Saturday, February 28, 2009

Unequal Time is growing, moving and shaking

image Unequal Time is excited to announce that we are making an exciting move to enhance our usefulness to readers.  In order to provide better visual appeal and ease of navigation, the site will be run on a WordPress engine and will feature a magazine-style theme to offer a better look at available content from the front page.

The new site can be found at its own domain: WWW.UNEQUALTIME.COM

All of the content from the Blogger site (as well as the content from the sister blog - Dancing with Bears - has been imported, and no new content will be posted here.  (Because Dancing with Bears is folding into Unequal Time, this new site will feature a section dedicated to covering defense, national security and foreign affairs in the same way that DWB did for its readers.

I hope all of you bookmark the new site and help us to make it a daily stop on your search for information and commentary.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Rules Committee Constrains Debate and Review of Stimulus Bill

Will America Be Able to Stomach This Much Hubris?

File:Triumph of Achilles in Corfu Achilleion.jpg

As transparent as your average bowling ball, the procedure for spending nearly $1 trillion of ours and the next three or four generation's money managed to pushed the stimulus bill out of conference for a quick and dirty vote on the floor of the House.

Here are the provisions for the procedures of today's vote, taken directly from the Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 1 from the House Committee on Rules, passed 9-4 under the direction of committee chair Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY).

Conference Report to accompany H.R. 1 –

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

1.     Waives all points of order against consideration of the conference report except those arising under clause 9 of rule XXI.

2.      Provides that the conference report shall be considered as read.

3.      Waives all points of order against the conference report.  This waiver does not affect the point of order available under clause 9 of rule XXI (regarding earmark disclosure).

4.      Provides 90 minutes of debate on the conference report.

5.      Provides one motion to recommit if applicable.

For the uninitiated that is what speed-track language looks like.  Since the conference reported sometime around midnight last evening, this leaves precious little time for congressional representatives to weigh their conscience and cast informed votes.  This must rank as one of the most flagrant abrogations of the compact between government and the people as has occurred in the history of the Union.

I am ashamed to say that the only Republican to vote YEA for stamping this bill for its one-way ticket on the express train to Hades was none other than my own state's Rep. Doc Hastings from the Washington 4th District.  Way to go, Doc.  Despite the sizable "investments" in the Department of Agriculture and the Bonneville Power Administration, when the voters realize that most of the money is going to benefit federal employees already on the payroll, not create jobs or improve economic conditions in your district, they can come and ask you why you didn't think it was worth discussing in the public air.

(I am willing to offer a special gift to the first person who leaves a comment on my blog (www.unequaltime.com) about at the top of this post and how it is apropos to what is happening in Congress.)

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wax Out of Their Ears, Finally, Congress Agrees to Compromise Stimulus

Agreement by Congressional Leaders is Less than Either House or Senate Price Tag

Put down the face-paint and Mohawk feathers and refrain from ransacking the first shipload of tea you can find.  Despite the questionable sense of the stimulus package, Congressional leadership appears to overcome their chronic tin-earitis and agreed on a compromise bill amounting to $789 billion, as reported by CNN.com.  You heard it, double-digit billions less than either of the bills that were passed through the Senate and House.

Thanks for the compromise go primarily to Senators Joe Lieberman (D-VT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) for brokering the deal and avoiding the typical pig pile that ensues when bills head into committee before moving along to the President.

Thanks for creating the environment of public pressure that the shaving of dollars politically unavoidable goes to: Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Michael Medved, Michelle Malkin, Charles Krauthammer (among many, many others) and the thousands of bloggers and commenters sticking to this issue over the past two weeks.

There is every reason to believe that internal polling by the DNC may have been at the basis for taking the machete to the spending in both bills to slash as much pork as possible.  A stimulus signed into law at greater than $1 trillion, with the Congressional Budget Office and many economists predicting little or no impact on the economy, would have been a very potent campaign hammer for GOP candidates in 2010, one that Michael Steele.

Lesson learned: We the People still have a voice, and there are indications that the country has not swung radically to the left, as some Dems may have hoped.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

TV Preview: Important Things with Demetri Martin Premieres Feb. 11 at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central

[This review first appeared 2/9/09 on Blogcritics.org. (http://blogcritics.org/archives/2009/02/09/230435.php)]

It is a rare thing when a solo comedian can carry a thirty-minute sketch-comedy show on broadcast or basic cable. Great comedians and writers like Dana Carvey and Ben Stiller, hilariously funny individuals with success in other endeavors, could not find the sweet spot to entertain a mass audience week in and week out. For the right talent, a one-man sketch show can be the launching pad. After watching the first two episodes of Important Things with Demetri Martin (premiering Tuesday, February 11th at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central), I can write that Demetri Martin has gathered all of the elements to grab as much success as his bag can hold.

Billed by Comedy Central as “potentially the most important TV show of all time ever,” Important Things is the brainchild and creation of Demetri Martin, one of the leading lights of a new generation of comedians. Peeling away to a degree from the staid format of other sketch-comedy shows, Martin seems to have taken a page from the book of the Pied Piper of science, Bill Nye, highlighting one aspect of the world around us – the first two revolve around the themes of “Timing” and “Power.” With that single page in hand, Martin tosses the rest of the book aside and heads off into comedic territory with the intent to do harm to your funny bone. It’s just as one would expect from a show executive produced by The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and Martin himself under the umbrella of Stewart’s company, Busboy Productions.

Using the monologue as a starting point - performed in front of a live audience on a stage set designed to resemble the interior of one of those outbuildings schools use when they outgrow their facilities and their budget, complete with the false wood paneling and cheap carpet - Martin takes the mundane and finds a way to rotate it precisely 137 degrees to present us the side that we would never see without his unique perspective. Was his time at Yale or NYU, his mind wandering while a random professor drew charts on the board, the point of germination for Martin’s method of using simple line drawings to set up and deliver laughs? Perhaps, but when the payoff is something as genuinely fresh as when Martin draws a graph illustrating the relationship between age and time spent urinating outdoors, tracking down the genesis of the material is of little or no importance.

As mentioned, each episode of the series begins with a concept that links a chain of sketches, stand-up bits, studio bits, and musical comedy. Martin’s blend of observational humor, dry delivery, and the use of quirky musical accompaniment to establish timing, is adapted well to the sketches and studio bits that comprise the bulk of the show, and it is clear that Martin is fully in charge of whatever writing staff exists. The material is fully inhabited by his childlike willingness to try out new things and find the funny. A sketch in which Martin assumes the role of an actor performing a scene on a movie set, opposite Amanda Peet in a great cameo, where Martin fails to achieve the anger desired until after the director says, “Cut,” is both hilarious and well-constructed. As a whole, the show at time takes on the quick and comfortable pace of a variety half-hour.  That is part of what makes the show so pleasing to watch; the balance between the basic opening-setup-punch line form of stand-up and the extended situational humor of the sketches keeps your mind from tiring.

Martin is just the kind of personality whose star is expected to rise.  Like a Jerry Seinfeld or Jay Leno, his humor is not angry, not abrasive.  Floppy-haired and not intimidating in the least, Martin has been compared to the late Mitch Hedberg who built a solid following by way of his laid-back persona, and would have gone on to greater success had his life not ended so soon.  Martin achieves the same sort of rapport with an audience but without dragging them through the complex bramble of drug-culture references that would be career cyanide to a comic trying to reach a mass audience.  It is no surprise then that after Martin's hard work of recent years, including a number of appearances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien (where he also worked as a staff writer), a CD/DVD release of stand-up material (These Are The Jokes), his own one-hour comedy special on Comedy Central, a running gig on the The Daily Show, and a guest role as the fourth Conchord on HBO’s Flight of the Conchords, Martin’s next step would be to launch something of his own.

Experiencing Demetri Martin’s humor is like witnessing the evolution of the comedic form. He is more than funny, he is exploring different ways to get to funny and it is the sensation of visiting a new place that captures his fans, a group that will almost certainly be growing if enough people find out about Important Things with Demetri Martin. Set your Tivo if you have to, but make sure to catch the first episode - “Timing” - Wednesday February 11th at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central. The second episode will air a week later on February 18th, same time. Whether you watch it alone or with your friends it will keep you glued and laughing.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Team Obama Kicks Off Largest Group Therapy Session in Human History

In an blatant effort to generate a grab-bag of newer and scarier material for Obama's speechwriters, Team Obama has now given We the People permission to get in touch with our inner victim by way of an email sent out to millions this morning.

The email reads:

Bryan --

Americans have organized Economic Recovery House Meetings in all 50 states -- including 382 in California, 255 in Florida, 115 in Ohio, 199 in New York, 105 in Washington, and 149 in Texas.

That's more than 3,587 meetings in 1,579 cities and 429 congressional districts.

This past weekend, meeting hosts and guests watched a video of Governor Tim Kaine answering your questions about the president's recovery plan. Then they shared their own stories about how the crisis has affected them.

Watch Governor Kaine's video and share your economic crisis story.

The media is filled with numbers about the economic crisis. But the numbers do not tell the full story.

The story of this crisis is in homes across the country -- homes where a family member has lost a job, where parents are struggling to pay a mortgage, and where college tuition has slipped out of reach.

That's also where the story of our recovery begins -- in communities where repairing roads and bridges, manufacturing green technologies, and rehabilitating our schools and hospitals will directly impact the lives of ordinary people and their families.

President Obama's recovery plan will help struggling families right now by saving or creating up to 4 million jobs. But it will also help strengthen our economy for the future by investing in crucial infrastructure projects in health care, education, and energy.

Share your story about how this economic crisis is affecting you and your family and join your fellow Americans in supporting bold action to speed our recovery:

http://my.barackobama.com/sharestories

Thank you for organizing so much support at this crucial moment for our country,

Mitch
Mitch Stewart
Director
Organizing for America

If Oprah had ever been harboring a secret desire for political appointment, when the president finally gets around to formally creating the cabinet-level Department of Coordinated Self-Pity she will almost certainly be the frontrunner nominee.  If you're very quiet you can even hear the fleet of adding machines working as an army of CPAs burn the midnight oil to iron out ten years of tax filings.

Normally it takes one or two full terms in office for a presidential administration to compile a resume of arrogance and ineptitude such as the one logged by the Obama Administration in less than a month.  This effort is yet another sleight of hand to take the public's attention away from an appalling lack of leadership coming from the White House. 

Please, Mister President, do your own homework for once.  The American people are working to survive and keep the economy moving, too busy to participate on a time-wasting, spirit-sapping pity-fest such as this.  We are spending our energy on keeping the jobs that support our families of finding replacements for those lost since Election Day.

Will a scrapbook of American suffering solve any problems?  Will it revive spirits weakened by economic distress and worry?  No.  Nevertheless, responses will be woven into a frightening tapestry of misery, a cause to act waved like a battle flag in Obama's charge to grab the reins of the American economy and swing the county on a path of socialism.  In one of those paradoxes that historians salivate upon finding, repelling this push to an erosion of economic freedoms will be accomplished by steeling our will to fend off the greatest enemy of a free society; fear itself.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

More Newsbits from Post-Racial America - January 24th, 2009

File:Barack Obama with Superman.jpgCNN.com is taking point in the national propaganda project that I am now code-naming "Let Racism Live!" 

From this Saturday's postings comes another offering from John Blake, the same reporter noted by this blog last week for his article "Black first family 'changes everything'."  In that piece, Blake informed readers that what we see of the First Family will not look like the caricature of black people as seen in movies and on television.  It is shocking that the collective reaction to the revelation that stereotypes are not real did not send the culture into outright chaos and rioting in the streets.

In the same vein as that vital public service announcement, Blake and CNN.com have now turned their attention to a different problem in America: the alleged existence of a double-standard for performance by ethnic minorities.  In the article - "Will Obama have to be better because he's black?" - Blake asks the important question, "Will people hold Obama to a different standard because he is the first African-American president?"

How convenient for the President that Blake has lain down the tracks for a bullet train of excuses that will follow any of President Obama's failures.

Obama is a man, and in so has been given a range of talents and skills based on the same aeons-old lottery of DNA as they rest of us.  Most Americans do not care about the color of his skin, and will judge him by his actions and how well he represents their interests and protects their values.  Blake even owns up to this by citing polling results that showed 61 percent of whites did not think his race will be any sort of factor in how he is judged. 

Not happy with finding a majority of Americans to be enlightened, Blake continues undaunted in his argument.  Using Andrew Rojecki as a source, a co-author of The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America, the seed of doubt is planted:

Even people who regard themselves as the most progressive, open-minded supporters may subconsciously hold Obama to a different standard, Rojecki says. 

I suppose that means that even Matt Damon might be an unwitting tool of "The Man?"  In Rojecki's estimation, we are all suspects; guilty in the kangaroo court political correctness. 

Blake's article provides quick fuel for those who thrive on racism as a justification for being, but more importantly it intends to disrupt the feedback mechanism between the president and the people that has worked remarkably well since our nation's birth.  He is in essence urging us to lower the bar for Obama, a bar that has always been set high for all of the men occupying the Oval Office.  The uniformity of skin color of our past presidents is matched only by the uniformity of the slings and arrows cast at them.

Despite Blake's grim stereotype of an American society mired in racism - both subconscious and conscious - Americans will probably measure President Obama's performance against the same set of unreasonably high expectations as all other holders of the office have always been judged.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Is the Obama Presidency a Bellwether of American Ingenuity on Its Deathbed?

[This piece was first posted January 23, 2009 on Blogcritics.org (http://blogcritics.org/archives/2009/01/23/170811.php)]

So much has already been made of President Obama’s lack of substance.  It has been suggested by conservative writers that he is everything from an empty suit to an emperor with no clothes.  Perhaps he is just a man who has been told his entire life that he was special without ever being made to prove it.  If the latter is true, the conspicuous lack of detail in his agenda stems from necessity; he carefully avoids scrutiny, like the Wizard of Oz hiding behind the curtain.  But the problems facing the United States are more substantial than simply finding a way back home to Kansas; solving them requires more than pyrotechnics and smooth baritone oratory. 

The common thread between President Obama and the causes of the American predicament is a shortage of new ideas; thus we are forced to resolve a dilemma.  Despite his liberal use of the word "change," the itinerary for Obama’s plan to change America was never unfolded for our inspection and approval and yet, voters pulled the lever.  How can we expect a majority of Americans to participate in the process of innovating when the bulk of us voted for change by proxy and without form?  How is the nation expected to redefine its place in the world when it has chosen a leader who does not have the will to define himself?

For his part, Obama may be remembered as the politician who is to American politics what Andy Warhol was to American culture -– a borrower of iconic ideas and imagery, but in truth, a creator of nothing truly original; a manufacturer only of symbols.  He weaves elements of Kennedy, Reagan and both Roosevelts’ characters into the fabric of his persona, with the effect of buying unearned merit badges and stitching them onto his Boy Scout sash.  The success of his campaign, with its emphasis on an unspecific black box of genius plans, shows just how restless the electorate has become.  Were Obama to have run against a candidate with even a modest amount of inspiration, one who could communicate a clear vision for the future, we would have had to wait at least four more years to experience the catharsis of swearing in our first African-American president. 

The failure of the populace to demand more debate, more discussion, more specifics, may be the canary in the American coalmine; evidence that the marketplace of ideas is no longer functioning as needed.  If so, there are huge implications for our future, implications not confined to the intangible realm of philosophical and political debate.  Has the engine driving American prosperity for centuries, our uniquely voracious appetite for new ideas and inventions, slowed or stopped?  Patents (both applications and issuances) and copyright registrations have been flat for nearly a decade.  President Bush’s call for a national effort to land a manned mission on Mars met with the equivalent of dismissive laughter; the plans have foundered from lack of congressional support, stemming naturally from public apathy.

In our culture, popular entertainment is certainly a useful barometer for the public appetite for creativity, and we would have to conclude that the public does not have much of an appetite for new things.  Television schedules choke on a glut of “reality” programming, each show as unique as Tweedledum from Tweedledee.  For viewers who do not favor that sort of thing, hack through the strangling bramble of the CSI and Law & Order franchises, which soak up precious dollars that would otherwise be available to foster some diversity.  Even in movies and live theater, the norm is to stick with known properties and avoid taking any risks.

The free market has always operated best in an environment that teems with new ideas.  Contrary to the flawed notion that free markets abhor risk, just as in nature a forest grows taller and stronger when its hide is tested by wildfire, so competition is the policing agent that enforces businesses and individuals to be mindful of efficiency.  Corporations, as units, may try to avoid risk through regulatory lobbying and other legal means, but they do so at their own eventual and inevitable peril.  It is by embracing the delicate interplay that occurs in a free society that the ways out of our current mess will be identified most quickly.

What Obama can do to spur a creative renaissance in America is find new ways to remove the challenges that face innovative Americans.  Stripping away most of the steeplechase of red tape and providing reasonable protections against frivolous litigation would do ninety percent of the blasting work to dislodge the impediments to economic and cultural growth.  He should also resist all temptations and encouragement to demand more of the fruits of American ingenuity, perhaps even overhaul a federal tax system that now closely resembles the relationship between feudal lords and tenant farmers in ages past and places distant.

For our part, when our temptation might be to ask Obama to do more to encourage innovation, we must remind ourselves that the question would wrongly assume that we need a moderator.  Unless we are on the cusp of converting to a centrally planned economy, there is no conceivable reason for the president or the government to be involved in the creative side of public life as anything more than a referee or an observer.  More importantly, although Obama’s talk is strong about supporting a broad conversation in which no ideas will be considered off-limits, he has not demonstrated that he has anything to bring to the discussion.  Nor has he given much indication that he will, in practice, support such a discourse if he is not in control of the outcomes. 

We the People do not need the permission of our president to conduct this discussion; we do not need a stamp of approval to begin to change things.  We simply need to start talking.

Politicians like President Obama will always be lining up to offer near-sighted solutions wrapped in shiny packages and decorated with false promises.  As a nation, in terms of human age, we are in the phase of adulthood, and as such we can begin to make choices based not on cravings, but on need.  Americans need to reclaim their heritage as creators and demand that our leaders – even The One – step aside and let the nation begin working again.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Smell a Whiff of Clinton Around the New York Senate Story

File:Clinton.jpgWith Caroline Kennedy pulling her name off the list under the flimsiest of reasons - the ill health of Uncle Ted has been a fact for almost a year now, preceding Hillary Clinton's nomination by several months - the questions are certainly flying about who will step into the void. Although many reports are offering former NY Governor Mario Cuomo as the obvious next-in-line, her exit stage left comes at a time when a more suitable candidate, but one who will undoubtedly be opposed by all the effort the GOP can muster (which right now doesn't appear to be very much), can be dropped into place without time for organized opposition to mount.  Next week, will the Senate be swearing in the next senator from New York will be none other than former President William Jefferson Clinton.

Besides the massive egos involved and the innumerate number of new ways the Clintons could exert power and influence (there has never been a husband and wife team holding such high-level positions in our government) there are political reasons for the Democrat party to support seating Bill Clinton in the Senate.  As Congressional leadership locks horns with President Obama in the early-going, having a deeper bench of establishment politicians will make it easier to wag the dog when the time comes.  And, of course, there would be no concerns about another Blago-esque scandal.  There is no way Hillary will be demanding quid pro quo compensation of any kind from Bill.

This is not a prediction and I haven't received any official reports, tips or rumors.  But it does seem worth considering as a possibility.  If it happens the prime timing will be to make an informal announcement Friday morning (the financial markets will eat it up), give a polite one day period for GOP caterwauling, and have the deal legally completed on Sunday.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Newsbits from Post-Racial America

In an effort to fan the lucrative flames of non-existent American racism, CNN.com is running an article by John Blake under the headline "Black first family 'changes everything'" which aims to inform us of how the Obama family is showing us that African-American folks aren't the loud, expressive caricatures we see depicted through entertainment media.

The article opens with the perspective of Jamaal Young, a New York Press columnist:

Jamaal Young was watching Barack Obama and his family greet an ecstatic crowd in Chicago, Illinois, on Election Night when he realized that something seemed wrong.

Obama didn't shout at his wife, Michelle, to shut up. The first lady didn't roll her eyes and tell Obama to act like a man. No laugh track kicked in, no one danced, and no police sirens wailed in the background.

It goes on, continuing to wrap itself into a Moebius strip of stereotyping.

America has often viewed the black family through the prism of its pathologies: single-family homes, absentee fathers, out of wedlock children, they say. Or they've turned to the black family for comic relief in television shows such as "Good Times" in the '70s or today's "House of Payne."

But a black first family changes that script, some say. A global audience will now be fed images of a highly educated, loving and photogenic black family living in the White House for the next four years -- and it can't go off the air like "The Cosby Show."

Does that mean  that "black America" sees white people through the prism of Billy Bob Thornton and Kevin Costner?

Is Blake so embedded in a racially-tinged frame of reference that he thinks Americans are that narrow-minded?  We see only Will Smith, Spike Lee and Chris Rock, but somehow miss Denzel Washington, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice?

One day, Lord, we shall overcome. Oh, Lord, we shall overcome.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In the Wake of the Inauguration: A Layman's Response to the President's Speech

[The transcript of President Obama's Inaugural Address comes by way of The Drudge Report.]

File:ObamaInaugurationCapitolPreparation.jpgOn its face, the President's speech on the Capitol steps this morning was a fair effort that could not possibly live up to the expectations set by Beltway pundits and the hunting hounds of the national press corps.  Much of the text (said to have been written by the President himself) was predictable, but it was anything but safe.  By applying a rough chop to the transcript, parsing it without splitting hairs, I find many things to be concerned about if you are one who believes that what a person says matters. 

In the vast log of speeches given since he began his run for the office he officially took today, Obama has given us very little concrete indication of his worldview, his view on the role of government.  What he has offered has been illuminating and the inaugural address given this morning is no different.

(The speech transcript is in block quotes and my comments are inserted as regularly-formatted text.) 

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

It is comforting to hear Obama imply that We the People will still be using the same founding documents as we move forward into the Age of The One.  Will his Democrat-controlled government be true to those venerable texts?

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.

The first "hard choice" falls upon the shoulders of President Obama, and it is the choice not to shield average Americans from all of the necessary learning experiences that are brought on by crisis.  In identifying all of the sources of our current crisis, the hard choice will be not to allow citizens to move forward under any assumptions that the government will always be there to cure the results of poor decision-making.  Will he?  No.  Should he?  Yes?

Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

What is sapping our energy is the knowledge that because the United States Congress, after decades of extreme fiscal mismanagement and near-sighted regulatory actions, is now rewarding us with a series of financial bailout measures that will ensure an increased role for the federal government and the potential for federal insolvency within the next fifty years.  This saps our energy because we know that there are other ways to emerge from this crisis without deconstructing the free market.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. ...

(Let Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin know that a truce has unofficially been called.)

... The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. ...

I don't think I need to give anyone a trail of breadcrumbs to interpret all of the hypocrisy in the above set of comments.

... Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

The emphasis here seems to be on immigrants and slaves, and the message may be that their contribution to American prosperity needs to be recognized.  The specter of reparations rises anew.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed.

This passage is perhaps the most disheartening portion of the speech to this point.  Is our new president a Pollyanna or is he knowingly whispering sweet nothings to the electorate? If the latter is true, that course is for populist campaigning but does not do any favors to a country in great need of a wake-up call.  Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Promises of moving mountains and parting seas. Vintage Obama.  Now we know that Obama may actually have written many of those messianic speeches.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

It is not the size of the plan that worries some; it is the size of the budget that puts those plans into action.  It is the amount of space the government may occupy in our lives.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.

In the words of Robert de Niro: "You talkin' to me?"

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.

Nice try here to push the question of the size of government to the margins.  We should always ask whether our government is too large or too small.  It is the crowning achievement of the founding fathers that they created a system that puts the hands of people on the throttle of the federal machine.  At least in theory.

And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill...

The market is an intangible force and as such does not have the power of choice.  Without the element of choice there is no morality, there can be no good or evil.  It does not surprise me that from the same party that attempted to blame President Bush for Hurricane Katrina exists a glaring failure to notice that it is not the system that is either good or ill; it is the people acting within it who define their individual morality.

This is basic political theory on the foundations of republican principles of government and law, a 100-level course that most liberals habitually fail.

... Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

Amid the calm of the inaugural proceedings, I swear I could hear the footsteps of scores of regulators marching down the halls of their federal enclaves.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

America is a friend of Iran?  America is a friend of Venezuela?  America is a friend of North Korea?  Americans are truly friends to every person on the earth but not to the governments that often act against the interests of those people.  I am hesitant to compare him to yet another president, but his idealism reminds of Woodrow Wilson's flawed beliefs that there can be harmony in the whole community of nations. 

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

Is Obama aware of the suspension of civil liberties during World War II, putting in the hands of FDR immense executive power?  In times of great crisis, our system places its trust in the humility of whatever man occupies the Oval Office to protect us.  We have chosen - wisely - not to cast off 99% of our liberties during a war on terror that has claimed thousands of American lives.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

I would still like to hear how Obama defines our way of life, in his own words.  For his words about defending it to hold any meaning, we first need to know of what he thinks he is standing in defense.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

I actually like this section.  It is a message to the Muslim world, much of which is still clinging to a repressive, Luddite existence and legitimacy that their path is sowing the seeds of discontent within their own populations.

It sounds like something that Bush might have said, which may be why they are already burning Obama's image on the streets of Tehran.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

Kum-ba-yah.  If the world all ran out and jumped off the tallest building, would we be obliged to follow suit?

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

There is a disturbing verbal sleight-of-hand in this paragraph which begins by suggesting that government must act and ends by describing how a parent's "willingness to nurture a child" (odd choice of words) can determine our future.  We should hear echoes of this theme that government is assuming a parental role as additional government programs become necessary to nurture the American economy back to health.

I have never been a believer in the good of ordinary citizens (excluding civil servants and military personnel) dedicating themselves to service for the greater good, at the behest of government.  It just seems a little preachy to tell people they need to think of others.  I'm teaching my five year-old this lesson, but I expect him to have learned it by the time he is old enough to vote.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

God?  Who said that?  The next pay-for-play scandal is almost certain to involve Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel buying off the ACLU.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

Now we can finally move on to the post-racism era of no affirmative action, no incessant categorizing by race or ethnicity... Right?

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

God bless America and God bless President Obama and give him the wisdom to see what is good for the country. 

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Inauguration Speech Quick Hits

President Obama's inauguration speech was more of the saccharin rhetoric we have learned to expect. 

Obama champions immigrant laborers, asking us to recognize the sacrifices they made for us.  Is this a recognition that some Americans contribute more than others?

Statements about the role of government indicate that he sees Obama government as being at the center of public life.

During the speech, President Bush sat passively, with the expression of a father watching his child embark on a path that will lead to pain and strife.  (I predict that Obama will do more to enhance Bush's historical posterity than any presidential library or foundation ever could.)

As a piece of writing, the speech fails on nearly every level.  Or, perhaps, a speech can never achieve anything unless it passes through a personage of genuine substance.  Just as a young writer or singer needs personal experience to invest ethos and pathos in their work, spirit and soul that can be felt by readers and listeners, so too must Obama gain the benefit of living what he preaches in order to speak with authority.

True believers will rally to this speech, but I do not believe that the average American will find any inspiration because it offers nothing to grab onto.

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Is Flag Desecration by Obama Supporters Another Sign of the President-elect's 'Man-Crush' on Lincoln?

As Michelle Malkin has been reporting on her site for days now, President-elect Obama's supporters have been engaging in widespread acts of unlawfulness in the form of distributing and displaying United States flags that have been defaced with images of the President-elect.

What is eerie is that even as Obama concludes the pilgrimage to D.C., draped in the mantle of Abraham Lincoln's legacy, these flags could just be one more example of Obama's lack of originality.  Abraham Lincoln's 1860 presidential campaign also used flags adorned with the candidates image and emblazoned with campaign propaganda (The example shown here comes from the Library of Congress.)  The U.S. Flag Code would not be enacted until 1923, so Lincoln-Davis' use of Old Glory was not illegal.

When we begin picking and choosing which laws matter and which do not, the rule of law breaks down.  Don't expect too much action from the Obama camp, however, after all of the clever image manipulation they employed during the campaign.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Expansionist Statements of Russian Naval High Command Are Cause for Concern

File:Kuznetsov 960111-N-9085M-002.jpgConfirming possibilities raised posted September of last year on Unequal Time's sister blog, Dancing With Bears, the Russian Navy has announced its intention to establish a continued naval presence in international waters outside of Russia's own maritime jurisdiction.  As reported by Russia Today's English online edition (by way of our friend at the Naval Open Source Intelligence blog), Deputy Chief of Russia's Armed Forces Staff, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, is quoted as saying:

"The political decision on this matter has been made. Bases will settle down on Sokorta Island (Yemen), in Tartus (Syria) and Tripoli (Libya). Now it’s very difficult to say when these bases will appear in these countries, but in several years time it undoubtedly will happen. From both the economic and the technical military point of view, there is no other way to solve the problem of our Navy’s regular presence in distant sea areas for the protection of Russia’s national interests."

Although the Russian navy's global reach has been continuing its policy of forced contraction in recent years - as evidenced by their withdrawal of the strategically valuable Vietnamese port of Cam Ranh in 2000 - mainly due to a lack of funding stemming from the weak Russian economy.  Recent growth in Russia's defense industry, combined with an emphasis on power projection should awaken the minds of Western policymakers to the very real possibility that there is an endgame in progress.

Despite its massive size, Russia has many of the same problems of historic powers that had to rely on maritime superiority as a means of promoting domestic economic prosperity.  Nearly surrounded by a host of allies of convenience or outright enemies, the Russian Federation cannot build its power on a foundation of over dependable over-land or straight-line airborne routes.

There are reasons to believe that the Russians have shifted policy to one that is drastically more expansionist.

  • the Russians have been given permission by the Icelandic government use of the former U.S. airbase at Keflavik, Iceland (read here)
  • Russian and Venezuelan naval vessels participated in joint exercises in the Caribbean in the fall of 2008 (read here)
  • Russian Federation commits to full funding for completion of GLONASS global satellite navigation system, a system that in addition to its surface navigation capabilities was originally designed as a ballistic missile targeting system (read here)
  • Joint exercises in December 2008 with Indian navy ships in the Indian Ocean to train on carrier-destroying tactics (read here)

There are more data points on this curve; these items must be considered along with a tidal wave of arms agreements, mutual defense agreements, and other developments that have been made between Russian and many other nations across the globe.  All indications would point to some intention by the sleeping bear to enhance its power position across the globe particularly in their commitment to making GLONASS fully operational.

As Americans begin to assess the incoming Obama administration, they should do with a firm understanding of the geopolitical events currently unfolding.

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Cross-posted at Dancing with Bears.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Are You Ready 'All Obama, All the Time' Streaming Web Programming?

It was bound to happen.  Obamania has infected all corners of the globe.  The One already shows up on television, radio and internet with the frequency of a man playing an inverse game of Where's Waldo? so does the idea of Obamedia (a.k.a. wall-to-wall video featuring the President-elect) really deviate from what has already become the norm? 

Perhaps to test the limits of toleration the American public have for such things, Joost - one of the new generation of online media distributors - has launched an "Everything Obama" section of its web site.

imageDespite worries that non-Obamaniacs might worry about this concept, it is not the temple of worship that one might expect to find.

Mixed in with the 60 Minutes interview with Michelle and Barack Obama, and the video of his victory speech on the night of November 6th, are lighter items like a piece of shtick from the Late Show with David Letterman titled "Bump Fists with Barack Obama."  Michelle Obama's visit to The Daily Show is worth a look and, of course, Obama Girl lives on in the post-victory "Yes We Did!" video.

In the interest of distinguishing itself from the Obama-infatuated YouTube community, Joost could have served its own interests better by including some critical material or things that poked fun in a less-friendly way then what visitors will find there.  I guess there's room left for Hulu.com to develop "Everything Obama (Uncut)."

Joost will also be webcasting live from Washington, D.C. on the day of Obama's inauguration.

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The Bailout Game: A Fun Way to Waste Time While the Economic Crisis Rages On

image Every time I come across one of these Flash games I fruitlessly rack my brain on the question of where the designers find the time.  Thanks go to our friends at HotAir.com for letting readers know about the newest time vacuum, The Bailout Game, a fun way to divert yourself when thoughts turn dark on the subject of your own financial future.

The game itself isn't terribly complex and it isn't supposed to be a simulation.  You either use federal dollars to bail out private enterprises, or you don't.  The consequences of not bailing our companies and banks is always negative, and there is no positive result from letting the free market work.  If the video clips and random events weren't so entertaining I would suspect a Hank Paulson/Barack Obama joint venture for the purpose of generating a viral public relations push.

It is interesting to note that, as I played the game a few times, I realized that by forgoing any bailouts the game's length was shortened by a half dozen or so turns.  So is the real lesson of the game that the quickest path out of a recession is to let the market regulate itself?

You know the drill by now.  Try it and pass it along.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Viaduct Plans Perpetuate Wasteful Attitude of State and Local Officials

As someone who has decades of memories wrapped up in the crumbling concrete Alaskan Way Viaduct that spans the length of Seattle's downtown waterfront district, awaiting the momentous decision about the roadway's fate has left a thin residue of anxiety over my mood about regional politics during the years leading up to what happened yesterday.

Despite having a clear favorite among the three options that have been widely-reported as having been on the table, I was prepared for a tunnel. I was not prepared for a four-lane tunnel, because the majority of the current viaduct's length is a six-lane roadway, already the lesser of two traffic jams for West Seattle commuters and those trying to get from the SODO to I-5 northbound.

(Is it rude to mention also that there won't actually be a downtown exit in the proposed tunnel thereby making it useless for most commuters?)

During the projected nine-year timeline for completion, the diversion of traffic to Interstate 5 will create congestion unlike anything this city has seen except during the Summer 2007 Carpocalypse (the fitting name coined by the West Seattle Blog) that occurred because of during expansion joint replacement on I-5 south of downtown. After the completion the downtown grid will handle less cars than now.

Why would we expect anything else than the most illogical option for solving Seattle's traffic needs from Gregoire, Sims and Nickels, the Three Stooges of King County politics? It continues to prove my inverse theory of bureaucratic deliberation: The longer a group of bureaucrats deliberate the worse will their decision be at the end of said deliberation.

There is a scandal within the handling of this project that should be laid at the feet our elected officials. While the decision was put off, delayed and avoided, projects relating to the viaduct - specifically to replacing the existing structure - were spending taxpayers dollars at a pace with which only the Seattle Monorail Project could compete.

As reported by the Susan Gilmore of the Seattle Times on July 30, 2008:

The state Legislature budgeted $2.8 billion last year to replace Seattle's deteriorating Alaskan Way Viaduct with another elevated roadway.

But a large chunk of that money already has been spent. About $1.1 billion has been either spent on or committed to several viaduct projects, with still no decision about how to replace the viaduct in downtown Seattle. And it's not clear that the remaining $1.7 billion will be enough to finish the viaduct replacement...

The biggest chunk has been committed to rebuilding the south end of the 2.2-mile viaduct, from South Holgate to South King streets, at an estimated cost of $540 million, according to Ron Paananen, viaduct project manager for the state Department of Transportation (DOT).

The reporting done to date does not make it clear exactly how much money has been already spent on viaduct-related projects by the Washington State Department of Transportation and other government agencies.

Who will be made accountable to voters for the millions of dollars that have been wasted on projects already underway, projects that in some cases assumed the viaduct would be replaced by a similar above-ground structure?

The trio of politicians involved have better spin control than an Olympic figure skater, so don't expect a voluntary mea culpa from Sims, Gregoire or Nickels.

Gregoire escapes facing an angry mob of voters at the polls, but when the disaster of her management comes to roost the door may be opened for a Republican to take the governor's race in 2012.

For Sims and Nickels it comes down to one key question: How many union bosses can a busy public official meet with between now and Election Day?

We may be witnessing the events leading up to the second contraction of the Greater Seattle region since the great Boeing collapse of the late 1960s. Nickels, Sims and Gregoire have crossed the Rubicon, setting in motion the predictable consequence of more businesses opting to leave the sociological Petri dish that Seattle has become. The coup de grĂ¢ce will come after the initial white collar exodus when the Port of Seattle shipping facilities watch the annual tonnage decline even more rapidly than is currently projected.

In any economic climate, this proposal would be worth opposing. In the midst of a recession, compounded by the negative effect a major tunnel project will have on Seattle's already business-averse climate, this seems to be more than just bad regional planning. It affirms the predominantly liberal mind set of Western Washington that values symbolism over making things better, and putting smart people in charge of ridiculously misguided projects. It is an outmoded way of thinking that should serve as an invitation for real problem-solvers to become involved in government in every way possible and it is in the best interest of everyone to prevent this kind of wasteful spending in the future. What could be done with these dollars that are currently accepted as just part of the governmental inefficacy if they weren't wasted.

Those in opposition to the tunnel project should begin calling it what it is, not the Seattle's edition of the "Big Dig" - a reference to Boston's huge public works mess - but the "Big Pig," a massive counterproductive waste of our resources.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Slate: President-elect Obama Needs Help With His Homework

File:Dunce cap from LOC 3c04163u.pngIf you are one of the unfortunate souls who can't seem to find a good enough reason to select a different home page than MSN, you probably saw the teaser for a posting at Slate: "Help Obama Write His Inauguration Speech."

This is the man that was touted by Newsweek as being "fiercely intelligent and characteristically confident." Slate suggests that we should throw him a life preserver, in an indirect way. 

Slate has partnered with MixedInk on a project called "The People's Inaugural Address" which gives ordinary non-speechwriters to contribute ideas of their own.  The MixedInk engine will then search previous inaugural addresses, as well as contributions already made to the project, and allow users to incorporate those into their own final version. 

This resolves the mystery I have been pondering about what Joe Biden has been doing since two weeks before the election.  It sounds remarkably like an endorsement of cut-and-paste plagiarism.

All of the submitted speech drafts will be available for rating and review by users.  After the collaborative process ends in a couple of weeks, Slate will publish the speech that has received the highest rating.  Slate suggests that  the winning speech could come in handy to one Barack Hussein Obama:

And maybe President-elect Obama will decide to borrow from your speech—at least that part where you quote Lincoln—when he delivers his inaugural address on Jan. 20.

Does the old thought experiment about a 1,000 monkeys and 1,000 typewriters come to mind to anyone else?

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

TV Review: "The Diplomat" Blends High-Stakes Espionage and Drama

[This review was first published January 7, 2009 on the Blogcritics web site at http://blogcritics.org/archives/2009/01/07/181230.php]

In the post-9/11 media landscape, the spy thriller has again come into its own as a genre that offers visceral subject matter for a wide audience. Despite the renewed marketability of stories dealing with international espionage and terror, television producers have more often than not failed to seize upon opportunities to create truly original stories that utilize a backdrop of action and intrigue as a canvas for exploring the human conditions that exists in a very real and dangerous part of our world.

The Diplomat, a two-part miniseries produced by RHI Entertainment and premiering January 24 at 7:00 p.m. ET on ION Television (check your local cable provider for availability and channel), aims to give cable audiences a fresh look at that dark place and they people who walk therein.

Dougray Scott - most recently seen by American audiences on Desperate Housewives - plays Ian Porter, a British diplomat suspected of being an accomplice of a Russian arms and drugs trafficker when a sting by Scotland Yard turns up evidence against him. As an investigation commences, led by Detective Chief Inspector Julie Hales (Rachael Blake), Porter is discovered in truth to be an agent of British foreign intelligence (MI-6) and is persuaded to maintain silence about his Russian contacts by his handler, MI-6 officer Charles Van Koos (Richard Roxburgh). When the Russians intimidate his ex-wife, Pippa (Claire Forlani, Meet Joe Black, CSI: NY), the estranged couple are brought into the British equivalent of the witness protection program.

While Ian and Pippa Porter are in protective custody, Scotland Yard continues to squeeze Ian for information while he plots for eventual escape in order to complete his mission, to disrupt the sale of nuclear suitcase bombs to unnamed terrorists. The story unfolds to reveal a complex web of relations between MI-6 and the Russian arms traffickers that provides significant intrigue. It also sheds light on elements of Ian Porter’s character, answering the question of why he has chosen a path of danger.

Dougray Scott does a good job of playing an emotionally tortured man, besieged by demons from his past, demons which he shares with Pippa. The tension is like an emotional ice field that must, of course, be thawed. Fertile ground for storytelling, to be sure, but although Scott has a gritty toughness it is not tempered in this role by a sufficient amount of charm. Thus, no chemistry develops between Scott and Forlani (who had achieved intense on-screen chemistry with Brad Pitt in her best known role), making the story’s climax a difficult sell.

But for the excellent technical work under the direction of Peter Andrikidis, the dramatically shot locations of Sydney, London, and Tajikistan and superior performances of the supporting cast, The Diplomat would have had its credentials revoked shortly after the gripping five-minute opening sequence. As ethically confused MI-6 officer Van Koos, Roxburgh carries the entire ensemble forward when moments and minutes of story seem ready to dissolve into meaninglessness. Also notable is Jeffrey Lindsay Taylor’s role as the guard assigned to protect the Porters during their stay in Australia.  Both actors provide first-rate performances, breathing life into scenes that might otherwise leave audiences yawning.

In the final analysis, the producers of The Diplomat appear to have had the ambition to create a work that drew from a deeper palate than other television thrillers by delving who these characters really are and what led them to be in the dark space of the story. Perhaps the goal was to tell the story in a style reminiscent of the realism of Syriana or Michael Clayton. (In some moments, The Diplomat does bear a stylistic resemblance to those excellent examples of this genre.) If so, though the result may have been a faint and roughly drawn sketch of greater films, it should serve as a jumping-off point for future television productions in its category.

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