We Owe, We Owe, It’s Off to Debtor’s Prison We Go

I.O.U.S.A. is a new documentary film premiering this month. The Los Angeles Times calls the film “an 87-minute alarm on the tsunami of debt bearing down on the United States’ future, caused by the rising national debt, the trade imbalance and the pending costs of baby boomers cashing in on entitlements.”

David M. Walker, former head of the Government Accountability Office, appears in the film. In March of this year, Walker resigned from the GAO so he could become even more vocal on the debt crisis.

The nation’s debt now accounts for 66% of the gross national product. But unless things change, the film argues that the cost of aging baby boomers will push that proportion to 244% by 2040, twice what it was at the end of World War II, our highest level of national debt. A debt that high, super-investor Warren E. Buffett says in the film, “could create real political instability.”

The film will open in 400 theaters around the country Aug. 21, followed by a live video town hall meeting from Omaha, featuring Walker, Peter Peterson of the Blackstone Group and Buffett.

By the way, this report from the GAO says most corporations doing business in the U.S. pay NO taxes whatsoever.

The Spirit of ’76

The Spirit of ’76

There’s an interesting scene in episode seven of HBO’s John Adams, where 90 year-old Adams is shown the above painting by the artist, John Trumbull. Adams is displeased. He says the history of the American Revolution is lost. He chastises Trumbull for making a graphic fiction of the events in Philadelphia. Adams reminds him that the nation was at war, and that the signers filtered in one by one to sign the Declaration and that there was nothing tranquil about it.

It may seem a trivial point, but it’s not. As our nation teeters, faced with economic and political crises, we need to look back and learn from our own history. We need to remember and honor the sacrifices made my great Americans, and use their examples as motivation. There were scoundrels then, as there are now. Those who care about the future of our nation (and the people in it) must work to root them out and restore the ideal of public service and corporate responsibility. It’s a big task but it’s not out of reach.

Founding Fathers In Focus

“People and nations are forged in the fire of adversity.” -John Adams

We don’t subscribe to HBO. That might need to change.

This weekend we caught part two of HBO Films’ seven-part miniseries, John Adams. The work is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by David McCullough.

Chris Hicks of Deseret News calls the miniseries “an epic undertaking of the kind we see infrequently on TV these days, filled in equal part with scenes that are stirring, chilling, uplifting, gut-wrenching and enlightening, while demonstrating the great sacrifices that went into the formation of America.”

While this show is entertainment, it is also educational, particularly so in this time of little reading and weakened public schools. I’m a student of American history, and I learned something. Namely that New York abstained from the vote for independence on July 2, 1776. According to my research this morning, the New York delegation did adopt the Declaration a week later, making the vote unanimous.

Spending And The City

We went to see Sex and the City yesterday afternoon. It sucked. Royally.

The film was poorly acted, the writing was shoddy and it was much too long. But the thing that bothered me most was the glorification of excessive consumption. Calling this film a “film” is a stretch. It’s really an ad for luxury products that 99% of viewers will never be able to afford. I’m sorry but $525 shoes aren’t aspirational. They’re a waste of money (and I say this as a fan of shoes and the TV series).

Today I stumbled upon criticism that helps me feel justified in my opinions.

Anthony Lane writing in The New Yorker:

Mr. Big not only buys her a penthouse apartment (“I got it”), he offers to customize the space for her shoes and other fetishes. “I can build you a better closet,” he says, as if that were a binding condition of their sexual harmony: if he builds it, she will come. The creepiest aspect of this sequence was the sound that rose from the audience as he displayed the finished closet: gasps, fluttering moans, and, beside me, two women applauding. The tactic here is basically pornographic—arouse the viewer with image upon image of what lies just beyond her reach—and the film makes feeble attempts to rein it in.

Better yet, Jezebel’s Maureen Tkacik reprints an email from her Marxist sister.

The characters are slaves to their own fetishization of commodities. This fetishization is responsible for the failure of Carrie’s wedding to Big. Dressed in their billowing designer costumes like unwitting circus clowns, she and her friends fuss around the limousine to carry Carrie to her wedding. “It’s like trying to push a cream-puff through a keyhole,” comments the token homosexual figure (who serves as the Jester) regarding the difficulty of fitting Carrie’s extravagant Vivienne Westwood gown within the limousine. Here, Carrie is quite literally overwhelmed by her own materialism.

A lot of this reaction might have to do with timing. Americans can’t afford gasoline, or food, and we can’t sell our homes in this climate. There are only dark clouds on the economic horizon; yet, we are confronted with Big and Carrie’s 5th Avenue penthouse, Carrie’s haute couture wardrobe, Samantha’s beach front Mailbu digs, first class airline travel and a five star Mexican resort, all of which serve to remind the viewer how far out this fantasy is.

Here’s another, funnier, critique:

[via Katie Spence]

[UPDATE] For the inverse of the argument above, see Marketing Daily.

Faith Popcorn, a trend spotter and founder of marketing consultancy BrainReserve, believes the “Sex and the City” movie comes at the perfect time for a nation exhausted politically, emotionally and financially. Marketers can use the good feeling gained from the movie to their advantage, she says, helping consumers temporarily escape tough times. The movie joins “My Man Godfrey,” “The Women” and other Depression Era classics that provided weary audiences with high-style fantasy relief.

Idaho Arts

Idaho Arts

I discovered Idaho’s Travis Ward and Hillfolk Noir in a quirky indie film called Ibid at SXSW last night. Writer, director and star of the film, Russell Friedenberg, refers to Ibid as a “folk-rock road movie,” so one might expect the score to support that vision and it does.


[MP3 offering] “Old Gray Horse” by Travis Ward and Hillfolk Noir

SXSW Film: “Throw Down Your Heart”

Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck has been breaking down barriers in music and shattering musical stereotypes his entire career, so it’s not surprising that he journeyed to Africa–Uganda, Tanzania, The Gambia, and Mali–to connect with that continent’s most talented musicians and trace the roots of his instrument. For our sake, it’s nice that he also took a film crew and recording crew with him.

Several years in the making, Throw Down Your Heart, debuted tonight at SXSW. Béla was there to share in the screening and take questions after the film. When is the album coming out was one good question. He said that a handful of labels are interested in it, but he hasn’t landed on one yet.

This film is also in need of a distribution partner. If such things are determined on merit, it will be picked up. It’s a story that the crowd tonight cherished. Seeing Béla communicate across cultural and linguistic barriers with his banjo was special. And to see how warm his reception was in these African communities was also touching.

SXSW Film: “Of All The Things”

SXSW Film: “Of All The Things”

There’s been a load of compromisin’
On the road to my horizon
But I’m gonna be where the lights are shinin’ on me

I started this year’s SXSW off at 11:00 am yesterday with the world debut of “Of All the Things,” a documentary film by Jody Lambert about his dad–singer-songwriter, producer and performer, Dennis Lambert. It’s a touching film about family, career, fame, perseverance, rebirth and of course, music.


Dennis Lambert, who is the star and the subject of this film, is a legendary figure in pop music. He’s written over 600 songs, 75 of which have appeared on the Billboard top 100. Some of his instantly recognizable tunes include “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Baby Come Back,” “One Tin Soldier,” “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got)” and “We Built This City.”

Despite his immense success, there’s a scene in the film where Lambert says by the early 1990s the people he knew in the record business had been replaced by a new batch of execs, some who wanted to know who he was and if they should take his calls. That had to be humbling, to say the least. From there, Lambert moved on. He relocated from L.A. to Boca Raton, FL and got into real estate. Yet, he still had legions of fans. Many of whom, as it turns out, reside in the Philippines.

A promoter from the Philippines had been asking Lambert to tour the island nation for over a decade, but to no avail. Finally, in 2007, with prompting from his family, Lambert agreed to the tour. “Of All The Things” documents his historic journey and a return to his love for making music.

The rock doc will screens two more times this week, and hopefully will get picked up by a distributor, so Lambert fans, new and old, can enjoy it.

[MP3 Offering] “One Tin Soldier” performed by Coven

[UPDATE] Here’s a rough cut of my on-camera conversation with Jody and Dennis. And here’s the full text from the interview.

Standing in the Twilight of Open Outcry

The Chicago Tribune looks at James Allen Smith’s documentary film, Floored, about open-outcry traders at the Mercantile Exchange.

Here’s how the paper describes their lot:

Open-outcry traders always stood apart from the rest of the financial crowd, or maybe their rough-and-tumble grab for megabucks just made it seem that way. With their colorful jackets and a swagger born of fast money, they were the gaudiest ornaments in the downtown Chicago business world.

Floored is currently in production. It will be released in 2009.

The Horror, The Horror

I’ve never been one to favor the incompetence argument when it comes to our present day administration. I’ve always figured they’re doing exactly what they want, and that it must take considerable skill to do that in Washington, even if it’s not readily apparent to the layman. But a good documentary film can jar a stance from the arms of its carrier. No End In Sight by Charles Ferguson is such a film.

After getting his Ph.D. in political science from M.I.T., Ferguson conducted postdoctoral research at MIT while also consulting to the White House, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Department of Defense, and several U.S. and European high technology firms.

In 1994, Ferguson founded Vermeer Technologies, one of the earliest Internet software companies, with Randy Forgaard. Vermeer created the first visual Web site development tool, FrontPage™.  In early 1996, Ferguson sold Vermeer to Microsoft, which integrated FrontPage into Microsoft Office. After selling Vermeer, Ferguson returned to research and writing. He was a visiting scholar and/or lecturer for several years at MIT and Berkeley, and for three years was a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC.

In other words, this guy knows his shit and so do the long line of ultimate insiders who detail for Ferguson the many mistakes made in Iraq by the Bush League. It’s scary stuff.