Mike Kueber's Blog

April 6, 2015

Saturday Night at the Movies #146 – Beyond the Lights and Imitation Game and Sunday Book Review #156 – 41 by George W. Bush

Filed under: Book reviews,Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:32 am
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Beyond the Lights (2014) is a low-budget romantic drama about two young adults who are being pushed toward achievement by their ultra-ambitious single parents. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker are the kids – a successful singer and an aspiring politician, respectively – and Minnie Driver and Danny Glover are the single parents with big dreams.

I previously saw Mbatha-Raw in Belle, a period drama in which she played a mulatto, and she is even more attractive here.  She starts Beyond the Lights by attempting to commit suicide, and flashbacks never fully reveal what precipitated her action. Parker does minimal acting, but the former college wrestler likes to take his shirt off.

Like Belle, the Rotten Tomato critics (81%) and audience (80%) enjoyed the movie. Me, not so much. I give it only two and a half stars out of four.

Imitation Game (2014) is another of this year’s Oscar nominees, and I found it much more satisfying than some of the other artsy films that were nominated – e.g., Whiplash, Birdman, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as a math genius who helps Great Britain break a German code during World War II, but this idiosyncratic war hero is also afflicted by his then-illegal homosexuality in flashbacks and going-forward scenes.   His co-stars are a bit jarring to me because Keira Knightley is not convincing as a math genius and his two other co-stars, Allen Leech and Matthew Goode, play characters nearly identical to the roles they played in Downton Abbey Season Five. The Rotten Tomato critics score the movie at 89% and the audience is a bit more favorable at 92%. That’s about right. Based on Cumberbatch and the fascinating story, I give it three and a half stars out of four.

41 (2014) is George W. Bush’s paean to his dad, George H.W. Bush. Although I admire Bush-41, I still expect a book to include provide me, if not with any great insights, at least with some interesting information. In that regard, this book fails. There is virtually nothing in the book that I hadn’t already read somewhere else.

November 16, 2014

Bush-43 on Bush-41

Filed under: Biography,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:04 pm
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George W. Bush has been making the rounds in the media this week to promote his new book, 41: A Portrait of My Father. “41” of course is a reference to his father, George H.W. Bush, being the 41st president of the United States. W. is known as Bush-43.

As part of the media promotion, Parade magazine this week published an excerpt from the first chapter of the book, dealing with Bush-41 parachuting on his 90th birthday.

But in addition to the excerpt, Parade published a brief interview of Bush-43 that, although directed at Bush-41, says a lot about Bush-43.

Two of the Q&As were as follows:

  • Your book proves that your father is different from the stiff, blue-blooded image that many have of him.
    • He is a blue blood in the sense that he was raised up in the East. But what people don’t realize is that his parents were from the Midwest, so there was inculcated in him some midwestern values. This is a man who worked incredibly hard in anything he did. In this case, he was selling oilfield supplies. As I put in the book, there were no trust funds; there were no guarantees. [I love how Bush-43 accepts the premise that Northeastern bluebloods are a unique breed, but then ameliorates that trait in his father due to some Midwestern roots.]
  • Your father has been a tremendous risk taker. Where do you think that came from?
    • I think it came from the early experiences. This is a man who at age 17 decides to join the navy and not go to college, against the advice of his father and [Secretary of War] Henry Stimson, for example. He wanted to serve. Then he gets shot down—and by the way, flying off of carriers was very risky—and survives. To me, the rest of the risks that he took in his life were minor compared to that. [I love how Bush-43 placed in proper context the difference between business and political risks as compared to life-or-death risks.]

October 11, 2013

Media bias

Filed under: Issues,Media,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:56 pm
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After returning from my road trip to North Dakota, I had a conversation with my favorite liberal, Mike Callen, about media bias.  Mike doesn’t believe the allegations that mainstream journalists are biased in favor of Democratic policy.  Instead, he believes the strong conservative bias of Fox News, which has become a news behemoth, outweighs the slight liberal bias of CBS, NBC, ABC, and CNN.  Although MSNBC has a strong liberal bias, its lack of viewers renders it almost irrelevant to this discussion.

I disagree with Mike.  Because Fox and MSNBC are unabashedly partisan, they tend to attract like-minded viewers and serve to “preach to the choir.”  This minimizes their influence over those in the middle.  By contrast, the so-called mainstream media pretends to be unbiased and objective, which gives them credibility to Americans who aren’t partisan.  Fortunately, Americans are gradually learning the truth about liberal bias in the mainstream media and this will ultimately force the media to reform itself or join MSNBC as an irrelevancy.

p.s., I rarely listen to conservative talk radio because it is highly inefficient in delivering relevant information, but when I’m driving to and from North Dakota, there are not any more productive uses of my time.  During my recent return drive to Texas, Rush Limbaugh provided me with an object lesson in CNN’s liberal bias.  Rush played a clip from around 2006 during which Wolf Blitzer was almost apoplectic about George W. Bush’s approval rating dropping to 36%.  According to Wolf, this was clearly the public’s repudiation of Bush’s leadership, especially on foreign policy.

Fast-forward a few years, and Rush reports that a new AP poll shows President Obama’s approval rating just dropped to 37%.  Do any of the mainstream anchors report on this development?  Not a thing, even though you’d think Wolf Blitzer would be shamed into mentioning it.  At a minimum, this disparate treatment of Bush and Obama should cause Wolf and the mainstream media to do some soul-searching.

November 13, 2012

George P.G. Bush

Filed under: Biography,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 12:57 am
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A Facebook friend of mine (Randy Bear) recently blogged about Texas rising star George P. Bush.  Actually it is more accurate to say George P.G. Bush because his full legal name is George Prescott Garnica Bush.  (While Prescott comes from his dad’s family, Garnica comes from his mom’s.)  Bush is in the news because he recently filed a Treasurer-naming document that is required in Texas before potential state or local candidates can start raising or spending money. 

For those not familiar with P.G., he is the oldest child of Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who was recently listed by Time magazine as a Republican presidential frontrunner for 2016.  Jeb’s claim to fame, other than his family name, is his moderation on the immigration issue (he is married to a naturalized citizen from Mexico) and his heavy involvement in education reform. 

P.G.’s claim to fame, other than being Jeb’s eldest, is being a poster child for bringing Mexican-Americans under the Republican tent.  This poster-child role started in 1988, at the age of 12, when he spoke at the Republican convention that nominated his grandfather – Bush-41 – and he reprised the role in 1992.  Then in 2000 and 2004, P.G. campaigned for Bush-43, who unsuccessfully pushed much harder than President Obama for illegal immigrants to have a path to citizenship.  That probably explains why Bush-43 was able to garner up to 40% of the Hispanic vote.

I have two problems with George P.G. Bush – (1) he has minimal experience in the private economy (i.e., he wants to be a career politician), and (2) he is a part of the political aristocracy.  America is better served by politicians who can relate to the middle class. 

Someone who apparently agrees with me on this matter is none other than Barbara Bush.  According to Wikipedia, she provided P.G. with the following advice a few years ago:

  • Anyone thinking about entering politics should distinguish himself in some other field first: “Make a name for yourself, have a family, marry someone great, have some kids, buy a house, pay taxes, and do the things everyone also does instead of just running out and saying, ‘Hey, I’m the nephew of or the son of or the grandson of…‘.”

I couldn’t have said it better.  Although P.G. seems like a fine person with a strong education and commendable military service in his background, I don’t think his brief work in corporate law followed by a partnership in an Austin real estate investment company and a Fort Worth business consultancy (none of which has experienced any significant success) satisfies Barbara’s criteria.  But you can’t blame him for being impatient; Obama was, too, and look what happened to him.

October 21, 2012

Sunday Book Review #87 – The Presidents Club

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 5:05 pm
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The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy is a history book that examines the role that ex-Presidents have played in American politics since the end of World War II.  I haven’t read a history book in a long time, and based on this experience, I will be reading more history in the future.  Although I lived through most of this time period, it’s amazing how much of what happened I had forgotten or never knew.

The authors point out that ex-Presidents have no formal role, power, or responsibilities, so that their influence is limited to their ability to indirectly influence the current president.  Richard Nixon has been by far the most influential ex-president.  Although the authors’ hatred for Nixon is palpable, they document his outsize relationships, especially with Reagan, but also with Bush-41 and more surprisingly with Bill Clinton.

Perhaps the most informative section of the book for me was its review of Vietnam.  It revealed how Kennedy had made only modest commitments to Vietnam before his death, but that LBJ felt he had to defend those commitments against the invading North Vietnamese or else he would be savaged not only by Kennedy lovers, but also by Nixon/Eisenhower on the right.  Talk about being between a rock and a hard place.  Because of the debacle in Vietnam, Johnson was unable to complete his Great Society agenda consisting of a war on America’s 20% poverty, elderly healthcare, and civil rights. 

The next most informative section dealt with the rise of Ronald Reagan.  Because I’m someone who has lowered his estimation of Reagan over the years, The Presidents Club reminded me why I was so attracted to him in the first place – i.e., he was a true believer in the conservative cause of anti-communism and small government.  Because he was a true believer, he got a reputation as someone who was a loner or only out for himself.  Actually, he was in politics not for his ego, but to accomplish his conservative ends.  Life is so much simpler that way.

Probably the greatest insight from The Presidents Club is that, although politics tends to separate these highly partisan men, their status as president is even stronger in uniting them.  As President Clinton noted, “It’s impossible to be in this job without feeling a special bond with the people who have gone before.”  There is an old saying that you don’t second-guess another person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.  Ex-presidents are keenly aware of this, and their awareness makes them loathe to criticize their successor.  They more than anyone else know that a president is making decisions based on facts and information that the public is not aware of.  An example of this would be Obama’s idealistic criticisms of Bush-43 policies followed by Obama actually keeping in place most of those policies.  

The Presidents Club trivia:

  • Shortly after Nixon was sworn in in 1972, the ex-presidents club was empty because Harry Truman and LBJ died within a month of each other.  By contrast, when Clinton was sworn in in 1992, there were for the first time in history five ex-presidents – Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush-41 – and four of them had been turned out.
  • Shortly after Nixon’s death, Clinton told Larry King, “Just today I had a problem and I said to the person working with me, ‘I wish I could pick up the phone and call Richard Nixon and ask him what he thinks we ought to do about this.’”
  • Late in Clinton’s second term, he was hosting the nation’s governors, including two Bushes, at the White House.  When some of Clinton’s aides criticized W. for being a bit sour toward Clinton, Clinton defended him, “Look, the guy’s just being honest.  What’s he supposed to do, like me?  I defeated his father, he loves his father.  It doesn’t bother me, this is a contact sport.”
  • Bush-43 campaigned to bring honor and integrity back to the White House and suggested that the Clinton/Lewinsky affair cast a shadow that America wanted to leave behind.  Yet, shortly after Bush-43 was declared the winner in 2000, he visited the White House and asked Clinton if he minded the mention of “the shadow” during the campaign.  Clinton reminded him that Bush-41’s only request on leaving office was to save his beloved Points of Light Initiative, which Clinton did.  Clinton asked Bush-43 to save Clinton’s beloved AmeriCorps program, which Bush-43 did.

What I most enjoyed about The Presidents Club was reading how these men became better persons after leaving office.  Winning at all costs was no longer their dominant motivation.  Their status as an ex-president allowed them to act decently and with integrity.  While they were concerned with their legacies, their decency and integrity invariably enhanced those legacies.  Mostly, they cared about America and the institution of the presidency.

September 8, 2012

Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive

Filed under: Economics,Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 3:12 pm
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The slogan, “Bin Laden is dead; GM is alive,” seemed to resonate with mainstream Democrats at their national convention, and many pundits suggest that it will be the key to President Obama securing re-election because it will be particularly powerful in the GM-influenced swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  But is Obama any more responsible for saving GM than he is for killing Bin Laden?

Like other casual observers, I have accepted the conventional wisdom that President Obama defied the Republican Party to save GM – and, more importantly, its UAW pensions.  However, as I was reading John Stossel’s new book No, They Can’t I noticed he blamed both Bush-43 and Obama for this unwarranted intervention by government into the affairs of private business.  Stossel’s statement caused me to vaguely recall that Bush-43 had taken some controversial action in favor of GM.  For some reason, however, that action had faded into oblivion even as the GM revival has returned to the front page.

What was Bush-43’s role in the bail-out of GM?  According to a blog in The New Yorker magazine titled, “An Inconvenient Truth: It Was George W. Bush Who Bailed Out The Automakers,” lame-duck Bush-43 defied the Republican Party and saved GM from bankruptcy in December of 2008 by unilaterally diverting $17.4 billion from the TARP to GM and Chrysler.    

Isn’t it ironic that President Obama, who loves to blame all of his problems on Bush-43, never gives him any credit for playing an invaluable role in enabling the two principal accomplishments of the Obama administration – killing Bin Laden and saving GM?

p.s., Mitt Romney’s position is that GM should have gone through the bankruptcy process because that would have freed it from its unmanageable obligations to its unions.  President Obama’s bailout protected the unions more than it protected GM.

October 6, 2011

Hank Williams, Jr. and Monday Night Football

Filed under: Culture,People,Politics,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 8:08 pm
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ESPN announced today that it was permanently dropping Hank Williams, Jr. from its Monday Night Football (MNF) broadcast.   Williams was dropped because during a televised interview earlier in the week he had compared President Obama to Adolph Hitler.

Like many football fans, I will miss Williams and his “All My Rowdy Friends” theme song that has been an important part of MNF since 1991.  If given a choice between Williams’ song and having a sideline reporter (Michele Tafoya and Suzy Kolber), I suspect that most fans would choose Williams’ song.

My first reaction to this incident was to sympathize with Williams’ complaint that his free speech was being violated and feel that this is an example of political correctness gone amuck.  But upon further reflection, I am unable to distinguish this Monday Night Football incident from that of a few years ago involving Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks and George W. Bush.  Entertainers have the right to extreme political views, but they have to be willing to accept their fans’ reaction to the exercise of free speech.

The Dixie Chicks have never recovered from Natalie’s anti-Bush outburst, probably because of Bush’s widespread popularity amongst C&W music lovers.  Fortunately for Hank Williams, Jr., Barack Obama may be exceptionally popular with the mainstream media, but he is exceptionally unpopular with C&W music lovers and football fans.  Thus, it is not surprising that the mainstream media reacted quickly against Williams, but his long-term prospects with C&W music lovers and football fans are unlikely to be damaged.

June 28, 2011

Great presidents and continuing legal education

During the annual meeting of the State Bar of Texas, I had the good fortune of hearing presidential historian Douglas Brinkley give a talk on great presidents in America’s history.  I’m not sure how his talk qualified as continuing legal education for lawyers, but the state bar has almost unlimited power on that issue and it is very unlikely that anyone will complain.

Brinkley is a famous historian who is often interviewed on national news programs because he has the ability to present information in an interesting way, and his talk to at the annual meeting didn’t disappoint.  The talk was informal, and I suspect Brinkley could give it in his sleep.  His principal insights were:

  1. Although the talk was about presidents, Brinkley started with a non-president – Charles Thompson – who was a relatively unknown politician who did yeomen’s work in forming our union, but then was shut-out of a role in the newly-formed United States because he was too progressive for his time – i.e., he favored the emancipation of slaves and the liberation of women.
  2. George Washington’s signal achievement was to give up power after two terms.
  3. Thomas Jefferson saw that the Mississippi River was the spine of America and that religion has no place in a democracy.
  4. James Polk was successful because he established clear objectives (resolving the border issues with Mexico and Canada) and knew that wars of choice must be ended quickly.
  5. Lincoln’s challenges make the challenges faced by any other president seem highly manageable.
  6. Teddy Roosevelt created and led the conservation movement even though the public wasn’t demanding it.
  7. Franklin Roosevelt created the feeling that the federal government could solve all our problems.
  8. Harry Truman was horribly unpopular because he was too direct in trying to achieve his objectives, but his stock in history has skyrocketed.
  9. Dwight Eisenhower was an under-rated president who showed that America could be fiscally conservative and still do great things – e.g., NASA, interstate highways, and St. Lawrence Seaway.
  10. John Kennedy implemented things that worked (Peace Corp and SEALS/Green Beret), whereas his successor Lyndon Johnson spent too much money on things that didn’t work.
  11. Gerald Ford did a great job of extricating America from two problems – Nixon and Vietnam.
  12. Jimmy Carter brought morality to Washington.
  13. Ronald Reagan went with his gut and told Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
  14. Bill Clinton was relatively successful, but never did anything big and will always be remembered for the sex scandal.
  15. George H.W. Bush will be upgraded by historians because of his brilliant handling of foreign policy.
  16. Barack Obama is disposed to placate, not lead.  He acts like the only adult in the room, but doesn’t lead.  His greatest accomplishment will be getting elected.

Brinkley skipped over Bush-43, but someone during the Q&A asked if it was likely that Bush-43 would be upgraded by historians.  Brinkley did not think so because Bush-43 would be forever stained by the economic collapse at the end of his second term.  It’s ironic that Bush’s economic collapse not only resulted in the historic election of Barack Obama, but also may have fated Obama to the ignominy of a one-term presidency.

In my opinion, Brinkley skipping Bush-43 was bad enough, but skipping Richard Nixon, too, is unforgivable, especially when he found time to mention Jimmy Carter.  I will keep that in mind when reading Brinkley in the future.

May 10, 2011

If kill missions are OK, why isn’t torture?

While watching Bill O’Reilly’s TV show last night, I learned two things:

  1. His show, The O’Reilly Factor, is taped.  I learned this fact when Bill closed the show by saying he was in Boston to watch the Celtics’ game against the Miami Heat.  I immediately changed channels and joined the Celtic/Heat game at the start of the fourth quarter.  Although I had assumed that some of the show’s segments might be taped, I am a bit disappointed that the show is not as lively as it seems.  Don’t tell me that Bryan Williams isn’t live.
  2. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon is not ready for prime time.  On Sunday I saw Donilon on Meet the Press (his first appearance) and was struck by his lack of command.  Although he was given relatively easy questions from David Gregory about the highly successful Osama mission, he continually gave nonresponsive answers.  Even worse, his talking points were poorly drafted and horribly delivered.  In reviewing the transcript, I counted six times where he said, “With regard to that, I’d like to make (two, three, or four) points.”  Last night’s The O’Reilly Factor showed that Donilon also appeared on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace and was completely unable to answer Wallace’s question about why the Obama administration was unwilling to waterboard a terrorist, but it was willing to shoot an unarmed terrorist.  Although Donilon was obviously prepped for his interviews, this line of questioning seemed to catch him off-guard and he was completely unable to think on his feet.  If I were President Obama, I would keep this guy away from public interviews.

Regarding an appropriate answer, I haven’t seen the pundits discuss Wallace’s question.  In my opinion, the terrorists should be treated like the enemy combatants that they are.  Therefore, it is appropriate to kill a combatant unless he is “conspicuously surrendering,” but after surrendering, it is wrong to torture him.  This, of course, begs the question, because we don’t have an agreement on whether waterboarding is torture.  I think I agree with O’Reilly and Bush-43 – i.e., waterboarding is borderline torture than should be utilized only in extenuating circumstances authorized by POTUS. 

Most people forget that, when Bush-43 authorized waterboarding against three terrorists, he declined to authorize two types of enhanced interrogation that he concluded crossed the line into torture.  Perhaps there is a Pulitzer waiting for the enterprising journalist who identifies those types of interrogation.

May 5, 2011

Osama’s head shot

One of the reasons that I voted for Barack Obama was that during the campaign he acted coolly and dispassionately, unlike his opponent John McCain.  When the American financial system was approaching a meltdown, McCain lurched from recommending a campaign shutdown to a D.C. summit to a gas-tax vacation while Obama stuck to his campaign and let Bush-43 run the country.

Since his election, however, Obama has disappointed me because he and the Pelosi-Reid Congress took America further to the left than it wanted to go during their two-year reign.  But his action today in deciding to withhold photos of the Osama head shot is an example of why I voted for him.  Although his explanation reveals him not as polished or articulate as Bush-43 (notice the three consecutive “you knows”), he gets to the heart of the matter: 

  • It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence, as a propaganda tool. You know, that’s not who we are. You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies. You know, the fact of the matter is this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received.”

Yes, the tabloid crowd in America will ask for tabloid fodder, but the American government should not be complicit in this untoward and unseemly activity.  That is not what we do. 

For a too-fawning description on Obama’s leadership mojo, see Maureen Dowd’s most recent column.    She calls Obama “Cool Hand Barack” and compares his Saturday appearance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner to Michael Corleone’s appearance at a baptism while several “hits” on his rivals were being carried out.

Maureen also points out that one on Obama’s advisers “described the president as the un-John Wayne ushering a reviled and chastened America away from the head of the global table. The unnamed adviser described the Obama doctrine on display in Libya as ‘leading from behind,’ which sounds rather pathetic.”  I agree with Maureen that such advisors are not helpful when they make gratuitous slights about the Duke.

Maureen’s reference to John Wayne came from an article in The New Yorker written by Ryan Lizza.  The following is the concluding paragraph in the interesting article titled, “The Consequentialist”: 

  • “Nonetheless, Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as ‘leading from behind.’  That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. ‘It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,’ the adviser said.  ‘But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.’”

Charles Krauthammer discussed Lizza’s article in a recent column:

To be precise, leading from behind is a style, not a doctrine. Doctrines involve ideas, but since there are no discernible ones that make sense of Obama’s foreign policy — Lizza’s painstaking two-year chronicle shows it to be as ad hoc, erratic, and confused as it appears — this will have to do

And it surely is an accurate description, from President Obama’s shocking passivity during Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution to his dithering on Libya — acting at the very last moment, then handing off to a bickering coalition, yielding the current bloody stalemate. It’s been a foreign policy of hesitation, delay, and indecision, marked by plaintive appeals to the (fictional) “international community” to do what only America can.

But underlying that style, assures this Obama adviser, there really are ideas. Indeed, “two unspoken beliefs,” explains Lizza. “That the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world.”

Amazing.  This is why Obama is deliberately diminishing American presence, standing, and leadership in the world?

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