This is a bummer. The great 'zine Stay Free! is about to stop publishing. If you're not familiar with SF!, then you've been missing out on a fun, intellectually curious indie mag that walks the fine line between critiquing consumerism and mass media and appreciating pop culture. It came out sporadically, but each issue was packed with smart interviews and articles on advertising, psychology, conspiracy theories, and pranks. It also did some great ad parodies, assuming the culturejamming mantle shrugged off by Adbusters when it decided that a sense of humor can't break windows at Starbucks. Sadly, the financial woes that have beset the rest of the words-on-dead-trees biz have affected SF! as well, and so it's going blog-only after its next issue. It's a shameI'll miss having issues show up unpredictably in my mailbox. But you can still readand buyback some issues here. The Stay Free! blog is still worth checking out, too. But it just won't be the same...
Maxed Out, a new documnentary on the dark side of the debt industry, opens today in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, D.C., and other cities. I haven't seen the film, which is getting good reviews, but I just reviewed the companion book written by the director, James Scurlock, in our current issue. It's a good readit feels wrong to describe a book like this as entertaining, but it's a surprisingly readable look at how the financial industry is taking millions of Americans for an expensive ride. It's packed with disturbing tidbits like this: Low credit card balances actually hurt your credit rating, and if you're one of the lucky few who can pay off your bills each month, you're what's known in the biz as a "deadbeat."
The movie rights to U.S. v. Bush, Elizabeth de la Vega's pseudo-nonfictional legal thriller about a hypothetical criminal case against George W. Bush, have just been sold. In the book, a U.S. attorney lays out the case against Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Co., accusing them of having defrauded the nation by leading us to war through "deceit, craft, trickery, dishonest means, and fraudulent representations, including lies, half-truths, material omissions, and statements made with reckless indifference to their truth or falsity." Just imagine that line coming from the mouth of a rumpled, crusading federal prosecutor driven by the lonely belief that we're a nation of laws, not men, dammit! Only Hollywood can bring this to life, becasuse as we know, real U.S. attorneys like this get replaced with Karl Rove's former intern.
The book has been optioned by Robert Boris, director of the Rob Lowe classic Oxford Blues, and the writer of 1973's Electra Glide in Blue (tagline: "He's A Good Cop. On A Big Bike. On A Bad Road.") I only hope that he takes some liberties with the source material, which is set entirely in a grand jury room, and writes in a scene where Dick Cheney takes the stand and delivers the equivalent of Jack Nicholson's "you can't handle the truth" speech from A Few Good Men. Especially the part where Cheney, his temper rising, lectures the smart-ass prosecutor that "I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it." Then he threatens to rip the prosecutor's eyes out. I'd watch that.
Scooter Libby's legal defense fund has yet to start calling for a presidential pardon. But while it rejiggers its strategy, let's get reacquainted with the group's head, Republican donor and former ambassador Mel Sembler. As John Gorenfeld wrote in our May 2006 issue:
...Sembler knows a thing or two about the humiliations of involuntary confinement. For 17 years, he directed Straight, Inc., a substance-abuse rehab and behavior modification program that treated American teens like terrorism suspects. Sembler's official bio boasts that the "remarkable program" where children had to flap their arms like chickens or else face shaming as "sluts" and homosexuals treated 12,000 kids. President George H.W. Bush hailed it as one of his "thousand points of light." But in the early '90s, amid state investigations and suits filed by clients claiming physical and mental abuse, his clinics were dismantled. Hundreds of Straight alums now claim they were scarred for life, among them Samantha Monroe, who was enrolled in 1980 at age 12 and claims she was starved, raped, and confined in a closet.
Once a point of light, always a point of light, I guess.
Bad news for Red, the Bono-inspired, star-studded ad campaign to sell Gap t-shirts, andoh, yesraise some money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Despite all the hype, its total contribution to the Fund so far has been a paltry $18 million. A Global Fund spokesman explains to Ad Age that this was to be expected: "Red has done as much as we could have hoped for in the short time it has been up and running.... The launch cost of this kind of campaign is going to be hugely frontloaded." Translation: Most of the money raised has been blown on ad budgets by Gap, Motorola, Armani, Apple, and other companies that are taking a cut from selling Red stuff. To give you a sense of just how big the corporate cut is, for every special edition Red iPod nano sold, Apple donates just $10.
This isn't the first time an altruistic corporate campaign has been revealed to be too good to be truewe collected some other examples in our November issue. But there's an easy way to not get snooke(red)cut out the middleman and give directly to the Global Fund. Visit buylesscrap.org to find out how.