Sidney Lumet's Classic "Network"

Network

1976
Essay by Greg Ng

Senses of Cinema

The 1970s in Hollywood were a fertile time. The emergence of the director, as a legitimate artist in his or her own right, shifted focus from the studios, which by the ’60s had grown formulaic and unadventurous in their output, to a new generation of writers and directors, whose concerns and experience were markedly different from the conservative voice of the movie industry at that point.

Due in part to falling profits and the rise of television, a vacuum arose in the industry that opened the door for fresh ideas. Hollywood was redirected and, as a result, American cinema entered a new age – an age when box-office success did not necessarily preclude sophisticated content in a movie, an age when political discourse was not relegated to non-existence or tokenism, or a niche-market. The period between 1969 and the beginning of the 1980s saw American cinema, inspired as it was by international filmmaking (such as the French New Wave), offering critical, ambiguous and highly artful movies.

At its most ambitious, the New Hollywood was a movement intended to cut film free of its evil twin, commerce, by enabling it to fly high through the thin air of art. The filmmakers of the ’70s hoped to overthrow the studio system, or at least render it irrelevant, by democratising filmmaking, putting it in the hands of anyone with talent and determination. (1)

However, as the decade passed, the promise of real change receded; the status quo prevailed. As Peter Biskind puts it, in his book Easy Riders and Raging Bulls: How the Sex ‘N’ Drugs ‘N’ Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood,

although the decade of the 70s contains shining monuments to its great directors, the cultural revolution of that decade, like the political revolution of the 60s, ultimately failed. (2)

Robin Wood, in Hollywood: from Vietnam to Reagan, argues that the Vietnam War, among other things, focussed Western society’s dissenting voices, simultaneously discrediting ‘the system’ and emboldening the dissenters. However, like Biskind, Wood acknowledges “this generalized crisis in ideological confidence never issued in revolution. No coherent social/economic program emerged.” (3)

Commercial imperatives once more came to play their part in shaping the output of the industry, as previously fêted directors suffered box office losses and investment money turned to more secure propositions. Thus, a central tenet of political economy – i.e., the inherent censorship of the mass market – prevailed. Ironically, one of the films that stands as a testament to ’70s Hollywood’s freedom and ambition, Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976), depicts precisely this phenomenon.

Network is an example of a hugely successful and critically acclaimed feature film that offers a critique of television, ideology, radical chic and the consequences of American-led post-war capitalism, whilst being funny – no mean feat, and something only barely achieved in the current day by the likes of Michael Moore, et al.

Lumet’s direction and Paddy Chayefsky’s script lambaste the ills of the modern world (couched within the fast-paced soliloquies delivered by the stellar cast of Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and William Holden) and are oft times prescient, predicting the rise of ‘reality television’, and the subsequent decline of both production and social values.

One of the central themes of Network – the decay of society and of love, concurrent with a plunge in standards and morality of the audience, which represents the world (in keeping with the mindset of both the film and its characters) – proves salutary in explaining what happened to Hollywood after the ’70s. Just as the collapse of the old studio system in the ’60s was precipitated by a change in demography and values, so too has a drift toward social conservatism and the continuing project of marketising everything affected our age.

When Howard Beale (Peter Finch), the ageing news anchor for Union Broadcasting System, is fired due to poor ratings, he announces to his friend and network executive Max Schumacher (William Holden) that he intends to “blow my brains out, right on the air, right in the middle of the 7 o’clock news” (4).

Schumacher replies, “You’ll get a hell of a rating. I’ll guarantee you that. 50 share, easy.” He facetiously begins to run with the idea: “We could make a series out of it. ‘Suicide of the Week.’ Oh, hell, why limit ourselves: ‘Execution of the week.’” Continue reading Sidney Lumet's Classic "Network"

The Best We Can Do ~ Digby on Health Care Reform

by digbyJim VanDehei was on Mitchell this morning talking about his new article which evidently reports that Obama is going to twist arms today to make sure health care reform passes before Christmas. Mitchell asked him if (as Chuck Todd absurdly posited) Lieberman actually pulled back from the brink and decided not to blow up the Democratic party or if he is sitting pretty because he actually got exactly what he wanted:

VanDeHei I don’t think there’s any question that he got what he wanted. He’s been able to kill, or help kill, the public option and now he’s single handedly killed this Medicare expansion for people over the age of 55.

And so now what the president is doing is calling in Democrats in the Senate and saying “listen this is the last chance we have to get health care reform and if I fail, like Clinton failed, we’re talking about generations before another Democratic president with this big of a majority can actually tackle health care reform”. His case is going to be that if we don’t do this in the next two weeks it’s never going to be done.

The big question is, will that message pacify liberals? Liberal Democrats on the hill are saying “listen we wanted a single payer system or at least we wanted the public option or at least we wanted the medicare buy-in. Now we’re getting squat on that end so what are we actually getting?”

Obama will say, you’re actually getting a lot. You’re getting coverage for everybody. You’re getting insurance reform. And he’s going to have to convince them that that is sufficient.

That doesn’t make sense and if Obama is able to persuade liberals with that incoherent line of reasoning then he really is good and they really are stupid.

If this is the only chance for reform in generations, wouldn’t it have made more sense to fight for a truly comprehensive bill that actually solved the problem? If you’ve only got one bite of the apple every couple of decades, it seems remarkably foolish not to really go for broke. To end up with a bill like this as your once in a generation liberal accomplishment is about as inspiring as a Bobby Jindal speech.

And Obama can say that you’re getting a lot, but also saying that it “covers everyone,” as if there’s a big new benefit is a big stretch. Nothing will have changed on that count except changing the law to force people to buy private insurance if they don’t get it from their employer. I guess you can call that progressive, but that doesn’t make it so. In fact, mandating that all people pay money to a private interest isn’t even conservative, free market or otherwise. It’s some kind of weird corporatism that’s very hard to square with the common good philosophy that Democrats supposedly espouse.

Nobody’s “getting covered” here. After all, people are already “free” to buy private insurance and one must assume they have reasons for not doing it already. Whether those reasons are good or bad won’t make a difference when they are suddenly forced to write big checks to Aetna or Blue Cross that they previously had decided they couldn’t or didn’t want to write. Indeed, it actually looks like the worst caricature of liberals: taking people’s money against their will, saying it’s for their own good. — and doing it without even the cover that FDR wisely insisted upon with social security, by having it withdrawn from paychecks. People don’t miss the money as much when they never see it.

And as for the idea that insurance reforms are a huge progressive victory that can only be accomplished once in a generation, well that’s a pretty sad comment on our country — and progressivism.

What this huge electoral mandate and congressional majority have gotten us, then, is basically a deal with the insurance industry to accept 30 million coerced customers in exchange for ending their practice of failing to cover their customers when they get sick — unless they go beyond a “reasonable cap,” of course. (And profits go up!) If that’s the best we can expect of progressivism for the next generation then I’m afraid we are in deep trouble.

*I realize that the subsidies and the medicaid expansion are meaningful. But they are also going to be subject to ongoing funding battles in an age of deficit hysteria. I don’t hold out much hope for any improvement on that count. Indeed, I fully expect they will be assailed as welfare and eliminated as soon as Republicans gain power. They have learned from their mistakes — don’t let any liberal “entitlement programs ” become entrenched. That’s why a big comprehensive program would have been better. It’s much harder to disassemble.

Update: I think it’s really cool being lectured to by Obama about not getting everything you want. I would imagine that Joe Liberman laughed and laughed and laughed at that one.

Bill Kristol 's Ego Tells Him to Go on Jon Stewart Again and We Are All Better For it

Note to Kristol:

Hire Publicist.

Fire Publicist.

jt

We are the most powerful nation in the world. There is no excuse, only corruption.

We are the most powerful nation in the world. There is no excuse, only corruption.

Health Care Industry Operates Shadow Congress of Lobbyists

Sunlight Foundation

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The Washington Post reports today that the health care industry, in its attempt to influence the debate over health care reform, has hired at least 350 former government staffers and former members of Congress to lobby on the issue. With the many connections these former government workers have, particularly former members of Congress or congressional chiefs of staff, they will have near saturation coverage of the 535 current members of Congress. They also are operating with seemingly bottomless funding. The industry is currently spending $1.4 million a week on lobbying. Perhaps, the most unparrelled lobbying campaign ever.

Now the Post story has a few caveats that indicate that this lobbying campaign is probably larger than their reporting shows. For one:

The analysis identified more than 350 former government aides, each representing an average of four firms or trade groups. That tally does not include lobbyists who did not report their earlier government experience, such as PhRMA President W.J. “Billy” Tauzin, a former Republican congressman from Louisiana. Federal law does not require providing such detail.

Lobbying disclosure reports contain a field for listing prior government work, but this field is often left empty by lobbyists with government experience. If someone like Billy Tauzin, who is the poster boy for everything wrong with the revolving door, does not list his previous work as a leading lawmaker, what hope do we have for the many lesser former government workers to list their previous government work. I’d assume that the number of former government employees working in this campaign far exceeds 350.

One other aspect of the story highlights something which we’ve discussed here, lobbying contacts. The real problem with the revolving door is the unusual amount of access that former government officials, particularly members of Congress, have to current government officials. And that includes the ability to meet, call, or email with staffers or lawmakers to push their client’s agenda. Of course, Congress does not require any disclosure of lobbying contacts, thus obscuring the role that these 350+ lobbyists are having in the process of crafting a health care reform bill that will affect everyone in the country.

If you want to see other reporting on the network of former government staffers turned health care lobbyists, we’ve been looking at the Senate Finance Committee — “the central broker in the [health care] debate,” according to the Post — and the connections each lawmaker has with health care lobbyists. You can see our visualization of Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus’ connections or our visualization of all Senate Finance Committee Democrats and their connections. I’ll be posting about the Senate Finance Committee Republicans this week.

Jane Harman Appears At AIPAC Convention

D DAY HAS ALL THE DIRT:

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Harman’s Magic Act

by dday

By a twist of fate, Jane Harman actually appeared at the AIPAC convention over the weekend, bringing full circle the recent controversy over her comments picked up on a wiretap offering help to get AIPAC staffers out of a Justice Department probe in exchange for help getting the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. She vowed to begin a crusade against illegal wiretapping and overreach from the surveillance state.

Harman has described the wiretap as an abuse of government power. But sources have told The Washington Post that she was not being surveilled; the tapped phone belonged to the suspected Israeli agent, who happened to talk to her.

“I will not quit on this until I am absolutely sure this can never happen to anyone else,” Harman told the AIPAC audience, which warmly applauded her. She said the incident was having “a chilling effect” on members of Congress who “care intensely about the U.S.-Israeli security relationship . . . and have every right to talk to advocacy groups.”

Later, she called herself a “warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against abuse of power”. Which, coming from Harman, is utterly absurd, a magic act where she transforms herself from a vigorous defender of executive prerogatives on wiretapping to a civil liberties zealot who wants to take down the surveillance state.

Jane Harman is a warrior on behalf of the Constitution and against abuse of power — that’s the same Jane Harman who tried to bully The New York Times out of writing about Bush’s illegal spying program, who succeeded in pressuring them not to publish their story until after Bush was re-elected, who repeatedly proclaimed the program to be “legal and necessary” once it was revealed, who called the whistle-blowers “despicable”, who went on Meet the Press and expressed receptiveness to a criminal investigation of The New York Times for publishing the story, who led the way in supporting the Fourth-Amendment-gutting and safeguard-destroying FISA Amendments Act of 2008, and who demanded that telecoms be retroactively immunized for breaking multiple laws by allowing government spying on their customers without warrants of any kind.

That is who is a self-proclaimed “warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against abuse of power.”

As Atrios notes, Jane Harman is primarily concerned about wiretapping of People Named Jane Harman. And her point that this represented a potential abuse of government power, which by the way is
entirely plausible, was the entire point of people like me when we decried an illegal wiretapping program that would be ripe for abuse. You know, the one Jane Harman defended.

Worse, in the “Fact Sheet” Harman is sending around to supporters in the district, she characterizes herself as, among other things, a longtime critic of warrantless wiretapping in the most fantastical way possible:

• Harman has never supported so-called “warrantless wiretaps” on Americans. “We must use all lawful tools to detect and disrupt the plans of our enemies; signals intelligence and the work of the NSA are vital to that mission. But in doing so, it is also vital that we protect the American people’s constitutional rights.” (Press release of Dec. 21, 2005 — four days after the President declassified the existence of the Terrorist Surveillance Program).

• Harman introduced the LISTEN Act (H.R. 5371) with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers to add resources to the Justice Department to ensure the issuance of individualized warrants under FISA. (Press release of May 11, 2006).

• Harman, Senator Obama, and Speaker Pelosi supported amendments to FISA to expand protections to US citizens, and give limited court-reviewed immunity to telecommunications firms that prove they relied in good faith on what they believed was a valid order to produce records. (Vote date of June 20, 2008).

She must think we’re all idiots. That vote of June 20, 2008, the amendments to FISA to “expand protections to US citizens,” in addition to providing retroactive immunity for the telecoms for breaking the law, actually granted sweeping new powers to the federal government, including the ability to “conduct mass, untargeted surveillance of all communications coming into and out of the United States, without any individualized review, and without any finding of wrongdoing.” The fact that this lack of oversight or judicial review could lead to abuses of surveillance power has been confirmed by reports that the NSA overstepped its legal authority to wiretap by intercepting the private emails and phone calls of Americans, problems which grew “out of changes enacted by Congress last July in the law that regulates the government’s wiretapping powers.” The fact that Barack Obama supported that bill, considering that he was massively criticized by progressives for that FISA vote, doesn’t exactly help the cause.

Harman’s record on wiretapping is well-known and her efforts to wiggle out of it are frankly laughable. And the rest of her record, as demonstrated by Swing State Project today, shows her to be among the top 20 Democrats voting less liberal than what their districts would support. That, more than this hypocrisy on civil liberties, is why she’ll draw a primary challenge next year, should she choose to run again.

Sneaky George W. Bush Pushing Through Dozens of Last-Minute Legislative Scams

THE OBSERVER

PAUL HARRIS

DEC 14 2008

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After spending eight years at the helm of one of the most ideologically driven administrations in American history, George W. Bush is ending his presidency in characteristically aggressive fashion, with a swath of controversial measures designed to reward supporters and enrage opponents.

By the time he vacates the White House, he will have issued a record number of so-called ‘midnight regulations’ – so called because of the stealthy way they appear on the rule books – to undermine the administration of Barack Obama, many of which could take years to undo.

Dozens of new rules have already been introduced which critics say will diminish worker safety, pollute the environment, promote gun use and curtail abortion rights. Many rules promote the interests of large industries, such as coal mining or energy, which have energetically supported Bush during his two terms as president. More are expected this week.

America’s attention is focused on the fate of the beleaguered car industry, still seeking backing in Washington for a multi-billion-dollar bail-out. But behind the scenes, the ‘midnight’ rules are being rushed through with little fanfare and minimal media attention. None of them would be likely to appeal to the incoming Obama team.

The regulations cover a vast policy area, ranging from healthcare to car safety to civil liberties. Many are focused on the environment and seek to ease regulations that limit pollution or restrict harmful industrial practices, such as dumping strip-mining waste.

The Bush moves have outraged many watchdog groups. ‘The regulations we have seen so far have been pretty bad,’ said Matt Madia, a regulatory policy analyst at OMB Watch. ‘The effects of all this are going to be severe.’

Bush can pass the rules because of a loophole in US law allowing him to put last-minute regulations into the Code of Federal Regulations, rules that have the same force as law. He can carry out many of his political aims without needing to force new laws through Congress. Outgoing presidents often use the loophole in their last weeks in office, but Bush has done this far more than Bill Clinton or his father, George Bush sr. He is on track to issue more ‘midnight regulations’ than any other previous president.

Many of these are radical and appear to pay off big business allies of the Republican party. One rule will make it easier for coal companies to dump debris from strip mining into valleys and streams. The process is part of an environmentally damaging technique known as ‘mountain-top removal mining’. It involves literally removing the top of a mountain to excavate a coal seam and pouring the debris into a valley, which is then filled up with rock. The new rule will make that dumping easier.

Another midnight regulation will allow power companies to build coal-fired power stations nearer to national parks. Yet another regulation will allow coal-fired stations to increase their emissions without installing new anti-pollution equipment.

The Environmental Defence Fund has called the moves a ‘fire sale of epic size for coal’. Other environmental groups agree. ‘The only motivation for some of these rules is to benefit the business interests that the Bush administration has served,’ said Ed Hopkins, a director of environmental quality at the Sierra Club. A case in point would seem to be a rule that opens up millions of acres of land to oil shale extraction, which environmental groups say is highly pollutant.

There is a long list of other new regulations that have gone onto the books. One lengthens the number of hours that truck drivers can drive without rest. Another surrenders government control of rerouting the rail transport of hazardous materials around densely populated areas and gives it to the rail companies.

One more chips away at the protection of endangered species. Gun control is also weakened by allowing loaded and concealed guns to be carried in national parks. Abortion rights are hit by allowing healthcare workers to cite religious or moral grounds for opting out of carrying out certain medical procedures.

A common theme is shifting regulation of industry from government to the industries themselves, essentially promoting self-regulation. One rule transfers assessment of the impact of ocean-fishing away from federal inspectors to advisory groups linked to the fishing industry. Another allows factory farms to self-regulate disposal of pollutant run-off.

The White House denies it is sabotaging the new administration. It says many of the moves have been openly flagged for months. The spate of rules is going to be hard for Obama to quickly overcome. By issuing them early in the ‘lame duck’ period of office, the Bush administration has mostly dodged 30- or 60-day time limits that would have made undoing them relatively straightforward.

Obama’s team will have to go through a more lengthy process of reversing them, as it is forced to open them to a period of public consulting. That means that undoing the damage could take months or even years, especially if corporations go to the courts to prevent changes.

At the same time, the Obama team will have a huge agenda on its plate as it inherits the economic crisis. Nevertheless, anti-midnight regulation groups are lobbying Obama’s transition team to make sure Bush’s new rules are changed as soon as possible. ‘They are aware of this. The transition team has a list of things they want to undo,’ said Madia.

General Barry McCaffrey Exposed For The Ultimate Spineless Shill That He Is

THE NEW YORK TIMES

November 30, 2008

One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex

In the spring of 2007 a tiny military contractor with a slender track record went shopping for a precious Beltway commodity.

The company, Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.

Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales, and Defense Solutions soon found its man. The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, to a consulting contract starting June 15, 2007.

Four days later the general swung into action. He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. “No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed,” he said.

Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.

“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.

Continue reading General Barry McCaffrey Exposed For The Ultimate Spineless Shill That He Is

President-Elect Barack Obama's Press Conference | Dec 1 2008

Part Two

Good Ol' Charlie Gibson Gets In One Final Bootlicking Of President George "W/Torture" Bush

HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

Charles Gibson aboard for Bush interview

cg

ABC anchor will boat to Camp David with first family

By Paul J. Gough

Nov 25, 2008, 06:18 PM ET

NEW YORK — During the same week Barbara Walters interviews the president-elect in Chicago, ABC’s “World News” anchor Charles Gibson will interview President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush during the holiday weekend.

Gibson will ride with the first family on Marine One from the White House to Camp David, then interview Mr. and Mrs. Bush there. Gibson will ask about the past eight years, the couple’s future plans and if they have any advice for Bush’s successor, Sen. Barack Obama, and his family.

The interview will air on Monday’s “World News With Charles Gibson” plus that show’s webcast, “Good Morning America” and elsewhere.