Monday, January 25, 2010
Two Portland Police officers were treated and are on paid administrative leave after their patrol cars collided with a bicyclist as they responded.
TriMet's spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said the bus attack happened just after midnight as the Route 72 bus stopped on 82nd Avenue just south of Powell Boulevard to let passengers off.
A group of seven or eight young people gathered at the back door, but only two got off before the doors closed.
"We believe that the Operator likely locked the back door to the bus when passengers were getting off the bus, and that provoked the remaining members of the group to come to the front of the bus." The 56 year old driver was described as yelling at the young people and then got out of her seat, prompting the young people to act in self-defense, returning the attack on the driver. The driver was overpowered and was beaten unconscious, when the passengers fleed the bus.
One of the young passengers was described as kicking the rear door in an attempt to get out of the bus, ultimately shattering the glass and bending the frame of the door.
A bystander called 9-1-1 after the assualt and Portland Police responded to the scene. The bus driver was transported to Emanuel Hospital and her condition is unknown at this time.
Portland Police located the group nearby. Two of the youths were detained for probation violations, and a third was arrested for possession of marijuana. The others were interviewed and released to their parents after being cited for curfew violations.
"The driver will be immediately placed on paid leave pending an investigation," said Mary Fetsch of TriMet. It is unclear whether the attack was taped with the bus survelliance system.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
- Camden Town's diary
When I was publisher of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, we wrote about a bond issue in the area's largest school district. Voters had not been able to pass a bond issue for 20 years and when it came up on the ballot again, we decided to look at it through the eyes of different constituents -- students, parents, opponents, educators. It was a very different take on an election story.We could have gotten the people who stake out extreme positions -- the teachers union and the anti-tax forces -- but we included people who had mixed feelings. That got us away from this notion of living at the extremes.Historically, newspapers are not very good at reporting on ambivalence. But struggling with an issue is far more common than having everything figured out.I wouldn't want to take the credit or the blame for the fact that the bond issue passed. But I will say that series caused people to think differently about the schools in our community -- not simply, "Should we pay more taxes or not?"
...[I]t will be N. Christian Anderson who will hire (or fire, or reassign) the editor if their "visions" (Register-speak) diverge.
N. Christian Anderson III, publisher and CEO of the Orange County Register, says his paper intends to keep its front page reserved for news in spite of the attraction of added revenue....
"For a USA Today reader, these ads won't be a big deal," says Anderson, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. "They might even expect to see them. They also see big dollar signs." But, he adds, "We think we know what our readers want. I don't think they want ads on the front page."
The L.A. Times, in its story about the Orange County Register's impending buyouts, says staff cutbacks are affecting the copy-editing process:Register reporters said they were not surprised, given the state of the industry. A newsroom hiring freeze has been in effect for several months. Reporters also had been asked recently to take on more responsibilities — including writing their own headlines — after several copy editors were shifted to OC Post.OC Post is the new quick-read paper that launched in August. Its employees aren't eligible for the buyout.But don't worry, folks. The publisher and chief executive, N. Christian Anderson III, has a plan to fix everything. "We have to figure out ways to grow revenue," Anderson said. "All problems go away when you grow revenue."
Anderson tells FBLA that opposing the war was a no-brainer for the libertarian daily."The Iraqi government had done nothing to cause us harm, protestations from the president notwithstanding," Anderson said. "I remember a conversation I had with President Bush when he visited Santa Ana. I suggested -- at the behest of Cathy Taylor, our VP of opinion and commentary -- that he follow the Powell doctrine and make a decision on invading Iraq based on those principles."He looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Saddam is a bad guy.'
Perhaps counter-intuitively, Anderson says the only way for newspapers to survive is if they stop being just newspapers."To endure, of course newspapers must be relevant and thus ever changing. But the key to our future is to take all the talented people we have and figure out how to turn their wonderful work into content that can be delivered in a variety of ways," he said. "First and foremost is how to deliver it in interactive formats.""So while I can't say precisely how newspapers need to adapt, other than listening to customers and responding to their needs, I can say that we need to think of ourselves as more than newspapers."
Amid falling profit and failing efforts to lure readers with breezy tabloids, the Orange County Register's top executive announced Wednesday that he was leaving the paper he had transformed from a sluggish daily to a Pulitzer Prize winner known for its bold graphics and design.N. Christian Anderson III, 57, named in May as publisher of the year by industry magazine Editor & Publisher, will leave Orange County's largest newspaper Sept. 15. His departure after almost three decades with the paper's parent company, Freedom Communications Inc., was due to a reorganization that squeezed out his job, a top company executive said.In recent months, Anderson had suffered major setbacks. He was supposed to drop his publisher title and continue to oversee a corporate division. However, the company's choice as his successor in June turned out to have fudged her resume. And Anderson's latest attempts to lure readers -- a pair of tabloids with big photos and short stories -- flopped. "OC Post and SqueezeOC were risks and they failed," said a Register reporter.
Freedom Orange County Information, the company division that includes the Register and its sister publications and websites, has not been exempt from the trend.This month, the Register cut about three dozen newsroom jobs. One reporter said staff members saw some justice in Anderson's departure because it "wasn't just the workers who produce the paper every day who were forced to sacrifice."Freedom also announced Wednesday a restructuring that merges FOCI, of which Anderson is president, with its community newspapers division, a union that eliminated Anderson's job.The merger is expected to save Freedom $10 million, Chief Executive Scott N. Flanders said, and is expected to lead to the increased sharing of stories by its papers. Jonathan Segal, president of community newspapers, will head the combined division. Anderson "was supportive and involved in all the deliberations," Flanders said. "When the position didn't go to him, he decided to move on."
N. Christian Anderson III ... will join Arizona State University this fall as the Edith Kinney Gaylord Visiting Professor in Journalism Ethics. Anderson ... will teach two journalism ethics courses ...Under his leadership, the Register won its first Pulitzer Prize, awarded for photography for coverage of the 1984 Summer Olympics. Five years later, the newspaper won the Pulitzer for specialized reporting for its investigation of night goggles used by the military."I am delighted to ... help students think about the many ethical challenges that journalists face," Anderson said. "In this time of change for news organizations, the one constant is the demand from customers for information that is credible and reflective of the fullness of the communities where they live."
N. Christian Anderson III began his job this week as publisher of The Oregonian at one of the more harrowing times in the daily’s 159-year history. Like most newspapers, The O has been devastated by the loss of advertising, the loss of readers, the explosion of competition from online news, and the recession....
Former Register staffers credit Anderson with elevating the paper in right-wing Orange County from a crappy, John Birch Society-influenced rag after arriving as editor in 1980. The paper was so right-tilting at the time that reporters could not use the phrase "public schools" or "public libraries" and were instead required to refer to them as "taxpayer-supported."Anderson—who, according to Orange County voting records, has chosen not to state a party affiliation—shielded the newsroom from the libertarian editorial-page politics of its parent company, Freedom Communications.
One critic of Anderson who worked for him at the Register in the 1980s and 1990s predicts he will press for short, punchy front-page stories and may allow only one story to jump to an inside page. "The president could declare war and you had to write it in four to five inches," says one former Register staffer. "You won’t recognize The Oregonian in 18 months."Readers of The Oregonian aren’t the only ones who can expect changes with Anderson’s appointment as publisher. So can staff. Anderson replaces Fred Stickel, who retired at age 87 after 35 years as publisher. In recent years, newsroom observers speculated he would be succeeded by Editor Sandy Rowe or Stickel’s son, Oregonian President Patrick Stickel. Neither got the job.
In my world, the measurement of greatest success is whether we are profitable and whether we are growing revenue and the size of our audience. I lead the establishment of strategy for the company, through a team of executives responsible for individual departments of the newspaper. And, I monitor their performance in executing that strategy.On the other hand, there are many things I don’t do. Most important, I don’t edit The Oregonian. That means I don’t decide news coverage, except in a strategic way, and I don’t decide what goes on the front page or how a headline is written. I have begun to give feedback to our editor, Sandy Rowe, but it’s after the fact. Despite my long career as an editor before I became a publisher, I don’t intend to substitute my judgment for Sandy’s and her team’s.
...[I]t will be N. Christian Anderson who will hire (or fire, or reassign) the editor if their "visions" (Register-speak) diverge.
So what can you expect from a new publisher of The Oregonian? First, nothing is going to change overnight.
Today we are making a very important announcement about the transition of leadership in our newsroom. Sandy Rowe is retiring effective December 31. Peter Bhatia, our executive editor, will become editor of The Oregonian on January 1.This was a difficult decision for Sandy, but it is one she felt good about making — and which she made in the best interests of our company. I support Sandy’s decision. I know you will join me in recognizing her enormous contributions to the company and to our community. Thankfully, she will continue to contribute to Portland, to Oregon and to the national and international journalism community.I’m also pleased to announce Peter’s promotion. This is the best of both worlds — continuity in the newsroom while bringing the inevitable different perspective that comes with a change in leadership.
For the first time in 42 years, no member of the Stickel family has an executive role at The Oregonian now that Patrick Stickel has retired as its president. The quiet but expected departure also means that the paper will have a different editor, publisher and president next year than it had mere months ago.In September, publisher Fred Stickel, Patrick's father, retired from a career at the paper that began in 1967, when he brought his family, Patrick included, from New Jersey to Oregon. He came aboard first as the paper's general manager, then president in 1972 and publisher in 1975. Chris Anderson, formerly of the Orange County Register, has replaced him in that position.Sandy Rowe, who has edited The Oregonian since 1993, is retiring tomorrow. Peter Bhatia, current executive editor, takes her position on January 1.Patrick Stickel first became president in 1993. No replacement has been announced.
But while The Oregonian's endorsement was what prompted the campaign's second push for a spadea, publisher Chris Anderson repeatedly stressed to OMC that the paper's decision to run the ad "had nothing to do with the endorsement — not at all."Anderson says that he and then-president Pat Stickel decided in December to accept political spadeas in the current election, before they made an endorsement, and he says they made the decision without discussing their editorial position. He says he does not know whether there had previously been a policy not to accept such ads.But Mario van Dongen, director of sales and marketing at The Oregonian, says that there was indeed such a policy, and that the policy was his own. ... Van Dongen says that Stickel received an inquiry about a political ad on the spadea while he was away, so, after consultation with Anderson, the decision to accept it was made without him.
Tim Gleason, dean of the University of Oregon's School of Journalism, says that, while he has "absolutely no doubt" that there is no connection between The Oregonian's editorial position and the paper's decision to accept the spadea, he believes that the ad is a "symbol of the degree to which financial pressures are influencing news decision-making." He warns that "the credibility of any news organization is challenged when the line between advertising and editorial content is blurred," something he says he sees "in all mediums." He says that Sunday's spadea is "a very visible symbol of that trend."...
The Oregonian will revisit whether to accept spadeas in future political campaigns.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Supreme Court: No Limit on Corporate Spending on Elections
The Supreme Court has ruled corporations have the right to spend as much money as they like to influence the outcome of US elections. In a five-to-four decision, the court overturned century-old restrictions on corporations, unions and other interest groups from using their vast treasuries to advocate for a specific candidate. The majority opinion affirms corporations have First Amendment rights and that the government can’t limit their political speech. The decision has sparked widespread outrage amongst progressives and calls to have it reversed. This is Robert Weissman of the watchdog group Public Citizen.
Robert Weissman: “What we really need is to get the decision undone. If the court won’t reverse its own decision, the only course available to us is a constitutional amendment. We have to say the First Amendment exists to protect the rights of real people, of you and me, not artificial creations known as corporations, not for Exxon, not for Pfizer, not for Goldman Sachs.”
In a statement, President Obama called the ruling “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”
Friday, January 15, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
By Mike Rosenberg
The Bay Area may be headed down a longer, bumpier road in its journey from recession to recovery if public transit continues to carry fewer commuters.
As the region attempts to push toward economic recovery in 2010, transit agencies expect to be moving in the opposite direction, stuck offering service levels and fares established during the downturn - or worse.
Experts question whether transit operators will be ready when residents start getting back to work, and whether service funding problems will in turn slow the region's economic recovery.
"I think it's going to be a tough ride because what we're starting to see at some of the agencies are cuts that are getting so severe that they're going to make transit not truly functional
for many workers," said Stuart Cohen, executive director for Oakland-based TransForm, a transportation and land-use nonprofit.
When that happens, the "wine bottle" effect will kick in, predicts transportation expert Rod Diridon, whose name adorns the San Jose Caltrain station. Like a wine bottle narrowing at its neck, traffic flows smoothly until it reaches a point where additional cars can no longer fit.
"Then we're going to be running into terminal gridlock like a brick wall," Diridon said. Cohen predicted traffic at "unprecedented levels after the economy rebounds."
Traffic jams are not only frustrating but also damaging to the economy. Last year they cost Bay Area companies $3.6 billion in lost productivity, according to the
Texas Transportation Institute, which studies metropolitan regions.
"The economy follows transportation," Diridon said.
There is a potential bright side for transit agencies: Frustrated drivers may decide enough is enough, and trade their car keys for transit passes. This could give transit agencies the boost they need to rebound financially.
"In the future, our congestion and gas prices are both going to soar," said Erin Steva, a California Public Interest Research Group transportation
Should you drive or should you ride?
advocate. "(Transit) is soon going to be the better option."
The precedent occurred in summer 2008 when train and bus ridership boomed amid record gas prices, although transit service and fares were better then.
The economic impacts of the current fare increases and service cuts will not be known for some time, but past troubles have provided some lessons.
AC Transit cut its service by 12 percent and raised fares by 15 cents in 1996, saving the agency $4.8 million annually. But it cost riders $48.1 million in added transportation costs, lost income and extra travel time, according to an independent 1998 study.
Already, for every dollar Bay Area public agencies spend on transportation, commuters pay $7.40, a $4.6 billion to $34 billion annual ratio, says a TransForm report released in November. The average Bay Area household would save $5,540 annually if their public transportation access was equivalent to what the best 20 percent of the region has, such as dense areas in San Francisco, TransForm said.
To reach those savings, those communities would need to invest billions in major transit expansions, such as BART's $1.5 billion extension to San Francisco International Airport and its planned $6.1 billion project to reach San Jose.
"A better transportation system will cost public money, meaning new taxes and fees," said Steve Heminger, executive director of the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission. In the MTC's 25-year plan, $4 of every $5 will be devoted toward maintaining "what we already have," he said.
Transportationwoescould also hurt business growth. New companies vying to become the next Google, Oracle or Yahoo are less likely to launch in the Bay Area if they think workers won't be able to get to work quickly and inexpensively, said Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council, a leading business group.
"We need to be ready for the recovery," Wunderman said.
Manufacturers also will move out, leaving behind jobs and tax bases, if trucking costs skyrocket because of added congestion, said California Trucking Association Chairman Robert Ramorino, a Belmont resident who owns Roadstar Trucking in Hayward.
Longer trucking trips hurt fuel economy and reduce the total number of trips drivers can make, which boosts shipping costs and consumer prices, Ramorino said.
It's also true that money commuters spend on transit is much more likely to stay in the local economy than the cash they fork over to drive.
Cities and local governments only keep a small fraction of gas tax revenues, and because of advances in car technology that have made gas tanks more efficient, motorists are filling up less often, said interim Caltrans CFO Norma Ortega.
Transit fares, meanwhile, are deposited directly into local public transportation budgets. This reduces outside financial assistance from local taxpayers, typically through either transit-specific taxes or county subsidies.
A projected $22 million deficit in June exploded into a $98 million shortfall in October as sales tax revenues took an unprecedented plunge and the state took millions in transit aid to reduce its budget deficit. To help cover that gap, bus and rail service will be cut back 8 percent starting today, the latest in a series of emergency moves to shore up VTA's finances.
"We're struggling for our life here," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage, a VTA board member for a decade. "I don't care how crazy an idea is to run this system cheaper; we have to look at everything."
Yet the VTA is marching ahead with expansion plans. The BART-to-San Jose extension appears to have gained favor in Washington and is now a candidate for federal aid, potentially as much as $900 million. Studies to extend light rail to Eastridge Mall and to Los Gatos are moving ahead despite high costs and modest ridership projections.
But given the VTA's drastic financial problems, can it afford all this?
Tom Rubin, the former chief financial officer of the Southern California Rapid Transit District, has studied agencies across the United States and calls VTA the "worst transit agency in the country."
Thirty years ago, when the county began its push to create a regionwide bus
system and build light rail, backers said tickets would cover 85 percent of the cost of a train trip. They scaled that back to 35 percent a few years later.
Today, it's a dismal 14 percent, one of the worst margins in the nation.
"It has the potential of getting far worse," Rubin said. "They can't run the bus system, so what is the plan? Build light rail. That hasn't worked, so what's the latest plan? Let's build heavy rail — BART."
For the first time since light-rail trains began running through San Jose, the VTA is taking a top-to-bottom critical look at how the 23-year-old system works. Gage will be the chairman of a newly created financial committee that by the year's end will recommend what options VTA has.
"I hear everybody say we deserve light rail," Gage said. "What we deserve is a solid, reliable transportation system — something that works. I think if we had gone to buses, we would have been a lot better off. Why not go cheaper? Why spend all that money to put rail in when we can run buses?"
Last week, the VTA took that path — nixing plans to run light rail along Alum Rock Avenue and San Carlos Street. Instead, buses will cover this stretch.
Two years ago, General Manager Michael Burns pushed through the most radical change to the valley's transit service in three decades. Buses stopped running to every corner of the valley to pick up one or two passengers. Service was beefed up downtown. The priority was placed on those who relied on transit the most.
It helped — but only for a while.
By October 2008, light-rail ridership exceeded 38,000 each weekday, marking an 18 percent jump from the previous year. Bus ridership rose 6.1 percent, and the combined 162,000 weekday trips was the highest since the dot-com boom in the late '90s.
Then the deep grip of the recession took hold. The agency burned through its reserves, furloughed workers and put off new bus purchases. Still, fares had to be raised, and ridership tumbled 13 percent in October 2009, when the increases took effect.
Cuts and fare increases have helped reduce the $98 million shortfall to $30 million over the next two years. But long-term worries continue. No major transit agency in the Bay Area relies so heavily on volatile sales taxes to cover day-to-day costs.
When the VTA prepared its budget last spring, a 5 percent drop in sales tax revenue was predicted. But fourth-quarter receipts declined 27 percent. The agency that took in $183.5 million in sales tax in 2001 expects to take in $126.4 million this year.
Burns estimates the VTA needs an extra $75 million a year to pay its bills. Where will the money come from?
"We can't look at fares," Burns said. "They are already high enough."
The coming year could bring big decisions. One possibility is turning over some operations to contractors. There could be more cuts in service. The VTA may also raise cash by developing property along transit routes. And next year, money will begin to trickle in from opening some carpool lanes to solo drivers for a toll — funds that may go to transit.
But given the hemorrhaging the VTA has experienced, will such measures turn out to be Band-Aids?
Some say it's time to throw the brakes on big expansion plans.
Rubin and Stuart Cohen, executive director of the Oakland-based transportation advocacy group TransForm, say more buses are a better idea than BART.
"VTA has all this expansion planned," Cohen said. "At the same time, they have to find ways to bring down costs. Buses will do that."
And many question the wisdom of extending light rail to Eastridge or Los Gatos, given the low ridership projections, but those plans have the backing of influential politicians.
BART remains at the top of VTA's agenda, but the plans have been scaled back. Trains would initially run from Fremont to the Berryessa area of San Jose, cutting the $6.1 billion project to around $2 billion.
Even those cuts come with political risk. Since 2006, taxpayers have been paying for the BART extension through a half-cent sales tax — but voters were sold on BART to downtown San Jose, not to Berryessa.
Population projections show at least 400,000 new residents coming to Santa Clara County over the next few decades. Better plan for them today and not 30 years from now, said VTA Chairman Sam Liccardo.
"We still have ambitious plans," Liccardo said, "because we will be growing in Santa Clara County more quickly than in most other areas. Everything about our future says we need more transit infrastructure and not less. We can't afford to stop building for the future."
Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.
Friday, January 1, 2010
Take a look at this and just remember elections in Nov. 2010.
U.S. House & Senate have voted themselves $4,700 and $5,300 raises.
1. They voted to not give you a S.S. Cost of living raise in 2010 and 2011..
2. Your Medicare premiums will go up $285.60 for the 2-years and
You will not get the 3% COLA: $660/yr. Your total 2-yr loss and cost is
-$1,600 or -$3,200 for husband and wife.
3. Over 2-yrs they each get $10,000
4. Do you feel SCREWED?
5. Will they have your cost of drugs - doctor fees - local taxes - food, etc., increase?
6. Do you really think that Nancy, Harry, Chris, Charlie, Barnie, et al, care about you? SEND THE MESSAGE-- You're FIRED.
IN 2010 YOU WILL HAVE A CHANCE TO GET RID OF THE SITTING CONGRESS:
Up to 1/3 OF THE SENATE, AND 100% OF THE HOUSE.
MAKE SURE YOU'RE STILL MAD IN NOVEMBER 2010 AND REMIND THEIR REPLACEMENTS NOT TO SCREW UP.
MAKE SURE YOU'RE STILL MAD IN NOVEMBER 2010 AND REMIND THEIR REPLACEMENTS NOT TO SCREW UP.
It is ok to forward this to your sphere of influence if you are finally tired of the abuse.
Maybe it's time for the........
"Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United
"Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United
States that does not apply equally to the Senators or Representatives,
and Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators or
Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the
Let's get this passed around, folks - these people in
Posted on Dec 31, 2009
2009 was a record year at the box office, but there are those who worry that Hollywood has gone into decline over the last decade. Moviegoers are reportedly much more interested in gimmicks than substance, and people supposedly would rather watch talking robots than talking humans, let alone stories about the human condition. But the oughts turned out to be a vibrant decade for politically and culturally enlightened movies, after all.
The last 10 years were abundant with films that pushed limits and attacked real issues in real time. The documentary and the foreign film both gained unprecedented mainstream acceptance, the studios experimented with edgier independent movies (though many have now given it up) and even the biggest blockbusters sometimes needled the Establishment.
Of course it helps to have had a frenemy as president for the majority of the decade. There was no love lost between George W. Bush and Hollywood, and there are dozens of movies illustrating the nature of the relationship. But that’s too simple an explanation for all the politics in cinema these past years, and besides, a lot of those on-the-nose current-event movies were just plain uneventful.
Here are 20 of the best socially conscious, topical, progressive movies from a crazy decade. It is an imperfect list, as these things inevitably are. Feel free to make corrections or suggestions by contributing to the readers’ comments section at the end of this article.
1. “City of God” (2002)
Fernando Meirelles’ Brazilian masterpiece oozes style while capturing a remarkable authenticity. It’s a kick in the gut and a gift to the eyes, at the same time. Rio’s slums come alive in this favela epic, one of the most enjoyable good-for-you movies ever made.
2. “Children of Men” (2006)
Another masterpiece, this one set in the near future when humanity has lost the capacity to reproduce. This film did not get anywhere near the acclaim it deserved. Film nerds gush at the impossibly long shots, but they aren’t just parlor tricks. The stunning direction and top-notch acting make this dystopia so real—and it’s a landscape already too familiar for comfort. This is the world George W. Bush made, 17 years from now.
3. “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (2001)
Alfonso Cuarón, who also directed “Children of Men,” is frequently lumped together with other Mexican directors who have found success in the U.S., but he’s easily the best. This movie is one reason why. It’s a love letter to Mexico and maybe the best coming-of-age flick ever. It’s a story about teenagers, but it’s not adolescent. Where he might have settled for titillation, the director gets at something raw and truthful. Like his characters, Cuarón journeys far and collides with class, culture and sexuality in a way that feels as fun as it does rich.
4. “The Fog of War” (2003)
Errol Morris takes a straightforward interview and turns it into one of the most important pieces of journalism of the decade. Robert McNamara, one of the chief architects of the Vietnam War, talks about killing millions, about mistakes, about good and evil. For the generation that fought against the war, McNamara’s contrition is historic and personal.
5. “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (2006)
Is Sacha Baron Cohen’s lawsuit magnet a sophomoric romp or a disturbing snapshot of American prejudice? Why not both?
6. “Wall-E” (2008)
Pixar makes great movies everyone can enjoy, but the studio doesn’t always play it safe. There isn’t any human dialog in “Wall-E” for the first 39 minutes, by IMDb’s count. There is, however, plenty of message. “Wall-E” rails against obesity, the destruction of the environment, technologically-assisted paralysis and much more.
7. “Brokeback Mountain” (2005)
They just don’t make them like this anymore, and in one way, they never did. The first movie to take an honest-to-God nonmetaphorical gay love story mainstream (and not in that lame-1990s-“Philadelphia”-it’s-OK-for-same-sex-movie-stars-to-dance-together way) has some pretty great writing and direction, courtesy of Larry McMurtry and Ang Lee.
8. “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” (2005)
Alex Gibney later won an Academy Award for “Taxi to the Dark Side,” his exposé on America’s torture chambers, but his fascinating deconstruction of the Enron failure is where it’s at. Californians, especially, will boil as they see how this Texas company mugged their state.
9. “Why We Fight” (2005)
America spends more money on the military than all other countries in the world combined. Eugene Jarecki’s documentary explains why.
10. “Farenheit 9/11” (2004)
Michael Moore has been on a roll, and each of his last four major releases could be on this list. He doesn’t call his movies documentaries, apparently. Fair enough, but as a document of the Bush years, it’s hard to beat “Farenheit,” which might be required viewing in history classes one day. Moore is known for inserting himself into his movies, but “Farenheit’s” genius is the pastiche of footage the director collected and assembled from across the front lines of Bushdom. If nothing else, it gave us the president reading a children’s book for seven minutes after learning that the nation was under attack on 9/11.
11. “Murderball” (2005)
MTV had trouble getting anyone to watch this documentary about paraplegic rugby players, but those who did were treated to a powerful film about what people go through when they lose almost everything.
12. “V for Vendetta” (2005)
How on earth did a major studio come to release such an anti-Establishment movie? The hero of this film, which came out several years after the start of the war on terror, is a terrorist. The character’s Guy Fawkes mask has since been adopted by the anti-Scientology movement known as Anonymous.
13. “Syriana” (2005)
Confusing was a word a lot of people used to describe this movie, but that might have been by the filmmakers’ design. It’s as if writer/director Stephen Gaghan tried to take in the whole solar mass of the Middle East and ended up speaking in tongues about sheiks and oilmen and suicide bombers who all have their reasons. The source material, Robert Baer’s memoir about life at the CIA, shines through in the revelation that pretty much all American maneuvering boils down to oil profits.
14. “Milk” (2008)
If only gay rights activists would pay more attention to Harvey Milk, we would all be better off. The pioneering politician’s warning not to go looking in the closet for equal opportunity is as relevant now as ever.
15. “Waltz With Bashir” (2008)
This unique animated documentary is hard to pin down, but one word for it is breathtaking.
16. “Michael Clayton” (2007)
Fight lawyers with a lawyer. “Michael Clayton” really nails what’s wrong with this country—people simply don’t risk their asses anymore. So what if your employers are poisoning people? Are you supposed to lose your job and your Mercedes turning them in? Yes!
17. “The Queen” (2006)
It’s good to remember Tony Blair before the fall, when he was the wide-eyed young prime minister who fell for Her Majesty.
18. “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006)
Oh my God, global warming is real? Can we do something about this? The Gore-bot has never been more expressive—or convincing.
19. “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2005)
It took almost as much chutzpah to take on Joe McCarthy in the 1950s as it did to make a black-and-white movie in the 21st century. This film was less a condemnation of the blacklist than a bitch-slap to The New York Times and CNN and everyone else who kept the great Ed Murrow spinning in his grave in those early Bush years.
20. “Outfoxed” (2004)
Robert Greenwald’s timely-documentary factory scored an early hit with “Outfoxed,” a point-by-point breakdown of Fox News that didn’t just vent, but exposed the most popular news network’s most devilish techniques.