Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sneak Peak of 2014


 

The stories to watch, or avoid watching, in 2014:

1)      Polls Polls Polls: 2016 projections, generic congressional ballots, and finally the mid term elections. Once again we will get inundated with Quinnipiac, CBS/NYT, NBC/WJ, Gallup, Rasmussen, etc. numbers and margins of error. One thing is for certain, Congressional approval ratings won’t improve.

2)      Elections: After all the pomposity and malarkey the Democrats will retain the Senate and the Republicans will hold the House, guaranteeing two more years inaction except when it comes to naming post offices.

3)      Pundits will remind us that Obama is a drain on Democrats, Obamacare is a failure, Americans are tired of war, there is a civil war in the Republican party, and Clinton and Christie will be the nominees for 2016.

4)       Sunday Talk shows will again feature more Republicans than Democrats.  John McCain will be angry, Reince Priebus will still be a snarky worm, Lindsey Graham will try to probe he is a tough conservative, Chuck Schumer will sound like an old Jewish lady, and Newt Gingrich will sound smart right up until he says something stupid.

5)      All eyes will be on the Boston Marathon, and the city and surrounding communities will show their strength.

6)      Brazil will win the World Cup though the event won’t go off as smooth as organizers wished.

7)      LGBT rights will hang over the Sochi Winter Olympics as athletes go out of their way to hug and kiss one another.  Things get so out of hand, Putin takes his shirt off and joins in the closing ceremonies.

8)      Economists will remain true to form and miss their economic predictions badly.

9)      Someone on MSNBC will get ‘fired’, Fox News will insist the Easter Bunny is white, and not pink, and CNN will hire more big names and still suck.

10)   Arab Winter will include all out civil war in Iraq’s Anbar province, Syrian conflict will engulf Lebanon as Shias fight a proxy war with Sunnis, Egypt will slip further into a an autocratic despotic junta, Assad will still be in power, and the Palestinian peace process goes nowhere.

11)   Meanwhile in Africa: Mali, CAR, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Algeria, and Mauritania will continue to be battlegrounds and epicenters of humanitarian crises.

12)    Debt ceiling threats will lead to economic brinkmanship as some wannabes like Rubio, Paul, and Cruz try make political points.

13)   Hollywood 2014 will be dominated by more big budget CGE enhanced, scripts by 4th graders, and piss poor acting blockbusters.  Well there’s always IFC and Sundance.

14)   We haven’t heard the last of Edward Snowden

15)   Venezuela will teeter on economic collapse as the continent realizes that populist socialistic kleptocracies are a disaster.

16)   ****SPOILER ALERT****Those that were shocked and angered by the White Wedding, should wait for the Purple Wedding. 

17)   We haven’t heard the last of George Zimmerman

18)   NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman could become the political power player that Eliot Spitzer hoped to become.

19)   Abortion rights, free speech, establishment clause case rulings will be delivered by the Supreme Court.  All sides will declare victory and all sides will call criticize the court.

20)   Big winners in sports will be Florida State, San Francisco 49ers, Anaheim Ducks, Indiana Pacers, and Detroit Tigers.

 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Digg’s Top Reads for 2013:



1)      My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit.  To understand the soul of Israel, its duality, its hope and its condemnation you should read this book.  Here is Tom Friedman’s review and one of the most telling excerpts from the book.


“Bottom line, I think Zionism was about regenerating Jewish vitality.  The Israel tale is the tale of vitality against odds.  So the duality is mind-boggling.  We are the most prosaic and prickly people one can imagine.  We cannot stand puritanism or sentimentality.  We do not trust high words or lofty concepts.  And yet we take part daily in a phenomenal historical vision.  We participate in an event far greater than ourselves.  We are a ragtag cast in an epic motion picture whose plot we do not understand and cannot grasp.  The scriptwriter went mad.  The director ran away.  The producer went bankrupt.  But we are still here, on this biblical set.  The camera is still rolling.  And the camera pans out and pulls up, it sees us converging on this shore and clinging to this shore and living on this shore.  Come what may.”

2)      Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan.  Aslan’s controversial historical account of Jesus became an instant controversial best seller following the awkward interview by Fox News’ Lauren Green who wondered why a Muslim would write about Jesus.  Aslan places the time of Jesus in historical context and then provides the background into the Greatest Story Ever Sold.

“Thus began the long process of transforming Jesus from a revolutionary Jewish nationalist into a peaceful spiritual leader with no interest in any earthly matter.  That was a Jesus the Romans could accept, and in fact did accept three centuries later when the Roman emperor Flavius Theodosius made the itinerant Jewish preacher’s movement the official religion of the state, and what we now recognize as orthodox Christianity was born.”

3)      The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (The Liberation Trilogy) by Rick Atkinson.  The final installment of Atkinson’s tremendous trilogy that traced Americans in World War II from North Africa, through Italy and now western Europe is a World War II buff’s must read.  Even at 896 pages, the book seems short as it delves into the personalities of the war effort’s leaders, the trials and tribulations of the soldiers in the air and on the ground, and the share magnitude to wage war on such a scale.

“Of more than six thousand jumpers from the 101st Airborne, barely one thousand had landed on or near the H-hour objectives on this Tuesday morning.  Most of the fifteen hundred-odd had drifted far beyond the eight mile-square enclosing the division drop zones would be killed or captured; a few made their way to safety with maps torn from local telephone books by French farmers.”

 

4)      Where the Jobs Are: Entrepreneurship and the Soul of the American Economy by John Dearie and Courtney Geduldig.  Research driven book about how America has failed via broken immigration system, inadequate education, tax code, etc.  to spark the true economic engine of America: Start Ups.  Loaded with common sense which means the ideas will net get approved.

“The Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group of more than 500 business leaders and mayors unite din support of immigration reform, has found that more than 40% of Fortune 500 companies – including 7 of the 10 most valuable brands in the world – were founded by immigrants or a child of immigrants.”

5)      After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead by Alan Blinder.  This is the fifth book I have read about the financial crisis and Blinder goes where others have not gone before by including recommended actions as well as assessing not the only causes, but some of the government and Federal Reserve responses.  A good read for wonks like me.

“Why, then, did Geithner allocate so little TARP money to preventing foreclosures?  The main reason was that he, Summers, and others in the administration were not convinced that there was a foreclosure-mitigation plan that could work on a large scale, was legal, and would have a large economic impact at a reasonable cost.”

 

 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Digg’s Top 25 Songs of 2013


 
1)      Hearts Like Ours by The Naked and Famous

Hearts Like Ours Video

2)      Break the Walls by Fitz and the Tantrums

3)      Bleeding Out by The Lone Bellow

4)      Rumble and Sway by Jamie N Commons

5)      Hell and Back by The Airborne Toxic Event

6)      San Francisco by The Mowglis

7)      Pompeii by Bastille

8)      The War Within by Churchill

9)      21st Century Blues by Steve Earle & the Dukes (& Duchesses)

10)   Mystic Highway by John Fogerty

11)   Red Hands by Walk Off the Earth

12)   Believer by American Authors

13)   Shake by The Head and the Heart

14)   Sirens by Pearl Jam

15)   Stompa by Serena Ryder

16)   Recover by CHVRCHES

17)   Better Days by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

18)   Temple by Kings of Leon

19)   Heavy Bells by J. Roddy Walston & the Business

20)   Demon to Lean On by Wavves

21)   Ways to Go by Grouplove

22)   Get Me Golden by Terraplane Sun

23)   Lightning Bolt by Jake Bugg

24)   Home by Phillip Phillps

25)   365 Days by ZZ Ward

2013 In Review 25 Items in Less Than a Minute


1)      The fall of 60 Minutes accelerated

2)      Fareed Zakaria GPS became the only watchable Sunday Talk Show

3)      Al Jazeera America emerged, for now, as a viable alternative to profit seeking corporate network and cable news.

4)      Republican obstruction crossed the line forcing Democrats to limit the power of the filibuster threat

5)      George Zimmerman got away with murder, but Jodi Arias didn’t

6)      The war on women’s reproductive health was waged in Republican controlled states

7)      The NRA proved it has lawmakers by the balls

8)      America told regional powers and the Arab League to get their shit together

9)      China openly started flexing its regional powers

10)   Lance Armstrong finally admitted what we already knew:  he doped and he is an asshole

11)   Digg had enough of Bill Maher’s faux intelligence and douchebaggedness

12)   Adult music didn’t die, but it got badly wounded

13)   The Arab Spring has been replaced by the Arab Winter

14)   Game of Thrones “Red Wedding” was the biggest moment in television

15)   Same Sex Marriage and LGBT rights advanced thanks to the Supreme Court

16)   Voting Rights, however, were not so lucky

17)   The Department of Health and Human Services botched the one big thing for which it was responsible

18)   Infatuation with Royal Babies was as strong as ever

19)   The Tea Party overplayed its hand with a government shutdown

20)   The Catholic Church may finally have a Pope who’s deeds match his words

21)   America became aware of the NSA and its reckless abuse of power

22)   America started having the much needed debate on liberty versus security

23)   A Toronto mayor acted like an American mayor

24)   Breaking Bad went out with bang

25)   Boston Strong!!!!!!!!!

 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Diggapedia Year in Review…Best New Television Shows


 
1)      Banshee (Cinemax)…sex, murder, mayhem…where the good guys are morally ambiguous and the bad guys sociopathic…oh did I mention the sex, murder, and mayhem?  Oh and Ivana Milicevic is hot, no I mean really hot.

2)      Bates Motel (A&E)…Prequel to Psycho with Vera Farmiga’s brilliant portrayal of Norma Bates, part caretaker, all parts crazy.  Brilliant over the top performance.

3)      Getting On (HBO)…Only three episodes in, this show about the staff at a hospital rehab center is dark and witty.  What I wish Nurse Jackie could be at times, a tremendous ensemble cast featuring Alex Borstein, Niecy Nash, Laurie Metcalf, and Mel Rodriguez.

4)      House of Cards (Netflix)…Granted I am a latecomer to this series, but if there was ever a role made for Kevin Spacey, this is it.  Full disclosure, being a political geek, I am likely biased in my judgment.   

5)      Ray Donovan (Showtime)…Liev Schreiber’s portrayal of a flawed Los Angeles fixer is Emmy nominee warranted.  Add the spectacular cast including Paula Malcomson (Deadwood’s Trixie), Eddie Marsan and Dash Mihok as Ray’s brothers, a despicable Jon Voight as Ray’s dad, and I can even forgive Steven Bauer’s awful Israeli accent, you have a great series.  

6)      Masters of Sex (Showtime)…I have always been a big fan of the underrated Lizzy Caplan (Virginia Johnson), and Michael Sheen turns in a spectacular performance of pioneering sex study doctor Bill Masters.  Oh, and if it has Allison Janney in it, a show automatically makes the 1st cut.

7)      Mom (CBS)…Yes, I picked a network sitcom because Allison Janney (see above) is at her comedic best: the facial expressions and timing are perfection.  (if you haven’t seen The Way Way Back, you must see it just for her performance).   Anna Faris, of Scary Movie fame, plays Janney’s daughter and more than holds her own.  Critically panned early on, Mom is the rare sitcom that wins Digg’s approval.

8)      Sleepy Hollow (Fox)…I was wary of where this show was going early on, but have come to appreciate the ‘bigger story’ it is trying to tell.  Nicole Beharie (42) as Lt. Abbie Mills is a perfect match for Tom Mison’s Ichabod Crane.  Very Scully and Mulder.

9)      Top Of the Lake (Sundance)…Miniseries set in a desolate part of New Zealand starring Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men’s Peggy) as a detective searching for a missing girl.  Beautifully shot and featuring mentally scarred characters, Top Of the Lake is what I would call television for adults.

10)   The Bridge (FX)…The latest in a long line of gritty dramas from FX.  Right from the opening 15 minutes, this show that takes place on both sides of the El Paso/Juarez border features multiple stories about drug and human trafficking, immigration, revenge, and hope.  Like all FX programs, things are not as they seem and the cast featuring Diane Kruger, Demian Bichir, Annabeth Gish, and Ted Levine are stellar.

Friday, December 20, 2013

I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you're gonna hear about it!


As part of Festivus, it is now time to air the grievances:

1)      To the media.  I am not if there was a precise moment when journalism died, but watching and listening to local news anchors who do not know the difference between Liberia and Libya, ABC News affiliate in San Francisco get punked about the names of the Asiana Airlines (honestly Sum Ting Wong?), the beltway media stuck in their DC bubble and thinking they ARE the story, the failure of Lara Logan and 60 Minutes on the third rate Benghazi story, and the partisan coverage that now rages on the 24 news cycle, I am convinced we have reached the Walking Dead moment of journalism.  Heck, even HBO’s Newsroom sucked in season two.  That being said, there were some bright spots: Al Jazeera America was a breath of fresh air in simple non-politicized news reporting, PBS Frontline for the quality of its investigative journalism, and The Financial Times for its balanced reporting.

2)      Congress: The first term of the current 113th Congress is ending with 57 bills passes into law, by comparison the Do Nothing 112th Congress passed 284 laws between 2011-2012.  You have to really suck to make the Do Nothing Congress look prolific.  It’s not just the quantity of laws created, but the failure to address the tough issues such as gun control, immigration reform, tax code, budget reform, infrastructure, and jobs.  It wasn’t only on the legislation front, the repeated blocking of judicial and governmental appointments by intransigent Republicans ultimately led Senate Majority Leader Reid to invoke the low yield nuclear option to get many appointments unjammed.  With another round of midterms coming in 2014, I am not expecting any improvement.

 

3)      Hollywood: Want to know why so many stars are returning to TV and why Kevin Spacey is starring in Netflix’s House of Cards?  Studios are not interested in making movies for adults.  Sure, at the end of the year in time for awards nominations, studios release adult films as they are free from the summer of comic book superheroes, big budget effects laden, scripts by 4th graders drek.  I would gladly take a Nebraska or Kings Of Summer any day over an Iron Man 3 or The Expendables: We’re Not Dead Yet So We’ll Still Cash the Check.  Speaking of TV, thankfully there are AMC, FX, HBO, and Showtime to provide outstanding programming while the networks focus on awful formula comedies and dramas and basic cable floods us with scripted reality shows.

4)      And some runner ups:

a.      Health and Human Services: Really?  With so much riding on Healthcare.Gov, you dropped the ball.

b.      NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell: You tried to cover up the seriousness of hear injuries in order to save your $4Billion brand at the expense your employees.

c.      Economists: Your profession is called the Dismal Science, your economic predictions were dismal.

Happy Festivus Frank and Estelle Costanza.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Thoughts on a wintery blustery day


1)      Do people who leave their shopping carts loosely in the parking lot know they’re douche nozzles?

2)      If Jesus was white he would have stuck out like a sore thumb in Judea of 2,000 years ago.

3)      To assume Jesus was white is pure arrogance by Caucasian historical revisionists.

4)      Gotta love the Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn’s story.  Just 8 years ago he was coaching in high school and now he is coaching in the national championship game.

5)       Major League Baseball wants to ban home plate collisions.  What’s next a ban on sliding?

6)      The inability for our nation’s leaders to make any progress on gun violence in the year since Sandy Hook, is a national disgrace.

7)      If Megyn Kelly was making a joke, like she claims, then she should stick to her day job of being an ignoramus

8)      Mike Huckabee hinted he is considering a presidential run in 2016.  We’ll keep the clown car running.

9)      Many on the left and right are equally disappointed in the budget deal.  That often happens when compromise occurs.

10)   I wonder if Kim Jong Un asked Dennis Rodman for advice in dealing with his now dead uncle.

11)   Conservatives are mocking the Mandela memorial service  interpreter after he said he sometime sees angels. But they support candidates who claim Jesus told them to run for president.

12)   Many pro football pundits are claiming Peyton Manning is having the best season of any quarterback in the history of the game.  I guess they already forgot about Tom Brady’s 2007 117.2 QB rating.

13)   Affluenza is pure bullshit.  Bad parenting, lots of money, and spoiled children do not equal a ‘condition’.

14)   President Obama shook hands with Raul Castro.  Reagan sold weapons to Iran.  Spare us the mock outrage Fox News.

15)   Hillary Clinton netted $400,000 from two speaking engagements at Goldman Sachs events.  Wonder if 2008 progressive backers will turn a blind eye.

16)   Did you know that as a recently as 2008, the U.S. officially considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist.

17)   A $50 gift card from Ticketmaster required a $14.50 shipping fee.  Seriously?

18)   Memo to the Hollywood Foreign Press, if you nominate a movie in the musical or comedy category, it should be a musical or comedy.

19)   According to the British Medical Journal, James Bond consumed an average of 9-13 shots of booze per day.  With those DT’s he would be shaken and stirred.

20)   I remember when good economic data and corporate earnings drove the stock market higher.  Today, it signals the end of cheap Fed money and markets subsequently slide.  

Stay warm and cozy friends.

 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Political Will vs the Will of Politics: Sandy Hook One Year Later


On December 14, 2012 20 year old Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother before driving to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT where in a matter of minutes he killed twenty young children and six staffers before taking his own life.  One year later we know Lanza acted alone but still do not know why.  One year later the same gun advocacy v. gun control battle lines are in place, legislation is stalled, and another tragedy has become fodder of politicians.  We declare war on nations, terror, drugs, poverty, but not on gun violence.  Is it because we don’t think we can win or is it because we are afraid to try?

Columbine was going to be the turning point.  The same was said about Virginia Tech, Tucson, and Aurora.  Mass shootings are so frequent we forget about Mark Orrin Barton, Jeffrey Weise, Robert Hawkins, Jiverly Wong, Scott Evans Dekkrai, and countless others.  Gun control advocates call for action, and gun rights advocates call for more guns; it is a battle where logic, compromise, and common sense fall victim, and demagoguery and emotion take over.  Defeatism kicks in, the problem is too big to solve, yet it can be solved if there is political will and electorate pressure.  Australian Prime Minister and that nation’s Parliament banned assault weapons after the 1996 mass killing of 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania by Martin Bryant who was equipped with two semiautomatic assault weapons.  Yes Australia does not have a 2nd Amendment, but this center-right coalition government worked with state and local governments to enact buyback programs (in the U.S. Tea Party leaders try to get buyback programs, not guns, banned) and institute an assault weapon ban.  Since 1996, there has not been a single mass shooting.  That’s political will.

In April Gallup Poll, 83% of Americans, including 73% of Republicans, said they would vote for a law that would require background checks for all gun purchases.  And yet the loudest voices on the right spread asinine claims that background checks will lead to a federal registry for all guns, that Hitler was able to kill 6 million Jews because he banned guns, the government will know on your door to take your guns, and that all mass shootings could have been prevented if more citizens were armed.  And sadly in April, an amendment that would have required mandatory background checks co-sponsored by two senators: Conservative Republican Pat Toomey and Conservative Democrat Joe Manchin failed to get the necessary 60 votes. The vote was lost when four Democrats: Baucus, Begich, Heitkamp, and Pryor voted nay to help their re-election bids, at least that’s what they believe.  No Political will.

Arizona’s junior Senator Jeff Flake sent a handwritten note to Caren Teves, the mother of an Aurora victim,   While we may not agree on every solution, strengthening background checks is something we can agree on."  Apparently the agreement lasted just a few days as Flake voted against the Manchin-Toomey Amendment.  I guess $362,000 in campaign contributions from the NRA trumps one hand written note.  No political will.

During the 1994 mid-term elections the Democrats lost the House and Senate partly due to the passage of the Brady Bill and an Assault Weapons Ban.  Just like Democrats lost the House in 2010 partly due to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, sometimes doing the right thing costs a hefty price.  Some may call it a pyrrhic victory, some may call it political suicide, and others will call it courage of convictions.  Is the political price more costly than the price on conscience?  Time will tell.

Sandy Hook was called the moment.  The moment when common sense would finally defeat politics in the decades long battle of gun rights.  America wanted action, even conservatives like Joe Scarborough said enough was enough.  But it wasn’t to be.  The NRA funded political machine made sure the media and main street were distracted and that Sandy Hook would join Virginia Tech, Columbine, and Aurora in the annals of ‘this time it’s different’. 

We don’t have a gun problem, we have a mental illness problem.  We don’t have a gun problem, we have a violent video game problem. Funny, other nations have mental illness and violent video games, but they don’t have over 300 MILLION guns.

But at the end of the day, like abortion and LGBT rights, gun control vs. gun advocacy is really about fund raising.  Get the masses fired up, urge them to donate, feed the political machines.  That is the will of politics.