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About this whole Economic Thing

Like every other sentient being in America, I have some opinions on how we got here, based on close observation of America's professional management class. I believe our troubles stem, as they always have, mostly from ego, greed and hubris. Alas, these are also the sources of our political problems and most of our personal problems as well. They are natural attributes of human beings. But since we can't wipe them out, how about a system of checks and balances that at least keeps them under control?

As you'll recall, I teach 8th grade history, so the phrase "checks and balances" has a special resonance for me. Our founding fathers, or rather the framers of the constitution--quite possible the 55 smartest men ever to gather in one room--distrusted power. They established a government in which it was separated among multiple branches, to prevent any one branch from overpowering the others. You call this a recipe for stalemate; I call it a recipe for deliberation and moderation. It is difficult to be extreme in the government.

Alas, we have a history in this country of cycles in which we try extreme capitalism. It never works, but we always drift towards it because it is the economic equivalent of our republican political system. What happened here is that the management class got caught up, once again, in the idea that "everything is different now, everything has changed, the old rules don't apply, the system will police itself." History does, indeed, repeat itself. For those who weren't paying attention, let me simply point out: everything is not different--almost everything is the same. Human nature has not changed. The old rules--at least the best of them--always apply (including "what goes up must come down," viz Sir Isaac Newton). And the system never polices itself. Why should it? Where is its motive to do so?

There is plenty of blame to go around, although the GOP deserves a slightly larger share, in my opinion. We passed Glass-Steagall (the law which separated investment from banking) in the 1930s for a good reason. We repealed it for no good reason in the 1990s, and now we're paying the piper.

The best analogy, I think is this. Capitalism is a football game. Alas, it is a game with more than two teams, but for the sake of analogy, let's leave out that aspect. Capitalism, like football, is a game of rules. Most of the players follow most of the rules most of the time. In that sense, it is self-policing. But sometimes the players violate the rules. This is not fair to the players who are playing fair. What ever shall we do? In football, we put referees on the field, who throw flags and penalize those who violate the rules. Prior to the 20th century, there were no referees in the game of capitalism. Starting with Teddy Roosevelt, we added refs. Starting with Ronald Reagan, we began taking refs off the field. I believe the results of that decision are blindingly obvious and trivially predictable. Let's put some refs back on the field.

Political Briefs

Neal Vitale Reviews: He's Just Not That Into You

1 star out of 5

Much as you can't make good wine from bad grapes, you can't make a good film from a bad screenplay. Just like bad wine, HJNTIY is insipid and flavorless, predictable and dull. Even a cast full of attractive and reasonably talented young actors like Justin Long (Apple's PC vs. Mac ads), Brad Affleck (Gigli), Jennifer Aniston (Marley And Me), Scarlett Johansson (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Drew Barrymore (50 First Dates), Jennifer Connelly (Hulk), Kevin Connolly (HBO's "Entourage"), Bradley Cooper (ABC's canceled "Alias"), and Ginnifer Goodwin (HBO's "Big Love") can't overcome an excruciatingly slow-paced and overly-long film that offers little in terms of humor or true emotion. Perhaps given director Ken Kwapis' TV- dominated resume, the fact that HJNTIY feels like a bad television episode should not come as much of a surprise.

Neal Vitale (Pre)views: Neko Case

The link below provides a free download of "People Got A Lotta Nerve" from Neko Case's upcoming CD Middle Cyclone (out 3/3/09); this posting also (supposedly) triggers a five dollar donation from her label to the Best Friends Foundation, an animal rescue group (

Neko Case records on her own as well as with The New Pornographers; both have been on my past annual "Best Of" lists.

The Speech Obama Should Give

A friend of mine wrote a speech he wishes Obama would give about the financial crisis--a sort of fireside chat for the new century. It tells exact how we got here, and offers a 10-point plan to get us out. I think it is wonderful, which is why I have posted it here. Please go read it. It's too long for my main blog, but about right if you want to know a) what's going on and b) what should be done about it


Stimulus News

Paul's 2008 Oscar Picks

I'm not going to be as exhaustive as Neal, nor am I going to take the exact same approach (which has the benefit of making the lists harder to compare, and my inevitable lower batting average easier to take). I'm going to tell you who I think should win in just a few categories:

Best picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor: Sean Penn in Milk
Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin in Milk
Best Actress: Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married
Best Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler
Best animated feature film: WALL-E
Best Adapted screenplay: Frost/Nixon by Peter Morgan
Best screenplay: Frozen River by Courtney Hunt
Best Animated Short: Presto
Best Live Action Short: New Boy

Neal Vitale's 2008 Oscar Picks

There's little more than a week before the awards are given out - here is whom I think will (as opposed to should) take home the statuettes.

Best Picture Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor Sean Penn, Milk
Best Actress Kate Winslet, The Reader
Best Supporting Actor Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Best Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best Original Screenplay Milk
Best Adapted Screenplay Slumdog Millionaire
Best Animated Feature Wall-E
Best Original Song "Down To Earth," Wall-E
Best Original Score Slumdog Millionaire
Best Art Direction The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Best Cinematography The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Best Film Editing The Dark Knight
Best Costume Design The Duchess
Best Makeup The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Best Foreign Film The Class
Best Sound Mixing The Dark Knight
Best Sound Editing The Dark Knight
Best Visual Effects The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Best Documentary Feature Man On Wire
Best Documentary (short subject) The Witness
Best Animated Short Film Presto
Best Live Action Short Film Spielzeugland (Toyland)

Neal Vitale Reviews: Coraline (3D)

2.5 stars out of 5

Riding the current wave of Hollywood buzz around 3D, Coraline arrives as the latest stop-motion animated work from director Harry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), and it is a very beautiful and visually exciting film to watch (even with the annoying glasses!). But this cautionary tale of being careful of what one wishes for is creepy and emotionally chilly, and therefore not especially engaging. Based on a 2002 book by the noted writer of graphic novels and comics Neil Gaiman ("The Sandman" series), Coraline is certainly not children's fare, full of disturbing imagery despite a PG rating. As entertainment for grown-ups, the appeal of the film is only surface deep, limited to its distinctive look.