When I walked out of a screening of A Good Old Fashioned Orgy a couple of weeks ago, I was convinced I didn’t like the movie. The story about a group of friends who decide to hold an orgy to celebrate the end of their run of summers at a house in the Hamptons that’s being sold out from under them initially struck me as overly crude, yet another entry in Jason Sudeikis’ torpedoing of his own likability. But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since, and I think I’ve decided there’s something refreshing and vulnerable about this crude, funny little movie that’s continued my thinking about male fantasies.
There’s no question that A Good Old Fashioned Orgy is vulgar and sometimes bro-ish in a way that can be off-putting. It’s not really much fun to watch a grown man speculate about what it might be like to receive oral sex from a high school girl wearing what he assumes are snap game bracelets, musing that “I bet she unhinges her jaw like a python.” Similarly, treating a guy who worries about HPV as if he’s stupid to worry about cervical cancer because “you don’t have a cervix” or mocking a man who doesn’t mind a girlfriend with pubic hair as some kind of hippie seem like unfortunate instances of beating up on men for acting like decent human beings. And when one character tells the core cast at a “White Trash Party” they’re hosting “I don’t find the notion of mocking the American underclass as amusing as you and your friends do,” I was pretty much in agreement.
But there’s something intriguing about the central insecurity that drives the characters to the idea that an orgy is a good idea: a sense that folks in their late twenties and early thirties lost some of their sexual self-confidence to the AIDS crisis. “It scared the shit out of all of us,” Sudeikis’ character Eric explains, making the pitch for the orgy to his friends. “Kids these days are freaks. This is our chance to take back what’s been taken from us.” I don’t think that the advent of an age of safe sex and realistic concerns about sexually transmitted diseases is a tragedy?it’s precisely the opposite, of course. But an ideal world is one where people can balance responsibility with the ability to ask for what they want. I was talking to Jaime Weinman, the television critic at Maclean’s about this over the weekend, and he pointed out there’s a definitive decline in the number of lotharios on television in the late eighties and early nineties that’s been followed by a resurgence of the type in recent years. The characters in A Good Old Fashioned Orgy aren’t all men, and they’re not necessarily aspiring to be Sam Malone, but despite the crudeness of the movie’s first half, the second is actually reasonably sensitive and thoughtful about exploring the characters’ desires.
A more conventional romantic comedy would bring the characters up to the brink of the orgy and have them walk away from it in favor of stable monogamy. A Good Old Fashioned Orgy almost takes that route, but instead has the characters go ahead with it. Sex in almost all mainstream pop culture is a complicating factor, so there’s something refreshing about A Good Old Fashioned Orgy‘s insistence that it can be clarifying. That doesn’t mean the clarity all of the characters get is particularly satisfying. One character who hopes the orgy will push her into a relationship with Eric is disappointed. Alison (Lake Bell) ends her relationship after the evening. McCrudden (Tyler Labine) is still jobless and girlfriendless, but he’s vocalized some of his fears about that lack of success. But for some of them, it’s a big, positive deal. Laura (Lindsay Sloane) has her first orgasm and Adam (Nick Kroll, who I’m loving in The League), mostly portrayed as a hypochondriac nerd, is treated like a singularly admirable guy for having the patience to get her there. The movie even takes a stab at being equal-opportunity guy-on-guy and girl-on-girl.
A Good Old Fashioned Orgy isn’t a perfect movie. Like Bridesmaids, I wish Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck, who wrote and directed, had been confident about the core concepts to forego some cheap and gross laughs. But it’s smart ? and different ? enough about sex and relationships that I hope this is the beginning of a movie conversation rather than the end of it.
Via Washington Post, “nearly 100 former aides to members of the new budget-cutting super committee now work as K Street lobbyists,” with 43 staffers lobbying for the health care industry. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) — the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee — employed the most staffers-turned lobbyists: 25, with 12 now working for the health care industry:
President Obama will lay out his latest jobs plan before a joint session of Congress on Thursday, in the wake of a report that showed zero net jobs were created last month. Unemployment has remained above 9 percent, while unemployment amongst African Americans is at a 27-year high.
Obama said yesterday that he aims to “present a far-reaching jobs plan aimed at winning bipartisan support.” However, up to this point, Republicans have been utterly uninterested in supporting job creation policies, preferring to slash and burn the federal budget and force the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of public sector workers.
But while the GOP may be firmly against progressive job creation measures, the public is assuredly not. According to two polls released today, the public supports government-backed measures to bring down the unemployment rate.
First, 51 percent of respondents in a Politico-George Washington University poll said that they favor “a large scale federally subsidized nationwide construction program putting Americans back to work building roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals.” Just 21 percent of respondents oppose such an idea.
Meanwhile, 62 percent of respondents in a new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll approve of the federal government “paying for long-term unemployed workers to train at private companies for eight weeks, and then giving the companies an option to hire them.” A plurality of respondents approve of funding a road construction bill, extending unemployment benefits, and extending the payroll tax cut that was included in last December’s tax deal.
And it’s not only on the job creation front that the progressive agenda garners widespread support. As NBC’s First Read noted today:
With the first Super Committee hearing this Thursday, the NBC/WSJ poll also shows what course the public wants it to take. The good news for Obama/Democrats — it’s on their turf. Per the poll, 60% say it would be acceptable if the Super Committee comes up with a plan to reduce the deficit by ending the so-called Bush tax cuts for families earning $250,000 or more per year. Moreover, 56% say it would be acceptable if its plan reduces the deficit by a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. By comparison, just 37% believe it?s acceptable for the Super Committee to reduce the deficit by only cutting spending and not raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. And only 20% say it?s acceptable to lower the deficit by reducing spending on Medicare.
As Steve Benen put it, “for all the talk about the center-right nation, and for all of the president?s troubles in the polls, most of the public is still on board with what Democrats are proposing, and have no use for what the GOP is selling.”
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, pushed his idea for lowering the deficit in a FoxNews.com op-ed today: drill for oil to create jobs instead of raising taxes. “If the Joint Committee is serious about addressing America?s long-term budget issues, it must recognize the substantial economic potential of developing America?s energy resources,” Hastings writes. He adds that the U.S. is not maximizing its energy resources, which he says would create jobs and lower gas prices, and he blames the Obama administration for stymieing oil drilling with excessive regulations that “keep a large portion of our energy resources locked away.” But Hastings fails to note that the Obama administration has overseen a record increase in the number of oil rigs. And that the U.S. Energy Information Agency has reported that increasing oil drilling would only decrease gas prices by a few cents — in 2030.
Two new studies from the University of Toronto suggest that sexual orientation impacts how likable a stranger is, even when it is unknown. Without foreknowledge of the pictured individuals’ sexual orientation, participants found straight white men more likable than gay white men, but the opposite was true for black men ? gay black men were more likable than straight black men.
The mainstream center-left political parties in Germany, the Greens and the Social Democrats, are substantially more Europhilic than the governing Christian Democrat/Free Democrat coalition. In the context of the current policy issues, they’ve even specifically advocated Eurobonds and the creation of a de facto fiscal union. Given that these measure are deeply unpopular with the German electorate, you might expect the Greens and the SPD do be suffering at the polls. In fact, the reverse is happening and the center-left keeps winning election after election, with the CDU and FDP getting trounced yesterday in regional elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern after a string of other defeats.
Initially, I was inclined to do an “everybody’s wrong and actually Germans love fiscal union” post based on these election results, but I looked up the poll data and it’s just not there. Germans prefer Merkel’s (wrong) view to the opposition’s (correct) one.
Her problem is roughly the problem President Obama is facing. The vast majority of people just vote for the same party every year. “The voters” don’t care about the economy, they’re mostly committed Republicans or committed Democrats. But elections are swung by the relatively small minority of people who don’t have firm partisan allegiances and they vote?whether in Germany or in the United States?largely on the basis of whether or not the incumbent is producing good results. Merkel is no more empowered to unilaterally dictate economic policy across the Eurozone than Obama is empowered to unilaterally dictate economy policy in DC, but in Germany today?just like in the US in 2010?people hold the incumbent leader responsible for the overall outcome and vote accordingly.
Thus spake the Oracle of Hollywood, Nikki Finke. If this does turn out to be the case, I really hope there is at least some Bowfinger-style vicious satire of the movie business, particularly of the Buck the Wonder Slave variety:
Jeffrey Goldberg’s report on a meeting of National Security Council Principals Committee (NSC/PC), in which Secretary of Defense Robert Gates expressed frustration with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intransigence on the peace process and the fact that “the U.S. has received nothing in return” for its security guarantees, might raise more questions than it answers.
What Goldberg didn’t mention is the historical and conceptual context for Gates’ remarks. Indeed, Gates is not the first senior American official to express concern that the protraction of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and the perception of U.S. favoritism toward Israel on this issue — was offering few, if any, dividends for U.S. security or its own regional interests.
Back in March, 2010, Gen. David Petraeus made waves when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had immediate implications for the U.S.’s ability to pursue its interests in the Middle East. He named some of these problems:
Insufficient progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace. The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.
Israel hawks quickly denounced Petraeus’ comments and have continued to attack a straw man argument that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wouldn’t solve all challenges facing the U.S. in the Middle East.
But Petraeus wasn’t the only senior U.S. official to endorse the concept of “linkage” between resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the longer-term strategic interests of the U.S. in the Middle East. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CENTCOM commander Gen. James Mattis, and Adm. Michael Mullen — via a WikiLeaks cable — have voiced endorsements of this concept.
While Jeffrey Goldberg — who has a history of rejecting linkage — carefully reports on Gates’ anger with Netanyahu for delivering “nothing in return” for security guarantees, access to weapons, and intelligence sharing, he is careful to sidestep the obvious next question. Why does Gates feel strongly about Netanyahu refusing to “grapple with Israel’s growing isolation and with the demographic challenges it faces if it keeps control of the West Bank”?
Goldberg doesn’t engage that topic. It might be because Gates shares the emerging consensus of the U.S.’s top military and political leadership that Israel’s continued settlement expansion and intransigence at the negotiating table is doing real damage to the Obama administration’s attempts to pursue a wide range of military and political interests in the Middle East.
In December 2006, Robert Emmel, an account executive in News Corp’s profitable marketing division called News America Marketing, mailed Grassley’s office a 58-page document detailing News Corp’s unfair business practices. News America Marketing had won incredibly lucrative contracts away from a New Jersey-based firm called Floorgraphics not too long after Floorgraphics caught someone with a News Corp I.P. address illegally accessing password-protected information on the company’s computer system. As critics have pointed out, the alleged hacking attempts by News America Marketing seem to mirror information-stealing tactics used by News Corp’s British newspapers, including the now-defunct News of the World tabloid.
In 2006, Grassley was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Emmel had gone to the committee looking for help. According to court filings, Grassley investigative staffer Nick Podsiadly had spoken with Emmel and told him that the committee would consider its own inquiry into the matter or he would refer the documents to the Justice Department. Podsiadly was Emmel’s best hope. After he submitted the sensitive information about his employer to the Senate Finance Committee, Emmel signed a non-disclosure agreement with News Corp, and was dismissed from the company the following month. News Corp unleashed a slew of lawyers against Emmel, which eventually forced the man into bankruptcy. As the New York Times has reported, News Corp more or less extinguished allegations of corporate espionage with $655 million in various settlements and buy-outs to competitors. (In-store marketing companies Valassis and Insignia claimed that News Corp had used similar tactics against them.)
Podsiadly, as it turned out, may have never opened an inquiry or passed along Emmel’s tip to the Department of Justice. A spokeswoman for Grassley explained to the Guardian that ongoing litigation prevented the committee from action:
A spokeswoman for the finance committee said nothing would be done with any documents sent by Emmel until the litigation over them had ended. Emmel today remains under a court-imposed injunction that forbids him from disclosing anything from these documents. “I cannot comment,” he said.
Phil Hilder, Emmel’s attorney, is not buying the committee’s excuse for not investigating the matter. “What litigation? I’m not sure at the time there was any litigation that they were referring to.” Hilder explained that to his knowledge the tip was never referred to the Department of Justice either. “I have no idea what if anything Mr. Podsiadly did with the information,” said Hilder, a former federal prosecutor.
Perhaps Grassley’s spokeswoman was hoping that the Guardian, a London-based paper, would be unaware of standard congressional procedures. Ongoing litigation, or even the threat of litigation, never prohibits a congressional committee from opening an investigation.
Mort Rosenberg, the author of Investigative Oversight and a number of manuals for conducting congressional inquiries, dismissed the Grassley excuse in an interview with ThinkProgress. “Congress has huge powers over what it decides to investigate,” Rosenberg explained. In some cases, when the Department of Justice is already looking into a criminal matter, Congress will avoid engaging in an investigation. But overall, Rosenberg said outside litigation never prevents a committee from opening an inquiry.
ThinkProgress spoke to Beth Levine, a spokeswoman for Grassley, who said the documents are not currently under Grassley’s purview because he is no longer the chairman or ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. Asked if Podsiadly ever referred the whistleblower documents to the Justice Department or began a congressional inquiry into the matter when he received them in 2006, Levine responded, “I don’t know the answer to that question.” Further requests to Podsiadly and Grassley staff for more information have gone unanswered.
In the United Kingdom, News Corp ducked prosecution for its systematic hacking for years by exploiting the company’s connections to prominent politicians and police authorities. In the United States, FBI agents, after reviewing the “excellent paper trail” left by News Corp while allegedly breaking into the computers of competitor Floorgraphics, contacted the the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey to consider a criminal investigation. At the time, the U.S. attorney was a Bush appointee named Chris Christie — a confidant of News Corporation executive and Fox News chief Roger Ailes and now the Republican governor of New Jersey. As reporter David Carr noted, the FBI case “died a slow death” in Christie’s office.
News Corp has quieted the alleged American victims of its corporate espionage by buying their silence with over half a billion worth of settlements. The public, however, deserves a fair hearing about the alleged criminal conduct. News Corp is no ordinary company; its vast newspaper and cable news holdings have a responsibility to serve the public interest, so a pattern of corrupt conduct across the company has wide implications. The question remains though why Grassley’s staffer, Podsiadly, may have dropped the ball and thrown News Corp’s whistleblower under the bus.
When it comes to caring for our nation’s veterans, Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has undergone an astonishing transformation in the last nine months. In January, she proposed a wildly unpopular plan to slash $4.5 billion in veterans services and reduce disability compensation for 150,000 veterans. Veterans groups blasted the proposal as “heartless,” “totally out of step with America?s commitment to our veterans,” and “showing contempt for American servicemembers? sacrifices.” Facing an avalanche of criticism, Bachmann eventually withdrew her proposal.
But now that she’s running for president, Bachmann is billing herself as a great defender of veterans benefits. The Washington Independent reports that during a speech at the annual convention of the American Legion in Minneapolis last Thursday, Bachmann vowed to support and strengthen veterans medical care:
“It is our duty, first and primarily, to protect our veterans and to make sure that you receive not only the respect, but also the care that you have paid for very heavily with your service to our nation,” Bachmann told members of the American Legion Thursday.
“As president, I will assure that those who serve today as well, and in the past, have the highest access to the best care, both of health, mental health and rehabilitative care that the world has to offer.”
But Bachmann’s January plan, which was touted as a way to avoid raising the debt ceiling, would have brought about dramatic cuts to veterans services.
Bachmann’s plan would have frozen the Veterans Affairs Department’s health care spending and reduced the amount veterans receive in Social Security Disability Income. The congresswoman offered no explanation for her sharp reversal on the issue, but it’s hard to interpret her promise to strengthen veterans benefits nine months after trying to cut them as anything other than empty pandering to an important political constituency.
But regardless of the circumstances, it’s nice to see Bachmann embrace the sort of government-run health care program she typically denounces during her campaign stops as “unconstitutional” and “the crown jewel of socialism.” The Department of Veterans Affairs health care program is perhaps the best example of an entirely government-administered health care system, complete with its own doctors and hospitals.