Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Never Learn Not to Love

Lost in all the attention given Manson upon his death at 83, is the fate of Leslie Van Houten, who for the second year in a row has been granted parole but awaits a final decision by Gov. Jerry Brown.  Last year, he rescinded her parole.

Like the other "Manson girls," Van Houten has spent virtually her entire adult life behind bars for committing murders orchestrated by Manson.  It was widely understood that the girls had been effectively brainwashed by the charismatic cult figure, but were held accountable for their own actions in a court of law.  She and Patricia Kerwinkel, who was denied parole, have each spent over 40 years in the California penal system, able to escape the death penalty thanks to a 1972 decision by the state supreme court, which declared capital punishment unconstitutional.  The other "Manson girl," Susan Atkins, died in prison in 2009.

There were other Manson girls, notably Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, who tried to kill President Gerald Ford years later, but they weren't involved in the multiple homicides of 1969 that shocked the nation.  Linda Kasabian avoided jail time by serving as the state's key witness against Manson, "Tex" Watson, and the three "girls" who were directly involved in the murders.

If Manson was such a domineering figure and Watson his hulking "right hand," what choice did these girls really have?  He very quickly sold them out in an effort to gain his own freedom, claiming they committed the murders of their own free will, and even pushing for a mistrial when Nixon made the huge blunder of weighing in on his case.  This soon led the girls and Tex Watson to turn against Manson, but little good it did them in the eyes of the court.

The "girls" didn't stand a chance, especially the way they so proudly paraded themselves before cameras during the trial.  America wanted them hanged, and would have gotten its way had not the California Supreme Court stepped in.  But, all these years later, few Americans even know who the "Manson girls" are, much less care, which makes you wonder why Van Houten and Kerwinkel are still in prison.  Many other killers have gained parole for equally horrendous crimes.  Gov. Brown has released 80% of convicted murderers eligible for parole, but not Van Houten.  This is the price the girls pay for being involved in one of the most sensational murder sprees in American history.

It also doesn't help that NBC recently aired Aquarius, which referenced the Manson family.  I only watched the first episode which I found very dry.  Manson was more a fringe figure, haunting the troubled detective Sam Hodiak, as he tried to make sense of all the killings taking place in LA.  Murders spiked in 1967, the year Manson formed his family, and continued to grow through the remainder of the 60s.  The local police used a mole to infiltrate the drug scene that Hodiak believed was breeding these killers.  However, the murder rate was even higher in the 70s an 80s when the Manson family was safely behind bars.

This year, Manson played a prominent role in American Horror Story: Cult, serving as the inspiration for the cult leader Kai Anderson, both played by Evan Peters.  Kasabian was portrayed as selling out Manson.  Van Houten, Atkins and Kerwinkel were only briefly mentioned by name.

Over the years there have been many other movies and television shows which depicted or were inspired by the Manson family.  Numerous rock bands have covered his songs, and Marilyn Manson even took his name from him.  Charles Manson had to enjoy the irony of this given it has been largely theorized that the Beach Boys' song, "Never Learn Not to Love," is responsible for sending him over the edge.

As the story goes, Manson had approached Dennis Wilson with his songs, and got him to listen to "Cease to Exist."  Wilson apparently didn't think much of it, although not a bad song.  A few months later "Never Learn Not to Love" pitched up on the B-side of "Bluebirds on the Mountain."  It was apparent not only to Manson that this was a reworked version of "Cease to Exist," especially given the title is directly taken from the song, but no credit was given to him.  Initially, Manson tried to sue the Beach Boys, but when that failed his "family" made off with about $100 grand of Dennis' gold records and Mercedes Benz.  The following August, the Manson family went on a rampage, leaving seven persons dead including Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger and the LaBiancas in two separate incidents.

Atkins and Kerwinkel were involved in both multiple murders.  Van Houten was only involved in the killings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, replacing Kasabian who had previously lost her nerve.  The Manson girls tried to make it look like something "witchy," with copious amounts of blood smeared across the walls, and "death to pigs" spelled out on one of the walls.  This became the subject of a Nine Inch Nails song, "The Downward Spiral," showing once again how the murders captivated the public's morbid curiosity.  However, it was no more than a drug-fueled killing orgy inspired by a frustrated songwriter.

So why do we keep giving Manson so much credit all these years later?  And, why do we continue to make Kerwinkel and Van Houten, or for that matter Tex Watson, now an ordained minister, pay for his crimes?  They were merely his foot soldiers, so high on hallucinogenic drugs they probably had no real idea what they were doing those nights.  It's understandable Manson would be given a life sentence without parole, which he seemed to enjoy, but why his followers?  Surely, Leslie Van Houten can finally be given a reprieve.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Say it isn't so, Al

Or Men Behaving Badly

Our dear President had no problem attacking "Al Frankenstein" on twitter, but offered no words of condemnation for his buddy down in Alabama, Roy Moore.   Maybe it is as Trump says, the picture "speaks a thousand words," but so does an audio tape, in which Trump was caught admitting many of the same things to Billy Bush.

Supposedly Al's groping was meant in jest, being a former comedian, but it wasn't taken that way by Leeann Tweeden, nor was the big wet one he planted on her at a USO tour in Afghanistan.  Al immediately apologized after Ms. Tweeden exposed him, something Trump has never really done.  The Artful Dodger minced words back on the campaign trail before trying once again to turn the issue to Bill Clinton's past indiscretions.  I suppose this is why Leeann is forgiving Al, but Trump's accusers are still waiting for their day in court.

Even more interesting is a recent HuffPost/YouGov survey that found that Donald Trump voters are more likely to believe allegations of sexual abuse leveled against Bill Clinton than they are their President.  The gap is staggering -- 84 per cent as opposed to 6.  This despite Trump's numerous admissions to Howard Stern and Billy Bush, among others.  There is a gap among Hillary Clinton voters as well but not as extreme -- 53 to 83.  Trump and Hillary voters are relatively evenly split on Harvey Weinstein.

No wonder Alabama voters appear to be brushing aside the accusations against Roy Moore, at least among Evangelicals, who continue to support Moore by a staggering 73 per cent.  Some would call this hypocrisy, others would call it political expediency.  Evangelicals know how Moore will vote on issues dear to them.  They're not so sure about Doug Jones.  However, Alabamans in general appear to be turning toward Jones in the closing weeks of this brutal campaign, as he at least represents a decency they would like to see projected on their state, not a twice-deposed judge who liked to solicit teenage girls in shopping malls and restaurants.

The charges against Moore are pretty damning.  Although still in question, one woman claimed she was responsible for getting Moore banned from the Gadsden Mall in the late 1970s after numerous solicitations of teenage girls.  The former judge hotly denies this and other allegations, and now claims his missive in a woman's yearbook from the 1970s is forged.  If nothing else, cast doubt on the allegations since there are no pictures to "speak a thousand words."

For his part, Trump is willing to give Moore a pass, in part because he has shown a predilection for teenage girls himself, which also came out on the campaign trail last year.  Trump faced numerous charges of sauntering into the Miss Teen USA dressing room, although he only admitted to peeking in on the Miss USA dressing room to Howard Stern.

"Al Frankenstein" on the other hand is an easy target, because Al has been pretty harsh on Donald, and Trump saw this as an opening to exploit, especially if he could help his buddy Roy out by deflecting sexual abuse charges to another Senator.  I assume Alabamans know that Moore is not running against Franken.

It seems GOP strategists weren't able to get any dirt on Doug Jones, so they decided to expand the territory.  Or, they just figured if they lost the Alabama Senate seat they could get a Democrat ousted in turn.  Franken will go through an ethics probe on his own volition, but it is doubtful he will be expelled.

However if Moore is somehow able to survive this election, how will he be treated in the Senate?  At that point Franken may indeed be the sacrificial Democratic lamb to Moore's predatory wolf.   This in turn will open Congress to further inquiry on the subject, as it is highly doubtful other members haven't groped or solicited women in the halls.  At that point, everyone will be fair game.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Center Will Not Hold

A few years back, Everyman's Library came out with a collection of Joan Didion's essays entitled We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live.  Many of her essays were available on the Internet so I took a pass, but after watching the recent Netflix biography by her nephew Griffin Dunne the book is on my Christmas wishlist.

It was touching documentary, as Dunne probed his aunt's private life, which he was privy to.  Joan had a way of finding the essence of a story that few journalists are able to do.  This was true of her early work in California as well as her later work in New York.  She was one of the few journalists to see that the boys accused of killing the Central Park jogger in 1989 were innocent, turning her famous essay into a mediation on race and privilege in New York.  It is one of the themes her nephew explores in the film.

Decades earlier, Didion had captured the pulse of the hippie generation in LA, culminating in the murder of Sharon Tate.  Her White Album focused on Nancy Kasabian, who sold out the Manson clan.  It must have been a very difficult essay to write, as she grew quite intimate with Kasabian, helping her to pick out a dress for her trial, and engaging in domestic banter far removed from the heinous crimes the young woman was involved in.  It is from the opening sentence of this essay that the title of the Everyman's Library collection comes from.

As it turns out, many of her essays are still available on-line, a testament to her lasting power.  Anna Wintour notes in the documentary that Joan not only had the unique ability to find the kernal of a story but was an impeccable craftsperson as well.  Anna learned much of her craft from Joan at Vogue back in the early 60s, one of the few to survive the tough editor.

It was at Vogue that Joan honed her talents, writing essays that went far beyond fashion and cosmetics.  She met John Gregory Dunne in New York.  He wanted a change in 1964 and they came out to the West Coast to begin life anew, at least for him, as she was a California pioneer's daughter from Sacramento.  They made their homestead in Malibu, and also rented a huge house in LA, perfect for Hollywoodesque parties that stretched to the early morning hours.  She became a celebrity herself thanks to the many stories she wrote that pulled the veil off the glamorous life, culminating in perhaps her most famous collection of essays, Slouching Toward Bethlehem.

Over the years, her personal bibliography grew to include novels, movie scripts and even a theater adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking, starring Vanessa Redgrave, who similarly had to deal with grief in the loss of her daughter Natasha.  Joan and Vanessa grew quite close, as seen in the documentary.

It's a poignant biography of Joan, showing how time has softened the edges but you can still feel the toughness inside her at 82.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Ultimatum

or Covfefe Anyone?

You know things are getting dicey if Sean Hannity issues an ultimatum to Roy Moore to come clean on the allegations that he propositioned teenagers while Assistant District Attorney of Etowah County, Alabama.  Sean had been one of the Ten Commandments Judge's staunchest defenders. but when the former judge's wife used a five-month old letter to show her husband still had the support of 53 pastors, even Hannity had to wonder what was going on here.

Allegations broke last week when the Washington Post ran a story on the former judge's numerous solicitations to minors.  He was an assistant DA back then, but apparently liked the suffix DA so much he used it to sign a girl's yearbook.  The former judge tried to write it off as a smear campaign, but even his good friends at Breitbart were unable to refute the stories, leaving the judge to answer for himself.  Things went downhill from there.  Still, Sean was willing to buy the former judge's version of events.

Then came the backlash, not just against Roy Moore but against Sean Hannity.  Sponsors began pulling their ads, including Keurig coffee maker, which proved an easy target for Sean.  He exhorted his viewers to take their wrath out on Keurig machines on social media.  Surprisingly, Keurig buckled and began running ads again, which made Sean feel like a million bucks.  That euphoria was short lived, however, as Sean was finally forced to admit there might be something to all these allegations that had piled up during the week.

If all this makes about as much sense as Trump's infamous covfefe tweet, join the club.

Hannity has found himself up against a wall, similar to the time he defended Cliven Bundy.  Just about everyone wants Moore to drop out of the race.  The US Senate threatened to expel him if he wins the special election, but Judge Roy still refuses to back down.  This puts Republicans in a tough bind as well as they now stand to lose a Senate seat to the Democrats if Doug Jones does the unthinkable and wins in December.

This was considered a very safe seat until Moore upset Luther Strange in the primaries.  Luther has his own problems, but they are much easier to reconcile than soliciting 14-year-old girls.  Even Stephen Bannon didn't see this one coming, as he was banking on a Moore insurgent win as the first step in his take-over of the Republican Party.  Bannon had vowed to run insurgent candidates against all the incumbent Republican senators.  He might want to vet them more closely in the future.

As for Sean, he hopes to make a silk purse out of sow's ear, turning what had been his questionable defense of Roy Moore into a crusade against him, but few are buying it.  He dug another hole for himself and like Moore will have to dig himself out of it on his own.  This time there might not be a Keurig coffee maker waiting for him in the break room.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Old Lunatic

The last stop on Trump's really big trip through Asia saw him in Manila for the ASEAN summit hosted by the Philippines.  For a guy who said "ixnay" to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP as it was called, it is easy to see why he was at great pains to participate in the group handshake among Southeast Asian leaders.

It was a rough trip for the Donald, thirteen days all together, putting him in contact with a number of world leaders he probably had no idea existed before.  He was even forced to visit Vietnam, which he went out of his way to avoid as a young man.  Yet, here he was getting a hero's welcome.  God knows why Vietnamese should be so enthralled with Trump.  Maybe they are big Apprentice fans?

Elsewhere, Trump is not so popular.  Only 17 per cent of South Koreans expressed confidence in his world leadership, as opposed to 88 per cent who were confident with Obama.  This is largely due to his handling of North Korea.  He was astonishingly quiet in Seoul.  I guess he didn't want to give away his GPS location to the "Rocket Man," while in his missile range.

Trump got a very warm welcome in China.  He was so impressed by President Xi  that he blamed his Oval Office predecessors for the trade deficit, being the bad negotiators that they were.  Who wouldn't take advantage of bad deals like that?  Later, Tillerson tried to clarify the president's comments, saying he was just making light of the situation.

In Vietnam, Trump could no longer hold himself in on Kim Jong Un.   He didn't take kindly to being called an "old lunatic" while in South Korea, but that is exactly how he appeared on this trip.  He used Vietnam as an opportunity to briefly meet with Putin, and accepted the Russian leader's claim that his country played no role in the 2016 US election hackings, referring to the ongoing investigation as a "Democratic hit job." 

This, of course, led to a flurry of condemnation among Republicans and Democrats alike, leading Trump to rephrase his comments in Manila.  He now said that he thought Putin genuinely believed his government played no role in the hacking, but that he still supported his intelligence community.  "Fake News" wasn't buying it though, leading many pundits to speculate as to what Putin holds in his hand to make Trump so acquiescent anytime these two meet.

It seems all these foreign leaders have learned that flattery is the best policy when confronting Donald Trump, except Kim Jong Un of course.  For his part, Rodrigo Duterte  sang him a song uring a lavish dinner, apparently at the President's request.  Trump has shown a lot of admiration for Manila's strongman and other Asian autocrats, no doubt wishing he had that kind of authority in America.  Instead, he has to deal with a pesky Congress that continues to question his leadership.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Democrats' Big Day!

Say hello to Danica Roem, Virgina's newest House of Delegates member

Maybe it took Trumpism to rattle Dems enough to get to the polls.  They turned up in big numbers in Virginia, New Jersey, Maine and cities across the country, where Democratic candidates won big.  It wasn't even close in the closely watched governor's election in Virginia.  The milquetoast Lt. Gov. Northam pummeled the insurgent Ed Gillespie, who went all in on Trumpism.  Not only that but Dems did extremely well in state assembly elections and are on the verge of taking back the House of Delegates.  They are only two seats short with five to be recounted.

The most interesting race in Virginia was between Danica Roem and Bob Marshall, the incumbent Republican.  Marshall is an avowed homophobe who sponsored a "bathroom bill" in the assembly, only to lose to a transgender woman.  A record number women ran for office in Virginia and at least 25 Democratic women took assembly seats.

Donald Trump was quick to distance himself from the debacle, calling Gillespie a lousy candidate after publicly endorsing him on election day.   Even the GOP bemoaned this as a repudiation of Trumpism.  His toxic image has turned off suburban voters in the state.

Trumpism didn't fair any better in New Jersey where Phil Murphy easily defeated the Republican challenger Mary Guadagno, although you can probably blame the highly unpopular Chris Christie just as much.  Republicans never had a chance in the state, which is why there was so little national attention.  Still, Guadagno dragged out all the appalling Trumpian tactics hoping to turn a few votes her way.

Despite all the criticism de Blasio has taken, he scored an easy win over Nicole Malliotakis in NYC.  Democrats won big in cities across the country.  Democratic women scored victories in Seattle, Charlotte, Manchester and will run off against each other in Atlanta.

Republicans have to be shaking their heads, especially in Virginia, where they saw a 66-34 House majority evaporate before their eyes.  If the Democrats flip Virginia this will be a huge victory.  Right now it is looking like a 50-50 split.

It is all rather amazing given the Democrats haven't been doing well in soliciting money and didn't seem to have a clear ground game.  Northam was widely seen as vulnerable heading into the election, especially after he flipped on sanctuary cities.  As it turns out, Virginia doesn't have any sanctuary cities, so it was pretty much a moot point.

Whatever momentum the New York truck attack might have given Republicans, the Texas church shooting had to weigh much heavier on voters' minds.  Phil Murphy made guns a big issue in his state, proposing a gun tax among other gun control measures.  Ralph Northam had similarly pushed tighter gun controls in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting.  Like Trump, the NRA is now seen as a liability in swing states.

In Maine, health care was a big issue with a referendum on Medicaid expansion.  The vote on Tuesday negated Gov. LePage veto of the bill.  A bruising loss for the staunchly conservative governor and avid Trump supporter.

All of the sudden, the special election in Alabama looks interesting, as conservative voters appear to be abandoning the Republican party.  Doug Jones is polling well in the race for Jeff Sessions vacated Senate seat.   A Fox Poll had him even with Roy Moore, aka the Ten Commandments Judge, as of October 18.

This eradicates whatever momentum the Republicans had from the Congressional House special elections back in June, which Trump referred to in his tweets.  Even in Georgia, Democrats made gains in the House of Delegates, and have been chipping away at state assemblies across the country.

Knowing that Trump's instinct is always to double down, this does not bode well for Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections.  They clearly have an albatross around their necks in the President, who continues to make a fool of himself at home and abroad.  He could get a bump if the Republicans are able to push the "Cuts Cuts Cuts Act" through Congress, but the overall consensus is that this bill would add trillions to the national deficit without giving average Americans much in the way of tax relief, thanks to the new tax brackets the bill proposes.

It seems voters are becoming much more circumspect in the wake of Trump's big win last November, no longer trusting him or the Republicans to do anything in their best interest.  The Bushes recently came out against Trump, opening up the fault line in the GOP.  With Hillary now out of the picture there is even less reason for Republicans to stick with Trump or the brand of politics he promotes.

Americans are looking for new leadership across the board. The pressure is on Democrats to deliver in key states so that Congressional candidates will have something to extol in the midterms.  This is a golden opportunity to take back Congress, rendering Trump irrelevant for the remainder of his term, assuming he even lasts out the term.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Japan loves Ivanka

Trump not so much

Ivanka Trump told reporters she is ready to take over for her father should he decide to step down before his term is over.  President Trump offered no response to his daughter's strange announcement other than to say she would make an excellent president.

This followed a number of odd comments by the President during his tour of Japan.  Earlier he had pleaded with Prime Minister Abe, whom he called President Abe, to build Japanese cars in America.  When told by PM Abe that Toyota produced over 2 million cars last year in North America, President Trump simply murmured, oh.  President Trump also said he was astonished by the number of countries in the world when addressing a banquet the first evening.  Who knew?

Mr. Trump also seemed visibly agitated by the prospect of feeding goldfish, or koi as they are called in Japan.  He followed the Prime Minister in scattering a couple spoonfuls into the pond and then simply dumped the rest of the contents in the wood box, patting the Prime Minister on the back afterward as if to say, good job.

Ms. Kushner, nee Trump, seems equally confused by the customs of Japan, thinking Japanese anime was an appropriate precedent for skirt lengths when addressing a conference with the President, er Prime Minister of Japan.  All though, I must say she looked stunning in her Japanese-inspired floral dress, created by Italian designer Johanna Ortiz.  "Kudos, baby," said her father.

By contrast, the First Lady Melania Trump opted for a concentration camp blue dress, designed by Christian Dior no less, when visiting an elementary school with the Japanese First Lady.  I don't know if she was paying tribute to the American POWs held in Japan during WWII, or simply thought it was the appropriate attire for young children.

The Trumps will continue their Asian tour in South Korea, but not before a friendly game of golf with the Prime Minister.  Someone should brief the President that Hyundai also makes cars in America so as not to make another miscue in Seoul.  As for Ivanka, she might want to add to her hemline as South Korea is even more conservative than Japan.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Time to look in the mirror

One of the things about living in America is that one mass killing quickly cancels out another.  It had been less than a week before Devin Kelley obliterated any memory of the New York truck attack by venting his rage on a rural church between LaVernia and Stockdale, Texas.   Our President was quick with prayers, but he isn't blaming Greg "Wheels" Abbott for allowing such a heinous crime to happen on his home turf, unlike his twitter attacks on Chuck Schumer last week.  Instead, he considers the Sutherland Springs church attack a "mental health problem."

It was also interesting the local police were slow to name Kelley, as if they wanted us to imagine for a moment it could be another ISIS attack.  After all, former Texas Governor Rick Perry had long been warning us of terrorists spilling over the Mexican border.  Turns out Devin Kelley is entirely homegrown and served in the military, but was court-martialled in 2012 for assaulting his wife and child.  Seems like things pretty much went downhill from there.

We can expect little outcry from conservatives, just talk of another lone gunman having lost his marbles.  It doesn't matter that this guy was dressed in full tactical gear, unloading his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle on the church.  Probably even had a notorious bump stock on it to increase the firing rate.  The NRA has voiced some concern with these bump stocks, but it is little more than a ploy to turn away our attention from the more than 5 million assault rifles in circulation since the ban was lifted in 2004.

The zombie-killing rifle has become a favorite of weekend warriors, but all too often ends up in the wrong hands.  It is the closest thing to a military-grade automatic weapon you can get your hands on legally, and has been behind the most lethal mass shootings in American history.  However, it is highly doubtful you will hear any talk of renewing the ban on Capitol Hill.  At best, we can hope for a ban on bump stocks, not that it will make one iota of difference.

What galls me is not so much the widespread availability of these guns but how conservatives turn the other way when one of their own is behind the shootings.  These same blowhards want to end the diversity visa lottery program and ban Muslims from entering the country whenever a deranged individual like Sayfullo Saipov decides to vent his anger.

Like Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas, there was little to suggest Saipov was a dangerous man.  Law enforcement agents say it appears he acted alone.  Whatever relationship he had with ISIS was one he invented for himself.  ISIS was slow to take credit for the attack, but then they are mired down in their own battles in Iraq and Syria to take notice until the damage is done.

These incidents point to something far more insidious than outside agents.  Mass shootings occur almost daily in America.  Nearly 900 persons have been killed in gun violence since Stephen Paddock's assault on Las Vegas.  This is a major epidemic, yet our government at both the federal and state level refuses to recognize it, unless of course the attacker is a Muslim.

The United States has literally become a war zone with more than 17,000 persons reported killed in 2016, and we are well on pace to match that number this year.  Murder rates in small towns have significantly increased over the years, showing this is a problem that goes well beyond the notorious inner cities of Chicago and Detroit, which Trump vilified on the campaign trail in 2016.

Firearms are now so widely available that any attempt to curb their sales would have little impact.  One can try to limit the amount of ammunition available, but this would only lead to gun enthusiasts stockpiling ammo until such laws were passed.  Bump stocks sold out within a week when talk of banning them surfaced in the wake of the Mandalay Bay Massacre.

The odd part is that the number of Americans owning firearms has actually declined over the years, which means firearms are becoming consolidated in fewer hands.  The average gun-owning family now has no less than six firearms in their household.  Little wonder kids have so easy access to them.  If all this isn't enough to make your head spin, I don't know what will.  However, most Americans appear inured to the violence until it happens in their school or church.

We prefer scapegoats like Sayfullo Saipov rather than homegrown products like Stephen Paddock and Devin Kelley, so we can easily blame immigration as the problem.  Yet, the vast majority of these mass killings are carried out by white Americans.  Woe be it to blame ourselves.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

What a Week!

The White House has become a dysfunctional family sitcom, kind of like Homer Simpson in the Oval Office.  Trump's minions have tried their best to cover for him.  Gen. Kelly attacked Frederica Wilson's account of the phone call Trump had with Myeshia Johnson.  Sarah Huckabee defended Gen. Kelly in turn, telling us we have no right to question generals, as if they are the ultimate authority on all matters, including the Civil War.  But, according to the creator of Dilbert, Trump is more than capable of handling his own with his never-ending supply of "linguistic kill shots."

Scott Adams has arisen from nowhere to become an expert of sorts because he predicted Trump would "win bigly" with a probability of 98% back in November, claiming Nate Silver only gave the Donald a 2% chance.  For the record, Nate gave Trump a 28.6% chance of winning, which he got chastised for being too high.  No matter, Scott Adams used his best "persuasion" skills to convince a doe-eyed Smerconish how right he was then and now about Trump.

Adams, like Michael Moore, think we are badly misjudging Trump's persuasion skills.   He feels Trump has his finger on the pulse of America and knows how to play the country better than anyone.  It is hard to fault him since Donald won, but did Trump really pull this off on his own?

I liked Michael Stipe's take back in November 2016.  Americans weren't being racist, he said, but voting to "smash the machine."  Trump was the equivalent of the guy running for homecoming queen and the university students thought what the fuck, why not!  All those insults, or linguistic kill shots as Dilbert calls them, reduced the playing field to Donald Trump's level.  The more Hillary was touted as the most qualified candidate ever for the job, the more voters were willing to accept the Trump campaign's "Crooked Hillary" narrative.

In voters' minds, the system was rigged.  Donald pointed this out on numerous occasions, boasting that if he lost Pennsylvania, a key blue state, then you knew the Democrats had bought the election.  As it turned out Donald not only won Pennsylvania but Michigan and Wisconsin too, cementing his incredible upset.

Was all this clever stagecraft, as Dilbert and Moore suggest, or just being in the right place at the right time as Michael Stipe suggests?  Probably a little of both, but if there was any clever wizard here, it was most likely Stephen Bannon,  the man behind the curtain in this campaign who no doubt came up with most of the linguistic kill shots Trump effectively deployed.

Whatever the case, we are now stuck with Trump.  The news media counts the days on the wall like an inmate would his jail time, only in this case the situation is reversed.  It is Donald who is holding us all hostage with his endless stream of tweets.  A great panic was created when some disgruntled Twitter employee temporarily deleted the realDonaldTrump account.  The real question should be why does Trump still have a personal account after repeatedly violating twitter user policy, not how this outgoing employee was able to purge the account himself?  But, this is the perverted reality show Donald Trump's White House has become.  We seem to enjoy living in this prison we created for ourselves.

When has the media ever had more fun bashing a President?  I suppose they are trying to make life in the White House as miserable for Donald Trump as they feel he has for Americans.  There's a literal "whack-a-mole" game going on as the White House continues to try to find the moles divulging all the discord going on inside, which Trump continues to deny in his tweets and Sarah in her press conferences.  But, are we really that miserable?

If we are enjoying this White House sitcom, even in a perverse way, it will come to an end, as all sitcoms do, except maybe the Simpsons, which had predicted Trump long before Dilbert or Michael Moore did.

The only question is how low will Trump sink the White House before he is ousted from the Oval Office.  Many of us would like to think Robert Mueller has the silver bullet, but more likely we will be forced to endure Donald for the remainder of his term.  It's like we are trapped inside the television set with Homer Simpson, having to endure all those puerile jokes and pranks again and again and again.

These "linguistic kill shots" proved to be an effective campaign tool, but they haven't served in anyway to deflect our attention away form Donald Trump during his presidency.  They've only showed how truly incompetent he is, as his tweets affected the Bowe Bergdahl case and may undermine the case against the New York truck attacker, Sayfullo Saipov.  Similarly, he is again mouthing off at Jeff Sessions, which may lead to long overdue obstruction of justice charges being brought against him.  At the very least, a gag order, which may finally result in the deletion of his twitter account.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tails you lose

Papa John is blaming $70 million in third quarter losses on the NFL.  He claims the anthem protests have cut into his business, and is now re-evaluating his sponsorship.  This isn't the first time Papa John has used controversial issues to explain quarterly losses.   However, his arguments are usually pretty thin, as Pizza Hut pointed out.

Pizza has become the latest thing to be politicized in the Age of Trump, as Schnatter tries to once again leverage his business capital on a highly divisive issue.  I suppose he thinks he can court more customers from right wing conservatives.  However, this publicity stunt may cost him left wing liberals.  Little Caesars is being pitched as the liberal alternative to Papa Johns, when it was discovered that its owner, Mitch Ilitch, had been quietly paying Rosa Parks rent and supporting a number of other liberal causes all these years.

Pizza is a staple of football games whether fresh or frozen.  DiGiornio has similarly said it has seen no fall off in sales during the protests.  Papa John was quick to retort that frozen pizzas aren't in the same league with his pizza, but that's a pretty flat argument given that Schnatter's pizzas aren't exactly top of the line.  If you want a good pizza you go with your local pizzeria, not some chain pizza.  This is simply about sating hunger during the game.

Most likely, Papa Johns is looking for any leverage to renegotiate its NFL sponsorship to help offset its slumping sales.  Schnatter is worth a reported $880 million.  Maybe if the board cut CEO pay and perks it could balance the ledger sheet?

It is doubtful the NFL will give into Schnatter.  So far, it has seen little reaction from corporate sponsors to the anthem protests.  Now that Trump has tired of his twitter attacks, the NFL appears to have weathered the storm and will ride out the year having suffered little damage.  Their biggest worry at the moment is settling a grievance suit by Colin Kaepernick, as it looks more and more like the owners colluded to freeze him out of the league.

With so many quarterback injuries in the NFL, you would think teams would be interested in Kaepernick.   The latest injury was the highly talented rookie Deshaun Watson, who put on quite a show in Seattle last weekend, only to tear his ACL in practice during the week.  No chance Houston Texans owner will take on Kaepernick, as he was more than willing to unload the vocal Duane Brown to the Seahawks for future draft picks, rather than put up with an unruly all-pro lineman on his team.

I think the protests could be settled quite easily if a) the NFL allowed Kaepernick back into the league and b) addressed the issues the players are raising with their anthem protests in a meaningful way.  As it stands now, the NFL is headed toward a players strike if it doesn't make more of an effort to accommodate the players' concerns.  Then it will really be bad for business all the way around, not just Papa John.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Upside Down

If I was a conspiracy theorist I would be jumping all over this track attack in New York City.  The timing couldn't be more suspicious -- one day after two indictments were handed down to Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and an associate of his, Rick Gates.  It's long been known that Manafort had ties to Russia, notably in advising former Ukranian President Yanukovych, who was supported by the Kremlin.  In fact, it was this money trail that tipped off investigators, as Manafort never reported the millions he had received in payments from Yanukovych as an "image consultant."  

Not that they come as much of a surprise, but the indictments have put a lot of unwanted attention on the White House and what better than to create a little diversion to get persons to look the other way again.  Trump was quick to tweet on the truck attack,

It's like something ripped out of the script of last season's Homeland, where a similar truck attack was used to turn attention on unwanted Muslim immigrants living in America.  Eventually, the truck attack was linked to a shady set of ties between rogue CIA operatives and a right-wing radio host.  Interestingly enough, the series also delved into the use of trolls and bots to spread fake news stories through social media, very much like what Russia is being accused of in this past election.

Who is to say who ordered this truck attack.  I'm sure ISIS will take credit for it soon enough, but then they also took credit for the Las Vegas shooting, claiming they had "flipped" Paddock.  More likely, the attacks were motivated by events closer to home, and if I want to play armchair conspiracy theorist, orchestrated by some "sick and deranged" right-wing news editor like Stephen Bannon, hoping to deflect attention away from the ongoing investigations, now that it has hit close to home.

Bannon is certainly capable of anything, including providing a conduit for Russian news sites to funnel their fake stories through American social media.  Not that they would have needed much help, since RT, or Russia Today, already has an enormous audience worldwide.  Still, the aim was to direct these "news stories" to specific viewing audiences and Bannon would have been the man to do this.

What I also find odd about many of these terrorists is that they hail from former Soviet states like Uzbekistan or repressed Russian provinces like Chechnya.  It seems that Russia not only funnels fake news stories but also terrorists abroad to help shake things up in the Western world.  I suppose they see this as a form of payback for the sanctions the West has leveled on Russia.

So, we have this guy sitting in Paterson, NJ, just waiting for a call and it comes on Monday.  There's a truck waiting for you at Home Depot in your name, pick it up and see how many persons you can take out on a busy street or bike path in New York.  Who knows where the call came from or if he got some message via the Internet.  Completely untrackable, so he will go down as just another "sick and deranged person" who happened to be of Muslim descent with an ax to grind.  Trump wasted no time assigning blame for the attack, hatching his own conspiracy theory thanks to his "friends" at Fox.  By the end of the week few persons will be talking about the indictments that were handed down on Monday.

This is the cynical world we live in where fact and fiction have become interchangeable and can be easily manipulated through television and the social media.  I would like to think that Robert Mueller is up to the task of sorting all this out, but he is "old school," and those rules no longer apply in a world that now seems "upside down."