Oscars Combat: Dirty Wars vs. The Act of Killing

Obama is gonna get verbally fricasseed by Jeremy Scahill if “Dirty Wars” wins the Oscar for Best Documentary.

But it won’t win. “The Act of Killing” will. Because “The Act of Killing” is a portrait of humanity’s badness that crawls inside your mind like an alien spider, laying eggs there that take forever to hatch.

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This is the second battle in The Flip Side’s Oscars Combat series. Previously, we hashed out who should win for Best Supporting Actress. Click here for that. It’s short. Next will be Leto vs. Fassbender. 

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There’s an old ex-reporter in “The Act of Killing,” whose blatant B.S. gets smacked down. As I watched it I wondered what life will be like when lazy, incurious hacks like Chuck Todd (NBC News White House correspondent) and his ubiquitous ilk are one day pretending they didn’t willfully ignore the most important story of Obama’s terms.

Quick background. “The Act of Killing” takes place in Indonesia, where the military overthrew the government in 1965 and began killing anyone it labeled “communist.” At least a million people died. The film’s director, Joshua Oppenheimer, asks some of the most prolific killers from that time—Anwar Congo murdered roughly 1,000 people, many by strangling with wire—to reenact the killings for their own movie. The result is surreal and disturbing. Anwar has a physical on-screen reckoning at the end of the film. I still can’t get it out of my head.

The part I want to talk about here, though, involves a man who was a reporter during the massacres. Between takes where they recreate an interrogation scene, he talks with one of the killers while Oppenheimer’s camera rolls.

“I declare I never saw anything,” the old ex-reporter says. “Now, seeing your reenactment, I realize you were so smooth that even me, a journalist with such sharp senses, I never knew!”

“I’m surprised,” the former mass killer says, his eyes almost rolling. “Because we didn’t hide what we were doing. If you didn’t know, I’d be shocked.”

“I didn’t.”

“We were in the same office and we didn’t hide it.”

“I never knew.” There are a few awkward beats and the old ex-reporter continues: “You were so smooth, and I rarely went up to your office.”

Then Oppenheimer speaks from behind the camera, which he doesn’t do more than a few times in this film, but even he can’t take it. “Your publisher directed the torture,” Oppenheimer says.

“No!” the ex-reporter says.

Oppenheimer: “He said so himself.”

“That’s not true!”

“He and the other leaders decided who was killed,” Oppenheimer says.

Then the former killer chimes back in: “Look, I’m not calling you a liar, but logically. . .” He starts talking to Oppenheimer and the camera. “But this man, a journalist distancing himself from these things . . . that’s predictable. But logically, we didn’t hide. How could he not know? Even the neighbors knew! Hundreds were killed. It was an open secret.”

That is predictable.

Now let’s jump to “Dirty Wars.” Jeremy Scahill is the main character in the movie, an investigative reporter followed by cameras as he digs into the killing of innocent Middle Easterners by US bombs and paramilitary commandos.

Scahill goes first to Gardez, Afghanistan. An old man with dark, angry eyes tells him about a night raid. “My son, my other son, my daughter-in-law, and my granddaughter, all killed on a single day by American soldiers. In the attack, two women who were pregnant were killed.”

“I didn’t want to live anymore,” says another man — eyes, likewise, dark and colorless — who was taken prisoner by the US and whose wife, sister and niece were killed. “I wanted to wear a suicide jacket and blow myself up among the Americans, but my brother and my father wouldn’t let me.”

The Americans told the survivors they had intel that 50 Taliban were hiding out there. This was beyond untrue — the slain were pro-American, and some had even fought with the Americans against the Taliban.

The movie starts with that raid. Scahill wants to figure out why the people in Gardez were attacked. His investigation spirals into the stratosphere when he looks into other attacks on innocent villages. As he’s digging, there are shots fired within earshot. Back home in America, he is threatened by government officials who don’t like his stories.

The film flashes back to clips of Scahill when he was on the news-show circuit promoting his book “Blackwater,” about private contractors who got into shootouts in war zones. In one scene, Scahill goes on Bill Maher’s HBO show and faces down Chuck Todd, the aforementioned NBC White House correspondent.

“Journalists have done nothing to hold the White House accountable now, Chuck, or under Bush.”

Then Jay Leno, who was also a panelist that episode, interrupts to ask Scahill “Why are you still alive? Are you paranoid? I’m serious.”

Todd and almost everyone on TV and the internet who cover Obama are in Washington DC daily, and the stories they deem most important always involve what Democrats and Republicans say about each other.

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Are the latest complaints about Obamacare bigger than this: One of the poorest tribes in Southern Yemen was bombed by American forces who claimed there was an Al Qaeda training base there. There was no base. Forty-six people, many women and children, died. A local Yemeni reporter investigating the bombing was locked in prison. When he appeared in court, his teeth had been pulled and he had scars on his chest. (Also, his lawyer’s offices were attacked.) When public outcry mounted over the reporter’s imprisonment, the president of Yemen agreed to set him free. Then he got a phone call from Obama, directly. Obama convinced the president to keep the reporter imprisoned. White House records, available online, prove that Obama called Yemen to keep the reporter locked up.

Chuck Todd will one day deny he ever knew the president was bombing children and keeping innocent reporters locked in jail to be abused.

Or killing a 16-year-old American teenager who went to look for his father, the American anti-American Anwar Al-Awlaki. Obama drone-bombed Al-Awlaki, and was happy to brag about that one. He did not ever explain his decision to subsequently drone bomb Al-Awlaki’s son. Does the son have to die so he can’t avenge the father, like “Godfather II”?

If the president of the United States killed an innocent American teenager because he feared vendetta, that’s a big story. Except it isn’t. Debt ceilings and state dinners are, if you’re the NBC White House correspondent.

“Even me, a journalist with such sharp senses, I never knew!”

Scahill speaks with Al-Awlaki’s father before the drone bombings, when he was trying to get the US Justice Department to explain how it could legally justify killing Al-Awlaki. Then he speaks to the father again, after his son and grandson are dead. His eyes are completely different. They’ve gone dark, like the survivors in Gardez.

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“Dirty Wars” is more important than “The Act of Killing.” It’s a work of astonishing journalism, investigating one of the most important stories in the world—the killing and imprisonment of innocents, ordered by the president and covered up by Congress and mainstream American media.

“The Act of Killing,” though, is psychological superart. At the beginning of the film, Anwar Congo is literally dancing the cha cha on a site where he personally executed hundreds of people he knows did not deserve to die. Over the course of the movie we watch him try to recreate with costumes and makeup the ghost that haunts him when he attempts to sleep each night. He describes the one victim he can’t stop picturing (“All I could think about was why didn’t I close his eyes?”). We watch him put on zombie makeup and gangster clothes and act out the end of his victims’ lives, and almost totally break down. We watch him dry heave, in a futile attempt to expel demons.

I kept putting off writing this blog. Both these films really messed with me. In “Dirty Wars” you see a dead baby in the aftermath of the bombing in Yemen. Its little body gets held up for the camera by a furious family member. In “The Act of Killing,” confessed mass murderers brag about how gangster they are (“gangster” means “free man,” they explain over and over) and describe how they switched from beheadings to wire strangulations because they tired of smelling and cleaning so much blood. An elaborate dance number includes choreographed belly dancing, Anwar in a black robe, another gangster in skin-tight neon drag, and actors as massacre victims thanking their killers.

I saw the nutzo dance number at the beginning and end of “The Act of Killing” as a representation of just how insane it is to try and justify killing innocent people.

I wish Superman hadn’t killed Zod at the end of “Man of Steel.” The ending to the last (fantastic) episode of “Sherlock” really bothers me now.

I hope there’s a tie for Best Documentary. Can that happen? I hope there’s a tie, but Scahill gets to talk more than Oppenheimer at the podium.

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“Elysium”: Cyborg Sci-Fi

There is an evil maniac cyborg named Kruger in “Elysium.” He has robot arms, spine, and torso like Matt Damon, but he also has soldier training, a sword, and guns that shoot bombs that change direction mid-air and stick to guys. Kruger even has a pair of loyal minions for Damon to fight before their ultimate good-versus-evil showdown.

Except Kruger isn’t the real evil in “Elysium.” He’s the spice, but not the meat. The real evil of “Elysium” is society. This gets to the essence of what science fiction is, and why “Elysium” is great.images

Science fiction has a function. Consider “1984.” In June, Americans learned of a top-secret government surveillance program called “PRISM,” which allows the National Security Agency to monitor Americans’ electronic communications. This has been a scandal. Not so much of a scandal, but still relevant here, is what’s happening presently in the tiny country Yemen. The United States has bombed Yemen at least nine times in less than two weeks.

I swear I don’t bring this up because I’m a liberal know-it-all complainer. I bring this up because of “1984.” When the news about PRISM leaked, sales of George Orwell’s sci-fi classic increased 4,000 percent. Which makes sense. Orwell’s book is about a dystopian future in which people live under an oppressive surveillance state perpetually at war.

We don’t live under the thumb of Big Brother. Our old newspapers are not being revised to change history. But science fiction takes place in the future for a reason. Orwell wasn’t saying, “This is what you’re doing.” He was saying “This is what’s going to happen if you keep doing what you’re doing.” He’s presenting the follow-through.

“Elysium” takes place 150 years in the future. The rich have left Earth and live on a vast, beautiful space station called Elysium. They have machines that quickly cure any sickness, including cancer. Meanwhile, Earth is a slum of unpaved roads and junked skyscrapers. The parents of mortally sick children will sometimes pay a futuristic coyote-type dude to send them to Elysium on “undocumented ships,” so they can try to find a health-care machine. The trip is incredibly dangerous, though, because missile security on Elysium is tight and powerful.

I have never forgotten this quote by Walt Minnick in an episode of the podcast “This American Life” called “Take the Money and Run for Congress”: “We pay—old people, young people, people needing a new cancer drug—pay eight or 10 times as much in America as they do in any other country. And that is directly a function of the amount of money the pharmaceutical industry has poured into congressional campaigns of members of both parties.”

And then there’s this, from the New York Times: “The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development this year warned about the ‘negative consequences’ of the country’s high levels of pay inequality. . . . The concentration of income in the hands of the rich might not just mean a more unequal society, economists believe. It might mean less stable economic expansions and sluggish growth.”

And what might that mean if nothing changes over the next 150 years?

(When I was on the corruption beat at Independent Source PAC last year, I wrote about an education study out of Arizona State University: “In the USA if you scale states from those that are more equal in income distribution (for example Utah, New Hampshire and Iowa) to those that are much more unequal in the distribution of income (for example Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi) a strong trend appears. Dropout rates are much higher in the more unequal states (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010). Poverty and a lack of hope for a good future take their toll on youth in the more unequal states and students drop out of school at high rates. This costs our society a great deal of money through increased need for public assistance by these youth, the loss of tax revenues from their work, and the higher likelihood of their incarceration. Inequality and the poverty that accompanies it take a terrible toll.”)

This is not a fun topic. If fact, I may be typing these words for no one, since I can totally imagine a reader saying “Dude, I thought this was about ‘Elysium,’ not liberal bullshit.” If you’re still reading, many thanks.

But this is where we get back to the cyborgs. “Elysium” has a message about health-care greed and income inequality, but it also has cyborgs fighting robots. It has amazing weapons and a truly memorable, crazy villain. The director Neill Blomkamp is a master of staging sci-fi action, and he obviously wants the experience of watching this movie to be an entertaining one-and-a-half hours for his audience.

In that sense, “Elysium” succeeds wonderfully. Matt Damon makes an awesome unlikely cyborg action hero.

But then amidst the rousing technical thrills is a message. “Elysium” artfully expresses where society might be headed if income inequality swells unchecked for the next century and a half. We can consider what it has to say, or we can just watch Matt Damon parry sword strikes and throw desperate hydraulic-driven punches into the crazed face of Kruger. Either way, “Elysium” is great. Taken as a whole, it’s an amazing work of science fiction.

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“Fruitvale Station” and Real Fear

The Nine Inch Nails concert in Albuquerque had just ended and I was being suffocated by a security guard. It was a sleeper hold, arms around my neck from behind. Panic was kicking in. I didn’t know it was security, I just knew I’d been grabbed and couldn’t breathe. I tried and failed to say something like “Stop.” My legs flailed and my arms couldn’t get an angle on whoever was behind me. I felt like a helpless, dying animal.

This incident was not really an “incident.” It was a blip. Fifteen seconds in a privileged life. A friend and I were shoving each other and wrestling on our way out of the venue, because we’re morons who’d been putting down beers for two hours while rocking out to NIN. I suspect security grabbed us because that’s protocol. They’re probably supposed to stop a scrap as quickly as possible.

But in the moment I did not think it was fair he’d choked me so hard. I said so, loudly. He had his mustache and his bright yellow shirt tucked in and his commando boots and his utility belt and he did not give a f*ck how I felt. My face was puffed red. His face wore supreme confidence, eyes dead-certain. “Shut up,” he said, “and go.”

You cannot mess with police. You cannot talk back to security guards. They have authority, and authority gives them righteous power.

Too bad the dynamic’s gotten deadly.

. . .

“Fruitvale Station” is a new movie about a real incident that happened in Oakland on New Year’s Day, 2009. A 22-year-old man named Oscar Grant got into a skirmish on the BART train and was pulled off by security guards. The guards were being filmed as they argued with Grant and his friends. One of the security guys pushed Oscar to the ground, and then shot him. He would later say he meant to use his taser. He was released after 11 months in prison. Oscar died.

Security guards have authority, which gives them righteous power.

The film begins with the real-life cell phone footage, then follows Oscar on that New Year’s Day up until the shooting. He took his young daughter to school. He went to his old job to try and get rehired. He dumped a bag of weed into the ocean. He pets a pit bull at a gas station, and has to scoop the dog out of the street when it’s hit by a car that speeds away. There is a flashback where his mother visits him in jail.

That visit winds up being important. So does his mom’s request that Oscar and his friends ride the BART that night instead of driving, since they would be drinking. She was just being a good mother, and her mothering contributed to a timeline leading to the killing of her son by an armed security guard.

“I’ve got a daughter.” They’re the first words Oscar utters after the bullet is fired into his back. When he dies in the hospital, this is where the movie takes us:

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. . .

My wife is very pregnant right now. It’s our first.

I don’t understand whether or not we’re supposed to teach kids to stick up for themselves. I don’t think people should fight, but sometimes they do. It just is. We humans are a species of animal on this planet, right? Animals fight, for whatever reason.

Guns change everything though.

I don’t want my kid to fight, ever. Not because fighting is wrong. Fighting is not necessarily wrong. I don’t want my kid to fight because the other party may be armed.

There are lessons I’ll pass on. How to tie a shoelace. Cowboys suck. The difference between “your” and “you’re.” I think I’ll also have to say, at some point, “Please always choose to walk away.” I would rather raise a child who fights, literally, for what’s right. But now that’s too scary. “Don’t fight anyone,” I’ll say. Because guns are everywhere.

But it gets worse. “Don’t talk back to authority,” I’ll also say (hypocritically). “If a cop or a security guard is hassling you, for whatever reason, stay calm and let it happen. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the right. It doesn’t matter if it’s unfair. You’re not going to convince someone with a badge that he is in the wrong, even if that person is supposed to be protecting you.”

A running theme on this blog has been my own deep frustrations with corruption in New Mexico’s government. I think it matters, big-picture, when people like Gov. Susana Martinez misuse authority and power for their own selfish means. The system doesn’t work if parts of it are rotten. When government doesn’t manage itself properly, that negatively affects normal people. Anger spreads. Tensions are high out there.

Don’t talk back to a cop, ever, because a cop has authority, and that authority grants righteous power. That’s my advise. It’s too bad nothing, not even heartfelt advise from a parent, can keep someone safe anymore.

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From the New York Times yesterday: Anthony D. Weiner’s improbable campaign for mayor was engulfed on Tuesday by a new scandal involving explicit online messages, imperiling his political resurrection two years after he resigned from Congress over similar behavior.

He texted pictures of his d*ck. He’d already resigned Congress in disgrace because he Tweeted d*ck shots. Not even that long ago. He just had his first kid, so is he pulling a Michael Corleone while he indulges his creepy compulsion? What about the kid?

You can at least picture in your head how a politician and a subordinate wind up having scandalous sex. They’re in a room really close to each other. They flirt. They give in and grab on. Seen it a million times in the movies. But I cannot picture how someone does what Weiner does. Is he hesitating? Does he look at his boner, and then look at the camera phone, and then back at his boner? And then he reaches out with one hand, but the other hand pulls the first hand back? Does he punch up a girl’s number quick and hit send? Or does he scroll through his contacts to pick one on the fly? Is he stopping to stare at his phone and the picture and thinking to himself “Oh man, I should not be doing this”?

His wife was at his press conference today, looking sad. I told you to get a phone with no camera.

I’ve been listening to a book called “This Town” during my glorious Santa Fe commute into work. It’s all about the schmoozing suck-up culture of Washington D.C. politics. The political class is obsessed with parties and banquettes and fundraisers. Book deals for millions. No-pressure “campaign adviser” jobs, or a gig as a cable news opinion sayer. The press corps wants to join in the luxury, because they love living large too. They also get huge book deals.

We started losing this country when the freaks took over. These are supposed to be boring jobs with lots of responsibility. Instead it’s reality TV.

Gov. Susana Martinez wouldn’t talk about child welfare after New Mexico dropped to last in that category, but she will talk about her dogs dying. She’s giving jobs away to friends like Darren White and ordering thousands of dollars in exercise equipment on the taxpayers’ dime. She’s in Aspen this week to raise money from lobbyists, and I’m betting the trip will include at least one “Eyes Wide Shut” sex party.

Weiner isn’t some extraordinary case. They’re all like him. Gov. Martinez is the same thing: a politician. They’re f*cked-up weirdos, and we give them power.

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When Reporters Really, Really Hate Their Jobs

Reporters are making residents in Newtown miserable. Check out this quote from Jonny Dymond of the BBC:

“British outlets alone must have sent 100 people to this tiny place. And the American networks and cable news channels must each have sent dozens of staff here, for their news bulletins and their programmes; CNN has rolled from Newtown pretty much non-stop since the massacre. On the networks, programme after programme has been anchored from the town.”

There are signs going up that say “no media.” “Go home, please, go home, all of you,” Dymond said he was told. “It’s unbearable. What do you all want? I know four or five of the families who lost kids and it’s too much for them, with all the media here. What do you all want?”

Everyone should know it’s the bosses who make this happen, not the reporters. My experiences are nothing compared to Newtown, but they’re relevant. In 2008, a bunch of freshman football players at Robertson High School were sexually abused by upperclassmen at a summer football camp. Some were raped with broomsticks. Every single day we had ediors telling us we had to get another story in the paper, insisting we check in with family members or anyone else directly affected by the incident.

I went to a football practice at Robertson and sat next to a big, older guy in the bleachers who was watching practice with his arms folded. He kept them folded as he looked at me with hatred in his eyes and said “Now why would I want to talk to you about that? I don’t think you should be here.”

A year later, a car accident involving alcohol killed four Santa Fe teenagers. I attended several memorial services, seeking out criers. I would tell them who I worked for, ask if they would answer some questions, and hate myself for it.

Again, we had to have heavy, heavy coverage of major tragedies, because the bosses demanded it. We have so much news media now and the people who decide what to cover make stories like Newtown a priority and hand out horrible marching orders to reporters.

Reporters are fighting with their bosses to get off this story, I’m certain. They want to step away and let it breathe and let the families and that community grieve. But reporters don’t win those fights. They’re told to get more quotes for more stories, and they do it because they need their jobs.

Which sucks, because politics is so corrupt at every level. If CNN covered THAT nonstop, you would see some positive systemic change instead of seeing a battered community begging to be left alone.

A Tale of Political Madness for Election Day, Illustrated by El Machete

Our street dead-ends at a sprawling dog park with miles of hiking trails. It’s glorious unless you suddenly realize you’ve misplaced your pooch. Like an O.G. Santa Fean, I was Five-Finger jogging through the sandy canyon in the center of the park. Then I turned and realized my dog wasn’t behind me. I felt worried after 10 minutes, scared after 30. I spent an hour trekking up and down the entire huge park, calling my dog’s name and describing her build (medium) and color (butterscotch) to strangers. My mind started spinning. Where could she have gone? What would I tell my wife? Could an animal have attacked? Did someone take her? Her tags jingle when she runs, and she always yelps when she’s hurt. I clenched my ears and heard neither jingle nor yelp.

The day before this happened, the first issue of a free print magazine I wrote and edited called “The Candle” debuted with a 20,000-copy run. The mag has TV and movie reviews, but it mostly features informed hit pieces on Gov. Susana Martinez and her staff. Much of “The Candle” is devoted to Jay McCleskey, the governor’s campaign guru whom she calls her top adviser. His job is running political action committees which raise millions of dollars to spend on creating attack ads against candidates who oppose the governor’s agenda. That agenda could be described – with gross over-simplification – as consisting of two main items: holding back third graders who fail a literacy test and repealing the law in New Mexico allowing illegal immigrants to get drivers licenses.

I’ve written about McCleskey here before. That post was a long, unfunny joke about how McCleskey might send goons to kick my ass or worse. I’m not really afraid of anyone in politics, because they’re in politics and because I’m strapped. If you see me around town, you’ll notice I wear an assault rifle and a samurai sword, holstered and sheathed in a big “X” across my back. Flip Side Phil don’t leave home without his big “X.” Bear arms, baby. Grrrowl.

That isn’t true. What is true is that an anonymous stranger, who left the name “Jay’s Victim,” commented on that blog post to say, in part, “you should be afraid.” I had a short email exchange with Jay’s Victim, and since I still don’t know who he is I won’t reprint much of what he said, except this: “if you pop up on his radar as an enemy, i don’t think there are any lines he won’t cross.”

So “The Candle” comes out. The paper calls McCleskey a “goon” and asserts that he spins made-up, half-thought propaganda into voting power, and “undermines how democracy is supposed to work.” One article includes this line: “Republican operatives can be as dumb and dishonest as they want.” (It was labeled “Commentary.”) (The headline was “Don’t Let Stupid Affect Your Vote.”) The next day, I’m running in the park with my dog and she disappears. Could McCleskey have some Super-PAC thug tailing me, waiting for the right moment to snatch my innocent little Butterscotch Princess? Am I going to get her head delivered to me in a box, with a note that says “Your next,” (“Your” because McCleskey’s attack mailers are notorious for misspellings and bad grammar)?

Wait! Did you hear that?

I got fired one year ago this month from the Albuquerque Journal newspaper, for writing a letter to congressional spokesmen demanding an “email duel” over their 9-percent approval rating. (You can read it here.) I did not want to be fired, and when the ax came down in that morning meeting with the paper’s editor-in-chief – the first time we’d ever talked – I felt a naked kind of white-person terror that comes with suddenly losing health insurance and a regular paycheck. I had naively presumed the worst-case scenario for sending that letter was a tongue lashing. Instead, I was suddenly unemployed.

My fists wouldn’t unball as I was escorted to human resources for a post-firing debrief. Red eyes running, I interrupted the woman who was explaining COBRA and said I needed to leave immediately but would call later. I’d been fired for trying to write a column about how congress could justify the lousy job it was doing. Whoops. It was such a mistake.

Within a week, I got a phone call from a union-powered Super PAC called Independent Source PAC. It is a very small group of left-leaning shit-storm-stirrers, with the hard-core investigation skills to follow campaign donations through doors I thought were closed (or didn’t even know were doors). ISPAC digs up dirt no one is supposed to find, dirt that gets politicians into trouble. What ISPAC needed, though, was a writer.

We dug deep into the Downs Deal, a 25-year state-fair lease awarded to Louisiana businessmen who have donated at least $70,000 to McCleskey’s PACs. The deal is reportedly worth more than $1 billion over those 25 years. “The financial contributions by Racino owners to political heavyweights are substantial and the entire gaming industry is directly controlled by appointees placed there by the Governor. The tenets of good government are nowhere to be found.” That’s Charlotte Rode, a Republican appointed by Martinez to the State Fair Commission, talking about the Downs deal.

ISPAC worked to uncover what happened, and what happened is an apparently rigged evaluation, a 300-out-of-300 score for “management expertise” awarded by an evaluator who’d been hired by the governor against the advice of a long-serving State-Fair official who wound up resigning over the deal after 16 years on the New Mexico Board of Finance. (He was also a Republican.) A 300-out-of-300 score for management expertise, to a company on probation with the New Mexico Racing Commission for not paying purse money… to a company who had to be ordered by the EPA last year to clean up giant mounds of horse poop that were seeping into the Rio Grande.

The deal went through after the Downs barely outscored another bidder in evaluations. Martinez’s donors will make a lot of money off it.

When the governor’s chief of staff, Keith Gardner, was caught on tape saying “That’s why I never use my state email… I don’t want to go to court or jail,” ISPAC helped make the recording public and then begged many news outlets to run the story. (They were reluctant, for mysterious reasons.) Last year, Gardner’s wife got a $67,000 job at the Public Education Department after the job requirements were changed to make her the lone applicant of five finalists who qualified. On the “don’t want to go to court” tape, Gardner actually offers his friend a job running the State Fairgrounds! Government can’t create jobs… for outsiders?

Gardner, it turned out, was right to worry about his emails. He was involved in a string of private-email conversations with other members of the governor’s staff and a lawyer for the Downs. ISPAC obtained those private emails and outed them. Government officials are not supposed to use private email for public business, and these messages seemed to demonstrate that the lawyer was ordering Martinez’s staff around during the evaluation process. (The lawyer also made a lot of bad jokes, including one that got him fired, about the governor dishonoring Col. Custer by attending a tribal leaders summit.)

We even helped get the word out when a young woman who lobbies for public schools accused Gardner of grabbing her arm in an “extremely threatening manner.” The woman said Gardner yelled at her that “the bowels of hell were about to open up upon” her boss if he didn’t get behind the governor’s education agenda.

Ah yes, education. It’s been a mini mission of mine to understand education policy for my ISPAC writing. I covered Santa Fe’s schools for the Journal, and while there’s a lot of minutia in the education beat – on issues like funding formulas – there’s also a lot of soul. I’ve seen parents, teachers and students all crying at school-board meetings, over things like councilor case loads and small-school closures to save money. School board members’ jobs are mostly boring, but shrinking money resources force these people to grapple with huge questions, like how important art is to a young child’s education.

The governor has hired a Public Education Department cabinet secretary who is obsessed with teacher evaluations and letter grades for each individual school. Both are based on standardized test results, and here’s what I’ve learned from research: Children who come from poor households are terrible at tests because their brains are harmed by the out-of-school stress that comes with living in poverty. If you’re homeless, your mom or dad does drugs, you’re hungry all the time, the kids in your neighborhood are trying to recruit you into a gang… these things are a direct, demonstrable reason for plummeting test scores. Study after study – the ones I find come from college professors – have shown this. Government has a role in fixing education, but it requires community-based programs like parent training, and an approach to reforms that doesn’t involve more testing.

When schools are bad so is the state, because education hugely impacts the economy. Yet the governor plows onward with a reform agenda science says won’t work. And third-grade retention? Here’s one of those studies, from the regents professor of education at Arizona State: “Research is quite clear that on average, students left back do not improve as much as do students who are allowed to advance to a higher grade with their age mates.” He says the state should do what rich parents do, and put the money we’d spend on an extra school year for the student into tutoring and after-school opportunities instead.

I have tried, repeatedly and obnoxiously, to engage the PED in a debate about what works best for children. The subject is actually fascinating when you get away from funding formulas. At first they wouldn’t talk to me because of who I work for. Now they won’t talk to me because I bash them on the internet for being opaque and corrupt and kinda evil. The newspapers, meanwhile, don’t seem interested in asking how the governor’s approach accounts for poverty, or what reasoning or specific research helped state authorities decide holding back slow-reading third graders and assigning grades to schools were worth-while reforms.

My point is this: Government is a fantasy land populated with opportunists and liars. The inmates have escaped the asylums and learned to win elections. I’ve been watching in angry awe. Susana Martinez was a district attorney and now she is a governor. Both jobs are paid for with tax money, yet she doesn’t blink in claiming the government can’t create jobs. When she had an opportunity to lower the overall corporate tax rate in New Mexico by signing a bill that closed a tax loophole allowing corporations like Best Buy to avoid paying a state tax that’s assessed to local companies like Baillos, she vetoed the measure because it would hurt job creators. Government is never closing loopholes.

My dog was waiting at home. She’d wandered up a hill, down our street and into our driveway, alone the whole way. She was waiting for me when I arrived back home panicked. She was fine, wagging her stupid tail.

I’m not fine, though. Watching politics up close has jacked up my mind. Government should be manned by big-hearted idealists who want to harness their Constitutional powers to collaborate and make our state a stronger, better place. Instead it’s become a sick game, a professional sport where egomania substitutes for athleticism. Having no soul is like being able to run a 4.3 40-yard-dash. Jay McCleskey gets donations to his Super PAC at a quarter-million bucks per clip, from oil companies and casino moguls. Then he creates commercials accusing Democrats of “siding with child killers.”

These greedy lunatics lie to get elected, then use their power to benefit themselves and their friends. Politics sucks. It makes me angry and it makes me crazy. Happy election day.

Republican National Convention Party at The Flip Side

Put on this party hat and crack a warm Steel Reserve. It’s the RNC on MSNBC! Take me to heaven, Ed and Rachel.

Chris Matthews gets us started by dropping an adorable Spielberg reference: “(It’s) like E.T. phoning home. When Romney’s in a room with Ryan, his heart starts to blow- to glow. He seems to wake up in a way he never does when he’s not around.” That’s how everyone acts around Ryan, dummy. Look at him.

Chris kicks the coverage to Andrea Mitchell, who becomes mortified within moments: “This is definitely a Ryan crowd. This is the base and they’re about to do the national anthem, so we have the color guard. And I think, uh…”

She drops to a whisper, because Sen. Scott Brown’s daughter has begun singing the anthem. “… I think it’s hard for us to talk about this, during the national anthem. Uh. Chris. But. If you could come back to me in a just a moment, let’s take a quick break.”

Isn’t that perfect? Can you picture the Republicans who hate MSNBC standing around watching a reporter from that channel talk into her microphone during the “Star Spangled Banner”? She was terrified in that moment.

Ezra Klein will talk over the anthem. He can do that, because he’s in a TV studio. “Pretty much everything you think you know about Paul Ryan’s budget is wrong.” He says Ryan’s budget doesn’t lower taxes or cut the deficit. It barely touches Medicare, for old people, but it takes a huge bite from Medicaid, for poor people (which is not politically difficult). It leaves social security alone and then shreds everything else, like veterans benefits and education. Can he cut enough of those extra services to make up for massive tax cuts to multimillionaires? Ryan says yes, without providing a specific.

Laurence O’Donnell says we’ve never had a candidate for president who exploits tax shelters like Romney. No regular people have money stashed on islands to avoid paying taxes, Laurence said. He wrote the epic debate episode of “The West Wing,” so I’m gonna choose to believe everything he says.

Mitch McConnell is scary looking.

These MSNBC guys really do get fired up over Republicans. Chris Hayes is pissed about Rand Paul’s speech. “Here’s a guy that says ‘The reason my ancestors came to America, it is a place you can be judged on merit and not who you are. This is the son of a United States congressman who has no plausible case that he would be a United States senator BUT FOR THE FACT THAT HE HAS INHERITED ALL OF THIS PRIVILEGE IN THIS LAST NAME, talking about what a great meritocratic experiment America is. This person who was born on third base – like Mitt Romney, like George Bush – appropriating the story of other people’s social mobility to make his case for why America is a meritocracy as he stands up there, completely without acknowledgement of his own privilege. Remarkable.” That you said that so well is remarkable, bro. Way to talk in capital letters.

The Reverend Al Sharpton thinks this is “a 21st-century version of the Civil War all over again.” He does not like the state’s-rights argument, because Civil Rights came through federal action. “If someone breaks in my house and wants to turn the clock back, I don’t care if they’re 12 years old or 70.” Rand Paul is a Young Gun, along with fellow Rough Riders Eric Cantor and dreamy veepstakes winner Paul Ryan. Get on board.

Ron Paul’s fans have been booing Republicans like maniacs.

W. didn’t show, but he sent a video tribute to himself, with Laura saying “I’m so proud of George.” H.W. talks in the video, too, about his son: “Integrity. Honesty. There was never any kind of scandal around his presidency. And I think we forget the importance of that. They’ll remember him for being a good, honest president who got a lot of things done, but the thing I take pride in is his integrity.” Barbara cries. Bush segues to an endorsement of Romney. Slow piano music has been playing over this whole thing.

Karl Rove disciple Steve Schmidt (played by Woody Harrelson in the awesome HBO Sarah-Palin slam “Game Change”) is an MSNBC pundit now, and he takes issue with Ed Schultz saying W. lied about why we went to war with Iraq. The way these guys debate each other on-the-spot, live, is pretty cool. Schmidt says the notion Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction “is complete and total nonsense.” Schmidt’s cohosts take turns yelling at him. Hayes is rattling off death-toll figures and says “There still has to be accountability in the basic conscience and soul of the people that oversaw that, whether or not you think it was deliberate.”

McCaaaaaaaaain!!!! Mitt makes me actually miss John McCain. He calls Romney “my friend” at the start of his speech, but check out this line from Game Change (the book): McCain routinely called Romney an ‘*sshole’ and a ‘f*cking phoney.’  Guiliani opined, ‘that guy will say anything.’  Huckabee complained, ‘I don’t think Romney has a soul.’

I added those asterisks, because they make it more funny.

Did anyone see the new “Bourne” flick? This reporter from The Guardian (a newspaper in England) gets sniped by the CIA in a busy terminal because he was getting too close to finding out about our super-soldier brainwashing program. The Washington Post, meanwhile, happily helps the American government cover up its killings by running planted, made-up stories. Lesson!

McCain wants us to go to war with Syria. Bad.

Are we ready for a robust debate in this country on military intervention and foreign policy? The question is posed, but duh.

New Mexico’s Gov. Susana Martinez is yet to speak, but she’s on at some point tonight. She got higher billing than the last presidential nominee. 505! Take a hike, prisoner of war! We got demographics to target.

The way Republicans attack Obama as a big spender comes back on them with these MSNBC guys. They take turns making points about how much bigger the deficit got under Bush 2. Says Chris Hayes: “They were just running the country for six years, and then the last two (years) Democrats took over the House. How did they run the country during that period of time? It’s not an abstract, theoretical question. They actually ran government, and they did not shrink government. Government as a percentage of GDP, the federal government as a percentage of GDP, did not go down. They want to frame this as this massive ideological choice between smaller government and bigger government. It is about who the government will benefit. I guarantee you, if they are running the show, we’re gonna see massive deficits again.”

The Founding Fathers “lived under the boot of big-government,” Mike Huckabee tells the horde, apparently cool now with Romney’s lack of a soul. Like we have her now? And what does Obama do? “He tells people of faith that they have to bow their knees to the god of government.” Oh yeah, I forgot about that time he did that. Obama also finds “human life to be disposable and expendable, even beyond the womb.” Beyond the womb?

Condoleezza Rice kills it, but fortunately I’m watching this on DVR and I can fast-forward through most of her speech. I think there’s a bunch of lipstick on her teeth.

Gov. Martinez is on right before Paul Ryan. 505! Her speech is good, but it’s also a little creepy. Two sentences stand out to me: “Despite what some would have us believe, success is not built on resentment and fear.” Then, “Success is the American dream, and that success is not something to be ashamed of or to demonize.”

Who disputes that?! God dammit…. (For more on Martinez, check out Independent Source PAC’s website, where I get paid to write stuff like this. Not well, but still.)

Paul Ryan’s up now. He’s an even better looking version of the horn-dog governor candidate Zajac on “Boss” (where Kelsey Grammar plays the murderous mayor of Chicago). Women who find power sexy have got to be throwing themselves at Ryan like they’re in a body spray commercial. If Romney wins the election, the Awesome Sex Scandal Countdown Clock starts running on his veep.

“When Gov. Romney asked me to join this ticket I said ‘Let’s get this done,’ and that is exactly what we are going to do.” Ryan gives little stabs with his finger when he says this, and then the camera cuts to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, villain of labor unions. Walker is looking up at the vice presidential candidate, a single tear rolling down his cheek. A tear.

Scott Walker just ruined our party, but man can he play this game.

Rushbo: Talent… on loan… from GOD

I listen to Rush Limbaugh sometimes. I admit it. He’s crazy, and I find it entertaining. I also like to argue about this political stuff all the time, and if you’re going to beat something you have to understand it first.

Limbaugh says liberals hate America and want to destroy it. He says Obama intentionally ruined the economy. He once said Obama’s big motivation was “forced reparations.” When a white kid got beat up by a bunch of black kids on a school bus, Limbaugh blamed that on Obama too.

Lately, he’s been calling a woman who wants insurance companies to cover contraception a “slut.” He said if taxpayers are paying for her birth control, she should put sex tapes on the internet for all of us to watch.

Advertisers hightailed away from him over the last week because of what he said. I’ll never hear Limbaugh say again what the “sleep number” is on his mattress.

Because he’s been in the news this weekend, I listened to the beginning of his show today, curious.

Two if by Tea remains his sponsor. That’s the first thing he says today.

“While I have your attention, give me 30 minutes here. It’s all I ask, and then you can do what you want.”

Ok. Preach to me, Rush. Tell me why I’m evil.

Limbaugh issued an apology over the weekend to the woman he called slut, Sandra Fluke. It was quite strange to hear this man had apologized for something.

He’s explaining why he apologized. The theories he’s read “on all sides” are wrong. He doesn’t expect morality and intellectual honesty from the left. “They demonstrate over and over a willingness to do anything to advance their agenda.” In fighting them on this issue last week, he says, he became like them.

“Against everything I know to be right and wrong, I descended to their level when I used those two words (slut and prostitute) to describe Sandra Fluke. I feel badly about that. I’ve always tried to maintain a degree of integrity and independence on this program. Those words were inappropriate and uncalled for.”

Wow. He doesn’t think she’s either of those two words, and didn’t think so when he said it. He sincerely, sincerely apologizes.

“I became like the people we oppose. I descended to their level. You never descend to their level, or they win.”

“What really is going on here is what we know to be true. Our president Barack Obama has a socialist agenda, when it comes to healthcare and when it comes to birth control.”

Oh man. We should be pissed at Obama, because he doesn’t want us to decide for ourselves what happens to our bodies.

Liberals treat pregnancy as a disease for political reasons, Limbaugh says, and then he says a bunch more things. That’s all I can take for now. I listen to Limbaugh, but never for more than 15 minutes at a time. It’s just too awful.

One last thing, though. Limbaugh makes his millions by being on the radio three hours a day, but he’s also a brand. Staying famous is essential for Limbaugh, or he loses power and, with it, his audience. So every once in a while, Rush says something racist or sexist to get politicians and pundits angry.

Part of Limbaugh’s job is to be famous, that’s why he says these things. Bitching about him only makes him stronger. If he’s to be beaten, he must first be understood.

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