Sunday, January 19, 2020

Bruce Lee vs. Quentin Tarantino




Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a technicolor re-imagining of 1969.  As such, it is fun to watch but one scene should have been left on the cutting room floor.  The fight between Cliff and Bruce Lee was totally unnecessary and has drawn a lot of unwanted attention to the film.

What has pissed off the surviving Lee family and Lee fans in general is Quentin's assertion that Bruce Lee said he could win a fight with Muhammad Ali.  He bases this view on a biography by Linda Lee, Bruce's wife, in which she offered a second-hand account from critics of Lee.  Nevertheless, Quentin is unrepentant in his view, citing Bruce's presumed arrogance.

I suppose these kinds of controversy sell tickets, but the film already had so much buzz it would have done just fine without this useless foray.  Like everything else in Quentin's movies, his portrayal of Bruce Lee is drawn from other movies, because when you listen to Bruce in interviews he is anything but arrogant.  He was a wonderfully articulate man with a great sense of humor.

The scene serves no purpose other than to further show Cliff as a quiet tough guy.  Quentin's hero is a former Green Beret who doesn't take any sass from anyone.  Bruce is shown on a movie set, offering his impressions of Muhammad Ali, who was at the peak of his career at the time, among a bunch of extras including Cliff.

One assumes the movie was Marlowe, with James Garner, as that was the only Hollywood film Bruce was working on in 1969.  He had briefly appeared in The Wrecking Crew the year before, which Sharon Tate also played in.  Mostly, Bruce choreographed the fight scenes.  He would not gain fame until the following decade with Fists of Fury.  For a director, who was so careful to give us a unique inside look at the Manson family, there are a number of gross oversights here.

Bruce's admiration for Muhammad Ali is well documented.  Lee not only thought Ali was the greatest fighter at the time, but modeled many of his techniques after the World Champion boxer.  At one point, Lee had set up a full length mirror to reflect clips from Ali's most memorable fights so that he could replicate the boxer's every move.  According to Bolo Yeung, a close friend at the time, Bruce said himself he was no match for Ali, noting his tiny hands compared to a man of that size, speed and strength. 

If such a fight were to have occurred, Bruce's only chance would have been to spend most of his time on the ground as Antonio Inoki did in this less than memorable fight, kicking at Ali's legs.  Hardly the kind of fight that would have increased either man's stature.

Ironically, Quentin could have worked Bruce Lee into the script if he had a better imagination.  Roman Polanski was apparently convinced at one point that Bruce Lee, and not Charles Manson, orchestrated the grisly murder of his wife and friends.  This all came about because Bruce had said he lost a pair of glasses, similar to the pair found at the crime scene.

Lee had been teaching Sharon Tate karate, and Roman wanted lessons as well.  Lee was making quite a bit of money on the side, as much as $1000 an hour, training celebrities in the art of self-defense.  He was also giving Jay Sebring lessons at the Polanski-Tate house the day the horrific murders took place.  If Tarantino really had a grudge to bear with Bruce Lee, this would have made an even better plot twist than the one he offers up at the end of the movie.


Friday, January 17, 2020

This Is Your Life with Lev Parnas




Some of you might remember the old television show This Is Your Life, hosted by Ralph Edwards.  It ran in the US from 1952-61 and was subsequently picked up by other countries, having its longest run in Little Britain.  Well, we have a new version playing out in real time as Lev Parnas and his lawyer post image after image of Lev with Trump, his family members, his top aides and numerous Republicans who all claim they don't know him.  Chris Cuomo ran a five-minute segment recounting all these meetings with Lev that seemed to slip the minds of so many prominent Republican figures.

In Lev's own words, he went from big-time party donor to close Guiliani confidante to Ukraine inside man for the White House.  He implicated virtually everyone in the White House in his interview with Anderson Cooper.  If that weren't enough, he went on the Rachel Maddow Show to go through these contacts once again, making her segment the most-watched news episode on television last night, beating out her arch-rival and Trump confidante Sean Hannity.

It is safe to say that Lev is the talk of the town and he seems to have dirt on everyone.  Not only does he have copious pictures but plenty of records too, including phone conversations with Devin Nunes that forced the Republican US Representative to admit he had contact with Parnas.  That's more than Donald Trump is willing to admit, as he continues to say he doesn't know the man.

None of this appears to be making any impact on Republican Senators who see the impeachment trial as an open and shut case of acquital.   Lindsey Graham is one of the few GOP leaders not to be pictured with Lev Parnas so far.

So, who is Lev Parnas and how did he come to be such an influential figure at the center of the "perfect call?" Young Lev came to America in the 80s, fleeing the Soviet Union, and finding work with a real estate company that peddled Trump Organization co-ops in New York.  He did well in real estate, accruing a small fortune and moving from Brooklyn to Boca Raton, where he continued to profit off his bogus development schemes, just like his mentor.  It was his son, Aaron, who apparently alerted him to Donald J. Trump running for President, at which point Lev decided to cast his lot behind the man he so openly admired.

To read the account in the New Yorker, he soon became a regular at Trump rallies and gatherings, contributing heavily to the campaign, and catching the eye of influential figures like Rudy Giuliani.  Lev became an associate of Rudy after the election, offering his services in regard to Ukrainian matters.  The Trump team was rather peeved that the Hillary team had been able to dig up so much dirt on Paul Manafort, a one-time campaign manager, and soon found Lev's services useful as a means of payback.

With Hillary not running in 2020, the Trump team had to look for someone else to dig dirt up on so they chose Joe Biden, the front-running Democrat and former Vice-President.  Lev promised he could deliver, aided by his sidekick Igor Fruman, also a Ukrainian native.  Since the Trump White House couldn't be involved directly in such affairs, they made Rudy the go-to guy, whom Lev and Igor communicated with, but Lev claimed everyone in the White House was in the know.

When this sordid story broke last summer, everyone tried to distance themselves as far as possible from Rudy, Lev and Igor, who appeared like a modern day version of the The Three Stooges.  They were literally caught together having lunch at Trump's Washington Hotel the day Lev and Igor were arrested trying to leave the country on one-way tickets to Ukraine.  Only problem is that none of them were willing to take the fall, so they started naming names.  Soon there was enough dirt to stretch the House impeachment inquiry out for months, but to the Democrats' credit they stayed focus.  That wasn't enough for Lev, who is dumping even more dirt in hopes of getting a lesser sentence for his role in this elaborate extortion racket.

So far, he has made a jocular game out of his association with Trump and his confidantes, but it threatens to turn more serious the longer this goes on.  Lev loved these photo ops, originally meant to clutter his "I Love Donald" room in Boca Raton.  Now he plays the jilted lover determined to remind Donald of all the good times they had together, much to the president's embarrassment.

For his part, Trump tries to keep a stiff upper lip but you can see it quivering a little as he denies once again ever knowing the man.  At some point, it will all come out and Republicans will have a very hard time washing their hands of the mess.  They acquit Donald J. Trump at their own political peril.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Trouble with Harry and Meghan




There has long been this absurd love/hate relationship with our "Mother country."  No where is it more absurd than the way we follow the royal family.  I suppose a lot of Americans were pleased as punch when Harry took an American wife, but they didn't figure all the trouble it would cause the royal family, namely in Meghan's awful estranged father and jealous half-siblings who have desperately tried to cash in on her new royal celebrity.

Every tabloid in England and America has given these pathetic individuals space to air their many grievances and tell us how rotten Meghan is at her core for not having taken them into the royal family as well.  Meghan's father Thomas seems to have modeled himself on King Ralph, hoping to find a special place at the royal table only to be rudely rebuffed.

It would all be quite funny if it hadn't gone on as long as it has.  Thomas Markle continues to opin in London papers long after he has been asked to cease and desist.  The royal family has sued the tabloids, as it often does, but to no avail.  The press just keep printing anything and everything they can get their hands on, with or without the consent of the persons involved.  It was Papa Markle who released a letter Meghan wrote to him to the Mail, without his daughter's consent.

It doesn't seem to matter that Meghan has long been estranged from her father and half-siblings.  Meghan was only 6 when her parents divorced.   It was her mother Doria who brought her up, and continues to play a strong role in her life. Papa Markle remained an influence, but nothing like he projects in the media.

The problems go deeper than the nasty in-laws, and to the royal family itself.  The Queen has tried to keep a tight ship while on the throne.  It hasn't exactly worked.  As we have seen in the Netflix series, The Crown, sister Margaret would often deviate from the norm.  Charles had a somewhat wild and reckless youth, eventually forced into a marriage he obviously wanted no part of.  Diana had to suffer through this for ten years before finally being granted a divorce and having her title lowered.  Andrew's storybook marriage also failed, apparently as a result of all his philandering with Jeffrey Epstein's underage girls, which he hotly denies.   The only thing positive to come out of all this after Diana's tragic death has been William and Harry, who the media has followed closely ever since.

Harry was having a hard time staying in William's shadow.  Any little misstep was immediately reported in the media, like the Nazi outfit he once wore.  He was a bit of a cut-up, just like his dear old dad but given no end of grief for it.  Two tours in Afghanistan appeared to settle him down.  He got actively involved in philanthropy.  He started the Invictus Games, which became a major event drawing the attention of the Obamas and leading to a friendly interchange between him and the White House couple, memorably captured in this video.  Harry went from royal ruffian to the most eligible bachelor in the world.

It was clear that Harry had a more liberal bent than his royal family.  He liked to travel and do things his way.  He met Meghan while in Toronto staging the 2017 Invictus Games, developing an immediate bond that led to a royal marriage a year later.  It was a splendid affair that held so much hope that he and Meghan and William and Kate would give Britain two royal power couples like it had never seen before.  Alas, there is only room for one royal power couple and so Harry did what Harry would do with or without Meghan -- opt out.

Sadly, the tabloids are making Meghan look like Yoko Ono in breaking up the royal family, but this was bound to happen eventually.  William is on track to be King of England.  Harry can never be anything more than a charming prince.  Meghan was his way to get out of this pomp and circumstance and carve out a life of his own with someone he truly loves.

In part, Harry's exit is to give more room to his brother.  For the past two years, the papers have focused almost exclusively on Meghan and him, as if he was next in line to succession.  After William's and Kate's third child, Harry is now sixth in line to the throne.  It would take a catastrophe tantamount to that in King Ralph, god forbid, to see Harry sitting on the throne.  However, Megxit, as the press is calling it, is being portrayed as a horribly selfish move by the Duke, inspired by his mischievous wife.

I personally don't find it selfish at all.   It appears refreshingly unselfish for a change.  For once, we see a royal scion wanting to strike out on his own and carve a place for his wife and him away from all the tedious obligations of the royal family.

Actually, this wouldn't be the first time.  Edward II abdicated his thrown to be with his American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, living their lives out in France.  This abdication is what paved the way for Elizabeth to eventually be Queen, as her father succeeded his brother to the throne.  Of course, it was much different back then.  Divorce was grievously frowned upon by the church and state, which The Crown has amply illustrated.

It seems the Queen has a soft spot for Harry, but was none too happy in the way this mini abdication played out in the press.  The royal family desperately needs fresh blood, and Meghan was the perfect star child to give the family a liberal bent.  The wedding and everything that came with it increased the value of the royal brand significantly.

Alas, Harry and Meghan want more than a place at the table.  They want to create their own unique brand, and not have to stomach such social obligations as a royal dinner with Donald Trump, or an appearance with Boris Johnson.  As part of the immediate royal family, they are bound to such duties.  As distant relatives, they become more free to do what they like.

The Queen seems fine with this as long as it doesn't bring shame on her brand, but what to do with Andrew, who has brought far more ignominy than Megxit ever would.  Andrew is the true rake.  A guy who has used the royal brand in the most unseemly ways and appears completely unapologetic for it.  This is a guy who hobnobbed with Jeffrey Epstein and a cast of other unsavory characters that probably even made his father Prince Phillip blush.  It is Andrew who should be stripped of his title and sent to Timbuktu or some other faraway place.

Long story short, we shouldn't give a farthing for all this nonsense.  Yet, we do.  The American press lambastes Harry for diminishing the crown, when Andrew and his own father Charles have done far worse.  Do they forget how horribly Charles treated Diana, the People's Princess?  I don't think Harry does.

Harry wants out and I don't blame him.  There is absolutely nothing in it for him to stay close to this royal family.  He and Meghan make the perfect power couple.  After the dust has settled from this messy exit, they will be loved all over again.  Wisely, they have chosen Canada as their second home.




Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Politics of Love




As Leonard Cohen might sing, "Now so long, Marianne, it's time we began to laugh, and cry and cry and laugh about it all again."  The improbable presidential run of Ms. Williamson is over, and with it her "politics of love" that never had much of a chance to begin with.

For a moment there, it seemed it might just catch on.  David Brooks wrote a glowing account of her in the New York Times, claiming she might just be the one to take down the Dark Lord of Hate himself, but she was never able to gain any traction in a field that had ballooned to over 20 candidates.  Still she hung on, hoping love might be the answer to all the frustration, anger and hatred rising out of the Democratic campaign.

Her candidacy exposed just how cynical politics has become.  It's all about positioning and taking advantage of people's hostile emotions, and hoping that you can hold your campaign together long enough to be the last man or woman standing.  In short, a battle of attrition.  Marianne tried to rise above the fray, focusing on issues close to the American heart like the water problem that goes far beyond Flint, Michigan.  However, it was impossible to shake the 500-lb. elephant in the room.  Donald Trump was always there to remind Democrats that they needed someone who could rid them of this unwanted beast.

Williamson had her flaws, to be sure.  She was a vaccine skeptic.  She relied a bit too much on psychic forces, like the time she wanted everyone to focus their minds on Hurricane Dorian and will it away from the Bahamas, but there was no denying her heart was in the right place.

She gave the debates brief moments of levity as the other candidates stumbled around to gain footing over each other.  As such, I liked her but never would have considered her for President.  Well, I don't really think she imagined herself winning the nomination.  I think she hoped to remind the other candidates that what's missing from their campaigns is a "politics of conscience."

Most likely, she will be dismissed as a fluke.  So be it, but for a brief moment Marianne gave us something to think about other than hate for Donald Trump.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

GOAT?




Tom Brady is regarded as the GOAT among quarterbacks by many sportswriters, but if this football season has shown us anything it is that Brady is purely a product of the Belichick system put in place 20 years ago that no other team has been able to replicate.  It is a system that has produced 9 Super Bowl appearances and 6 wins.  Brady often gets the credit, being the quarterback, but Belichick probably could have achieved this incredible milestone with any decent quarterback.  After all, who remembers Phil Simms?  He guided the New York Giants to a pair of Super Bowl wins under Bill Parcells' system, which Bill Belichick was an integral part of.

Belichick came to New England with Bill Parcells.  It was Parcells who turned the Patriots around, leading them to only their second Super Bowl appearance in 1997, where they lost to a resurgent Green Bay Packers led by Brett Favre.  Oddly enough, Parcells quit after that year to coach the New York Jets, taking Belichick with him.  Parcells would never again repeat his magic.  The Patriots floundered for three years until Bob Kraft lured Belichick back to New England in 2000, and the rest as they say is history.

The offensive system Belichick imposed is relatively simple - running high percentage pass and run plays that eat up the clock, while relying on a strong defense to shut down the opposition.  Belichick didn't need a great quarterback.  He needed one who would follow the playbook, no questions asked.  He reached deep into the draft in 2000, selecting the 199th player in Tom Brady.  No one thought Brady would amount to a hill of beans, but Bill saw the perfect quarterback in Tom, one he could mold into his image.

Brady defined the prototypical NFL quarterback of the time, and had shown good leadership at Michigan, where he guided the Wolverines to a pair of good years capped off with impressive bowl wins.  He had lead feet and scrambled for -150 yards in two seasons.  His TD to interception ratio wasn't that great, but Bill would work on that in New England.

It didn't take long for Belichick to mold Brady.  Tom sat out his first season and quickly showed his ability in season two, leading the Pats back to the Super Bowl and their first Vince Lombardi trophy.  The Pats stumbled the next year, but regained form for two more Super Bowl victories after the 2003 and 2004 seasons.  Brady was the MVP in two of those Super Bowls.  His "greatness" now firmly established.

Three Super Bowl rings in only five years in the league was very impressive, but what pops out from those years is his rather mediocre statistics.  His QB rating was nothing to brag about. He still threw a lot of interceptions, was sacked at least two times per game, and lost more yards than he gained on his lead feet.  All the SB wins were close and easily could have gone the other way.  What stood out was his ability to lead game-winning drives.

The Patriots cooled off for awhile.  Over the next nine years they posted impressive seasons, but only got back to the Super Bowl twice, losing both times to the New York Giants led by Eli Manning.  Ironically, Brady was posting his best numbers statistically.  He was averaging well over 4000 yards passing per season and put up a whopping 5235 yards in 2011, but the Patriots weren't winning the big one.  The only game that counts for Bill Belichick is the Super Bowl.

He wanted the team passing less and running more.  This is what won him the first three Super Bowls.  Enter LeGarrette Blount, a 250-pound workhorse that gave the Patriots badly needed size and strength in the backfield.  The Pats were back in the Super Bowl in 2014, taking the Lombardi trophy from the defending champs Seattle.  This was the beginning of the Badass Pats, who would win two more Super Bowls in three attempts, cementing Tom Brady's legacy and leading many sportswriters to call him the greatest quarterback of all time.

This year is shaping up to be Brady's swansong.  It hasn't been overly impressive.  Brady's numbers have fallen off considerably.  His fans blame it on the receivers.  Nevertheless, The Pats are 12-3.  However, they were firmly beaten by all the AFC division leading teams, which have highly mobile quarterbacks that the New England defense has a very hard time containing.  It is doubtful the Patriots will get back to the Super Bowl, but you can never count them out.

Anyone who has followed the game can see this has always been Bill Belichick's team.  He rules the Patriots with an iron hand.  Anyone who steps out of line is immediately dismissed.  Bill views all his players as interchangeable, even the quarterback, but Tom hasn't given Bill any reason to dismiss him.  The one brief period of uncertainty was when Belichick drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014, clearly looking to groom him for the position if Tom proved no longer able to deliver.  This seemed to spur Brady on, and eventually Bill traded Garoppolo to relieve the tension on the team.  It would be interesting if New England faced off against San Francisco in Super Bowl LIV.

It doesn't really matter, as Brady has given Belichick everything he could have asked for in a quarterback.  Tom has been the perfect field manager, willing to play the dink and dunk passing game Belichick likes, with much fewer turnovers, and full control of the clock.

It's his defense that worries him.  How do the Pats stop a fleet-footed quarterback like Lamar Jackson?  This freak of nature has passed for more than 3100 yards and rushed for more than 1200 yards, with a staggering 43 touchdowns along the way and only 8 total turnovers.  How does any team stop Jackson?

Tom Brady may very well be the last premier quarterback of his kind.  More and more NFL teams are opting for option quarterbacks, as they give defenses fits.  The only question in the past had been their longevity, but Russell Wilson is proving durability is no longer an issue, and even if it was there are so many of these fleet-footed quarterbacks now available in the draft that it doesn't really matter.  These highly gifted athletes appear to be the quarterbacks of the future.

None of this takes away from Brady's accomplishments, but it serves to highlight that athleticism was never his major calling card.  Brady was never fast nor elusive.  He was steady and consistent, with a quick release that help mitigate his early high number of sacks.  It is doubtful he would have excelled on any other team than Bill Belichick's team.  It is doubtful anyone else would have taken him, but here he is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time thanks to 6 Super Bowl rings.

Well, Tom, it is time to take a bow.  This season has shown that it is all downhill from here.  Bill might sign you again because he has nowhere else to turn.  Jarrett Stidham doesn't appear to excite anyone, but then neither did you in your first year in the league.

Friday, December 27, 2019




Mitch was all ready to get the Senate trial done before the holidays, but in classic Lucy fashion Nancy Pelosi pulled the football out from under him when she chose to delay sending the impeachment articles to the Senate.  McConnell didn't see this coming as it was something he thought only he would do.

Nancy can hold off sending the articles of impeachment indefinitely, leaving Trump's fate in limbo for weeks or even months.  Lindsey Graham proclaimed that the president finds this grossly unfair. This despite Trump shutting down government for nearly a month at the start of the year, holding federal workers' pay checks in limbo.

Trump's been crying from the beginning, so upset that Nancy would have the audacity to launch an impeachment inquiry despite his effort to cop a plea deal when news first broke of his perfect call.  Since then Republican lawmakers have been circling the wagons, hoping to protect their dear president.  Mitch has vowed to work directly with the White House during the trial, which is why Nancy chose to delay it.  The football is in her hands at the moment, and she isn't going to let anyone have it until she gets some assurances that the Republican-led Senate will make an effort to hear witnesses, preferably those closet to the president.

Seems like a pretty shrewd move, but the media has been claiming this tactic may backfire, with Trump playing himself as a martyr.  Well, Trump has been portraying himself as the bereaved from day one of his campaign.  He often babbles incoherently that this is nothing more than a poorly guided attempt to steal his improbable 2016 election victory.  He's called Nancy every name he could think of, but she's been unfazed and will remain so, a testament to her own fortitude.

There's no doubt Trump will add millions to his campaign war chest.  He's been piling up the money hand over fist, but will it really help him come next November?  Americans are already saturated with Trump 24/7.  This is one of the reasons so many people have favored impeachment, and for the first time a majority favor removal.  Most people are sick of seeing him on the news all the time.  Even late-night comics seem to have had their fill of Trump, as their audiences have become so inured to the jokes it is no longer funny.

One of things Trump has recently learned is that you can counter bad press with good press.  He's been heavily pushing his China deal, which his spokesmen claim is the best deal ever, although trade analysts aren't quite so sure.  However, he has recently been preoccupied by having less-than-memorable scene cut from Home Alone 2 on Canadian television, yet another sad indicator that it is hard to hold Trump's attention for very long.

As for Mitch, he is finding criticism from within his own ranks in working too close with the president on the trial.  Lisa Murkowski is none too happy about this co-ordination effort, saying "we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense."  She actually found the impeachment proceedings "rushed," unlike many of her colleagues who felt the House spent too much time on nothing.  Does this mean Lisa will vote in favor of impeachment?  Probably not, but she wants the Senate to at least create the pretense of impartiality.

This is what has been so odd about the whole proceeding.  Trump used a military spending bill that had been overwhelmingly approved by Congress as leverage to get information from Ukraine on his top political opponent.  You would think Congressional Republicans would be furious.  Instead, they let Trump bully them into acquiescence.  Who'd ever think that this once proud political party would let themselves be so easily rolled by a con man?

Nancy did the right thing by making Mitch think a little about his lack of impartiality.   This is about maintaining the semblance of an independent legislative branch of government, not one ready to cede all power to the president.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Of Beards and Santa




I can understand Phillip Wenz's concern about diluting the IBRBS' brand.  It already has to go by its abbreviation after admitting Mrs. Clauses in 2016.  Now, there is pressure to drop the RB all together and allow anyone who wants to be a Santa into its international brotherhood.  It takes years to cultivate a real beard as stout as Santa.  This is a full-time vocation, not something you can just put a yak-hair beard on at Christmastime and call yourself Santa.  Yet, there is a lot of pressure for IBRBS to expand to meet the growing ethnic interest in jolly old St. Nick.

Apparently, the international brotherhood has formed a pretty strong union and can command higher engagement fees, thus resulting in more interest in its organization.  Mrs. Deanna Golden has been pushing the organization to expand its base ever since it admitted her as a Mrs. Claus.  She books a lot of their engagements, and doesn't see why beardless Santas can't join.  What's most important is the man or woman behind the beard, but Mr. Wenz is resistant to any more change.  It was tough enough bringing women into the union given the diversity of opinions among the brotherhood.

Mr. Wenz stresses that being a Santa is more than just a beard.  Anyone who joins the organization must take an oath to understand the mysteries of bringing Christmas cheer, holding the secret dreams of children in confidentiality, providing happiness and spreading love throughout the holiday season.  Sure, it doesn't take a real beard to do these things, but a beard is a sign of commitment, a pledge to keep this oath all year long in the true spirit of St. Nicholas, the gift giver of Myra.

This is what separates the IBRBS from the awful shenanigans witnessed every year at SantaCon -- a pub crawl started in San Francisco 25 years ago and has since spread around the globe.  It has gotten so bad that the original organizers tried to close it down in 2014 but is now bigger than ever with more debauchery than many would witness at Mardi Gras.

In a world that is constantly changing, it's nice to have something that remains constant.  These real-bearded Santas deserve to have an organization all their own that upholds the belief in the mystical power of gift giving, not unlike Miracle on 34th Street.  Edmund Gwenn not only grew a beard, but gained 30 pounds for the prized role of Kris Kringle.  He fully took Santa to heart, which is what made his performance so convincing.  It remains one of the best-loved movies of all time.

Stay true to your oath, Mr. Wenz.


Friday, December 20, 2019




Nancy Pelosi tried to make it a somber occasion by wearing black and urging her Democratic colleagues to not gloat over the impeachment vote, but there was no hiding the glee many felt in seeing His Trumpness reduced to the lowest point in his presidency.  He became only the third president in history to be formally impeached by the House of Representatives.

The historic House vote put a damper on the Christmas theme Trump set for his Michigan rally, and he let Democrats know about, living and dead. Trump's wild rallies have become legend.  In this one a protester had to be escorted away, but not without Trump publicly shaming her on the way out.  He thought security was being too politically correct.  For whatever reason he chose to assail John Dingell, who died this past year after serving six decades in Congress.  Of course, he saved his harshest criticism for Ms. Pelosi, urging Americans to voter her "the hell out of office."

It all played out as expected.  Ms. Pelosi has decided to let the impeachment articles sit a little awhile before passing them along to the Senate, where Mitch McConnell has vowed a swift trial, with Republicans working fully in consort with the President.  The "Turdle" could have been a little less obvious than his Republican colleagues in the House, but I guess didn't want to create any confusion among the conservative electorate, which is out for blood in next year's election cycle.

No Republican representative opted to buck the party line, and only one Democrat crossed over to join them, the previously unknown Jeff Van Drew, who was personally congratulated by Trump. Two other Democrats voted against one or both articles of impeachment, but they chose to remain in their party.  Tulsi Gabbard chose to vote present.  Not much in the way of defections, but the conservative blogosphere is hailing Van Drew as a hero.

The extent of Trump's wrongdoing couldn't have been more clear.  Democrats wisely chose to keep the articles of impeachment focused on his attempted extortion of Ukrainian President Zelensky.  They could have provided a long list of articles, as Trump has been openly defying the Constitution since day one.

Republicans insist in standing with him despite losing the House in 2018 and losing key gubernatorial races in Louisiana and Kentucky this Fall.  Many Republican representatives have opted to retire ahead of the 2020 elections.  Some appear to be angling for administrative positions, like Mark Meadows, but others want to avoid the ignominy of electoral defeat.  Trump's message doesn't carry very far beyond his political base.

However, Republicans still have one key man in their corner - Vladimir Putin - who weighed in on the impeachment vote and his annual holiday press conference, calling the articles "completely made up."  Throughout the inquiry and hearings, Republican representatives were pitching Kremlin conspiracy theories, as if the only online papers they read are Russian propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik.  The GOP has essentially become a bunch of "useful idiots" for the Kremlin, (un)knowingly pitching Russia's positions vis-a-vis Ukraine, which is ironic since this is how this whole thing started.

Earlier this year, the US Congress voted overwhelmingly to continue to supply military aid to Ukraine in its ongoing war with Russian "green men" in Donbass.  This is part of a Support Act that dates back to 2014 when Russian insurgents first crossed the border and eventually took over Crimea.  Republicans were once bold in their assertions against Putin's open acts of hostility.  Senate Leader Mitch McConnell even promised an investigation into the matter.

However, since then they have become decidedly less concerned, and are now trying to pitch Ukraine as the "bad guy" in all this, to the point the Eastern European country meddled in the 2016 election to swing the vote toward Hillary Clinton.  This is a conspiracy theory that has been debunked by every reputable intelligence agency and newspaper, but Republicans promoted this theory throughout the impeachment proceedings, even when it was pointed out to them repeatedly that this was Russian fake news.

For Republicans, maintaining support among their conservative base is much more important than the truth.  For the past two decades these religious conservatives have been weaned on Fox news and other conservative news outlets.  They have lost all touch with reality and accept the positions provided to them by conservative pundits like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.  They like to believe they still have an independent mind, but when confronted with any news to the contrary, immediately dismiss it.

The problem for Republicans is that this base is becoming smaller over time.  What seemed like a "silent majority" at one point, now seems like a radical fringe element in politics.  When you can't carry deeply conservative states like Louisiana and Kentucky in gubernatorial elections, something is amiss.  The RNC blames it on bad candidates, yet Kentucky governor Matt Bevin was an incumbent.  He had promoted the conservative line throughout his administration and became the most reviled governor in America.  So much for the silent majority.

At the helm of the GOP is the most reviled President in American History.  No president has been more openly hated than Trump.  Throughout his administration, his weekly approval numbers have never crossed 50 per cent.  This despite an ever-growing economy and a Dow Jones index finally threatening to breach 30,000.  Normally, such a healthy economy would buoy a president, but not Trump.  People despise him.

His crazy antics appeal to religious conservative voters that long felt themselves disenfranchised from the political process, but they don't appeal to Americans in general.  Gaining his support has been the kiss of death for conservative candidates.  Trump personally rallied for both Bevin in Kentucky and Eddie Rispone in Louisiana.  His Bossier City rally came the night before the Louisiana election, calling it a referendum on his presidency.

Now, we have an even bigger referendum on his presidency that the Senate has to consider in the New Year.  One almost wonders if Mitch might want to do away with Trump all together given the "yuge" liability he has become, but most likely the "Turdle" will stick with the conservative base and push through a sham trial with the vote falling along party lines once again.  There might be a handful of Republican defections, but only among those not running for reelection in 2020.  Most likely, disgruntled conservative senators like Mitt Romney will just vote "present," as Tulsi Gabbard did.


Sunday, December 15, 2019

A Thumping Victory




I feel sorry for British voters that their two major parties are represented by the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit.  At least Scots had the SNP as an alternative, which they overwhelming voted into the British Parliament, setting up what very well could be another secession referendum next year.

Boris got what he wanted, a yes vote from the English and Welsh people that Lower Britain should withdraw from the European Union.  The low countries voted Tories in by a yuge percentage.  The largest ever seen since the Thatcher years.  This finally forced Jeremy to step down from his horrible leadership of the Labor Party, which saw his party blow a golden opportunity to regain control of the Parliament.

Look who's gloating!  Given how well the Brexit vote worked for him back in 2016, little wonder Trump (a.k.a Mr. Brexit) sees the snap general election as a referendum on his own administration.  He is not alone in this opinion.  Even Mayor Bloom sees the British vote as an ominous foretelling of next year's general election in the US, calling it a "canary in a coal mine."

You can expect these kinds of reactions these days because politics have become a reality show of the lowest order.  Everyone overreacts to everything, much like the woman yelling at a cat memes.  You can make your own meme out of this situation.

There is quite a bit wrong with all this doom and gloom scenario, at least from the Democratic point of view.  An entirely different scenario set up this special election.  Boris was unable to get the votes he needed to get his Brexit deal through Parliament, especially after he had tossed out nearly two dozen conservative MPs, so he threw a Hail Mary in calling for a new general election. 

Boris was so sure the will of the people was behind him that he took Brexit back to the countryside.  He sheared sheep, chased chickens and paraded around in funny hats.  The Lower Brits ate it up.  Here was their man of the people, their scruffy little urchin made good.  All a dour Jeremy Corbyn could do was look on, as he was no match for the charm offensive put on by Boris.

Why more Brits didn't vote for the Liberal Democrats is beyond me.  The Libs did very well in the EU Parliament elections, winning 16 seats, but all they could muster were 11 seats in the UK General Election.  In the end, the Lib Dems and Labor cancelled each other out, whereas Nigel Farage joined forces with Boris Johnson to mop up in local elections.

Part of the problem is how these seats are divvied out.  As you can see from the results, the Tories won an astounding 365 seats, or 56% of the chamber.  They did this with only 43.6 per cent of the popular vote.  Put another way, the Conservative Party won nearly twice as many seats as the Labor Party (365 - 202) with only a percentage difference of 11.5 between them (the voting share of the Liberal Democrats).  The SNP scored an even better return on their miniscule 3.9 per cent share of the popular vote, given the size of the Scottish voting block in the British Parliament.

This general election victory doesn't in anyway reflect the actual feelings of Brits toward Brexit.  All it shows is that the Tories did their math better than the Labor Party and scored more seats in local elections.  London overwhelmingly voted for Labor, but is just a little island of red in Lower Britain.  The colors are reversed in the UK. You thought our Electoral College was bad!

It doesn't matter, Boris is now cuddling his recently adopted dog and claiming he has a mandate to exit the EU forthwith.  Tally ho Little Britain!  Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Orange Glow of Christmas




Trump is desperate to roll back the last of the Obama energy efficiency regulations.  He offered a rambling discourse on low-flow toilets and showers, claiming that these regulations often led to no water at all and that some poor persons had to flush their toilets 10-15 times just to get their turds down the trapway.  What's a conscientious conservative to do?

This is a continuation of his administration's decision in September to rollback the regulations on energy efficient light bulbs.  Trump claimed "what's saved is not worth it, for the little they save."  Actually, quite a bit is saved.  One LED light bulb alone can save you more than $160 over a conventional incandescent light bulb during a span of 23 years.  Multiply that by the number of light bulbs in your house!
 
It's not like he or any member of his administration has quantified these decisions.  They are rolling back these regulations purely out of spite, akin to Reagan removing the solar panels from the White House roof when he took office in 1981.  However, we have learned a lot since then in regard to energy efficiency, and most industries have retooled accordingly because the average consumer wants to save money on electricity and water bills.  It's only persons like Trump, who have no bills to pay, who don't see the "worth" in it.

Oddly enough, it was the Bush administration that signed onto the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007.  The Act was carried out during the Obama administration.  Michelle Bachmann fought tooth and nail against these regulations throughout Obama's tenure, offering her notorious Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act that became a running late night joke.  Seems she also liked the warm glow of traditional Christmas tree lights as opposed to the harsh white of LED lights.

Trump claims the new lights make him look orange, which appears to be in direct contradiction to Michelle's earlier complaint.  If anything, LED lights would cast Trump in a better glow.  The old incandescent lights would only serve to highlight his orangeness.  Maybe those "orange bulbs" in the White House are left over from earlier days.

This battle over energy efficiency light bulbs and toilets may seem petty but it serves to underscore the antiquated view of many conservatives that everything was better before environmental regulations came along.  They view these regulations as impediments to a free market society.

The irony is that a free market society is what has made these energy efficient light bulbs and appliances affordable.  Before their widespread use, an LED light bulb would set you back 20 or 30 dollars.  Today you can buy a four-pack for eight bucks.  They come in the same size and shape as the old bulbs but are much more efficient and you might not need to replace them in your lifetime.  The average span of an LED light is 25,000 hours, as opposed to 1200 hours for the "orange bulb."

It is fortunate that we have had 12 years since this Act was first implemented, as now it doesn't really matter what the Donald does.  These light bulbs and toilets have become the industry standard and incandescent light bulbs an expensive novelty.  The thought of saving money far outweighs any nostalgia for such items. 

Nevertheless, there will be those Magaheads and former Teapartiers who will continue to insist on using their old Christmas tree lights, claiming the holiday season just isn't the same without that familiar orange glow.  Ironically, it is incandescent tree lights that now cost more than LED tree lights, and you can get LED lights in any color you like.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Whatever Happened to Jimmy Hoffa?




It's pretty clever to reframe Hoffa's ties to the mob through Frank Sheeran.  Charles Brandt coaxed the "confession" out of The Irishman shortly before his death in 2003, and laid out corroborating evidence in his book, I Heard You Paint Houses, published the following year.  The book has been widely discarded as pulp fiction, and in turn Scorsese has taken some heat for giving weight to Sheeran's account in his epic movie, but then I saw the Netflix original as a geriatric version of Goodfellas.

Scorsese relishes in not just one but several conspiracy theories from the 60s and 70s.  According to the Irishman, it was the mafia in Chicago that carried Illinois for Kennedy in 1960; the Bay of Pigs Invasion was a mafia-coordinated effort that didn't get the aerial support promised by Papa Kennedy; and the mob had Jack Kennedy rubbed out when the president no longer answered to their interests, namely getting rid of Castro and letting them have free access to Havana again.

Hoffa had a separate beef with Kennedy.  The Teamsters and other labor unions were believed to be in bed with the mafia, which this movie amply illustrates.  The Irishman also implies Hoffa threw his support behind Nixon, which you would think would be against his best interests.  I suppose this was to give a reason for young Attorney General Robert Kennedy going after Hoffa, finally getting his conviction in 1964.  It was only after Hoffa exhausted all his appeals that he faced jail time in 1967.

The Teamsters offered their support to Nixon in 1971 in exchange for the President considering a pardon for Hoffa.  The catch was that Hoffa would retire from union activities.  While this made Jimmy none too happy, the Irishman chose to focus more on the old boss' acrimonious relationship with Tony Pro, who became the favorite of the mafia.  This sets up the fallout that occurs between Jimmy and the Bufalino crime family, leaving Sheeran caught in the middle.

As the story goes, the Irishman owed his rise in the labor world as much to Russell Bufalino as he did Jimmy Hoffa.  It was Russell's hope that Frank would keep Jimmy in check, but no one kept the fiery labor leader in check.  With events spiraling out of control Frank found himself thrust into the position of settling the matter once and for all.

This is in sharp contrast to the 1992 movie, which didn't mention Tony Provenzano at all.  Jimmy's anger was largely vented on Fitzsimmons, who had negotiated the deal with Nixon.  This caused a deep rift in the Teamsters.  However, Danny De Vito takes his own artistic liberties in casting himself as an imaginary friend to Hoffa and indulging in his own fantasy as to how Jimmy was ultimately dealt with.

It would have been long forgotten had not Scorsese dragged the story back up again.  Hoffa had faded into history.  Labor for the most part is in shambles, never really able to recover from the infamous 70s and all the Right-to-Work laws that followed.  Even Michigan is now a Right-to-Work state.  Hoffa and the Teamsters invested heavily in Detroit, only to see the auto industry crumble apart and leave Motown an empty shell.

Reagan and succeeding presidents, Republican and Democratic alike, have not been friends of labor, but we are seeing a bit of a resurgence in the labor movement today so maybe this movie will spark some interest.  I'm not sure Hoffa is the best role model.  Mostly, it is a crime movie, which Scorsese has long reveled in, bringing back his cast of favorites and adding Al Pacino as Hoffa.

I'm not sure who did Hoffa better: Al Pacino or Jack Nicholson.  The movies are told from completely different angles so you can enjoy them both on their own terms.  All I would say is that Scorsese's account of Jimmy's death is more convincing.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

So long Kamala

but we still might see you in November




There was a brief moment in this campaign when it seemed Kamala was set to take the Democratic nomination by storm.  She shot down Joe Biden at the second debate with a fiery retort on busing that went viral.  Unfortunately, that magic moment was lost when she was hit by a stealth attack from Tulsi Gabbard at the next debate that she was unable to rebound from.

Kamala held so much potential but failed to reach a Democratic electorate that was torn between multiple candidates.  The voters Kamala probably most appealed to were already supporting Joe Biden.  The more liberal voters were split among Bernie and Liz.  The rest were toying with a multiple number of candidates, casting 2 per cent here, 3 per cent there and 1 per cent anywhere.  With no defining message, Kamala soon found herself relegated to the also-rans.

Still, she should have hung out until the first wave of caucuses and primaries.  She had invested heavily in Iowa and New Hampshire.  California was moved up early in the primary schedule, which suited her.  There was more than a good chance Joe Biden would bottom out in Iowa and his voters would start looking elsewhere.  However, Kamala took a long hard look at her flagging campaign and decided there was no path to victory.

The only prominent woman left in the campaign is Liz Warren, and she has become a target in recent weeks for her wealth tax to fund a greatly expanded Medicare for All.  Her numbers have trickled down as a result, but she still stands a strong second in the polling.  Liz lamented the departure of Kamala, wishing it was the billionaires who had dropped out: Steyer and Bloomberg.

Mostly, it is Kamala's own fault.  She never really seemed to have her heart in this race.  It was a bit presumptuous for a rookie Senator to run so quickly for President, but then Obama had done the same in 2008.  The difference is that Barack had a bottomless well of energy where Kamala seemed tired and dejected she couldn't get her message across.  This was all too apparent at the debate in which she let Tulsi catch her with her guard down, and then feebly tried to counter in the following debate.

We all know Tulsi is just in this race to take out other candidates at the kneecaps.  Kamala should have brushed her aside, but instead got notably upset and the media turned this into a cat fight that did much more harm to her than it did Tulsi.

It's too bad because I really liked Kamala and was hoping to see her candidacy catch fire.  I suppose there is some dim hope she might reenter the race depending on how the early primaries and caucuses shake out, but I think she is just leaving herself open for a number two spot on the November ticket, which is how the political pundits cast her to begin with.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Ours is not to reason why




Nationally, Trump continues to poll poorly, but if you look at key states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, Trump surprisingly polls evenly or ahead of Democratic candidates.  Ohio has long been a toss-up state but Michigan and Wisconsin are traditionally Democratic states.  Midwest voters claim to have voted for Democratic candidates in the midterms but say they will return to Trump in 2020.

Some said they prefer a split government, so voted for Democrats to check Trump's executive power in the midterms.  If they don't like all the power Trump wields why vote for him in 2020, and instead vote for Republican Congresspersons to balance a potential Democratic president's power?

The sad truth is many of these persons don't put a lot of thought into how they vote.  It is mostly a reflexive action driven by an emotional response to a candidate, which is why all those fake ads worked so well in 2016.  Trump has been able to shrug off the scandals that surround his administration, as Reagan did in the 80s, by projecting confidence in the face of adversity.  Only if he were to project insecurity and weakness, would his voters abandon him.

I remember an excerpt from one of Oliver Sacks' books in which he described the reactions to a Reagan speech at an assisted living facility.  Most of the elderly persons were emotionally supportive of the president, but one woman showed no interest in the speech on the television.  It turns out she was tone deaf and was unimpressed by Reagan's grammar.  His speech didn't make any sense, she said to Dr. Sacks.

Fortunately for Trump, many of his supporters won't read the transcript as his campaign has encouraged them to do.  If they did, they would find it contradicts much of what he says at rallies.  Better just to market his latest catch phrase as a campaign t-shirt.

The secret to his success has been his ability to turn adversity into a rally cry for his supporters.  The only question is how far this support extends?  If it is as it appears in Wisconsin that some Democratic voters are still willing to cast their lot for Trump in 2020 then Democrats have a lot to worry about.  But, if this unquestioning support is only confined to his base then Trump could be in for a nightmare in November.

I think the Marquette poll is an outlier, although FiveThirtyEight gives the polling group a good score of A/B, even if it has only been predictive 77% of the time.  Polls tend to factor a lot of variables in their sample sizes of the electorate.  Only 700 registered voters were surveyed in Wisconsin.  However, this positive polling has certainly been heard in the White House, as it trumpets the findings across social media. 

However, most polls show Trump trailing the leading Democratic candidates in Midwest states, albeit barely.  This would make sense as his tariffs have had a very negative impact on farmers in this region, with farm foreclosures on the rise in Wisconsin.  However, persons have been known to vote against their best interests before.

Trump's ability to project power is the only thing he has going for him.  Anyone looking at his record would be appalled.  Even conservatives have expressed their frustration at his inability to get any of his signature campaign initiatives through Congress, most notably the wall.  He has had to funnel money from the Pentagon to get what little bit of wall he has managed to erect along the Texas border.  The rest has come from private sources.  Trump has no major trade bill to claim credit for.  His new USMCA deal languishes in Congress, pending revisions proposed by Democrats.   The Great China deal remains on hold three years since his election.  Yet, he can still claim nearly 90% support among Republicans.  So, he continues to play on polarizing social issues like the faux War on Christmas, which he audaciously chose to extend to Thanksgiving at a recent rally, leaving his Friends at Fox flummoxed by what he meant by this.

"Ours is not to reason why," as Alfred Lord Tennyson said, "ours is but to do or die."  This seems to sum up the devotion to Trump pretty well.


Friday, November 22, 2019

Sorry, Angels




Defending Charlie's Angels as a #MeToo movie that men can't handle is not the smartest move.  The early reboots of the popular television series did quite well, largely because they stayed in the same spirit of the original.  The Angels were never meant to be more than fluff, but combining three good comic actresses made it a lot of fun, and a lot of men enjoyed the 2000 version very much.  It didn't hurt having Bill Murray as Bosley either.  This after all was a television series that gave us Farrah Fawcett-Majors, the equivalent of Pamela Anderson in her day.

The original Angels came from the mind of Aaron Spelling, who probably imagined himself as Charlie, although he got John Forsythe to play the famous voice.  The premise was quite simple, a bored millionaire decides to create a private detective agency and hires three nubile young women, who aren't going in anywhere in the LAPD, to become his undercover agents.  He has Bosley serve as his intermediary, played to good comic effect by David Doyle.  The only seasoned actress was Kate Jackson, fresh off her successful run as a nurse married to one of the cops on The Rookies, but she soon found herself upstaged by Farrah's hair.

Farrah didn't stay long.  One season, I believe.  She was replaced by "little sister" Kris (Cheryl Ladd).  Kate lasted two more seasons, finding herself replaced by Shelley Hack and in turn Tanya Roberts.  Jaclyn Smith turned out to be the house mom of the bunch, gutting out all five seasons.  Basically, the girls were interchangeable, as were most leading ladies at the time.

For Kate Jackson it must have been quite a step down, especially when you consider she was initially cast to play the role of Joanna in Kramer vs. Kramer.  A role that went to Meryl Streep and the rest as they say is history.  Kate would end up stuck on television thanks to Aaron Spelling refusing to give her permission to freelance.  I don't think Kate has any major regrets, but you wonder what might have been.

Jaclyn Smith has a long IMDB list of appearances on television series and movies, and popped up in both the Charlie's Angels reboots, but probably her greatest success is her signature line of clothing at K-Mart, including a sultry collection of underwear.

As for Farrah, she suffered the fate of every overnight sex symbol, being replaced by others.  Probably her most compelling post-CA role was as the battered wife in The Burning Bed, a made-for-television movie that was quite harrowing for its time.  However, the lasting image most persons have of her is this iconic poster from Charlie's Angels.

Elizabeth Banks is too young to know any of this.  She was only 2 years old when Charlie's Angels premiered in 1976, so she would have only seen the series in reruns, if she watched it at all.  Seems Liz just chose the premise to turn into an action movie of her own, centered around three hopelessly mismatched women who have virtually no chemistry between them.  The action sequences owe more to McG's reboot than they do the original series, but without the requisite humor the scenes fall flat.  Even the trailer is too long.

It seems Liz wanted us to take this movie seriously, but how can anyone?  She borrows liberally from all the spy movies, in particular James Bond, making Ella Balinska the de facto 007.  I guess Liz wanted to beat Barbara Broccoli to the punch, but Barb has nothing to worry about.  This Charlie's Angels reboot will be long forgotten by the time the new Bond movie comes out.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Gordon Problem




Gordon Sondland's testimony laid bare the corruption in the Trump White House.  This administration went out of its way to pressure the new Ukrainian president into giving them dirt on a political opponent.  Sondland presented a wide range of e-mails implicating all the major figures in Trump's cabinet, leaving virtually no one unscathed except maybe the clueless Ben Carson.

Of course, Sondland is no Mr. Nice Guy.  He played a role in all this backdoor double dealing by meeting with President Zelensky himself and presenting the Trump's administration's demands.  He and his White House contacts used the euphesmistic language one would expect from small-time mafia hoods, as if watching too many episodes of The Sopranos, but Sondland was kind enough to spell it all out for the impeachment panel, much to the chagrin of the Don, who was left stumbling for words on the White House lawn.

All in all, it was a black day for Trump and fellow Republicans.  His clowns in the House chose to defer to Elise Stefanik, a 35-year-old Congresswoman from New York who appears to be their answer to AOC.  Nunes tried to use her as a surrogate when attacking Marie Yovanovitch, but Adam Schiff was having none of it.

For the Republicans, it is all about denial, but it has reached the point where few doubt Trump is guilty of the crimes he is accused of (70 per cent). The only question is whether he should be impeached for them (51 per cent).

However, Sondland's testimony goes beyond the Ukraine incident and to the general rot in the White House.  This was a coordinated effort by multiple cabinet heads to pressure Ukraine to resurrect the Burisma case and try to find misdeeds by Hunter Biden that could be tied to his father Joe Biden.  They even went so far as to dredge up phony conspiracies to try to undermine the Mueller report, which Trump continuously harps upon in his tweets.  It wasn't just the nutcase Rudy Giuliani, which we were led to believe by the WH.  Pompeo, Perry, Mulvaney and even Pence all had a hand in it.  The only key person who apparently didn't sign onto this charade was John Bolton, who resigned when this "drug deal" came to light.

Republicans are doing their best to distance Trump from the extortion allegations, claiming he was a victim of others' machinations.  Much of the blame had been laid at Rick Perry's door step, who was trying to work out an energy deal with Ukraine and apparently suggested Zelensky show Trump some love.  Perry has since resigned, but Sondland made it clear that Perry was in on the action.

None of this frees Trump from responsibility.  Sondland also made sure of this by stating the President was fully aware of what was going on.  Trump's provided the canned retort that he doesn't even know Sondland.  Maybe met him once or twice.  It doesn't matter whether he personally knows Ambassador Sondland or Lt. Col. Vindman or Jennifer Williams or whoever.  They all testified that Trump was directly involved in the White House deal proposed to Zelensky that he reopen the Burisma case in exchange for military aid.

The way Trump treated Ukraine is a microcosm of his entire foreign policy.  He has personalized FP as no other president has done before.  This is largely due to his many foreign business interests.  Past presidents didn't come into office with this kind of baggage.  His deals with Turkey and Saudi Arabia are largely predicated on his personal business interests in these countries.  This is what makes him so vulnerable to foreign influence.  He thought he might reverse the scenario by using military aid to leverage a personal favor from Zelensky, the same way Erdogan and the notorious MBS have been leveraging him, but he got caught.  The guy he had negotiating the deal, Rudy Giuliani, was so inept that he left a trail for everyone to see, implicating numerous White House officials along the way.

We have not seen this level of corruption in the modern era.  Trump not only threatens to drag down himself but the standing of the country.  How can anyone trust the United States after the stunts he has pulled in office?  This is a pox he has left on America for years, if not decades, to come.

The sad part is that we all saw it coming.  The little dance he did in Riyadh should have been an early warning sign.  This is a guy who will sink to any level to negotiate a deal even if it means making a total fool of himself.  He even drug Wilbur and Rex into this crazy dance.  At least Rex Tillerson was smart enough to know when to get out before the shit really hit the fan.  I think Pompeo now deeply regrets taking the role of Secretary of State, a position he was grossly unqualified for.

What's worse is that Trump has drug the entire Republican Party into this mess.  Only a handful of high ranking Republicans are speaking out against him.  The rest actively defend him or cower in the corners hoping no one will take notice.

As for Gordon Sondland, he didn't pay a million dollars to Trump's inauguration fund only to go to jail.  He is doing his best to dig himself out of a hole that became euphemistically known as the "Gordon problem," which has now become the White House Problem.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

You've got to give me a big win, OK?




It was supposed to be a Republican trifecta -- three easy wins in Magaland -- reaffirming that Trump is still strong among the Republican base.  Yesterday, saw a runoff for governor in Louisiana.  Trump wanted this state badly as he had lost Kentucky when Bevin finally conceded defeat earlier this week.  Trump went to the Deep South state not once but twice during the run-off to try to lift the Republican businessman Eddie Rispone across the finish line, only to personally witness yet another defeat.  In the end, the only state Trump could still claim to have a hold over is Mississippi, but even here the Republican barely defeated his Democratic challenger.

The media was going to treat these elections as a referendum on Trump no matter what, but the president made it that much easier by making the gubernatorial races all about himself in his pleas to conservative voters to send a message to the country that they still love him.

Louisiana is worse than Kentucky for Trump because he, the RNC, and conservative PAC's invested so much time and money in the state.  Rispone outspent Bel Edwards by a staggering sum of money.  Rispone poured 14 million of his own money into the campaign.  He attached himself to Trump from beginning to end, spouting the same vitriolic nonsense and expecting Louisianans to vote for him out of fealty to Trump.

By contrast, Bel Edwards ran as himself, an incumbent governor who straddled the line between social conservative issues and the need to lift health, education and welfare in the state.  Louisiana ranks near the bottom in every category.  In some ways, he's a throwback to the old days in the gulf state when conservatives were Democrats.  He certainly is not a progressive by any stretch of the imagination.  Most importantly, he knows how to appeal to Louisianans personal sense of self, using the Trump message against Rispone, by urging voters not to let the president or anyone else tell them how to vote.

It was really stupid for Republicans to invest so much energy in this state to begin.  Bel Edwards is a popular governor.  Rispone was at best a long shot.  The developer wasn't particularly colorful or articulate.  Ralph Abraham was more personable and might have stood a better chance against Bel Edwards in a run-off, but Republicans chose to rally behind Eddie the Builder.  His website reads like an obituary.

So, where do we stand now?  Less than a year out from the general election in 2020, Trump endures bitter defeats in the Deep South and Big Coal country.  These states were supposed to be part of Trump's "fire wall," yet they now seem as vulnerable as any state in the country.  While it is unlikely a Democratic presidential candidate will win these states, Trump's weak standing opens the door to the possible defeat of Moscow Mitch in Kentucky and Smarmy Bill Cassidy in Louisiana.  Even Mississippi is not that safe, as Confederate Cindy Hyde-Smith faces another bitter election after barely winning the special election in 2018 to fill Thad Cochran's seat.

This means Republicans will have to defend themselves across the board -- a tall order given they have 23 contested seats, whereas the Democrats only have to defend 12 seats.  The RNC was counting on these being safe states so that they could pour more money into Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina, where incumbent Republican Senators face very tough challenges.  The GOP only has a +3 differential in the Senate to play with.

Republicans appear to have no strategy other than to ally themselves to Trump.  Bevin was the most reviled governor in the country.  Rispone had very little appeal.  Reeves won in Mississippi by default.  Republicans lack energetic young candidates that can appeal beyond the Trump base.  So, they try to paint their opponents in the most demagogic terms imaginable, as if they are the true patriots defending the cultural integrity of this country, and hope that Trump can somehow carry them over the line.

The GOP failed to understand that their surprise victory in 2016 wasn't about Trump's personal charm, which he has none, but rather the incredible antipathy many Americans had toward Hillary Clinton.  Trump won not because of his enthusiastic MAGA supporters, but because moderate Republicans and conservative Independents and Democrats were more appalled by a Clinton dynasty than they were a Reality Show President.  They voted against Hillary, not for Trump.  Something the mainstream media still appears to miss, even as most polls show Trump reduced to his MAGA supporters, with approval numbers in the low 40s.

It is not enough to just defeat Trump, Democrats have to regain Congress if they hope to erase the horrible legacy Trump and his Republican cohorts have left behind.  Mitch's main aim for the past three years has been to reshape the judiciary by putting in place as many conservative federal judges as he can, including two on the Supreme Court, so that conservatives can use the federal courts to stymie any potential Democratic legislation.  For him, Trump has never been anything more than a patsy to approve his judges.

The irony is that Republicans now find themselves in an untenable situation.  The more they continue to support Trump, the more likely they are to lose statewide elections throughout the country.   Even their gerrymandered districts no longer assure them a Republican majority in state legislatures, as turned out to be the case in Virginia.  Trump fatigue has set in.  No amount of spin by Fox News or other conservative outlets can change that fact.

Americans are sick and tired of Trump making a mockery of this country.  Most would like to see him impeached.  There are no more "big wins" left for him.  Only a series of embarrassing losses that started back in December, 2017, when Democrat Doug Jones won a special election for Jeff Sessions' Senate seat in Alabama.  A seat Sessions now wants to reclaim but has to get by the pedophile ex-judge Roy Moore first.  Republicans  have boxed themselves in.  They can't win in the primaries without pledging their fealty to Trump, but they can't win in general elections without distancing themselves from Trump.   As Stan would say to Ollie, well, it's another nice mess you have gotten me into.


Friday, November 15, 2019

Hmmm ...




We finally got rid of half a dozen candidates who had no business being in the race to begin with, only for two more has-been politicians to announce their candidacies by filing in Alabama and New Hampshire.  I already covered Mayor Bloom, but now we have the former governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick.  Is there something about Elizabeth Warren he doesn't like?

If we don't watch out, Hillary may run again.  She certainly appears to be toying with the idea.  At that point, the Democratic primaries would look like The Celebrity Apprentice and it would be hard to take any of this seriously.

The DNC needs to step in before it's too late and squash any more late bids.  It's not like Bloomberg or Patrick have a snowball's chance in hell.  Deval's big pitch is that he can successfully run to the center.  Wow!  How's that for inspiring?  Apparently, he thinks Joe is too nostalgic and Liz and Bernie are too hostile.  I guess he thinks Mayor Pete is too young, and Kamala smokes too much pot.  Maybe he just wanted some attention after stepping down from governor in 2015.  The time for him to run would have been in 2016, but he like so many other promising candidates chose to step aside for Hillary.

It's not like any of these candidates can compete with Trump TV.  The guy owns the airwaves.  The only way any of these Democrats get heard is when they openly challenge the president, although Liz has gotten a surprising amount of mileage out of her wealth tax.  The Billionaire class has mercilessly derided her.  Most recently Mark Cuban, the know-it-all Maverick owner and Shark Tank host, who claims Liz is "demonizing billionaires."  He even knows the exact number of billionaires in the country.

The funny part is that these dumb billionaires play right into Liz's hand by so strenuously arguing against her wealth tax.  They only endear her to the middle class, even as Fox News claims she is worth a tidy $12 million.  Fox Business broke down her tax returns.  Too bad we don't have any returns for Donald Trump, and for that matter Michael Bloomberg.

Anyway, I don't see what Deval has to offer that Amy, Cory, Kamala and Pete aren't already offering.  Yes, Cory Booker is still in the race.  I expect Deval to stay in long enough to make the rounds of late night talk shows and weekend news programs, just to remind the future nominee that he is available for a cabinet appointment, maybe even a Supreme Court nomination should Ruth choose to retire.