Saturday, February 27, 2010

Democrats Check In...but they can't check out

Now that the Health Care Summit is over it’s safe to say that Barack Obama, even if he serves but a single term, is one president who’ll not soon be forgotten.

Depending on which side you're on, either for or against Obama’s stated goals, it is clear that for years to come we’ll all be marveling over either the monumental smallness of this man’s accomplishments or the grandness of his missed opportunities. It is now apparent to anyone half-paying attention that Barack Obama and his entire administration are in way over their heads. They come across as callow opinionated student protesters who have barricaded themselves into the Dean’s office and shut down the campus…Now what?

There was a moment following the Scott Brown Senate victory back in January, that it looked like the President had gotten the message; he indicated he would go to work on the economy, on lowering unemployment, on getting business moving and keeping the country safe. This was a sad but entirely reasonable fall-back position; write off the first year of his administration as a wild goose chase and go to work on the problems that face the nation.

That new focus lasted about a day and a half…then, just like nothing ever happened, it was back to work trying to cram that over-stuffed the 2,400+page Senate Health Care Bill into law. Reports began to leak of Democratic strategy sessions, of possible legislative tricks and legal maneuvering. The Health Care Bill would be declared a piece of “financial” legislation so that Budget Reconciliation could be used to pass it with 50 votes plus the Vice President’s. Holy Criminetly! Now another six weeks has slipped by.

If there is a good side to this, and there’s only one that I can see, it is this: The whole dream of nationalized health care has turned into a giant Democratic Party “Roach Motel” -- you know, one of those household pest removers that advertise “bugs check in but they don’t check out”. The Health Care Bill is like that. In order to grease this abomination through all the committees and all the test votes Democratic Party leadership loaded the bill with goodies of every description; with ear marks, pork, kick-backs and pay-offs galore. The operative question in private discussions was not "how do we make this bill better for the American people", but “What do you need to get on board?”

Here's the situation for Democrats, and it is only going to get worse: As public resistance to the Health Care Bill grows, now at 60% and growing, Democrats are finding they can't back out of the deal. They are caught in a trap of their own devising. First, if they try to get out their own party base, the hard-core Left, would go berserk. Second, if the bill goes down in flames it will take all the "Gator Aid" and "Corn Husker Kick-Backs" with it. Those guys will not get a piece of the action if there is no action. Third, whether they pass it or don't pass it, they'll gain little political advantage with the voters. Large sections of the public have already written them off as dolts.

Well, by now it is dawning on them that they have checked into The Democratic Party Roach Motel. In fact, they booked themselves into the honeymoon suite. Somebody should send up a bottle of champagne.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


It’s happened to all of us. We receive a recommendation from a friend: “You’ve got to see this documentary movie. It's important.”

Right away our suspicions are aroused. While the film in question may deal with an issue that cries out for public outrage, it is also likely to be a pretentious dry-ball exercise that will make an evening’s movie-going feel like sitting at the dinner table when you were eight years old and being told by your Mother to “eat your peas and carrots”. Experience has taught us to graciously accept the recommendation, and put said film on our “must see” list – at the bottom – where it stays.

The Triangle of Death is not that movie. It belongs at the top of your list.

The Triangle of Death is a fast paced picture that documents the day to day combat experiences of the 3rd Platoon of the 2/24th of the United States Marine Corps while deployed in the Sunni Triangle in 2004-2005. For 94 pounding minutes the film puts the viewer right at the tip of the spear. You are there; traveling in the convoys, going house to house, battling from the rooftops. The bullets whizzing by are as thick as deerflies at a Wisconsin fish fry in July, and they are real bullets. Same for the mortar rounds, the IEDs, and the blood…they’re all real, too.

And speaking of blood; this film is not for the kiddies. Body parts go flying, wild dogs feed on rotting corpses, and Al Qaeda reprisals against anyone aiding the Marines are brutal. The pictures are unvarnished. The language is unbleeped. It is all right there on the screen.

The film itself is something of an improbability. Get this: all of the combat footage was filmed by one man, Corporal Follah S. Tamba, a rifleman in Echo Company, who in addition to his other gear carried a small high-quality video camera. And what pictures he captured. Tightly edited together, The Triangle of Death it is like an extended fireworks display. The viewer is bashed by one astonishing image after another. Tamba was wounded midway through his deployment and had his first camera blown to bits by an IED. He got patched up, found a back-up camera and went right back into action.

Going further, and even more into the improbable, consider these facts: Corporal Follah S. Tamba is an immigrant from Nigeria. He has a degree in film from Chicago’s Columbia College. Upon graduation he didn’t go to Hollywood, he joined the Marines.

In the course of filming his deployment, and through follow up interviews back home, Tamba draws a clear picture of combat and the men who serve. Writer George Orwell’s statement “We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm” is spot on, but it also omits several important characteristics of these American Marines. The first is dedication. They are charged up and ready to go. The young Marines who are wounded can’t wait to get back into action. They clearly want victory and they want to accomplish their mission.

The second characteristic is professionalism. These guys are the most efficient, businesslike warriors the world has yet to see. No muss. No fuss. They train, they practice and they show up ready for action.

Third, and most unexpectedly, we see how funny these Marines are. Through all they experienced – heat, filth, fatigue, and the threat of miserable death, they maintain an almost chipper sense of humor. Off-hand comments heard in the background while something serious was going on led to some unexpected laughs. Their effort to establish good relations with the Iraqi locals was interesting, too.

While the Americans made it a priority to work within the framework of local mores and customs, sometimes this was a pretty tall order. An incident that occurred during a training exercise with Iraqi militia recruits was especially telling and amusing. At one point an Iraqi trainee, through negligence, accidentally discharged his weapon. As punishment the offender was ordered to carry around a 63 pound rock, in the heat of day through whatever they were doing. Throughout the rest of the filmed sequence, lurking on the fringes we see a gangly Iraqi with a slab of stone perched on his shoulder. This incident underlined the off-center humor sprinkled throughout the film.

The film's producers, Juan Montelongo and Thomas Hartmann, along with Corporal Tamba, are also Columbia College graduates. They formed Wolf Dog Films in the western suburbs of Chicago. The final cut of their picture finished, their task now is to get the film into as many festivals as possible and secure some form of general release.

As well photographed as the film is a key participant in the final presentation was the editor, Eugene Gordon. He kept things tight and moving forward. There is not one slow second of screen time. The sound designer, Tom Balazs, deserves mention, too. “The sound” of the FX tracks was first rate and enhanced the reality of the finished film far beyond the limitations of its modest budget.

As a piece of filmmaking, The Triangle of Death is a unique rare gem, a little jewel. Seeing it today you can easily imagine the film’s increased documentary value five hundred years from now. In future times someone viewing it will have a clear window into the American military of today, its character and capability, unfiltered and untarnished by current mainstream media bias. The Triangle of Death is fast paced, exciting, violent, funny and it makes a serious point: Some first-rate young men are working hard and taking risks so that the rest of America can sleep well again tonight.

Here's a preview.

And, to purchase a copy of the film click here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Illinois Elections Worthy of National Attention

Don’t lose interest in the Illinois elections just because conservative Adam Andrezejewski came up short of the Republican Gubernatorial nomination last Tuesday.

There are two reasons for this: first, a little-known but very solid State Senator from downstate Illinois, Bill Brady, appears to have won instead. One door may have closed and another opened. Brady is currently holding a 400+ vote lead over old-boy Republican–backed Kirk Dillard with all precincts now in.

If Bill Brady wins, it will be because he ran a sharp rebel insurgency campaign. He avoided a head to head clash in the expensive Chicago media market, concentrating instead on small towns and rural areas where discontent and resentment with The Chicago Way of doing things runs high. There was a very clever, almost military thinking at work there.

So far, the media has shown little curiosity about him. No “underdog comes from behind and wins” stories, no “David and Goliath” angle. Not a word, so far.

The Republican establishment doesn’t seem too happy with his win, either. Some big people were behind several of the other candidates. They can be expected to throw Brady under the bus at the first opportunity. However, Brady seems to have strong appeal with the sick-of-Windy-City-politicians voters. But, to win against Democratic Governor, Pat Quinn, in November Brady will need to raise money and a corps of volunteers. Keep an eye on him. He may be able to do it.

The second reason to pay attention to Illinois this year is this: from top to bottom, the Democratic slate is riddled with incompetence and corruption. It will be a slow motion train wreck all the way to November.

Already, the first car has jumped the rails. This morning, February 4th, local talk radio hosts were guffawing over news that Democratic candidate for the state Lieutenant Governor, Scott Lee Cohen, was arrested in 2005 and charged with holding a knife to his prostitute-girlfriend’s throat. Yes, you read that right – and he just won the primary two days ago. Cohen also has tax troubles. For the sordid details read the Chicago Sun-Times report.

Another case in point – and I have no idea what Democratic primary voters put in their coffee Tuesday morning – Chicago banker Alexi Giannoulias, a close friend of Barack Obama, won the Democratic nomination to the US Senate…this just two weeks after President Obama told a crowd in Massachusetts that “Bankers don’t need another vote in the Senate.”

But, Giannoulias is not just any banker. Google “Broadway Bank Chicago” or click on this link to Crain's Chicago Business and simply read the collection of headlines. We’re sure to learn more as the weeks and months go by.

And, don't forget to mark you calendars for June 3rd; that's the day the Blago Trial is scheduled to start. When that happens, discounting a plea bargain or unexpected deaths, a centipede will start dropping shoes.

As for the Republican Senate candidate there is not too much to be excited about. Congressman Mark Kirk won the nomination. Although Kirk describes himself as a social moderate and fiscal conservative, his fiscally conservative credentials are not particularly solid: he lost a lot of credibility when he became one of the eight house Republicans who voted with the Democrats in favor of Cap and Trade last year. Mark Kirk will campaign as a conservative, but is he?

All together, the 2010 Illinois elections will be fun to watch and could help frame the National debate. Things are just starting to get interesting.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Taxes, Taxes, and More Taxes

Yesterday Chicago news carried reports that 29th Ward Alderman, Isaac “Ike” Carothers, an influential Democrat and chairman of the City’s Police & Fire Committee, plead guilty to Federal corruption charges involving his accepting sports tickets and $40,000 worth of home remodeling in exchange for greasing the skids on behalf a developer who had a $3 million project in the works.

Yes, another one bites the dust, and it was my intention to yock it up at the Alderman’s expense. There’s pathetic humor inherent in the situation – A powerful Chicago politician, after all he’s gotten away with, is caught picking up a “tip” in the amount of 1.03% of the project’s total price tag.

While not much money was involved, it is an indication of how things work. If a City official can string together enough such deals to get a cash-flow going it can add up to a nice chunk of change. And there are no taxes. A child could do it.

But, my jolly humor went out the window this morning when I read THIS STORY linked from the Drudge Report.

All of a sudden there’s not much to laugh about.

In a few paragraphs we get a very unfunny picture: Right now, as you read this, billions upon billions of dollars are circling the drain, and the rest of the economy is floating in the same direction. This is what we get for all those bail-outs and Louisiana Re-Purchases, and Corn Husker Kick-Backs. The same goes for all the carve-outs and "donuts" and pork projects and the millions earmarked for phantom zip-codes and non-existing congressional districts. That's the way things are done.

This we know: The Chicago Way of doing things is expensive enough in the Windy City, but on a national scale Alderman Carothers’ $40,000 won’t buy a cup of coffee.