was the husband of actress Fay Wray, of King Kong.) The film office was a division of the Office of War Information.
As I mentioned at the time, the Bureau of Motion Pictures made a series of short movies to show the American way of life for presentation throughout Europe during WWII. One of the most notable, Hymn of Nations, which I embedded in that previous article above, even received an Oscar nomination for Best Short Documentary. Several others were especially popular, even with American audiences, including a charming short film which I posted here called, Autobiography of a Jeep.
Another of the most popular of the films is oddly-enough timely for today's politics, The Cummington Story. Made in 1945, it told of refuges from Europe coming to the United States when their own country was being overrun by the war, and trying to assimilate with the town where they've been settled. It's notable that the movie doesn't whitewash everything and make it all sweetness-and-light, and shows the difficultly and mistrust the refugees face at first when they arrive.
Also of note is that the score to the film was written by Aaron Copland.
A few days ago, a friend mentioned that an organization she belongs to was going to have Leon Panetta as a speaker. She was planning to go, to hear the former White House Chief of Staff under Bill Clinton, and former CIA director appointed by Barack Obama, among other positions he's held. I asked if I had ever told her about the time I had crossed paths with Panetta, and she said I hadn't. I realized that I hadn't told the story here either -- so with a Democratic Convention, which plays a part in the tale, just a few months away -- it seems as good a time as any.
In 2000, when the Democratic Convention was held in Los Angeles, I had a press pass and covered the event for the Writers Guild of America's magazine, Written By. I spent most of my time on the convention floor, which was wonderful (and from where I saw an absolutely wonderful documentary on the nominee, Al Gore, which alas because of network constraints never got shown on national television), but occasionally, I wandered out into the concourse and strolled around. It was there among the ocean of unrecognizable faces that, at one point, I saw Leon Panetta and, pleased by the unexpected opportunity in front of me, thought it would be nice to ask such an established political figure some questions for my article. I figured that having a quote from someone who was that prominent would add more than a bit of substance to my low-key wanderings and personal observations, and might even impress the editor who no doubt wasn't expecting such a thing, given what I had proposed. But Panetta was occupied by a group who was talking with him in what appeared to be intense conversation, and so I waited.
And waited. And waited. And then waited some more. I knew he was important in American politics, so I was patient, it was worth the wait -- but eventually, I was starting to get tired of waiting, there are limits when a day only has 24 hours and a convention has far fewer, so I moved a little closer. And as I neared, it became clear to me that Panetta wasn’t really talking with them at all, but rather it was a group of women who had converged on him, had his ear and were barraging him with their opinions. His part of the communication process was as The Listener. He seemed very polite, sort of nodding with a somewhat glazed look, but it seemed like he was almost being held hostage because he didn’t know how to get away. (Which is pretty hilarious, given that he was the White House Chief of Staff, and soon to be Secretary of Defense and later the CIA Director.) Clearly, he’s no shrinking violet. But he was just stuck there. Trapped, unable to know how to politely leave.
I had been watching this for almost 10 minutes, but that was after coming across it mid-stream. There was no way to know how long this had fully been going on. Given the polite, but frozen and silent smile on his face, accompanied by those empty head-nods we're all familiar with using in the midst of soul-sucking conversations when we realize we have No Way Out, it could have been hours.
I suddenly had an idea. Praying that I was right about this and wasn't about to cause an international incident (but unless the history of human body language had changed in the last 24-hours, I was pretty near-certain I was right...) I took another couple steps closer, interrupted and excused myself, and held up my press badge. “Excuse me, Mr. Panetta,” I said, “but we have…” – and instantly he knew exactly what I was doing (since he was well-aware that he didn’t know who I was and knew we did not have a scheduled appointment), and he suddenly spun and said to the women SO apologetically, so graciously, “Oh, I’m so sorry, but I have to get to this,” and they excused him as they quickly cut through the group.
He and I went walking off, not saying a word to each other yet, until we got far enough away. But while we quickly walked, as he looked straight ahead, he said out of the corner of his mouth, in an almost-whisper, “Thank you.”
To this day, I still laugh at memories of the "Thank you." and the look of controlled relief on his face, not quite far enough away from the Danger Zone to yet fully relax. Eventually, I did ask him a few questions and got to use the quotes in my article for the WGA magazine, which made my wanderings and observations far more substantive, and which the editor was indeed impressed with…
For which I gained immense admiration for the power of a group of women who had corralled the man who would soon be the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in order to simply get across their opinions.
Politicians getting on the wrong side of women, take care.
Back from Chicago. Happily, the brief snow is long-since gone, and the weather was starting to get more reasonable. The last few days were in the upper-40s, crisp but very pleasant. The Elves who were watching the place here are still laughing though...
Once again, I was able to get the TSA Pre-Approved designation on my boarding pass. If you haven’t been lucky enough for that yet, just know it is absolutely great. No need to take your computer out of your carry-on, or remove your belt or shoes. And the line is about one-twentieth as long. What’s odd, though, is the approval process. You can apply for approval, which entails paying a fee and submitting certain documents for checking, and I understand that. But you can also get approved if you travel a lot (which I have been, going to Chicago three times a year). That’s why I seem to be TSA-approved about 70% of the time the past few years. And while I love it, I think it’s a bizarre reason to approve passengers. And by “bizarre” I mean lousy. But…I was TSA pre-approved in both flight directions, and however wrong-headed it seems, it did make the travel wildly easier.
Probably the biggest news is that Mayor Rahm Emmanuel ignored the Police Board’s recommendation for a new Chief of Police and instead made his own choice. At first, there was concern about that, but it turns out that the selection of a highly-popular and admired, tough but fair member of the Chicago Police force has been met with a cautious, but approving reaction.
There’s also been a bit of a local focus on national news, with the state’s Republican junior senator here, Mark Kirk, getting attention for saying that he would agree to meet with President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. (Imagine getting to the ludicrous point that somehow it’s Big News that a Republican senator is making the magnanimous step of simply meeting with a Supreme Court nominee. Perish the thought of actually voting for the distinguished jurist…) What is getting some, but not remotely as much attention in the national news is that Sen. Kirk is in an extremely difficult race for reelection and is highly-vulnerable against the well-liked Democratic nominee, Rep. Tammy Duckworth. In fact, in the last poll I saw, Mr. Kirk is behind her in the polls. Before becoming a senator, Mark Kirk was my father’s congressman in this suburb north of Chicago – given the district, Kirk was a more-moderate representative on some social issues than most Senate Republicans (which isn’t hard to do even if you don’t try hard), though he’s solidly conservative on most issues. But because Illinois is a reasonably-Blue state, and because the President is from Illinois and highly popular, and because Rep. Duckworth has a national reputation and admired…and because the Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland is from suburban Chicago…it’s put Mark Kirk at far more risk than he might be otherwise. Which I have absolutely zero doubt is 100% why he’s making the oh-so magnanimous step of amazingly agreeing to actually meet with Judge Garland.
Lots of local concern here over the Chicago Bulls who have been very lackluster in their play lately, and at the moment are out of the NBA playoff picture. But they won yesterday and are only two games behind. Also, the defending Stanley Cup hockey champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, have been playing sloppily the past few weeks and likely will have an important player suspended for several games after he made a retaliatory hit with his stick last night. The team has already qualified – though lower in the standings than usual, and need to play better to make it to the finals.
The White Sox remain the object of ridicule among the fans for the odd situation of one of their players retiring for semi-inexplicable reasons, supposedly having to do with the team (seemingly rightly) not letting him bring his young son into the locker room every single day, though it doesn’t appear that the ballclub handled the situation well. But it’s the White Sox and not the beloved Cubs, so if they squabble over such an oddity, so be it.
As for those beloved Cubs, it was great to get to watch them in Spring Training a lot. The games mean nothing, but you can get a sense of details. Opening Day is about a week away, hopefully without a return of the snow…and I can’t wait. The team is actually supposed to be good this year! O joy. It’s only been 108 years since a World Series, after all. And while Las Vegas odds have the team favored to win, I’ve long felt that this is not yet Their Year, since the team is still very young. But it should at least be a treat watching them be competitive. What a concept.
And now, we're back in Los Angeles.
I've been reading a lot for the past couple months, but much more lately about Bernie Sanders supporters complaining about superdelegates and how unfair and undemocratic it is.
I have mixed feelings about the Democratic Party's superdelegate rule, though overall I think I like it as a good "balance-of-power" mixture. Honestly, as much as "leave it to the people" is the mantra for supporting that primary voting be the sole way to determine the party nominee, I have problems with that, as well, and it's not evenly "democratic." For starters, I think that beginning the primary season with Iowa and New Hampshire gives heavy weighting to two small states that aren't especially representative of the party. And Super Tuesday has, I think, unfairly given big advantages to the best-financed campaigns and stretches campaigns very thin. And further, some states award delegates by "winner-take-all," which is contrary to the one-man/one-vote concept of democracy. So, yes, superdelegates are less purely-democratic than primaries, but I'm not convinced the imbalance is that much more problematic than the alternative.
Perspective is also important, and it helps keep a variety of other factors in mind.
For one, the superdelegate rule has been in operation in the Democratic Party for 48 years. It's not something that sneaks up on the primaries unexpected. And all candidates know going in that it's the rule, so you adjust your campaigns accordingly.
While the superdelegate process does favor establishment candidates more, at least at the beginning (which ultimately was the point of it), it's important to remember that, unlike primary delegates, superdelegates are not locked in to any single candidate, and can change their support at any time. So, the less-established candidate has the opportunity to get superdelegates to change. If a less-established candidate does especially well during the primaries, that can help him or her make their case to get superdelegate support.
Also, while there are valid arguments against having superdelegates, the time to debate them and consider change is during the mid-term, not once the primary season is in full-operation, or even right before they start. Set your rules early on so that all candidates know how the contest is going to be played.
For all the understandable complaints about the superdelegate rule by Bernie Sanders for it providing more votes currently to Hillary Clinton, it's good for Sanders-supporters of President Obama to keep history in mind and remember that in 2008 Barack Obama was helped to the nomination by winning superdelegates with a margin of 2-to-1. Over Hillary Clinton. So, superdelegates aren't inherently a bad thing when you're able to get them to work in your favor, which Mr. Sanders -- an early critic -- has said he now will try to do, to get those same superdelegates, as well.
It's also good to keep in mind that the Republican Party does not have superdelegates, and they have wound up with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz as their options to lead the party.
And for that matter, as much as it's pointed out that relying in part on superdelegates is not one-man/ one-vote democratic -- neither is how we elect the President of the United States. Not only is the presidency decided by winner-take-all electoral votes in each state, but the actual determination is not by the voters but by "electors" in the Electoral College.
The point here is that while the superdelegate rule may be flawed, and might not be one-man/one-vote democratic, and arguably should be changed -- it may also not be as problematic as it is perceived and offers value in the process. Whether the value is more than than the issues is worth being discussed. But discussed when nothing is imminently at stake.
And in the end, the result might be that the rule is a very reasonable thing. Perhaps with tweaks to it, as has happened over the years, or not.
This is a fun "Mystery Guest" segment of What's My Line. The guest is composer Jerry Herman who wrote the score to such Broadway musicals as Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Milk and Honey, and more -- but what stands out here is that he's not even the Mystery Guest. It's early enough in his career that the panelists don't need blindfolds so they won't recognize him. He only signs in as "Mister X," since his name is at least known.
Fun too is that later in the show, there is a Mystery Guest -- Henry Fonda. Not a bad episode. I think I've posted the latter here before, but it's been a while, and there are likely some new visitors.
I think I have this linked up so that it starts at the Jerry Herman interview, though I'm not sure that's working. If not, just jump to the 3:14 mark. And for Henry Fonda, if you want to fast-forward, go to 16:44.
Reading through the ongoing barrage of tweets that flow through Twitter brings about a fascinating, if bizarre observation -- how vitriolic the partisan supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have long-become. It's as if the candidates were polar opposites. I certainly understand high passions during a political campaign, when you believe so much is at stake and know only that one candidate can win. But a couple of oddities are mixed into the exchanges.
The first is that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are not even remotely polar opposites. They don't agree on all issues, and sometimes completely disagree. But when they do disagree, most usually it's a matter of degrees (like that Sanders wants Single Payer health coverage, and Clinton wants a strengthened Affordable Care Act -- or he is for raising the hourly minimum wage to $15, while she wants to raise it to $12), not the overriding principle. And the larger reality is that they actually seem to agree in general on the majority of matters.
The second is that when sending blistering broadsides at their favorite candidate's opponent, there seems to be an blissful unawareness (or forgetfulness) that one of these two is going to get the nomination. So, to say that one of them is just negative and doesn't support America, and the other can't be trusted seems wildly counterproductive, especially given that it's a fair bet that both Clinton and Sanders supporters likely would be sickened by a Trump or Cruz presidency. I understand harshly criticizing your opponent, even within a party, But when your "anger" is fulled by your diehard support of one person, rather than the substance of the other, and when you';d probably be just fine supporting the other, if that's the choice, it seems wildly counter-productive
I read a comment, for instance, how it was "absurd" that one of these two (it doesn't matter which one here, since the concept can flip on a dime over another matter) didn't support what 58% of Americans on for a particular issue. Now, it might be short-sighted, or bad politics, or surprising...but when you support a position that 42% of people do, that is not actually "absurd." It's reasonably rational. It might even be noble and proper, depending on the issue.
Of course, it's not just the Twitterverse. On Monday, the outgoing progressive Susan Sarandon appeared on MSNBC and explained why so many Bernie Sanders supporters might not vote for Hillary Clinton in the face of Donald Trump, if those two were to become the party nominees -- and wouldn't herself commit to voting for Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump. “She’s accepted money from all those people," Ms. Sarandon said of Clinton's fundraising.. "She doesn’t even want to fight for a $15 minimum wage," Right, she only wants to increase it to slightly less. At the expense of seeing Donald Trump as president.
All in the Name of Impassioned Principle. The thing is, life is full of principles. And choices. And myopia. And results. Is the Principle who gives you money -- or how you govern? Is the Principle raising the hourly minimum wage to $15 or raising the minimum wage? (All the while keeping in mind that the cost of living varies significantly across all corners of the country, as does the current minimum wage. In some states, a $15 minimum wage is critical for that local economy. In others, it's irresponsible.) Indeed, for any issue, is it problematic to push for somewhat less and get it, or push for more and not. That's not a pejorative question -- sometimes you go for the unattainable to make it easier to get the next time. And sometimes you go for what is attainable in order to create a foundation on which to build even higher the next time. But the most important question is whether inflexibility on any issue worth a Donald Trump as Commander-in-Chief and leader of the free world? Especially when on most positions the two candidates are respectably close.
This antipathy bordering on hatred tends to be coming more from the most overly-fervent Sanders supporters, though it does exist in the far-edges of the Clinton partisans, as well. I suppose that's to be expected when you have one candidate with a more missionary appeal. But with a candidate who would be a "first-ever", that also brings with it its own zeal.
In the end, I completely understand why Bernie Sanders supporters perceive nobility in their candidate and love him in favor of Hillary Clinton. And I understand why supporters of Hillary Clinton love her career, achievements and qualifications over Bernie Sanders. I also understand whey they each have reasons they strongly disagree with the other candidate. It's all fair. But the two candidate really, actually are on the same side, no matter how much they have different ways on some issues for moving society forward. And hatred of the "horrific" is another matter entirely. You want absurd? That's absurd.
I wrote that among most Democrats, if not pretty much all, neither Bernie Sanders nor Hillary Clinton are really, truly horrific candidate that their opposing Democratic partisan supporters are painting in their frenzied passion. And if any of them thought that why I'm saying here is not true, I suggested that they simply look across the street and see Donald Trump and Ted Cruz -- who are, in fact, horrific. Actually horrific. So much so that the Republican Establishment and much of the moderate party supporters are going nuclear ballistic total freak-out over. That is horrific. And being able to step back, taking a breath, and having some perspective is A Good Thing.
This week's contestant from the archives is Rebecca Butler from St. Simon's Island, Georgia. What I wrote the time before was, "And it's one of the more interesting of the compositions they've had. For starters, it's a really charming piece that Bruce Adolph wrote. And the hidden popular song is extremely well-known, and the classical composer is, as well. Yet...I didn't have a clue what it was. I should have gotten the composer style -- one of those 'slap yourself in the head, oh-yeah, of course,' things -- but the closest I came wasn't close enough. But the song was deeply hidden. Interestingly, when you do know the song and go back to listen, it's gorgeously woven into the composer style and almost more of a pleasure to listen to.
As I've written here in the past, I'm bemused (the polite term) by Republican analysts on TV who months ago were understandably and properly deriding Donald Trump loudly, but now that it appears he could likely be their party's nominee for president, they have begun twisting themselves in pretzel knots to explain the positive aspects of his support. What they seem to have come up with is that the Trump popularity is due to him being the "Voice of the People," and a Good Thing that expresses dissatisfaction of "Politics as Usual." (Alas, the once-wonderful Steve Schmidt and the rational, but less-wonderful Nicole Wallace are among those analysts falling into this category.)
With the Sunday morning talk shows doing some more of this pounding, it led to a tweet I left which expresses one way in which all this faux-observation is so deeply disingenuous.
By the way, Republicans in Congress may, in fact, have a hard time this year, though not because of getting rid of "Politics as Usual." If it occurs, it will be because so many Republicans can't bear to vote for either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in the general election that they stay home. Or they're disgusted at their reps supporting Trump or Cruz, and so vote against them for that reason.
Mind you, "Politics as Usual" has long been been a shibboleth of the Far right that gets twisted in its meaning, along with things like "Original Intent" and "Advocate Judges." As I've noted, as well, whenever Republican analysts try to justify their general position of how "The People" are upset at Washington and at "politics as usual," it misses the larger point that it isn't "The People" who are upset at politics, but conservatives who are. Democrats and liberals have their disagreements with politics, to be sure, but they aren't the one who follow the Grover Norquist credo of drowning government in a bathtub until it's too small to function, or pushing for term limits (better known as, "Dear God, save us from ourselves"), or try to filibuster to shut down government, or state publicly how compromising to get a fair settlement (which is considered the "art of politics") is anathema to their views.
So, no, The People don't hate Politics as Usual. The Far Right does. And pretty much always does. Except when they're in power. And even then it's not a certainty they'll be happy about it...
It was a quiet week back in March, 2014. From the archives, thoughts on the sin of sloth and the 1965 World Series, Carl Krebsbach considers robbing a bank and receives a mysterious phone call, and Darlene worries that her cat may have rabies.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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