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PHILLY CLOUT: Yes, we know this is a time of year for lists, but at least we’re pretty sure you won’t see this one anywhere else. This is the one and only PhillyClout Top 10 Local Political Stories of the Decade. Our thanks to Dave Davies, Bob Warner and John Baer for their help. Happy reading.
1) Fumo goes down – This is the biggie. Longtime state Sen. Vince Fumo, viewed as the most powerful politician in the city, is convicted on 137 of 137 corruption counts. He ended the decade in prison.
2) Bug found in Mayor John Street’s office – The story that set the 2003 mayoral election on fire. A federal bug was found in Street’s office, and Democratic pols so effectively painted the corruption probe as a Republican witch hunt that a competitive race turned into an easy win for Street. Democratic chairman U.S. Rep. Bob Brady later admitted to Philadelphia Magazine he was “just spinning the s—.”
3) Nutter wins 2007 mayoral election – When he quit his job as City Councilman, most political insiders said he was crazy. But slow and steady, Nutter kept his head down, raised a substantial campaign chest, talked good government and sailed past two Congressmen, a state representative and a millionaire to win the Democratic primary race. He later cake-walked through the general election. MORE
PREVIOUSLY: Why We Endorsed Michael Nutter
HARRY SHEARER: As is well known by now, [Dick Cheney] uses the case of the failed Detroit underpants bomb attempt to accuse President Obama of “pretending that the United States is not at war,” thereby making us less safe. He can engage in this kind of rhetoric safe in two comforting assumptions: that the Republican base, and a certain percentage of independents, will eat this stuff up, and that the Democrats, in and out of power, will continue to not know how to respond. The latter is because they, willingly or not, allowed themselves to be co-opted into the “war on terror” model in the first place, out of fear of being depicted as “soft” if they so much as emitted a peep of opposition. What should they be saying? Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush, made the country less safe for eight years by pretending that this country was at war, thereby wasting vast amounts of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, while failing to achieve the basic aims of the enterprise. The problem with pretending we’re at war, rather than understanding we’re dealing with a criminal syndicate — like the Mafia — is that it gets our resources overextended and tied down in geographical areas, like Afghanistan, while the opponent is free to move and relocate (hello, Yemen!, hi, Somalia!). In fact, the war model weakens us, makes us less able to respond nimbly and quietly — check the recent stories on the logistical challenges facing the Afghanistan surge here, here, here and here. In short, we lumber, they scamper. MORE
WHITE HOUSE: To put it simply: this President is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action. Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the President.
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Reporting from Kabul — A bomber slipped into a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday and detonated a suicide vest, killing eight CIA officers in one of the deadliest days in the agency’s history, current and former U.S. officials said. The attack took place at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khowst province, an area near the border with Pakistan that is a hotbed of insurgent activity. An undisclosed number of civilians were wounded, the officials said. No military personnel with the U.S. or North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces were killed or injured, they said. A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the CIA had a major presence at the base, in part because of its strategic location. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a message posted early today on its Pashto-language website. The statement, attributed to spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, said the attacker was a member of the Afghan army who entered the base clad in his military uniform. It identified him only as Samiullah. MORE
RELATED: Four Canadian soldiers and a journalist have been killed in an attack in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. The Taliban has reportedly claimed responsibility for detonating the roadside bomb used in the attack. The journalist has been identified as Michelle Lang, 34, from the Calgary Herald, who had just arrived on her first assignment in the country. This has been the deadliest year for foreign troops since the 2001 invasion. Canada’s toll stands at 32 for 2009. MORE
WASHINGTON POST: HONOLULU — Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh was brought by ambulance to a hospital here on Wednesday after experiencing chest pains, according to a local television station. Limbaugh has been staying a short distance from the Obamas, at the Kahala Hotel & Resort, according to local news accounts. The conservative radio host was spotted on a golf course next to his hotel earlier in the week. KITV reported that Limbaugh was taken Wednesday afternoon from the resort in serious condition and transported him to the Queens Medical Center in Honolulu. MORE
BUSINESS WEEK: Rush Limbaugh, the conservative U.S. talk radio host, is “resting comfortably” in a Honolulu hospital after suffering chest pains, his program said in a statement. Limbaugh, whose show is heard on about 600 radio stations, was admitted to the hospital yesterday, according to the statement. He “appreciates your prayers and well wishes,” it said. Paramedics took Limbaugh, 58, to Queen’s Medical Center after responding to a 2:41 p.m. call at the Kahala Hotel and Resort, the Honolulu-based television station KITV said on its Web site. He was sitting in a chair in his ninth-floor hotel room when emergency crews arrived and told them he was taking medication for a back problem, the station said. MORE
UPDATE: “As I entered, Rush was standing holding his chest, red face, sweating, all the makings of a heart attack,” Rogers wrote. “I said, ‘Oh my God,’ and sat him down telling him the ambulance is on the way. Within minutes the hotel managers and security team were in the room. The pain was worsening and the scene was extremely scary. I kept reassuring Rush that the ambulance was on the way. The (hotel) security staff . . . put Rush on the floor and gave him an aspirin. His symptoms continued to escalate and we were all very scared. The paramedics arrived and began to evaluate Rush on the floor. He was administered nitro(glycerin) and we were rushed to Queen’s Medical Center.” MORE
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC The New York Times recent analysis of the 2009 box-office led them to conclude that the adult drama is dead; what audiences most wanted to see was “relatable, non-thinking comedies.” Looking down my list I can see how film critics get the reputation for championing the type of movies that are “good for you,” like bitter medicine. If this list of cinematic high points from the last twelve months is wanting in laughs perhaps these often grim perspectives on modern life stood out because they offer something other than the narcotic comfort of escape, at a time when facing society’s challenges seems more urgent then ever.
The Hurt Locker is the only film on this list that has been a consensus favorite, its concise focus on a bomb-defusing soldier slowly losing his marbles gives the film the feel of a popular modern classic (although the public seems a little behind on discovering it). Who knew the director of semi-preposterous thrillers, Kathryn Bigelow , would finally wed her visceral direction with an action-oriented plot that was both hyper-real and utterly otherworldly? I barely recognized its pug-nosed star Jeremy Renner from a Jeffrey Dahmer biopic years before but he burns here with a Cagney-like intensity in a tale that literally had me clutching at the armrest.
Red Cliff is a war film of another stripe, one of those big-budgeted Asian period epics, made to play huge across Asia as well as to mainstream U.S. audiences. Since the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Asian directors with art house credentials (Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige) have tried their hand at mounting a blockbuster whose production values would stand beside Hollywood films in scale and quality. John Woo shows himself best-suited for this task, re-discovering his breath-taking gift for action choreography and the shameless sentimentality which has all but disappeared in his lackluster Hollywood films. Red Cliff contains a trio of major battles whose staging has a clarity and cleverness all but missing in the cacophonous climaxes of its American counterparts, as well as vividly-drawn characters whose fates we care about.
The film Left Bank from Belgian director Pieter Van Hees barely got a release here, playing the Philadelphia Film Festival at the same time IFC was streaming it On Demand. It deserved more attention, its Polanski-style elegance raising it above its horror film framework. While resting her injury, a vulnerable track star (a wrenching performance by Eline Kruppens) is seduced by a wealthy archer living in an ominous highrise. Van Hees plucks each of his thrillers strings with precision, creating an unforgettable fable of dangers lurking from without and within our naive heroine. It is body horror of a different kind in Robert Kenner’s documentary Food Inc., the horror being what we put inside our bodies courtesy of our modern factory food system. A sometimes stomach-churning look at the path food takes on its way to our plate, Food Inc. stands out from the long string of scary news docs of the decade by the sheer intimacy of the subject, the meat and veggies we greet at every meal.
An ubiquitous figure in Italian politics during the second part of the 20th Century, Giulio Andreotti has been a Cheney-esque figure in his country’s history, a corrupt politician referred in the press as “The Black Pope”. With Il Divo, director Paolo Sorrentino gives this decrepit bureaucrat a phantasmagorical biopic worthy of Ken Russell in his razzle-dazzle glory. Tony Servillo (of last year’s mob pic Gomorra) is mesmerizing, playing the satanic senator as a man at peace with his evil deeds, violent deeds carried out far beyond his bubble of endless luxury. Bravura direction also wows us in Drag Me To Hell, with Sam Raimi returning to the type of boundary-pushing horror he abandoned for the hyper-lucrative Spider-Man franchise. Raimi comes back to the genre with a streamlined sense of storytelling, pulling perky star Alison Lohman through her voodoo curse without a wasted gesture. This tale of a banker’s heartless foreclosure on an elderly gypsy seer reverberates politically with a sly criticism of modern banking ethics as well.
Some of the most difficult viewing this year comes not surprisingly from Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark), whose Antichrist examines the grief channeled through two parents holed up in a isolated forest cabin. Many viewers couldn’t seem to get past the politically-charged scenes of Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg traumatizing their genitals yet the film plays less as a male-female showdown than a look at the dueling academic and emotional nature ofvon Trier’s subconscious. Seeing him leave the naturalism of Dogma for a return to the highly-stylized, surreal visuals of his early work makes Antichrist a particularly vivid work in von Trier’s endlessly intriguing filmography. Seeing Tilda Swinton turned loose on as anguished a character as the title wreck she plays in Erick Zonca’s Julia is an event not to be missed. Swinton’s volcanic presence can command the screen with as much authority as any of her acting contemporaries and as the alcohol-addled kidnapper she gives a performance of Raging Bull-scale ferocity. A change from the normally brainy characters Swinton usually plays, watching Julia as she makes one bad decision after another is an unforgettably nerve-jangling experience.
Much more dignified, Hirozaku Koreeda’s (Afterlife, Nobody Knows) unveils a subtler dysfunction in his family drama Still Walking. With a script that recalls the domestic dramas of O’Neill or Albee, Koreeda probes the unspoken frictions that travel like unseen electricity between members of a seemingly unexceptional family. There is a level of invisible craft in this exquisitely detailed screenplay that puts the clunky obviousness of similar American adult dramas to shame.
And finally there is another family drama, probably oversold on its rock and roll setting, at the heart of Ang Lee’s disappointingly-received Taking Woodstock. Only peripherally about the legendary concert, Taking Woodstock dares to pay tribute to the loosening moral code of the Hippie Generation that give birth to social freedoms we take for granted today. Based around a quietly natural performance by comedian Dimitri Martin as the closeted gay man who issued the permits to the overwhelming concert, JamesSchamus ‘ script captures that moment within 1969’s chaos that allowed people to think more expansively about their lives and their personal options. It a film full of “relatable comedy”, though not in the “non-thinking” mode the New York Times was celebrating. The film also has a clear-eyed optimism in America’s ability to evolve which was a fresh change from the choice between positive-minded happy talk or zombie-infested doom which most often defines the possible fates projected large on our movie screens today.
Psst…also: Olivier Assayas’ rumination on the passing of generations, Summer Hours, the cheerful losers of Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Korean action rendered sublime in The Chaser, Richard Linklater summoning a Wellesian moment of triumph in Me & Orson Welles, Tina Mabry’s masterful debut with the unusually intimate drama of black poverty Mississippi Damned (alas, still undistributed), the old-school “sci-fi of ideas” in Duncan Jones’ Moon, Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel’s near-silent comedy Rumba, Martin Provost’s conjuring of the natural world observed by naive French painter Seraphine , continued strong work from the God-bothering Coens’ with A Serious Man and the avalanche song found in the long-dormant footage assembled around the 1974 Zaire r&b concert in Jeffrey Levy-Hinte’s Soul Power. That’s the year! Now that we’ve wrapped our minds about that, its on to thinking what this first decade in Twenty-First Century cinema might mean….
BY MIKE WOLVERTON SPORTS GUY We have a few problems in this country, and one of them is the priorities of our elected officials. This month, Congress is wasting time and taxpayer money trying to force the NCAA to adopt a playoff system for Division 1 football. H.R. 390, the College Football Playoffs Act, would make it illegal to promote a postseason contest as a “National Championship” unless the teams involved arrived there via a playoff system. Forget that the bill is sponsored by a Texas Congressman trying to curry favor with UT alums (Texas was the team that got hosed by the current system in 2008). Forget that the Associated Press crowns their champion by vote, regardless of the participants in theBCS National Championship Game (only voters in the coaches poll are required to place the winner of that game atop their ballot). Also, please ignore the fact that regulating college sports is not the concern of the government, no matter what smoke screen they use (I believe it is “interstate commerce”). I think some of the motivation is that discussing college football at work is more interesting than the other boring crap Congress deals with.
Who needs a playoff, anyway? I’m not here to rehash all those arguments, but I will give you one: with the current system, the entire college football season becomes a “playoff”, where one loss usually ends your chances of winning it all. I, for one, love the current bowl system, and can make you a convert as well. It’s simple. Find a friend who likes college football and a list of all the point spreads. Agree on an amount to wager on each game (my friend and I started at $1 per game and now we are up to $10). One person chooses a team, and the other automatically gets stuck with the opposing side. Then person 2 makes a choice, and so on. Suddenly you have a stake in every bowl game on the board (a whopping 34 games this year), and Oh! How your holiday joy will grow!
I’ve been playing this game with my buddy for ten years and I hang on every down in such games as the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl (a.k.a. Blue Turf Bowl) and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Over the ten years I have become fascinated by the name and sponsorship changes and get a big kick out of referring to the games just by the sponsor (i.e. “What’s the line in the Gaylord?”). We’ve developed seven “spin off” games that measure things like the biggest underdog to win outright and gives different weights to each game depending on what order they are chosen. During Bowl Season this fun completely overwhelms my interest in the NFL, and makes the Dec.30-Jan. 1 “corridor” three of the most fun days of the year (fifteen bowl games in three days!). Because I have diligently previewed all 34 games, I will share a few of the highlights of this year.
Air Force vs. Houston (-4.5) in the Bell Helicopters. Houston has the #1 passing offense in the nation, Air Force the #1 passing defense. Air Force has the #3 rushing offense and Houston’s rush D is ranked 111th. So why is Houston giving points? And how can Air Force lose something called the Armed Forces Bowl? Oh, they lost this very game to this same Houston team last year? Forget it.
Boise State vs. TCU (-7) in the Tostitos. Conspiracy theorists delighted when neither of these “BCS Busters” got a shot at a BCS Conference opponent and thus neither will get a chance to change opinions about how their conference stacks up against the Big Six. Way to keep the little guy down! Already this bowl season, Utah and Brigham Young, fromTCU’s Mountain West Conference, have smoked Pac 10 teams. Meanwhile, Boise State’s conference-mate Nevada just lost by 35 as a 15-point favorite, and Fresno State lost while favored by 11. Judging by that, this could be a blowout…tune in to see just how goodTCU is.
Texas vs. Alabama (-5) in the Citi BCS NCG. You may find it hard to root for either team, but it is the National Championship.
DAILY NEWS: SPCA officials got more than they bargained for yesterday when they checked out a house on North Front Street following a report of a dog living in unsanitary conditions. Inside, they found a grisly animal graveyard with the remains of dozens of creatures that had been sacrificed in religious rituals [not pictured, above]. The discovery unfolded about 4 p.m. at a house on Front Street near Louden. “The whole house was covered in feathers from chickens that had been sacrificed,” said George Bengal, director of law enforcement of the Pennsyvlania SPCA. There were also skeletons of what were possibly other farm animals, and what appeared to be skeletons of dogs, cats and possibly primates. MORE
UPDATE: Officer George Bengal, director of law enforcement at the Pennsylvania SPCA, came out of a Feltonville house yesterday carrying box after box of dead animal parts and skins. After hours of digging through the dirt in an enclosed back area of the house and searching through the clutter of the house, PSPCA investigators found the remains of about 400 to 500 animals strewn throughout the house or buried in the ground in the back enclosed area, Bengal later said. The remains included “possibly” the carcasses of two monkeys, he said. The bones of one were found on an altar in a room off the kitchen. PSPCA law-enforcement officers also found about 100 or more knives, mostly machetes, he said. Animals “definitely” were used in some kind of religious ritual, Bengal said yesterday evening, after the officers finished digging and collecting boxes of evidence. MORE
RELATED: Meanwhile, Back In Iran
Pretty astonishing footage: an angry crowd storms a public hanging and rescues the two condemned men at the very last minute as they dangle from nooses, only to be peppered with gunfire from the authorities. Nobody said freedom was free.
Sent: Mon 12/28/2009 8:51 AM
To: Daily News
Subject: FW: Important message from [city editor] Gar Joseph Staff:
Dave Davies is leaving the Daily News to return to his second family, WHYY-FM, which means I just got 50 percent stupider.
Like a lot of other people around here, I used Dave as a sounding board, a memory aid and a moral compass. He has done nothing but bring credit to this newspaper since he walked in the door in 1990, about 6 city editors ago.
Dave had already built a reputation as a solid reporter with WHYY and KYW and only burnished it further with the Daily News. Yet never once did Dave ever act as though he were a star, bigger than the paper. In fact, he deflected credit whenever possible, loved to share it with others and was generous with his time in assisting young reporters. His work ethic was unparalleled and he refused to print the mush that politicians and city officials routinely feed us without checking the facts.
We almost lost Dave seven years ago when Gov.-elect Ed Rendell asked him to be his press secretary. But we had Dave’s integrity on our side. This time was much tougher. He’s already Terry Gross’ sub on National Public Radio’s top-ranked “Fresh Air” and a frequent host of “Radio Times.” As WHYY expands its news operation and Web site it just made too much sense for them to steal him away permanently.
Mike Days will fight hard to get the resources to replace Dave, whose last day will be Jan. 7. That fight won’t be easy and neither will finding a replacement. But that’s OK because Easy Sucks.
*This is a piss-poor joke we have been making for years but it’s too late to stop now. Just to be clear for those too young or gullible to know better, the Dave Davies in question is NOT the former guitarist of the Kinks, rather he is one of the best journalists this town has ever had. The Daily News will be poorer for his absence and WHYY all the richer. Integrity, thy name is Dave Davies. Stay golden, pony boy.
EW: A statement on Constellation Records’ official site reads in full: “Surrounded by family and friends, Vic Chesnutt died in Athens Georgia this afternoon, Friday 25 December at 14:59. In the few short years that we knew him personally, Vic transformed our sense of what true character, grace and determination are all about. Our grief is inexpressible and Vic’s absence unfathomable. We will make more information available according to the wishes of Vic’s family and friends.” It’s an unspeakably tragic end to Chesnutt’s story. Left in a wheelchair by a car accident at age 18, Chesnutt went on to build a devoted following with his folk-rock songs, many of which dealt eloquently with themes of pain and mortality. That following included many fellow artists: Fans including Madonna, R.E.M., and Smashing Pumpkins covered his work for Sweet Relief II, a 1996 compilation that raised funds for musicians’ health care. Chesnutt spoke openly about his own death in an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross that aired earlier this month. “You know, I’ve attempted suicide three or four times. It didn’t take,” Chesnutt said then. “I’ve flirted with death my whole life. Even as a young kid I was sick and almost died a few times.” Pressed by Gross on the subject of his suicide attempts, he added, “Sometimes I’d be angry that they revived me. I’d be like, ‘How dare you?’…But of course as the hours and days wear on, you realize, well, there is joy to be had.” MORE
JEFF MANGUM, NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL: “In 1991, I moved to Athens, Georgia in search of God, but what I discovered instead was Vic Chesnutt. Hearing his music completely transformed the way I thought about writing songs, and I will forever be in his debt.”
PATTI SMITH: “‘I flew around a little room once.’ A line from [Chesnutt's song] ‘Supernatural.’ He was just that. He possessed an unearthly energy and yet was humanistic with the common man in mind. He was entirely present and entirely somewhere else. A mystical somewhere else. A child and an old guy as he called himself. Before he made an album he said he was a bum. Now he is in flight bumming round beyond the little room. With his angel voice.”
RELATED: “The most important story to report now is not Vic’s death but a life and work overflowing with insight, humor, and yes, resilience. This, after all, was the man who wrote: ‘I thought I had a calling, anyway, I just kept dialing.’ Sixteen extraordinary albums, five in the last couple of years; countless live shows so powerful and sublime they deeply altered the lives of those on the stage with Vic and those looking up, yes up, at him. The second most important story here has to do with a broken health care system depriving so many of the help they need to stay around and stay sane, and a society that never balks at providing more money for more wars but fights tooth and nail against decent care for its citizens. Vic’s death, just so you all know, did not come at the end of some cliché downward spiral. He was battling deep depression but also at the peak of his powers, and with the help of friends and family he was in the middle of a desperate search for help. The system failed to provide it. I miss him terribly.” MORE
VIC CHESNUTT: Virginia
Featuring the photographs of Elliott Erwitt.
BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY In the spring of 1969, four activists from the Philadelphia chapter of the Students For A Democratic Society (SDS) were arrested for plotting to blow up the Liberty Bell after the police found bomb-making materials in the refrigerator of their West Philly apartment. According to the police, the planned destruction of the Liberty Bell was part of a larger plot hatched by a network of student radicals to destroy national landmarks across the country. The shocking news spread quickly when footage of the police search of the apartment — captured by a KYW film crew invited by police to document the raid — and the ensuing arrests made the evening news. The Daily News trumpeted news of the plot in two separate cover stories with the blaring headlines: COLLEGE REBELS HELD AS RAIDERS FIND ‘MAKINGS OF BOMB’ and REBEL STUDENT PLOT TO BLOW UP PHILA. HISTORICAL SHRINES REVEALED BY POLICE. Once again, a potentially tragic incident of domestic terrorism was narrowly averted, it seemed, thanks to the aggressive due diligence of the Philadelphia Police Department and its take-no-bull commissioner Frank Rizzo. There was just one problem: There was no plot to blow up the Liberty Bell and there were no bomb-making materials, aside from what the police brought with them. But for the two long years the case kicked around the courts — long enough to put the SDS out of business in Philadelphia — none of that really mattered.
Forty years later, Rizzo and just about everyone on the police and prosecution side of the case are dead and buried. But all four of the accused SDS activists — Steve Fraser, Richard Borghmann, Jane “Muffin” Friedman and Paul Milkman — continue to insist there never was a plot to blow up the Liberty Bell, that the Philadelphia SDS was loudly and proudly avowedly non-violent, and the cops planted the bomb-making material to discredit their politics and scare off potential sympathizers. The judge overseeing the case seemed inclined to agree and eventually threw the case out after two years of pre-trial hearings. But by then it was too late, the Philadelphia SDS, having been successfully tarred as a dangerous terrorist organization, was dead in the water, along with their ambitious social justice agenda for improving schools, housing and job prospects for the city’s downtrodden.
“The backlash happened very quickly, by the time I got out of jail and went back to the Penn campus people were scared of me,” says Friedman, one of the four SDS members arrested that day. “When I tried to organize a rally in support of us people would back away from me when they saw me coming like I was some kind of mad bomber.”
To fully understand the significance of the case, it must be placed in the wider context of Philadelphia police’s war on perceived subversives in the late 60s — the way they systematically harassed, intimidated and brutalized ‘uppity blacks’ and white collegeboy troublemakers — under Frank Rizzo’s leadership. Rizzo routinely invented or exaggerated these threats to scare the public and amass political power, resulting in two contentious and deeply divisive terms as mayor in the 1970s. The bogus Liberty Bell Bomb Plot bust was just the latest in a series of trumped up arrests of activists by the police department’s Civil Disobedience Unit, which was created the early 60s to protect the constitutional rights of demonstrators while keeping the peace. Upon the appointment of Rizzo to police commissioner in 1967, the CDU became an blunt instrument of surveillance, intimidation and infiltration used to neutralize political dissent. MORE
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