Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Died Like a Dog

It seems we are all supposed to sing Hosanna in the Highest now that Trump has killed the notorious Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  He gave a 48-minute speech honoring his great achievement, an achievement like the United States has never known, least not since the killing of Osama bin Laden.  In his declaration, he provided gruesome details of the infamous ISIS leader's death, claiming he "died like a dog."

The White House desperately needed something to counter all the bad press it has received following Trump's withdrawal from Northern Syria, which created a power vacuum that Turkey and Russia soon filled.  One wouldn't be surprised if Turkish forces tipped the US military on the whereabouts of Baghdadi, giving Trump a chance to save face.

The radical imam has been floating about for well over a decade.  He was detained at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca back in 2004 but apparently wasn't considered enough of a threat to hold indefinitely.  However, he quickly rose to power in the vacuum created by the death of bin Laden in 2011.

It's really hard to say how much control these clerics have over the hydra-headed organization that is ISIS or Daesh or al Qaeda or whatever you want to call it, but Baghdadi had long been sought after and Trump is now proudly boasting of having got his man.  Mind you, Trump was telling us that ISIS has been dead for months so this really comes as a footnote to a long sordid chapter in American Foreign Policy that may not be over yet.  Presumably 100s, if not 1000s, of ISIS detainees broke free from detention camps in the chaos that followed the Turkish invasion of Northern Syria.  Who knows who the next major villain in the neverending "war on terror" will be?

Nate Silver is telling us we should give credit where credit is due, bemoaning "Libs" who won't cut the president any slack.  The verdict is still out on this kill, as Trump greatly exaggerated the events surrounding the death of Baghdadi, and we have no idea yet how much of this was staged.  Even the photo op appears staged, with reports that Trump was golfing at the time of the raid.  It strikes me as too much of a coincidence this raid came so soon after the pullout from Northern Syria, where Baghdadi was found in Idlib, close to the Turkish border.

You can take what you will of this raid, as I'm sure conservatives will do.  However, it doesn't change the dynamic in Northern Syria or anywhere else in the Middle East.  All it appears to do is give Trump a long sought after "kill," although he appears to have upstaged himself with a dog.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Down the Rabbit Hole

It must be an incredible feeling to stage these political stunts, knowing that your base will buy it hook, line and sinker.  We saw three shameless displays the past two days, starting with the House Republicans staging what I guess can be called a sit-in at the secure room of the impeachment inquiry taking place.  They blatantly defied all the rules of protocol, afterward proudly crowing before cameras of their effort to make the inquiry public.

As CNN and other mainstream news networks pointed out, there is nothing new about these secure hearings.  The Republicans did the exact same thing when putting together their case against Hillary Clinton over her role in Benghazi.  But, these Radical Republicans led by the blockhead Representative of Florida, Matt Gaetz, either weren't around then or simply didn't care.  CNN tried to corner one of them, Mo Brooks of Alabama, only to get a senseless diatribe on due process.

Trump badly wants to know what is going on in these closed-door sessions, and Republicans are hoping to break the secrecy.  It's not like Republicans weren't invited.  At least twelve of these buffoons had permission to attend the closed-door hearings.  It's just that they were not entitled to divulge information afterward.  The aim is to allow government officials with knowledge of the Ukrainian affair to speak in privacy without the glare of media cameras and recorders.  But, don't tell that to Matt Gaetz, he was hoping to break open the doors of the inquiry for all to hear, namely the President.

Of course, this has been eaten up by the rabid conservative airwaves and passed along to the rabid conservative base, who see this inquiry as a "lynching," to use the Donald's terminology.  He's gone beyond "witch hunt" to use terms particularly painful to the Black community in America, which he no longer appears to have any interest in. But, woe be it for anyone to call him a racist.  Tim Scott, the sole Black Republican Congressman, was on hand to defend the President's poor choice of words, which were echoed by other GOP Congressmen.

The President has made it known in no uncertain terms that he thinks this impeachment inquiry is a sham, even "unconstitutional," as he and his staunch supporters believe the Democrats are staging a political coup.  They've been crying about the lack of due process, not understanding how impeachment works.  One can understand the President's ignorance, as he has repeatedly shown himself to be poorly versed on the Constitution, but GOP Representatives and Senators should know better, given they set these rules in 2015.

Impeachment is a two-prong procedure.  The House puts together its Articles of Impeachment, roughly a 3-4 month process in which they conduct private and public hearings before voting on impeachment, then the senate holds a trial (due process) whereby it determines whether to approve or disapprove impeachment.

Trump should be feeling pretty good about himself as it is highly doubtful the Republican-led Senate will approve the House impeachment.  But, that's not good enough.  He appears so taken aback that the House would even consider impeachment that he has launched his most vitriolic attack yet on House Democrats and the Constitution, which only serves to add more articles to the impeachment.  He has called for the heads of Pelosi, Schiff and other top Democrats in the House, acting more like a petulant tyrant than a US President.

Congressional Republicans staged a retreat this past weekend, hoping to all get on the same page and find some way to mollify Trump and tamp down this impeachment inquiry at the same time.  They were also deeply concerned with the events in Syria, which only served to bring more scrutiny on the President, as this "quid pro quo" thing seems to extend to Turkey and Russia as well, only in this case Trump was on the receiving end.

After a tumultuous week that saw a partial cease-fire in Northern Syria and negotiations between Turkey and Russia as to how to divide the region, Trump appeared before the press yesterday to read a prepared speech declaring victory.  This was met by guffaws from the mainstream media and officials with knowledge of the region, past and present.  Surprisingly, not Lindsey Graham, who now approves of the withdrawal after vehemently speaking out against it this past week.  Obviously, this statement was agreed upon at the Camp David conference in an effort to give Trump a "retreat with dignity." Trump claims this "peace deal" between Turkey, Russia and Syria couldn't have happened without the US withdrawal from the region, slapping himself on the back for this grand gesture.

His laborious speech may satisfy the Republican base, and it appears even NATO leader, Jens Stoltenberg, who is hoping to avoid any further conflict in the region, but few others.  It is a bad deal all the way around, but Republicans are accepting it because the alternative is to go against their own President, which it seems only a handful of "human scum" want to do.

Having failed to clear the air, a new strategy appears to have emerged where the White House is going against professional sports teams yet again.  Republicans got a lot of mileage out of their endless attack against a handful of NFL players kneeling for the national anthem, and now we see Mike Pence portraying the NBA as unpatriotic by "kowtowing" to Beijing.  This comes after the NBA was banned on Chinese television after comments made by the Houston Rockets owner in regard to the protests in Hong Kong.

It is true that China tried to muzzle the NBA but it failed.  Not only did the NBA not "fire" the Houston Rockets owner, which it couldn't do anyway, but Adam Silver, the commissioner, spoke out strongly on free speech for all to hear.  It seems Pence is hoping that the American public missed that.

This gaslighting is part and parcel of the Breitbart strategy that Bannon effectively used to get Trump elected in 2016.  Bannon is back in America after his failed effort to woo more European countries to the dark side.  He has set up a "war room" in the basement of his Georgetown townhouse, and hopes to revive the same smear campaign that won it for Trump three years ago.  He's even set up a facebook page.  Bannon was able to keep his mole in the White House, to stay abreast of events, not that they aren't out in the open for all of us to see.

The most amazing thing about the Trump White House has been its transparency.  From day one it has failed to keep its best laid plans and the president's temper-tantrums secret, with information leaking out on a daily basis.  Its communications department has had to constantly tamp down all these rumors only to discover that most of them are true because Trump admits to them himself on twitter.  His press secretaries are then forced into the uncomfortable position of having to mitigate these claims as best they can, dismissing them as jokes usually.

Yep, we truly have a Joker in the White House, but not the kind you would invite to children's birthday parties.  One can only guess the psychological state of the President, but right now "deranged" seems like an understatement.

Trump has lost control of the narrative. He had been effectively able to tamp down all the charges coming out of the Mueller investigation, because they were directed at his former campaign staff and White House advisers.  But, this impeachment inquiry puts him front and center.  He has no one to hide behind, not even Rick Perry, who has since resigned rather than take anymore heat for this ill-advised Ukraine phone call.

So, it is now up to the Republican party to try to deflect attention away from the self-immolating White House by staging stunts like we saw in the House. They may have earned the praise of Lou Dobbs, but Judge Nap pointed out just how duplicitous and self-defeating this act was.  Adam Schiff is following a protocol set by House Republicans during the Benghazi hearings.

None of this is helping Trump or Republicans in 2020.  They would have been wise to let the House Democrats carry out their inquiry and impeachment then vote it down in the Senate.  End of story.  Instead, they try in vain to defend a President who has absolutely no shame, who can't stick to any political game plan, instead hoping that he can generate enough chaos that impeachment will just be one of many stories swirlng around the 2020 campaign, turning voters off and hopefully resulting in the lowest turnout ever next November.

Fact is Americans are tired of this neverending display of kindergarten antics and want some normalcy to return.  If the Democrats can keep the impeachment inquiry focused on this one highly abusive act, and not get distracted by all the Republican attempts at subterfuge and obfuscation then they will emerge as the adults in the room, which is what most voters desperately want to see.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Pride Goeth Before the Fall

Watching the US armored trucks being pelted with potatoes as they rolled out of Northern Syria was really a sad sight.  Our once vaunted military, one Donald Trump boasts endlessly about, retreating from a crisis because it was no longer in the President's best interests to remain engaged in the nominal Kurdish homeland. 

Even worse, he ceded the bargaining over the region to Turkey and Russia with Erdogan and Putin meeting in Sochi.  There was no US presence at this historic meeting despite having spent five years providing logistic and military support to the Kurds in our mutual battle with ISIS.  Trump had conceded any role the US had to Turkey when he sent Pence and Pompeo to negotiate a five-day cease fire, which turned out to be the time US forces needed to pull out of Syria, leaving the embattled region to be split among Turkish and Russian forces.  American fighter planes bombed US bases, hoping to destroy as much of the munitions they had left behind.

It's a retreat like we haven't seen since Vietnam.  As clear a definition of defeat as you are ever going to find and one that will haunt the US military for years to come.  It wasn't like we had a significant force in Northern Syria.  Trump claims 28 soldiers.  It was more like 100.  They were there to effectively discourage Turkey from invading Northern Syria lest they want to risk confrontation with the US.  

Who knows what transpired between Trump and Erdogan over the phone?  Maybe Erdogan threatened to go into the region anyway and so Trump chose not to risk these American lives.  Whatever decision was reached was done so between them with no consultation with the US military until after the fact.  Another first.

This decision has far reaching consequences.  There are many places around the world where the US has small military contingents that serve no other purpose than to act as a deterrent.  One such contingent is in the Baltic states, where the US has small forces in each of the three countries, ostensibly to discourage any Russian military aggression against Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.  This has been the case ever since these three countries joined NATO in 2004.  

What's to stop Trump from pulling American forces out of the Baltics if Putin gives him a call?  Why should Trump feel any more need to protect the Baltic states than he did the Kurds.  He can make the same claim the Baltic states didn't fight with the US at Normandy, as they had been overrun by German forces in 1941.  

Trump's decision to pull the US troops out of Northern Syria sends shock waves around the world.  The US can no longer be trusted either as a partner or as a protector.  Worse, Trump is conceding parts of the world to aggressive states like Turkey and Russia, both of which have openly stated their imperial ambitions.  Erdogan wants to recreate the Ottoman Empire, Putin a Tsarist Russian one.  They cleave parts of adjoining countries to further their already large territories, both in the name of creating "buffer zones" against what they view as foreign aggression.  

China also wants to enlarge its territorial claims, but so far the US hasn't come into direct confrontation with the Communist government.  Trump simply chooses to remain quiet while China exercises its authority over Hong Kong.  But, what will happen when China presses its case for Taiwan, a country that has long been considered our ally in the Asian Pacific?

What has been clear throughout Trump's administration is that he abhors actual confrontation.  He loves to shout in his tweets, threaten all kinds of actions, but when push comes to shove he retreats.  This is true both on the personal level and on the international level.  He loves demeaning foreign leaders on Twitter but when he actually meets them, he is quiet as a mouse.  He literally cowers before foreign autocrats and dictators, and has never to this date had anything bad to say about Putin despite the US Congress issuing sanctions on Russia, which he was forced to sign.  He still refuses to accept that Russia had any involvement in the 2016 election hacking, preferring to revel in Ukrainian conspiracy theories instead.

 All this should turn his devoted base against him.  After all, they demanded a President who would stand tall in the face of opposition, believing that Obama had diminished America's standing in the world.  Well, no president has done more to diminish America's standing than has Trump.  Whether it was recognizing totalitarian regimes like North Korea or the stateless Taliban, he has given succor to our enemies and let down our allies time and again.  

In an effort to appease Kim Jong-un, he cancelled military maneuvers in South Korea without any consultation with the US military or to our long-standing ally.  In an effort to negotiate a withdrawal from Afghanistan, he openly courted the Taliban for the better of a year, hoping to gain assurances that they wouldn't invade Kabul once the American forces pulled out.  I suppose he hoped to gain some concessions from our enemies, but having gained none, was forced to eat these ill-advised decisions.

You might remember this is a guy who for the first half of his administration constantly berated fellow NATO countries for not carrying their weight when it came to military spending.  He mistook the 2 per cent target figure of GDP as some kind of membership dues, rather than understanding this was a voluntary agreement made during the Bush and Obama administrations.  He repeatedly threatened to retract US commitments if other NATO countries didn't ante up.  He's been demonstrably quiet in the second half of his administration.

Trump was never looking to bolster NATO, but rather for a way to diminish our role in the alliance.  As it is now, he is asking NATO countries to make up for the reduced American presence in Syria, which is kind of odd given that Turkey is also a NATO country, and by doing so he would pit NATO countries against each other.  If only Trump had been as demanding of Erdogan as he was other NATO country leaders before ceding Northern Syria to Turkey.

No president has ever been so accommodating to autocratic leaders.  The US position in the past was to push back, reach some kind of compromise to ease hostilities, with the hope of mitigating civilian casualties.  Not Trump.  He doesn't seem to care.  Whether it is Yemen where Saudi Arabia has waged an unmerciful war of attrition for the past three years, or Ukraine where Trump threatened to withhold military assistance lest its leaders aid him in his personal assault on Joe Biden, or Hong Kong where Trump has turned a deaf ear to the protests against Chinese autocratic rule, as he tries to negotiate a long-deferred trade deal with Beijing. Each and every time, Trump has gone out of his way to avoid confrontation with autocratic leaders, namely Mohammad bin Salman, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, all of whom he seems to be afraid of.  Trump, being Trump, would never admit to this cowardice but it is there for all to see.

Syria represents the debacle of his foreign policy, if you can call it that.  He simply had to hold his ground, keep a relatively small American force in place to act as a deterrent against Turkish aggression.  It was a relatively simple task and one the military was willing to accept.  Not only did he cede our position in Syria to the Turks, but has taken no role in the negotiations concerning the Kurdish homelands in the northern half of this country.  This is as complete a sell out as there can be, which is why so many Republicans are upset.  It greatly diminishes our role as international arbitrator in international disputes, something we have long prided ourselves on, even if we haven't been particularly good at it.

Pride goeth before the fall. I would have to think there is not much pride left in the White House in seeing their armored trucks pelted by potatoes.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Emoluments schmoluments

Trump sounded like a kid whose parents wouldn't let him host a party at the house, after Republicans met with Mick Mulvaney over the weekend and told him to get the White House in order.  Mulvaney has the thankless job of being the interim Chief of Staff.

No one has versed the president on the emoluments clause of the Constitution, or any other part of it, so that left it up to Anderson Cooper to school him.  Throughout the telecast of Trump's speech during a cabinet meeting, CNN was fact checking the president, who ran rough shot over the Constitution.  As Cooper pointed out, he acts as if he is still in full control of his properties, which is a direct violation of the emoluments clause.

Of course, when you leave the estate to Donnie Jr. and Eric, it is easy to understand why Trump would be concerned.  Income at his world famous Doral Club has dropped 69% over the last two years, and it was badly in need of a lift.  Little wonder this club popped first into Trump's head when he learned it was the United States' turn to host the G7 Conference next year.

Throughout his administration, Trump and his staff have been promoting his properties.  He golfs regularly at his clubs in Virginia and Florida, stayed at Turnberry when visiting the UK earlier this year, and has his staff and military frequent his resorts when on travel.  Mike Pence infamously stayed 180 miles out of his way at a Trump resort in Ireland when visiting the country recently.  Pence claimed he had family relations near there.  Trump has also had the military stop for refueling at Prestwick Airport near his Turnberry resort in Scotland, largely to keep the airport open as Scotland has considered shutting it down due to lack of use.  Seems not too many people are flying in to play at his golf course.  All these are flagrant violations of the emoluments clause, which Trump so blithely dismisses as "phony."

On the scale of "high crimes and misdemeanors," surely these abuses must rate as misdemeanors, but so far Congress has looked the other way.  It was only when he grossly overstepped his bounds and offered to host the G7 conference at one of his golf clubs that Congress finally spoke out.  Not just Democrats, but Republicans as well, who sat down Mick at Camp David to go over what the President can and cannot do while in the White House.

Trump was forced to back down, but as usual foisted the blame on the pesky Democrats for foiling his best laid plans.  Whether or not he would have hosted the event for free, as he claims, it still would have been a blatant promotion of one of his properties.

He dismissed this by trying to claim Obama signed book and movie deals while still in the White House, and going so far as to claim George Washington had both a presidential desk and a business desk before lamenting how much being president has cost him.   It's doubtful he even had 2 to 5 billion to his name before assuming office.

It's been outlined repeatedly how much he and his children have gained from his roughly three years in office, and it is considerable.  During the campaign alone, he frequently spent campaign money on his properties.  In itself a no-no, but again was overlooked.  The constant plugging of his resorts hasn't hurt either.  We know that foreign dignitaries are frequent visitors at his hotels and resorts in Washington, New York and Florida.  In his infamous phone call with the Ukrainian prime minister, Zelensky mentioned staying at one of his hotels.  Saudi officials are regular visitors at his Washington Hotel.

It's all part of Trump's "pay to play" philosophy, which he likes to claim is the norm in politics.  He once boasted of paying the Clintons to attend his wedding with Melania by contributing to their Global Foundation.  Those were the halcyon days when the Trumps and Clintons frequently brushed shoulders in New York and Ivanka and Chelsea were BFF's.  Yet, somehow he managed to turn even this against Hillary by claiming that attending his lavish wedding was the least she could do for having personally underwritten her jet-set ways.  Hillary was the US Senator from New York at the time with presidential aspirations of her own.

We were led to believe by Trump during the campaign that had Hillary been elected we would have seen the most egregious abuse of office by any President.  She would have not only given her husband Bill a high level position, but probably Chelsea as well.  Many people voted against this sense of entitlement only to have Trump abuse the Oval Office beyond all imagination.  Not only has he elevated Jared and Ivanka to high level White House positions, but frequently has his sons hosting foreign dignitaries at his hotels and resorts.  The four are regular contributors to Fox News and other conservative outlets, promoting his policies and properties.  Eric's wife, Lara, also figures heavily in his re-election campaign, and Donnie Jr's new squeeze, Kimberly Guilfoyle, is a former Fox news celebrity and is also working on Daddy Warbucks' 2020 campaign.  Trump voters have to ask themselves in 2020 the same question they asked themselves in 2016.

It was never imagined we would have such a corrupt president in office.  The Founding Fathers outlined what they considered to be abuses of offices and appropriate actions to be taken in the Constitution, but at the same time gave the president full immunity from prosecutorial charges.  This left it up to Congress to hold the president accountable.

For his first two years, he could rest assured a Republican Congress would not act on his many malfeasances.  In fact, Representatives Nunes, Jordan and others did their best to sweep these indiscretions under the rug.  The burden of all the abuses became so big by November 2018 that the people voted the Republicans out of the House and for the first time we are seeing a true accounting of Trump's virtually constant abuse of office since day one.  He has had staffers lie for him at every step of the way until Nancy Pelosi could no longer hold off the cries for impeachment, and a formal inquiry was launched.

Republicans still refuse to accept the impeachment charges brought against Trump despite his own admissions and those of others, most recently Mick Mulvaney.  It's not like the White House has made any attempt to conceal its dubious actions, which is why Republican Congressional leaders organized this intervention at Camp David.

It didn't seem to do any good, as Trump showed virtually no contrition the next day, defending his actions as he always does, and trying to claim that others abused the office far more than he did, even George Washington, possibly the only other president with a personal wealth comparable to him.

Trump's inability to see his many faults is what is proving to be his undoing.  He considers himself a good guy.  One who has been tarred and feathered by the Democrats and the liberal media, he laments.  But, his latest actions have alienated many Republican senators, even Lindsey Graham, who now seems to be actively considering impeachment.  After all, it's their jobs that are on the line as well.  Graham and 21 other Republican Senators are up for re-election in 2020, and they have to consider Trump a major liability at this point.

There will no doubt be more attempts to rein in Trump.  He is still popular among the Republican base, and no Republican wants to be "primaried," which Trump has threatened to do if they don't stick with him.  However, support among his base also appears to be eroding if we are to believe the latest words of Evangelical ministers like Pat Robertson.  Even if the Republicans are somehow able to hold the White House together over the next year, the damage is far reaching.  One only has to look at Trump's abysmal approval ratings to see that Republicans have lost the middle ground.

I don't know how you turn the page on this one, but stranger things have happened.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

It Zucks!

Mark Zuckerberg recently claimed it is not his job to clean up hate speech on his platform.  Yet, try to post a picture of a naked woman on fb and see if you don't get warned or have your user privileges revoked for 30 days.  That happened to me when I shared Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland UK album cover with friends after finally finding a copy I could afford.

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it is pretty clear what Zuckerberg loves most is money. He rakes in huge advertising dollars from political as well as commercial campaigns that see the value in harvesting data and spreading their message on fb.  He's not about to give up on that revenue generator, no matter how egregiously misleading the political ads become.  He's also making no attempt to crack down on the companies that mine fb for personal data, which is how CA was able to gather information on over 50 million fb users, more than enough to create an emotional profile for virtually every type of person in the world so that they could better target their political advertisements.

Zuck wants his cake and eat it too.  He and his buddies created a platform that is now visited by more than a billion users worldwide.  Of course, it's anyone's guess how many of these users are duplicates, as profiles are cloned or users forget their passwords and have to create new ones.  Nevertheless, we are talking about 100s of millions of users all around the globe.  That's a virtual bottomless pit of information that political campaigns harvest and use to better target their ads.

What seemed like a novel idea in 2008 when Obama successfully used social media to spread his campaign message has become the template for all subsequent political campaigns.  Trump turned the template on its head in 2016, showing that you can take full advantage of people's gullibility to win.  The same was true for the Brexit campaign that year.  The very same person, Brittany Kaiser, who was a part of the Obama social media campaign became an influential figure at Cambridge Analytica, which provided its data services to both Trump and Brexit.  The reason was quite simple -- money.  CA paid Brittany immensely for her efforts so that she could enjoy the lifestyle she always dreamed of.

Political campaigns today will use any hook or crook to gather information.  The most popular being personality tests that users freely share with their friends.  This allows political campaigns to get a pretty good representation of the types of voters out there and how best to tailor their messages to reach them on their timelines.  I realize it would be a Herculean task to rein in this sort of abuse, but fb makes virtually no attempt whatsoever.  Zuck adopts the Libertarian view that it is up to the user to sort out unwanted information by hiding ads or unfollowing friends who post unwanted memes and advertisements.

Facebook already has the means at its disposal to monitor sites.  Users can flag ads and posts that they deem offensive, but the ads and posts just keep popping up.  It's kind of like that dummy button you push at the crosswalk to turn the traffic lights.  The lights are on a timer, so you can push that button all you like, the lights will switch on their own programmed accord.

You can use social media data for bad or for good.  You can use it as a means of informing people about climate change, or you can use it to undermine their confidence in the science behind climate change.  It's a fine line, and I can follow Zuck's argument to a certain point, but when you see political and social ad campaigns purposely exploiting users' ignorance, you can put up red flags.  FB has the means to do so, but chooses not to.

The sad fact is that virtually all these tech companies have become very conservative over the years.  They rely largely on consumer loyalty, not technological improvements to their products.  FB has not changed demonstrably since it first appeared on the Internet.  Neither have other social media platforms.  The reason is quite simple. They are all part of media conglomerates that are more interested in the data they are compiling than maintaining a reputable service.  Information has become the latest gold mine, and there are billions of dollars to be made from it.

This is why Elizabeth Warren wants to break up these tech companies.  They have become monopolies, buying up other social media sites so that it is hard to track who owns who anymore.  Facebook owns instagram and a whole host of other popular sites.  Google owns Youtube and Android.  These search engines, cellphone platforms and social media sites are all owned and operated by a handful of companies.  These tech companies now make AT&T pale by comparison and we remember all the angst when this telecommunications company was broken up in the 80s.  Not that it did much good, AT&T reformed and is as big as it ever was.  Still, it opened up the door for other telecommunication companies, at least for a short while.

The problem with these media giants is that they cease to provide any great technological innovations. It just becomes a game of smoke and mirrors, which Apple has illustrated so well in becoming a trillion dollar company.  The "freedom of speech" argument that Zuck tries to use is bogus. He's essentially adopted the same model as Fox, allowing anyone to voice his or her opinion, as long as it isn't too offensive, and let users decide for themselves.  Given there are no federal regulations regarding truth in media, Zuck has no legal obligation to monitor the political and commercial ads that pop up on fb timelines.  FB worries more about kids potentially seeing porn.

Free to say whatever they want, political campaigns have shown no shame when it comes to peddling conspiracy theories and smear campaigns on social media.  Twitter, Trump's favorite medium, is just as guilty as facebook in this regard.  The blowback comes from other users, who can be unmerciful at times.  Unfortunately, these facebook and twitter wars do little to rein in the abuse.  They only encourage it, as users take from these online arguments only what they want to support their own arguments.

Snopes, Politifact and other online services valiantly try to check facts, but they often come under attack themselves for being biased.  It has become increasingly difficult to form any baseline of factual information, as we have seen from the scurrilous anti-vax campaign that uses the universally discredited information of Andrew Wakefield.  Zuck makes no effort to contain this epidemic of misinformation either, which is far more harmful to young children than seeing the original Electric Ladyland album cover.

These social media overlords want to take no responsibility for the lies and disinformation that are openly spread on their platforms.  Yet, their sites are disseminating news on a huge scale, to the point CNN, NY Times, Washington Post and other news sites are providing feeds on facebook and twitter to better reach this huge audience.  It takes an inordinate amount of pressure to take down a site like Infowars, only for Alex Jones to return under a new guise.

What is Zuck's response to Liz Warren calling him out on his indifference?  He has threatened to sue her if she tries to break up facebook.  That sounds exactly like something Trump would do to stifle criticism.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Ukrainian Connection

Of all the things that would bring Trump down, who would have thought Ukraine would be his weak point?  The recent arrest of two thuggish Giuliani "associates" is yet another chapter in the saga of Trump's "secret diplomacy" with Ukraine to get dirt on Joe Biden.  These guys were apparently helping to funnel foreign money into Republican campaigns, namely Donald Trump.

These two goons couldn't have made their efforts more obvious, lunching with Rudy Giuliani at Trump's Washington International Hotel before trying to board a plane at Dulles with one-way tickets to Kiev.  I guess they figured their job was done for the time being and wanted to lay low for awhile.  Now, Giuliani finds himself under investigation and may very well find himself served with an indictment in the coming days.

Stupid Watergate just gets more stupid.  You just can't believe a President would be so open about his crimes.  He admitted straight to George Stephanopolous that he would accept any dirt on opponents from foreign governments, even Norway.  I guess when those countries weren't so forthcoming, he tried to extort them as he did the Ukraine back in July.  Honestly, I don't think he understands the severity of these crimes and for the first time in his life is going to have a civics lesson courtesy of Nancy Pelosi.

Of course, we didn't need to be here if more Americans hadn't been so keen to elect a guy with a demonstrable record of high crimes and misdemeanors that stretched back through his entire life.  He built his empire on one con game after another, including lying his way onto the Forbe's 400 in the 1980s.  Trump is The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg writ large. Yet, for whatever reason a large swathe of Americans voted for him.

These same Americans continue to support him for the most part.  There have been a few high profile defections, but for the most part Trumpists remain Trumpists, thanks in large part to a conservative media cocoon that shields them from unsavory news that casts their president in a bad light.  It will take a Herculean effort to break down this wall, so there is no point even trying.  They are so completely insulated in their beliefs that they won't accept anything the "lamestream media" has to say.  In fact, they turn a deaf ear when Trump admits himself that he solicited dirt on Joe Biden from the Ukrainians.

The Democrats have had more than enough dirt on Trump to launch an impeachment inquiry since the day they regained the House.  Pelosi just didn't want to make it the first act of a new Congress, or she decided to give the Orange King a chance to turn the page, which of course he didn't.  We lived with all his domestic policy failures because the economy was so strong it was able to resist the Republicans' attempt to derail it once again.  Now, Trump has begun tampering with foreign policy on a scale that frightens not just the US State Dept. but the US Military. 

If strong-arming Ukraine wasn't bad enough, he pulled a small contingent of US troops out of the Kurdish region of Syria without fully notifying the military.  A decision they no doubt would have appealed against, but Trump was tired of hearing criticism and decided to act on the advice of his closest confidant, Tayyip Erdogan.  Apparently, he got some assurance Turkey wouldn't invade Syria, but within 72 hours Turkish forces began bombarding the region.  This will go down as Trump's worst FP blunder, as it not only upset his opponents but many of his closest allies, including the erstwhile Lindsey Graham.

Trump apparently now determines much of his FP on the advice of Erdogan and Putin.  No telling what FP secret foreign policy he has shared with these two in his "perfect" phone calls.  The Democrats will probably want to investigate this too once they have sorted out everything that went down in Ukraine.

For some daffy reason, Trump was using Giuliani to garner information on the Bidens.  When the former NY mayor ran into a stone wall with Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, he cried to Trump and he removed her.  Yovanovitch is a career diplomat with an extensive knowledge of the corruption in Ukraine, something Giuliani all too obviously wanted to pin on Biden and the previous administration.  I don't know what Giuliani or Pompeo or Trump thought, but ousting Yovanovitch like this was a huge mistake.  Did they really think she would stay quiet?

I suppose Trump thinks he can pay anyone off.  He has been able to do so for the most part with his former staffers, who continually pitch up on Fox, CNN and other media outlets defending him against the many charges brought against him.  The more disgruntled former employees he tries to discredit, usually with calamitous results. 

This has resulted in Trump fatigue among those who voted against Hillary.  With her safely out of the way they are now considering other options.  An astounding 58 per cent of American favor the impeachment inquiry, depending on which polls you take.  This is a 17-point swing from when talk of the inquiry first began.  People are sick of Trump and for good reason.  He is dragging the country down.

His domestic and foreign policies have created havoc and uncertainty.  The stock market has made no appreciable gain in nearly two years.  Unemployment stays low, but the type of employment available remains marginal with no net improvement to standard of living in the US.  Most Americans are still a paycheck away from bankruptcy, as Trump's crazy shutdown this past January highlighted.  A shutdown he was forced to eat when the media amply illustrated all the unnecessary hardships he was inflicting on federal employees.  We forget these numerous gaffes because he has a new one every week.

Unfotunately, the House can't impeach a president for being a shitty president.  You have to have something more substantial, so Trump gifted the Democrats by making an ill-advised phone call in front of a room full of staffers, who couldn't believe what they just heard.  It was only a matter of time before it came out, as the groundwork for this infamous call had been laid by his dubious personal lawyer, Rudolph William Louis Giuliani.  WTF was the president thinking having a guy like this sniffing around Ukraine for him!  Mayor Rudy is unable to keep anything under his belt.

I suppose Trump felt he was completely insulated by the immunity bestowed on a sitting president.  He like many Republicans thought the Democrats were bluffing with impeachment, and now that it is very much a reality, His Trumpness is beside himself with self-righteous indignation, openly calling for the heads of Pelosi and Schiff in his tweets, and demanding that the rats be flushed out of the White House.

It's not like either he or Giuliani made any effort to hide their unsavory dealings with the Ukraine, or that they even deny it.  They just don't consider it a crime.  He has his AG William "The Conqueror" Barr trying to make a case for this, but it doesn't hold much water and it seems Barr is just looking for a way out before he too comes under investigation.  Immunity only extends so far as the Commander-in-Chief, not his subordinates.

For some goofy reason, our founding fathers felt that the president should be above the law, at least so far as it might jeopardize national security.  They gave the right of the House to launch an investigation into his malfeasances, but vested in the Senate the power to overturn an impeachment with only one-third vote, pretty much insuring that the president could survive such an inquiry.  Of course, it was assumed no president would be so corrupt as Trump, or at least have the shame to resign as Nixon did when confronted with the spectre of impeachment.

As we should know by now, Trump has no shame.  Neither does it seem do his closest cabinet members.  Pompeo, Mnuchin and Barr continue to stonewall the House investigations, but given that many of their subordinates have since been dismissed, they can no longer effectively block them from giving testimony, as is the case with Marie Yovanovitch and Fiona Hill.  Their testimonies are proving quite damning, and threaten to bring down the entire White House, given all the complicity in Trump's actions.

Trumpists will remain loyal to their president, but they are now very much the minority of the electorate.  Impeachment or not, Trump will have to spend the entirety of his campaign defending himself against his record as President, which will be pretty hard to do even for a con man like him.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The End Days

One of the fantasies driving Evangelists is that God chooses all sorts of flawed persons to carry out his missions.  Moses had killed an Egyptian.  Jacob got drunk and ran around naked in his tent for Ham to see.  Noah was apparently a flawed person as well, although he didn't get drunk until after the flood.  So, why not Donald Trump?

It seems many Evangelists believe God has chosen Trump for a specific reason.  The most prevalent one is that he will usher in the apocalypse they have long waited for, resulting in the millennial reign of Jesus. So, it is not like they really love Trump, but rather see him as an agent of change.  Something Trump obviously doesn't quite understand, as he likes to project himself as both the "Chosen One" and the "King of Israel."

For decades, Millennialists have been looking for the US, and in turn the world, to crumble into a big giant ash heap.  Their support of Israel has nothing to do with any specific love for Jews, but rather they look to see a prophecy fulfilled.  Only when the Temple of Jerusalem is rebuilt will their long-awaited dream swing into action.  This would mean the destruction of the Al-Aqsa mosque, whose shiny gold dome sits atop the ruins of the Temple.  Before you blame the Muslims for the destruction of the Temple, you should check your history books, as it was the Romans who razed it 500 years before Muhammad was born.  It was also written in Revelations.

Many scholars have interpreted Revelations as a response to the sacking of Jerusalem.  Christians actually fulfilled their mission long ago when Rome accepted their religion in the fourth century.  The destruction of Israel opened the door for a new religion to be formed from the ashes of Judaism.  Since then Christianity has been the predominant religion of the world, repeatedly withstanding challenges from Islam, which also uses the Books of Moses as its base texts.

However, Millennialism is something born out of the Second and Third Great Awakenings in America that resulted in the plethora of Evangelical religions we see today.  They take the Bible literally at its word.  There's no room for doubt or for history books.  For them, the Bible is a form of living history that they choose to repeat, oblivious to the fact that all the events took place roughly two millennia ago.

These people are utterly deluded.  None moreso than the Mormons, who subscribe to a companion book to the Bible in which Joseph Smith makes the claim that he saw the spirit of Christ on a rock in upstate New York and that the Mormons were the descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel that came to America after the fall of Jerusalem.

For decades, religious archaeologists from Brigham Young University looked for this lost tribe in the Yucatan Peninsula of Central America.  To their credit they followed conventional standards of archaeology, but a frustrated Thomas Stuart Ferguson ultimately renounced his faith when he could find no evidence of this.  Something the Church of Latter Day Saints doesn't like to discuss, as these archaeological efforts live on the New World Archaeological Foundation.

For Evangelists, faith trumps reason each and every time.  You have to put your hand in the hand of Jesus, a song that was made very popular in the 1970s, and which Anne Murray found herself forced to reclaim. You can argue all you want, but you aren't going to convince ardent Evangelists, and in particular Millennialists, of any fallacies or inconsistencies in their interpretation of the Bible.  They are true believers, or at least they like to think of themselves as such.

For the most part, these persons are exploited by Tele-Evangelists and politicians to further their own interests. Since Jerry Falwell created the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, this conservative religious movement has grown into a major force in American politics.  You might even go so far as to call it the Fourth Great Awakening.

Falwell built a university expressly for the promulgation of his beliefs.  One his son continues to administer.  It has grown into one of the largest universities in the world, thanks in large part to its on-line programs that are accessible to tens of thousands of persons all around the globe.  Liberty University has become the mecca of the Evangelical movement today.  If any politician wants to get Evangelical support he has to speak before the university's mandatory assembly.  Virtually every Republican candidate came through Lynchburg, Virginia.  Even Bernie Sanders tried his luck in 2015, not that it did him any good. 

What makes 2016 all the more odd is that the Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr. had his pick of at least 16 Republican candidates, many of them professed Evangelists, but chose Trump.  Maybe it is as Citizen Donald joked, he put up money for new dormitories on the rapidly expanding campus, or as Jerry Jr. later said, sometimes you have to play hardball.  The Evangelists felt strongly that Trump could deliver where other more devout presidential candidates had failed.

Evangelical leaders tried to get Trump to repent his past sins, as one has to be "born again" to be a true Evangelist, but Trump claimed he had no sins to repent, taking these endorsements as he did the many others that came his way as fait accompli.  The closest Trump came to professing his religious zeal was brandishing his family Bible and quoting "Two Corinthians."  No matter, Evangelists looked the other way once Trump started winning primaries.

Mind you, not all Evangelists were on the Trump band wagon. Max Lucado, a well respected Evangelical minister wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post in February, 2016, lamenting the presidential candidate's lack of decency.  He wrote that this is someone he wouldn't trust with his daughters, much less the White House.  Unfortunately, Pastor Lucado spoke for very few Evangelists.

Trump's freewheeling days were pretty much over.  Evangelists saw all his sins in the past, dismissing the numerous sexual abuse allegations brought against him.  This was ironic to say the least, considering Trump had paraded four women who claimed Bill Clinton had sexually abused them, while Governor of Arkansas, before his first debate with Hillary Clinton.  She had been widely portrayed in the conservative media as Bill's "enabler."

The hypocrisy of the Evangelical leaders supporting Trump didn't go unnoticed.  They just refused to acknowledge it.  In their minds, it didn't matter how flawed Trump was as long as he pushed their religious conservative agenda.  He was their Moses, leading them out of the wilderness of social liberal values that in their collective mind had greatly diminished "religious freedom" in America.  Why shouldn't a devout Christian baker have the right to refuse making a wedding cake for a gay couple?

I have no idea how many Millennialists actually believe in the End Days.  I have to think most Tele-Evangelists and politicians exploit this belief for their own celebrity status.  Nevertheless, this belief that the world will come to a cataclysmic end and a new reign of Jesus Christ will prevail appears to drive much of the religious conservative agenda.  Whether figuratively or literally, their goal is to remake this country in a Biblical image, even to the point of reframing the Constitution in Biblical terms.

Few of them actually believe Trump is the Messiah.  Rather, they see him as the man who will bring down government, as we know it, so that a new America can be built on the ashes of the old.  Whether this vision extends to the whole world is anyone's guess, but for now many of these Evangelists appear content to rebuild America in the image of a "Shining City Upon a Hill."

For Trump, it is just one big reality show, like a Tele-Evangelist who seeks to make the most out of his faithful flock as he can.  He loves being the god of chaos.  He thrives on chaos.  His life has been one big giant mess and somehow he came out on top.  If this is all part of God's plan then so be it, as long as he goes out with a big smile on his face.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

You have to hand it to Dirty Don.  In one week he has managed to piss off just about everyone around him, even Pat Robertson, one of his most ardent supporters.  This is the "Mandate of Heaven" we are talking about here!  Of course, it is not the scandal swirling around his call to the Ukraine president that bothers Rev. Pat.  It is the fact that his dear president is siding with Erdogan in Syria and has looked the other way in regard to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.  You can't be sleeping with those Muslim infidels if you want God on your side.

However, it is his gaslighting on the Ukraine issue that has most people appalled.  Trump seems to believe it is his prerogative to investigate anyone he pleases and to ask countries for help even if said person is a political opponent challenging him in next year's election.  What seemed like a "perfect call," is looking anything but perfect now that more whistleblowers with first hand information have come forward.  He apparently had quite a few people around him when he tried to press the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden, most of whom weren't comfortable with what the president was implying.  So, the White House sought to do damage control, which only made the matter worse once the news leaked about the call.

Trump has tried to pin the blame on his Vice-President, his Attorney General and now his Energy Secretary, making it sound like he was forced to make a call he didn't want to make, although he has readily admitted to the call and continues to defend himself in tweets.  Not only that but Trump took it a step further by implying that China should investigate the Bidens as well.  His supporters dismiss the latter as a joke but it didn't sound like he was joking.

Lindsey Graham was all set to take up his Commander-in-Chief in an investigation of the Bidens when all the sudden Trump got it in his head to pull out of Syria.  This sent the poor South Carolina senator into a tailspin. If there is anything that gets Lindsey's goat it is letting up on the war on ISIS.  It's not like the American military contingent is that significant, but to this point it has been the only thing stopping Turkish President Erdogan from going into Northern Syria and wiping out the Kurdish semi-autonomous state that arose during the civil war in the country.  Erdogan believes the Kurds are harboring the notorious PKK, which he regards as a threat worse than ISIS.

Just about everyone advised Trump against this decision, even Russia, but Trump went ahead and did it anyway as a favor to his pal Tayyip.  In part, it is because Trump had sided with Saudi Arabia in the Khashoggi investigation, which had upset Erdogan, who wanted to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  So, this is kind of a favor to ease relationships with Turkey, although he tried to not make it sound like one.

The danger in the House impeachment inquiry is that there are now so many directions it could go.  Trump has made a number of impeachable offenses in the past week that could send the Democratic investigation efforts off the rails.  It is important to stay focused on Ukraine, where we have a demonstrable abuse of executive power that goes deep into the White House.  Not just Trump, but at least four top WH officials, including the Vice-President and Secretary of State, are potentially incriminated in that "perfect call."

Trump brought his "pay to play" style of business to the White House from day one.  Saudis took up residence in his newly opened Washington hotel during the inauguration.  Saudi and Emirate leaders have paid heavily into Ivanka's pet projects.  China has given Ivanka all sorts of clothing licenses in its country.  All to get Trump's ear.  In an effort to deflect our attention away from these highly public malfeasances, he has tried to turn our attention to Joe Biden, hoping to discredit his main rival in the process.  It's a Machiavellian strategy that is so bald-faced that only his most dimwitted supporters don't see through it.

Sure, one can question how Hunter Biden got such a cushy job on an Ukrainian energy holding company, but Trump is openly using his children to secure deals with foreign countries that further his personal business interests.  People question this also, but no one brought up a formal investigation into the matter.  Certainly, no one asked foreign countries to investigate the Trumps for his or her political gain.

Trump may honestly believe there is nothing wrong in what he did, but that doesn't make it any less a crime.  He has advisers who should have stepped in and cut off that call.  At the very least, they should have advised Trump to stay quiet afterward, not shout to the four winds that it is perfectly within his executive privilege to make such requests.  At this point, you don't even need the whistleblowers' testimonies.  It is all right out in the open for everyone to see and hear.

This should send alarm bells off within the entire Republican party but so far only a handful of Republicans have come forward to challenge the President, most notably Mitt Romney.  They all know that what Trump did is wrong but they are too afraid of an electoral backlash in the primaries next year to go against the President.  Romney has the luxury of not being up for re-election until 2022, at which time he might entertain another run for President himself.

Anyway, not much "great and unmatched wisdom" being displayed here.  This is about as dull-headed and witless as a president can be.  He is forcing his fellow Republicans to make all sorts of ludicrous excuses for him that will come back to haunt them.  After all, these are the same guys who pushed for Bill Clinton's impeachment on much less shaky ground.

Monday, October 7, 2019

No Election for Old Men

Bernie should take that heart attack as a warning sign and drop out of the election immediately.  He can throw his support behind Liz Warren, who promotes the same issues, or simply wait until the primaries start to back a candidate.  This vanity project is over.  He had no business running for president in the first place, as there were more than enough candidates to push progressive issues, which was his biggest complaint last time around.  Bernie being Bernie, he is right back on the campaign trail, sort of anyway, issuing policy statements from his bed that echo those of Liz Warren.

Joe Biden has even less reason to be running, as he represents nothing.  He is like one of those "wish sandwiches:" two slices of white bread that you wish you had something between.  From the start he has presented himself as Mr. Congeniality, the guy who can unite all the disparate forces in the Democratic Party and beat Trump.  Unfortunately for him, polls show just about anyone can beat Trump at this point, even Marianne Williamson according to David Brooks.  A generic Democratic candidate beats Trump by 20 points.  It's only when you put a name to that candidate that polls creep a little closer but still have a rather large gap.  So, why do we need Joe?

Liz is no spring chicken herself, but she looks far younger than Bernie and Joe.  Even funnier, some right-wing bloggers tried to imply that she had an affair with a 25-year old bodybuilder.  Nice job, Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman, you just made Liz the grandmother everybody wants to fuck!  All because they took a campaign placard far too literally.  Liz was eating it up.

Call me an ageist, but  I want someone younger, more dynamic, as the Democratic nominee.  Unfortunately, Kamala hasn't been as dynamic as I would like her to be.  She's great with the quips but so far hasn't proposed much that is new or refreshing on the campaign trail.  Winning that prize is Andrew Yang, but he seems a bit too unconventional and we really don't know much about him.  So, while my heart is still with Kamala, I find myself leaning toward "Elizabeth Warren Cougar," who to this point has offered far more than any other candidate and covered much more territory.  She should make her slogan, "This is Cougar Country!"

The younger candidates just haven't been able to generate much interest beyond Mayor Pete, but even his star grows dimmer by the day.  Beto, the other boy wonder, never really got going.  He tried to jump start his campaign with his response to the awful shootings in El Paso, but failed to garner any support.  Best thing he could do now is mount another Senate bid against Crusty John Cornyn, but his stand on assault weapons would probably doom him in Texas.  Better that Julian Castro run for that seat Cornyn is wasting in Congress.

Democrats really need to start thinking about who to target in the Senate races.  Republicans have to defend 23 seats, making them very vulnerable, especially in states like Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and Maine that are no longer so favorable to Republicans.  Even Texas has come into play after Beto gave Ted Cruz a close call in 2018.

We don't need all these presidential candidates, and we sure as hell don't need old windbags like Bernie and Joe.  This is the time to move forward with a nominee we can be sure has plenty left in the tank.  It's preposterous to even be thinking of an 80-year old President in the White House, but that's how old Bernie would be his first year in office.  Pugilist Joe Biden is only a year younger.  Heart attacks aside, do we really want grandpa to be president?

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Vadim in America

Roger Vadim was on the outs with Jane Fonda at the time he made Pretty Maids.  It appears she hadn't forgiven him for Barbarella, as she wanted no part of this sexploitation high school movie that would have been better directed by Russ Meyer or Roger Corman.  Vadim knew nothing about America, nor did he really care.  That was made painfully obvious with the young protagonist, Ponce, riding up to Oceanfront High School on a Vespa.  I suppose LA was like the French Riviera for Vadim.

He had been a big name in the 60s on the edge of the French New Wave.  His films were always about sex, but had enough of an edge to qualify as art house movies.  He was probably most famous for introducing Brigitte Bardot to the world in And God Created Woman.  He also introduced us to Catherine Deneuve and Annette Stroyberg.  He had quite a way with ladies.

That is also the case with his aging school counselor, Tiger McDrew, played by Rock Hudson, providing the only glint of irony in this insipid movie.  Hudson was immersed in a scandal at the time that made the pages of Mad Magazine.  Many thought he had secretly married Jim Nabors.  It had long been known he was gay, but Rock had an image to protect and I guess this film helped him do so in its odd sort of way.

The movie probably would have languished in the MGM vaults had not Quentin Tarantino recalled it as one of his 12 Greatest Films of All Time.  Vadim himself made at least twelve movies better than this one, including Barbarella, but we have to forgive Tarantino's puerile taste in sexploitation movies.

Roger Ebert had succinctly noted that Vadim was completely out of his element in trying to bring his French sensibilities about sex to the American screen in a high school movie.  MGM lavished big bucks on this movie, renting out an entire school, including its football team, to give a feeling of verisimilitude to the action.  The school later regretted it when the staff and parents saw what Vadim had created.  

Hudson doubles as the football coach, himself looking like a rugged former player.  I never realized how tall he was until seeing him dwarf everyone around him.  Oceanfront hadn't lost a football game in years and weren't about to concede to their cross-city rival Carvertown despite all the murders taking place on campus.

MGM also enlisted some other big names, including Telly Savalas, Roddy McDowall and Keenan Wynn.  Vadim was apparently disappointed he had to settle for Angie Dickinson instead of Brigitte Bardot, as originally promised.  None of it helped.  Everyone seemed lost in their roles except Telly.  The movie was so bad, all these actors were consigned to television shortly thereafter.  You could see the makings of Kojak, which would follow two years later.  

Ebert described the film as humiliating on every level and indeed it was.  Unlike Russ Meyer films, the women don't get the upper hand.  Vadim keeps his camera purposely low to the ground throughout the movie so that he can get plenty of upskirts of all the "pretty maids."  When given the chance to speak, the girls give rapturous soliloquies on free love.  Poor Angie is openly used as a sex surrogate for the troubled young Ponce at the encouragement of Tiger McDrew.  Poor Ponce doesn't know how to approach girls and Tiger figures this is something only a more mature woman can help him with.  Dickinson was close to 40 at the time, so you have to figure this must have been a very bitter pill for her to swallow.  She would later get her comeuppance in Police Woman.

You really can't call it a murder mystery as it is clear from the movie poster who the killer is.  Vadim does make some effort to disguise him by having Tiger en coitus with one of his students when young Ponce discovers the first victim in the boy's bathroom with a note "so long, honey" tagged to her panties.  It seems Tiger can't have his "pretty maids" tattling on him, so offs them with a fond farewell.  After all, he has a reputation to protect.  He is considered a leading authority on new methods in teaching.  He also has a beautiful young wife and child at his comfortable home on Venice Beach.

Ponce is ostensibly the lead character in this movie, but is upstaged at every turn. John David Carson is not a good actor nor did he go on to become one.  He languished in bit roles on television for many years before finally "retiring" in 1990.  He eventually figures out his coach and mentor is the killer only to willingly play a part in Tiger's fake death so that his family won't have to suffer the humiliation of his arrest.  The movie ends with Ponce picking up where Tiger left off among the girls.  His confidence fully formed thanks to Miss Smith.  Telly Savalas is left to wonder how Tiger got away with it.

The script is credited to Gene Roddenberry, based on a novel of the same name.  He peddled the screenplay around the studios for three years, with such names as Joe Namath tossed out for the role of Tiger.  Broadway Joe was still playing football but that didn't preclude him having some summer time fun in Hollywood.

It's interesting that Vadim garnered such a great reputation especially after debacles like this one.  I suppose he has "auteurs" like Tarantino to thank in part.  His films weren't particularly daring, but they did give us some big names so I guess for that we should be thankful.  However, I think Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve would have found their way onto the big screen eventually.   

This film pretty much killed Rock Hudson's career.  His only memorable performance after this was as Chief McMillan in McMillan and Wife.  It allowed him to recapture some of his lost dignity.  It's funny that Hudson, Dickinson and Savalas would all go onto play in television crime dramas.

As for Jane Fonda, she took up activism in a big way, leaving Roger Vadim behind.  He returned to France and tried to pick up where he left off but it would never be the same again.  The New Wave had run its course with Vadim sadly trying to remake And God Created Woman with Rebecca De Mornay in 1988.  He probably deeply regretted ever coming to LA.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Greta's Excellent Adventure

The young Norwegian teen is taking America by storm as she circumnavigates the country.  In Iowa, she joined an impromptu climate strike led by a local teen, Massimo Biggers, who never bargained for his surprise guest and such a big turnout.  Her primary aim is to reach teens in the country, although she has been feted by adults as well.  Arnold Schwarzenegger offered her one of his electric cars for the trip up to Canada, where she met Prime Minister Trudeau, and was quite stern with him as to what more he can do to battle climate change.  The impact has been far and wide, drawing thinly veiled rebukes from Trump and Putin, with her giving them shade in return.

Greta began this adventure by taking a solar and wind powered racing yacht to New York, as she refused to take an airplane because of the enormous carbon emissions the airline industry produces each year.  She gave a fiery speech at the UN, castigating the general assembly for not doing enough to battle climate change.  The Donald briefly took time out from his religious freedom summit to slump into a seat and listen to part of that speech, essentially conceding that she got the best him at the UNGA, as they call it.  Since then she has been all over the continent, determined to take in as much of America as she can and spur other teens to action.

The biggest criticism against her is that she is being manipulated by others in pushing a climate change agenda that doesn't suit the interests of powerful leaders like Trump and Putin.  That may be, but these leaders don't listen to scientists either. 

The US and Canada are the two largest carbon emitters in the world.  Russia isn't far behind.  Trudeau has made tentative steps toward addressing the issue, but has much more to do.  Trump has rolled back environmental initiatives, and Putin hasn't bothered with the issue at all in his 20 years as Russia's strong man.  This despite growing concern from the scientists that we have reached a tipping point and that we have to act immediately.

Kids have taken up the cause because their future depends on it.  This is similar to the Parkland students who stood up against the firearms industry in America.  They suffered a torrent of abuse in the conservative media as a result.  So far, Fox and its friends have been relatively tame with Greta, quickly purging those who speak out too harshly against her.  But, the message is clear, Greta should go back to Norway as soon as she finishes her vacation, and let the adults get back to business.

What is hard to fathom is why more countries don't embrace alternative energy and push electric vehicles.  Solar and wind energy already outpace coal in producing jobs.  This hasn't gone ignored by coal companies, which themselves have considered turning their open-pit mines into massive solar farms.  China has become the leading producer of solar panels in the world, not only to mitigate its energy shortfall but to hopefully corner the future market.  Electric cars are the rage everywhere, especially in Norway, which is an oil-rich country.  We stand on the precipice of a major change in the energy sector, but remain cautious in moving forward because of the leverage oil, gas and coal companies have over foreign governments.

It is only a matter of time before this transformation takes place as solar, wind and geothermal energies are cheaper than ever, and already proving much more lucrative than oil and gas.  Coal is being phased out in Europe, and suffering greatly in the US and Canada.  Still, it doesn't hurt to be reminded by our children that the time is now!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Everybody Plays the Fool

It appears the Republicans thought the Democrats were bluffing in regard to an impeachment trial.  Kevin McCarthy, the GOP minority leader in the House, was caught completely off guard when questioned about the transcript of the ill-fated phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Zelensky.  He tripped over his own words in stumbling to come up with the meaning of "though" in Trump's request to the Ukrainian president to look into a long debunked theory that one of the country's "wealthy people" has the DNC server, which was hacked into in 2016 by Russia.

McCarthy appeared oblivious to the enormity of these allegations, continuing to dismiss them while having his own doubts.  This is the case across the board as Republicans scramble to pull Trump from the grave he dug for himself.  The only problem is that Trump wants to drag them all in with him. 

It didn't take him long to throw both Mike Pence and Bill Barr under the bus, implicating them in the deals between the US and Ukraine to implicate Joe Biden in a scandal they imagine to be far worse than the one they find themselves in.  Mayor Rudy hasn't helped matters any with all the names he has tossed around on news talk shows.  This led House committee chairmen to subpoena Giuliani to turn over all the documents he claims to have, citing his numerous television appearances.

Rather than build a defense team for what promises to be a very nasty impeachment hearing, Trump has taken to twitter and the airwaves to vent his outrage at the subpoena requests, calling for Adam Schiff's head, who he identifies as the leader of this Democratic cabal plotting a coup against his administration.

The absurdity of these attacks only serves to amplify how clueless Trump is.  For that matter, so to his administration, which sought to cover up the notorious July 25 phone call, many of whom having denied even being on hand, like Mike Pompeo, who has since been ratted out

It's pretty clear that a lot of low level officials in Trump's administration are appalled by what is going on given that the whistleblower compiled his report from numerous complaints.  Who knows, maybe even some higher level officials have had their fill of Trump's heavy-handed tactics and are leaking information.  Whatever the case, this is a sinking ship.  For the first time in his 33 months as president, Trump appears to be genuinely worried he is in big trouble.

To some degree Trump is a victim of his own administration.  He is surrounded by a slough of Machiavellian characters all planting insane ideas into his head.  Former homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, said as much in regard to Giuliani, who is the one who keeps pushing the phony conspiracy theory that Ukraine broke into the DNC server, and not Russia.  The far more nefarious one is Stephen Miller, who is desperately looking for any angle to bring down potential rivals.  I seriously doubt Trump had any idea Hunter Biden served on Burisma until Miller or someone else in his administration told him.

Whereas Nixon appeared to have relative control of his operatives, Trump appears to be led by his operatives in directions he doesn't fully comprehend.  As the story of the whistleblower broke, Trump was taken completely off guard and has been scrambling ever since to regain his footing.  You can imagine the fire and fury in the White House right now.  It must be white hot, as Trump does not like being made a fool, and that is exactly what he appears to be at this point.

I'm sure the Republicans will eventually form a counter strategy, but the situation is looking very bleak at the moment.  Trump better start looking for better lawyers.  Rudy is certainly doing him no favors at all.