Living Liberally Blog

Living Liberally Blog

No Country For Old Men - a Reagan-Era Parable

Screening Liberally Big Picture by Ben Weyl

(This is part of the 5-week series reviewing the nominess for Best Picture)

A sheer callousness toward human life pervades “No Country for Old Men,” an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture. That the film takes place in 1980 is perhaps no coincidence; the moral void of the Reagan Administration provides a perfect backdrop for this kind of inhumanity and begs an analysis of the film through the filter of the Reagan years.

Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), the film’s sort-of-hero, is a fine example of the rugged individual. Off hunting in the Texas desert, he stumbles onto a drug deal gone horribly wrong (where was Nancy?!). Half a dozen men and their dogs lie dead on the ground or in cars. But Moss is looking for the loot. He finds one man nearly dead, pleading for water, but ignores him, finds the money ($2 million) and makes his getaway.

Elsewhere, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is killing. That’s what he does in this movie. With an eerie calm, he aims his air-gun—normally used on cattle—and slaughters people like, well, cattle. Hotel clerks, businessmen, chicken farmers, bounty hunters, they all get the same treatment. He is after the money and will kill whoever gets in his way. At the risk of mixing my 1980s movie metaphors, it’s clear that for these characters, greed is good.

But the money is not Chigurh’s only motivating factor; he clearly enjoys toying with his prey. In a memorable scene at a gas station, Chigurh asks the lonely and unsuspecting owner what the most was that he had ever lost in a coin toss. Chigurh denigrates the man’s very worth as a human being to his face, and we await the demise of another innocent victim. But the coin toss comes up in the owner’s favor and Chigurh spares his life. Life under the Reagan Administration was similarly chancy for the most vulnerable Americans. In 1981, Reagan cut in half the budget dedicated to public housing and Section 8 housing vouchers for low-income people, sending hundreds of thousands into homelessness. During the Reagan years, the number of people living in poverty grew by 25 percent in comparison to the previous administration.

Early on, (spoiler alert) the filmmakers (Joel and Ethan Coen) hint that in the end, Moss won’t make it out alive. At home with his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald), and the bag of money, he can’t seem to forget that dying, thirsty man. His conscience gnaws at him. He tells his wife that he’s “fixin’ to do something dumber than hell,” takes a gun and a jug of water and goes back. Dumber than hell is right. Doesn’t he know about survival of the fittest, about how things work in the ‘80s?

Moss and Carla Jean are good representatives to tell this story because politically, they’re likely Reagan Democrats: working-class people who struggle to make ends meet but buy into the optimism and the cultural trappings that Reagan offered. They’re also the people who suffered most, bearing the brunt of declining wages and high levels of unemployment. Reagonomics was not kind to people like Moss and Carla Jean. Chigurh is worse.

When Moss returns to the massacred scene with the water, he finds the man has been shot in the head. Moss is soon spotted by two men who begin chase, and Moss barely escapes. The two men tell Chigurh and now Chigurh begins the hunt for Moss after, of course, killing his informants.

This hunt drives the film’s bloody story. Throughout the course of events, the aging sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) remains a few steps behind. In this allegory, Bell unfortunately represents the liberal. Appalled by the increasing violence, Bell is unable to stop the carnage; he forlornly watches his worst fears unfold. So too liberals watched with horror as Reagan swung the country hard to the right while wreaking havoc on the lives of low- and middle-income Americans.

In the end, Bell retires, packs it in.

The lesson for liberals in 2008, however, is not to call it quits. Instead, it’s to fight back even harder for our values and to make our voices heard. As the Jewish scholar Hillel once remarked, “In a place where there are no humans, one must strive to be human.”

Ben Weyl lives in Washington, D.C. and blogs far too infrequently at http://benweyl.blogspot.com

Building a Deep Economy

deep-economy.jpg

Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Dan Chibnall, Drinking Liberally Des Moines

Yesterday, I ate a tomato and I loved it. Tomatoes are one of the finest foods on the Earth, but they don't grow year-round. The problem is that it's January 30th here in Iowa. Snow covers most of the land at the moment, and if it's not snow, it's solid ice that resembles blown glass. We have some of the best farmland in the world, but right now, it's useless.

So where did my tomato come from? This is one of the big questions that Bill McKibben asks in his new book "Deep Economy." McKibben seeks the answer to the question, "Can we change the way we eat, work, travel, use energy, and socialize?" He believes the answer to that question is yes, we can. In order to do that, we have to get back to our roots in the local community.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has grown like no other nation in history. This growth created the society we know today with all of its wonderful technology and ease, but it has also made us ill, physically and socially. How has this happened? McKibben argues that we have focused so much on making every aspect of our lives more efficient that we no longer have quality in our society.

For example, massive, industrial farms provide us with most of our food now. Food is cheaper and easier to come by (like my tomato), but the food we eat lacks the nutrients it once had. McKibben shocks the reader with this statistic about farms: smaller farms produce more food per acre than industrial farms. It does not matter whether you
measure that production in weight, caloric energy, or money; the bottom line is that smaller farmers use their water, fuel, and manure (yes, not gallons of nitrogen) more efficiently than a megafarm does. In other words, buy your food locally.

McKibben's writing is clear and invites the reader to continue reading, not just because the subject matter is interesting, but because you feel as if you are part of a community just by reading the book. Using statistics he hammers home some of the dire consequences of our daily actions on the ecological framework of the planet, focusing especially on the rise of China on the world stage. He makes the reader feel at home on a farm when he contrasts China's massive infrastructure with that of his local economy, the green pastures of Vermont.

When you read about the success Vermont has had with local, community radio projects and local currency creation (yes, there are places without the dollar) you have difficulty believing it's true. And yet it is, in the tiny towns and cities of the Green Mountain State. Of course McKibben reminds the reader that your community does not have to be small like Vermont to make these ideas work. Any community can band together and demand to have more wind turbines for energy. Everyone has the power to shop at the local farmers' market. In fact, there are now more farmers' markets in the United States today than there were 15 years ago. Despite our massive globalized economy, people still like to eat local food.

So what does all of this mean? What can you do, according to this scholar from Middlebury College? I for one am going to try and stop eating tomatoes out of season. Why? Well, my tomato was from Mexico, so it took more energy to produce it and ship it than if I had waited a few months and bought one from down the road. Or I could have
started my own garden, canned the tomatoes, and opened them up on a cold night in January.

To put it simply, follow that age-old adage: think globally and act locally. One of the best things any individual can do is to invest in his local community. That will help to prevent global warming, foster growth in the neighborhood businesses, and make new friends, all at the same time.

Let Trent Lott Appreciation Day Reign

26lott-600.jpg
Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying
by Katie Halper

As if we don't already know, today is Trent Lott Appreciation Day. While this is a great step forward for mankind, Lott, featured above rocking his signature hip hop dance move, deserves so much more than one day of Appreciation. Because Lott is so much more than a mere mortal and senator. Did you know he was also...

  1. a misunderstood STD: Of course Lott is an STD (Strom Thurmond-defending) and outspoken segregationist. But Trent is no racist, and is as opposed to racism and Strom Thurmond was opposed to miscegenation. He is actually color blind. Lamenting the Sunni/Shiite hoopla, Lott said: "It's hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what's wrong with these people. Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me." See! Like Steven Colbert, Lott doesn't even see color, or ethnicity!

  2. a salt of the earth working man One of the many exploited workers in Washington D.C., and part of the great Capitol Hill to K street migration, Lott recently left politics in search of a better life and a living wage as a lobbyist. Luckily, and purely coincidentally, by stepping down before the end of the year, Lott avoided a law, that was about to come into effect, requiring that senators wait two years after retiring before they start lobbying their former colleagues.
  3. a martyr: as if the abject poverty faced by senators weren't enough, Trent's economic woes were only worsened by Hurricane Katrina. Nobody felt Trent's pain more than the President himself, seen below either trying to hold back tears or looking at a pretty molding on the ceiling, who said:
    The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch.


    Nothing represents the tragedy of Katrina, and nothing resonates with the victims of Katrina, more than when an STD (Strom Thurmond-defending), and segregationist senator loses his second home.

Which is way I anoint today, not only Trent Lott Appreciation Day, but Trent Lott Community Service Day. Because we must, and can help Trent. Which is why I'm starting the Trent Lott Porch Reconstruction Fund. Together, we will rebuild that porch, stone by stone, brick by brick. And we won't stop until that wrap around Victorian porch is standing once again. Because a man's second home's porch is his castle.

Most of all, I look forward to a day when we won't even need to have a "Trent Lott Appreciation Day." Because everyday, should, and will, be "Trent Lott Appreciation Day."

Welcome to the Bush League: McCain, Huckabee & Romney

McCain is a guy up for endless war,
who doesn't understand the economy
but the press likes him for his "straight talk."

Huckabee's radical religious rightwingery
makes him anti-choice, anti-gay & anti-progress
but the press finds him affable and folksy.

Romney's an empty suit created by consultants,
sympathetic to corporatocracy (and to torture),
but he's considered a "businessman"
...and hey, he looks presidential.

War? Religious right? Corporate cronies?
It takes three GOP candidates combined to compete
with Bush' credentials: lousy views & lousier allies.

Straight talk? Folksiness? An MBA?
It also takes all three to share the qualities
that tricked the press into liking W the first time.

Welcome to the Bush League :
3 would-be Bushes that just aren't as good at it yet.

It makes George W. Bush all the more impressive
...he's worth three lousy candidates on his own.

But give them time to grow...
one of them could become just as bad
& trick the media just as well by the end.

Toast to contentious conservative candidates
for their work discrediting right-wing politics
as you share primary predictions & a pint
at your local, progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

Welcome to the Bush League: McCain, Huckabee & Romney

McCain is a guy up for endless war,
who doesn't understand the economy
but the press likes him for his "straight talk."

Huckabee's radical religious rightwingery
makes him anti-choice, anti-gay & anti-progress
but the press finds him affable and folksy.

Romney's an empty suit created by consultants,
sympathetic to corporatocracy (and to torture),
but he's considered a "businessman"
...and hey, he looks presidential.

War? Religious right? Corporate cronies?
It takes three GOP candidates combined to compete
with Bush' credentials: lousy views & lousier allies.

Straight talk? Folksiness? An MBA?
It also takes all three to share the qualities
that tricked the press into liking W the first time.

Welcome to the Bush League :
3 would-be Bushes that just aren't as good at it yet.

It makes George W. Bush all the more impressive
...he's worth three lousy candidates on his own.

But give them time to grow...
one of them could become just as bad
& trick the media just as well by the end.

Toast to contentious conservative candidates
for their work discrediting right-wing politics
as you share primary predictions & a pint
at your local, progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

Happy Trent Lott Appreciation Day! But one day a year is not enough!

As if we don't already know, today is Trent Lott Appreciation Day. While this is a great step forward for mankind, Lott, featured above rocking his signature hip hop dance move, deserves so much more than one day of Appreciation. Because Lott is so much more than a mere mortal and senator. Did you know he was also

  1. a misunderstood STD: Of course Lott is an STD (Strom Thurman-defending); and outspoken segregationist. But Trent is no racist, and is as opposed to racism and Strom Thurman was opposed to miscegenation. He is actually color blind. Lamenting the Sunni/Shiite hoopla, Lott said: "It's hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what's wrong with these people. Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me." See! Like Steven Colbert, Lott doesn't even see color, or ethnicity!
  2. a salt of the earth working man One of the many exploited workers in Washington D.C., and part of the great Capitol Hill to K street migration, Lott recently left politics in search of a better life and a living wage as a lobbyist. Luckily, and purely coincidentally, by stepping down before the end of the year, Lott avoided a law, that was about to come into effect, requiring that senators wait two years after retiring before they start lobbying their former colleagues.
  3. a martyr: as if the abject poverty faced by senators weren't enough, Trent's economic woes were only worsened by Hurricane Katrina. Nobody felt Trent's pain more than the President himself, seen here either trying to hold back tears or looking at a pretty molding on the ceiling, who said:
    The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch

    Nothing represents the tragedy of Katrina, and nothing resonates with the victims of Katrina, more than when an STD (Strom Thurman-defending), and segregationist senator loses his second home.

Which is way I anoint today, not only Trent Lott Appreciation Day, but Trent Lott Community Service Day. Because we must, and can help Trent. Which is why I'm starting the Trent Lott Porch Reconstruction Fund. Together, we will rebuild that porch, stone by stone, brick by brick. And we won't stop until that wrap around Victorian porch is standing once again. Because a man's second home's porch is his castle.

Most of all, I look forward to a day when we won't even need to have a "Trent Lott Appreciation Day." Because everyday, should, and will, be "Trent Lott Appreciation Day."

Super Fat Tuesday: Polls Today, Parties Tonight

Liberal Drinkers, whomever you are for, go vote in the Primaries!

Then, tonight, revel as the results are revealed while downing a drink to democracy at a Super Fat Tuesday party.

Today is Election Day + Mardi Gras = SUPER FAT TUESDAY, a national night of gatherings.

From New York City to Colorado Springs, Nebraska to New Jersey, dozens of events will bring people together to treat election day as it should be treated -- as a holiday.

In New York, we'll be celebrating with comedians, special guests and Eating Liberally treats at The Tank. Each event is different -- though our Super Fat Tuesday site has offered bingo cards, drinking games and betting pools.

So get-out-the-vote, then celebrate the vote -- happy Super Fat Tuesday.

Romney and McCain Accuse Each Other of Having Hearts

McCain and Romney were in Florida, going on the pilgrimage to the sacred site where Bush stole the election in 2000. (All Republicans must make this visit at least once during their lives.)While in Florida, Romney and McCain also participated in a Republican debate and their own debate over who was a better conservative, as each one tried to prove that the other one was more "liberal," a better person and had functioning heart.

Iraq: Come For The Liberation, Stay For The Souvenirs

I, for one, am THRILLED to learn that though the invasion of Iraq has been a humanitarian, geo-political, economic, death and ethnic cleansing-triggering disaster, these sacrifices were not in vain. Because, although we were not greeted with roses as liberators, at least we can rest assured that the people who started the war got something out of it. No, I'm not referring to no bid contracts for Halliburton and Chevron, silly. That's hardly breaking news! I'm talking about something even better! TOTALLY AWESOME SOUVENIRS for Bush and Cheney. These are the types of souvenirs that literally have Bush and Cheney's names on them. If I didn't know better I'd think they were custom made! It turns out The moribund Vice- President keeps a piece of the house where Abu Musab al Zarqawi died on display in his house. I can only assume this piece complements Cheney's already lovely collection of architectural details of the dead, which Lyn proudly displays on the family mantle. And our cow-boots wearing, tough talking* Commander in Chief has his own "wish you were here" souvenir: a pistol U.S.soldiers pulled out of Saddam Hussein's hands, when he was liberated from his spider hole, a perfect addition to Bush's growing cowboy dress-up collection, which no longer fits in the Lincoln Bedroom.

.

If a Politician Gives a Speech, and Nobody's There to Believe...

The President delivered a State of the Union
but nobody believed a word he said,
...& it's as though the Address never happened.

A candidate ran on nothing
other than fear and the phrase "9/11,"
...& it's as though Rudy 9iu11ani never existed.

A party doesn't stand for anything
so its candidates duck, dodge & dig up dirt
...& McCain & Romney are just white noise.

But Obama & Clinton -- who'd both been criticized
for not standing by convictions with actions or votes
-- both showed up for the domestic spying fight in DC
(while McCain stayed on the campaign trail)
...and their supporters, and the nation, noticed.

And Edwards, in dropping out, made one last case
for the candidates to pledge to combat poverty...
& left the race having had impact on it.

A reminder to all: stand for what you believe in,
or else the American people will be leaving.

And a warning: if a politician gives a speech
& nobody's there to believe, does it make a sound?

Ask 9iu11iani...he's now got the time to answer.

Raise a glass to the ideas Edwards raised
& down a pint to the downfall of Rudy
as you share ideas and a couple pitchers
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.