Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

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In this age of Donald J. Trump and the Mueller investigation, you can expect updates on what is happening to our country and its Constitution.

“Pray for Our Sinners” at the 58th Chicago International Film Festival Has United States Premiere

Pray for Our Sinners (2022)

“Pray for Our Sinners,” a documentary written and directed by Sinead O’Shea with music by George Brennan had its United States Premiere at the 58th Chicago International Film Festival. The 1 hour and 21 minute film documents the abuse of women and children in Ireland in decades past, perpetrated with the approval of the Catholic church.

The abuse took place in Ireland for literally decades until at least the 1980s.

Sinead O’Shea focused on her own home town of Navan in central Ireland and interviewed women who, as young teenagers, were sent away to mother and baby homes and forced to give up their babies. She interviewed female victims who had suffered this fate when just teenagers, and also spoke with now adult victims of brutality in the schools, suffered as children. Much of her conversation was with Dr. Mary Randle, who, along with her doctor husband, fought against the injustices. One of the topics was the local parish priest of those years, Father Andy Farrell. (It seems that Father Farrell discovered malfeasance in church finances and was spirited out of his post when he reported it.)

In 1921 Ireland earned its independence from England, but by 1937 the Catholic Church had managed to incorporate its beliefs into Irish law. In a country where 91% were church-goers, 6% said they attended occasionally, and only 3% said they never attended church, Ireland had more people institutionalized than any other civilized country. A citizen could be sent to an institution for all manner of misbehavior, as viewed by the church. For instance, if you talked about your feelings you could be declared “hysterical” and put away.

God was everywhere. That was the point. Few women worked. There was a law forbidding women from working after marriage. Women were to be submissive and produce children. However, unwed mothers were shamed into submission and forced to go to mother and baby homes, where the nuns who ran them made it their mission to “punish” the pregnant girls. There were at least 21,000 illegal adoptions from these homes during the era. According to a 2021 study, 9,000 babies and their mothers died in the homes.

Pregnant girls were treated like criminals. Even during delivery, they would be chastised for their bad behavior in becoming pregnant in the first place. Contraception was not available if the doctor did not want the woman to have access; divorce was forbidden. As one former resident of one of the homes said, “Your mail would be read. You were made to wash floors, even when 9 months pregnant. There was no breastfeeding. They wanted to do something to hurt you.”

Writer/Director Sinead O’Shea.

If women were mistreated, children were also targeted. The Catholic church ran the schools. Corporal punishment was the norm in towns across Ireland. Into this sea of misery a husband and wife doctor team in Navan, Mary and Patrick (“Paddy”) Randle, chose to speak out when others were too cowed to do so.

A 10-year-old boy. Norman, was beaten with a leather hose with metal inserts because he was left-handed. When Paddy Randle found out, he spoke up and demanded that such abuse cease. Twenty children who were brave enough to speak out were gathered. Since the local paper would not tell their story, the “News of the World” in London interviewed the children and ran a story on Sunday, May 4, 1969, under the title “Children Under the Lash.”

When the local priests in Navon learned that the paper was going to run the story, the newspaper was seized as it was entering the city. Norman was kicked out of school by the church authorities at the age of 9 and, even today, he has no papers to document his life in Ireland. He is like a ghost without a country in “Europe’s last theocracy.”

As Dr. Mary Randle described her efforts and those of her now-deceased husband to help the struggling women and children of their small Irish town. She said, “It was like a whole empire designated to punish girls and children.It’s just, yet again, a diminishment of women, how they were treated.”

I am Irish Catholic. My home county in Iowa, the Dubuque diocese, was very Catholic. Back in the sixties, drugstores in Dubuque, Iowa, would not sell the birth control pill to unwed girls. When I was in the hospital, having just given birth in 1968—a married woman, age 23—one of my doctors (who was a devout Catholic) refused my request for a prescription for the pill. He would pass such requests along to his Protestant partner, who had no such reservations.

There are political forces abroad in our land right now who would like nothing better than to deny United State females the right to purchase the birth control pill, because the ability to choose when (or if) to have a child empowers a woman. The immediate battleground is the issue of abortion, but the signs are there that that is just the first stop on the path of the current Conservative Supreme Court.

As for corporal punishment, when I was introduced to my very first classroom in the fall of 1969, a fellow teacher handed me a paddle and instructed me on the “proper” way to use it to paddle misbehaving students. I was appalled. I threw it away immediately. This disciplinary method had been ongoing in the district. If you think nothing like these Irish stories could ever go on in the United States, guess again. You just have to be old enough to have lived it, as I have.

I remember all the pregnant girls in my high school who were “drummed out of the Corps.” Once it was determined that a girl was pregnant out of wedlock, she was banished from attending class. (The boyfriend who had impregnated her suffered no such punishment.) The expectant mother would disappear to a mother and baby home run by the Catholic church. The home would house her until she delivered her child.

As one of the women in the film testifies, “There’s no point in talking about today and then, because it was so different.” Yes, it was. I remember it well. I am saddened to see the same power play(s) being perpetrated upon this generation of women in the United States via the currently red hot abortion issue. It’s done in the interests of refusing to empower women.

The most important decision a woman will make in her lifetime is whether or not to give birth. It will affect every facet of her life from that time forward. It should be her decision, in consultation with her doctors and her family. It should not be legislated or decided by a group of men in Washington, D.C.

Director/Writer Sinead O’Shea does a nice job of painting a picture of yesterday that I lived through and remember only too well. By quoting Dr. Mary Randle (“There is always a way to resist”) and painting a picture of the abuses of the Catholic Church against the weakest among their charges, O’Shea has vividly illustrated how irreparable harm can be done in the name of religion.

The law banning corporal punishment in the schools of Ireland passed in that country in 1984. Divorce is now legal and laws banning women from working are a thing of the past. The attempts to roll back Roe v. Wade in the United States under the cover of religion are ongoing and on the ballot in November.

Another documentary by Sinead O’Shea is 2017’s “A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot.”

“The Natural History of Destruction” at the 58th Chicago International Film Festival

“Babi Yar. Context” (AP 1944 Photo)

 

Perhaps the most succinct thing that can be said about “The Natural History of Destruction,” a film that screened at Cannes by Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, is that there is nothing “natural” in destroying what has taken civilization centuries to build. There is nothing “natural” about massive civilian loss of life. This screening was the North American Premiere of the film.

On October 22nd, the film was awarded the Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival, with the following comments:

Silver Hugo
THE NATURAL HISTORY OF DESTRUCTION (Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands)
Dir. Sergei Loznitsa
Sergei Loznitsa has accomplished a pure cinematic experience which displaces our political positions, and compels us to empathize with the German citizens living through the war they instigated. By means of meticulous and slow editing, a complex array of scenes, rich with nuanced sonic detail, unfold in front us. The archival black and white images are breathless and relentless: they confront us without buffer with the horror of the war machine, to which there are no winners and everyone is a victim. The rare and strategic placement of speeches, as well as the occasional leak of color into the scenes, punctuate the otherwise non verbal stretches of accumulating horror: we witness war from all angles – from above and below, from close up and from afar, from within the machine performing the wreckage, from the factory assembling its parts, and from the bottom of the ruins it leaves behind.

This 1 hour and 52 minute film is based on the book by German writer  W.G. Sebald, “Air War and Literature.” It has no narration, as such, and consists solely of archival material of bombs being made. Bombs being loaded  onto war planes. Planes dropping bombs. Bombs exploding. Dead bodies on the ground. Civilians suffering the after-effects of the bombings.

There is, however a prelude of sorts where we see the happy civilian populace of a variety of cities—mostly in Germany, it appears, from the blimp flying overhead (OL-2129) with the German swastika on its tail. The people are enjoying life, unaware of the tragedy that is about to befall them.

Most of the footage is black-and-white, but it lapses into color periodically. What we see of the unnamed cities are bombed-out craters, buildings on fire, and complete rubble. In other words, it looks a lot like the Ukrainian cities that are being bombed by the Russians now, or like the remains of Naples, Florida after Hurricane Ian.

What little narration there is may be mumbled voices saying things like: “I’ve never seen anything like this.” “Neither have I.” “4,000 pounds just went up.” “Good show!”

The use of “Good show” pins down the bombers as being the RAF (British Royal Air Force), but the Luftwaffe is also involved in a variety of dogfights, and we hear other speakers (Churchill, Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, Field Marshal Mongtomery) talking about the entrance into the war of the United States: “Now we are no longer alone.  We have powerful allies.  Many tonnage of explosives can be carried into Germany.” Prime Minister Winston Churchill is shown being applauded by crowds in the streets and saying  the British shall “stride forward into the unknown.”

Churchill is also heard saying:  “We shall drive on to the end and do our duty, win or die. God helping us,  we can do no other.”  Churchill also urges German civilians to flee the cities where munitions are being made and watch their country burn from afar (or something else remarkably uncharitable).

A German voice, unidentified, decries the “shameful bloody campaign of today” and vows to fight on using counter-terrorism. You get the feeling that the director simply wants to make the point that killing innocent civilians of ANY country is unjustified, but the lack of identification of cities or speakers or air forces leaves one adrift. Are we looking at the ruins of Germany or of England? It probably doesn’t matter to the director, who simply wants to make the point that this sort of wanton destruction is wrong, no matter what.

British officer Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris is heard saying, “There are a lot of people saying bombing can never win a war. So, then, I say, we shall see. Germany will make a most interesting initial experiment.”

I live near Arsenal Island in Rock Island County, Illinois. The island has been involved in making munitions for the U.S. Army for a very long time—at least back to the Civil War, when it also served as a POW camp for captured Confederate soldiers.  In the event of a nuclear Armageddon, which seems more and more likely with leaders like Vladimir Putin on the loose, we will have a big target on our backs as the enemy attempts to wipe out the capabilities of this large government installation.

I hope this Ukrainian filmmaker’s plea that people wake up and quit wreaking destruction on peaceful civilians in such horrible ways  finds an audience of sane leaders, but it seems less likely with every passing day. “The Natural History of Destruction” opens on October 17, 2022.

Nashville Film Festival Screens “Still Working 9 to 5” on Sunday, October 2, 2022

Back in 1981, Dolly Parton’s theme song snagged an Oscar nomination for the film “9 to 5.” (Her song lost to the theme from “Fame”).

Some 42 years later the documentary “Still Working 9 to 5” by Camille Hardman and Gary Lee is playing the Nashville Film Festival. It is a documentary that heralds and memorializes the struggles of working women for “raises, rights and respect.” Women have, historically, been valued less than their male counterparts in the work force. That realization caused star Jane Fonda, in partnership with Gary Lane, to try to make a film that would be informative on this topic.

In 1970, one in every three women in the work force was engaged in clerical work, generally as a secretary. There were 20 million such office workers in the 1970s and they were routinely subjected to sexual harassment, poorer wages than their male co-workers and many other inequities. Not only were the women’s good ideas co-opted by male superiors (and then presented as the men’s own) but the women were often not promoted when they were as qualified (or more qualified) than the male worker (whom they had often trained). The men got the promotion. One line from the film that particularly resonated with me, an excuse for this obviously unfair labor practice: “Well, he does have a family to support.”

My own father (born in 1902) refused to support me in my desire to go to law school after completing my undergraduate degree, because there was a perception that there were “women’s jobs” and “men’s work. One male interviewee on the street articulated it this way in the documentary: “They (women) should do feminine work.” In the 60s, feminine work was being a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher. Other fields were not “suitable” because we women would just be taking up space that should rightfully be occupied by a male head of a family. (Oh, how time have changed!)

It was attitudes like these that were foisted on the American female work force and caused one worker, Lilly Ledbetter, to ultimately sue, when she learned that she was one of four managers doing exactly the same job as her three male co-workers, but the men were being paid $6,000 a month while she was being paid only $3,000 a month. Women in general, made only 60 cents on the dollar in the late 70s and the gender pay gap In the U.S. meant that we ranked #51 on a list of the world’s most equitable work forces. A white woman worker at the time the film was released (1980) made 79 cents on the dollar in comparison with a male worker, while a Latino female worker fell even further behind, making only 54 cents on the dollar  when compared to a man.

When Lilly Ledbetter sued in Alabama, the resulting bill, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restitution Act was the first bill that Barack Obama signed as President in 2009. The characters in the original “9 to 5”—Lily, Violet and Doralee—needed their jobs. They were not simply working to supplement their spouse’s incomes. They were career women before society allowed women to have lucrative careers. Only 6 out of every 100 of the clerical staff, if female, ever advanced to management in the 70s.

As nearly the only girl in my group of 10 high school female friends with a working Mom (a schoolteacher), I lived through that era. It was “okay” for a woman to be a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher, but when I mentioned becoming a lawyer, my father  expressed the same sentiments that the men on the street in this documentary articulated. It was (then) okay for a woman to have a job to supplement her husband’s income, (or as a hobby), but “real work” was for men.

This double standard caught the attention of Jane Fonda, well-known (and often vilified) for embracing and examining important cultural issues and trying to make a difference. Some called “9 to 5” a “militant feminist cry.” Others termed it “a breakout cultural moment.” As a busy rebel and pusher of causes, Fonda knew she wanted Lily Tomlin for the cast. Dolly Parton entered, Fonda said, when she heard Dolly singing on the radio; it occurred to her that Parton could probably act as well as sing.  One of the screenwriters had originally envisioned the film focusing on 5 women, but that number was whittled down to 3.

Fonda also realized that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” She and Gary Lane understood that comedy rather than drama was the best way to get their message across.  Colin Higgins—writer of such hits as “The Best Liittle Whorehouse in Texas,” “Harold and Maude,” “Foul Play” and “Silver Streak” —was brought in to write and direct.

Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton in ‘Still Working 9 to 5.”

The studio wanted a movie star, not a television actor.  Dabney Coleman (now 90) was known for television appearances on shows such as “The Love Boat,” “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” The studio preferred that either Steve Martin or Richard Dreyfuss play the part of Frank Hart, the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot (think Trump on steroids).

The film went on to become the second highest-grossing film of the year, second only to “The Empire Strikes Back,” taking in $100, 409, 707 at the box office. This documentary—which reunites Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, Dabney Coleman, and other commenters, like Rita Moreno—  is shot against the backdrop of the turbulent years of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) movement, with Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum mobilizing opposition to giving women equal rights under the Constitution. (The ERA bill missed the deadline for passage and so never became law; my silver bracelet is still in my jewelry box.) The Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings are also revisited.

When asked if they intended to light the fire of feminine revolt against injustice back in 1980 with their movie “9 to 6” Fonda said, “Secretaries are lighting the fire; we’re just fanning the flames.” As one protest sign said, “Women are pissed off about being pissed on.”

When the Broadway version of “9 to 5” came to Broadway in 2009 (and again in a 2019 revival) it was quite interesting to see Harvey Weinstein (THE Harvey Weinstein), an investor in the play, say, “This play could run forever simply on the attitude of employees toward their boss. I know that everyone in my company wants to kill me.”

It was a great film back in 1980 and it’s a great documentary for the U.S to contemplate.— then and now. There’s also a new rendition of the Oscar-nominated theme song, featuring Kelly Clarkson and Dolly Parton.

“Jacir” Opens Up Worthwhile Discussion of U.S. Attitudes Towards Immigrants at Nashville Film Festival on September 30, 2022

“Jacir” at the 53rd Nashville Film Festival.

“Jacir” screened on Friday, September 30th, at the 53rd Annual Nashville Film Festival. It is the story of a refugee, Jacir, as he flees Aleppo (Syria) and tries to assimilate into the ghetto (Memphis, Tennessee). Written and directed by Waheed AlQawasmi, the 1 hour and 44 minute film is filled with great performances, good rap music, and a variety of profound insights into what life as an immigrant in the United States is like.”

Synopsis: “JACIR follows the life of a young Syrian refugee (Malek Rahbani) on the streets of Memphis, Tennessee, as he faces the stark reality of chasing the American dream. He finds himself alone, living in poverty, without knowledge of the culture, and struggling with his poor English… very far from the ideal new life he imagined.” (”Land of the free. Bullshit!”)

Jacir is a Good Samaritan who tries to help others. This propensity for being there for others gets him into trouble with the immigration authorities and his sponsor, Adam (Tony Mehanna). The authorities, represented by Agent Simmons (Mark Jeffrey Miller), just want refugees to become ghosts. Don’t make waves is the operating mantra.

Jacir, however, is the kind of person who tries to help others out of empathy and instinct. He saves his neighbor’s life on one occasion and intervenes when she is being robbed by burglars. This causes his name to appear on police reports, which brings ICE authorities down on him, causing increased scrutiny of his paperwork and an actual chase through the streets of Memphis. He faces deportation until a climactic moment when others reach out to help him.

A strange new environment is the least of Jacir’s problems. He befriends a cat, Morty, who belongs to his next-door neighbor, Meryl Jackson (Lorraine Bracco) “Good old Meryl” is a conservative Caucasian lady who is an opioid-addicted shut-in and former blues singer. Her character represents a large swath of America who reflexively reject people from another country as interlopers, reacting with suspicion and hostility, no matter how friendly the stranger appears. Unwelcoming is an understatement.

Tremendous Thespian Trio

“Jacir” at the 53rd Nashville Film Festival.

The three leads portraying Meryl, Jacir and Jerome are terrific. They are ably supported by the actors playing the restaurant boss, Adam, and his daughter, Nadia.

Lorraine Bracco, who plays Jacir’s next-door neighbor, is an Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe nominee known for her turns in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and David Chase’s The Sopranos, among many other films and TV projects. Bracco gets the line, “I’m not good at a lot of things, but I am good at listening.” I’m certain I’m not the only “Sopranos” fan in the audience who immediately thought of Bracco’s stint on that show as Tony Soprano’s psycho-therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, a role she played from 1999 to 2007. That whiskey quality in her voice made her character’s back story as a blues singer very believable and gave her singing of the song “Night by Night” authenticity. Meryl, as a widowed woman estranged from her only son, finally “does the right thing” and accepts Jacir’s overtures of friendship and good will, instead of continuing her initial racist diatribes. Her performance is in line with her outstanding role in “Goodfellas” in 1990 for which she received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress at the 1991 Academy Awards.

Malek Rahbani is the grandson of Mansour Rahbani, the Lebanese composer, musician, producer, and one-half of the Rahbani brothers. Malek grew up surrounded by artists, music, and poetry. His TV career includes playing Tiger on Chawareh Al-Zill and co-writing and acting in the Jungle Law series, which he worked on with his brothers, Mansour and Tarek. He is one of a formidable trio of lead actors in this thoughtful film, gradually growing close to “good old Meryl” and experiencing rejection from his employer and sponsor, Adam, who tells him, “I curse the day I sponsored you.”

The third member of the Terrific Trio of actors in this exploration of the refugee experience in the United States is Black comedian and actor Darius “Tutweezy” Tutwiler, a  comedian and social influencer with over 700,000 followers on Instagram. Jerome, a co-worker of Jacir’s at the Arabic restaurant shares the realization that they are both outcasts in this country, shunned and discriminated against. At one point, Jerome tells Jacir that he is “one step closer to being a Memphis n—-.” Jacir’s showing up in a Trump/Pence shirt that says, “Making America Great Again” is a nice sarcastic touch (Jerome makes Jacir change).

Justin Toland composed the music; Al Kapone executive produced the rap song. The music is an integral part of the film. Like America itself, reactions to Jacir are a polyglot mélange of racist views that one might hear from the MAGA crowd (especially prominent in a restaurant scene). Against that fabric we see the hopeful attempts to fit in and be useful from the good-hearted Jacir, the general indifference of white residents like Meryl and the immigration officials, and the brave souls who recognize that Jacir is deserving of their compassion and empathy.

The script is insightful and thought-provoking. The character of Jerome makes it very clear that being Black in America is not much better than being an immigrant refugee; the destruction of the restaurant where Jerome and Jacir work, with graffiti saying “Sand N——” underscores the truth of what Jerome says. (“We go through the same shit, fool!”) Cinematography by Ryan Earl Parker depicts Memphis’ Beale Street almost as though it were a fever dream reflection of the nightmares that afflict Jacir routinely as he remembers the war-torn Syria from which he fled.

I nodded my head in agreement when the screenplay articulated the thought, “It’s just so much easier to tear things down than to build them up.” These are concepts that people like Steve Bannon should take to heart. Convicted con-man Bannon promotes “the second turning” of complete destruction of all established norms and authorities in interviews. (See “American Dharma”).

As the script points out, it seems as though “Everyone (in America) is just out for themselves.” But Jacir is living up to his mother’s words that he should stay strong and composed no matter what happens. He is one of the “good guys” whose assimilation can make our country stronger and cancel out the evil deeds of immigrants like those who perpetrated the Boston Marathon Bombing. It is easier to understand why a foreigner might strike out against his adopted country when we experience life seen through Jacir’s eyes. And, on the eve of Hurricane Ian, we must remember that good does still exist in this country, with strangers reaching out to help their fellow man, side-by-side with those who would collaborate to use pandemic funds set aside for hungry school children in Minnesota to buy personal luxuries. Even World Famous quarterbacks are implicated in immensely selfish behavior, but good people still exist, just as welcoming citizens balance out the racist isolationists.

At one point, Jacir cries out in agony, asking where he is supposed to be at home, since he has been driven from his own homeland and is now being rejected by his adopted country. However, as Jacir says, “When you have a couple of bullets fly past your head—at that point neither religion, money or citizenship will help you out.”

This is a great film with a Terrific Trio of three lead actors who make it work. The love interest is Leila Almas Rose as the feisty Nadia and the critical look at the U.S. and how we treat immigrants is both scathing and long-overdue. Both newcomers, “Tutweezy” and Malek Rahbani, do themselves and the film proud on what I hope will be the beginning of many future film appearances for each of them.

Best Poker Movies of the Past 25 Years

When it comes to movies,  setting can be everything.

Movies about love, conflict, redemption (and any other theme) are judged as much by where and when they’re set as on their themes.  Take “Titanic,” for example.  It’s a love story, but it is set against the backdrop of that well-known tragic disaster, adding to the poignancy of the romance.

“Forrest Gump” was the biggest live action film of 1994. This Tom Hanks/Robin Wright/Sally Field film utilized multiple locations to present a complicated tale of equality and acceptance. “Forrest Gump” was popularized using numerous nods to history, including some instances in which star Tom Hanks is inserted into actual photographs of the time, “Zelig” style. Along with references to Elvis Presley, there were historical references that made the movie accessible to any audience and helped emphasize Director Robert Zemeckis’ messages. (I met Robert Zemeckis in Chicago when he was publicizing the 2012 film “Flight” with Denzel Washington.)

Choosing the right backdrop and setting can make or break a film.

Poker is a setting writers use to accentuate tension. When poker is included in a film, it can leave you feeling like you have been dealt a royal flush. Worldwide, it is a popular game, with complex rules. Audiences are generally familiar with common poker terms and rules, which helps sell the film. Taking the tension of a high stakes poker game and interpreting it in writing, however, can be a difficult task. But when poker is incorporated skillfully into the plot of a film, it can enhance the viewing experience.

The iconic poker movie  was “Rounders,” released in 1998. The film featured Matt Damon, Edward Norton and Gretchen Mol in a plot that IMDB.com describes this way: “A young, reformed gambler must return to playing big stakes poker to help a friend pay off loan sharks, while balancing his relationship with his girlfriend and  his commitments to law school.”

That classic aside, here are three of the best, albeit, lesser-known poker films of the past 25 years:

“Finder’s Fee” (2001) dropped just before the original poker boom, which changed poker overnight.
Rather than raising the stakes, it folded quickly, which is a real shame. This Ryan Reynolds, James Earl Jones, Matthew Lillard film is overlooked among poker films. The central character finds a $6 million winning lottery ticket. The twist come when he finds himself embroiled in a backroom poker game where the stake is a simple lottery ticket. The action takes place over a single night.

Released in 2017, “Molly’s Game” is the best poker movie to hit  screens in the past five
years. It features Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, the real-life organizer of illicit poker games between high profile stars.
The film is based on Molly Bloom’s book of the same name and was Aaron Sorkin’s (“The West Wing”) directorial debut.
Kevin Costner and Idris Elba also appeared in the all-star cast with characters based on real-life poker-playing personalities, such as Tobey Maguire. Michael Cera (Player X) and Jeremy Strong, Emmy-nominated this year for his role as Kendall Roy in “Succession,”also were featured in the cast. “Molly’s Game” won several awards, including Best Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin at AARP’s Movies for Grownups Awards.  It is just one of many Jessica Chastain strong roles that were overlooked prior to her Oscar win last year for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” (“Take Shelter” was another, in support of Michael Shannon.)

“Lucky You” (2007) attempted to seize upon the popularity of poker during the boom. Filmed on location in Las Vegas, $58 million was invested in this story of Huck Cheever (Eric Bana), a young talented poker player who made it to the World Series of Poker while striving to move out of the shadow of his poker-playing father (Robert Duvall). The movie made only $8.4 million at the box office, opening opposite “Spider-Man 3.” Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, and Robert Duvall starred, directed by Curtis Hanson (“8 Mile,” “L.A. Confidential”) who co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”). As with “Rounders,” the film has stood the test of time, although it did not find an audience at the time of its release.

 

Hundreds of Top Secret and Classified Documents Found in Mar-a-Lago Raid

The search at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 found twice as many classified documents as Trump’s lawyers had turned over voluntarily, despite promising they had returned everything. This was also despite two attorneys (one named Evan Corcoran—hope he’s no relative) signing off and telling the FBI that those they had initially taken were the extent of it, when they were not.

The documents had been seen by members of the club, some of whom ratted The Donald out about his lax handling of the sensitive documents, marked Top Secret, Secret and Confidential. Regardless of how “sensitive” the documents were, they should not have been removed from the White House. It is not true that “they all do it” and that “Obama took some, too.” All previous presidents followed elaborate protocols for when and where they could even look at the documents, but Trump apparently kept some of his “mementos” in his desk drawer and would show it to casual Mar-A-Lago visitors. Among those items were the “love notes” from the North Korean dictator to Mr. Trump. Another he had removed was the letter left him by former President Barack Obama.

The blacking out (redacting) of much of the search warrant language was necessary to protect both the witnesses who have testified to seeing the documents in Mar-A-Lago and to the identity of other secret sources, whose very lives might be endangered.

Apparently, Trump considered anything he touched during his time in office “his.” He considered himself to be much like a king and everything was “his.”

Even if the documents were as ordinary as the menu for breakfast (and they weren’t) removing them from the White House was wrong and an obstruction of justice, and, since the many polite government requests to give them back ended with only a partial return of the papers, the FBI conducted its raid on Aug. 8th. And, to make matters worse, the ex-president and his cronies attempted to move the documents around to prevent the government from seeking their rightful return.

As the “New York Times” put it:

“The investigation into Mr. Trump’s retention of government documents began as a relatively straightforward attempt to recover materials that officials with the National Archives had spent much of 2021 trying to retrieve. The filing on Tuesday (Aug. 30)  made clear that prosecutors are now unmistakably focused on the possibility that Mr. Trump and those around him took criminal steps to obstruct their investigation.

Investigators developed evidence that “government records were likely concealed and removed” from the storage room at Mar-a-Lago after the Justice Department sent Mr. Trump’s office a subpoena for any remaining documents with classified markings. That led prosecutors to conclude that “efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” the government filing said.

The filing included one striking visual aid: a photograph of at least five yellow folders recovered from Mr. Trump’s resort and residence marked “Top Secret” and another red one labeled “Secret.”

It is time. LOCK HIM UP!

The legal filing included a photo of documents seized at Mar-a-Lago.Department of Justice

Beware of So-Called “Questionnaires” Posing As Objective: It’s the GOP At Work

Future President of the United States Joe Biden in Independence, Iowa, on the Fourth of July, 2019.

This is a bit of a stream-of-consciousness comment, following the phone call I received yesterday that asked me to participate in a survey. It was a robo-call, automated, and purported to be objective, asking for how much knowledge you had about the candidates for Cheri Bustos’ former seat in Congress.

At first, it asked for things that seemed “normal,” such as age, income, and knowledge of the candidates running in the mid-term election.

I did notice that all of the Republican candidates (Esther Joy King) were mentioned first in each and every comparison to her Democratic challenger, Eric Sorenson. You had to punch 1 through 6 for some questions and, in some cases, such as your gender, there were only 2 buttons to click for male or female. A 1 would generally mean that you disliked the remark and a 6 (and just up to that) indicated strong support for the premise, with the middle numbers indicating more neutral stances.

After the routine, normal questions, the questionnaire took a nasty turn.

All of the scenarios that depicted Eric Sorenson (the Democratic candidate) were quite negative. All of the scenarios for the Republican candidate (Esther Joy King) were portrayed much more positively. The backgrounds of the prospective candidates were definitely being “cherry-picked,” for sure. For instance, Sorensen was depicted as just shy of a zealot regarding global warming and bound to spend all of your money on measures to counteract climate change. Quite frankly, as you watch the nightly news of each and every climate disaster, the charge that Sorensen wants to try to fix the flooding and fires seemed like a positive, to me, but the questionnaire found it objectionable that he was in favor of trying to reduce green house gases so that we might be able to get out of the horrible weather cycles we are currently facing. (One has to sigh heavily when thinking of how much more actively this entire situation would have been addressed under President Al Gore way back in 2000. We would have had 22 years to plan for what is now upon us, but “W” and the GOP did not believe in global warming and vocally castigated those who raised their voices with the scientific predictions that are coming true right now.

Most of the situations depicted were actually  accusations that Eric Sorensen, a former weatherman, had  little to do with. He hasn’t been in office, so he really doesn’t have a track record to mention. They were presented in the context of, “Eric is a Democrat and would support Joe Biden and Joe Biden did ______, ______, and ______.” The things that poor Eric was being accused of were pretty far out there and definitely neither his fault nor something his campaign necessarily ran on. To listen to the recorded voice, poor Eric was almost solely responsible for inflation. Any minute I expected the accusations to veer into criminal territory.

In other words, this so-called objective “survey” was a thinly-veiled advertisement for the GOP candidate.

If you answer your phone and hear that it is a “questionnaire” be warned.

Alexi Giannoulias

I was fortunate that I had researched all of the candidates in the primary and run an informational piece on all of them in both parties and on Alexi Giannoulis, who was running for office after years away from a position in Illinois government.

Will the Texas Power Grid Prevail in These High Energy Times?

I’m sitting in the Illinois Quad Cities, where it is currently 95 degrees. And humid. Very, very humid. It’s 100 degrees in Des Moines and 91 degrees in my old hometown in northeast Iowa (Independence). Because of the humidity, it feels more like 107.

In Austin, Texas, our home away from home, it is 97 degrees. One wonders how the weird Texas power grid will hold up, given its spectacular failure in February of 2021. Texas wanted to have its very own power grid to escape and avoid federal oversight, but they are “on their own” in such power emergencies. And when it’s hot in the summer, AC is a power emergency. And when it snowed in Austin (a rare occurrence) it was a power emergency on the other side of the dial.

“Daily Kos” reported that “intensifying Texas heat is poised to test the power grid on Thursday with demand seen topping 80 gigawatts for the first time ever.”

Running turbines are expected to bolster electricity supplies, reducing the threat of outages as homeowners and businesses crank up air conditioners across the second-largest US state, according to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas Inc. [ERCOT]

We lived through the power outage in February of 2021 in Austin, Texas, that killed hundreds and cost many homeless people the total loss of their toes and/or feet. It was truly NOT a good thing. We had to melt down our snowman to be able to flush our toilets! We had to use Saran wrap on dirty plates because there was no water with which to wash dishes (or anything else). Not fun. The catastrophe totally upended businesses like the HEB food store shelves, which were largely bare for at least a week after the storm hit.

Elsewhere today (8/6/2022), near the White House, lightning struck and killed 3 people, critically injuring 4 people. Donna and James Mueller, grandparents from Wisconsin, died. Kentucky has been hit by floods. Missouri also experienced torrential downpours. The U.S. hurricane system will produce an above-average series of storms, up 60%, says the National Weather Service. Death Valley National Park has 1,000 people stranded there amid flooding, and water is becoming a precious commodity in the western part of our nation, where fires have ravaged states like California

The drought is so intense that there is no absorption of any rainfall. Fires have been everywhere in the west, while states like Washington, and cities like Seattle, where only 40% have A/C, are suffering in this nationwide heat wave. Yellowstone shut down. Our national parks are proving to us that these are different days and we should have fought harder to install Al Gore, who probably really won in 2000 and championed global warming. (Just think how much better off we would have been with a president who championed curbing climate change for 8 years, rather than one who started 2 unwinnable wars simultaeously.)

Cities are hitting 110 temperatures in Scottsdale, AZ, and in  Phoenix, the current temperature is 106. Heat stress is real. It takes a toll on our GDP. Emergency room visits; Health care costs. All are affected. Cooling centers and city planning will be affected in our murky future.

I hope that Texas’ weird power grid system makes it through this hot period, before I arrive in the fall. Personally, I think it is very unfair to turn the Texas Power Grid into a “money-making” scheme, operating much like surge pricing by Uber and Lyft. More is charged during “peak periods” and the bills, currently, are staggering in cities like Dallas.

By NOT being part of the East or West power grids of this country, the state also misses out on the ability to borrow power from other states in an emergency and on the ability to sell excess power to other states. Only El Paso escaped the chaos in February, 2021, as they had joined one of the two national power grids, which was wise.

Amidst all this chaos, the $369 billion climate investment of the new bill passed by the Democrats and the Biden administration seems very, very sound, if, arguably, not large enough.  The goal is to decrease fossil fuel emissions by 40% by 2030. [The bill that is passing today will also provide health changes, including capping Medicare out-of-pocket costs at $2 k and giving Medicare the power to negotiate some drug prices, while also extending the Affordable Care Act for 3 more years].

One wonders how much longer the GOP  will continue to maintain that there is no global warming, Donald J. Trump won the election, and Covid will go away when the weaather gets warmer.

 

Was Ivana Trump’s Burial Site A Tax Dodge for “The Donald?”

I originally found out about Ivana Trump’s burial just off the 1st hole of Donald J. Trump’s New Jersey golf course from a Tweet, which seems somehow apropos. The tweet was accompanied by a copy of the New Jersey Tax Code (see below), to prove the argument that Ivana’s  sad-looking grave plot was a tax scheme that The Donald thought up to save money. There were also allegations that Ivana’s estate was dunned as much as $150,000 for her final services. One article claimed that she was even charged, post mortem, for a membership, but that one may be overkill.

The entire contention gained steam when a Dartmouth professor (Brooke Harrington) published the New Jersey relevant tax code. “Vanity Fair” followed up with the  (slightly abbreviated) article below.

We all knew DJT was capable of lots of shady behavior, but it is seriously sad that the grave of the woman who bore him three children and was an integral part of his empire for 14 years looks like someone’s pet is buried there. It’s too depressing to put a picture of her grave site here, but look it up for yourself if you doubt my description.

To wit, the “Vanity Fair” account:

“Insider reports that “the location of Ivana Trump’s grave—near the first hole of the golf course at Trump National Golf Club—may have tax implications for the business owned by the former president.” And by “tax implications,” the outlet obviously means burying his first wife on the property of his golf club may help minimize Trump’s tax bill.  While ProPublica previously reported that Trump Family Trust tax documents show the family worked to establish a nonprofit cemetery company in Hackettstown, New Jersey—which, under the state’s tax code, would exempt the site from taxes, rates, and assessments, and the company from real estate taxes, rates, and assessments—that’s roughly 20 miles away from where Ivana was laid to rest. But according to one tax expert, the 45th president, who has a long history of getting creative with his taxes, may have found a way.

“As a tax researcher, I was skeptical of rumors Trump buried his ex-wife in that sad little plot of dirt on his Bedminster, NJ golf course just for tax breaks.” Dartmouth sociology professor Brooke Harrington,tweeted on Saturday. “So I checked the NJ tax code & folks…it’s a trifecta of tax avoidance. Property, income & sales tax, all eliminated.” She noted that, according to state rules, there is “No stipulation regarding a minimum # of human remains necessary for the tax breaks to kick in–looks like one corpse will suffice to make at least 3 forms of tax vanish.”

Speaking to Salon’s Jon Skolnik, Jay Soled, director of Rutgers masters in taxation program, cast doubt on the idea that Trump would use his ex-wife’s burial for such self-serving means, calling the idea “a bit overkill.” On the other hand, it sounds…exactly like something Trump would do!

As Skolnik notes, in 2019, HuffPost reported that Trump was able to save nearly $90,000 a year on taxes by adding goats to the Bedminster golf club, which allowed him to classify the property as a farm. Meanwhile, as The New York Times reported in 2018, “Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud.” In 2019, the ex-president’s former attorney Michael Cohen told Congress that Trump regularly inflated his assets “when it served his purpose”—like to obtain loans—and deflated them when it would similarly be advantageous—like to minimize his tax bill. In 2020, the Times revealed that Trump had paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016, another $750 in 2017, and nothing whatsoever—as in zero, zilch, nada—in 10 of the previous 15 years.”

 

 

 

 

Jim Leach Changes Party Affiliation from “R” to “D”

Jim Leach2 Cropped.png
James Leach
Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities

I grew up during a time when Democrats and Republicans co-existed relatively peacefully. We have the example of Al Gore’s 2000 concession speech after the Florida “hanging chad” controversy (look it up if you’re too young to remember it). My parents were best friends with Bus and Arlene Raymond of Independence, staunch Republicans, and Arlene (my godmother) was even a Republican lobbyist in Des Moines, while my father was the Democratic County Treasurer of Buchanan County for 4 terms. So you’ll have to excuse me if the news that Jim Leach has left the Republican party after 30 years as a House of Representatives Republican from Iowa is worth mentioning—especially when you hear his words as to why.

Also, back in 2001, on Veterans’ Day (Nov. 11th) right after 9/11, I funded and organized a gathering called “Celebrate Citizenship,” a patriotic sing-along gathering post 9/11, with the money raised to go towards college scholarships for the children orphaned in  the World Trade Center explosion on 9/11. Whatever we raised would be matched by my parent company, Sylvan Learning Corporation.

I rented out the Pleasant Valley High School Auditorium and set up a program, which included my students reading from their essays, the Glenview Junior High School Band from East Moline, IL, (best in the state of Illinois that year by actual vote of Illinois music educators) playing for a sing-along of patriotic songs, and various speakers, which included a representative from Channel 6 (Ryan Nolan), a representative from the “Daily Dispatch” (John Marx) and, as the keynote speaker,  James Leach, then the long-time GOP House of Representatives delegate from the state of Iowa. Leach served in the House of Representatives for Iowa from 1977 to 2007, thirty years. Getting him as my speaker that day was quite a coup, as he had numerous speaking engagements around the state, but he was most gracious in agreeing to come, and that, in itself, is a story I will tell on here in more detail at another time.

Jim Leach was a good guy: a moderate Republican for 30 years who lost re-election to Dave Loebsack, a Democrat, in 2006. Leach was then, and is now, a thoughtful, intelligent leader who did not just vote the party line.Leach was the John L. Weinberg Visiting Professor of Public and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University. He also served as the interim director of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University from September 17, 2007, to September 1, 2008, when Bill Purcell was appointed permanent director.

Jim (James) Leach, age 79, switched his party registration from R to D to vote in the June, 2022 primary. He said the switch was prompted by a Republican Party that he described as lurching to the right and lying about the results of the 2020 election. Here, in long-time Republican James Leach’s words, are his thoughts on the present-day GOP:

“My own view is that there is no excuse whatsoever for an insurrection. And that we’re in one of the most profound challenges to American democracy ever, excepting the Civil War. Today, the Republican Party that I spent so many years with has really let the country down. And we need to have a political party that operates in a way that both parties can participate.  The Republican Party has just torn itself apart, and it’s got to pull itself together.  I’ll lean toward the Democratic party as long as excellent people are running.”

Leach went on to specifically endorse University of Iowa colleague Christina Bohannan, a law professor, running against Marianne Meeks. “This particular year could not be more appropriate for a law school professor to run. She’s intelligent and not an embarrassment to the state or anything. She’s a decent person. I just don’t see anyone standing up to Christina.” Leach also said he would support Mike Franken, a former Navy Admiral and Democrat running to unset 88-year-old Chuck Grassley. Leach cited Franken’s naval experience as a plus to Congress and took issue with Grassley’s role in ushering through conservative picks for the U.S. Supreme Court. Some have also linked Grassley to potential foreknowledge of the impending insurrection (see previous article on Weekly Wilson).

Of Admiral Franken, Leach said, “It’s really important we have some naval knowledge in the Congress which is why I was very pleased to see Admiral Franken run. Leach did not see the chances of a moderate Republican in Iowa winning as very favorable. “It would be awfully, awfully hard in the primary. A lot of Republicans would have a decent chance in the general election, but would have a really hard time, at least over the last year, in a primary.”

James Leach said, “We have an obligation to pull together and vote for anyone who has a moral capacity to lead in a credible way.”

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