Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Madness of His Trumpness




Maybe Trump is suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.  How else to explain these surly morning tweets, taking out his frustration on Jeff Sessions and transgenders?

No one particularly likes Jeff Sessions, but you almost feel sorry for him.  Here's a guy doing his level best to satisfy the bloated one and look at the thanks he gets.  Trump seems to have it out for his entire justice department, treating them like a team of personal lawyers who aren't doing enough to protect him.

As for transgenders, he not only caught the LGBTQ community by surprise but the Pentagon as well.  No one saw this coming, not even his Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, who was enjoying a little bit of R&R when this shit hit the fan.  So far, the military is not reacting to the tweets, forcing Trump to deal with the shit storm himself.

Neither of these bold gestures makes any sense.  Sessions has been a steadfast supporter of Trump since the beginning of his campaign and is very popular among Southern conservatives.  Steve Bannon himself enlisted Sessions into the ranks. Transgenders in the military is a non-issue, but for some absurd reason Trump chose to make it one.  As a result, he has angered Republicans across the board, not to mention turn many in the military against him.

It seems that whenever Trump gets angry he has to act out, and woe be it to anyone who gets in his way to the bathroom.  Maybe something came up about transgenders on Infowars or Hannity that set Trump off as he definitely didn't consult any generals or military experts on this decision.  This one rose right up from his own bowels.

As for Sessions, one can understand Trump is frustrated that the Justice department can't sweep this Russia thing under the rug, but the AG has to at least make it look like he has studied the Constitution, which he swore to uphold.  Now, Trump wants Sessions to investigate Hillary all over again, as if this will throw the special counsel off the scent.

It's all so puerile that if Trump had any advice it probably came from Jared and Donnie Jr.   You can bet Congressional Democrats will push even harder for a commission to investigate Trump's physical and mental health.  There might even be a few Republicans who are beginning to wonder if Trump has gone wacko.

Gen. Mattis has no doubt rushed back to the White House to set Trump straight on the issue of transgenders in the military, and we hope to see a retraction on twitter in the coming days.  But, His Trumpness has a bad habit of doubling down on everything he says, leaving it up to the courts to decide the issue, as is the case with his travel ban.

Sessions seems to be trying to keep a low profile, hoping his boss will forget about him and vent his frustration on some other cabinet member, maybe Rick Perry, who got duped into a 22-minute conversation with the Russian Jerky Boys.  This is the man with the key to the nuclear codes.  Interesting that Trump chose not to tweet about Governor Rick.

But, maybe we are missing something here, as Rachel Maddow might ask?  Maybe the President is wilier than we think? Maybe His Trumpness thinks he is helping his boys out on Capitol Hill by deflecting attention away from their effort to repeal Obamacare? Heh, look over here, while Congressional Republicans work to strip health care from 22 million Americans!

No, I will stick with irritable bowel syndrome.  This is a guy who is unable to settle into his new role of leader of the free world, battling periodic bouts of constipation and diarrhea, venting his frustration on everyone around him.  Just like King George III lost America due to porphyria, it seems His Trumpness may lose the White House to IBS.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Last Boy Scout




Trump is certainly not one to miss an opportunity, rallying a bunch of boy scouts at a national jamboree around his health care bill and contempt for Obama.  For a man who doesn't want to talk about politics, he sure spent a lot of time talking about politics. 38 minutes worth.

The jamboree became a backdrop for one of his political rallies, in which he openly chastised Obama for not having attended a jamboree during his tenure, although Obama did so via video in 2010, marking the centennial of scouting in America.  The rambling speech was full of many cringe-worthy moments, including one in which he turned William Levitt into a strange cautionary tale, although it didn't seem to go anywhere.

More odd was Trump putting Tom Price on the spot in regard to the health care bill Senate Republicans are trying to pass this week.  I imagine many parents are concerned about a bill that would make it that much more difficult for them to get coverage for their families, but Trump turned this into a political talking point at the expense of his audience.

Trump was never a scout, but he did commend those in his administration who were scouts, notably Mike Pence, who hosted a camp out on the lawn of the governor's mansion in May, 2016.  Oddly enough, the men standing next to him, Rick Perry and Ryan Zinke, are both Eagle Scouts.  Zinke proudly wearing his uniform, although no badges for some reason.  Surprised he didn't ride into the jamboree on a horse.

The list of Eagle Scouts is long and varied, and also includes Jeff Sessions.  But, the Donald seems angry with his AG for not taking a more proactive stance when it comes to the investigations into his administration's ties with Russia.  He excluded him from the event much like he excluded Sean Spicer from his audience with the Pope.

The Boy Scouts of America has long been a favorite conservative institution.  They can easily identify with its para-military style established by Robert Baden-Powell back in 1910.   The BSA very quickly made a connection with the White House in William Howard Taft, who became its first honorary president.  Theodore Roosevelt was absolutely bully about the boy scouts, organizing his own troop and eventually becoming Chief Scout Citizen, the highest honor ever bestowed by the BSA.   However, that changed to some degree in 2013 when the BSA lifted its ban on openly gay youth.  Before that they had a "don't ask, don't tell" policy much like the military.  This spurred the Mormon church to scale back its involvement with the BSA, but hasn't seemed to deter other conservatives.

Ever since 1937, the Boy Scouts have been holding a national jamboree.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt attended the quadrennial event as have most presidents over the years.  Trump had no reason to castigate any former president, yet he used the event to call out Obama, who himself was a scout in Indonesia.  The Boy Scouts had become international in 1922, with troops all over the world, even in Russia.  They stage international jamborees as well.  The next one will be similarly held in West Virginia in 2019.

Not only did our freewheeling president break from tradition by politicizing the event, but he made a mockery of the jamboree, leading many parents to question the Boy Scouts.  Some parents were so livid about the nature of Trump's speech, they threatened to take their boys out of scouting.  But, what is the BSA to do?  It is an open invitation to each president every four years.  They can't control what their honorary president has to say.  They can only hope that he will stick to tradition.

Sadly, we have learned that Trump can no more stick to tradition than he can to a prepared speech.  Seeing such a big crowd no doubt made him feel like he was back on the campaign trail, and so he opened up, as he is wont to do, and let fly with anything and everything that was on his mind, kind of like grandpa at a wedding spilling out all the family problems rather than just congratulating his granddaughter on her day.  Now the Boy Scouts of America have to pay the price for his indiscretions.

The BSA is not at fault here.  Trump is.  This is a man who has repeatedly shown his disdain for our valued institutions. He similarly went off the rails at his CIA speech back in January and a Coast Guard commencement speech in May.  I think the NAACP was very fortunate Trump declined an invitation to attend its convention.  One hazards to think what he might have said there.

It seems the only way to curb him is to censure him, not that it would do much good.  Trump defies all conventions.  The more he does so, the more his base loves him.  A vicious circle that can only be broken once he is removed from office, and even then we would probably hear a great outcry in this country, a "second civil war" as Alex Jones calls it.  These yahoos seem to believe all our institutions have been pervaded by insidious "libtards" and that Trump is their deliverer, the right hand of God so to speak, to lead them out of this liberal dystopia they imagine.  For Congress to act against Trump would be for Republicans to face this wrath in the primaries, which is why you see so many GOP senators lining up behind this insidious health care repeal, including our venerable John McCain.

In Trump's eyes, the Boy Scouts are some kind of young patriotic front that he can rally behind his initiatives, much like Hitler or Stalin used youth organizations in their countries.  For him everything is political, with just about every organization forced to line up either with him or against him.

It would be nice to think the BSA could remain above this political fray, but it has already shown its contentious side on gay rights and still refuses to merge genders as the military has done.  So, it too is very much political in its own right.

How this plays out remains to be seen, but let's hope Trump is not around for the 2019 World Scout Jamboree.



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Happy Trails, Sean




SNL won't have Spicy to kick around anymore, but the media couldn't resist reporting on one ignominious act in which Sean pilfered a mini fridge from his junior staffers in the early evening hours his first month in office.  I wonder if they will snatch their fridge back now that he's gone, but more likely they all pitched in for a new one from Walmart months ago.

It was a thankless job from the start as Spicer was forced to invent numbers surrounding the President's inauguration and it only got worse after that.  A press secretary's job is to cover for his boss but time again he had to sink to lower levels in doing so.

Sean's biggest problem was trying to explain Trump.  He would often go to great lengths to rationalize the president's tweets, making himself the brunt of jokes.  SNL had a field day with him, leading many to speculate how long Trump would keep Spicer, or "Melissa" as he affectionately came to be known.   It seems that as long as Sean was willing to take the abuse, he had the job because it deflected attention away from the Hairpiece in Chief.

However, everyone has his limits, and for Sean that came with the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director, a job in which he had been serving ever since Trump had chosen to have Sarah Huckabee lead the press briefings.  It was clear that Trump no longer had any place for Spicer and so Sean did the honorable thing -- resign.

Anyone hoping for a tell-all book, saw that quickly dashed when Spicy popped up on Hannity.  It's looking a lot like the time Trump fired Corey Lewandowski, who had been his campaign manager, only for Corey to serve as a very useful tool on the news media circuit.  Lewandowski even landed a gig at CNN, making him a permanent fixture throughout the remainder of the campaign.

Spicer should do better in this role as he can engage more freely in "round table discussions," like we see on CNN.  He can say what he will, even question his former boss from time to time so as not to look like a lapdog.  I'm sure he will soon have a permanent position at Fox or CNN.

As for the new communications director, Scaramucci is certainly a much smoother talker, and has already shown his ability to disarm the press.  Makes you wonder why Trump didn't pick him from the get-go, but then I suppose he still wasn't sure how loyal Tony would be to him.  My question is what does a highly successful investment banker gain by serving Trump in this capacity?

Trump  has already laden his administration with Goldman Sachs alums, making his attacks of Hillary on the campaign trail appear very hypocritical.  This was the charge leveled at Bernie Sanders when he first brought up her speaking fees on the campaign trail, claiming it represented a conflict of interests.

Trump co-opted Bernie's language during the general election but not his tenacity when serving as President.  Maybe this is why Spicer thought Scaramucci was such a bad choice, as Trump is supposed to be a Main St. President.  If nothing else, the President should at least be able to effectively communicate that, but how can he if he has someone so close to Wall St. heading up his communications department?

Not that it will probably matter with his electorate.  As low as Trump has slipped in the polls, he still hovers around 40 per cent, which means he continues to have the full support of the conservative faithful.

Sean is just the latest sacrificial lamb of the Trump administration, which periodically has to make an offering to give the impression of propriety in the White House.  Why else leak such a tawdry story of Sean running off with a mini fridge from the junior staffers' press room?  We can't have petty thieves in the White House.  Better to have experienced crooks like Scaramucci.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trump and his Ten-Gallon Hat




"We've signed more bills -- and I'm talking about through the legislature -- than any president."

We've come to expect such boasts from Trump, who made this one at his opening speech for Made in America Week.  Unfortunately, it was easily squashed.  It seems the only president he has "trumped" in this regard is Obama, who signed 3 less bills by this point in his administration.  Trump not only trails FDR and Truman, who he had previously mentioned, but Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Trump mostly signed bills reversing Obama regulations.  Others were simple procedural bills.  The only bills he should be legitimately proud of are those concerning the Veterans Administration, although the legislation began months before he assumed office.  What does it matter to a man who is looking for any excuse to say he has done more than his immediate predecessor?

It is clear by now that Trump only measures himself against Obama.  The major part of that is eradicating his predecessor's legacy, which is why the health care bill is so important to him.  He is convening a lunch today with Republican senators in a last ditch effort to repeal Obamacare, hoping to succeed where Mitch McConnell has failed in bringing wayward Republicans on board.

At last count, there weren't enough votes for a repeal only measure, with Lisa Murkowski voicing her objection.  The idea that the Republicans will have two years to come up with a replacement, as Mitch intoned, isn't fooling anyone.  Murkowski, like other moderate Republicans, want to sit down with Democrats and hash out a joint bill that overhauls the Affordable Care Act, not literally throw out the baby with the bathwater.

But, Trump is not one to concede on any point.  He still stands defiantly behind his claim that he would have won the popular vote had there not been voter fraud, that he has signed more bills, created more jobs and numerous other boasts that defy all credulity.  Why should he give in on the one issue that he considers central to his administration -- the repeal of "Obamacare?"  This despite his own Health and Human Services department having published a report that states the ACA health insurance marketplaces are relatively stable.

Of course, Tom Price, the head of HHS, has backed away from this report, insisting that a new health care bill would be better in every way.  Unfortunately for the replacement plan proposed by the Republicans, the CBO doesn't appear to think so.

None of this matters to Trump.  For him it is all about the art of winning at any cost.  If 32 or 33 million Americans lose their insurance, so be it.  If insurance premiums skyrocket, so what?  His imperative is to remove any traces of the Obama administration in his White House and he will go to whatever lengths to do so.

At no time have we had a more ruthless, vindictive president as we do now.  Whether it all came from the ill-fated 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, we can only guess?  But, Trump clearly hates everything Obama stands for and is determined to erase his legacy, even if most Americans embrace that legacy.

For now, he just wants another bill to sign.  Preferably a big bill, a legacy-defining bill, like one his predecessor signed.  One would think he would be hard at work on an infrastructure bill, like that he championed during the campaign, and one Democrats said they were favorable toward.  However, Trump has made it abundantly clear he wants nothing to do with "Nancy P" or "Cryin' Chuck" Schumer, or any Democrat for that matter.

He would rather work around Congress by proposing a "vision" where much needed infrastructure improvements are carried out at the state and local level, which oddly is pretty much the way it is now.  He wants to further privatize America starting with the air-traffic control system, and if that works out expand it to the whole of transportation.  States and cities would become responsible for all road and bridge improvements.  At most, they could expect some money from the federal government to help defray costs, but much less than they are currently getting.

This is our man in a ten-gallon hat, the one who considers himself the Greatest President of All Time.  He essentially wants to sell off government like a fire sale.  Who knows, maybe he will sell Alaska back to Russia?

Sadly, there are many Americans who are just fine with this.  We have been told for decades how bad government is and that it needs to be turned upside down and all the fat-cat politicians shaken out of it.  Few stop to think that what made America great was the collaborative effort between government and business, summed up in Alexander Hamilton's Report on the Subject of Manufactures, published in 1791.  It still serves as the blueprint for large-scale building projects in this country.

Before Trump seeks out his place in history, it might behoove him to read a little history.  If he is going to spend the next 3-1/2 years fighting Congress at every turn, he is going to wear down his human battery faster than he would like.  Maybe, he should invite both Democratic and Republican leaders to the White House and at least make a show of reconciliation.  If nothing else, it should give him a boost in the polls.  Isn't that what it is all about, Donald?


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I never promised you a rose garden




Lynn Anderson's song sounds so appropriate right now.  Trump made a last-ditch effort to get fence-sitting Republicans to go along with the Repeal and Replace Bill that Mitch was trying to push through the Senate, only to see two of these senators jump to the other side of the fence.  The irony is that Sens. Lee and Moran chose to abandon the effort because they didn't think the bill went far enough in eradicating "Obamacare."

Susan Collins was the only holdout who stood for the principles of the affordable care act, believing that Republicans should work with Democrats to make a better health care system.  Others like Lisa Murkowski and Shelly Moore Capito might have felt the same way, but were sucked in by Mitch's last minute inclusion of funding for opioid substance abuse to keep the bill alive.  

Mitch only needed 51 votes.  He had the VP on call, but in the end it didn't matter when Lee and Moran dropped their support.  There was no way he was going to get this "Better Care Reconciliation Act" through Congress, and it seems like he knew it.  Some are arguing that Mitch went through the act just to show those incalcitrant members of Congress and Trump himself that it simply wasn't possible.  Eventually, Republicans will have to work with Democrats if they want to get some of their provisions into the health care act.

More likely, the White House will now seek to undermine the Affordable Care Act, as they are currently doing the Environmental Protection Agency.  From their point of view, this should have been the game plan all along.  But, I guess they thought the fear of getting "Trumped" in the primaries would keep GOP members in line, and they could claim a huge victory in crushing the Obama administration's landmark health care bill.

Also, they hoped to roll back Medicaid expansion, using the money to help fund the massive tax cuts they are proposing.  Medicaid is primarily administered through the states so the White House has little control over it.   Both a blessing and a curse, much of our health care is state controlled, so you have some states with excellent health care coverage and others with horrendous coverage.  The ACA hoped to equalize this to some degree with Medicaid expansion, so that families living in poorly covered states would have a safety net, knowing these states were unlikely to accept the health insurance exchanges.  Even still, many states refused to accept Medicaid expansion.

Why is anyone's guess?  You have ardent Libertarians like Paul Rand who don't believe the government should be offering any kind of subsidies to Americans.  For them, it is pay as you go or fall by the wayside.  They seem just fine with the idea that 10 per cent of the country remains uninsured, but their form of free market capitalism would leave many many more uninsured in the future, as they also want to go after Medicare and Social Security.

The irony is that the US already pays more per capita for public health care than virtually any other country in the world, yet still has a large number of uninsured and underinsured citizens.  The problem isn't money but management, which is why the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association would like to see a single payer system like most European countries have.  However,  private insurance companies exercise tremendous influence over health care policy in this country and as a result we see a deeply fractious system that sees many persons falling through the cracks, even with the ACA.

One would like to think that Republicans may now finally realize they have to work with Democrats, but that is highly unlikely.  They have a constituency, which they have been telling for 7 years how evil the ACA is, even employing "death panels" to determine who would get health care.  Conservative politicians worked up so much resentment and anger among the GOP base that anything short of total repeal would be seen as defeat.  So, I really don't know how Mitch McConnell worms his way out of this one.

You can bet Trump will be pinning all the blame on Mitch, as he is not one to accept any blame himself.  Sadly, much of Trump's base will stand behind him, as they have throughout all his failures in his first 6 months in office.  That shining moment in the Rose Garden now seems so long ago.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pretty maids all in a row




Watching The Handmaid's Tale, it is eerie just how such a dystopian society might come into being.  I have alluded numerous times to a Third Awakening taking place where America goes through yet another religious revival.  We tend to dismiss these religious zealots but as Margaret Atwood made painfully clear in her book it is no laughing matter.  For some it is the equivalent of establishing Biblical law.

The Handmaid's Tale turns Christian fundamentalism into the equivalent of The American Taliban, a society in which women no longer have any rights whatsover, especially reproductive rights.  We are told of an environmental holocaust where fertile females have become a prized commodity to be bought and sold like chattel on an open market.  Atwood's America, or Gilead as she calls it, seems to have the upper hand as it has found a way to corner the market.  It is at once a feminist and capitalist nightmare.

Atwood wrote the book long before Trump became a political force, foreseeing the time religion and anarchist capitalism would cross-pollinate to create a new type of capito-religious order, for lack of a better word.  One could argue it was easy to imagine such events currently unfolding, as she wrote the book during the time of Reagan.  He had welcomed Jerry Falwell into the White House, and opened the door to religious yahoos like Pat Robertson, who subsequently ran for President in 1988.

Her religious whack jobs didn't use democracy to ascend to power, but rather staged a military coup.  Onward Christian soldiers!    What we have today is an infiltration of the Congressional ranks and even the Vice-Presidency by a host of newly awakened religious fundamentalists who want to see nothing less than a new religious order in this country.   A far more subtle revolution than what Atwood imagined.

What Atwood missed, and indeed the creators of this new television series. is that these Christian soldiers didn't need to take America by gun point.  They are doing a perfectly good job of convincing mainstream Americans to tilt toward their Biblical view of things by pointing out all the failures in modern society.  You get wonderfully articulate evangelical pastors like Joel Olstein and Congressmen like Ben Sasse who can make very compelling arguments to join their movement.

They preach of a prosperity theology where money is a form of salvation not the root of all evil.  This is why they seem to have so few misgivings with Trump.  Jerry Falwell's son defends our President to the hilt, as do many of the leading televangelists today.

But, the television series wisely avoids getting too explicit.  It sticks pretty close to Atwood's puritan sense of a theocracy, based on 17th century inspirations, rather than the modern-day evangelical megachurch.  The creators have to fill in a lot, as they have updated the story to the present day and have many hours to fill.  This is the first of several foreseeable seasons given how popular the first season has been.  Maybe it will shift over time, but for now this is Atwood's America.

In Atwood's interview with Emily Watson, she says that things can "un-happen" as easily as they happen, noting that history is not a straight line.  She praises the resistance to Trump, noting the "handmaidens" protesting his pernicious Trumpcare.  However, Atwood, also shows how resistance can easily be crushed in a society that enjoys its creature comforts.  It only takes a few rounds being fired to scatter a crowd, as protesters generally disdain violence in America.

These religious fascist movements have lacked the critical mass to gain sufficient momentum, but one gets the sense that is changing.  Who could have imagined Trump would get 62 million votes.  Even still, he fell 3 million short of Hillary, which gives us hope that America is not willing to go completely over to the dark side.

 Instead, we see states that have become dark holes, where the kind of religious order Atwood describes is being realized. We have seen it in states as far flung as Alabama, Kansas and Utah. where the church has been able to garner considerable influence in politics.  We tend to treat these states as aberrations, but when Trump takes 30 states you have to start to worry what is going on here.

This is what makes the new television series so compelling, as we can easily imagine such a religious coup taking place, military or silent.  The events occur over a very short period of time and before we know it the inhabitants of Boston find themselves plunged back into a society not much different than John Winthrop's shining City upon a Hill, which Reagan and subsequent conservative leaders have evoked on numerous occasions.   As such, The Handmaid's Tale remains as relevant today as when it was first published in 1985.

Friday, July 14, 2017

As "cray" as that sounds




What a compelling argument,

One of the things with the wall is you need transparency.  You have to be able to see through it.  In other words if you can't see through that wall - so it could be a steel wall with openings, but you have to have openings because you have to see what's on the other side of the wall.

After restating the need for openness four times, he goes on to give us the reason for this "transparency,"

As horrible as it sounds,  when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don't see them -- they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff?  It's over.  As cray as that sounds you need transparency through that wall.

The beauty of it is, Trump can now claim much of the current wall because it is exactly the type of construction he describes, and he would have to add very little to it, as it presently measures 580 miles,

... you don't need 2000 miles of wall because you have a lot of natural barriers.  You have mountains.  You have some rivers that are violent and vicious.  You have some areas that are so far away that you don't really have people crossing.   So you don't need that.  But you will need anywhere from 700 to 900 miles.

As "cray" as that sounds, the House is appropriating $1.6 billion as a down payment on Trump's "beautiful wall."   He actually sounded more intelligent in a February 2016 Town Hall with Morning Joe and Mika than he does now.  Trump said he would use the trade deficit between the US and Mexico to fund the wall.  However, negotiations with Mexico aren't going very well, so now the House is forced to ante up on the Great Wall of Trump or he might get very, very angry.

How long?  What type?  How transparent?   This remains to be seen, but Trump can now crow to his constituency that the wall is happening, as he would one of his high rises.  However, he might want to get a better spokesperson


Tuesday, July 11, 2017





Cue the music.  Hard to believe it has been 42 years since this movie splashed across cinema screens during the summer of 1975.  In those days there were very few cineplexes, so lines stretched for blocks to see Stephen Spielberg's deep sea thriller.  He was a hotshot 28 year-old director who had found the perfect vehicle in Jaws, a huge bestseller the summer before.

That's pretty much forgotten now, as James Kidd notes in this article, but Peter Benchley actually appeared in the movie, a little bit of Hitchcockian pretense.  Kidd offers an interesting survey of opinions on the book.  I liked Kingsley Amis' comment best, Jaws was about a bloody shark that could eat you alive.

Benchley had a great pedigree, but parlayed his family name into ready-made cinematic novels.  It was a bared-bones narrative, as I recall, taking bits of The Old Man and the Sea and Moby-Dick and turning it into a thrilling page-turner meant to scare you out of the water.

The movie was no great shakes either.  It had a relatively low budget of $9 million and it showed.  Richard Zanuck was looking to make a buck not a masterpiece.  He had already bankrolled Spielberg's The Sugarland Express, which had returned him $4 on every dollar he spent, and decided to up the ante a bit for Jaws.  Securing the book rights was probably the most expensive part of the project.  I don't think either Zanuck or Spielberg could have dreamed what came next.  The movie grossed well over $100 million in its initial release, and has since raked in over $470 million worldwide.

What surprised me, as I watched it again the other night, was how little tension there was in the movie, even in the climactic final series of events.  Spielberg had done a much better job with Duel four years before.  Jaws was pretty much a paint-by-numbers retelling of the book, with the only notable exception being that Spielberg saved Matt Hooper in the end.  I guess Steve thought Benchley's scene with Sheriff Brody getting back to shore on a boat cushion too much a stretch of the imagination and decided to have Hooper help him by making a raft out of the two remaining barrels.  I found Benchley's scene quite amusing and an appropriate end for this beach novel.

Just the same, the shark became the newest in existential threats.  Speilberg had turned the monster of the deep into a slasher film.  Rather than scare people out of the water, the movie spawned a whole new industry - the great shark hunt - much to the chagrin of oceanographers everywhere.

Destin, the little town I grew up in, soon had a shark rodeo, drawing a great number of deep sea anglers hoping to hook the big one.  Most of what came into port were sand and nurse sharks, but occasionally there was the Tiger, Thresher or Mako to draw "oohs" and "ahs" from the assembled crowd.  No Great Whites.  The gulf was too warm for them.

Maybe it was the rodeo that attracted Zanuck and company to Northwest Florida to film the sequel.  If anyone was expecting a social commentary on this new obsession with sharks, none was forthcoming.  Jaw 2 dredged up the same old story with an even bigger shark terrorizing poor Amity all over again.  Spielberg was smart enough to pass on this project.

The shark has gotten a bad rap.  More people died of shark attacks in the Jaws franchise (four movies all together) than all the persons killed by sharks in the US over the last 60 years.  They are not man-eaters, and they certainly don't go hunting on the scale "Jaws" did.  The USS Indianapolis story that Quint told is true, but it is impossible to know how many of the sailors were eaten by sharks or simply drowned at sea.

The naval story feeds right into the Moby-Dick subtext.  Quint is Ahab returning to do battle with the great white beast that had devoured half his crew.  Like the white sperm whale in Melville's book, the shark is smart, often outflanking Quint in the long sea battle.  Benchley quickly shifts to The Old Man and the Sea as Quint tries to drag the shark back into shore, only for the beast to destroy his decrepit boat with him in it.   Hooper made the obvious Ishmael but Brody was the only one left alive to tell the tale.  However, nothing remains of the shark to say if it is dead or not.  Amity will go on being Amity.

Despite the many attempts to revive the story in one form or another, Jaws stands alone 42 years later.  However, it would be fun to see someone with a quirky sense of humor take another shot at the novel.  See if he or she can plumb the depths of the human psyche a little deeper and give us something that has a little more emotional power.  Too bad Stanley Kubrick is no longer around.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

G20 - 1




It's been dubbed the G19 since the United States essentially chose to abstain from the summit other than the few issues that suited His Trumpness.   For part of the second day he had Ivanka sit in for him as apparently he had more pressing matters to attend to.   In response to Anne Applebaum's angry criticism of this unprecedented display of nepotism, Ivanka probably knows more about these issues than does her father.

Team Trump proudly announced a "cease-fire" in a region of Syria bordering Jordan.  This came out of the much ballyhooed 2-hour meeting with Putin.  One assumes this means Russia will hold back bombing missions in this disputed region for an unspecified period of time.

David Gergen offered plenty of praise for the "robust" meeting but was quick to note that this is the first time he had seen a US President come to the G20 and no longer be regarded as the leader.  It was clearly Angela Merkel's show from start to finish with Trump pretty much relegated to the sidelines.

Much to her chagrin, the G20 had to accommodate the US's lone objection to the Paris Climate Agreement, making a provision for fossil fuels.  Kind of like the lone kid being unable to participate in physical education class because of bone spurs on his heels.

Can the US any longer be regarded as the leader of the free world?  This should be the question that dominates the airwaves this week unless of course Trump fires off some angry tweets to deflect attention away from his not-so-tremendous showing at Hamburg.

It is truly sad to see the US no longer a major player on the international front.   Trump's isolationist stance on many global issues has left the US alone in the world, with its influence shrinking right before our eyes.  It is doubtful we will ever regain our dominance short of a world war, as the G20 demonstrates just how many countries are now global players.  Rather than work with these countries in a meaningful way, as Obama tried to do, Trump is content to go it alone, striking up bilateral deals where it suits him and hoping that will be enough to keep his presidential administration afloat.  He promises a big trade deal with the UK very, very soon.

The UK right now is more worried about its future relationship with the EU, as Theresa May is not in a position of power.  Of course, a big US trade deal will help assuage the damage her party took in the recent parliamentary elections, but in no way will it make up for a bad deal, or no deal at all with the EU, its major trading partner.  The UK would have to see a two-and-a-half times increase in exports to the US to make up for the shortfall from the loss of trade with the EU, which is not likely given Trump's insistence on reducing the trade deficit the US has with so many countries, including the UK.

Of course, much of this will fly right over the heads of his red-capped constituency, and no doubt Congressional Republicans will similarly ignore the blunders their president made in Hamburg.  Already, we see his administration spokespersons trying to soft pedal his performance, even if it contradicts what he said himself in televised appearances.

His surrogates can spin the G20 anyway they like but the US is no longer a global leader.  Trump has made our country an incidental player.  Whether it is trade or climate change or empowering women entrepreneurs, which Ivanka has made her pet project, the US is no longer in the vanguard.  I suppose we can rationalize this by saying the day would have come anyway, given all these rising global economic powers, but one would think our POTUS would try to remain in the thick of things.  Not Trump, he was probably dreaming of a round of golf, stopping off in Scotland on his way home.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

WTF has Podesta got to do with any of this?


For whatever reason the real Donald Trump decided to fire off an early morning tweet about John Podesta:



What it means is anyone's guess?   Maybe it was just the first thing that popped into his head at 3:40 am or he was just hoping to deflect attention away from the limited role he would be playing at his first G20 summit.  I guess it depends on whether you view Trump in the middle stage of dementia or see him as the ultimate Machiavellian politician.

House Democrats are leaning to the former with a group of representatives having put forward a request to establish an 11-member commission to determine Trump's state of mind.  However, news pundits like Rachel Maddow seem to think Trump is playing a very clever game here, leading us to ponder if Trump is a genius or a senile old man.

My guess is that the tweets are the orchestration of the two Steves:  Bannon and Miller.  Trump's infamous CNN body slam is what got the House Democrats so agitated.  The meme didn't originate from the White House.  It was first posted on Reddit by a user dubbed "HanAssSolo," who thinks someone in the WH did the musical scoring.  Mr. Solo photoshopped a wrestling match Trump once had with WWE promoter, Vince McMahon.  The video dates back to a Wrestlemania episode from 2007.

I don't know what's worse: our president endorses the WWE or that he finds a doctored video like this amusing?  We can only speculate what a Congressional special commission might determine as it is highly unlikely the House Republicans will ever approve it.

The Podesta tweet similarly raises eyebrows as you would think this story dead, but here is Trump himself resurrecting it.  If the world leaders had anyone else on their minds it was probably Obama or Hillary, as in I wish Obama or Hillary were here instead of that man.  But, in Trump's addled mind everyone in Hamburg is talking about John Podesta.

Of course, Podesta wasn't going to let the moment slip away without a response, calling Trump "our whack job."   How this furthers Trump's agenda at the G20 summit only Rachel Maddow could tell us in her circumlocutory way.  I think I will go with the House Democrats and say that Trump just lost his marbles.



How did we get here?  Does it all go back to that time Trump stepped into the ring with Vince McMahon and shaved off his hair?  Or, to the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner where Obama took down Trump in front of the entertainment world?  Or, the catchy red trucker's cap he used to connect to the underbelly of America?

Whatever the case we have been dealt a very bad hand.   While Trump was having his epic meeting with Putin, the EU struck huge trade deals with Japan and Canada, and is actively courting China.  Russia also sealed a deal with China while Trump was visiting Poland.  The EU-Japan deal has to hurt as Trump thought he was BFF with Shinzo Abe after his 19-second handshake back in February.

It seems everyone has caught onto Trump's signature handshake.  Even Vlad made sure to step into his handshake so that Trump couldn't pull him in like a fish on a reel.  All Donnie could manage was a rather weak pat on the back in a lame effort to show his dominance.

These tactics are perfect for the world of wrestling entertainment, but don't play well on an international stage.  Calling out political opponents like a wrestler before a big match or turning a handshake into a test of virility are all things we expect from Wrestlemania but not from the President of the United States.  Trump, however, has no problem conflating the two.

Part of it is because his two Steves tell him it plays well to his devoted twitter following.  The other is that this is all Trump knows.  He lives in a world where hype sells and honestly thinks he can bring this style of deal making to the world diplomatic stage.

It doesn't matter that he has yet to strike a major trade deal of his own or that world leaders make fun of him.  Trump creates his own version of events and serves it up in easily digestible 140-character "news bites" to his following on twitter, which news networks then "retweet" to a much broader audience.  We are forced in turn to respond to these tweets as John Podesta was, fully knowing that it is an act of folly.

Team Trump works on the theory that they can bury any real story by getting the media to focus on their president's tweets.  How many people will ever know that the EU has signed these major trade agreements, looking all the more like the world's leading power broker, while the US slides backward in foreign standing.  

With these massive trade deals the EU will most likely surpass the US in terms of GDP and China will soon do the same.  At some point Trump will have to explain to his following why this is the case and he won't have John Podesta to fall back on.

Friday, July 7, 2017

First Date




At some point today, Trump and Putin will officially meet for the first time.  They already had the opportunity to shake hands, which looked rather uncomfortable, but then it always looks uncomfortable when forced to arm wrestle Trump.

The media is fawning over this meeting like parents would a wedding, although it is doubtful that any kind of lasting relationship is going to come from this first date.   Trump's advisers are hoping that their president doesn't make any major gaffe like Reagan almost did when he met Gorbacev in Reykjavik back in 1986.  Gorby was ready to put nukes on the table and Ronnie almost fell for it, ready to commit the US to a nuclear disarmament deal that was clearly not in the US's best interests.  Of course, the famous summit has since been rewritten otherwise.

Mostly, Vlad is looking for Donald to ease sanctions and let things return to business as usual between the two nuclear superpowers.  It seems that Donald would dearly love to lift sanctions, but the Senate is not so anxious to let the Kremlin off the hook on the election meddling charges.  Since the Senate bill is stalled in the House, there is still hope for Trump, who sees normalizing relations with Russia as a means of legitimizing his presidency by scoring his first big diplomatic victory.

No one seems to know quite what to make of Trump's second trip abroad.  The sharply critical Dan Rather was oddly complimentary of Trump's speech in Warsaw ahead of the G20 summit, whereas Morning Joe called the speech one of the worst presidential speeches he ever heard, although he credited Trump for finishing strong.

Trump pretty much regurgitated the conservative talking points over the last 70 years, albeit in his rough and tumble language.  There is very little to differentiate Trump's emerging foreign policy from his predecessors other than making an existential enemy out of the Islamic State.

Trump clearly sees Russia as an ally in his efforts to curb IS in Syria.  But, Russia, nee Soviet Union, has always been able to play both ends against the middle, especially in civil wars, which is why Trump's advisers and indeed Congress aren't too anxious to leave him alone with Putin for very long.  Trump has this habit of being easily turned by the last convincing argument he hears.

Trump so far appears lost in Germany.  He couldn't even find a good hotel in Hamburg, forced to stay at an German diplomatic guest house on the outskirts of town, which no doubt put him in a surly mood. French President Macron tried to make Trump feel less alone on the fringe of the group photo, as protocol puts the longest serving world leaders in the middle.

 The G20 summit offers numerous possibilities for all countries, as Angela Merkel intoned in her introduction.  With the summit on her home turf, she can to some degree set the agenda, and she has set it in a way that clearly doesn't favor Trump.  Whatever magic he plans to work he will have to do so on the sidelines as the major themes are global warming, women's rights and fair labor practices, all of which Trump has little interest in.

One can well imagine him firing over some angry tweets once he gets back to his guest house.  Trump is used to being the man at the center of events, not one reduced to the sidelines.  The only hope is that he gets some mileage out of his meeting with Putin, so he will have to make this moment count!


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Make Space Great Again



Maybe Trump actually wants to create a sex slave colony on Mars?  How else to explain this recent executive order.

This is an administration that has gutted its energy department, making it clear there is no room for science except when it comes to nukes.    Scott Pruitt has actually launched a program to formally challenge climate change science, and is in the process of dismantling the EPA as we know it.  This is the most anti-science administration since Reagan, who similarly went out of his way to eradicate the sustainable energy initiatives started under Jimmy Carter.  It's a wonder the solar panels are still on the roof of thee White House, but give Trump or Bannon or Rick Perry time to discover they are there.

Yet, Trump is rekindling the National Space Council, which was disbanded in 1993 over internal frictions between NASA and the NSC.  The Pere Bush and subsequent Clinton administrations decided to go with NASA.  But, the oddest thing is making Mike Pence chairman of the revived council, a man who has about as much interest in science as does Robert Davis Steele, who actually forced NASA to issue a response to his ludicrous claim that it had established a child sex slave colony on Mars.

In the Age of Trump it seems we are compelled to respond to any allegation no matter how absurd, as there are actually people out there who believe this shit and if you allow it to gather stench it can soon stink up the whole place.  Not that it does much good, as these idiots will believe what they want to believe.  Many still insist the moon landing was a hoax.  Yet, they think the government is covering up the existence of UFO's.

How the new space council will operate under Starship Fleet Captain Pence is anyone's guess?  The executive order offers no clue.  Most likely this will be a cynical way to funnel money to defense contractors under the guise of a "space program."   However, the Trump family could be looking for a quick exit if things turn out as bad as Stephen Hawking says, giving the green light to put Elon Musk's SpaceX program and Mars mission into warp speed.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Bollea v. Gawker




While I wouldn't call it Frontline, Netflix is putting out quite a number of documentaries worth watching, like Nobody Speak.  On the surface it sounds about as sensationalist as the case it explores, Bollea vs. Gawker.  Terry Bollea is better known as Hulk Hogan.  What made the story interesting is that Silicon billionaire Peter Thiel mysteriously covered Hogan's legal fees with the prime purpose of breaking Gawker.

The documentary splits time between two cases.  The other being Sheldon Adelson's mysterious buyout of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which the staff ended up investigating themselves as the new owners refused to identify themselves.  Both stories were driven by personal vendettas.  In the first case, Thiel had an ax to grind with Gawker for having outed him years before.  It didn't seem he wanted the world to know he is gay.  The second stems from a book one of the Review-Journal reporters wrote that cast Sheldon Adelson in an unfavorable light.  Both used their immense wealth to muffle the press.

Conservative media syndicates have been buying up local newspapers and television stations for decades, so it should come as no surprise that Sheldon Adelson would try to do the same.  While he is no Rupert Murdoch, he has bought newspapers in the US and Israel, largely to promote his personal interests.  He has been using his wealth to push his political agenda ever since he felt the Democrats abandoned Israel, and so now he casts his support behind whatever Republican candidate is the most pro-Israel.

The Adelson Primary became a spectator sport in the last election cycle, although it has yet to yield a winner.  In 2012 he backed Gingrich.  In 2016 he initially backed Lindsey Graham, but when he saw he had another loser on his hands he opened the floor to whoever made the best pitch, eventually backing Ted Cruz.  Here again he was upstaged by Hurricane Donald, who he reluctantly supported in the general election.

By contrast, Thiel was on board with Trump from the get go, quietly funding the Bollea v. Gawker case on the side, which ultimately bankrupted Gawker.  Of course many of us would say no big deal.  Gawker made its mark by going after disingenuous celebrities like Hogan, in this case a "sex tape."  These tapes were all the rage in the early 2000s and Gawker figured this was just Hogan looking to promote himself after his reality show failed.  Little did they know that lurking behind the scenes was a ghost from the past.

Peter Thiel had never forgiven Gawker for the 2007 story that outed him.  Nick Denton had also gone after Thiel's Silicon Valley deals in other incarnations of the on-line blog.  Thiel saw his opportunity and pounced.  What makes this particularly troubling is that Thiel's only purpose was to shut down Gawker.  He didn't care about Hogan. Who could?  He just wanted to destroy the infamous on-line rag.

This raises the thorny question regarding the first amendment, which is now under fire by no less than the President himself, who continues to insist that the mainstream news media is "fake."  Trump hit an emotional nerve on the campaign trail, often turning his audiences against the media, even to the point of singling out reporters like Katy Tur.  The director, Brian Knappenberger, connects Trump, Thiel and Adelson as part of a concerted effort to body slam the news media.

Ominously, this is a lot like what Putin did in Russia back in the early 2000s.  He didn't like the criticism he was getting from the Russian press over his handling of the Kursk submarine episode, the Moscow theater crisis, and the Beslan school tragedy, not to mention the ongoing war in Chechnya.  As a result, he essentially shut down the free press by using the iron grip of the federal tax service.  Within a matter of months all the major Russian news outlets found themselves under investigation for tax fraud, their top brass was purged and new executives put in place.  After that, Vlad has received mostly favorable press from Russian news services, until recently, forcing him to go through purges once again.

In typical American fashion the assault isn't coming so much from the White House, as it is from conservative media robber-barons determined to control the press and use it as a corporate propaganda tool.  If they can't buy out the major media outlets directly, they seek to undermine their credibility.   In the last 20 years, the last decade especially, we have seen the rise of alternative news networks aimed largely at an all-too-gullible conservative audience.

This is pretty much an extension of news syndicates like Gannett, which owns a staggering 100 daily newspapers and 1000 weekly newspapers around the country.  Syndicates like this essentially control the flow of information and promote their own syndicated columnists who provide local communities with easily digestible manufactured opinions that support their parent company.  The irony is that many conservative readers believe there is a liberal bias in the news media.  These conservative syndicates rely heavily on an audience that will take their word at face value.

Of course, none of this would have been possible had not Congress gutted the anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws in this country over the years, allowing for media syndicates to swallow up so many small city papers.

Thiel and Adelson are a bit different in that they are driven by personal vendettas.  Adelson's attack on the Las Vegas Review-Journal is particularly vicious as he went after one man -- John Smith.  The newspaper columnist had written a book on the gaming industry, which cast some of the casino owners in an unfavorable light.  Adelson sued Smith for defamation of character, at one point offering to cover the hospital expenses of Smith's daughter, who was being treated for a brain tumor, if only the journalist would admit to having defamed his character.  Smith was having none of it, and eventually won the case in court.  Adelson then went after the newspaper through his son-in-law.

Of course, the Internet levels the playing field to some degree as you don't need to worry about expensive printing costs, but still it takes money for a blog to generate a following and get the kind of clout many blogs now have.  You often see correspondents from HuffPost, Politico, Daily Beast and other powerful blogs on mainstream television outlets.   As a result, they have become targets, as we saw when BuzzFeed published the full dossier on Trump's "Deep Ties to Russia."

Blogs have a lot more latitude than traditional newspapers, but apparently not as much as they thought as was the case with Gawker.  Unfortunately, the documentary pretty much just scratches the surface, suggesting a lot of things, like the blogs themselves, without uncovering any deep ties.  This is why we continue to appreciate good journalism, as it forces us to reconsider an institution, as many of us saw in the movie Spotlight that told the story of the Boston Globe's investigation into the sex abuse surrounding the Catholic Church in the greater Boston area.

Just the same, Nobody Speak provides us food for thought.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Trump, Mika and Morning Joe


Trump on Morning Joe during happier times

Mika just may turn out to be Donald Trump's Monica.  It all seemed innocent enough at first, our president firing back some angry tweets after she and Morning Joe lit into Trump's latest embarrassing episode - fake Time covers hung in several of his country clubs.  No less than eight framed copies according to a Washington Post article, which also had our tweeting president fuming.  But, the whole thing got ratcheted up a notch when he vented on Joe Scarborough, Mika's paramour, bragging that Joe begged him to stop a National Enquirer article that threatened to expose his illicit love affair with Mika.

Not that it was exactly secret.  SNL had already spoofed their on-screen romance, but apparently Joe and Mika weren't quite ready to go public so the White House thought it would put a little pressure on them to ease off on their attacks.  Joe apparently decided his journalistic integrity was at stake here and said, fuck it, go ahead, make my day, or words to that effect, so the NE article ran.

To make matters worse, Mika looked just fine New Year's Eve, the infamous night in question.  Not only had she had a successful nip/tuck to get rid of her "turkey neck" but Trump was apparently complimenting her on it all night, as were others at his gala event.  This Vanity Fair article goes into more detail if you feel the need to explore the subject deeper.

What makes this nasty episode particularly interesting is that when the Time cover story broke, Trump threatened Jeff Bezos with "internet taxes" for allowing his paper to publish such "fake stories."  Yep, amazon owns the Washington Post.  Bezos bought it for $250 million back in 2013 and has revitalized the paper into a national force.

It doesn't matter that amazon already pays sales taxes in all 50 states, Trump was ready to impose an "internet tax" as he felt amazon didn't pay enough.  Either that or he wasn't aware that such federal "internet taxes" don't exist.  Probably the latter, once again demonstrating how terribly misinformed he is.

Republican leaders did take pause, but Paul Ryan and others offered the same faint reprimands they did for Trump's previous sexist comments and blatant ignorance.  Very few were willing to speak out, I guess worried they might face the wrath of the National Enquirer or worse an angry twitter tirade.  This left it up to Ana Navarro to launch one of the most virulent attacks on the "Lunatic Man Baby" on mainstream television.  Ms. Navarro is a Republican strategist, having worked for Jeb Bush, John McCain and Jon Huntsman.

So why are Republicans so sanguine about Trump's brutal misogyny?  It's understandable that Elaine Chao would be reticent given that she is a member of his cabinet, but Condoleeza Rice has no such close relations and continues to give Trump a free pass.  It's moved beyond language, Condi, to actual threats of intimidation, and that's putting it kindly.

It is easy to see why James Comey and others were nervous when they confronted Trump because this is a guy who will resort to whatever means it takes to get his way.  The events of June 28-30 were bad in themselves but ominously point to a pattern of behavior that fully justifies Comey's concerns, which he presented at Senate hearings earlier this month.  Remember that?  Trump appears to have channeled Tony Soprano and is running the White House like a New Jersey criminal den.

At what point do Republican leaders say enough is enough?  Democratic Congresspersons are already looking to the 25th amendment as a way to remove Trump from the White House, as it does appear he is mentally unfit to continue as president.  An elementary school teacher wouldn't allow such behavior in her classroom, why should we accept it in the White House?

Unfortunately, there is an underbelly in America that seems just fine with the President's angry tweets, more upset that Julie Banderas has the audacity to question their "Pres" than they are Ronna McDaniel, the RNC chairwoman, who defended Trump in this recent Fox News segment.

So, it doesn't matter that our president is a serial misogynist, or has no idea how our tax system works or sees the White House as the Bada Bing!   Anything goes in the minds of a substantial portion of the Republican Party because he still "stands for our values," whatever they might be at this point.  Condoleeza Rice, Elaine Chao and Ronna McDaniel should all be deeply embarrassed and hurt that they have to issue such statements to defend our "Lunatic Man Baby" in the White House.