Sunday, October 15, 2017

Hebron




Who knew a small city in Palestine could madden American officials so much that they chose to pull out of UNESCO, the educational, scientific and cultural wing of the UN.  The bone of contention wasn't so much putting Hebron's Old City on the World Heritage List, but treating it as a part of Palestine.

Back in the 1980s,  the United States similarly was upset with UNESCO, which it felt had grown too big for its britches with over 160 member countries.  All these new members diluted the "original intent" of the organization to act as a cultural propaganda arm of the United States during the Cold War.  After all, the US footed most of the bill and expected UNESCO to act in its best interests.

The US didn't return to UNESCO until 2002, which Olivia Waxman feels once again was politically motivated as the Bush administration was looking to build an international coalition against Afghanistan and Iraq.  I suppose he felt that after the Taliban had destroyed the Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan in 2001 this wouldn't be too hard to do.  However, this isn't what UNESCO is about.  It is about promoting peace and reconciliation, not revenge.

This is what led UNESCO to recognize Palestine as a member state in 2011, which also didn't go down well with the United States.  Since then the US has not been paying its dues, building up a $550 million debt, which Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the US State Dept, said would have to be evaluated on a cost-benefit analysis before paying any of its arrears. 

Obama was bound by Congressional law to withhold any dues to a UN agency that recognized Palestine.  I guess UNESCO did a cost-benefit analysis of its own and decided it could make up the shortfall in cash other ways.  The US lost its vote in UNESCO, not that it seemed to have any active interest in it other than to "protect" Israel's interests.

It's not like UNESCO ignored Israel.  There are several important cultural and historical sites on the World Heritage List, even the Modernist "White City" of Tel Aviv, designed by prominent Jewish architects like Erich Mendelsohn, who fled Germany before WWII.  More sites would be included if Israeli ICOMOS members took the time to prepare the evaluation forms.

The US ICOMOS branch has virtually ignored the World Heritage List with only a small sampling of its many cultural and historic sites on the list.

ICOMOS is short hand for International Council of Monuments and Sites.  It is composed of archaeologists, architects, anthropologists, planners and other professionals from around the world, who each year meet to assess the state of world heritage monuments.  Last year, I went to a conference in Istanbul.  This year, I will be going to Delhi with my wife.  I can say firsthand it isn't in the business of politicizing important cultural and historic sites.

The reason for admitting the Old City of Hebron and the Caves of the Patriarch as Palestinian sites is simple.  They are part of Palestine.  Not only UNESCO but the UN recognizes Palestine as an "observer state."  The US and Israel are the ones politicizing this decision, not UNESCO.  If you look at the new entry for Hebron on the World Heritage List, you will see that all three religions are mentioned, as the city spans three millennia of history.  The Cave of the Patriarchs has yet to be listed.

What we see is the typical knee jerk reaction to anything the UN does in relation to Palestine, no matter how benign.  This simple recognition has no impact on relations between Palestine and Israel, much less warranted the over-reaction by the Trump administration.  Bibi Netanyahu says Israel will pull out too.  Maybe the US and Israel should pull out of the UN all together since they get so easily miffed each time Palestine comes up?  It's like two unruly kids trying to rule the schoolyard.

For Hebron this is a big deal, additional tourism is associated with being a world heritage site.  Thanks to all the attention it is receiving by the US and Israel, it may get even more tourism in the coming years.  Unless, of course, Israel stands in the way.


Friday, October 13, 2017

American Psycho




Donald Trump is like those pop-ads that keep appearing in the margins of the web page.  No matter how many times you press the X button to get rid of them they just keep reappearing.  The guy certainly knows how to keep himself in the news.

Having failed to get any legislation passed regarding health care, Trump is now going after the ACA by executive order, cutting subsidies and making it that much more difficult for low-income families to have access to health insurance.  For a man who said that Obamacare was killing itself, he sure is going out of his way to speed up the process.

Of course, the Donald doesn't think of any of this on his own.  He has a core of advisers preparing these executive orders for him to sign, notably Stephen Miller.  Tom Price is no longer around to guide him on health care, not that the president had very much interest in it anyway.  Trump simply wants to undo everything Obama accomplished in his eight years as president.

He badly wants to pull the US out of the Iran nuclear agreement, but got enough pushback from his top military advisers that he has apparently retreated from his earlier hardline position.  He was notably upset over this but it seems in some little corner of his tiny brain something triggered him to follow the advice of his Secs. of Defense and State.  I'm sure Miller was pushing him the other way.

For whatever reason, Stephen Miller remains in the White House.  I thought he would have gotten swept out with Bannon and Gorka, but he has not only clung onto his position as policy adviser, but appears stronger than ever.  In many ways he is more dangerous than Bannon because he has managed to earn a small piece of respect within Washington for his dogged determination.  It also helps that he has Jeff Sessions backing him.

This is a guy who came up through the Tea Party, working as press secretary for Rabid Republican Representatives Michelle Bachman and John Shadegg before endearing himself to Sessions.  He is only 32 and is working hand in hand with Jared Kushner to shape Trump's major policy statements.  However, Miller moreso than Jared is keeping Trump to the hardline positions that won him the White House.

I guess the best way to look at Stephen is as a young Richard Nixon.  He comes from California, where he found himself constantly at odds with his liberal classmates at Santa Monica HS and plotted his revenge.  He has had an astonishing rise in politics, virtually unheard of until Trump became President and named him as one of his top advisers.

It was Miller who helped shape the first "Muslim ban," which caused pandemonium in airports and was quickly struck down by federal courts.  It seems his black heart was in the right place but he just didn't find the right language to get the ban to carry any weight.  The ban was subsequently revised and to some degree implemented, much to Trump's chagrin who was much more comfortable with the first ban.  After all, a Muslim is a Muslim, whether he has a green card or not.

Miller is a psychopath able to channel his killer instinct.  As such, he represents the cold, calculating determination to dismantle government as we know it so that all those effete liberals in California won't have any government goodies anymore, like health care.  They will have to pay for it like everyone else.  He doesn't give a fuck who lives or who dies in the process.

This is what makes him so dangerous.  Miller wins whether Trump loses or not.  He has been able to stick to his core ideology and endear himself to the conservative hard right.  He knows exactly how to address the press in the most blunt terms so as to gain maximum effect.  Jim Acosta could only look on in disbelief as Miller turned Emma Lazuras' famous poem into a feeble inscription on the Statue of Liberty.  This is a guy who has no time for the "huddled masses."

He is Donald Trump's id.  He pushes all those primal instincts within Trump's bicameral mind, making it hard for Kelly, Mattis and Tillerson to exercise reason.  We have to wait until Trump's speech today to see if he actually will certify the Iran nuclear agreement.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Stupid is as stupid does





"I think it's fake news, but if he did that, I guess we'll have to compare IQ tests.  And I can tell you who is going to win."

Just when you thought it couldn't get any more ..... moronic in the White House, His Trumpness challenged Rex Tillerson to an IQ test.  Sarah Huck-Huck-Huckabee says the Prez was only joking but CNN's Brooke Baldwin counted at least 22 times when Mr. Trump flaunted his self-proclaimed high IQ.  Mensa has offered to put the two to the test as it has no record of either Trump or Tillerson in its High IQ Society.

This was just the beginning of another calamitous week for the Trump White House.  Earlier, he got into a row with Bob Corker over his proposed tax cuts, upset that the Tennessee senator found fault with his plan.  This led to a nasty exchange in which Trump claimed "Liddle Bob" came to him for an endorsement in 2018, which he refused, and then Corker subsequently chose to retire.  On top of that Big Donald said Corker had wanted to be his Secretary of State.  Corker wasn't taking any of this nonsense and compared the White House to a Reality Show, saying he is seriously concerned this President could push the US into a world war.

Few Republican senators came to Corker's aid.  Lindsey Graham, who has been critical of Trump in the past, took time to brag about Donald's golf score.  Mitch offered faint praise for his colleague, but most others chose to sit this one out.

Then came the catfight between Ivana and Melania over who is the real "first lady" of the White House.  Ivana claimed the mantle as Trump's first wife, although she didn't seem certain of this.  This led to one of those rare moments when Melania speaks.  She said that Ivana is just an "attention-seeking" bitch, and that she had no time for this "self-serving noise."  How she has put up with her husband this long is anyone's guess.

Among all this noise, Trump still had time to weigh in on the NFL once again by congratulating Jerry Jones for standing up like a real owner.  Only problem is that no sooner did the Dallas Cowboys owner make his stand than some former prostitutes reveal what a big dick he is.   For his part, Texas Jerry says the photos "misrepresent" him in a restaurant five years ago.

One can imagine Vladimir Putin watching all this with a big bowl of popcorn in his hands.  How on earth can anything else on television compete with this!

The good news is that no one is talking about Puerto Rico, the failed health care bill, the unlikelihood of his budget and tax cuts being passed or anything else of substance.  Trump can once again hide behind the scandalous stories, enjoying another round of golf, his 64th outing of the year.  This from a man who was going to be so busy leading the country he wouldn't have time for golf.

He's backed himself into a tight corner with Tillerson.  If Tex Rex resigns, it would only add substance to NBC's story that Tillerson called Trump a "fucking moron" and threatened to walk out on him.  Rex claims he never made such a threat but refused to discuss whether he called the President a moron, which Trump all but confirmed by challenging Rex to an IQ test.

Trump's twitter war with "Liddle Bob Corker" has far deeper repercussions, as he needs every Congressional vote he can get to pass his proposed tax cuts.  Sen. Corker said he is not voting for any tax cuts that would add to the deficit, and according to leading economists Trump's proposed cuts would add $5 trillion to the deficit.  As a high ranking senator, Corker carries a lot of clout and one can bet other Republicans will follow suit.  Mitch must really be squirming in his seat because this means yet another failed legislative effort, resulting in a horrible year in which his Senate was unable to get any meaningful bill through Congress.

As for his wives, Trump had to know Ivana wasn't going to accept Melania getting top billing.  After all, she produced his first three kids, and according to her biography, Raising Trump, raised them solely on her own, as Big Donnie was never around.  In her mind, this makes her more "first lady" than the Slovenian trophy wife.

It's nice to see that this little incident lit a fire under the normally placid Melania, who obviously doesn't like living in the shadow of Trump's first wife.  However, this might actually help Melania as she is getting the sympathy vote.

The kicker was Sarah Huck-Huck-Huckabee calling Bob Corker's statements "ridiculous" and "outrageous."  Krazy Kellyanne voiced the same sentiments on Fox and Friends.  Both oblivious to how much the President himself has demeaned the White House with his rash statements and actions.

It's hard to know what is going on in the White House as Trump clearly has lost all control of himself.  So much so that there is a very clear and present danger that he might unleash a "storm" at any time.  After all, he and his less intelligent buddy Rick Perry hold the nuclear codes.

This is what any sensible person feared all along, but Republicans felt they could contain Trump.  They even brought in Ret. Gen. John Kelly to impose order in the White House, but someone forgot to put a monitor on the internet connection, blocking out Fox News and Breitbart, which it appears Trump listens to more than to his advisers.  Even if Kelly were able to screen Trump's news intake, Bannon still has surrogates in the White House, namely Stephen Miller.

As for the soft touch Ivanka was supposed to provide, that obviously isn't happening.  Trump is as surly as ever, taking his petty grievances out on twitter first chance he gets.  Worst of all, the media loves it.  They pile on the ridicule whenever Trump goes on one of his tirades, further galvanizing his support among his "basket of deplorables."

This is the group Bannon hopes to take advantage of in the upcoming primaries as he promotes his radical Republican candidates across the country.  Judge Roy Moore is just a warning shot.  He plans to go after all sitting Republicans that defy Donald Trump, or rather the agenda Trump represents.  Bannon had Corker in his cross hairs, which is why many political pundits figured the Tennessee senator chose to step down.

Alas, "Liddle Bob" is still in Congress through 2018 and if Trump expects to have any legislative victories he needs to find a way to appease these frustrated senators not just add further insult to insult.  The same goes with his cabinet and other WH adviser.  There is only so much of this shit they will take before invoking the 25th amendment.

Of course, it will still be a long four years with Mike Pence, as the hardline policies would remain the same.  At least the circus act that is Donald Trump will once again be relegated to the sidelines, where it belongs.


Monday, October 9, 2017

Grandstanding




This past weekend, Mike Pence attended an Indianapolis game seemingly for the sole purpose of walking out after the national anthem when several Colts knelt on the sidelines.  Jerry Jones issued a surly statement that he would bench any player that didn't stand for the anthem.  This political grandstanding drew attention to struggling football teams.  Indianapolis needed overtime to get past winless San Francisco and Dallas got thumped by Green Bay.

Maybe this was the "storm" Trump was referring to, as his White House is determined to win this battle with the NFL, using Pence as a proxy and allying Jerry Jones to its cause.  No other owners issued such an ultimatum.  You figure at some point, the NFL will reach a compromise with the players to end this stalemate that has drug into the fifth week of the season.

It would probably go a long way if the owners quit blacklisting Colin Kaepernick, who was passed over last week by Brandon Weeden when the Tennessee Titans went shopping for an extra quarterback.  This is utterly ridiculous since Weeden has never been anything more than a journeyman QB and didn't even play Sunday.  There was a rumor floating around that Kaepernick would stand for the anthem if called back to the league, but it turns out the story was unsubstantiated.

It would also help if the media would more often mention the reason for these protests, rather than focusing almost exclusively on the act itself.  Anderson Cooper hosted a town hall with players and activists to discuss police racial profiling and brutality, but Trump's tweets continue to get the most attention.  Nothing the media loves more than flame throwers, although for some strange reason Colin Kaepernick was not invited to the CNN town hall.  Nor did he appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated that featured players from around the sports world who support the protests.  That's just how toxic he has become.

Yet, Colin's no. 7 jersey remains very much in demand, and he is finding his actions being emulated by cheerleaders, anthem singers, college and high school players around the country, even if it means getting booted off the team.  There have also been similar protests at the pee wee football level.  This is an issue that isn't going away until the NFL and in turn the nation addresses it in a meaningful way.

Of course it doesn't help when you have an idiot in the White House throwing gas on the flames.  Trump took credit for Mike Pence's walkout.  I'm surprised he didn't take credit for Jones' surly statement.  But, all this grandstanding is counter-intuitive, as it has only served to draw more attention to the issue and result in viewers tuning into the games if for no other reason than to see if the players buckle under the pressure.  With the NBA regular season soon to kick off, the situation could get even worse, as back in 2014 several NBA players made their feelings known on the same issue long before Colin Kaepernick took a knee.

Athletes have every right to make their feelings known on issues they consider important to them.  This idea that their voices don't count is absurd and only reinforces the "plantation mentality" since virtually all the players being singled out in social media are black.  It doesn't matter that high profile white players like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers an Drew Brees have all voiced support for their teammates, the social media is obsessed with lightning rod players like Michael Bennett, offering up fake memes as red meat to the conservative audience.

A better president would seek to calm anxieties, offer a summit to discuss police racial profiling and brutality, which are very real issues in the Black and Hispanic communities.  Instead, we have a President who openly uses his Vice-President to stoke the flames of unrest, seemingly for no other reason to boost his approval ratings.  Sad.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I Won't Back Down




It was odd seeing Tom Petty's song tied into the Las Vegas massacre, with Jason Aldean playing I Won't Back Down on Saturday Night Live.  I suppose it was meant in good faith, but the two are in no way related.

Petty spent much of his life battling the music industry over control of his songs, but with his death I suppose anything is fair game.  The Florida Gators similarly used the song during the break between the third and fourth quarters ostensibly as tribute to Tom Petty, but the athletic department said it hopes the song will become a "tradition."  Petty had no real relationship with UF other than working as a groundskeeper back in the 60's as a teen.  His band Mudcrutch played a few frat houses as well.

Gainesville was a hip place to be in the 60s and early 70s.  Not only did the university town produce Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers but Don Felder, who would become a part of The Eagles.  The Great Southern Music Hall was a popular venue, closing down in the early 80s.  Bands also played The Rathskeller, or more simply "The Rat," and The Eagles descended on Florida Field in 1980 on The Long Run tour.  Gainesville remained a happening place in the 80s, but no longer for new sounds.  Athens, Georgia, had become the hip place to be.

I saw Petty in Gainesville in the early 80s.  Not quite sure whether it was Fall of 82 or Spring of 83, but it was part of the Heartbreakers' Long After Dark tour.  In those days, a band went on tour to promote their latest album.  Petty was more famous at the time for penning a song for Stevie Nicks that became the signature hit off her Bella Donna album.

Like so many hit songs, Stop Dragging My Heart Around came about purely by chance.  It was never intended to be her song.  Petty and the Heartbreakers were planning it for their album Hard Promises, but Jimmy Iovine was also producing Stevie Nicks' first solo album and wanted songs to fill it.  He recorded a separate track with Stevie's vocals, and eventually had Shelly Yakus mix the vocals together, which resulted in the hit song that dominated the air waves in 1981.  Petty and Nicks also sang Insider together for his album, but it was pretty much forgotten.

I can't say I was a big Tom Petty fan at the time.  I liked You Got Lucky because the video reminded me of Mad Max, but beyond that I didn't much listen to him.  However, I was hooked after that concert, especially with Stevie Nicks joining him on stage near the end for a jamming version of Stop Dragging My Heart Around.

Within a span of a few short years, Tom Petty went from being a local boy who had done good to a rock icon thanks not only to his relationship with Stevie Nicks, but with Bob Dylan, who he met at Farm Aid in 1985.  He went on a worldwide tour with Dylan that year but still had time to record Southern Accents, which included a Stevie Nicks-inspired song, Don't Come Around Here No More, written by Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics.  As the story goes, this is what Stevie Nicks told Joe Walsh after they broke up that year.  If all this wasn't enough, Dylan hooked Tom into the Traveling Wilburys, a super group that included Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne.

Petty had moved out to LA in the late 60s hoping to catch a break, but found himself mostly fighting with record companies.  It wasn't until he and his Heartbreakers came out with Damned the Torpedoes in 1979 that they found success.  The album rose all the way to #2 on the pop charts. 

He and Stevie Nicks seemed a natural fit and it is a relationship they would maintain for many years.  It didn't seem to affect his marriage, as Stevie and Tom's wife, Jane, were apparently very good friends.   Edge of Seventeen even started out as a tribute to Tom and Jane, but evolved into a lament over the death of her uncle.

One finds out these things only after a favorite musician passes away.  I picked up Tom Petty albums along the way but pretty much lost track of him after his Wildflowers album.   Back in Seattle in 2004, I found a box set entitled Playback at a record shop and got interested in him again.  I had completely forgotten how good his early songs were.  Turns out Playback was from 1995. 

Never got a chance to see him again.  Virtually no interest in Tom Petty in Lithuania.  Not even a comment on his death in the national news.  He was very popular in Britain but mainland Europe acts like it never heard of him.  Even the Traveling Wilburys seem lost in the mist of time.

Tom Petty will not be forgotten.  He built up a legion of fans young and old.  Looking at the faces in the crowd at his Gatorville Concert in 2006, most are young and hanging onto each and every word of his songs.  Stevie Nicks joined him once again, singing a number of songs with him including Insider, which still resonates over the years. 

I just hope that I Won't Back Down doesn't become an anthem for whatever cause someone is promoting.  It was never intended to be used in this way.  The song and the album, Full Moon Fever, reunited Petty with Jeff Lynne and George Harrison.  It inspired Johnny Cash, who interpreted it in his own unique way on one of his final albums.  This is probably the way Tom Petty would like the song to be remembered.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Get Small




Sen. John Thune is taking a lot of flack for his comments on the Mandalay Bay Massacre, urging that "people are going to have to take steps in their own lives to take precautions ... as somebody said, 'get small.'"  Nothing wrong with his advice, but as the third highest ranking Senator, one would think he might be urging Congress to take action.

Instead, the Republicans are taking a pass.  Even Steve Scalise, who only recently returned to the House chamber after being shot by a lone gunman at a Congressional softball game, said the Las Vegas shooting only "fortified" his views against gun control.  I think the NRA should be credited here, as he like so many of his fellow Republicans have been paid off by the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, His Trumpness wasted no time getting to Vegas, offering a far more heartfelt speech than he did in San Juan the day before, and visiting survivors at the UNLV hospital.  I suppose by Trump's reckoning, this is a far worse crisis than Puerto Rico, as many more persons died.

It's hard not to get cynical when you see these types of reactions.  I was almost laughing this morning when I listened to CNN try to get into the mind of the killer with an FBI agent and criminal psychologist, both young and pretty,  like off the set of one of the CSI television shows.  The FBI agent couldn't believe Marilou Danley had any idea what was going on, even though it was reported that Paddock flew her off to the Philippines two weeks ago so that he could prepare himself for the concert.

A mass shooting like this took a lot of preparation and apparently he had been amassing his arsenal for the past year.  Doing so in a way that would attract little attention.  He also bought cameras to monitor the hallways outside his room and various other supplies to turn the 32nd floor room into a "sniper's den."  He had also worked out his angle of trajectory to get the largest range of the crowd below -- the so-called "trigonometry of terror."

So, no matter how "small" you made yourself, you were going to have a hard time avoiding a rain of lead bullets like that.  I would have liked to put Sen. Thune in that crowd and see how well he fared.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Mandalay Bay Massacre




It is safe to say that if the death of 20 elementary school children didn't lead to new gun laws, the death of 58 concert-goers aren't going to inspire any new legislation either.  We have created a war zone in this country, as this graph attests to:  1516 mass shootings in 1735 days.  Virtually no part of the country is safe.  Since July there were 58 persons killed in mass shootings before Stephen Paddock took out that number at a concert in Las Vegas.

On the left we see the same urgency expressed for tighter gun restrictions, and on the right the same equivocation.  Never the twain shall meet because in the eyes of too many persons the second amendment is sacrosanct.

The rest of the world shakes its head in wonder.  How can a country like the United States bring so much violence upon itself.  We have a staggering 33,000 gun-related deaths per year.  Most of them are suicides, but last year homicides topped 17,000, a substantial jump from the year before.  Not just Chicago, but small towns across America saw a sharp rise in homicides.   To put this in perspective,  at the peak of the war in Iraq, 29,500 persons were killed in 2006.  A soldier was safer in Iraq than a concert-goer was in Las Vegas Sunday night, as Stephen Paddock rained down bullets on the show.

Your only cover in a situation like that are other persons.  This is how gruesome it was.  Those who dropped to the ground simply made themselves targets.  Your only option was to run and hope that he isn't aiming your way.

Most of us will post our condolences and move on.  What else can we do?  The horror is too difficult to imagine.

Others will seek to gain some sort of political leverage from it, whether on the right or the left.  Alas, no amount of gun laws is going to erase the 350 million firearms in circulation.  A large percentage of them go unregistered, as you can buy firearms at gun shows, on the Internet or from your next door neighbor and never record the sale.  It doesn't matter if you can only buy a semi-automatic rifle, all you need is a "trigger crank" to increase your rounds per minute.

Americans have become very resourceful when it comes to firearms, finding all kinds of ways to modify their weapons.  Of course, they will tell you it is only for defense, but one has to wonder about these vast arsenals so many Americans now have, waiting for the Zombie Apocalypse to come any day.

From a geographic point of view, we live in one of the safest places on earth.  We went virtually unscathed through two World Wars.  North Korea has yet to develop a ballistic missile to deliver a warhead to our shores.  Russia seems pretty much content with the current geopolitical status quo.  What do we have to fear except ourselves.

We inflict more harm on each other than any country has ever inflicted on us.  The civilian death toll from firearms over the past 50 years is greater than the number of Americans who have died on battlefields since the Revolutionary War.  That number just keeps growing.

Stephen Paddock left few clues as to the reasons why.  All we have at this point is his paramour, who was brought in for questioning.  She apparently wasn't around when the retired real estate developer decided to go on his shooting spree.  Playing the slots or whatever downstairs.  You figure she had to know something, as this was very much a premeditated mission.  Even if we do learn what motivated him, so what?  Does it draw us one step closer to figuring out what goes on in the mind of a killer?  Hardly.

Gun violence is part of our collective DNA.  Most of us have become inured to it, unless it hits close to home.  Maybe then we start to question the permissive laws in so many states when it comes to guns.  Nevada is pretty much a wild west state at this point.  You don't need a permit to buy a gun.  There are no mandated waiting periods.  You can bring a gun into virtually any place, including a casino, so Stephen Paddock was perfectly within his rights to drag his arsenal into Mandalay Bay.

You can bet if the assailant had been Muslim, Trump would have been calling for a universal Muslim ban, but all he can do is offer his prayers to the victims and their families, mum on the potential consequences as a result of this latest mass shooting.  If only he could be so sanguine in regard to North Korea, which hasn't fired a single shot at us yet.

Alas, we shouldn't "politicize" these events.   That's what Fox News is telling us.  Shame on Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and all those other liberals calling for gun control so soon after the event.  But, when should one ask for more gun control?  It's been five years since Sandy Hook and laws have only become more lax, not more stringent.  Any city or state that tries to impose tighter gun controls finds these laws being challenged in the federal courts.

To be honest, I don't think there is much we can do at this point.  Ever since the ban on assault rifles expired in 2004, the number of such weapons on the market have increased astronomically, with little or no control over their sales.  As of 2016, there are at least 5 million AR-15 assault rifles in circulation.  Every time there is talk of tighter gun controls, sales jump.  If Alex Jones was looking for a conspiracy here, he need look no further than the NRA, which actively promotes the sale of such weapons, army-piercing bullets and other battle-ready equipment.

We have become a militarized nation.  As such, it might not be a bad idea to invest in a flak jacket and military-grade helmet when going to the next public event.




Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hef




With all the Viagra he has been taking, Hef probably died with a hard on.  It is difficult to feel much empathy for a man who spent his last years popping little blue tablets like skittles until he went deaf, just so he could satisfy himself with his harem of young women at his Playboy mansion in Los Angeles.  There was an initial outpouring of condolences from those closest to him, including a tearful video from Pamela Anderson.  Since then few tears have been shed for the "glorified pimp."

Hef liked to project himself as the man who emancipated women by ringing in the sexual revolution of the 60s, but to hear these women speak the Playboy mansion sounded like a Saudi Sheik's brokedown palace.  I guess after a certain age you just don't care that much about hygiene anymore.

For the girls, this must have been hell because Hef no longer carried very much clout in Hollywood.  The days you could use a Playboy photo shoot to jump start your career were pretty much over.  The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue had long supplanted Playboy as the hottest girlie magazine on the newsstand, ever evolving to include athletes and "curvy" women, while Playboy tried to cash in on the Eastern European market.

For a brief time, there was a Lithuanian edition of the magazine, but I guess the girls ran out after a certain point and the glossy mag disappeared from the shelves.  There still are Russian and Polish editions.  You figure all these magazines had to dilute the product, but Playboy kept trying to crack new markets as American sales dipped.  Hef even tried to break into Muslim countries like Turkey and Indonesia.  That must have been a pretty tough sell!

Through it all, Hef kept turning his harem over, finding new gals to sleep with him in the master suite.  It was no longer enough to have a girl on each side of him, he was often photographed with six scantily-clad women at a time.  I guess Sunday was a day of rest.



He supposedly found true love in Barbie Benton, at least he said so at the time.  In recent years, he claimed to have never found the soulmate he was looking for, resorting to the cliches you would expect from America's number one "ladies's man."

Hef  came to prominence with his television show, Playboy Penthouse, which aired between 1959-1961.  The magazine was a big hit by this point, but Hef wanted a venue to project himself onto a broader American audience.  The variety show was considered quite daring in its time.  He engaged in a faux banter with celebrity guests, showcasing his liberal views on sexuality.  He wanted to open up the show to black celebrities, but ABC said no.  He went to CBS, which let him bring Sammy Davis Jr. to his inner sanctum high above Chicago's downtown.  Americans apparently weren't ready for this and CBS pulled the plug after five episodes.  Hef had better luck a few years later with Playboy After Dark, moving his operations to Los Angeles.

He augmented his "men's magazine" with articles and interviews with leading figures of the day, giving the journal an air of sophistication, as if to say it is perfectly OK to revel in these little fun and games.  Gloria Steinem tried to blow the lid off this scam by famously posing undercover as a playboy bunny in the mid-60s, but it made little dent in his empire.  It did however show him to be as much a cheapskate then as now when it came to paying his "bunnies."

By the 70s there was Penthouse, Hustler and many other "men's magazines" to contend with.  Even magazines like Playgirl sprang up during this time to give women a bit of the titillation that to this point had been reserved exclusively for men.  Playboy appeared on the brink of collapse, but Hef managed to find a new angle to keep his empire going.

Barbi Benton is credited for coming up with the idea of the Playboy mansion, which she and Hef moved into in the early 70s.  It became a pleasure palace for the libido, with scores of women lounging around the pool in their bikinis and taking part in "slumber parties" at night.  Hef obviously had a hard time containing himself with so much flesh on parade.  Barbi had enough by 1976 and moved on.  It was one of the few times Hef was taken aback, not used to having a woman walk out on him like this.  But, he quickly got over it.

Whatever progressive ideals Hef once imagined himself projecting on screen were pretty much gone by this point.  This was all about satisfying the libido.  Celebrities flowed through his mansion on a constant basis.  Hef pretended that it was all on the up and up, but his women were expected to perform for their crisp one-hundred dollar bills.  How he got away with it is anyone's guess.  After all, this wasn't Nevada.

Eventually, the novelty of the fun house faded and Hef had to find other ways to keep his empire going: Playboy movies, his own cable channel and of course a wide range of products.  Surprised he didn't buy the patent for Viagra, as he could have marketed it with his little bunny on the pills, but I guess he was still virile enough not to need it.

The mansion suffered over the years.  It was listed on the market in 2016 but sold for much less than Hef was asking for it.  One of the stipulations was that he would be allowed to stay until his death.  Fortunately for Daren Metropolous that came rather quickly.



It seems Hef picked a good time to check out.  His empire was crumbling around him.  It is doubtful the magazine will last much longer, having gone "nude-free" in 2015, which his son says was a big mistake.  But, I suppose Playboy will live on in its international incarnations.  If not, collectors will be able to fetch even higher prices for their past editions.  A Marilyn Monroe 1953 Playboy magazine, the "holy grail," is worth between $20,000 and $40,000 in mint condition.

I thought it was a hoax, but Hef really did buy a crypt next to Marilyn Monroe in 1992, and this will apparently be his final resting place.  I suppose this is the "soulmate" he had been waiting for all these years, biding his time with "bunnies" until the propitious moment came for him to move to that great mansion in the sky with Marilyn.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Where in the world is Puerto Rico?




It's hard to know where to turn with all the competing headlines this past week, but somehow Puerto Rico remains the top story largely thanks to Trump's vacillation on lifting the Jones Act.  This delayed efforts to bring aid to the devastated American territory by other countries, who couldn't ship supplies directly to San Juan without heavy duties being imposed.

At first, Trump had a hard time locating the island, when pressed at a briefing with Spanish PM Rahoy, stating that it was difficult to get supplies to an island in the middle of the ocean.  Yet, as we should all know from geography class, Puerto Rico is part of a rim of islands in the Caribbean Sea.  Trump should know this since he has had real estate dealings on the island in the past, but maybe he thought a little "truthful hyperbole" might highlight how difficult it is to respond to the crisis?

He spent a full five days teeing off on the NFL and NBA, without a single tweet about Puerto Rico, which had been racked by not just Maria, but Irma as well.  It had been nearly three weeks since Irma first hit the island, leaving San Juan in the dark.  Maria delivered the knockout punch, resulting in 97% of the island being without electricity, and over half of the island without fresh water.

Yet, he couldn't bring himself to lift the Jones Act, citing opposition by shipping companies and Puerto Rico's massive debt.  This led to a torrent of responses on social media, the only form of media Trump appears to respond to, and on Thursday morning he lifted the Jones Act, a full three weeks after Irma first hit Puerto Rico.

Basically, he was shamed into responding to Puerto Rico.  I don't think he would have given it a second thought otherwise.  He will visit the island on Tuesday, nearly two weeks after it was hit by Maria.  Remember this is the same man who chastised Obama for not immediately visiting Louisiana last year when it was hit by a massive flood!  He and Mike Pence went down to the state to deliver toys to the kids.

It seems three hurricanes were just too much for Trump to deal with.  The first one was bad enough, and the second one hit close to home, Mar-a-Lago.  He figured his FEMA crew was on top of it so why bother.  He had bigger things to worry about, like raising money for Big Luther in Alabama.  Apparently, the GOP is actually worried that Roy Moore might not be able to carry the state in December. and even if he does he will only be a thorn in their side in the US Senate.

The problem here is mostly one of optics, as aid is getting to Puerto Rico, although not enough to deal with the magnitude of the crisis.  It just doesn't look good for a President to be strong-arming the NFL into getting its mostly black players in line, while the Hispanic island of Puerto Rico suffers greatly.  This so soon after his equivocal remarks on white supremacists in Charlottesville, which he  still hasn't fully distanced himself from.  His comments on the NFL may play well in Huntsville and help raise money for conservative PACs, but in the overall picture they don't help his or the GOP's image problem.

Worst of all, his comments illustrate how detached he is from what is actually going on around him.  He not only appeared completely oblivious to what was happening in Puerto Rico, but seemed to have no idea what was going on with the health care bill Republicans had been trying to steamroll through the Senate.  As late as Wednesday night, he still thought there was a chance to pass it, when two days before both Graham and Cassidy said they were dropping the bill in favor of tax cut legislation.  Trump told an Indianapolis crowd he had the votes to carry the bill in Congress, blaming the impasse on legislative procedures and Thad Cochran being hospitalized.  Both of which were patently false.

This is when those daily briefings come in handy, but apparently our dotardly president has no time to read them, as engaged as he is with twitter.  One assumes he is being informed of these events.

If all this weren't enough, it turns out his cabinet likes to jet around on taxpayers' expense.  This led to the resignation of Tom Price yesterday, who couldn't justify his outrageous travel costs.  But, he's not the only one, and it seems more heads will roll before all is said and done.  Price is an important figure, as he is the one who is supposed to be managing the Affordable Care Act.

With so many scandals surrounding his White House, it is easy to see how easily Puerto Rico gets lost.  But, Tuesday has proven to be an extraordinarily bad day for Trump, and his staff would have been wise to schedule his visit any other day.  They will have to be on their toes to make sure Trump doesn't stick his foot in his mouth any deeper than he already has.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Ballad of Judge Roy Moore




So, we have former Judge Roy Moore representing the Great State of Alabama in the United States Senate, assuming he wins the general election against Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate.  Moore rode into the polling station like the Lone Ranger, with putty gray cowboy hat and sunglasses.

One can only assume that Trump was forced to support Luther Strange, as that was probably Jeff Sessions' choice.  However, Trumpists in Alabama were solidly behind the Ten Commandments Judge, who kicked Big Luther to the curb in the special election primary.  I think even Trump saw the writing on the wall when he went down to the state with a banjo on his knee, giving what could only be described as a lukewarm endorsement for the interim senator.  He chose instead to rail against the NFL, "Rocket Man," and whatever else irked his addled brain.

Judge Roy came to fame in the early 2000s for placing a two-and-a-half-ton stone replica of the Ten Commandments in front of the state judicial building because he believes strongly in the "legal theory" of God's supremacy.  He published a pocket pamphlet on the subject so that other Alabama lawyers and judges could carry it around with them, like he does.  Not a day goes by when Judge Roy isn't asking himself what would God say on this subject.

Moore is the epitome of religious conservatism.  He defied Supreme Court orders to remove his ten commandments monument, leading to his ouster as Alabama Chief Justice in 2003.  He tried to run for governor twice and failed before being elected once again Chief Justice in 2012.  He quickly found himself in hot water with the Supreme Court a second time because of his refusal to recognize same-sex marriages, resulting in a second ouster in 2016.

No wonder the judge endeared himself to Trumpists, seizing his moment when Jeff Sessions took the job of US Attorney General.  Big Luther didn't stand a chance even with Trump on his side.  He mounted a lackluster campaign, hoping that support from state Republicans would put him over the top, but the best he could muster was 45 per cent of the vote.  Big Luther will get to sit in session until the end of the year, as the general election isn't until December.

As for Trump, He's already rallied to Judge Moore's side now that the preliminaries are over.  It's not like the Donald will get much of a black eye on this one, as Moore is much closer to his way of thinking.  At least that's what Steve Bannon and Sarah Palin told crowds in Alabama.

Big Luther will probably have to settle for early retirement, find a bank to sit on the board of back home in Alabama, or just raise his feet on the porch rails and take in the sultry Dixie air with a big glass of ice tea.

I don't think this race means anything unless Doug Jones is able to pull off an incredible upset in December.  There will be some opposition to Moore, who is woefully unfit to serve in the US Senate.  Moore lives in a religious fantasy world where he has to ride out to fight the masked bandits who would impose Sharia Law on this fair land, but alas many Alabamans probably think the same way.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Trump vs. the NFL




"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now.  He is fired.  He's fired!'"

Leave it to Dotardly Don to blow the NFL national anthem protests out of the water.  Owners had been hoping that the protests would fade out over the course of the year but thanks to his fiery stump speech in Alabama, where he was promoting "Big Luther," they were forced to come to the defense of their players.  Even long-time friend Robert Kraft voiced his disappointment in Trump's coarse references.  Other owners stood with their players during the national anthem on Sunday, while entire teams stayed in their locker rooms while the anthem was being played.

This may come to be known as Black Sunday, the day the NFL stood up to the President of the United States, and to much of its fan base who seem to believe players have no right to express themselves in public.  The emerging hero among conservatives is Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva, who defied his coach's orders, and stood in the tunnel saluting the flag, while the rest of his Pittsburgh teammates sat in the locker room.  Coach Tomlin was none too happy about his player's decision, but wisely chose not to publicly chastise him.

All kinds of false quotes are being attributed to Jerry Jones, who has said he believes all his players should stand for the national anthem, but hasn't publicly threatened them.  Dallas was one of the few teams in which no player showed signs of protest.  The Cowboys may again become "America's team," although Chicago will get a lot of new fans for beating the defiant Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime.

Who knows maybe NFL ratings will go up now that Dotardly Don has chosen to chime in on the anthem protests?  He later defended his unsolicited comments, calling on fans to boycott the NFL until these unruly players are "fired or suspended."   This isn't the air traffic controllers union, but Trump seems to think he can influence owners to bring players in line.

What he got was an ethics violation slapped in his face.  Not that it will matter as Trump has little respect for the law.  He has crossed the line so many times since assuming office in January, but the Republican Congress refuses to hold him accountable.

His wrath spilled over to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, when he "uninvited" the team to the White House after Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant stated they wouldn't attend.  This showdown had been brewing for months but reached its ugly head over the weekend, with many NBA players condemning the President for his outlandish comments.

Our Twitter King is oblivious to such responses.  He is hoping to strike a chord with conservatives who have lost faith in him, knowing full well how much the flag means to these people.  In this sense, he is no better than the white supremacists who used the Charlottesville Robert E. Lee statue to try to solicit support.

Trump knows the value of such symbols and will use them for all they are worth, especially now that the Graham-Cassidy health care bill is in its final death throes.  Where's he going to come up with the money to pay for the greatest tax cuts in American history?  Sens. Graham and Cassidy hoped their bill would go a long way toward achieving this goal.

He could have also been upset that he got "out-tweeted" by Kim Jong Un, who had Americans racing to their dictionaries to find the meaning of "dotard."    Which would you rather be called: "rocket man" or "an old person who has become weak or senile?"

Whatever the case, he has chosen to vent his anger on overpaid athletes, since his generals probably nixed a direct strike on Pyongyang.   It was an easy scapegoat, as he still nurses a grudge against the NFL for the demise of the USFL back in the 1980s.  Trump had tried to muscle his way into the league, moving the USFL season from the summer to the fall in direct competition with the NFL.  Some analysts felt Trump was angling to get the NFL to expand and include his New Jersey Generals, but with two NFL teams already playing in the Meadowlands, there was no hope for such a merger.  This seems to be some kind of perverted payback, which also allows him the opportunity to shroud the failure of the impending health care vote this week.

The odd part is that Trump relied heavily on NFL owners, coaches and players to tout him during the campaign.  At a rally on the final evening of the campaign, he brandished a letter from Bill Belichick, proudly telling an audience in Manchester, New Hampshire, that he had the full support of both Belichick and Tom Brady, obvious fan favorites in New England.

It's the kind of love/hate relationship you can expect with Donald Trump.  One that we have seen played out numerous times over the past three decades since the man rose to be a Wall Street Pop Star.  No one could have imagined him ever becoming President, but here he is resorting to the same cheap tricks that got him all that attention back in the turbulent 80s.  The amazing thing is that his loyal supporters are totally blind to it.

Trump may very well have to move to Alabama or Kentucky when all is said and done, as he is isolating himself from most of the country with his constant rants on twitter.  But, his support of "Big Luther" may not be enough to pull the interim senator across the line, as many Alabamans prefer insurgent, Roy Moore, the so-called "Ten Commandments Judge."  Trump may not find the hospitality he longs for in the "Heart of Dixie."


Friday, September 22, 2017

The Jimmy Kimmel test




One would have thought that after the long break, Republicans would have come back with a new resolve to work with Democrats on improving the Affordable Care Act.  But, we should know better by now.  They appear to have no shame, especially Bill Cassidy who four months ago went on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! and vowed that he would not support any bill that didn't pass the "Jimmy Kimmel test."  Needless to say, Jimmy Kimmel let Bill Cassidy know what he thought about this turn of events.

Cassidy and Graham have teamed up to push yet another "last ditch" attempt to repeal and replace the ACA, which appears to be gaining traction in the Senate thanks to compromises meant to appease wayward senators like McCain and Murkowsky.  The GOP has apparently given up on Susan Collins.  They need both McCain and Murkowsky because Rand Paul is opposing the bill on different grounds.  No one is sure how many persons Paul can drag with him, but Sen. Thune seems to think the GOP is still five votes short.

So why go through this humiliation once again?  I suppose Republicans are trying to assure their constituency that they are on their side, even if it appears to be very shaky ground.  Polls show that 60% of conservatives disapprove of the way Congressional Republicans have handled health care, albeit for different reasons.  It seems Republican politicians are more concerned about losing their financial backers than they are their voters.

Sens. Graham and Cassidy's cynical bill would phase out federal subsidies over the next ten years, providing money for the much anticipated tax cuts Republicans have long been pushing.  Over a 20-year period, they project roughly $1.1 trillion would become available, therefore the tax cuts would not represent any significant increase to the national debt.

So what if the bill throws all those babies out with the bathwater, which is what has Jimmy Kimmel so upset after making his plaintive cry to the public.   He strongly felt that babies like his wouldn't have survived without the ACA because too many people don't have health insurance to cover such intensive care.

Cassidy countered on Fox & Friends that Jimmy doesn't understand the complexities of the bill.  He's not trying to kill babies.  But, the AMA and virtually all healthcare related organizations have come out in opposition to this latest Republican smoke and mirrors bill, siding with Jimmy, not Bill.

Once again it comes down to at least three Republican senators to vote no.  The Republicans appear to think they have McCain in the bank.  They are hoping to secure Lisa as a bonus, so that if they can't bring Rand Paul on board they can isolate him.  This is the way they negotiate health care.

No attempt to sit down with their own Republican governors, much less Democrats, who want to see a more comprehensive health care bill that deals with the shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act.  Many Republican states signed onto Medicaid expansion when it appeared that the ACA had become the law of the land, among them Lisa Murkowski's home state of Alaska.   Many Republican states also began assessing the feasibility of hosting their own health insurance marketplaces.  This bill would wipe out all those efforts, and reward those states that remained loyal to the GOP.

This not only fails the Jimmy Kimmel test but any test of decency.  It is a horribly cynical attempt by the GOP to come up with a way to cover their proposed tax cuts, and if that means purging health insurance for 30 million Americans then so be it.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Life of Brian




I came into the middle of Love & Mercy last night, which was a bit confusing since there was a "Brian - Past" and "Brian - Future," played by Paul Dano and John Cusack respectively.  The "Brian - Past" was more interesting as it revolved around the making of the Beach Boys' classic Good Vibrations, a polyphonic gem of a song.  Director Bill Pohland meticulously recreated the studio scene featured in the "lost studio footage" that appeared in 2012.

Seems everyone recognized Brian's immense talent except his father, who taunted and abused him for years, making Brian feel that his songs never measured up to his father's standard.  Not only that but he ended up with a domineering psychotherapist in the 1980s, who insinuated himself into every aspect of Brian's life.  By this point, Brian was so strung out that it probably took a domineering figure to bring him back onto the stage, but Dr. Landy didn't stop there.  He became partner in subsequent book and music deals that netted him a nice share of the pie.  He even managed to get himself written into Brian's will, but unfortunately the good doctor died before he could collect.

Genius comes with a heavy price.  Brian Wilson heard music on a level few of us could even imagine and transposed those sounds into multiple layered songs that defied the pop genre of its time.  Paul McCartney can only wish he wrote a song like Good Vibrations, which beautifully captured the psychedelic era in a wistful breezy way that plays just as well today as it did when it first appeared in 1966.

I thought the song originally appeared on Pet Sounds, but was released separately later the same year.  Brian had started it along with the other songs on the album, but couldn't quite resolve the harmonies before releasing Pet Sounds in May.  Seems critics didn't know what to make of these new Beach Boys, but the release of Good Vibrations along with one of the cuts from Pet Sounds, seemed to put it all together, as the single was a huge hit worldwide.  The Beach Boys had moved well beyond "surfer music."

Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations took harmonies to a whole new level.  This is something no other pop group at the time, or for that matter since, could pull off.  Crosby, Stills and Nash probably came the closest, and their harmonies seem clumsy by comparison.  There doesn't appear to be a note out of place in Wilson's best compositions, so carefully layered together that it takes many listenings to sort them all out.

There were critics.  Pete Townshend thought the harmonies were manufactured.  There was no way to repeat this on stage, which he thought was the whole point of rock and roll.  Brian was after something bigger.  If it took four studios and a wide variety of studio musicians to pull it off, so be it.  Needless to say, the song became the gold standard for subsequent productions.

It is hard to fathom why Murry tormented his sons so much, particularly Brian.  I suppose he thought they were veering off into a new music that wouldn't fetch the sales of previous singles and albums.  Murry was a businessman above all else.  The degree of abuse and manipulation he inflected on his sons could only be speculated until this letter came to light in 2010.  Murry was truly a sick, demented man.

Bill Pohland tries to cover a lot of ground in his movie, enough to fill a mini-series, but alas it fails to capture the mood of either the 60s or the 80s, which clash harshly in this biopic.  I suppose that is why the movie pretty much went under the radar, despite its impressive cast.  I think it is best to focus on one aspect of Brian Wilson at a time.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fire and fury signifying nothing




Yesterday being a Tuesday, I should have known anything could happen.  Trump dropped the bomb on the UN, giving what some reporters have called George W. Bush's "axis of evil" speech on steroids.  John Kelly's facial expressions said it all.

Trump veered wildly off course, not only lashing out at North Korea's "rocket man," but all "rogue leaders," as if he was the new sheriff in town.  He said he would "totally destroy" North Korea if he had to, which would be unsettling if he had any support among his staff, much less Congress, for such wild rhetoric.  Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson similarly appeared dazed and confused by Trump's hyperbolic rhetoric.

He chortled on twitter that he "met with leaders of many nations that agreed with much (or all) of what [he] stated in [his] speech!"  The only one smiling was Bibi Netanhayu who is trying to get Trump to tear up the Iran nuclear agreement so that he can take out their nuclear reactor.  Theresa May also supported Trump's positions on North Korea and Iran but was less gleeful.  There was no show of support for his comments by any other nation.

It's painfully obvious that there is no point in prepping Trump for an important speech as he refuses to stick with the script.  Any gathering is a rally for him.  He imagined all those world leaders in red MAGA caps and fired away.  I'm sure Presidents Putin and Xi must have been shaking their heads back home, wondering how much longer the US Congress can tolerate a man like this.  As for Kim Jong-Un, I'm sure we will see another rocket flying soon, maybe even in the direction of Guam just to gauge his fellow man-toddler's reactions.

Representatives of Iran, Syria and Venezuela, who were also tagged in Trump's angry speech, could be seen tweeting responses back home.  Most international representatives sat frozen in their chairs, as they usually do, inured to such hyperbolic speeches over the years, including Bibi's infamous red line speech, but they certainly didn't expect one like this coming from the United States.

Trump set a new low for the United States in world diplomacy, literally threatening to bring down the world around him, if that is what it takes to get people to notice him.  He is singularly obsessed with Kim Jong-Un, who has refused to cower to Trump's overblown gestures.

For the record, Kim's ballistic missile tests over Japan were 770 km into space and therefore did not violate Japan's airspace.  The rockets fell harmlessly into international waters.  As such, they do not infringe directly on any nation.  Yet, that hasn't stopped the Trump White House and an angry Shinzo Abe from declaring these missile tests an "outright challenge to the international community."

At this juncture, the missile tests represent an existential threat moreso than a real threat, as they show Pyongyang's rapidly developing long-range missile capabilities, yet he hasn't infringed on anyone's territorial limits.  We can no longer treat the "rocket man" as a laughing stock, which is the point he has been trying to make all along.  Yet, Trump continues to egg him on with such epithets, seeming to want to provoke the North Korean dictator into making a direct attack, thereby justifying a massive counter attack in response.  His UN speech is just a continuation of this coarse language.

Everyone recognizes the threat Kim Jong-Un poses, but the UN policy remains one of containment.  One can see the next gesture of the United States being to present a "white paper" to the Security Council calling for pre-emptive action.  However, the UN has been down this road before and I doubt will show anymore sympathy for the Trump administration than it did the Bush administration.  The UN will continue to press for negotiations, which are attached to the sanctions.

As Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom stated, "it was the wrong speech, at the wrong time, to the wrong audience."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Big Whiff




Looks like it was a big whiff at the UN for Donald Trump on Monday.  His speech was remarkably bland by his standards.  A bit disappointing since his aides indicated Trump would have some strong words to say to the general assembly.  Basically, he just talked, which is something he admonished the UN for in a December 2016 tweet.  So, was this stage fright, or did the president just get lost in his own words?

Of course, he was quick to condemn North Korea and Iran, but there wasn't much fire or fury in his comments.  Seems he has pretty much accepted there isn't much he can do about Pyongyang, when there is little will on the part of China and Russia to back sanctions.  Putin chose not to attend, preferring to watch the fireworks show along the Baltic border instead.  President Xi similarly skipped the assembly, having decided enough was said in a telephone conversation and there was no more to add.  This doesn't say much for Trump's ability to unite nations against North Korea.

Trump once again lends the impression of being irrelevant on an international stage.  No one seems to even care what he has to say anymore, preferring instead to talk with Mattis or Tillerson or Jared Kushner, since talking directly with Trump can be a very frustrating experience.  The main reason being that Trump seems so badly informed on any subject that you usually spend the entire time explaining matters to him as you would a child.

For his part, Trump doesn't seem to care.  This whole White House thing has become such an incredible drag that he is just counting down the days to when he can be on one of his golf courses in New Jersey or Florida or Virginia.  He makes appearances for appearance sake.  There's no fire in him at all.  Alex Jones thinks the president is being "covertly drugged."

All could be he has been put on some kind of medication, as he was flying off the rails at most public events.  There are still moments when the medication appears to be wearing off.  He just can't stop posting GIFs of him bashing his opponents.  He couldn't resist sharing a GIF of him whacking Hillary with a golf ball that came at 5:45 am.

It's hard to say what is going on in that perverted mind of his, but Hillary took a stab at it, referring to a time Trump questioned how long it took her to go to the bathroom.  Like most Americans, Trump seems to pick over trivial matters, imagining some foul and pestilent odor lurking there, yet shrugs off far more serious matters because he simply doesn't understand them.  This is what you get from a man who has almost no intellectual curiosity, except when it comes to women's hygiene practices.

The UN must be a huge mystery for him.   It is doubtful he has made much effort to familiarize himself with its goals.  He has left it up to Nikki Haley, the so-called velvet hammer, to "revamp" the UN, although no one seems to know what that entails.  Having survived James Bolton, I'm sure the UN figures it will survive Nikki Haley.

One can only hope that Trump's aides remember to give him meds before addressing the general assembly as a whole today.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hear MOAR roar!




So much for the Mother of All Rallies.  No more than 1800 Trumpers pitched up to show their support for the president, turning the rally into prime fodder for late night comics.  As it turned out, the Juggalos drew a bigger crowd, holding a free concert by the Lincoln Memorial to protest the FBI designating them as a "hybrid gang."

Yet MOAR has to be happy it got as much coverage as it did.  Even BBC devoted a segment to them last night.  It seems no matter how small the Trump rally, it still gets coverage as the media loves nothing more than showing what a Trump supporter looks like.  This is pretty much how the Birther campaign gained traction in 2009.  

Our flighty president escaped to his New Jersey retreat after another week marred by controversy.  He was getting it from all ends.  Right-wingers were furious he backtracked on DACA by working on a "deal" with the Democrats.  Others were upset when he once again equated Antifa with the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, claiming he was vindicated by comments on social media supporting his viewpoint.  Worst of all, the fashionistas ganged up on him for his mismatched suit.

It seems Trump wants to expand the definition of "hate groups" to include what he regards as militant left-wing organizations, or "some very bad people" as he calls them.  In the wake of the Charlottesville riot, the right-wing media has been quick to portray Antifa and Black Lives Matters as "black supremacy" organizations.  Conservative pundits are desperate to create a leftist equivalent to white supremacist groups, so as to deflect attention away from their own biases.

Trump has repeatedly played into this loose talk, which is why Jemele Hill called him a "white supremacist," among other things.  Naturally, he took offense to this and vented his wrath not only on her but ESPN for not dismissing her the way it did Curt Schilling.  Here again we see a false equivalence.  As this article points out, Schilling had been warned, then suspended, and then ultimately fired for his ongoing rants on social media.  Hill has not reached that stage of impudence.  Not only that, she apologized for her comments.  Something Schilling never did.

It is this false equivalence that is so frustrating.  Trump and his supporters used it to great effect throughout the campaign, pointing their fingers at Hillary whenever the media brought up Trump's numerous transgressions.  Attempts to draw his supporters out on talk shows were easily diverted by bringing up Hillary's e-mail controversy as if this trumped anything the Donald did.

Fortunately, it is proving a little harder to deflect attention away from Trump's ever-equivocating statements on white supremacy because no one wants to be called a racist, no matter how racist they are.  Not even Richard Spencer.  Equivocation has become a very effective technique among white supremacists.  

Bringing up Charlottesville again helps to mitigate whatever damage his vacillation on DACA did among right-wing groups.  Trump wants to play both ends against the middle, hoping to force Congress to act on his wall, the ultimate symbol of white supremacy.  This seems to be the only issue he holds dear, except maybe for his Muslim ban, which he recently brought up again too.

For its part, Congress refuses to act on either one, which frustrates Donald to no end.  Maybe he thinks by playing nice to "Chuck and Nancy" he can get Democrats to go along with his tougher border security.  But, Chuck said the wall is a non-starter, so one can expect Trump to drop DACA again soon.  The Dreamers never really mattered to him.

However, it seems his supporters are confused by all these mixed signals, which maybe why so few turned up for this big rally in Washington.  Organizers hoped to draw one million loyal Trumpers.  They fell 998,000 short of that mark. This can't sit well with a president who judges his popularity by the size of his crowds.