Friday, September 30, 2016


It is interesting that this Congress seems to be able to overcome partisanship only when there's opportunity to strike a self-righteous pose.  Despite warnings from the CIA director and others, CIA Director Calls 9/11 Legislation 'Badly Misguided'An Obama Veto Worth Backing, Congress has overridden Obama's veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (Jasta) which creates a new exception to foreign sovereign immunity -- to permit suits against countries for their possible involvement in acts of domestic terrorism.  The purported purpose of the bill was to give the 9/11 victims -- and their lawyers -- the ability to sue Saudi Arabia.

Foreign sovereign immunity exists for a reason:  sovereign immunity avoids the potential adverse political consequences from private lawsuits against foreign governments.  As Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted, when you start doing away with sovereign immunity, “you end up exporting your foreign policy to trial lawyers.”  International affairs are complicated enough without a lot of private citizens crossing swords with foreign governments.

There are already some exceptions to sovereign immunity -- claims involving commercial transactions  and claims against countries that have been officially designated as “state sponsors of terrorism” by the American government (Saudi Arabia is not one).  The new exception allows civil lawsuits against any sovereign nations that “knowingly or recklessly contribute material support or resources, directly or indirectly, to persons or organizations that pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism…” regardless of any designation that it is a "state sponsor of terrorism."

What reveals the lack of seriousness in the override is that Congress in the same week approved a major arms deal to Saudi Arabia.  Senate Votes to Advance $1.15 Billion Saudi Arms Deal.   If the Senate really believed that Saudi Arabia was behind the 9/11 attacks, why is it selling the Saudis over a billion dollars in arms?

To me, Jasta is a lot of nonsense.  First, the 9/11 victims have been compensated.  More Than $38 Billion Paid to 9/11 Victims.  So, this isn't really about compensation.

Beyond that, the law represents a rather sad reprisal to a particularly heinous crime.  When Pearl Harbor was bombed and Japan killed some 2400 Americans, Congress didn't swing into action and decide to teach Japan a lesson by allowing the Pearl Harbor victims to sue the Japanese government.  It declared war on Japan and pursued that war until there was total victory.  If Congress really believed that Saudi Arabia was behind a terrorist act that claimed more lives than the Pearl Harbor attack, Riyadh would have been leveled long ago.

The Congressional override is clearly just a lot posturing before an election in an attempt to garner a few more votes.  It does nothing to further American interests, and does much to harm them.  Already Congress is having buyer's remorse.  The Runaway 9/11 Bill That Congress Refused to Stop.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Summer Movie Report 2016

Here is my summer movie report for this year.  Sue and I saw seven official summer movies. Without giving too much away, I give my basic reactions.   Included are the Metacritic ratings in parentheses.

Love & Friendship (87)  Whit Stillman, known for his semiautobiographical triad Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, returns to his Jane Austen obsession (Metropolitan being inspired by Jane Austen.)  – this time with the re-telling a little-known Austen short story.  The critics loved this movie, and I can’t help but feel that I should have liked it more.  But in my dotage I found the plot a bit hard to follow and couldn’t quite keep the myriad characters straight.  Suggestion:  take notes.  Kate Beckinsale, however, is marvelous and astonishingly attractive at age 43.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (80)  For us, this wins as the flat-out most entertaining movie of the summer.   I’m going out on a limb here, but this movie may be Sam Neill’s finest hour (yes, and that includes Jurassic Park).  The movie could also double as a travelogue for New Zealand.

Cafe Society (64)  Here is more Woody Allen nostalgia.  The reviews were mixed on this one but, for Sue and me, it was also way up there in the sheer entertainment category.  It wasn’t as good as recent Allen offerings Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine, but still well worth watching.   With a funny Steve Carell, Twilight star Kristen Stewart, and Jesse Eisenberg as Woody Allen’s stand-in.

Captain Fantastic (72)  I’m of two minds about this movie. I think that you’re supposed to really admire the lead character for his totally principled approach to his life, but he was also really annoying and obnoxiously self-righteous.  So, I didn’t know what to think of him – perhaps that was the point.  But, for you Aragorn groupies, Viggo Mortensen, the lead, turns in a superb performance. 

Indignation (79)  Adam Chandler of the Atlantic Monthly once wrote an article entitled, “Stop Making Film Adaptations of Philip Roth Novels.”  Of course, moviemakers continue to ignore this demand.  (I think some six have been made so far.)  Indignation is the latest effort.  It may not fully capture Roth but it was still a pretty good movie – one of those movies that continues to haunt you days after you’ve left the theater.  Never did the 50’s seem so strange.

Don’t Think Twice (83)  We really enjoyed this movie.  It joins Hunt for the Wilderpeople and CafĂ© Society as our favorites of the summer.  Maybe all you need to know about this movie is who is involved.  Comedian Mike Birbiglia wrote and directed the movie, and is in the cast.  Also in the cast is comedian Keegan-Michael Key of the Comedy Central series Key & Peele.   And, I should mention co-star Gillian Jacobs, who grew up in Mt. Lebanon (class of 2000)(Did anybody know her?  James, Ali, Theresa, Pete?).  Finally, one of the producers is Ira Glass (Birbiglia has made a number of appearances on This American Life).

Florence Foster Jenkins (71)  Sue, I think, liked this movie more than I did.  And, it’s a rather amazing true story.  Jenkins was an item in the 30’s and 40’s in New York City.  So, it’s the sort of thing I would have liked to ask Mom or Dad about.  My problem was that I didn’t see why I should care about this person.  Sue, however, saw something honorable in Jenkins.  In any event, we agree that Meryl Streep is as accomplished as ever, and Hugh Grant gives a particularly elegant performance.