Category Archives: Video

On the death of humor in American politics

Everyone seems to agree that Campaign 2016 marks a turning point in American politics, a moment when the old order is shattering and something, that “rude beast” of Yeats’ memorable poem, is slouching towards a new Bethlehem.

Simon Doubleday, Professor and Chair of History at Hofstra University, dissects the humorless state of the candidates in historical context in an essay for The Conversation, an online open access journal allowing free reproduction of its contents

And do continue after the jump for the a clip from the 1999 comedy film featuring a certain democratic socialist playing  rabbi:

Are U.S. politics beyond a joke?

“I really do respect the press,” President Barack Obama joked at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in 2013, shortly after his second successful election campaign. “I recognize that the press and I have different jobs to do. My job is to be president; your job is to keep me humble. Frankly, I think I’m doing my job better.”

Obama’s comedic skill has, itself, been a key ingredient of his political success. Yet neither of the current presidential candidates appears to have much interest in following in his footsteps. “Wit and humor have been drained from our politics,” the Washington Times lamented earlier this month.

The emptying of humor in the current U.S. election campaign is striking, reflecting both the personal limitations of the current candidates and the exceptional gravity of the moment. Whether or not we are witnessing the rise of American fascism, the end of the Republican Party or the disintegration of freedom in the Western world, there is clearly a crisis in U.S. democratic culture.

In this dark political climate, displays of humor – for centuries, a mainstay of leadership – have become increasingly out of place.

A serious turn

Hillary Clinton, it is true, has attempted the occasional humorous barb. Donald Trump, she observed wryly this June, “says he has foreign policy experience because he ran the Miss Universe pageant in Russia.”

But – Saturday Night Live appearances notwithstanding – she has hardly been distinguished by her comic touch. Confronted with deeply embedded prejudices against women in politics (and in comedy), it’s understandable that female candidates may find it shrewd to display gravitas. Nonetheless, Clinton’s ventures into humor seem manufactured.

Equally, Trump’s particular brand of populism is scarcely to be confused with comedy. While he has sometimes been treated as a buffoon, and Trevor Noah has hailed his stand-up’s sense of timing, Trump’s appeal to voters rests less on humor than on the performance of anger.

The “serious turn” in U.S. presidential politics marks a break from the past – from Reagan’s cinematic smile, Obama’s skilled performances at White House Correspondents’ Dinners and American political norms that, according to one study, value smiling much more than the Chinese.

There’s more, including Bernie’s Hollywood moment, after the jump. . . Continue reading

ChevronTexaco’s deadly Ecuadorian legacy

During our years reporting for the Berkeley Daily Planet, we wrote any number of stories about the Chevron refinery in nearby Richmond on the shores of San Francisco Bay.

As the dominant economic power in a city on of the region’s poorest city, one with a large minority population and in a state of economic implosion, the company was the target of considerable community concerns about fires [they had ‘em] and pollution.

The firm was represented by Willie Brown, the former powerful speaker of the lower house of the legislature of the richest and most populous state in the country, the same Willie Brown casino developers hired to sell the black population of Atlantic City on the ballot measure that legalized casinos there. Willie promised them jobs and good housing; they got neither.

Sophisticated at public relations and press-spinning, Chevron played a dominant role in funding city council elections and turning out supporters, sometimes financed by contributions to churches and other organizations, to ensure their messages got across at city council meetings.

But Richmond’s concerns pale compared to those experienced by thousands of Ecuadorians, the subject of former Bay Area journalist Abby Martin’s latest episode of her series for teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Chevron vs. the Amazon – Inside the Killzone

Program notes:

A U.S. court just handed another victory to the oil giant Chevron Texaco, in its decades-long battle to avoid paying damages it owes in one of the worst environmental disasters in history. In the Ecuadorean Amazon, the most biodiverse area of the world, the energy titan deliberately poisoned 5 million acres of pristine habitat and subjected tens of thousands of indigenous peoples to destruction of their health and culture. In Part 1 of ‘Chevron vs. the Amazon,’ Abby Martin takes The Empire Files inside Chevron Texaco’s Amazon killzone to see the areas deemed “remediated” by Chevron, and spoke with the people living in the aftermath.

Quote of the day: Donald Trump as Travis Bickle

And in more ways than one.

John F. Hinckley Jr., the man who nearly assassinated President Ronald Reagan, was inspired by Travis Bickle, the violent psychotic portrayed by Robert De Niro in his seminal 1976  Martin Scorsese film, Taxi Driver.

Hinckley shot Reagan to get the attention of de Niro’s child co-star, Jodie Foster.

And given the not-so-veiled hint by Donald Trump that his “second Amendment” followers might preempt a move to pack the Supreme Court by a President Hillary Clinton, the parallel is even more haunting.

The famous actor took on Trump at the Sarajevo Film Festival, reports the Associated Press:

“What he has been saying is totally crazy, ridiculous, stuff that shouldn’t be even … he is totally nuts,” De Niro said during a question and answer session at the Sarajevo Film Festival.

When the moderator asked De Niro to elaborate on Bickle’s mental illness, the first thing that seemed to have crossed the actor’s mind was the Republican candidate.

“One of the things to me was just the irony at the end, he (Bickle) is back driving a cab, celebrated, which is kind of relevant in some way today too,” De Niro said.

“People like Donald Trump who shouldn’t be where he is so … God help us,” De Niro said. Sarajevans responded with a frantic applause.

De Niro says the media had given too much attention, but are now starting to say “come on Donald, this is ridiculous, this is nuts, this is insane.”

And this post wouldn’t be complete without a clip, via Movieclips, of De Niro, reciting in full Trumpian glory, the film’s most famous line:

Study: Laziness is linked to higher intelligence

We are relieved.

First up, a video report on the research from RT America:

I’m not lazy, I’m ruminating: Scientists link laziness to intelligence

Program notes:

A new report found a correlation between laziness and high intelligence, with scientists at Florida Gulf Coast University found that the smarter you are, the less likely you are to become bored. One of the researchers, Todd McElroy, joins RT America’s Manila Chan to explain the startling findings.

More from the British Psychological Association:

According to Hollywood stereotypes, there are the clever, nerdy young people who spend most of their time sitting around thinking and reading, and then there are the jocks – the sporty, athletic lot who prefer to do as little thinking and studying as possible. This seems like a gross over-simplification and yet a new study[$36 to read] in the Journal of Health Psychology suggests there may be a kernel of truth to it.

The researchers, led by Todd McElroy at Florida Gulf Coast University, gave an online test of “Need For Cognition” to lots of students, to find 30 who expressed a particularly strong desire to think a lot and 30 others with a strong preference to avoid anything too mentally taxing. This test has been around for over three decades and it involves people rating how strongly they agree with items like “I really enjoy a task that involves coming up with new solutions to problems” and “I only think as hard as I have to”. The 30 thinkers and 30 non-thinkers then wore an accelerometer on their wrist for 7 days, to provide a constant measure of how physically active they were during that time.

The thinkers were “far less active” Monday to Friday than the non-thinkers – a difference that the researchers described as “robust” and “highly significant” in statistical terms. At the weekends there was no difference in activity levels between the groups.

The weekday result makes sense in light of past research from the 90s that showed non-thinkers are more prone to boredom than thinkers, and find boredom more aversive. Perhaps non-thinkers resort to physical activity as a way to escape their inner worlds.

Remember this research featured just 60 people, and the results might not generalise to non-students or to other cultures. The lack of an effect over the weekend also awaits explanation. Nonetheless, given the adverse health effects of a sedentary life, McElroy and his colleagues said that more cerebral folk might want to take note, and they added that a quick visit to the gym is not enough – you need to raise your overall activity levels, maybe think about investing in a standing desk.

“Ultimately, an important factor that may help more thoughtful individuals combat their lower average activity levels is awareness,” the researchers said. “Awareness of their tendency to be less active, coupled with an awareness of the cost associated with inactivity, more thoughtful people may then choose to become more active throughout the day.”

Oh, and the more intelligent are also night owls whoe are messier and swear a lot, according to other studies.

Fuck, we must be brilliant!

Graphic Representation: Foundational Clintonism

The recent release of Clinton Foundation emails [through a Freedom of Information Act request, not a hack] proves that big donors to the Clinton family foundation got special treatment at Hillary Clinton’s State Department.

Our first editorial cartoon comes from the Indianapolis Star:

Gary Varvel: The Clinton Foundation drive-thru

BLOG Foundation Varvel
And the second from the Arizona Republic:

Steve Benson: Rodham’s ‘Kiss’ with the State Department

BLOG Foundation Bensobn
For more on the foundation and the Clinton brand of play to pay we turn to a video report from Democracy Now!, featuring an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter James Grimaldi, who’s be digging into the foundation for years.

From Democracy Now!:

Did Companies & Countries Buy State Dept. Access by Donating to Clinton Foundation?

From the transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: One of the newly released email exchanges is about billionaire Nigerian-Lebanese developer Gilbert Chagoury, who contributed between $1 [million] and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation. The emails show a top Clinton Foundation executive writing to Abedin and Mills, asking for help putting Chagoury in touch with the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon. Abedin responds, “I’ll talk to jeff,” referring to then-U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman. On Wednesday, Gilbert Chagoury’s spokesman said Chagoury, quote, “was simply passing along his observations and insights about the dire political situation in Lebanon at the time,” unquote.

For more, we go to Santa Barbara, where we’re joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Grimaldi. He’s a senior writer at The Wall Street Journal and has covered the Clinton Foundation since 2014.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, James. You’ve been covering the Clinton Foundation for years. Can you talk about what this latest group of emails suggests, and how significant it is, about the relationship between the Clinton Foundation under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and—between the State Department under Clinton and the Clinton Foundation?

JAMES GRIMALDI: Well, I think this confirms what we sort of knew. There are obvious ties and relationships. The key tie here would be Douglas Band, who was a top aide to Bill Clinton. He helped Bill Clinton create the Clinton Foundation, and sort of devised how he would spend his days in retirement. He was very close, of course, to Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin. At one point he was employing, as a contractor, Huma Abedin, as Huma was working at the State Department. And during this time of the Lebanese elections, Mr. Band sent an email, as you described just now, regarding one of their greatest benefactors, Mr. Chagoury, and suggested that the State Department have the person who was a lead—the ambassador to Lebanon speak to Mr. Chagoury.

It shows how donations to the Clinton Foundation win access to, you know, state diplomatic—State Department diplomatic officials. It sort of begs the question, if he hadn’t given that money to the Clinton Foundation, whether he would have had that kind of easy access. I would say it would probably be unlikely. It certainly would not happen as swiftly. Possibly, that State Department ambassador might have consulted with this person regarding that issue, but it sure shows or seems to create an appearance of a conflict of interest, that perhaps he bought access by making those donations to the Clinton Foundation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, speaking of that issue of conflict of interest, you’ve noted that during her confirmation hearings as secretary of state, Secretary Clinton specifically said that she would take, quote, “extraordinary steps … to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.” How well do you think she has followed through on that, on that promise?

JAMES GRIMALDI: Well, over the past year, we have looked at that issue. And what I did was I went into the lobbying records to see which companies and other entities were lobbying the State Department, and also looking to see how many of them had given to the Clinton Foundation. And one of our findings was that at least 60 companies had lobbied the State Department, had given as much as $26 million, and many of those companies, 44 of those 60, had participated in what they call commitments, or philanthropic projects, that were valued by the Clinton Foundation at $3.2 billion.

So then we went to look and see if Mrs. Clinton had done anything for these companies at the time that they were making these gifts. And we looked at several companies—UBS, Boeing, General Electric and Microsoft and others, Wal-Mart—who seemed to have been getting favors from Mrs. Clinton, perhaps for good reason—promoting American companies and American jobs—but also coming at the same time that there were donations going to the Clinton Foundation.

And now for something completely different. . .

Ikea furniture, as most everyone knows, comes packaged in kites, and assembling your oddly [and sometimes seemingly obscenely] named desk, nightstand, bookcase, or whatever, is as challenging as make an Erector set creation [do they even still make esnl‘s favorite childhood possession? Yes, they do!]

The assembly instructions are sometimes arcane, and putting the things together usually involves using an Allen wrench [included] and a hammer or mallet.

Frustration often ensues.

Now imagine trying to assemble you Ikea creation whilst under the influence of, say, a powerful psychedelic drugs.

Never fear, the folks at Hikea Productions have the answer.


Program notes:

Giancarlo and Nicole try to build an Ikea dresser after both taking LSD. The acid complicates an already difficult task, but after hours of false starts, laughter and deep introspection, they just might be able to work together and finally complete “Step 1.”

And the second episode:


Program notes:

Disclaimer, because first upload was removed: Drugs are bad, don’t do drugs. Please be over 18 to watch this video.


The Hikea folks, if nothing else, seem to be having lots of fun.

And now what about tackling Ikea furniture when you’re snockered on America’s favorite legal drug?

Homestarkevin has the answer, and it ain’t pretty:

How to Assemble IKEA furniture When You’re Drunk.

Program notes:

Me putting together my new konsmo nightstand after a few drinks

Study shows sharp divide on educational equality

Americans are sharply divided on solutions to educational inequality, supporting class-based remedies but not measures based on ethnicity.

That’s the troubling conclusion of new research from the American Educational Research Association.

Here’s one of the study’s authors explaining the findings and possible measures to resolve a dilemma in which poor ethnic minorities are victims of poor schools and taxpayer reluctance to approve measures to improve them:

Study: The Politics of Achievement Gaps: US Public Opinion on Race- and Wealth-Based Differences…

More from the American Educational Research Association:

When asked about wealth- and race/ethnicity-based academic achievement gaps, Americans are more concerned about the gap between poor and wealthy students, more supportive of policies that might close it, and more prepared to explain the reasons behind it, according to new research [open access]published online today in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Drawing on nationally representative survey data, the study authors—Jon Valant of Tulane University and Daniel Newark of the University of Southern Denmark—found that 63.7 percent of American adults say that it is “essential” or “a high priority” to close the poor-wealthy gap in student test scores. Only 35.6 percent and 31 percent say the same thing about the black-white gap and Hispanic-white gap, respectively.

For their study, Valant and Newark used data from a national survey conducted by YouGov, an internet-based research firm specializing in academic survey research and online political polling. One thousand members of YouGov’s online respondent panel were randomly assigned to one of three groups to answer questions about the poor-wealthy test score gap, the black-white gap, or the Hispanic-white gap. The study authors then compared answers to these questions across the three gap groups.

Respondents were also asked about their support for three specific gap-closing proposals—teacher bonuses, school vouchers, and summer school programs. Fifty-two percent supported the teacher bonus proposal to close the poor-wealthy gap, compared to 31 percent for addressing the black-white gap and 27 percent for the Hispanic-white gap. The voucher and summer school proposals also received more support when directed at the poor-wealthy gap.

More after the jump. . . Continue reading