Monday, October 17, 2016

Oh, Rudy!

Trump and his surrogates are sounding the drum beat that the Democrats are rigging the elections, particularly in the inner cities, widely regarded as their stronghold.  Mayor Rudy joined in the act by loudly proclaiming that the Democrats literally raise the dead to turn elections in their favor, although he qualified himself somewhat by saying it can only be seen in "extremely close elections."  His margin for fraud is apparently 5 per cent.

Of course, one has to ask how he was able to survive a close election in 1993, when he edged the incumbent mayor Dave Dinkins by less than three per cent.  As Jaker Tapper learned, it is hard to argue with Mayor Rudy.  Giuliani seems to have taken the Trump happy pills and spouts out whatever nonsense comes to his head.

Allegations of voter fraud are nothing new.  We've seen many states adopt voter ID laws supposedly to stem what they see as a crisis, although there is no evidence to suggest that voter fraud is taking place on the scale Republicans imagine.  Nevertheless, the myth persists thanks to demagogues like Trump and Giuliani, who are looking to raise the hackles of their most rabid conservatives.  Trump has actually encouraged supporters to monitor their voting precincts.  As Garret Epps writes, it is nothing but a form of harassment, as Trump has aimed his message at battleground states where he is looking to get any edge he can get.

What's odd to me is how so much focus has been placed on Pennsylvania, a state that has gone Democratic every presidential election year since 1992.  Trump being perhaps the worst Republican nominee ever put forward, it is safe to say that the Keystone State will vote overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, yet Trump has repeatedly pointed to this state as one to watch for voter fraud.  He is trying to make Pennsylvania into the fallacy that proves his point.

It seems many Republicans are deluded by syndicated polls that favor them.  Rasmussen has consistently had Trump on top throughout the general election cycle, despite little to support its numbers.  In 2012, Rasmussen not only missed the national popular vote count, but missed many battleground states.  This is what sent Karl Rove into a tizzy fit on Fox News when Ohio didn't turn out the way Rasmussen had projected, literally having it too close to call.  Obama won the state by 3 points.  Although Rasmussen was quick to point out that it was within its margin of error of 4 points, they led many persons to believe Romney could pull out this state and several others that would have turned the electoral count in his favor.

That's why it is important to look at composite averages of polls like Real Clear Politics and 538.  This gives one a clearer picture of what is going on.  Nate Silver's site is perhaps the best in this regard as he analyzes the data and rates the polls within his algorithm, resulting in probabilities.  Currently, Hillary Clinton has an 88% chance of winning this election but don't tell Dirty Donald and Mayor Rudy that.  They seem to be basing their chances solely on Rasmussen and LA Times/USC, which both currently have him ahead of Hillary.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Are you not entertained?

While Trump accuses Hillary of taking drugs to get through the last debate, the news media has seized on the man in the red sweater at the town hall.  Oh, and Mike Pence is trying to tamp down criticism of his response to an 11-year old girl who was worried about what kind of message Trump's unsolicited groping sent to girls like her.  So are the days of our lives this election cycle.

Many have begun to not only question  the sanity of Trump but that of a nation that has sucked up all this reality show fodder.  As Alec Baldwin so perfectly mocked Trump, "Are you not entertained?"  SNL wasn't about to let Ken Bone slide either, offering up yet another spoof of the debates last night, but apparently Donald was not amused.  The cast of SNL hasn't had this much fun with an election cycle since lampooning Sarah Palin in 2008.  They aren't the only ones getting in on the act.  Jimmy Kimmel signed Ken Bone as a special correspondent for the remainder of the campaign trail.

Mercifully, there are only three weeks left of this year's "Access Washington."  I won't say the drug allegations are the last desperate act of Trump, as I imagine there will be more desperate acts.  He compared himself and Hillary to athletes who should be drug tested to insure no one has an unfair advantage.  As you remember in the first debate he blamed a faulty microphone for his sub-par performance.  This time he thinks Hillary took performance enhancing drugs to keep her going through the debate but that they apparently weren't strong enough as she was clearly losing her energy in the end.  Not like Trump, who looked and snorted as though he was high on cocaine.

Of course these distractions ultimately work in his favor as the media focuses on them instead of the issues Donald Trump keeps saying he so much wants to talk about.  His rallies have veered so far off script this month that his handlers are at a loss at how to explain his erratic behavior.  Kellyanne Conway had a particularly rough time doing damage control last week, throwing accusations every which way in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape.

Mike Pence has had a similarly rough time downplaying Trump's provocative tapes and further allegations that have ensued.  His response to the 11-year girl's question on a Virginia news station was priceless.  Rather than offer any kind of emotional support, he claimed that he and Trump would make America safer from terrorists.  The question wasn't about foreign policy.

When the going gets rough, Team Trump immediately deflects the attacks on Hillary, which is what Mike Pence tried to do and failed badly.  Largely because he has no answer for Donald's behavior.  Kellyanne finds herself in the same boat.  As a result, the two are limiting their appearances on television, leaving it up to more callous Trump apologists like Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich to rationalize his behavior or other reasons to vote for him.  Trump himself is speaking at rallies only, as he now feels the media is out to get him.  He has intimated he may not show up for the third and final debate, despite it being in Vegas and moderated by Fox news.

In Sarah's words, Trump has gone rogue stirring up as much shit as he can in the few remaining days of his campaign, hoping to suppress voter turnout so that he might have an outside chance of winning this thing with his angry white male vote.  There has even been a hashtag movement sponsored by Trump supporters for the repeal of the 19th amendment, as if his campaign hasn't already infuriated women enough.  Fortunately, Operation Don't Vote doesn't seem to be working.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Rainy Day Sappho

The Nobel committee has made some interesting choices over the years, but I don't think anyone was ready for Bob Dylan.  For the most part, response has been enthusiastic.  Salman Rushdie and Joyce Carol Oates both offered their hearty congratulations, but other contemporary writers were not so pleased, notably Irvine Welsh, who called it a "nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostrates of senile, gibbering hippies."  Ol' Irvine sure has a way with words.

The problem the Nobel committee has faced in recent years is that there aren't very many great contemporary writers to choose from, certainly few who have responded to pressing social conditions.  Last year, the committee went out on a limb with Belarusian writer, Svetlana Alexievich, who is best known for collecting first-person accounts.   Her books have been called "collective novels."

There were those disgruntled that Haruki Murakami didn't get the award, but Murakami often references Dylan in his novels, so he probably only serves as further proof that the Nobel committee made the right choice.

Of course, one can ask why Rushdie and Oates were passed over, as well as other worthy writers like Don De Lillo.  I guess there was no consensus on any of them.  It would be interesting to know how Dylan sneaked into the race, as no betting site had him in the running.  It's amazing that people actually place bets on this sort of thing.

So far, Dylan has been mum on the subject.  It seems to have taken him by surprise as well.  One assumes he will show up for the awards ceremony in December.  Maybe he will pen a new song especially for the occasion?

Contrary to Irvine's harsh assessment, you'd be pretty hard pressed to name someone who has had such a broad influence on music and literature over the past 50 years.   His body of work is immense and the subject of much scrutiny in recent years.  Sara Danius was effusive in her praise, specifically mentioning Blonde on Blonde, perhaps his greatest album, er collection of poetry.  Dylan is first and foremost a lyricist, a Rainy Day Sappho if you will.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


or Trump's Long Con

Even with his campaign falling apart around him, Donald J. Trump still manages to find love.  According to Ben Carson, Trump prayed for forgiveness before Sunday night's debate, although you would never know it the way he came out with blood in his eyes.

James Robison administered the duties.  One of several prominent televangelists and religious leaders who are sticking with Trump despite the  lewd videos and audios.  You needn't ask yourself why.  Conservative Evangelists have long had a soft spot for fallen pastors like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and countless others who have been tempted by the flesh.  Usually, parishioners would like them  to show some contrition, but in Donald's case a token apology seems to be enough.

Still, his evangelical support is eroding, largely among Mormons who didn't like him very much to begin with.  Jason Chaffetz, a born-again Mormon, has publicly disowned Donald, as has Mia Love, another prominent convert, who said she can't vote for Trump.  This puts Utah in play for Hillary, which would have been inconceivable any other election year.

As many red states turn blue, Trump remains undaunted, proudly proclaiming on Tuesday that the shackles are off and he will go after Hillary and ranking Republican turncoats alike in his defiant bid for the White House.  If I didn't know better, I would say this has been one very clever long con to undermine the Republican Party.  What more can he do to bring the GOP to its knees?

Hardly anything Trump says at this point makes sense.  At a Florida rally he was encouraging supporters to go to the polls on November 28.  He didn't even catch himself in the gaffe.  Once again, he lashed out at Paul Ryan for turning his back on him, although Ryan has yet to "unendorse" him.  He had a few harsh words for Mackie as well, but they ring hollow at this point.  It is hard to imagine Donald thinks he can win the election with his motley crew of supporters.  It brings to mind George Wallace's lost cause in 1968.

Nevertheless, there are those who still think Trump has a path to victory, although you would be hard pressed to find any major media outlet that finds it plausible at this point.  Even Fox seems to have given up on Trump, except for Sean Hannity of course, who was lashing out at everyone this week for abandoning his American Idol.

Still there are four weeks to go and I guess anything can happen.  It seems Julian Assange, with the aid of Russian hackers, is working overtime to find some juicy e-mails to expose to an eager public.  It was pretty amazing last week when conservatives stayed up till  3 am for Assange's much anticipated statement only to discover they had been #wikirolled.

The only question now is how Trump's "second amendment people" are going to respond to a new Clinton administration?

Monday, October 10, 2016


The very fact that Donald showed up was a victory in itself.  Not only that but he surrounded himself with Clinton victims beforehand in a brazen effort to deflect media attention away from the misogynistic tapes that grow by the day.  He even wanted to have the women join his family box at the debate, but was refused.  No doubt something he will emphasize this week, hoping to turn attention away from what was another dreadful debate performance.

He lost when he threatened to prosecute Hillary if he is elected President, and petulantly retorted when Hillary challenged him that she would be in jail now if he had been in charge of laws in this country.  He doesn't want to be President, he wants to be dictator, and like his good buddy Vladimir Putin wants to stifle opposition by putting his adversaries behind bars.  What a far cry from the man who just four years ago praised Hillary Clinton as a "great woman."

There was no handshake this time around.  They glowered at each other from the start.  Trump who didn't even try to contain his anger and contempt, in the end projected it on Hillary when asked what he would do to heal the country.  He once again claimed that She and Obama are the ones who divided this nation.

When it came to taxes, he readily admitted he used his monumental losses of 1995 to write off federal income taxes for years afterward, but once again turned the blame on Hillary by saying that she is the one who allowed the loophole in the tax codes for her friends Warren Buffett and George Soros.  I was surprised Anderson Cooper didn't challenge the utter absurdity of this claim.  It is hard to say what time frame Trump was referring to, although it seems he was referring to her time in the Senate from 2001-2009, which doesn't coincide to the time he began writing off his losses.

Trump was brash and unapologetic throughout the debate, determined to rally his alt-conservative base in the general election.  I'm sure in their eyes he came out a big winner, feeding straight into all their fantasies with one conspiracy theory after another as he blamed every ill over the past three decades on Hillary Clinton.  There was absolutely no attempt to ground any of his arguments in fact, whether claiming high crime rates or drugs flooding across the borders or holding Hillary personally responsible for Capt. Humayun Khan's death, saying there would have been no war in Iraq if he had been President.

Like so much that we hear from the alt-conservative universe, everything has become conflated into the last 8 years.  No one remembers that this war started in 2003 or that Capt. Khan was killed in 2004 under Bush's tenure, and that ISIS has been around at least that long.  In Donald's addled mind all the problems we see in the Middle East began in 2011 when we pulled out of Iraq, a war he steadfastly claims he never supported yet blames Obama and Clinton for ending.

Trump continued to talk over Hillary like he did in the first debate. but what was particularly creepy was the way he stalked behind her, reinforcing his predatory nature.  For her part, Hillary returned to her seat after her two minutes, not once interrupting Donald as he flew off on his harangues.  Why should she?  He damaged himself far more than she ever could.

Still, some news outlets are claiming Trump won the debate.  One would expect this from Hannity or Breitbart, but CBS News?   It just shows how much some news stations still want to see a horse race when Donald pulled up lame long ago.  At this point, all he has is his alt-conservative base.  What ever middle ground he was hoping to reach for is gone and he doesn't seem to care.  It's as if he expects some massive turnout of the underclass, like the Brexit vote, to carry him to victory.

Not surprising, Nigel Farage was in his corner after the debate, reminding us just how far this right-wing movement extends beyond our borders.  This isn't a referendum.  It is a Presidential election and Trump has far too many negatives to carry him to victory in November.  But, you have to hand it to Donald, he is not going down without a fight.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Hurricane Donald

Ever the blowhard, Donald managed to upstage a hurricane with the latest salacious revelation.  No one expected an apology from our Playboy in Chief, but it came late Friday in an attempt to tamp down the damage from a video and audio leaked to the Washington Post.  Apparently, NBC was planning to release the "sex tape" Monday but someone on their staff wanted to get it out ahead of the debate, forcing Donald and the RNC to have to deal with it over the weekend.

Donald was already in a tailspin, but fellow Republicans were holding up well in Congressional elections across the country and felt pretty confident they could hold onto the House and Senate in November.  This tape changed the dynamics overnight.  It forced supporters like John McCain, Kelly Ayotte and Marco Rubio to publicly denounce Trump in no uncertain terms, fearing that Ugly Donald might rub off on them in hotly contested Senate races.  Mind you these are the same GOP Senators who stood by Trump when he disparaged a Gold Star family after the Democratic National Convention, despite their misgivings.

The women vote appears to matter more to Republicans than do Gold Star families, Miss Universe contestants and Fox news hosts.  Trump had established an abusive pattern early in this campaign when he disparaged Megyn Kelly over questions concerning his well-known misogynistic statements.  He later disparaged Carly Fiorina in a debate for not having the face of a Presidential candidate, which he brought up again in his first debate with Hillary.  But, probably Donald's worst moment was when he went after the Khan family following their appearance at the Democratic National Convention.  This did lead to a sharp rebuke from McCain and other leading Republicans, but very few of them pulled their support, as they are doing now.

Too little too late as far as I'm concerned.  The Republican National Committee has no leg to stand on, having made no effort to address his foul mouth at debates or on the campaign trail.  He has repeatedly disparaged and taunted female reporters, gone after the wives of other Presidential candidates in tweets and boasted how much women love him every chance he gets.  Yet, this tape is supposed to be a surprise?

We already knew Trump is a loud obnoxious braggart.  What makes this incident so much worse than all the other incidents before?  John McCain had numerous opportunities to abandon Trump, including the time Trump infamously questioned his role in the Vietnam War, saying, "I like people who weren't captured."  Then came Trump's outrageous attack of a Gold Star family, who had lost their son in Iraq, and most recently dismissing vets with PTSD.  Yet, Mackie only chose to pull his endorsement after these Access Hollywood tapes.

Part of the reason is that Mackie was facing a potentially tough re-election primary.  He is not very popular among his Republican base and didn't want to alienate supporters by distancing himself from Trump.  Having won the primaries, Mackie now has to tack toward the middle and obviously women are a big part of that middle ground, which he can't afford losing over Trump's most recent faux pas. As a result, it becomes very convenient for him to dump Trump.  The only question is whether Arizona teabaggers will accept his about face on Donald, and if women voters will see his recent change of heart any more sincerely than they do Trump's apology?

Donald had a very rough two weeks but there was every reason to think he might turn things around Sunday night with a strong performance.  He even held a mock town hall on Wednesday to prepare for the event, although most critics mocked it.  All he had to do was not be as bad as he was the previous debate.  Throughout this campaign, he has done a great job of lowering the bar.  Any improvement would have been regarded as a "victory," especially in the wake of Pence's "great job" at the Vice-Presidential debate.  But, another funny thing happened along the way.

No one remembers Alicia Machado now.  We have Nancy O'Dell, the "married woman" Trump hoped to score while shopping for furniture, and Arianne Zucker, the lovely soap opera actress in purple that Trump made sure to take some "tic-tacs" before kissing, although he refrained from grabbing her you-know-what.

You had to know women would ultimately bring Trump down.  The scuttlebutt is that Marla Maples is the one who leaked the 1995 tax returns to the New York Times, as she would have been the only one legally able to do so other than Donald, having been married to him at the time.

You play with fire, you get burnt, and that is exactly what has happened to the GOP.  They accepted him in the primaries because he brought star power and boosted television ratings to unprecedented levels.  As much as establishment Republicans loathed what he stood for, they couldn't resist the Hollywood glamour he brought to the elections, if you can call it glamour.  He played the GOP field like he did his contestants on The Apprentice, leaving them to fight among themselves while his status grew through the nomination process.  There were numerous opportunities to dump Trump. There was even talk of an open convention that would have freed delegates to vote for the candidate of their choice on the convention floor, but it never came to pass, and Donald easily won the roll call vote.

Trump has left so many burnt bridges behind him that it wasn't surprising at all this tape came from NBC, which quickly dumped Trump back in June, 2015, after his outlandish statement regarding Mexican immigrants.  NBC has a very big share in the Latin television audience, and wasn't about to let Trump run roughshod over it.  NBC had also been looking into allegations by former Apprentice staff and guests that Trump often used lewd language on the show, demeaning the show's crew and contestants alike.  One thing led to another and this Access Hollywood tape was found in the NBC archives.  As Washington Post gleefully reports, more is soon to follow.

Will this be enough to make Trump drop out of the race?  Many in the RNC desperately want him to do so, hoping to make Mike Pence their new nominee.  However, early voting has already begun in many states and Trump has remained defiant.  Like everything else in this election cycle, we have entered unchartered territory.

Friday, October 7, 2016


What is Aleppo?

Perhaps the most deluded candidate of all isn't Donald Trump.  Here is Gary Johnson laying out his case for a great end run to the White House to Katie Couric, despite polling 7 per cent nationally and only 14 per cent in his home state of New Mexico.  Gary actually thinks he is leading Clinton and Trump among Independent and young voters.  But, it looks like he is basing his claims on what pundits have been saying rather than actual numbers.  GenForward has done the most complete survey of voters aged 18-34 to date, and found that only 15% are supporting Johnson or Jill Stein.

Gary has had an unprecedented amount of media coverage for an independent candidate.  CNN has graciously given him two town halls, including this one in August, and he has been the darling of talk shows throughout the election cycle, yet continues to slip in the polls.  It's easy to see why as he often fumbles the simplest questions and continues to play up a false equivalence between Hillary and Trump.   The only people he appeals to are the most dejected of Independent voters who can't bring themselves to align with the two front runners.  Voters who would otherwise stay home on election day.

It seems William Weld even has misgivings, judging by an interview he gave the Boston Globe.  Weld was never a Libertarian to begin with, having joined the ticket when his man, John Kasich, went down in the Republican primaries.  Johnson struck him as the only alternative available as he couldn't bring himself to become a Clinton Republican.  However, at this point Weld is focusing all his venom on Trump.

Couric asked Johnson what he thought of this and Gary gave the kind of "aw-shucks" answer we've come to expect from him.  He said he would just focus more on Hillary in his attacks, which is odd since he claimed from the beginning his candidacy was about a third way.  However, Johnson knows as well as anyone that he is running solely as a spoiler.

His running mate apparently doesn't want to be a spoiler, considering Trump a far greater threat as President than Hillary.  Weld remains supportive of Johnson but no longer seems so intent on campaigning in battleground states where a strong Libertarian showing might actually tip the electoral college in Trump's favor.

Of course, it is very hard to say how many votes the Libertarian ticket is pulling from Trump and Hillary, if it is pulling any votes at all.  Johnson and Weld are shrinking the voting base a little by potentially drawing as much as 10 per cent of the vote in a handful of states.  This may or may not work in Trump's favor, although at this point he is doing a pretty good job of undermining his own campaign.  Let's not forget that Bill Clinton won in 1992 despite a strong showing from Ross Perot, who won almost 20 per cent of the popular vote.

Johnson will get no where near that level of support among any demographic group.  The reason is simple.  He has failed to show himself as a viable alternative despite so many golden opportunities to do so.  The more he talks the more stupid he sounds.  It's not so much his Aleppo moment or his inability to name world leaders as it is the lack of any vision, foreign or domestic.   Basically, he wants a non-interventionist government both at home and abroad, which makes you wonder why he is running for President in the first place?

If he had made this the centerpiece of his campaign he might have gotten more support among Teabaggers and other secession-minded movements, flying the Gadsden flag at his rallies.  The problem is that if we left government totally up to the states, citizens would have no recourse to discriminatory laws like we have seen passed in many conservative states.

Unfortunately, Johnson isn't a very deep thinker.  I wonder if he is a thinker at all, as he hasn't seemed to thought out his positions very well.  The only thing he seems strongly committed to is his belief that the two-party system is a failure and that we need a third party.   Yet, he like so many other independents refuse to engage at the state and local level.  Instead, they air out their grievances every four years and expect us to listen.

Having lured William Weld into their circle, the Libertarians had a great opportunity to make their case for a strong third party, convincing other moderate conservatives that the Republican Party no longer represents their best interests.  But, Johnson failed to close the deal, showing that he had no real awareness how this country works and reverting to non-interventionist stances when pressed to say how he would handle foreign policy issues.  As he whined to George Stephanopolous a vote for Gary Johnson is a vote for Gary Johnson.  It is not a vote for a viable third party

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Gangs of the New World Order

Watching Hungarian PM Viktor Orban last night on television, I was struck by how similar his tactics are to Donald Trump, and to the right wing movement in general.  There he stands with a phalanx of stone-faced ministers behind him telling the assembly how the referendum on barring Syrian refugees justifies his position.  He projects himself as a strong man imposing his will on a weak nation.  Yet, you have to ask yourself, if he is so strong why does he need this guard behind him?

Time and again, Trump has employed the same tactic on the campaign trail - loyal supporters standing or sitting in stone-faced silence behind him.  He has mixed it up in recent weeks, using Sikhs, Blacks and other persons of color to try to give his phalanx the appearance of diversity, but usually it is his elder children and his closest advisers along with body guards.

It's what a gang would do when confronting a rival gang in a street or alley, showing they have their leader's back.  This threatening tactic is used to intimidate opponents.  It has been rarely used in American politics but one seen quite frequently in the European right wing movement, where Trump's tactics appear to owe its fascist origins.

Back in 1988, Costa-Gavras tried to find a connection between these groups in his movie Betrayed, focusing mostly on the right wing movement in the United States.  These fringe movements have risen and fallen in Europe over the years.  There was Jorg Haider in Austria and Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands.  Marine Le Pen has picked up where her father left off in France, and Nigel Farage was one of the active members behind the Brexit movement in the UK.  But Orban is the first to have successfully seized control of government in Hungary, although one could argue that the current government of Poland is also right wing in nature.

What drives all these movements is anti-immigrant sentiments.  They believe their countries are for native-born citizens and that refugees and immigrants are diluting their national identity.  The recent wave of Syrian and North African refugees has emboldened these movements and they have struck emotional chords in their countries, especially with the EU mandating how many refugees member countries should take to alleviate the crisis.

In the UK, it isn't just Muslim immigrants and refugees that stir anger, but Eastern European immigrants as well.  The economic playing field in the EU is heavily tilted toward the West with Eastern European countries lagging far behind Western European countries in terms of salaries and pensions.  This means a lot of Eastern Europeans seek greener pastures in Western Europe, resulting in growing Eastern European communities in Britain.  Much of the violence in the wake of the Brexit vote has been directed toward Eastern Europeans.

These right wing movements have stirred up an ugly nationalism that is all too similar to that between World War I and II.  Many European countries drifted toward autocratic regimes, not just Germany, during these inter-war years.  Much of the anger was directed toward Jews, but Slavs and other Eastern Europeans felt this hatred as well.  The EU finds itself struggling to tamp down these ugly sentiments in the wake of Brexit and Hungary's recent anti-refugee referendum.

Of course, these same feelings have long existed in the United States.  Historically, we have had political parties like the Know Nothing Party with a staunch anti-immigrant platform.  Demagogues play on the emotions of the working class, which feels itself threatened by all these new arrivals.  We went through a particularly violent period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when we experienced a flood of European refugees and immigrants in the wake of collapsing European states.

This is particularly noteworthy because Donald Trump's grandparents arrived from Germany in 1885, escaping civil unrest in that country.  Germany was going through a massive unification process that saw an autocratic state emerge.  There was a literal flood of German immigrants at this time that greatly impacted American politics.  The labor movement largely sprang from German socialists, hoping to achieve in the US what they had failed to do in their home country.  The worst conflict arose at the Chicago Haymarket in 1886.

Rather than be sympathetic toward new immigrants, second-generation Donald Trump is highly antagonist toward new immigrants.  He proudly cites his family heritage yet denies that they too were subject to reprisals.  So much so that his father Fred often referred to himself as Swedish to avoid associations with Germany before and after WWII.

We are all children of immigrants.  Of course there are those who proudly chart their lineage all the way back to the Mayflower, but these Pilgrims were escaping what they saw as a highly prejudiced British government that stifled their religious liberty.

The funny part about Trump's wall is that the persons he decries were here long before Brits or Germans made their way to the American shores.  At one time, Spain controlled much of what is now continental United States.  Russia actually controlled a large swathe of the West Coast, stretching down to Fort Ross, California.  The Spanish countered by extending their missions all the way up to San Francisco.  It wasn't until the mid-19th century that American interests spread west, claiming the Spanish territories by Manifest Destiny and purchasing Alaska from Russia.  So, if we are going to play this game of who was here first, claiming a Mayflower birthright doesn't carry much weight.

To combat this rough patch in history, many Americans have come to pride themselves on what little "Native American" blood they can claim as if this gives them a special birthright.  Yet, these earlier tribes were immigrants too, coming to this continent by the Bering land bridge or boat centuries before.  The Athabaskans, which form by far the most dominant "native" groups in America, have strong Central Asian roots, and some believe came to America escaping the wrath of Genghis Khan in the 13th century.  This would have been the time of the "little ice age" when the Bering Strait was believed to be frozen over.  The Navajo and Apache were first sighted in the Southwest in the 14th century by earlier Pueblo nations, not long before the Spanish.

The Pueblo Indians believe they came to this continent by boat and some anthropologists have linked their culture with the Jomon culture, which goes back as far as the 10th millennium BC in Japan. The Zuni language shares remarkable characteristics to ancient Japanese.  A very long heritage to be sure, but immigrants nonetheless.

We are all children of immigrants. European history amply illustrates that there is nothing ethnically pure about any of the current nation states.  They are all confederations or rump states of previous confederations that owe their origins to a wide variety of cultural influences, much of it of Eastern origin.  Sanskrit, not Greek or Latin, is the mother language.  Yet, demagogues like Viktor Orban, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump continue to believe that we have some special birthright that makes us uniquely European or American, and that we should protect our countries from unwanted immigrants.

Our countries were shaped by immigrants. perhaps none more so than the United States.  We have a rich history and should be proud of its great ethnic diversity, not try to homogenize it into a singular fictional identity and adopt a threatening gang mentality to enforce it.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Bonfire of the Vanities

The biggest advantage in winning the first debate is that Hillary can set the talking points for the two weeks until the next debate.  If Alicia Machado wasn't bad enough, the New York Times has hit Donald hard with the release of his 1995 tax returns, revealing nearly a billion dollars in losses, which he most likely has written off his returns for the last two decades.

What makes both these stories interesting is that they have been hanging around for quite sometime.  The Hillary ad takes clips from an interview Machado had with Univision this summer, and Vanity Fair noted the abuse she took in an article, posted in January, on Trump's love of beauty pageants.  Gaming income taxes has similarly been reported, but these were returns from the 1970s he filed for a gambling license in New Jersey.  The '95 returns allow for much better speculation on his current tax situation, which the NYTimes journalists gleefully do.

For the most part the mainstream media previously ignored these stories, too caught up in Trumpmania.  Now, it seems the "bigly" news story is taking Trump down, and just about every newspaper across the country is going after him, including leading conservative papers like the Arizona Republic, New Hampshire Union Leader and Dallas Morning News.  Even USA Today came out strongly against Trump despite a long standing policy of being neutral on presidential elections.

Even worse for Trump, Newsmax is quoting David Axelrod in describing how Trump took the bait on Miss Universe, so unable to get Alicia Machado out of his head that he was making 3 am tweets Friday morning,  three full days after the debate.  This after he left his friends at Fox in silence when he flew into a rage Thursday night on the same subject.

That temperament he bragged about at the debate doesn't look so stable now.  Not that it looked very stable that night.  Trump has always been an outspoken guy but he usually knew how to play the media, often against itself.  In the last full month of campaigning he has lost it, lashing out at everyone, probably his own family members, who have been surprisingly quiet in the wake of the Monday Night Massacre.

Very few persons consider him stable at this point.  Even Newt Gingrich expressed his concerns, failing to understand how Trump could be so obsessed with Machado, but like other conservatives backing Trump he still seems to hope that Trump can pull it together.

Trump was supposed to pivot toward moderate voters back in August, yet flew into a similar rage over the attacks he took at the Democratic National Convention, notably from the Khan family.  This went on for three weeks with him attacking his own backers, Paul Ryan and John McCain, for criticizing him for his response to a Gold Star family.  Eventually, Trump deferred but the damage was done.  The only thing that got him back into the race was all the speculation that swirled around Hillary's health that dominated the media, especially when she lost her footing following a 911 ceremony in New York.  Yet, here he is again unable to contain himself for perceived slights against his character, and threatening to pull out all the stops in the next debate against Hillary.

Team Hillary sized up Donald Trump and knew exactly where to hit him -- his immense ego. This is a guy who values his name at over $3 billion, and has it emblazoned in gold on all his towers.  He can't let anything that besmirches that name go and Hillary knows that.  It could very will be that the Machado story lingers throughout the month, just as the Willie Horton ads continued to haunt Michael Dukakis all the way until election day.

What threatens to bring Donald down is his tax returns.  He all but admitted he hasn't paid any taxes over the last two decades at the debate, and the NYTimes story ads fuel to the fire by showing how he could have avoided paying taxes over this time frame.  All of it may be perfectly legal but isn't going to sit well with a largely middle class electorate that feels it already carries an unfair tax burden because of tax dodgers like Donald J. Trump.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Beauty and the Beast

Who would have ever thought this story could get so much traction.  The Trump campaign was forced to spend the entire week on Alicia Machado, and for the most part making matters worse not better.    The tale of Donald Trump's first Miss Universe struck right to the heart of his vanity.

Try googling Alicia Machado now and you get a long string of porn-related videos put up by Trump hackers.  Trump himself has pointed to a mysterious sex tape as proof positive she was a porn queen as well, but those looking for some juicy video on Alicia will be sorely disappointed because none exists.  If you want a peep show you have to look at the Mexican version of Playboy, one of Donald Trump's favorite magazines.  Nevertheless, fat shaming turned to slut shaming on right-wing radio with Rush Limbaugh leading the charge to discredit her story.

However, it isn't working.  The longer Alicia Machado stays in the news cycle the worse Trump looks.  After all, here is a woman who has obviously taken good care of herself over the years whereas Trump has become a beast.

His surrogates argue that Hillary had no right to bring Machado up in the first debate, and cry over the unfair attack ad that has gone viral.  An exasperated Megyn Kelly was forced to say "Cone on, Kellyanne!" when his campaign adviser pouted over the attack at the debate, saying Trump shouldn't be held accountable for something he said 20 years ago.  But, the ad points to the misogyny we have seen throughout the campaign, his comments earlier this year toward Megyn included.  However, dear Kellyanne seemed oblivious to this.

What is also forgotten is that Trump has repeatedly brought up Bill Clinton's affairs on the campaign trail, and in a twitter war with Mark Cuban threatened to invite Gennifer Flowers to the first debate.  He has also followed the lead of his surrogates in claiming that Hillary was an "enabler" in these affairs.  Yet, he and his surrogates feel that Hillary hit him below the belt with Alicia Machado.

This is why the New Yorker had such great fun with Trump on its latest cover, and offered a number of hard-hitting articles in the issue.  He wants to be free to attack others, but when he suffers a particularly brutal hit cries foul.  It was really hard to gauge whether the Alicia Machado story would hurt him.  Probably not if he had let it glance off him, but Trump simply couldn't let this story go and now he pays the price.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Morning After

It didn't take Donald long to rebound, claiming "there was no sniffles," pointing to Drudge Report polls that showed him winning the debate, and getting a little help from conservative pundits like Morning Joe and Newt Gingrich.  But, probably the most telling comment of all came from Mayor Rudy, who felt Trump should skip out on the remaining debates given how unfair the questions were in the first debate.

Virtually every major media outlet gave Hillary the win Monday night.  It was clear to the approximately 100 million viewers that Trump was badly off his game and never really challenged Clinton throughout the night.  Caroline Framke of Vox said what threw off the Donald was the lack of crowd response.  Silence acts as a wet blanket for an improv candidate like Trump, who thrives off a lively audience.  But, it was more than that.  He was unable to bait her into an ugly exchange like we saw during the GOP debates, and he had no one to hide behind like he did Chris Christie, when the fat man took out Marco Rubio at a key juncture of the primaries.

One on one, Trump is unable to match up against an adversary like Hillary Clinton.  He was forced to elaborate on his standard talking points, often unable to fill two minutes without rambling way off track.  The saddest moment came when he was asked to explain his position on the Iraq War.  He evoked Sean Hannity no less than four times to prove he was opposed to the war before it began.  Although Sean later backed him up, he could only say they had telephone conversations at the time.  There was no clip like that of the Howard Stern show to substantiate this claim.

Not that it really mattered because in the next forced breath, Trump was trying to claim that ISIS arose from the vacuum left in Iraq when the US withdrew its forces in 2011.  Yet, he adamantly stated in the oft-mentioned Esquire interview from 2004 that we should have never been there in the first place.  You have to give him some credit for getting the outcome partially right, but if we are to interpret his bellicose words it is Bush who is to blame here, not Obama, and certainly not Hillary.

Trump's pretzel logic works on his adoring flock, but it doesn't work in this type of debate setting.  He was notably peeved that Lester Holt kept pressing him to answer the questions he so desperately tried to avoid, and when finally compelled to do so came out with the most twisted, circular reasoning we have seen yet on the campaign trail.  He spun wildly out of control on the issue of nuclear weapons, losing all track of what he was trying to say.

It reminded me of the time Newt Gingrich managed to bait Herman Cain into a so-called Lincoln-Douglas debate in 2011.  Cain was the front runner at the time, but clearly out of his realm.  Newt coyly got the Herminator to take him up on his offer only to pick him apart on stage for all to see.  Trump, like Cain, paints in big fat strokes, he has no sense of nuance, let alone policy, and is out of his realm against someone who does.

Donald also has too big an ego to do the work necessary to prepare for a debate like this.  He thinks he can wing it, not realizing how long 90 minutes is when you really have nothing to say.  It is doubtful he will prepare anymore for the next debate.  Most likely, he will throw caution to the wind and go after Hillary from every possible angle, hoping to find a weak spot to exploit.  No more Mr. Nice Guy.

I'm sure Hillary will be ready for whatever Donald throws at her.  Like she said, she withstood 11 hours of cross-examination before the House Benghazi committee.  What could Trump possibly say that could match that level of inquisition?  This is a woman who has been through the political fire multiple times while Trump is still very much the novice.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Snifflin' Donald

There are so many ways one could go with last night's debate that it is hard to choose.  Probably the worst thing to come out of it is that Trump has a new nickname, Snifflin' Donald, as he seemed to be battling a cold or as Howard Dean tweeted, "Notice Trump sniffing all the time.  Coke user?"  Maybe the mic had been turned up to magnify his sniffles as they became the biggest takeaway from the evening.

The Donald appeared despondent afterward, claiming his mic was defective, but viewers had very little trouble hearing him.  I guess Donald didn't like the way he sounded -- loud, harsh, off balance and often incoherent.   What little traction he found early, when he attacked Hillary on her husband signing NAFTA into law, was lost when it came to his tax returns and how to address institutional racism.  He never regained his composure, even appearing to be sulking as Hillary continued to attack him on his taxes and shady business dealings.

Hillary was calm, cool and collected throughout the night, sneaking in her jabs time and again.  It looked like Donald's head would explode.  He really appeared uncomfortable on stage, as if all this questioning was a waste of his valuable time.  He glossed over every major issue that was presented except when it came to his rehearsed attempt to deal with the birther question, falsely trying to pin the birther movement on Sidney Blumenthal and Patti Solis Doyle, both friends of Hillary.  Of course, when the birther issue has been the centerpiece of your political awakening it is pretty hard to let it go.

His performance was so bad that even Fox criticized him for not exploiting Clinton's e-mails and other faux scandals the news network had magnified during the course of the campaign.  At one point he even offered a bargain that he would release his tax returns when Hillary released her e-mails.  Hillary showed no mercy, tossing out various speculations as to why Trump hasn't released his returns including the possibility that he paid no income tax at all.  All Trump could muster in his defense, "that makes me smart."

Even though Hillary landed a lot of stinging jabs, she failed to deliver the knock-out punch.  Trump will live to see another debate.  Maybe he will prepare himself better for the next one, as I doubt Anderson Cooper will be as accommodating as Lester Holt.  More importantly, Donald needs to find better antihistamines or perhaps nasal strips to combat those nasty sniffles, or lay off the coke.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Everything is Illuminated

During the Obama administration there have been a lot of incentives to move toward more energy-efficient building materials, heating and cooling systems, appliances, cars and street lighting in an effort to cut down on oil dependence.  As a result, we have seen a sharp drop in oil prices as supply has far outstripped demand.

One of the big shifts these past eight years has been in lighting.  Incandescent bulbs are no longer being produced and the cost of LED lighting has dropped considerably.  We refitted most of our home with LED lighting and not only is it more energy efficient, but provides considerably more light than standard halogen and incandescent bulbs.  The reason for that is that LED lights have a much higher color temperature on average.

The AMA recently published a study questioning the use of high-intensity LED street lamps, which many cities have adopted because they provide much greater illumination at significantly less cost.  At 4000K you can easily distinguish colors, make out roads and sidewalks much better, which give most persons a greater sense of safety at night.  However, the AMA cautions that such high intensity lighting has harmful effects, such as disturbing sleep patterns and suppressing melatonin.

I'm surprised Michelle Bachmann and her incandescent light bulb brigade didn't jump all over this report as proof positive we should have never done away with Edison bulbs.  You might remember a few years ago she led the charge on Capitol Hill to repeal a 2007 bill that made these old bulbs obsolete.  She put forward The Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, which was defeated soundly in the House.  Before she tells everyone "I told you so," she might note that the AMA simply recommended lower Kelvin-rated LED lights, preferably 3000K, not urging cities to abandon these energy-efficient efforts.

However, many city officials have argued that there is nothing wrong with 4000K street lamps, as a typical LED monitor produces color temperature in the range of 6500K to 9300K.  Police departments have reported that better night time visibility has resulted in fewer road accidents, better eye witness reports, not to mention fewer excuses for not heeding street signs.  It is doubtful many cities will opt for lower color temperatures, as they feel the benefits far outweigh whatever harmful effects the AMA has posted.

LED street lamps are relatively new, so we really don't know the long term effects of this brighter night-time world.  These high-intensity lights have become very popular in high northern latitudes as a way of offsetting the lack of sunlight in winter, which is a well documented cause of depression.  Russia has even pursued an artificial star to boost the amount of light in winter.   But, you lose the ability to see all those shining stars as our night sky becomes increasingly more illuminated by the glow of the silvery street lamps and overlit buildings.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

If you thought things couldn't get more kooky, think again.  Donald Trump has apparently invited Gennifer Flowers to the first presidential debate to sit in the front row in what is a rather lame effort to psych Hillary out.  This stems from his latest twitter war with Mark Cuban, who has been baiting Trump into rash statements in hopes of flustering the rival billionaire.  Cuban  had initially shown some interest in Trump way back in Spring but has since become a very vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton and proudly boasted of his front row seat at the first debate.

Trump is doing his best to make the first debate look like a Heavyweight title match.  He has even dragged fabled boxing promoter Don King into the mix.  All he needs now is Michael Buffer to announce the fight, I mean debate Monday night.

Yet, the "Manhattan Mauler" has been doing his best to lower expectations at the same time, claiming the debates are rigged against him.  But, more interesting is the phony town hall he staged with the help of his buddy Sean Hannity at a Cleveland African-American church.  Don King was among those who got a ring side seat behind Sean and Donald. There was even a Sikh sitting behind him on camera to show Donald now knows the difference between Sikhs and Muslims.

Donald is trying to play this debate from all sides, hoping that whatever comes out of it, he will be able to capitalize on it.  Nothing short of a knockout will win it for Hillary at this point, and Trump is well aware Hillary is not a heavy hitter.  He figures he can deflect her jabs all night if it comes to that, and even if he loses the debate on points, he will be seen as the winner as having gone into a hostile ring and come out in tact.

Hillary's corner is telling her to be the adult in the room, assuming voters are tired of Donald's shenanigans and want to hear at least one voice of reason.  Polls are leaning Hillary's way in this regard.  She needs to put on her best Presidential persona and not let any of Donald's antics rattle her.  Most of all, she needs to be well rested so that there are no more stumbles, long bathroom breaks or head wobbling that will allow pundits to once again question her health.

Sadly, these debates are mostly about appearances, not substance.   I like the fact that Hillary has laid low, not tried to play into the hype and anti-hype Donald has projected.  She needs to remain level-headed and calm.  It doesn't really matter whether Hillary has a better command of issues than Donald, she has to be able to project strength.  Donald has gotten through this campaign solely on his ability to project authority, as he has shown a very weak grasp of reality.  No amount of fact-checking is going to change that.  Ultimately, voters pick who they think looks the most presidential and to hell with the consequences.

Friday, September 23, 2016


A not-so-funny thing happened while all those pundits and politicians were venting their rage on Colin Kaepernick in the wake of the New York-New Jersey bombings, two unarmed black men were gunned down in Tulsa and Charlotte by police officers.  The movement to sit, kneel or raise a fist during the national anthem has grown during the football season, not just at the professional level but at the college and high school level as well.  As a result, "patriots" like Steve King blamed Colin directly for the NY/NJ bombings.

It's the kind of mind-numbing stupidity that led many whites to turn their backs as police chiefs like Bull Connor turned dogs and fire hoses on black protesters in Birmingham, which is not lost on the black community.  Donald Trump addressed the issue at a rally in Philadelphia but his words fell flat when he foisted the blame on Obama and Clinton for creating this climate of unrest.

We are getting a replay of the late 1960s and early 70s when Nixon tried to impose law and order on the nation, rather than deal with the institutional racism that pervades our society.  In this way, Trump is right, nothing much has changed, but rather than address the issue in any meaningful way, he just wants more law and order.  Worse, he appeals to the same type of people who rejected the Civil Rights movement, and violently attacked Martin Luther King's first march from Selma to Montgomery.

Police forces today are heavily armed, looking more like SWAT teams with their riot gear, assault rifles and armored trucks.  You would think they were taking Aleppo, not trying to bring calm to American city streets.  You can thank the 1033 program Congress passed in 1996, which allowed the transfer of excess military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies.  It doesn't seem like much training went along with the equipment.

I heard a representative of a Florida police department on BBC trying to explain these standoffs.  An officer is trained to get a suspect to comply with his or her orders, so when a suspect doesn't directly comply with those orders, some officers panic.  That appears to be the case in Tulsa, but it doesn't explain the widespread occurrences of these incidents throughout this country.

Over 1000 persons were shot and killed by police officers in 2015 alone.  More than 200 of these persons were unarmed.  It's a staggering number, especially when you compare it to other countries like the UK, where less than 100 persons have been killed by police officers since 1974.  It's not like British police officers don't have to deal with violent suspects, but you don't see them go around in tricked-out black Humvees, wearing riot gear with assault rifles slung over their shoulders.

Our police officers are being trained to combat urban warfare, literally, rather than deal with unruly suspects and protests in a calm and reassuring manner.  This goes back to before 911, so you can't blame the rise of al Qaeda and ISIS on this.  You can't blame an increase in crime rate either, since that has dropped consistently in the years since the 1970s.  Yet, many police forces across this country seem to live in fear of their communities and have resorted to very dangerous means to impose order on the streets.

None of this makes any sense, as Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw pointed out, urging police in a tweet to STOP. #TerenceCrutcher! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Manufacturing Consent

It's hard not talking about this election.  It has stirred up a level of ignorance not seen in a very long time.  The social media is lit up with memes like this one that infer that somehow we got along just fine before the federal income tax was introduced in 1913.  We didn't become a superpower until WWII thanks to federal income and corporate taxes, and would have never been able to undertake the interstate road system in the 1950s without these taxes, but that doesn't stop persons from posting memes they get from the comical conservative and other right-wing blogs.

Rather than make us smarter, the Internet appears to have made us dumber.  There is a wealth of information available at our fingertips, but for the most part we choose to ignore it, preferring instead to visit websites that support our insipid world views.  Social media has become a vast support network where you establish your social circle based on similar interests rather than broadening your views by having them challenged.  Most people take their "news" from websites, which they freely distribute mostly in the form of memes.  If you can't reduce what you want to say to a pithy sentence you can forget it.  Very few persons are going to take the time to read your long view.

Sound bites have been around for a long time.  We've long enjoyed quotations that reduce complex ideas and events down to their rawest elements, but social media has increased the use of these sound bites exponentially, particularly twitter, where you are limited to 140 characters.  Instagram peddles 3 to 60-second videos.  You can expand your thoughts on facebook, but they are typically truncated on your timeline to save valuable space.  As a result, we are bombarded with these sound bites each and every day, and usually retort the same way in turn, spurring heated exchanges.

There is very little discussion.  We have seen some epic "twitter wars" between celebrities and politicians.  One of the more recent amusing battles was between Sean Hannity and Bill Kristol over support of Donald Trump.  Sean eventually claimed victory based on the amount "likes."  I've had "friends" do the same on facebook.  I suppose this is what passes for "debate" these days, seeing who can come up with the best zinger that everyone "likes."

Sadly, this is a dumbing down process that doesn't actually allow us to engage in ideas, because it all too quickly descends into personal insults when facile 140-character arguments fail.  I notice that a lot of my "friends" on fb go out of their way to deny their views are influenced by conservative media, even when they regurgitate the very same talking points spewed out that day.  It is also true of liberal friends, who become way to reliant on MSNBC for their "news."  Fox and MSNBC have become agit-prop news channels feeding their core viewers with manufactured opinions.

Noam Chomsky warned of this back in the late 80s.  His book Manufacturing Consent was made into a searing documentary that is well worth seeing.  Vast syndicates control the media at the local and national level.  All those local rags are owned by syndicates like Gannett media, which peddles a conservative view.  These syndicates also buy up blogs and peddle their views through the social media.  Sadly, the conservative media syndicates appear to be far more powerful than the mainstream and liberal media syndicates, which is why guys like Baba O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh enjoy 8 and 9-figure contracts, well above their mainstream and liberal contemporaries.

The result is that we are seeing a tyranny of the minority.  According to Gallup, only 38% of Americans identify themselves as conservative.  Most Americans identify themselves as moderates and liberals.

This election process has been heavily slanted to the right from the beginning.  It started with the primaries, where watching the Republicans was far more entertaining than the Democrats.  Who could resist the Hunger Games that ensued with 16 GOP candidates, whereas the Democrats could only muster two worthy tributes.  It has rolled right through the general election as Trump is infinitely more media savvy than Hillary, who has tried to keep to the straight and narrow through this electoral gauntlet.

The lies that have been peddled in her name just keep being circulated.  When Donald Trump was finally forced to drop the birther issue, he made sure to pin it on Hillary, despite this lie having been equally debunked.  The news media seemed to miss that his bombshell admission was nothing more than a clever ruse to promote his new hotel in the old Post Office Building of Washington, DC.

Thanks to the media fawning over Trump's every word, he has been able to offset the huge gap he faces in campaign contributions.  That may change when Trump finally has to debate Hillary, although he has made sure to tell everyone that the debates are rigged against him.  We're still not sure he will actually participate, which the media likewise scrutinizes in every detail further fueling his narcissistic fantasies.

We are approaching the dangerous state of an "Idiocracy," 500 years before our time thanks to an all too compliant news media that prefers confrontation to actual news.  It's nice to have guys like Shep Smith and Rachel Maddow remind us what a liar Donald Trump is, but they are voices in the virtual wilderness at this stage of the game.  No match for the cackle of voices we are made privy to on social media everyday.  One would like to think reason will prevail, but at this point I'm not very optimistic.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Who's Afraid of Edward Albee?

Most of us know Edward Albee through Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the movie version, if we know him at all.  On top of that many of us probably thought the play was about Virginia Woolf when it had nothing to do with her.  According to Albee, the title came from a bathroom mirror in a nameless Greenwhich village saloon, where he saw it scrawled in soap and couldn't get it out of his head.  He saw it as an academic intellectual joke and felt it fit with what he was writing at the time.

The Daily Mirror called it "a sick play for sick people," and when awarded a Pulitzer Prize by the jury, it was rejected by the advisory board, who chose not to give an award for drama that year.  The jury resigned en masse.  But, Albee not only persevered, he flourished in his own inimitable way, turning out plays and eventually winning three Pulitzers for his work, when the committee could no longer summon up the courage to reject him.

To read this New York Times obituary, it all started with The Zoo Story, a one-act play that was well-received in Berlin, and eventually made its way back to America.  Albee knew he wanted to be writer, but was struggling to find his medium.  He fell upon drama after failing at poetry and short story writing.  The one-act play garnered him attention.  Norman Mailer declared it the best one-act play he had ever seen, but others weren't so impressed.  Nevertheless, the play became one of the seeds of the the Off-Broadway revolution that would spawn a new generation of playwrights who explored the human dimension in ways Broadway saw little commercial appeal in.

Albee himself said it was a great environment, as you could see great plays for one dollar.  There were wonderful productions of Chekhov, Ibsen, and Beckett that you would never see on Broadway.  For him, plays were "correctives," a way of holding a mirror up to the audience and forcing them to look at themselves.  Whether a play succeeded or not mattered less to him than whether it made an impact on the audience.  Would they remember it?  Would they talk about it?  This was the way all the good playwrights started out and the great ones never relinquished that hold on the audience.

I did see a Lithuanian production of his Three Tall Women not so long ago.  Albee gets around.  His plays were often better received in Europe than they were in America.  Part of that is because his dysfunctional portraits were also a thinly veiled criticism of American society and politics.  Michael Billington expounds on that link in this review of a recent British production of Woolf.  In many ways, Albee was a contemporary Chekhov, using what seemed like domestic dramas to convey a far deeper sense of the dysfunction in our society. Albee was more combative than Chekhov, fitting the times.

He was also very protective of his productions, not wanting directors to try to make more out of the scripts than there was.  He was particularly upset when one director got it into his head to make Woolf an all-male cast, because of Albee's own homosexuality.  Albee got a court order to shut down the production.

You don't mess with Edward Albee.  Unlike cinema, there is a great veneration for the script in the theater.  A play may be visually re-interpreted but it very rarely ventures very far from the playwright's own words and stage instructions.  In that sense, the playwright is as much a part of the production as are his characters, which is why the plays live on long after the death of the playwright.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

It's deja vu all over again

You ever wonder how polls can shift so dramatically despite being told that most persons have made up their minds this election?   It all depends on who you poll and for what purpose.

Last month, Hillary appeared to have an insurmountable 12-point lead in a Reuters Poll, but early this month that lead had completely disappeared and CNN had Trump up by 2 points.  Reuters still has Hillary up by 3.  Meanwhile, CNN's Poll of Polls has Clinton bouncing back to take a 2-point lead.

Chuck Todd exposed the CNN/ORC Poll that had that amazing 14-point turnaround.  Turns out the poll had taken the sampling disproportionately favoring "likely voters" with no college education.  CNN did it again by basing an Ohio poll on a sampling that heavily favored voters over 50.  It's not so much that Clinton is slipping in the polls as it is CNN manufacturing polls to make the race look closer than it actually is.  I suppose if they kept showing Hillary 4,6 or even 10 points ahead, viewers would lose interest.  Now, viewers think the election is a toss up.

Of course, one could argue that polls showing Hillary so far ahead in August were skewed toward her favored demographics, and that these recent polls represent a "correction."  The widely respected 538 doesn't see it that way.  They currently have Hillary with a 62% probability of winning the election based on their study of the state polls.  That's a pretty big margin to overcome, which helps explain why 538 gets very little mention in the mainstream press.

Television news relies heavily on viewer ratings for advertisement, and it is in the news media's interest to make this race look close right up to the end.  The national polls don't really mean much, so CNN has opted for making battleground states look closer than they really are, in particular Ohio, which has determined every contemporary Republican President.   This element of suspense is great for ratings.  People become transfixed on the latest polls and news pundits discuss these polls ad nauseam.

Trump has milked the polls throughout his campaign, using them to boast of his legitimacy when he is ahead, and telling his devoted following how biased these polls are when he is behind.  He has even gone so far to claim that if he loses traditionally Democratic Pennsylvania that is proof the election is rigged.  This is a state that hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.  Hillary currently leads the Keystone State by an aggregate 6 per cent.  CNN doesn't even bother polling it, considering it safely in Hillary's column.

But Trump's braggadocia is one thing, CNN fudging polls to make this election look like a toss up is another.  We went through this last time around as well, with CNN showing a very close race all the way up to election day, only for viewers to be stunned by Obama's  relatively large margin of victory.  Many conservative pundits thought Romney had Ohio in the bag, only for Obama to win the state by 3 per cent.  Was Ohio rigged?  Karl Rove sure thought so.

Yet, Nate Silver said the writing was on the wall long before election day.  Even as national polls tightened up with many showing Romney ahead by a narrow margin thanks to a last minute surge, Nate discounted these polls saying Obama would win easily.  Nate has built an algorithm that takes a wide range of factors into consideration, not just the latest bump a candidate gets in one or another poll.  As a result, he has become kind of a wet blanket as far as the television news media is concerned.

CNN prefers instead to conduct its own questionable polls and entertain others that feed its "close race" narrative, so that it can continue to play off the anxiety Trump generates in the name of television ratings.  I suppose it is understandable, and in its own odd way maintains interest in the election process so we don't lull ourselves into thinking Hillary will win in November and don't bother to vote.  Trump still has an outside chance if voter turnout is low, as it is usually well-heeled voters who stay home if they don't feel there is anything really at stake.

Trump has referred to himself as Mr. Brexit, hoping that we will see a similar revolt of the underclass on November 8 in the United States.  Trumpkin Kellyanne Conway refers to it as the "undercover voter," kind of like Reagan's "silent majority."  The big difference is that Reagan's supporters weren't very silent and he ended up beating Carter by a huge margin as predicted.  Ronnie won all but a handful of states thanks to a miserable economy and hostage crisis that had dragged the incumbent president down.  Trump has no such external crises in his favor, although he is trying to make the most of this recent bombing in New York, kind of like Romney's defiant stand shortly after the Benghazi attack in September, 2012.

Unfortunately for Donald, all that seems to be waiting for him in November is a court date.