Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Polly Platt

Assisting on the movie Broadcast News nearly thirty years ago was an amazing experience for me because it introduced me to the creative world of Hollywood. More importantly, it introduced me to some incredibly smart and caring professionals

Polly Platt was one of those people. She was an energetic, intelligent and skilled writer, producer and production designer. Now Polly has died of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. She was 72 years old.

Polly was married and worked beside her ex-husband Peter Bogdanovich on many of his early films. They included The Last Picture Show, What's Up Doc and Paper Moon. In fact, Bogdanovich credited Polly with converting Larry McMurtry's novel into the script for The Last Picture Show. But that movie also brought an end to their marriage as Bogdanovich left her during the filming for his leading lady, Cybill Shepard. Nonetheless, Polly maintained a close working relationship with her ex-husband.

Later, Polly received an Oscar nomination for her art direction on the 1983 film Term's of Endearment. This was the first in a series of films she would work on with writer, producer and director James L. Brooks. They also included Broadcast News, Say Anything, The War of The Roses, I'll Do Anything and Bottle Rocket. During her incredible career she also had production design credits for A Star Is Born, The Bad News Bears, Young Doctors In Love, The Witches Of Eastwick and The Man With Two Brains. Her screenwriting credits included Pretty Baby starring Brooke Shields, Good Luck, and A Map Of The World.

Polly was strong willed, driven and devoted. Back in 1985 she was fascinated with the business of broadcast news and captured the reality of the already rapidly changing business in her work for that movie. This was always true in her work because she had a great eye and worked hard to impart a deep understanding of her subject and characters. She lived her life on the cutting edge of the film industry and did her part to push its boundaries.

I will remember her as a wonderful person who made a difference and left an indelible mark on her craft.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Stalemate Standoff

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner held dueling prime time addresses to the nation and even disagreed on whether there was a stalemate over the debt ceiling. That is the problem in a nutshell.

President Obama, for the most part, was cordial while speaking from the White House East Room. He laid out the debt ceiling crisis facing our nation's economy and called for compromise and a balanced approach. His position is to take on government deficit spending through budget cuts and some increased revenues.

But Republicans have adamantly refused to raise revenues. "Republican House members have essentially said that the only way they'll vote to prevent America's first-ever default is if the rest of us agree to their deep, spending cuts-only approach," President Obama said. He pointed out that there is a lot at stake, "If that happens, and we default, we would not have enough money to pay all of our bills -- bills that include monthly Social Security checks, veterans' benefits and the government contracts we've signed with thousands of businesses."

For his part, Speaker Boehner was partisan and forceful in his remarks from his ceremonial Capitol Hill office. "The sad truth is that the president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today," Boehner said. "That is just not going to happen."

Six months ago the president wanted a clean extension of the debt ceiling. But Republicans and some conservative critics refused saying that passage must be linked to cuts in future government spending. The debt ceiling is now $14.3 billion dollars, so 40 cents of every tax dollar collected goes to service the debt.

Just a decade ago the U.S. government had a surplus. But President George W. Bush enacted huge tax cuts, including for wealthy Americans, initiated two costly wars, and passed a huge prescription drug program that were all unfunded. The recession, which increased costs and decreased revenues due to high unemployment, added to the red ink.

In the face of GOP resistance to pass a clean debt ceiling bill, the president then shifted his position by agreeing to consider cuts, including in entitlement programs, as long as some revenues were included. Revenues would come from closing tax loopholes and placing more of a burden on the nation's wealthiest income earners. Progressive Democrats howled over possible cuts in entitlements, such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. But Tea Party Republicans howled over any possible revenue increases.

At one point last week the two sides were close to a deal, with Speaker Boehner apparently agreeing to $800 billion in revenues. But when the president asked for $400 billion more in revenues Speaker Boehner broke off talks with the White House. Instead, House Republicans worked over the weekend to craft their own proposal, which calls for a two-step plan for $2.5 trillion in budget cuts with another debt ceiling vote in six months contingent on Congress agreeing to further deep budget cuts. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democrats crafted their own proposal which calls for $4 trillion in cuts over the next ten years, no revenue increases and extension of the debt ceiling until after the 2012 presidential election.

Of course, President Obama opposes the latest Republican proposal because it has no revenues and would mean the government would face another budget crisis early next year--before the 2012 presidential election. And there is a report that the Boehner proposal would lead to a downgrade in America's credit. Meanwhile, Republicans oppose Reid's proposal because they say it relies heavily on gimmicks. Stalemate anyone?

In his speech Monday night the president decried the "partisan three-ring circus" in the nation's capital. He said, "The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn't vote for a dysfunctional government." He even cited the fact that Republican icon President Ronald raised the debt limit eighteen times during his presidency, and President George W. Bush did so seven times.

President Barack Obama has made major concessions throughout the negotiations. And Senate Leader Reid has now made a major concession on revenues in his latest proposal, which the president today indicated he will support. But Republicans are likely to hold their ground against the Reid bill, even though failure to past the debt ceiling may have devastating consequences on the already struggling U.S. economy.

President Obama called the crisis a stalemate. Speaker Boehner said there is no stalemate because Republicans have a plan. Perhaps Republicans are counting on failure to pass the debt ceiling as the best way to assure President Barack Obama will be a one-term president.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Murdoch Tastes Humble Pie

"This is the most humble day in my life," said Rupert Murdoch, the world's most powerful media mogul and chairman of News Corporation, to a British parliamentary committee. He and his son James, who oversees European and Asian operations for News Corporation, repeatedly expressed their apologies for the phone hacking scandal that threatens to bring them both down.

The nearly three hour session was abruptly disrupted near then end by a man who hit Rupert Murdoch in the face with a shaving cream pie. The attacker said to Murdoch, "You are a greedy billionaire." Murdoch's wife Wendi leapt out of her chair behind Murdoch and took a swipe at the assailant as others restrained him.

The disruption broke the tense atmosphere that prevailed throughout the session. The Murdochs bobbed and weaved questions by offering little new information. Rupert Murdoch was contrite, "I was shocked, ashamed and appalled" by the phone hacking scandal. James Murdoch said their top priority is to, "Restore the trust" in News Corporation. When asked whether families of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City were hacked both said they were not aware of any evidence they had been.

What was most remarkable was how little both men appeared to know. Rupert Murdoch seemed totally detached from the scandal. He appeared old, he's 80, and was often slow to respond. At one point the chairman admitted, "I am not really in touch... News of the World, I lost sight because it is small." His son politely offered answers to most of the questions. But the tone of their testimony was, "We don't know how it happened; we are cooperating; and we will make sure it never happens again."

At one point Rupert Murdoch blamed the executives who ran his businesses. "What we did was terrible," he said, "were mistakes made in the organization, yes." James tried to reassure the committee by saying, "Breaking the law is a very serious matter and things like phone hacking have no place in our business." His father was even more emphatic, "Invading people's voice mail is wrong, paying police officers is wrong... saying we're sorry is not enough."

Rupert Murdoch referred several times to how large his global empire is, with more than 50,000 employees. But it also was clear he might not have been fully in the information loop on the developing scandal that began as early as 2007. This led to many questions from one MP regarding Murdoch's role in corporate governance.

Murdoch said he delegated responsibility to his business leaders and trusted them. But he also admitted that some of his employees were not honest and forthcoming. When asked if he would resign, Murdoch said no, explaining, "Because I feel that people I trusted let me down...I think I am the best person to clean this mess up."

This committee hearing may only be the beginning of the end for the Murdochs. Public outrage has focused an unprecedented scrutiny on News Corporation and its tawdry business culture. For sure, Rupert Murdoch is a fierce competitor who is fueled by an overwhelming desire to accumulate power and ruthlessly wield it. He has many powerful enemies who have now been galvanized into action. In the end, Murdoch may have gotten it right when he said, "Saying we're sorry is not enough."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's Not My Default

Republicans and Democrats are on a collision course over raising the nation's debt ceiling. Failure to do so will have dire consequences on all Americans and the global economy. Regretfully, it is politics as usual in Washington.

Most experts agree that failure to raise the debt ceiling will cause the United States to default. The consequences of a default will be catastrophic on the already frail American economy. Government payrolls and entitlement programs will not be funded. Interest rates on loans will increase. More people will be thrown out of work. And such a failure will send a tsunami through world economic markets, which are already teetering because of Greece, Italy and Ireland. The global standing of America will be rocked and confidence in the U.S. economy will be severely shaken across the world.

Up to now raising the debt ceiling has been more or less a routine matter. Most Republicans did not blink when it came to casting their annual approval during the deficit-riddled administration of President George Bush. President Bush ran up huge deficits due in large part to his unfunded tax cuts and two wars. What has changed?

Republicans have seized on the debt ceiling crisis to gain deep cuts in the U.S. budget, perhaps following the axiom, "Never let a crisis go to waste." They see an opportunity to scale back future government spending in order, they say, to achieve long-term financial stability and grow more jobs. But so far recent government cuts on the national and state level have resulted in thousands of layoffs as well as reductions in education and critical services.

While President Barack Obama and most Democrats agree that some cuts are in order they have argued for a "balanced" approach. That means addressing the problem by raising some revenues, for instance by closing corporate loopholes and increasing taxes on the wealthiest individuals. Not to do so will put the burden on those least able to afford it. And, according to a recent poll, a large majority of Americans agree with this approach. However, Republicans firmly proclaim that raising any taxes will kill jobs. Never mind that there is no historical evidence to back their claim up.

So the two sides have dug in. Negotiations have reached a boiling point. Republican Speaker John Boehner is struggling to keep his caucus in line, with many of its members willing to let the nation to go into default. Most of them say that the impact of a default will not be too severe a price to pay if it results in deep spending cuts. Many have signed a no new taxes pledge. Republican Majority leader Eric Cantor is leading the hardliners, and may be positioning himself for the Speakership.

Meanwhile, negotiations at the White House to end the impasse continue. Accounts of these meetings vary depending on the party spinning the story. Did Rep. Cantor interrupt the president several times? Did a frustrated president abruptly walk out of the meeting? Who cares? Republicans say the debt is President Obama's problem. Democrats say it is the Republicans who are putting the country at peril.

It is time for all parties grow up. It is time to act in the best interest of the nation. It is time for our elected officials to cast partisan politics and petty rivalries aside and to put America first. Either pass a clean debt ceiling bill or compromise on managing future deficits with a mixture of budget cuts and some revenue enhancements. And then let the voters decide in 2012 which side it supports.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Life in the Serengeti

A lion slowly crept forward in the long Serengeti grass. Each move was carefully calculated to minimize the chance of detection.

A herd of zebras grazed among the acacias two hundred yards away from where the lion lurked. The herd was gradually working its way to the watering hole just across the road at the edge of the trees.

The lion knew she was in a bad position. She had too much open ground between her and the herd. Zebras have outstanding eyesight and can easily spot a small threatening movement. The zebras are also much faster than a lion, meaning the big cat must get within twenty yards to assure success.

As the moments passed the lion tried to improve her position one step at a time. She seemed to almost crawl across the earth; her belly was rubbing the dirt. Her dusty brown color provided camouflage, as she remained hidden amidst the grass stalks and small bushes.

The zebras continued to eat the grass and the leaves of the trees. They gathered in small groups of two, three and four for defensive purposes. The zebras often stood next to each other each facing in opposite directions. They were especially weary near the watering hole where predators would frequently strike at thirsty prey.

As the late afternoon heat beat down on this corner of the Serengeti preserve the lion seemed impatient. It took a few more steps with every move.

Suddenly a second lion popped out of the tall bushes to the rear. She edged her way down the back of the field and then turned toward the herd settling in a position twenty yards closer to the watering hole than the first lion. The two lions were poised to attack in tandem.

So far the zebras had detected nothing. Their leader stepped onto the road and scouted the pond. Others slowly followed suit. Soon a half dozen stripped creatures were sipping water, looking up after each drink. More and more of the herd found their way to the water. Their tails were swatting at tse tse flies and other insects. It appeared to be an orderly chaos as the zebras bumped into each other coming and going from the water.

The lions continued to survey the scene from the grassland about one hundred yards away. They each were selecting a target of opportunity.

In a flash the zebras exploded into action, racing in all directions away from the water. The lions had been detected. Within a split second the lions leaped from their positions and raced toward the herd. Dust kicked up by the hooves of the zebras obscured the scene. The lions barreled full speed into the cloud as the zebras screamed and sprinted with more urgency.

When the dust settled it was clear that the lions had failed in their attack. Lions generally only succeed about half of the time.

The zebras had regrouped to safer ground further into the trees. Shaken by the attack they cackled, brayed and barked loudly in a furious frenzy.

The two lions, resigned to defeat, joined each other under a tree. They comforted one another with a nudge of the nose and a lick. They then laid down to rest. They were hungry but dinner would have to wait. Soon they would rejoin their pride and begin the hunt anew.

There are nearly a million zebras in the Serengeti. Their population remains fairly constant because of the many predators they face every day, including hyenas, leopards, cheetahs and lions. Such is life in the Serengeti.