This past month the long-hyped “Avengers: Infinity War” hit theaters across the world, grossing over $1.85 billion and earning its place amongst the top-selling films of all times. The nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), directed by the Russo brothers and distributed by Disney, it was sold to the public as the culmination of the prior Marvel films’ story arcs.
As reports have demonstrated, it has left audiences as shocked as the suspense leading up to it led the public to believe they would be. With a 92% audience rating at movie-rating site Rotten Tomatoes, fans widely praised the smooth integration of many popular characters from past movies, the boldness of story arcs, and were floored by the ending.
The sequel will be coming out in April 2019, leaving viewers an entire year to wonder whatever possible more storylines and conclusions the Russo brothers may have in mind.
The Marvel movies take their inspiration from a comic book series that truly came into a recognizable form to its modern iteration in the 1960’s. Since then it has also spawned a variety of other entertainment products ranging from video games to television series to toy figures.
It was the unveiling of the Avengers movie series that truly brought the series to a broader mass audience, beginning with “Iron Man” in 2008 directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr. as the eccentric billionaire tech-genius Tony Stark.
Since then, it seems like every year there has been a film or two expanding on the endless series of content packed into decades of tangled Marvel storytelling. From 2011’s “Thor” starring Chris Hemsworth, 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” to this year’s blockbuster “Black Panther,” every movie has steadily built up its own profitability, production mechanics, and public brand.
Few movie franchises have achieved what Marvel has done this past decade in consistently producing a series of memorable and high-grossing films. The only franchises that come even close are the eight “The Fast and the Furious” movies from 2001 to 2017, the eight “Harry Potter” films from 2011 to 2011, and the roughly 26 “James Bond” films from 1962 to 2015.
In the future it is doubtless that Marvel will continue producing live-action cinematic and television series, as their “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has also done very well since 2013.
While in the past the Marvel series, as all entertainment and creative stories, have faced a variety of rights issues over intellectual property, they’ve now consolidated enough to give Disney a powerful ability to continue to generate both entertainment content for both the general public and particular audiences for many years to come.
It initially seems strange that comic book stories could so captivate the imagination, attention, and money of so much of the public at large. This is particularly so when we’ve seen the movies from the “DC Comics” universe, such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and more, not perform as well in comparison, with occasional exceptions.
To compare, since DC films began being released in the 1970’s, in recent years mostly owned by Time Warner’s Warner Bros., the 33 films have brought in $9.6 billion in box office gross on a combined budget of $3.2 billion for a profit of roughly $6.4 billion.
In contrast, Marvel’s 19 films since 2008 have brought in $16.7 billion on a budget of $3.7 billion for a profit of roughly $13 billion.
We saw this most prominently in 2017’s “Justice League” movie, which acted in a similar way to the “Avengers” movie as a culmination film bringing together many characters. It only grossed $658 million on a budget of $300 million, compared to the 2012 “The Avengers” gross of $1.52 billion on a budget of $220 million, let alone this year’s “Infinity War.”
It is great for our country that we have such a fascinating and inspiring source of entertainment and thought from the Marvel and DC story universes. The film production studios have also done an incredible job in taking the content and making them into lasting modern works of art, using everything from increasingly advanced computer-generated imagery (CGI) to the best cast of actors and staff in the world.
Every day on the road we pass by them. Trucks, bearing the logos and cargo of companies in industries ranging from manufacturing to food, consumer goods to raw materials, each day traverse the seemingly endless thousands of miles of road in our nation to fill our stores and homes with their goods.
It’s an industry that many of us do not give much thought to unless we have direct contact with the trucking sector. The work is largely done behind the scenes, beyond the brief public view as we see their mammoth vehicles roll alongside us on the roads. Yet it’s an industry that affects nearly everyone to a quite significant degree, as well as our economy at large.
In 2016 trucking freight revenues accounted for over $738.9 billion in the United States. Over 10.55 billion tons was transported by over 3.5 million truck drivers.
I recently had the chance to look over a particular policy issue that’s been affecting the trucking industry, specifically the implementation of an “Electronic Log Device” requirement and the schedule that must be followed from it.
The federal rule, implemented in 2015 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and only beginning to be enforced in recent months, has caused already a wide array of complaints across the trucking sector due to its rigidity and disconnection from the realties of how the business is run.
Even a small violation can get a trucker in trouble and put a company out of business, due to the log lacking fluidity for breaks, loading, unloading, traffic jams, and more.
On a broader scale, it appears that the rule was implemented as well with only a little input from the trucking associations but almost nothing from truckers themselves, who are exposed to the realities of the business on a daily basis.
The rule was well-intentioned in tracking the driving time of truck drivers in a bid to prevent over-work and thus both abusing the driver and increasing road accidents from tired workers.
However the precise nature of its implementation appears to be resulting in significant small business disruption, inefficiencies, and even potentially a tragically ironic increase in traffic incidents as drivers are rushed in attempting to conform to the ELD log’s absolute requirements.
Wider potential ripple effects including effects on the prices of food, consumer goods of every sort, industry, and just about every industry that relies on trucking, which constitutes about 70%, as compared to trains, planes, cars, and ships, of freight transportation in the United States.
I think this ELD trucking issue illustrates one of the big difficulties the policy process has always wrangled with, which is how to best understand the actual situations that are being regulated and the results of policies as compared to theoretical reasoning.
The federal rulemaking process incorporates industry feedback as well as general public comment, but as one person with whom I recently discussed the ELD issue with mentioned “Truck drivers don’t sit around reading the Federal Register,” with the Federal Register being a place where rule notices are published.
The wide array of industry and association groups are always busy in trying to bring their constituents’ concerns and hopes to the consideration of policymakers, whether on the executive side or the legislative side. Yet even here it is an imperfect process, and one that faces an extraordinarily complex and rapidly changing labyrinth world.
Undoubtedly the ELD rule will eventually find a fix, as many other particular regulations do in the constantly grinding gears of Washington D.C. and our state and local representative and administrative governments as well.
Nonetheless, this trucking regulatory mishap that is having a wide array of unintended effects shows the importance of citizen engagement. Citizen engagement is required both by the people themselves as well as needs to be considered and respected by those in policymaking power. That is the ideal of self-government, and one that constantly needs refreshment and renewal.
There’s been an endless series of articles, essays, books, and research about the 2016 election. However I felt even now there’s still been a lot of misunderstanding and omission in the discourse, particularly regarding what really fueled then-candidate Donald Trump’s rise and why his ascendance flabbergasted the chattering class at nearly every turn.
Even now we still see the half of the nation that voted for, or has a favorable opinion of, now-President Trump misunderstood and vilified. The 2016 election, in which up until the final results the Huffington Post polls aggregator predicted Hillary Clinton to have a 98% chance of winning, shook many out of their daze.
A good number of those who previously dismissed Trump supporters have now begun trying to reach out to conservatives or make expeditions out of the cosmopolitan centers and into the American heartland, but there still remains a big gulf.
It’s a little late among books about the 2016 election but recently I published my short book “A Time Like No Other: One American’s Journey Through The 2016 Election And After,” available at Amazon.
I served as a Trump campaign official in Virginia during the tumultuous 2016 general election. During that time I also was elected at a fiercely divided state convention, as Cruz and Trump supporters fought in anticipation over a contested RNC convention, as one of our two statewide Electoral College nominees, using the bully pulpit to promote our Republican ticket.
Prior to that, I served on Ohio Governor John Kasich’s campaign staff in Virginia through nearly the entire primary. Combined with years of experience in politics and government prior, from these roles I was able to get an in-depth panoramic view of the 2016 presidential primaries and general election.
The 2015 presidential primaries and 2016 election saw much of the current misunderstanding of Trump supporters at an even greater level than now. Many simply didn’t believe Trump supporters actually existed, and even now some explain Trump’s wins with potentially Russian hacking of voting machines.
Yet the fact was, in having experienced firsthand the turbulence of the 2016 primaries and general election day-by-day, was that the bulk of the support behind then-candidate Trump was a deeply felt need to restore our country from the direction it had seemingly been tilting in recent years.
Though now our nation’s policy achievements are winning widespread favorability and, even with our discourse’s current problems, are creating massive prosperity, innovation, and optimism, the years prior to 2016 were the precise opposite.
The 2012 election itself was held in a depressed environment, with a mix of the sluggish recovery and the disturbances created by Occupy Wall Street shaking the nation.
The years between 2012 and 2015 only saw much of it worsen. Our nation drifted towards hyperpolarization never before seen, with the rhetoric on both sides increasing harshly.
The Constitution increasingly seemed mere paper rather than law. Our nation internationally had become a paper tiger, allowing bad actors to run amok.
Even in our own country, we saw venerable institutions ranging from the military to law enforcement to the Founding Fathers to the very nature of our country itself all become the target of hatred by a new extreme left faction.
The Democrats had also drifted far from their party’s nature throughout most of the 20th century and even during President Bill Clinton’s centrist leadership. Rather, the Blue Dogs had gone extinct and the radical left was beginning to seep in – with the far-left’s rhetoric ranging from attacking God openly to denouncing the entire capitalist system. Many “Reagan Democrats” had already been leaving over the years, but now the flow became torrential and complete.
It was amid this environment that Trump captured the pulse of the American people and rode it to the Presidency, deflecting in Teflon-fashion countless other gaffes and mishaps that would have sunk traditional candidates long ago.
The 2016 election was an extraordinary time in American history that, despite all the writing about it, clearly has still not been understood by our national discourse. I hope it someday can be, particularly as we face extraordinary upcoming policy challenges in the foreign policy and economic field this next decade.
Saturday, May 5th this year was the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth in Trier, Germany. On that day in 1818, a philosopher was born whose ideas would soon after prove essential to the historic torment of revolution, international conflicts, totalitarian rule, human suffering, and death that defined the 20th century across much of the world.
Reactions across the Western world were, generally, commemorative rather than mournful or condemning. The New York Times ran an op-ed titled “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!” In Trier itself, a 14-foot bronze statue was unveiled by the city. The British Museum in London proudly showcased a signature in a guest book Marx made in 1874.
Halfway across the world, China’s Communist government was celebrating too. Speaking at a grand ceremony for the occasion in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping proclaimed “[t]oday, we commemorate Marx in order to pay tribute to the greatest thinker in the history of mankind and also to declare our firm belief in the scientific truth of Marxism.”
2017 itself was the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, marked by members of the United States Congress, the White House, and countless other groups and persons from across the nation. The White House even issued a proclamation declaring November 7, 2017 the “National Day for the Victims of Communism,” remembering the day a hundred years ago when the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia began.
These anniversaries provide us an ample opportunity to remember the ideas and conflicts that defined not just much of American history in the 20th century, but world history.
For half a century our country fought the Cold War, which seems inaptly named given the numerous active wars and operations our nation fought during that time, such as in Korea and Vietnam, to contain the spread of Communism and support our free allies.
Even when there was not active conflict, our military, intelligence services, and diplomats fought a harsh struggle everyday in nearly every nation in the world to try to win the battle for the “hearts and minds,” to borrow a phrase from the Vietnam era, of the world.
America’s citizenry faced the constant fallout from Marx’s ideas even in peacetime as well, ranging from shelter drills in response to the threat of nuclear annihilation to worries over even revolution and subversion in our own nation.
The toll from Communism worldwide remains horrific and worthy of perpetual memory. Precise accounting remains difficult, due to a combination of destroyed or nonexistent records, the worldwide span of Communist crimes, and the still-chaotic or authoritarian situations of many such sites.
Nonetheless, it is estimated that Communism over the course of the 20th century remains at least directly responsible for over 100 million deaths in the form of forced starvation, executions, torture, or massacres.
The victims ranged from those of the Great Purge in Russia to the Cultural Revolution in China. They ranged from the Eastern Bloc nations to North Korea’s Orwellian regime, from Ethiopia’s “Derg” to Afghanistan’s bloody 1980’s, from Latin American guerillas to Cambodia’s Khmer Rogue to Greece’s civil war, and many more nations, conflicts, and peoples across the entire globe.
Yet the victims do not only include those who lost their lives, but also those who suffered but lived. Those who lost family members, friends, careers, were imprisoned, tortured, or became refugees – they all are victims too, and number in the additional hundreds of millions.
Communism’s legacy today remains complex and uncertain, as we see worrying anti-capitalist sentiments growing and a fifth of the world still technically living under governments professing Communism.
Nonetheless, what is certain is that this is no time to celebrate, besides to celebrate the triumph of human freedom over the unimaginable horrors that claimed or crushed the lives of so many over this past century.
As President George W. Bush said in 2007 when he dedicated a memorial to the victims of Communism in Washington, D.C., “…when an ideology kills tens of millions of people, and still ends up being vanquished, it is contending with a power greater than death…freedom is the gift of our Creator, freedom is the birthright of all humanity, and in the end, freedom will prevail.”
Re-prints of some of my columns. NOTE: I ran a national weekly column from 2017 to 2018 printed/distributed by newspapers in dozens of states across the country. The 2017-2018 blogs in this section are re-prints of the national column.