Monday, February 27, 2006

TV Review: The Apprentice Kicks Off With Trump 101 Right Back In Session

School's back in session, kids.

That's right, Boardroom School, taught by the Don himself.

The Don seemed mellower, more wistful during the first episode of the fifth iteration of The Apprentice. He made vague allusions to people getting killed "viciously" in Africa over a gaudy lunch and tried to put the rat race that never ends into perspective. He appeared downright placid and pleasant, in fact. That is, however, until someone had the Audacity to break up his trademarked boardroom rhythm and metaphysical bio-algorithms.

And that's why it's time to open up class.

Trump 101 Rule #1
Shut Your Crap Siren When The Don Speaketh

Who are you, puny Mensa member, thou Harvard MBA, wretched Wharton Wharf Rat? Who are you to shine your greasy sheen and throw spittle-inflected words of mortal disgrace before The Brand Called Trump himself, he who cometh down from the very breath of clouds as though Ra made flesh?

That one chick who didn't make the phone calls to the restaurants might have gotten away with murder and not had her ass streamlined during Week One - if not for her "trying" to speak the truth. Truth? What's up with that? This is Reality TV, kids. Showtime!

And who did Ra strike down for getting uppity? That's right, Summer. Summer, who wouldn't make phone calls to a restaurant during "dinner rush." Summer, who refused to do what she was asked to do on the first task and then went ahead and predicted that her team would lose. Summer, who… oh hell, might as well make it:

Trump 101 Rule #2
Never Refuse to Call Restaurants on the First Task and Then Predict Your Team Will Lose

I'm not naming names here, I'm just saying, you know?

Trump 101 Rule #3
Know Your Enemy… Or, Don't Be Stupid

Tarek, otherwise known as Mr. Mensa, "warned" the young and idealistic Lee not to stand up to him in the boardroom and bring up the fact that the task yielded a phat zero on the creativity-ometer. (Giving away "gift bags" with no gift inside them as a sales device? I mean, what genius thought that one up? All non-Mensa folk may now cheer).

Trump 101 Rule #4
Don't Get Pegged As "The Russian" in Episode #1

Lenny, otherwise known as "The Russian" according to The Don (and who are we to argue), used his knowledge of "the area" to guide the Goodyear Blimp around the sunny skies of East Brunswick, New Jersey. For his troubles, he was dragged into the boardroom and continually pelted, Nerf crotch-gun like, by Mr. Mensa for not "stepping up" enough.

Not stepping up enough? Oh hell, I'm not even going to get to make the Ivan Drago-reference I was so looking forward to…

Trump 101 Rule #5
Enough With the Stupid Corporatese Bromides

Before we know it, someone's going to end up with a bad Case of the Mondays.

Haven't we seen enough of stepping up or not stepping up? How about some stepping down for a change? Or stepping out with your lady. Some tap dancing at least, Fred Astaire-flights of fancy for a Bottom Line-driven world. You know, something.

Trump 101 Rule #6
Never Ever Get Pegged As the Creepy Sweaty Crackpot Dude

They love to cast one of these every season. First there was the guy with the leisure suits and the guitar. Then there was the guy who ran his mouth but had almost nothing to say.

And now it's the creepy chubby guy who claimed to create a diet in which he lost 110 pounds and then proceeded to spend most of the episode waving his arms around and crying to the Heavens about what a "true team player" he is (see: Trump 101 Rule #5).

Honestly, this guy might be the smartest one out there, but he'll never get a shot because the other kids are gonna band together to Pelt the Freak. So…

Trump 101 Rule #7
Be An Insider's Insider

That one sounds kind of real, don't it? Like it should mean something?

That was a test, fools! If you passed the exam, you already know it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Wiretapping Leak Inquiry Epitomizes American Political Divide

As the Bush presidency heads deeper into its sixth year, it appears that one controversy has emerged from a bevy to both highlight and deepen the political divisions that began with the Supreme Court decision that sent George W. Bush to the White House in late 2000, sharpened in the wake of the Iraqi invasion, and became entrenched over the past year with scandals, Katrina, and the debate over the (ever?) expanding powers of the presidency dominating the headlines.

The Bush administration's deliberate decision to avoid established legal channels and wiretap Americans without a court order brings together and then collides all of these political divisions while fermenting the discontent of those who have been worried about preserving civil liberties and personal freedoms since the time of the original passing of the USA PATRIOT Act.

The latest development in this story centers upon an investigation into the leak that broke the wiretapping story, as The New York Times reports:

Federal agents have interviewed officials at several of the country's law enforcement and national security agencies in a rapidly expanding criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding a New York Times article published in December that disclosed the existence of a highly classified domestic eavesdropping program, according to government officials.

The investigation, which appears to cover the case from 2004, when the newspaper began reporting the story, is being closely coordinated with criminal prosecutors at the Justice Department, the officials said. People who have been interviewed and others in the government who have been briefed on the interviews said the investigation seemed to lay the groundwork for a grand jury inquiry that could lead to criminal charges.

While the "sides" of this issue easily take on traditional partisan leanings in many ways, each camp – left and right – has posed uneasy questions to mull over as both political parties face an election year and complex issues that hold no easy answers. The Democrats as a whole are concerned with national security while maintaining civil liberties in a post 9/11 world. For Republicans, and particularly those with libertarian and small government ideologies, the notion of governmental overreach into the private lives of citizens is troubling.

On the issue of "whistle blowing" and the right of the press to break stories and hold government responsible, Decision '08, in a piece entitled "Son Of PlameGate," does an excellent job of framing the issue from the conservative side:

There’s a real chance that the biggest casualty of the various Bush administration scandals circulating through his second term will be the press, and for those of us on the right, that prospect manages the difficult trick of being welcome and troubling at once.

A welcome prospect because, next to Hollywood’s elite and senators, journalists can be the most pompous of all professionals, hiding behind their principles when it suits them, and discarding them quickly when it does not. Troubling, because a vigorous free press is not only a good thing, it is absolutely essential to a well-functioning democracy.

The investigation into the leak is viewed by many in the liberal blogosphere in the (harsh) light of perceived or potentially illegal actions – misleading the nation into war with Iraq, mistreatment of prisoners, Scooter Libby and the Valerie Plame investigation, Jack Abramoff and corruption via undue influence of lobbyists, etc. – by the Bush White House and leaders of the Republican Party.

Jonathan Singer, on MyDD, sums up a statement in which the Bush administration is accused of being the "Party of Ineffective Big Government," by saying:

The Bush administration spies on the American people and then seems to expend more effort in finding out who blew the whistle on the program than it does going after crooks inside the White House. The list can go on and on.

This feeling of irony and hypocrisy is echoed by Glenn Greenwald on The Huffington Post:

The significance of this article from today's New York Times cannot be overstated. In essence, while the President sits in the White House undisturbed after proudly announcing that he has been breaking the law and will continue to do so, his slavish political appointees at the Justice Department are using the mammoth law enforcement powers of the federal government to find and criminally prosecute those who brought this illegal conduct to light…

Washington Monthly goes so far as to name names of those it believes have the real possibility of seeing jail time at the conclusion of the leak investigation, including Dan Eggan, James Risen, and Eric Lichtblau. An argument not often heard since the Libby indictment was then unfurled: "Too bad we don't have a federal shield law to protect them."

The New York Times itself, of course, does not escape the criticism of those who regularly assert that the Gray Lady doth lean to the left:

The New York Times is reporting that the investigation of the NSA leaks is progressing rapidly, even as it implies it is only the right wing which is concerned about it and quotes a lawyer (Mr. Boutrous) to the effect that the paper itself may be protected by a common law reporters’ privilege.

As 2006 winds its way toward what could be an Election Day that changes the balance of power in one or both houses of Congress, the evolving controversy over wiretapping will likely play a front-and-center role. And as the news headlines now reflect a Justice Department investigation into the leak that broke the story, many on the left are chomping at the bit to regain the legislative power to subpoena and officially conduct investigations of their own.