Monthly Archives: January 2010

What We’ve Built This Weekend

These updates are freezing!

Oh Jimmy Mack, When Are You Coming Back?

George Tiller: The Blogosphere Reacts

As 2009 Was The Year Of “You Lie,” 2010 Will Be The Year Of “Not True”

The Real Trial Of The Century

The Death Of Three Detainees

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Andrew Exum has a copy up on his blog:

I received a paper copy of this a few days ago and understood it was embargoed so I didn’t post it. But now I’m starting to receive it over email as a .pdf, so I figure it’s out there already and that readers of this blog should get the chance to read it. My first thoughts on this are very positive.

Robert Farley:

  • References to the “Long War” in 2006 QDR: 31, not counting the 10 pages in the chapter titled “Fighting the Long War”
  • References to the “Long War” in 2010 QDR: 0

The 2006 QDR was explicitly structured around the concept of the “Long War,” which is essentially another name for the War on Terror. The Long War is more or less defined as follows:

Since 2001 the U.S. military has been continuously at war, but fighting a conflict that is markedly different from wars of the past. The enemies we face are not nation-states but rather dispersed non-state networks. In many cases, actions must occur on many continents in countries with which the United States is not at war. Unlike the image many have of war, this struggle cannot be won by military force alone, or even principally. And it is a struggle that may last for some years to come.
The chapter “Fighting the Long War” then includes references to the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, operations in the Horn of Africa and the Trans-Sahara, tsunami relief, earthquake relief in Pakistan, “stabilization” operations in Haiti, assistance to the government of Colombia, and domestic initiatives such as bio-terror preparedness and civil support. The Long War concept provided a unifying framework for thinking through a multi-continental strategy for fighting “terror,” epitomized not simply in terrorist networks but also in terror-supporting states and in the conditions that allow terror to grow. Re-reading this chapter, I find it striking the degree to which the Cold War could easily be substituted for the Long War, with communists playing the role of terrorists. This is to say that the threats to the United States and its interests were represented in a fashion that’s not quite monolithic, but is nevertheless singular. Rather than responding to multiple, quite different crises around the world, the 2006 QDR wanted us to understand US military operations as part of a coherent strategic response to the threat posed by terror, much in the same way that the various forms of Containment were responses to the threat posed by the USSR and international revolutionary communism.

Spencer Ackerman:

This is all the more important because Defense Secretary Gates views this as — you may have read — a “wartime QDR.” I’ve been hoping for a long time that the Obama administration will abandon a concept of unending war against al-Qaeda. The master blueprint for the Pentagon? It does that. Farley has two great posts on why this stuff matters.

And why the hell not? It makes sense to defend against capabilities, not enemies, because if you identify what capabilities threaten you, you have a defense against whoever uses them. Someone might object that such a construct neglects the broader struggle against those enemies. But it does no such thing. It just recognizes that those missions aren’t military ones.

I know this is a weird thing for a journalist to write, because it’s better as a default position to be oppositional — better for the country, I mean — but I’m starting to think Robert Gates is the best defense secretary this country has ever had. I’ll think about this for awhile, but I’m having a hard time coming up with a challenge since he arrived in 2007 that he didn’t rise to meet. Granted, the top Pentagon job is a meat grinder, but that just makes Gates’ achievements all the more significant. You can say I’m just greasing sources, but — trust me on this, OK? — I’m never going to have access to Gates and I actually don’t want any, because I don’t want to conduct a sycophantic interview. (Maybe that’s appropriate for a post-retirement review, but not while the dude is in office.)

More Farley:

By and large, progressives don’t care so much about the QDR. This shouldn’t be taken as an absolute statement; every progressive think tank has specialists on defense, there are many progressive journalists who take an interest in defense and security issues, and there are plenty of ordinary progressives who do think regularly about things like the QDR. I’m nevertheless confident, however, in the contention that defense wonkish types are found more often in conservative circles than progressive, that conservative organizations spend more time on defense issues than progressive organizations, and that typical, everyday Joe/Jill Conservative is more knowledgeable on defense and military issues than typical, everyday Joe/Jill Progressive. The central reason for this is not difficult to articulate; conservatives (at least in the current American construction of the term) are more likely to favor the use of force, are more likely to favor high defense budgets, are more likely to focus on military capability as a central component of American identity, and (statistically) are more likely to have served or know someone who has served in the military than are progressives.

Moreover, I suspect that there’s broad agreement among people who self-identify as progressive that the current defense budget of the United States is wildly oversized relative to the threats that the United States faces. In this context, arcane discussions about preference for this weapon over that, or this capability rather than the other, or the elimination of this platform in favor of that platform, seem like debates either over the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin, or the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic. For the former, the QDR and the precise makeup of the defense budget are part of an unfortunate reality of American politics, the details of which aren’t particularly relevant. For the latter, the imperial proclivities of the outsized defense establishment and the negative effects of the military-industrial complex on American life make micro-discussion of defense issues essentially beside the point. In both cases, valuable time required for digestion of detail is better spent on other, more important and perhaps more contingent issues.

Both of these perspectives get much more right than they do wrong. Nevertheless, let me suggest two reasons why progressives should pay much closer attention to statements of strategy such as the QDR than they do. The first reason is that debates about the makeup of the defense budget and the construction of the QDR happen whether progressives are involved in them or not. There is something to the idea of granting too much legitimacy to the abjectly idiotic idea that the United States needs to militarily outspend the rest of the world, but check it out; the US outspends (or very nearly outspends) the rest of the world anyway. Progressive engagement with the finer aspects of the defense debate can hardly make things worse. The second reason is that the details really do matter. The 2010 QDR is quite a bit different than the 2006, which was quite a bit different than the 2000. The precepts set forth in the QDR are often honored in the breach, but they nevertheless help structure what the military will look like, and consequently what the military will be good and bad at for decades to come. You could argue that the 2010 QDR pays only lip service to climate change and to the humanitarian potential of military capability, but this lip service will be replicated in policy in ways that will affect how the US military is structured, behaves, and interacts with the real world. The US military is a huge organization of organizations, and by virtue of its size even small course corrections affect the lives of millions of people.

Matthew Yglesias:

The idea of the QDR is that it both serves as a statement of intent, indicating what high-level DOD policymakers tend to pursue in terms of budget objectives and resource-allocation, and also that it functions as high-level guidance for career personnel as to what their bosses want everyone to do.

Robert Farley makes the case for why these debates are worth delving into. I’m with Farley that the primary change in overall strategy seems to be that they’ve dropped the totalizing conceit of a “Long War” and not really replaced it with anything. I think that’s the right call. It’s good to have a unifying strategic theme, but it’s not at all good to be so devoted to coming up with one that you embrace an idea that doesn’t make sense. The fact of the matter is that the US Department of Defense is routinely asked to engage in a rather miscellaneous set of undertakings. My preference would be to pare back this set of undertakings to something more modest and coherent, but insofar as that’s not on the table at the moment it’s better to try to be clear-sighted rather than delusional.

In brass-tacks terms, this all seems to be very good news for people who make helicopters.

UPDATE: Robert Farley and Eli Lake at Bloggingheads

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Mr. President, I Served With Mr. Spock, I Knew Mr. Spock, Mr. Spock Was A Friend Of Mine. Mr. President, You’re No Mr. Spock.

Jeffrey Anderson at The Corner:

Yesterday’s announcement that the Obama administration plans to scrap funding for voyages to the moon and to Mars, shows how low President Obama’s horizons truly are.

As Charles Krauthammer wrote ten years ago this week:

It took 100,000 years for humans to get inches off the ground. Then, astonishingly, it took only 66 to get from Kitty Hawk to the moon. And then, still more astonishingly, we lost interest, spending the remaining 30 years of the 20th century going around in circles in low earth orbit, i.e., going nowhere.

It’s been ten more years of going nowhere since Krauthammer wrote these words. Obama now proposes another ten to come.

As Krauthammer has rightly noted elsewhere, the most dangerous part of space exploration is leaving and entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The most interesting and exciting part is getting as far away as possible. So, what does President Obama propose? That we stay close to home.

As Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D., Fla.) puts it, “The president’s proposal would leave NASA with essentially no program and no timeline for exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.”

Furthermore, at a time when the president claims his focus is on jobs, scrapping these programs — on which we’ve already spent nearly $10 billion — would cut public spending in one area that actually creates jobs.

You know those great pictures of Earth from outer space, showing our planet suspended against the blackness, a beautiful blue ball? No one has seen that view since the Apollo program ended 38 years ago. No astronaut has seen that view since then. We’ve all just seen the pictures.

Now, unless Congress rejects the president’s recommendations, the next people to see that view will likely be the Chinese.

Whether it’s tax cuts or defense spending; or whether it’s the courage, ambition, and sense of wonder that combine to lead great souls to great feats of exploration and discovery; one can surely say this much about Barack Obama: Mr. President, you’re no Jack Kennedy.

Roy Erdoso at Village Voice:

You’d think conservatives would be pleased that there’s at least one big-ticket item Obama won’t finance. (Ann Althouse is.) But many of them are sick of sharing this planet with littlebrains and looters, and consider Obama’s NASA cut part of his dastardly plan to deny them escape.

“Obama hates science, hates human achievement and panders to junk science,” says Peoria Pundit. “We will never get to the stars until we learn how to live off of this rock.”

“NASA will become a bigger cog in the wheel purposed in fooling the American public and Western nations into believing the global warming hoax,” says Brutally Honest. Imagine — trying to fix this dump instead of going to the moon, where we might find oil and gold!

21st Century Schizoid Man is enraged that “all that money saved will be wasted on government programs that make the problems here on Earth, that ‘need to be solved,’ all that much more worse.” But he sees an opportunity in the crisis: America could allow untaxed entrepreneurs to take up NASA’s slack. “Let the pioneer spirit return, financed by crazy old men with stars in their eyes. It worked for Heinlein.”

“In yet another blow to progress and achievement and the advancement of man, Obama aims to ax moon mission. *sigh*,” says Atlas Shrugs. “The age of the Philistine. It’s hurts the heart, this rapid deterioration of conditions where free men produce, invent, prosper because of government taxation and regulation,” which is an odd way to mourn a big government program, but whatever.

Everything is Backwards thinks it’s even bigger than that. “Obama has stripped young Americans of a very big dream,” he says. “He’s done a disservice to every science teacher in the country. He’s robbed the Treasury of untold mountains of tax revenue.” Wait — the moon was going to be a high-tax jurisdiction, like Oregon? Better to leave it to the Russians, then!

Allah Pundit:

Are conservatives really upset about this? I would have thought it’d be grudgingly approved as an unfortunate yet necessary sacrifice to fiscal responsibility, but the Village Voice cobbled together an entire article a few days ago from angry reactions of righty bloggers to news that the mission was on the chopping block. On the one hand, we’re knocking The One for his laughably puny spending freeze, and on the other, we’re knocking him for not shoveling billions towards NASA for yet another hoparound on the big rock in the sky? I don’t get it.

Rand Simberg:

[Note: KLo offered me some space at The Corner to rebut Jeffrey Anderson’s post, but it hasn’t gone up yet and I’m not sure when it will. But since it’s just a blog post, and not a paid NRO article, I assume there’s no problem with cross posting here.]

While I’m not a conservative, some of my best friends are, and I am sympathetic to that philosophy, so it pains me to see such an inadvertently unconservative post on space policy appear in The Corner from Jeffrey Anderson. I responded briefly at my blog, but I’m grateful to Kathryn to allow me some space there for a more proper rebuttal.

Short version, human spaceflight policy is one of the few things that Obama seems to be getting right, at least from a conservative standpoint.

Longer version:

The Bush Vision for Space Exploration, announced a year after the loss of the Columbia, in January 2004, was a good goal, and it got off to a decent start. Unfortunately, once he replaced Sean O’Keefe, the NASA administrator, with Mike Griffin in 2005, the wheels started to come off. As the Augustine Panel pointed out this past fall, there was little prospect with the current plans of getting back to the moon on the stipulated schedule, and in anything resembling an affordable way. Unfortunately, once they’d hired the rocket scientist as the new administrator, the White House had simply put it on autopilot, because they had understandably higher priorities. For those interested, I wrote a long essay on the history of the human spaceflight program last summer at The New Atlantis, right up to present day minus five months or so, that explains why NASA in its current form isn’t an institution that a conservative should support at all (in fact, per Jonah’s new formulation, it arguably even has fascist aspects to it), but many do as a result of the historical contingencies of Apollo. I know that it’s become popular of late for conservatives to laud JFK (who admittedly wouldn’t recognize, or probably even be allowed in today’s Democrat Party), but it’s important to understand what Apollo was, and wasn’t. It was a victory in the Cold War over the Soviets, but because we were at war, we waged it with a state socialist enterprise. What it was not was the first step of opening up the frontier to humanity, and was in fact a false start that has created a template for NASA and a groove in which we’ve been stuck for over four decades now, with many billions spent and little useful progress.

Part of the mindset that grew out of that era was that Space = NASA, and that “Progress in Space” = “Funding NASA” and that not funding NASA, or adequately funding NASA, or changing NASA’s goals, is a step backwards. But as I noted at Popular Mechanics yesterday on the 24th anniversary of the Challenger loss, that event had a good outcome, in that it allowed private industry to start to become more involved, a trend that continues (and that the Bush/Griffin administration did support, albeit with paltry funding, in the form of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to pick up slack in delivering cargo to the space station after Shuttle is retired this year or next). We have been in fact developing, though far too slowly, the sort of private-enterprise (and more intrinsically American than Soviet in nature) space program that might have evolved more naturally had we not been side tracked by Apollo in the sixties.

What the administration is doing is to finally end the model that the government will have a state socialist design bureau to build a monopoly transportation system for its own use, at tremendous cost, but politically supportable because of all the pork it provides to Alabama, Florida and Texas. It proposes to expand the COTS program to provision of crew changeout in addition to cargo delivery, encouraging competition, and providing a robust capability that won’t put us out of business when the government rocket fails (as has happened twice with the Shuttle in the past quarter century, for almost three years each time). Instead of a program projected to cost many tens of billions over the next decade for a NASA-owned-and-operated new rocket (Ares I) that will cost billions per flight of four astronauts, it is going to invest six billion dollars in developing private capability, with multiple competitors, and do it on a fixed-price, pay-for-performance basis, rather than the wasteful cost-plus model that inevitably results in overruns due to the perverse incentives.

Alex Massie on Anderson:

Now, space exploration is grand but it’s hard to argue that it’s a pressing priority in times of fiscal difficulty. And committing billions simply so a handful of astronauts can see a pretty picture of the earth seems a reasonably extravagant use of the public purse. For that matter, if the idea is that visiting Mars represents a triumph of the human spirit and mankind’s boundless curiosity then the nationality of the astronauts doing the exploring can’t matter very much except in terms of national chest-swelling…

Finally, not being Jack Kennedy might be considered a point in Obama’s favour…

Daniel Larison on Anderson:

Massie is answering this post, in which one Jeffrey Anderson complains that Obama is insufficiently willing to waste taxpayer money on fruitless exercises in sending a handful of people to uninhabitable, dead worlds. For good measure, he puts in a plug for all the jobs these useless programs provide that are now in jeopardy. Just so we’re clear, stimulus spending is unnecessary and wasteful unless it goes to the Pentagon or NASA to be frittered away in more dramatic fashion.

Anderson finds Krauthammer’s 10 year-old call for a return to space exploration worth citing. For whatever reason, Krauthammer has been preoccupied with the limitations of our space program for years. It seems that every year he has to register a complaint that we are not living out the dream of Airplane! 2. The long article for The Weekly Standard from ten years ago was just the fullest expression of this.

Perhaps nothing else captures Krauthammer’s imagination like outer space, which he dubbed “an arena for splendid, strenuous exertion.” If there is one thing that runs through all of Krauthammer’s writings, it is the longing to have government led by willful men who will impose heavy, unnecessary burdens on the public to engage in projects of collective self-glorification. Apparently it brings back memories of the good old days when the government mobilized massive resources to embark on large-scale projects of minimal benefit to the public. Of course, absent competition from the USSR and the associated desire to demonstrate American technical abilities, there would have been little or no interest in the program and similarly little political support for massive government outlays to pay for it. If there had not been some strained geopolitical argument for the space program, it would probably have never been developed as much as it was.

Krauthammer’s explanation always comes back to questions of will and resolve. This is his constant and favorite theme. In the 2000 article, he asked plaintively, “Where is the national will to explore?” In reply I would answer, “What is to be gained by exploring that anyone should want to do it?” Let’s understand something about exploration here on earth: the reason that governments subsidized overseas expeditions during the 15th and 16th centuries was to find trade routes, markets, resources and sources of revenue. Space exploration might theoretically offer access to untapped natural resources, but acquiring and transporting these resources would be prohibitively expensive and absolutely not cost-effective. As far as anyone knows, there is no one with whom we could trade even if we could reach them in a reasonable amount of time. There are no habitable worlds within the practical range of our spacecraft, so there is not even a realistic argument for promoting human colonization of other planets. There is no definable public interest in returning to the moon, much less sending some poor souls on a long, dangerous journey to the frozen Red Planet. This is why advocates for moon and Mars landings are reduced to appealing to nostalgia and sentiment.

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News Of The Week In Music Vol. 40

#1 State Of The Union Address

#2 Obama and the GOP’s Q & A

#3 GDP shows growth

#4 Toyota recall

#5 The arrest of James O’Keefe

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Fly The Friendly Skies With Nancy

Doug Ross:

Meet the Pelosi family! Using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, Judicial Watch uncovered thousands of pages of travel documents related to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s use of military aircraft.

What hasn’t been revealed so far is that military aircraft are being used to shuttle Pelosi’s kids and grandkids between DC and San Francisco without any Congressional representatives even onboard! Put simply, the United States Air Force is serving as a multi-billion dollar chauffeur- and baby-sitting service for Nancy Pelosi’s kids and grandkids — presumably because commercial travel is beneath the families of the autocrats.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

Taxpayers are not just paying for Pelosi’s expensive booze and food, they’re paying for the military to play taxi with her kids and grand kids, too.

Noel Sheppard at Newsbusters:

As NewsBusters reported on several occasions this month, CNN’s Jack Cafferty has been blasting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for refusing to address the profligate spending by members of Congress at December’s climate change summit in Copenhagen.

On January 12 he called her a “horrible woman,” and followed this up two weeks later by referring to her arrogance as “breathtaking.”

With this in mind, Cafferty should take a look at a report published Thursday by Judicial Watch claiming the Speaker has spent over $2 million flying on the taxpayer aboard military plane

Flopping Aces:

And once the Congressfolk got to Copenhagen they stayed in the lap of luxury in hotel rooms costing over $2,000 a night. You would think that they would be able to get a better deal on Priceline! Here’s a sample of the expense voucher. More at CBS.Com.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin

Dan Riehl

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Gone Baby Gone

Paul Boutin at Venture Beat:

Go to Search for any publication by Macmillan, one of the world’s largest publishing firms. The Prince of Silicon Valley, perhaps, or Sarah’s Key. Or last year’s huge #1 bestseller The Gathering Storm.

Gone, mysteriously gone. We found Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, but his new novel Makers and his popular debut, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, have been removed. Robert Jordan’s entire Wheel of Time series of fantasy novels is gone, except for 2005’s The Knife of Dreams.

You get links to other sellers. But Amazon has stopped carrying them.

Brad Stone at NYT:

I’ve talked to a person in the industry with knowledge of the dispute who says the disappearance is the result of a disagreement between and book publishers that has been brewing for the last year. Macmillan, like other publishers, has asked Amazon to raise the price of electronic books from $9.99 to around $15. Amazon is expressing its strong disagreement by temporarily removing Macmillan books, said this person, who did not want to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Macmillan is one of the publishers signed on to offer books to Apple, as part of its new iBooks store. Its imprints include Farrar, Straus & Giroux, St. Martins Press and Henry Holt. The publisher’s books can still be bought from third parties on the Amazon site.

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing:

* If true, Amazon draping itself in the consumer-rights flag in demanding a fair price is even more farcical. Though Amazon’s physical-goods sales business is the best in the world when it comes to giving buyers a fair shake, this is materially untrue when it comes to electronic book sales, a sector that it dominates. As mentioned above, Amazon’s DRM and license terms on its Kindle (as well as on its Audible audiobooks division, which controls the major share of the world’s audiobook sales) are markedly unfair to readers. Amazon’s ebooks are locked (by contract and by DRM) to the Kindle (this is even true of the “DRM-free” Kindle books, which still have license terms that prohibit moving the books). This is not due to rightsholder-demands, either: as I discovered when I approached Amazon about selling my books without DRM and without a bad license agreement for Kindle and Audible, they will not allow copyright owners to modify their terms, nor to include text in the body of the work releasing readers from those terms.

Concentration in media is nothing new — as far back as the eighties, activists have been sounding the alarm about mergers and acquisitions in publishing and bookselling (and, of course, in film we have the antitrust decisions of the 1940s). In the eighties, we worried that mergers would create corporate giants that would dictate unfair terms in distribution, sales, contracts with writers, pricing, and so on.

But today, we have a deeper worry. For no matter that a giant distributor or a massively agglomerated publisher could distort the market to the detriment of readers and writers — we could bounce back, through competition and new technology and innovative marketing and sales (and we did, by and large).

Jim Henley:

Of the links above, I think Doctorow makes the most sense. Some reactions of my own follow:

1. There’s a lot we ordinary readers don’t know about the sequence of events here. The NYT’s Bits blog says Macmillan “asked” to increase the price of some of their Kindle books to as much as $15. Other sites say Macmillan “demanded.” Apple’s courting of Macmillan for their planned iPad bookstore plays in somehow. (Apple is luring publishers partly with the promise of higher price points.) For the cheap seats out here in reader and business-observer land, sorta-yanking Macmillan’s books seems pretty extreme for an “ask,” less so for a threat.

2. People are rightly passionate about books, which can obscure the fact that this is fundamentally standard corporate hardball, likely to be revised one way or another fairly quickly. That’s not guaranteed – corporate honchos are people mammals eukaryotes too. Their emotions can get the better of them and get into a downward spiral of pride and vindictiveness. But the truth is that from time to time producers and distributors get into arguments that lead to the producer temporarily withholding or the distributor temporarily deleting a set of products.

3. Amazon hasn’t stopped direct sales of all Macmillan titles. (You can get Pirate Freedom as of Saturday morning.) In particular, they haven’t taken down third-party sources of Macmillan titles, which they could surely do. This is a slap in the face, not a murder attempt.

4. It’s also a negative-sum game. In the short term, Macmillan and Amazon are both losing sales because of the move. Both have an incentive to settle.

Ben Parr at Mashable:

Amazon’s clearly worried, which is why it’s launching an app store and used its earnings report to remind us that the Kindle is far from dead. But if publishers decide to abandon the Kindle, then Apple will have won the war by default.

That’s why Amazon decided to use its biggest weapon, itself, against Macmillan to send a message to every publisher: If you don’t play by its rules, then you can’t be in its store. While a publisher can likely survive without the Kindle, the same cannot be said for Publishers simply cannot afford to leave the world’s largest online retailer.

The Kindle and the iPad offer different experiences. The Kindle’s battery life and e-ink are strong selling points for the device as a reader, but the iPad offers so much more. Apple’s banking on those extra features and its undeniable reach to turn the Kindle into an endangered species.

Publishers now have to either choose a side or walk the tightrope between the two companies. The end result will be a long, drawn out war that will both help and hurt consumers. How it will end is anybody’s guess.

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While You Were Out Watching “Avatar”

Obviously, this clip from Pulp Fiction is rated R.

Sharon Waxman at The Wrap:

It’s been a slow death, but Miramax dies on Thursday.

The New York and Los Angeles offices of the arthouse movie studio owned by Disney will close.

Eighty people will lose their jobs. The six movies waiting distribution — “Last Night,” “The Debt,” “The Tempest” among them — will be shelved, to gather dust, or win a tepid release.


The story of Miramax has been told and retold: Scrappy New York brothers name the studio after their parents, wheel and deal to hold their movie company together, bully business partners, seduce filmmakers and spend loads of money on Oscar campaigns.

Then came the sale to Disney. The success, the hubris, the Oscars, the overspending. The loss of identity, the desperate attempts to reconcile with Michael Eisner followed by the bitter divorce, and the quiet takeover by Daniel Battsek.

The final chapter has been short and bitter.

Battsek was squeezed to a smaller and smaller size by Disney, despite releasing some respectable movies including “The Queen,” “Tsotsi” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”

The studio endured endless rumors of its impending closure. On Oct. 2, Disney announced that “Miramax Films will reduce the number of films it releases annually while consolidating certain of its operations.”

Dick Cook, the former chairman of the studio, told me last summer that while reduced in size, the studio would continue.

But by year-end , Dick Cook was gone, and Rich Ross had taken over. Soon after, Daniel Battsek was gone, too.

Remained the final sweep-up — the firing of the remnant staff as part of the Ross reboot of the larger Disney studio, focused on a digital future with great, big, global brands.

Dr. Cole Abaius at Film School Rejects:

Miramax, a beloved studio that’s provided entertainment for just over 30 years, died today. According to several sources, including The Wrap, the Disney arm has succumb to financial difficulties after a long-fought battle.

Ballsy and often brilliant, the films and filmmakers that had a home at Miramax often viewed it as a safe haven from the stormy seas of commercial studios with less gusto and freedom.

The studio is survived by My Left Foot, The Crying Game, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, The Piano, Trainspotting and a cast of thousands left to mourn.

The heart of the studio could be summed up by one schlubby filmmaker who found success there. Kevin Smith wrote this today:

I’m crushed to see it pass into history, because I owe everything I have to Miramax. Without them, I’d still be a New Jersey convenience store register jockey. In practice, not just in my head.”

There’s a chance that the Weinsteins will buy the name back, but for now we should be remeniscing about the past instead of looking into the future. We can leave that for another day.

Michael Atkinson at Village Voice:

The “independent movement” turned out to be a different marketing paradigm, with a different cost-and-profit measure, turning out movies that could benefit from the scene’s own brand of hype, aggrandized not for their size or ambition but for their production modesty and “passion.” The Weinsteins, of course, played the game perfectly, and were roundly praised for it (Queen Elizabeth named Harvey a Commander of the British Empire). They drummed up idiosyncratic buzz for Quentin Tarantino, Todd Haynes, and Kevin Smith even as their turnout was mostly a glut of treacly Euro-trash and Sundance yawns.

Miramax lorded over the short-lived heyday of the modest-budgeted alt-film, and of course the company has been dished as often as it’s been hailed for successfully selling what the suits in L.A. would never greenlight. Just don’t call the movies indies. Even as the news cycle loudly laments the “death of the indie,” now that the bullgoose is dead, the indie flourishes — if I had a dime for every genuine MasterCard movie or video doc that hit the slipstream, theatrical or video or online, in the last six months, I could afford the meals that have made Harvey’s waistline so famous.

It’s the Miramax-created “dependie” that’s dead — aging movie stars now look to TV to coolly extend their careers past the sell-by date, not to $5 million heist sagas written by film school grads and shot in the neighborhood gin mills. As much as I may have enjoyed Bruce Willis snapping the samurai sword in Pulp Fiction, or Sylvester Stallone lumbering through Cop Land, I won’t miss their third- or fourth-generational equivalents. It was a mutant form of American showbiz to begin with, born without the genetic tools for survival.

Aylin Zafar at The Atlantic with five best Miramax moments

Dr. Abaius with a list of top Miramax films

Caitlin Brody at Flavorwire with top Miramax films

Vadim Rizov at IFC:

Yet after notoriously picking up “Happy, Texas” for $10 million in 1999, the Weinsteins seemingly threw up their hands and moved into the production business; the rest is history. But there’s no denying that where a major festival movie went in the ’90s, the Weinsteins were there too: overpaying, perhaps, or burying the movie in their vaults, or recutting, or generating all kinds of bad blood, but they were still there.

So who fulfills that role now? The first company that came to mind was, er, the one resembling the masthead up there, which looks all kinds of suspicious, but I get my paychecks from a separate division. Sony Classics and Magnolia are also strong labels in terms of acquiring notable festival titles, as is former Picturehouse prexy Bob Berney’s Apparition, which seems to be on the same wavelength as Miramax in midstream, where they can pick up movies like “Bright Star” and have a production pipeline of films like “The Runaways.” Indiewood’s Focus Features and Fox Searchlight appear to be more focused on production than pick-ups, despite the fact that Focus just bought the rights to Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are Alright” at Sundance. Otherwise, smaller independent films are spread out all over a diaspora of even smaller companies that can fold and leave their libraries in a mess at the slightest notice. ‘Twas ever thus, obviously; the recent shuttering of New Yorker Films, for example, left a valuable library cut adrift.

The dream of Miramax — if often not the reality — was to have at least one place where valuable arthouse films of the ’90s could all be found and accessed. And we now know, for all kinds of reasons, that this simply will never be possible. One more symbolic nail in the coffin.

Richard Lawson at Gawker:

Though it had dwindled a bit in recent years, the studio built by Harvey and Bob Weinstein (named after their parents, Miriam and Max) will stand in history as the great drum beater of the modern independent film movement. Beginning humbly as a small family business in 1979, within ten years Miramax had emerged as the go-to haus for hip, outre cinema — their sex, lies, & videotape stormed Cannes in 1989, ostensibly kicking-off the great indie boom of the early ’90s. Harvey Weinstein became known as something of a god, feared and respected, capable of terrible wrath but also great artistic passion. He was the champion of game-changers like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh, seeming to possess a near-flawless eye for the hip, the cool, and the awards-bait.

Indeed Harvey’s unprecedentedly aggressive awards campaigns not only became the stuff of legend, but were studied and emulated to such a degree that Weinsteinian “For Your Consideration…” onslaughts have become de rigeur from December to March. Miramax was bold and smart and powerful enough to keep its feet in two different camps — it produced artsy independent features but also had a mind toward mainstream profit. Films like Shakespeare in Love, Pulp Fiction, and The English Patient deftly skipped the barren plane of little-seen art house fare and became popular and awards-bedecked hits. Shakespeare, specifically, was the film that famously upset the king of Hollywood himself, beating Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan in the 1998 Best Picture race.

Harvey was never shy about trumpeting his successes or wading into the celebrity-industrial morass with gleeful cunning and ruthlessness. He became something of cigar-chomping parody of himself (an actual parody became a bellicose recurring character on Entourage), while his brother Bob quietly led the studio’s more profit-focused arm, Dimension. Mostly the place for cheapo horror and sci-fi, Dimension helped resurrect the slasher genre with the snarkily self-aware smash Scream, again another instance of trusting a mostly unknown talent (Kevin Williamson) and having it pay off handsomely. Miramax had the winning formula, a certain kind of alchemy, and there was no stopping them. Well, for a time.

David Edelstein at New York Magazine:

Dear Miramax:

Please accept my heartfelt condolences for the loss of your company. I can only imagine what a shock it must be to you and the artists who are and have been a part of your family. The ones who sired you, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, were not universally beloved, but they changed the course of American film, and in the years since their departure from your world you have soldiered on with honor. Your recent films The Queen and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly were the best of their respective years, and you never made anything as grisly as Nine. You are a symbol of a movement hit hard by a collapsing economy and the rise of “event” pictures that were never a part of your mandate. Others more knowledgeable will trace the course of your life and your last, declining years. But I know this: In the end you had more than a spark of life, and the plug need not have been pulled. We will miss you and the gifted individuals who enriched all our lives.

Sincere condolences to you and to all who love movies,

David Edelstein

UPDATE: Adrian Chen at Defamer

UPDATE #3: Heather Horn at The Atlantic


Filed under Movies

Rahm Speaks To The Times

Carl Hulse and Sheryl Gay Stolberg at NYT:

With Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul stalled on Capitol Hill, Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said in an interview that Democrats would try to act first on job creation, reducing the deficit and imposing tighter regulation on banks before returning to the health measure, the president’s top priority from last year.

But Mr. Obama quickly got a taste of how difficult it would be to bring the opposition party on board.

One day after the president upbraided Congress in his State of the Union address for excessive partisanship, Senate Republicans voted en masse against a plan to require that new spending not add to the deficit (it passed anyway as all 60 members of the Democratic caucus hung together). And some Republicans peremptorily dismissed Mr. Obama’s main job-creating proposal, expressing no interest in using $30 billion in bank bailout money for business tax credits.


Mr. Emanuel, the chief of staff, said he hoped Congressional Democrats would take up the jobs bill next week. Then, in his view, Congress would move to the president’s plan to impose a fee on banks to help offset losses to the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the fund used to bail out banks and automakers.

Lawmakers would next deal with a financial regulatory overhaul, and then pick up where they left off on health care. “All these things start and lead to one place: J-O-B-S,” Mr. Emanuel said.

The execution, of course, will be much easier said than done. Democrats are about to lose their 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, after the recent Republican victory by Scott Brown in a special election to fill the seat held by the late Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. In the Senate, Republicans have come under intense pressure from their colleagues to stay in the fold.

Ezra Klein:

It is very, very, very important to be clear on what the death of health-care reform looks like. It is not a vote that goes against the Democrats. It is not an admission that the White House has moved on from the subject. It is continued statements of commitment from the key players paired with a continued stretching of the timetable. Like everything else in life, policy initiatives grow old and die, even if people still love them.

The timetable Emanuel is laying out makes little sense. The jobs bill will take some time. Financial regulation will take much longer. Let’s be conservative and give all this four months. Is Emanuel really suggesting that he expects Congress to return to health-care reform in the summer before the election? Forgetting whether there’s political will at that point, there’s no personnel: Everyone is home campaigning.

Moreover, there’s a time limit on health-care reform. The open reconciliation instructions the Senate could use to modify the bill expire when the next budget is (there’s disagreement over the precise rule on this) considered or passed. That is to say, the open reconciliation instructions expire soon. Democrats could build new reconciliation instructions into the next budget, but that’s going to be a heavy lift. The longer this takes, the less likely it is to happen. And Emanuel just said that the administration’s preference is to let it take longer. If I were a doctor, I’d downgrade health care’s prognosis considerably atop this evidence.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

The good news, for those inclined to freak out, is that Emanuel is not necessarily speaking for the administration. (See Jonathan Not Me, who unlike me is highly plugged in.) Emanuel’s message is not David Axelrod’s message. And it’s not Obama’s message. But Emanuel is out there floating his rock tour/Vegas/Army enlistment plan, and that’s a major problem for Democrats, not to mention the national interest.

I see two potential explanations. Either Obama doesn’t know what he wants to do, and his deputies are spreading conflicting stories in order to see what takes, in which case he needs to make up his mind pronto. Or else he wants to do what he says he wants to do, but his chief of staff is out there subverting his agenda and making Congress doubt his seriousness, in which case Obama needs to shut up Emanuel or fire him.

Jonathan Cohn in TNR:

Was this a trial balloon? It’s impossible to know. Emanuel’s qualms about strategic over-reach on health care are among Washington’s worst kept secrets. It’s always possible he was freelancing. But it’s hard to imagine that, in a sit-down interview like this, Emanuel would toss out an idea like this without at least implicit approval from above.

Of course, the official White House line is that they’re not easing up at all. Obama’s public rhetoric backs that up and, privately, several officials say the same thing. The word from Capitol Hill is that leadership is making progress–a lot of progress–on crafting a new compromise between the two chambers.

But getting nervous Democrats in both houses to sign off on that compromise will be tough. A muddled message from the White House, whatever its backstory or intent, only makes that harder.

By the way, the point of trial balloons is to see whether they get shot down. So it might behoove liberals who want health care reform to make clear that lengthy delay is not acceptable. For a few days earlier this week, members of Congress were reportedly getting calls from constituents, urging them to “pass the bill.” More of those calls might be helpful.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Earlier in the post Ezra correctly notes that the death of this bill will be a series of delays, not a dramatic vote on the floor. I’d add that it’s really important that progressives not focus their disappointment on the messenger. Rahm Emanuel is an easy foil for us. But Rahm Emanuel works for Barack Obama, not the other way around.

Wesley Smith at First Things:

If the Dems spend the Spring moving on other issues, I don’t see how Obamacare gets forced through before the November election–although, I suppose, they could try after the election.  But refusing to make things even incrementally better in the interim would validate the suspicion in my mind that for the Left, it is all or nothing–takeover or leave the uninsured in their pain because, to paraphrase Rahm Emanuel, “a good crisis is too important to waste.”

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

This may be the closest the White House has come to pronouncing Obamacare dead.

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Filed under Health Care, Legislation Pending

Would The Right Honourable Gentleman…

Heather Horn at The Atlantic has the round-up

Eric Kleefeld at TPM:

President Obama spoke this afternoon to the House Republican retreat in Baltimore, turning the occasion into a lively debate, on national television, between a sitting president and the entire House caucus of the opposition party.

Obama opened by thanking House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) for the invitation: “You know what they say, keep your friends close, but visit the Republican Caucus every few months.”

During his speech, Obama went over themes from his State of the Union address this past Wednesday. At once, he simultaneously said that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground on issues such as a spending freeze and tax credits for small business, but he also went after the GOP for voting against the stimulus bill while attending ribbon-cuttings for projects in their districts, challenged them to work together on important issues, and called upon them to support his proposed fees on the bailed-out financial sector.

Then came the really interesting part. Obama began taking questions from Republican members of Congress, a sight that isn’t normally seen on television in American politics.

There were some similarities to the British Parliamentary tradition of Prime Minister’s Question Time — minus the cheering and booing — with a sense of political jousting between an incumbent president and the opposition, who for their part pitched one tough question after another.

One key moment came when Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), a potential presidential candidate for 2012, used his question to attack the stimulus plan as having failed to prevent double-digit unemployment, alleged that the Republican stimulus plan would have created more jobs with less money, and asked Obama if we would embrace across the board tax cuts.

Obama said that the economy turned out to be even worse than was initially thought when the original estimates were made, and that this was from before he took office — a subtle jab at the prior Bush administration. “We had lost 650,000 jobs in December [2008] – I’m assuming your’e not faulting my policies for that,” said Obama. “We had lost, it turns out, 700,000 jobs in January, the month I was sworn in – I’m assuming it wasn’t my administration policies that accounted for that. We had lost another 650,000 jobs the subsequent month, before any of my policies had gone into effect,t so I’m assuming that wasn’t as a consequence of our policies. That doesn’t reflect the failure of the Recovery Act.”

Meredith Jessup at Townhall:

There’s some interesting words being tossed back and forth.  Personally, some of my favorites have been Republicans who have stood up and told the President how the GOP has NOT been obstructive, especially considering how he controls the White House, House and Senate; how the President mislead the American people during his state of the union  on multiple items, including his implications the GOP has proposed no real plans for health care reform; and how he flat-out LIED about employing lobbyists in his administration.

President Obama has gotten pretty defensive a few times, including one instance where he accused Republicans of portraying his health care overhaul as a “Bolshevik plot” and telling constituents that he is “doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.”

Kevin Drum:

Obama is adressing the GOP retreat in Baltimore right now, and it’s being televised live. It’s remarkable that Republicans agreed to this. The guy at the mike always has an advantage in these kinds of forums, and in any case Obama is better than most at this kind of thing. For the most part, he’s running rings around them. I don’t know if this will have any long-term effect, but it’s good for Obama and, regardless, a good show. Presidents should do this kind of thing more often.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

Say what you will, but this is tremendous television. Why not replace the SOTU with this sort of thing?

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

Now, there were downsides to this as well, based on the nature of the format. The President did appear in front of Democrats at their retreat and was probably pressed on a host of issues in the same manner. But we didn’t get to see that. A real Question Time would have the President face questions from both sides. Because Obama was essentially defending the proposition that he was too liberal, saying things like “this is a centrist (health care) bill” (which happens to be correct) and “I am not an ideologue.” Yes, a fully open question time would allow the President to place himself at the center of the debate, triangulating against either side. But he would be forced to defend his ideas in public, and supporters and detractors would be able to make up their own minds.

But this worked very well as a political tool, better than the State of the Union, in fact. We got to see actual interactive give and take between the parties. People disagree, and they should be offering that disagreement in public. This should become a regular feature of our politics, but after the Republican effort today, I think they may decline the next offer.

David Weigel at Washington Independent

Matthew Continetti at The Weekly Standard:

The meeting was definitely positive for Obama: he was able to tout his willingness to work with the opposition; he was, as usual, thoughtful in his speech and tone; and he had plenty of time, as usual, to blame Republicans for closed-minded obstinacy. A few of his Republican interlocutors made him look like Socrates in comparison. The State of the Union address made Obama look small. This meeting made him look large-hearted and in command–at least for the moment.But Obama wasn’t the only winner. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the young, pleasant, wonky member of the House Budget and Ways & Means Committees, saw his stock rise today, as well. Obama and Ryan engaged in a detailed, serious, good-faith debate over future spending and the Wisconsin congressman’s Roadmap for America’s Future. The result was something I never thought I’d see: compelling daytime television.

You can read Paul Ryan’s recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal here. Ryan has a big idea–major reform of the American welfare state. (If anything, the idea is too ambitious; our political system likes incremental reform!) He’s a pro-life, limited government conservative from a district the president won in 2008. He’s got charisma and smarts. Why do I think this wasn’t the last time we’ll see Ryan and Obama debate?

But here’s the key thing: Obama is best at this. He is best at defusing conflict; he is superb at engaging civilly with his opponents. It’s part of his legacy – I remember how many conservatives respected him at the Harvard Law Review. But he needs to do more of this, even though he may get nothing in return. Why? Because unless the tone changes, unless the pure obstructionism and left-right ding-dong cycle stops, we are on a fast track to catastrophe.

That was the core message of Obama in the election. It was one of my core reasons for backing him over Clinton – because he has the capacity to reach out this way. I remain depressed at the prospects for a breakthrough, but this was good politics and good policy. More, please. Do this every month. Maybe over the long haul, the poison of the past has to be worked through with Obama as therapist in chief.

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Filed under Political Figures

You Down With The GDP (Yeah, You Know Me)

Chart via Steve Benen

Bureau of Economic Analysis:

Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property
located in the United States — increased at an annual rate of 5.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009,
(that is, from the third quarter to the fourth quarter), according to the “advance” estimate released by the
Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP increased 2.2 percent.

The Bureau emphasized that the fourth-quarter advance estimate released today is based on
source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency (see the box on page
4). The “second” estimate for the fourth quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on
February 26, 2010.

The increase in real GDP in the fourth quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from
private inventory investment, exports, and personal consumption expenditures (PCE). Imports, which
are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

The acceleration in real GDP in the fourth quarter primarily reflected an acceleration in private
inventory investment, a deceleration in imports, and an upturn in nonresidential fixed investment that
were partly offset by decelerations in federal government spending and in PCE.

Motor vehicle output added 0.61 percentage point to the fourth-quarter change in real GDP after
adding 1.45 percentage points to the third-quarter change. Final sales of computers subtracted 0.03
percentage point from the fourth-quarter change in real GDP after subtracting 0.08 percentage point
from the third-quarter change.

Calculated Risk:

This is very close to my expectations and shows a fairly weak economy (real PCE increase 2.0%). The question is: what happens in 2010?

I’ll have some more on GDP and investment later …

Ed Morrissey:

These are all preliminary numbers, of course.  Commerce first estimated 2009Q3 GDP at a 3.5% annualized rate of growth.  Later it had to revise that number downward twice, to the same 2.2% that remains in Q4 after eliminating inventory manipulation. In a month to six weeks, look for that number to slide downward again, although not as much as in Q3, which was an unusually high correction.  It also looks like the inventory accounting will be a one-time deal, which won’t help the numbers in the next quarter.

Politically, this could not come at a better time for Obama.  He wants to move forward on jobs in the same direction as Porkulus, and these numbers will lend credence to his argument that his policies are the correct cure for the economy.  But a 2.2% rate of real growth won’t be enough to get capital back in the game, especially under the business conditions set by the high-spending, high-regulating, high-taxing agenda in Congress.

Next month’s unemployment report will have more impact on the economic policy debate, I’d guess, than the GDP number.

Andrew Sullivan with a round-up of responses

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline:

The increase is said to be in part a function of a steep drop in the pace at which businesses were cutting back on their inventories. Although that’s a positive development, it means that inventories will not add much to growth in the coming quarters unless businesses believe they cut back too far during the downturn and decide to actively rebuild their inventories.

On the other hand, increased consumer spending also played a big role in the economy’s growth. It rose at a 2 percent annual rate, which was enough to add 1.4 percentage points to total GDP

If the economy is headed for a healthy recovery, Republicans should perhaps be a little less triumphalist about President Obama’s current difficulties. To non-ideological voters (i.e. most of the electorate) nearly everything political looks different when we go from bad times to good, or vice versa. Think of the difference in how things seem during a long, bumpy airline flight and during a luxury cruise.

Think also about the State of the Union Obama would be capable of giving if the unemployment rate fell to close to half of what it is now. I submit that the demagoguery that was so easy to shrug off on Wednesday would be considerably more threatening in that context.

The Republicans should have a good November 2010 notwithstanding the recovery. First, the employment situation probably has a long way to go before it stops being a liability for Democrats. And, at least as importantly, voters may well be intent on restoring more balance between the parties quite apart from economic considerations.

It’s what might happen in 2011 and 2012 in light of a recovery that Republicans should start thinking about.

Steve Benen:

After struggling for so long, a 5.7% rate looks like an economy that’s finally roaring back to life. The AP added that the growth is “the strongest evidence to date that the worst recession since the 1930s ended last year.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the 5.7% number, while obviously heartening, may be a little misleading. Expect to hear a lot about something called an “inventory bounce.”

Many economists … warn against reading too much into a jump in GDP figures for the last three months of 2009. Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, said that even if there were no change in final sales of goods, the GDP figures would show a 4 percent increase simply because businesses that were emptying their warehouses a year ago are now buying enough goods to keep stockpiles steady.

Still, the 5.7% quarter exceeded several estimates. And with that, here’s another home-made chart, showing GDP numbers by quarter since the recession began in late 2007.

Megan McArdle:

But man cannot live by GDP alone.  I’d argue that the better measure of whether the economy has returned to health is employement–at least, that’s when the improvement starts to translate into improvements in peoples’ real lives.  Prolonged unemployment is one of the most crippling things that can afflict people in the modern world.

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Filed under Economics, The Crisis