You might want to read the book and skip the film.

The Road

111 mins
Dir: John Hillcoat

* *

This is the third book of Cormac McCarthy’s to be filmed after All The Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men-- neither of which did either book full justice. Here we go again then with more of the same – a respectful adaptation of a terrifying post-apocalyptic novel with the terrifying bits chopped out. Vigo Mortensen plays a nameless man crossing a ravaged Southern U.S. landscape with his ten-year-old son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) after an unspecified environmental catastrophe has destroyed mostly everything - except for the ‘bad guys’ whom they're trying to avoid. Filmed in near monochrome (the only real color is when Mortensen recalls his past life) and with far too much emphasis on ambient noise, conversations are often muffled and imprecise. McCarthy’s book detailed with sickening precision the idea and execution of cannibalism in such a torturous existence. The film swerves away from this aspect, merely hinting at the possibilities and horror. Instead it concentrates almost entirely on the father/son relationship and its inevitable disintegration. Time and again they come across abandoned houses with secrets held inside. In one, a basement is full of naked prisoners, presumably being held as a future food source. When the house's occupants appear it makes for the only really disturbing scene in the film. Of course father and son escape; there’s a film to complete here!

The final scene is the main cop out. It’s as if the filmmakers suddenly realized they’d run out of money and just slapped on a contrived ending. The finish is not dissimilar to the book, but it lacks the novel’s philosophical energy and exploration. The idea that life may be renewing itself again was perfectly discussed by McCarthy, but here it’s dismissed in a two-minute scene of such contrivance that it spoiled what fragile momentum the film had built.

I can’t share the adulation and praise this film has gathered. It’s acted well, there is some effective cinematography (apparently some filming was done in New Orleans), and the plight of father and son and the occasional person they meet is well detailed, but it lacks the effective horror of the novel. The film would be better served as a TV serial, a form from which it borrows stylistically.

Lloyd Sellus



Here’s a word you should add to your working vocabulary: plutocracy. It means rule by the rich and it’s exactly what the United States of America has just officially become. Unless something changes fast, future scholars will look back upon January 21, 2010 as the day democracy was murdered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

For those of you asleep at the wheel—most Americans, or the streets would have been filled with protesters—the U.S. Supreme Court by its usual 5-4 vote, (with right-wing plutocrats making up the majority) ruled unconstitutional a sixty-three-year-old law that restricted the amount of money that corporations, unions, and advocacy unions can spend on federal elections. That’s right; there is absolutely no limit now. If Fox News wants to spend a billion dollars to convince you that Sarah Palin is presidential timber instead an airheaded jerk, it can do so. And if you think that the electorate is smart enough to see through such obvious attempts to buy votes, you’ve spent way too much time in the sun smoking illegal substances.

As plutocrats generally do, the rightwing Supremes tried to cover their ruling with a blanket of benevolence. The first amendment protection of free speech, they claimed, extends to campaign spending. Besides, advocacy groups such as labor unions are also free from restraint so the ruling is fair to all concerned. Where to start with what’s wrong with this logic?

First, it makes mockery of the Bill of Rights, a document originally drawn to prevent the masses from being run over roughshod by elites, not the other way around. Under prevailing Orwellian Newspeak, the people are somehow or other served by entrusting the protection of free speech to those very elites. We saw yesterday the culmination of more than a century of bad rulings in which courts have misused the 14th amendment to define corporate enterprises as individuals. Great stuff, really; if an inanimate business shell is legally a person, flesh-and-blood plutocrats can fleece the populace in secret.

Second, the ruling rests upon a classic false premise, a lie so enormous that the mind boggles over the amorality of judges who can utter it with a straight face. One can only believe that the ruling is fair to all if one believes that every group has equal access to resources. It’s never been true that labor unions competed on an equal basis with Corporate America and it’s certainly not true today. A mere 14% of Americans belong to unions; by my math reckoning that gives CorpAm a nearly 4:1 outreach advantage. If we parse it further, we find that CorpAm has an even greater leg up in what this really all about: money. Big Labor is one of the biggest whoppers ever invented. The AFL-CIO, the largest labor federation in America, has total assets of around $83 million dollars. Impressive, yes? Chicken feed! J.P. Morgan Chase alone has assets of two trillion dollars. News Corporation, the entity that owns Fox, had assets of over $53 billion. That gives Fox a potential influence advantage that’s 638 times greater than that of the AFL-CIO.

Third, it’s a fantasy worthy of Lewis Carroll to think that any progressive group in America has access to influence that’s even marginally comparable to that of CorpAm. The richest 20% of Americans already own more than three-fourths of *everything*--stocks, bonds, property, money, services, and media outlets. Those in the bottom quarter have access to less than three percent of America’s wealth. Even if they could convince everyone else to join forces against the power of elites, they’re still at a 3:1 asset disadvantage. Big Labor? As I said, it’s a myth and an increasingly toothless one at that. The AFL-CIO can’t even convince its own rank and file how to vote let alone the rest of the nation. (And most of its constituent unions haven’t had an original idea since the 1930s, where many of them live psychically.)

Here’s what we’ll see unless Americans act now to stop this madness. You can kiss goodbye major parts of the Bill of Rights. Well-heeled rightwing heels will spend tens of millions to elect officials who will take away reproductive freedoms, the right to sue corporations, privacy rights, freedom of association, sexual preference protections, civil rights guarantees, affirmative action, banking regulation, and environmental laws. The only amendment that will be sacrosanct will be the second. Look also for major assaults on the few remaining public programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, and the postal service. I sincerely doubt that most anti-poverty programs will survive in useful form, or that Barack Obama will win a second term.

It may already be too late, but Americans need to rise up against plutocracy. Demand that your Congressional representatives, whatever party they may be, reestablish the limits just stricken by the courts. A usual first step would be a hard spending cap on how much can be spent in total during elections, an end-around maneuver of the court ruling. If the United States followed the path of other Western democracies, we could limit both spending and the campaign season. If a Congressional race was restricted to twelve weeks, for example, and no candidate could spend more than half a million dollars, the playing field would level and both candidates and voters would be forced to focus more on issues. This would create an influence balance between plutocrats and (small “d”) democrats.

Need more proof that matters are out of hand? It cost $1.6 billion to elect a president in 2008 and all we got out of it was an old crank losing to a guy whose oratory exceeds his ability. This is not a Democrat versus Republican issue; it's one that dtermines which people have a voice, all of them or just those with obscene wealth. Let’s make no mistake: democracy has one foot in the grave and the other is poised to step. We must act now or the plutocrats have won.



Time again for the GOP tax-cut dance. Think I'll sit this one out.

If American politics was like The Wizard of Oz, President Obama would be pounding the yellow brick road in pursuit of courage, his Democratic allies would be seeking a brain, and his Republican opposition would be in severe need of a heart. I’ve been harping on the Democrats, but let me turn my attention to the biggest band of selfish piggies on the planet: the Republican Party.

As this post goes live, Massachusetts voters are deciding whether to turn the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat over to a Republican. I can understand how people are disenchanted with the Democrats, but anyone whose income doesn’t hit at least seven figures needs to join the parade for a brain if they think that the GOP cares a damn about them. The Republicans are like a broken talking doll reduced to one phrase: “tax cuts.” If you told the GOP leadership that your spouse left you, your kid was starving, and that you had terminal liver cancer they’d tell you that tax cuts would fix everything.

Their latest fear du jour is their attack on President Obama’s “Jobs for Main Street” stimulus package. They hate it for the same reason they hate every government program: if the government spends money, that’s less they can demand be returned to the rich as tax cuts. “Why don’t we just put everyone in the United States on the federal government payroll and call it a day?” quipped California Representative Jerry Lewis. Is he the comedian of the same name? His state has unemployment of over 12% for heaven’s sake! For the record, just 7.3% of Americans work for the feds, about half of whom work in state or local government and another 20% of whom get a check from the employer Republicans never criticize: the U.S. military (on whom, more in a moment).

If you think Lewis is an idiot—and he is—check out this logic from Lawrence Lindsey, one of George W. Bush's former economic advisors. (That resume alone ought to disqualify him as an authoritative source.) The new Obama plan contains tax credits for small businesses. Lindsey’s remark: “Small business people have too much to do just to keep their businesses afloat to try to figure out some fancy, complex credit.” Presumably Big Business—the ones who fill the GOP coffers—have an army of lawyers who aren’t busy and can figure out how to take advantage of the GOP’s tax-cutting plan. I suggest we take the digging implement from one of Obama's shovel-ready projects and smack this moron on his thick head with it.

The GOP attack on both the proposed and past stimulus packages rests on two very big lies: that the first one didn’t work, hence the second one won’t either; and that government wastes money on undeserving programs when tax cuts for the rich are the real answer. Was some money in the first package wasted? Without a doubt. Here in Massachusetts some money earmarked for education went to defer a rise in student fees rather than program creation. We all know that rich bankers—the same people the GOP would be happy to reward—drifted happily to the ground courtesy of purloined golden parachutes. However, before you criticize the stimulus too loudly take a good look around. Yes, we have ten percent unemployment, but how many signs do you see that read “Project Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act?”

The very biggest Big Lie is that which lies at the heart of tax cut calls. Do any of us like taxes? Nope! But until someone can figure out how we can pay for schools, cops, fire fighters, roads, social programs, and the military without them, why not let those who’ve benefitted the most from American opportunity pay the highest burden? Of course, Republicans are quick to claim that we can give “everyone” a break if we just cut reckless government spending. Horse manure! They don’t mean everyone; they only mean the rich. Welfare is often a cost-cutting target, even though it consumes a mere 2% of the federal budget (down from more than twice that in 1994, when Bill Clinton, not Ronald Reagan, sliced it). There are thirty-four million poor Americans, roughly one of every fourteen citizens. Please don’t hand me any of that Reagan-era mythology about able-bodied welfare cheats. My response to that is two-fold: if you know one and haven’t turned them in, you’re an accessory to a crime; and don’t preach self-reliance until you know what you’re talking about. Five million kids are on welfare and another 1.5 million recipients are over the age of sixty-five. Unless you’re absolutely comfortable with the idea of over 6.5 million of our most vulnerable citizens starving to death in public, keep your nostrums in check. The bulk of the rest of welfare recipients: mothers with dependent children. Don’t criticize them either unless you’re willing to part with your own $2,400 per child yearly tax credit!

So let’s get to the biggest welfare cheats: the Pentagon. Even if every single person in the entire history of the welfare program from 1964 on was a fraud, we’ve shelled out less on them than the Pentagon spends every two years. And don’t tell me that Republican tax cuts will help anyone other than the already-wealthy and the military-industrial complex. When Reagan pulled this crap, just 1700 companies got 80% of all corporate tax cuts; they created a whopping 4% of new jobs in the 1980s. (The bulk was created by the very small businesses that Lindsey doesn’t think needs a tax credit!) Ninety percent of Reagan’s tax cuts for individuals went to the richest one percent. Bush wasn’t quite as bad, but pretty close: more than half of the savings went to the richest five percent. His tax cuts, by the way, cost more than twice as much as a single-payer health care plan would cost.

I’m no lover of the Democratic Party and am on record as saying we need a viable third (and fourth) party, but let us not kid ourselves into thinking that Republican heartlessness is the antidote to Democratic stupidity. My advice is that the next time you hear the GOP mantra “tax cut” you respond with one of your own: “Oink! Oink! Oink!”