Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

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!

Category: Humor and Weird Wilson-isms (Page 1 of 9)

Steve Bannon is Profiled in “American Dharma” by Errol Morris

Errol Morris, one of the world’s foremost documentary filmmakers (“The Fog of War,” “The Unknown Known”), presents us with his latest film, “American Dharma,” a sobering peek into the mind of the man “Time” magazine dubbed the Master Manipulator, Steve Bannon.

Dharma means “duty, fate and destiny,” according to this past and present Trump advisor.  Before the film screened, the Chicago Cinema documentary chief (Anthony Kaufman) read a brief note from the filmmaker which said, “Who would have thought that Henry King, David Lean, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Ritchie and Orson Welles would offer such fertile ground for Fascism.  This is my most despairing and horrifying movie.” Morris was referencing Bannon’s frequent allusions to films he has seen which have spoken to him, none mentioned more frequently than “12 O’Clock High” starring Gregory Peck, (directed by Henry King).

There is little doubt that Bannon (assisted by Reince Priebus and Kellyanne Conway), entering the Trump campaign at the eleventh hour with the financial backing of Rebekkah Mercer and family, saved Trump’s campaign. Bannon brought with him a game plan and what he refers to in the film as the Honey Badger spirit of never giving up. Bannon brought a first-rate mind and education (Harvard Business School, among others) to the battle, albeit a reputation for being “a stone-cold racist” and someone who is “doubling down on fear.” As Bannon says onscreen, “You need to be a blunt force instrument.”   He adds, “We just did it and now we’re gonna’ march on the Capitol.  We’re gonna’ drop the hammer.”

Bannon, who was Executive Chairman of Breitbart News under Andrew Breitbart said, “The medium is the message and he (Trump) understood that.”  Bannon described 15 to 18% of the voting public as people who didn’t like either candidate offered them in the presidential race, and notes that two-thirds of those people opted to vote for Trump over Hillary Clinton.

Bannon—who has been taking his show on the road covering the European circuit since his dismissal by Trump after Charlottesville— reminds the interviewer that “We had Brexit as the canary in the mineshaft.” Says Bannon, as campaign guru he felt the Trump campaign needed to convince the American voting public of 3 things:

  • That Trump would stop immigration.
  • That Trump would bring jobs back to the United States from overseas.
  • That Trump would get us out of foreign wars, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Referencing a cautionary speech by Hillary Clinton in her campaign, known as the “alt right” speech, in which Hillary warned of the dangers inherent in a Trump presidency, Bannon crows, “That’s when I knew we had her. They’d walked right into the trap. If they (the voters) see you as the instrument to get their country and their jobs back, they’ll vote for you.” His point: Hillary did not represent the change that the states of West Virginia and most of the Midwest wanted to see.

Citing quotes like “When the legend becomes more powerful than the truth, print the legend,” and “Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid,” Bannon pulls from Errol Morris an admission that Morris voter for Clinton “because I was afraid of you guys.  I still am.  I did it out of fear.”

Another favorite Bannon quote from Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is, “I’d rather reign in Hell than serve in heaven.”

Morris asks Bannon if he’s all abut destroying everything and Bannon basically acknowledged that he is, saying, “We have to clean out some of the underbrush” and “A complete rejection of the system is due,” which he predicts will come after another financial crisis and will be “like a scythe through grass. It is coming.”

THE GOOD

In addition to warning us all exactly how this administration thinks, the solemn, depressing, insistent music, courtesy of Paul Leonard-Morgan, adds immensely to the tone and impact of the film. The cinematography by Igor Martinovic, who frequently poses Bannon in profile against the horizon, is good. Setting fire to the hangar (Quonset hut?) where the interview takes place is both a great metaphor for Steve Bannon’s philosophy of “the Fourth Turning” and makes for great visual imagery.

THE BAD

Is there anything more depressing than listening to someone this close to power telilng us, “Revolution is coming. It will come, as night follows day?” Aside from the Steve Miller-crafted “American Carnage” speech, [which George W. Bush on Inauguration Day declared was “Some weird shit”], how uplifting is it to hear Steve Bannon tell say, “I’m saying if we don’t make changes we’re going to have an Apocalypse.” (Bannon also claimed that Trump wrote the speech himself and denied that Trump ever lies.)
Recommended, but have something uplifting awaiting you when you finish up watching this important 95 minute documentary from the master.

 

 

Lewis Black and John Bowman Entertain Chicago on Saturday, October 6, 2018

Image result for lewis black pictures
Lewis Black (from the Lewis Black website)

Comedians Lewis Black and John Bowman came to the Chicago Theater on October 6th and performed to a full house, lampooning current events, politics, and life in general.

Black’s set reminded me of one I  attended by David Brenner years ago, in that he presents less of a polished monologue and more of a riff on current events and pop culture. When Brenner performed, he would actually set up a music stand and put various articles on the stand, read them, reference them, and then riff about them to the audience. That approach was the closest to Black’s this night, and, in fact, Lewis Black did read us an article from a newspaper about a gun safety class at a Methodist Church in the South where an 81-year-old man accidentally shot both himself and his wife.

Black’s lead-in act (John Bowman) spent more time poking fun at Donald Trump than Black did. Bowman came out attired in a blonde wig (which he later removed), sang a song (“Santa Trump is coming to town”) about how we now can refrain from using terms like “Happy Holidays” and go back to the more religious greetings of yesteryear.  In addition to making fun of Rudy Giuiliani, Gwyneth Paltrow and Pat Robertson, his remarks on television news these days led him to say, “I miss Ebola.” Bowen also noted, “I think we’re being whipped by the buckle end of the Bible belt.”

Lewis Black’s set mentioned Trump in passing, but did not dwell on the absurdity we are now facing in the political world. Black began with a marathon joke, since 45,000 people are in town to run in tomorrow’s event, went on to talk about how the psoriasis ads that feature celebrities are offputting (“Now I can’t listen to Cindy Lauper without thinking of her psoriasis and those pictures.”) and poked fun at the supposed memory-aiding drug made from jellyfish, Prevagen. [I was surprised that he didn’t mention how the benefits of this product have been debunked]. His prevagen comments about failing memory (he is 70) led him to talk about his elderly parents, both of whom are 100 years old. In his typically irascible fashion he said, “Remember the good old days, when I was young, and people had the common decency to die at 65?”)

Other topics that caught Black’s attention during his set:

Chicken McNuggets versus Chicken Tenders; children who don’t know that eggs come from chickens; Harry Potter’s influence; weather (“I think Mother Nature is a member of the MeToo movement”), Ben Carson (“He said his dining room set was dangerous and that’s why he needed a $33,000 new dining room set for his office. And he needed a $7,000 sideboard. I realized after listening to him that I could have been a brain surgeon.”); Kellyanne Conway and her “alternative facts;” Steve Bannon; John Bolton (“I think someone in Bolton’s family mated with a walrus.”) and his hospitalization last year in Cork, Ireland for pneumonia.  In addition to skewering the astronomically high costs of hospitalization in this country versus Ireland’s socialized medicine cost(s), he said he liked Irish nurses because they have his dark sense of humor. “One night, I said to my nurse, ‘ I don’t think I’m going to make it through the night.'” She responded, “You’re not that lucky, Mr. Black.”

The end of the evening is a “live” stream, where people in the audience are encouraged to send topics to him on their phones prior to the start of the show; he read the most interesting or amusing ones to an audience that streamed the show “live.”

Black’s main point regarding the Trump administration (“This guy. Wow. Unbelievable.”) was that there is too much material for him to keep up with the current occupant of the Oval Office. He also marveled at Trump’s cult-like followers (one of whom bellowed loudly at least 3 times), especially in the South, who are addicted to Trump’s brand of b.s. After that, the comedian remarked, “I think the Rapture is coming soon. Maybe next Wednesday.”

It was an enjoyable evening, but not as “finely tuned” a performance as my expectation for a Chicago Theater act that ended up setting me back about $70 after the upcharge to the $40+ tickets to be handled online. I had a seat in the second row (BB). I was directly in front of a woman celebrating her birthday who had flown in  from San Diego with her boyfriend or husband. (She was loud even then, talking about it, or I would not know any of this).

Apparently, this birthday girl (or woman) missed out on the opportunity to see Lewis Black when he was in her vicinity, so her boyfriend or husband flew her to Chicago as a special treat for her birthday. The problem was that she then seemed to feel obligated to be truly loud and obnoxious while reacting to ALL of his jokes, laughing hysterically, as though she HAD to to justify spending the substantial sum of money to hear the comic. (Not to mention showing off for her new seatmate friend, like your children sometimes do in the presence of their peers.)

Black’s wry remarks were amusing, yes. Some of them. But there were few that were laugh-out-loud funny. Most were moderately funny, at best. The loud braying of this woman, a constant high-pitched LOUD laugh seemingly staged for her date and an audience of one man to her left (a resident of Chicago with whom she had struck up a loud conversation about her celebratory birthday trip) was unfortunate placement, for me. She was truly annoying. I had just been thinking how great my seat was, only to wish I were far away from her as the evening progressed.

On the bright side, if you are that far down front on the main floor, there are side doors to the alley that you can exit and reach the street in time to be first to get a cab. For a woman alone, (who would otherwise probably have had to take the red line ell alone, since the cabs go fast) that was a real plus. This was the first time I’ve EVER been able to get  a cab after a performance at the Chicago Theater, and I’ve seen a lot of shows there.

 

Austin Revolution Film Festival, Sept. 17-22, Continues

The third day of the Austin Revolution Film Festival saw participants journeying to a high school to speak to one of the founder’s  classes and then on to Austin’s Salt Lick for Barbecue. Since I’ve been to Salt Lick, I was not among the tourists, but I spent the past two evenings watching shorts and a few feature length offerings culled from among 10,000 entries, we were told.

My script (THE COLOR OF EVIL), based on the first book in a novel trilogy I wrote, which has won 36 competitions as a screenplay, was a Finalist until September 12, 10 days from the end of this festival, when I received a short “Dear Con” letter telling me it wasn’t in the running any more. I’d have been upset if I had paid $500 x 2 per airplane ticket (the one-way fare from Chicago), or, worse, from Australia (a 17-hour flight). Not to mention the cost of a hotel room. Why tell people they are losers 10 days before the end of the festival? (Weird. Not the way it’s done in Vancouver, Chicago or San Antonio, but nevermind about that.) There was a mixer on September 12th. I went.  It was immediately after the mixer that I received my Kiss-of-Death e-mail, so I’m wondering, “Was it something I said?” (lol)

The Austin Revolution Film Festival

The first night (Tuesday, Sept. 18) began with thanks for the sponsors, including Uncle Billy’s Brewery and George Dog Music. The “prize” from this film festival is a gigantic belt buckle. (Does anyone actually wear it? No idea. Made me think of that ad that is currently running with the young    cowboy who keeps showing up with a bigger and bigger belt buckle.)

This was the 7th annual Austin Revolution Film Festival, not to be confused with the “regular” Austin Film Festival, which runs from October 25-November 2, or SXSW, which takes place in March. Organizers of this film festival are James Christopher, who shared that it is 13th year of film-making and his 15th feature film (“A Chance of Snow”) would close out the evening, and Lisa Belcher of JumpRock Pictures IShort: “Guest of Honor”). Christopher shared that the event grew out of neighboring filmmakers in the area wanting to join in a chance to show the films they had made and described it as a chance to provide networking, to help other filmmakers to build teams and a support system. One young man I met (Henry Young) had journeyed all the way from Australia to show his short, “Animal.”

THE BLACK MARKET CLUB

First short:  a van is shown crashing off a bridge. The van crashes over and over and over. The group in the van are apparently members of a rock band that has just played a gig. There was a guy with a weird mustache, shown in close-up and a song with the lyric “Falling like so many times before.” Interesting depiction of the van crashing although one member of the rock band who was about to die was incongruously seen smiling a bit.

REMEMBER ME

  • The next short focused on people who had suffered traumatic brain injuries and, therefore, were having trouble remembering things, much like Alzheimer’s sufferers. There is a support group for these troubled souls. A handsome young man meets a pretty young girl named Claire there and they both write things on their arms to try to help them remember things. The young man in this Avery Merrifeld-directed short didn’t have any trouble immediately asking the young girl to join him for coffee after the meetings, however, and those scenes, with a blonde waitress wearing a CoffeeShark shirt led to scenes at an ice skating rink (the girl’s passion). The skaters were quite good and the picture of me [and the woman who played the blonde waitress at the coffee shop, above, with me.] The problem with this piece, for me, is that I spent 20 years working with head injury patients. I know that the cast and crew did visit a head injury clinic, but my small Sylvan Learning Center (#3301) in Bettendorf, Iowa, became the “go to” facility for traumatic brain injury patients in the IA/IL Quad Cities and never did I see one write things on his or her arm. Our most extreme case was a young man who cardiac arrested in the parking lot of St. Ambrose University when he was entering to take classes to become an engineer. The cerebral anoxyia (lack of oxygen to the brain) he suffered wiped out his ability to read, write and/or do numbers. We worked with him for years and were able to restore the number knowledge faster than the reading, which never progressed beyond the 7th grade level. All higher level thinking skills were wiped out and his dream of becoming an engineer along with it. When he woke up in the hospital (after some Good Samaritan passersby performed CPR in the parking lot and saved his life) he did not remember his fiance (that engagement soon faltered), but he did remember things from when he was a child. He eventually was moved to a treatment facility in St. Louis, but, as they say, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” and A LOT of knowledge is a much more dangerous thing.

Networking.

APPLE SEED

This one was one of the more ridiculous premises, with a man who has the misfortune to have a bird leave its droppings in his eye causing him to turn into  a tree (think Groot).  Patrick Griney wrote and directed. The kudos really belong to the make-up people who had to make a tree take root in the lead’s ear realistically and, ultimately, take over  a human male’s body. The audience seemed to like it.

REX

This was one of my favorite shorts, dealing, as it did, with an old man’s encroaching dementia.  Andy Kasteler wrote and directed and  the actor did a good job of railing against his boss’s directives. The boss turns out to be his son, and the old man is white-washing trees. But, in reality, at one point he has painted a telephone pole (dementia evidence). I am not knowledgeable enough about why he was whitewashing trees to tell you what that had to do with anything [and I’m from farm country]. (Apparently it is something that is done to a grove to prepare the trees for winter?) All I know is that the main actor, who had a last name of Fyre, did a great job, and I wondered if the line “Everything about him was old except his eyes. They were the same color as the sea” was from “The Old Man and the Sea.” An anguished examination of the horror(s) of growing old, seen from the vantage point of both the elderly man and his young son.

DEATH (*& DISCO FRIES)

Denis Culo, New York City filmmaker and director/star of “Death” (& Disco Fries).

Dennis Cahlo of New York City wrote, directed and stars in this humorous examination of one man’s regrets as he learns he has only a short time to live. It’s played for laughs, as he answers the phone and is told by his old gym teacher that he is dead. Dennis is asked by old coach O’Halloran if he has any regrets and Dennis admits he’d like to eat disco fries, despite the fact that he has been a vegan all his life. The problem with disco fries? Nobody I talked to knew what they were. I’m from the Midwest, so maybe it’s an Eastern thing, but I literally asked people from all areas of the country if they’d ever heard the term “disco fries.” Nobody had. What are they? Apparently it’s a truly disgusting looking french fry dish where some sort of gravy is poured over the fries. (Ugh) It would have been more universal if Dennis had gone with a hot fudge sundae or even a steak, as disco fries were less-than-universal, (in my own admittedly limited experience).  They looked absolutely horrible. That didn’t change the sweet message about asking Veronica (Kate Vincent) to dance with him at the Prom. I liked it very much, but I hated the font used for this short and for the feature film that followed. It was a Gothic font that made it very difficult to even read the title of “A Chance of Snow” when  (also) used there. Dennis also has a podcast and we may chat about movies on it.

CLEMENTINE

Clementine appears and tells us how happy she is with her life and especially with her wonderful husband Jerry. (“My life is a dream”). With music by Matt Kidd and direction by Ross Wooten, Allen G. Hale gets the opportunity to play four different roles, a tour de force (think Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove” or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb”…what? You haven’t seen it? Check it out!) Hale is Jerry, her wonderful, if boring, husband. He is Francine, Clementine’s best girlfriend (and a terrible girl he makes with the blonde wig!) He is Lonnie the mailman. He is Alfonse the yoga instructor.  He is Aunt Pearl. By the end of the piece, we learn that Clementine is crazy (“Her brain is disappearing”) and Jerry feels it necessary to provide her with a host of friends and acquaintances as she becomes loopier and loopier. A weird concept, but Alan had fun with it and so did we.

There was a picture of a hand putting a needle on a record and Santa entered a living room where two children were present. [Not sure this was really a complete short in and of itself, as it was immediately followed by the feature film.]

A CHANCE OF SNOW

Film goers taking their seats at the Alamo Drafthouse Mueller.

“A Chance of Snow” poster.

This feature film was put together by one of the festival organizers, James Christopher. The plot featured a blonde young man (Tyler) who has a new girlfriend now that he has left home for college. The new blonde girlfriend’s name is Holly. (She is gorgeous, but she was also in Arizona when the film screened.) Supposedly, Tyler’s family is really BIG on Christmas, and he went with a different girl named Noelle all of high school, but they broke up when he left for college and she failed to follow him there. There was a sister named Faith, with a boyfriend in “a third world country” that is never named (Iraq? Afghanistan?).  It takes about 2 minutes to realize that the boy should have stayed with his original girl friend and/or will somehow end up with her when all is said and done. Some of the dialogue was…odd. [“That really ain’t no fun for no one.” “At least you didn’t lift your leg.” “I don’t know what Yankees like to do.”] The best part of the film was Alejandro Patino’s (also a Producer) depiction of Noelle’s Hispanic father. He doesn’t really like Tyler and speaks Spanish to his daughter telling her so, but Tyler (and Holly), who are present, don’t speak Spanish, so the father has a chance to insult the boyfriend pretty thoroughly while Tyler remains clueless. One wonders why either girl would fall for him. His special Santa suit, worn at the end of the film, is the pits and I asked several people about the tag on is left sleeve that says OPPO (Nobody had any answer for me; maybe the rental place?).  Andy Bertelson’s  very country song by the Texas Renegade  worked in the idea  “All I need is a chance of snow and a chance you will love me.” Setting was Winter’s Hope, Texas. The black delivery guy has about 2 minutes of screen time; his delivery (pun intended) was priceless. Moral of the story: “You don’t know what you’re missing till it’s gone.”

On the second night, (September 19, Wednesday) the slate of shorts led off with Lisa Belcher’s short film:

GUEST OF HONOR

Lisa Belcher of JumpRock Films, one of the organizers of the Austin Revolution Film Festival.

The gallery filling up for the first night (4 hours) of films at the Alamo Drafthouse Mueller in Austin, TX.

Lisa Belcher, who is one of the guiding lights of the Austin Revolution Film Festival also co-wrote, acted and directed this short, which was quite good. Her co-star, Lukas Hassel, also earned a writer credit. Lisa appears, looking very sad, and we know something has happened to her son because she is boxing up his school trophies and mementos. (Lisa’s real-life son, who is taller than his mom, is used in the photos.) As the plot thickens, Belcher conveys the preoccupied sadness of a grieving mother quite well, and we learn that there is some sort of a celebration planned, with caterers coming. (The sets were lavish and  appropriate). At first, I thought the caterers might have been summoned for a post-funeral dinner, but it turns out that the couple is going to have a 21st wedding anniversary celebration, because their son, who recently was killed by a drunk driver, wanted so much to throw a big party for the couple’s twentieth anniversary (the year prior), before his tragic death. The father is shown at one point conferring with a slim young black girl in the street, who ultimately gets in his car with him, and I’m sure I wasn’t the first to think he was soliciting a hooker. But, no. The young girl has received the heart of the heroine’s dead son, and shows up at the party.  This one seemed very professionally done and the sound, in fact, was done in Los Angeles, if I remember the credits correctly. Lisa Belcher and her producing partner Christian Olteanu are an Austin force to be reckoned with.

LEARNING THE ROPES

Alyssia Rivera (“Noelle”) from “A Chance of Snow.”

Eric Goodman and America’s Academy of Pro Wrestling. Two words: “The Wrestler,” Mickey Rourke (should have won the Oscar, but Sean Penn beat him with “Milk”), directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2008). Why are all the people in this world so screwed up? Beats me, but it was a great film in 2008 and this short re-visited that real world with “Meatball,” an overweight wrestler who loves the sport, et. al.

PRENATAL

This one opens with a young girl climbing a mountain and collapsing after mumbling something about “angels come to me when I close my eyes.” As the plot thickens, her sister sells her baby to a con man from the Guiding Light Evangelical Mission, one of the sisters manages to get shot, and there is talk of the father being an alien. Real Rain Productions took off on this, with Bears Fone writing and directing. Ambiguous ending. Part of the time we’re wrapping our minds around an alien pregnancy (remember Hallie Berry’s short-lived series?) and part of the time we’re dealing with GNL Pharmaceutical Company which may profit from an alien baby, and the rest of the time we’re wondering if the sister who gets shot is going to live and, all-in-all,  lots to deal with here for a short.

LEECHERS

Not sure if the name of this was “leechers” but “leechers” are people who touch someone as they are dying and absorb their entire lives.  One word: “Fallen,” 1998, Elias Koteas as Edgar Reese, a convicted killer who touches Denzel at the moment of death and passes bad stuff on. [Not a totally new idea, in other words, but are there any new ones left?] In this particular treatment, we have a sister who wants to stop her brother from going on as a bad guy serial killer. [Do sisters usually shoot their brothers to save total strangers? Wrong question, probably.] He says he’s NOT a serial killer because “they were all still alive in my head.” Rushton Williams, Kelsey Pribelai, Timothy McKinny, J.T. Campos, “Cold Summer” productions, Linus Lau music and Kory Hill sound mixing. The young boy who started out as the younger brother was quite good, but did not look like he’d grow up to look like  the adult star of the piece. However, stranger things have happened…right?

JESSIE’S GIRL

Tracy Ely—who is about to be married—from “A Chance of Snow.”

This short was the perfect example of what, in psychology, is known as “a double approach avoidance” response. The textbook example of that was marriage and a wedding. As the wedding grows closer, the bride (and groom) become both more apprehensive and more excited. In this case, the bride has some pretty severe doubts about her intended. At one point she is holed up in the bathroom having an anxiety attack and her mother-in-law, Linda, is trying to lure her out.  The best line in the short, with great delivery, is: “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM THE DOOR, LINDA!” as the mother of the groom is pestering the bride-to-be to come out and rejoin the guests at her bridal shower. Unfortunately, her intended shows up and insists on singing  the song he wrote for her (“I hate that effing song!”) Best line that was written, rather than spoken: “No goldfish were harmed in the making of this film.” Nice surprise ending that probably wasn’t that big a surprise once you thought about the characters of Jesse and Ashley. Cassidy Freeman, Brady Johnson, Caitlin Norton. (Great hair throughout!)

Tracey Ely of “A Chance of Snow” (Faith).

ONE ACT PLAY

This 73-minute gem from Landry Gideon and company of Triadatx Media  proves that even a topic that sounds like it might be boring can surprise you. In this case, Landry and his crew tracked the progress of various thespians (actors) in drama classes throughout Texas as they move through the various competitions to be named the Number One troupe in the state, based on the one act play they present.

Landry Gideon (best name ever) pictured with his D.P. , I hope, on the right. If that is his D.P. his name is in the article (Andrew Miller) and he went to Cedar Rapids (IA) Washington High School. Apologies to all names I failed to scribble down in the dark fast enough. Landry is a sound expert who works on other people’s films’ sound and his wife, who is expecting, is just about to add to their family in the new house in Pfluegerville.

The schools were Salada High School, Rogers High School, Hempstead High School, Randall High School, Barbers Hill High School and their various drama teachers and students. It’s a bit like “Glee” on television, where the tension rises as the competition nears and the stakes get higher and the students proceed from Zone to Area to Regionals to winnowing down to eight and making it to State. Andrew Miller, Director of Photography, shot literally loads of film, as he told me;  the editing was great, as was the sound. Will Patterson was brought in to provide the heart-pounding music that propelled the tension, and the choice of Rogers High School to present “Kholstomer: The Story of a Horse” (a German play, translated) means that a field trip to a horse farm is included and the students have to pretend to be horses onstage. (Always interesting). Solado High School chose a war story (“Boys of Winter”), and the director commented that she likes war stories because the students’ grandfathers had often been in VietNam, (which means my generation.) “Black Angel” segments looked very interesting (Hampstead High School) and only “MidSummer Night’s Dream” seemed as though it was a weak choice (Remember on “American Idol” when the judges would talk about how important the right song would be? Well, it applies here.)

The expressions used by the directors reminded me of the University of Iowa’s head coach for many years, Texas native Hayden Fry, who used the term “high porch picnic” (no idea what that means; I’m from Iowa, but I think I was told it had to do with snakes and flooding the last time I asked) and, in this case, one of the coaches says, “I want to beat you up and then beat your sister.” (Surely a Texas idiom?)

I was active in drama in high school in the state of Iowa, and, in fact, one of the founders of my high school’s Thespians troupe, and I can tell you that it is nothing like this. As one individual says, “If it wasn’t for the one-act play, there are thousands of kids in Texas who would not be exposed to theater.”

As for me, I was amazed that that many able-bodied macho boys took part. (It is not that way in all high schools, for sure.) Another great line: “There’s douchebags sitting in the front row.” And “Judges are weird.”

The young girl who declares this to be “the largest interscholastic competition in the world” (and then wonders whether it is just in Texas or the U.S.) was precious. This one should apply for the Chicago International Film Festival, where it would stand a very good chance of admission. A great flick!

 

 

 

 

Connie’s Cliff Notes, FEAR: Chapter 4

Image result for google images of James Clapper
James Clapper (Image courtesy of www.deadline.com)

The summer of 2015 saw the first sign of digital intrusions into our voting apparatus, first appearing in Illinois and later spreading to 21 states. Russian hacking and tampering put then-President Obama in a bad position. James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, was concerned that Russia might be using the data to change votes. “Russia?” he wondered.

The President’s Daily Brief (PDB) security briefing [something Trump supposedly rarely pays much attention to]contained this information. But what should Obama do? In July of 2016 WikiLeaks and DC Leaks began publishing e-mails from the DNC, obtained by Russian hackers calling themselves “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear.” The National Security Council was deeply concerned as the intelligence regarding Russian hacking grew more and more convincing.

Obama was torn. If he went on prime-time national television and announced the findings it might look like he was attacking Trump, linking the Republican nominee with Russia. (*This would have been a very good idea, since his wife is Russian, his heroes are Russian and, in all likelihood, his secret helpers were Russian in the election of 2016). Obama did not want to appear as though he were meddling in the U.S. election by trying to tip the scales, but NOT telling the public could create a backlash in the (very unlikely) case that Trump did win.

Image result for google images of John Brennan

John Brennan (Image courtesy of cnn.com)

John Brennan of the FBI argued against telling the public. He was protective of the department’s sources. Brennan, however, did tell Russian Intelligence Chief Alexander Bortnikov that we were aware of the hacking. (Bortnikov, like Trump, simply denied it.

 

Image result for google images of Mike Morrell

Mike Morrell (Image courtesy of CNN.com)

Mike Morrell, acting director of the CIA twice, published an op-ed in the New York Times on August 5th that read: “I Ran the CIA: Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton.” Morrell  flat-out accused Trump of “being an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” Clapper was selected to brief the Gang of Eight consisting of 4 Republican and  Democratic leaders in the Senate and House, plus the Chairmen and Vice Chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees.

Clapper was shocked by the partisan nature of the gathering, as the Republicans disliked everything. The Democrats loved every bit of the information. He left the briefing feeling that the intelligence apparatus in the country was becoming a political football.

Even though everyone still felt that Clinton was likely to win, Vladimir Putin’s influence campaign to undermine HRC’s campaign and coming presidency went into high gear.

Meanwhile, Clapper and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson wanted to alert the public to Russian hacking. Friday, October 7th, they released a joint statement accusing Russia of trying to interfere in the United States election.  “The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromise of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions.  These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.” The announcement went on to say that the authorization to do this must have come from the top in Russia. They sat back and waited for this to be a Big News Story.

ACCESS HOLLYWOOD TAPE

One hour later, at 4:05 p.m., David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post released a headlined story: “Trump Recorded Having Extremely Lewd Conversation About Women in 2005.” This would later become known as the Access Hollywood tape. It literally blew away all other important news of the hour and day, such as the Russian hacking story. The “Grab them by the pussy” tape became “a political earthquake” and the announcement about Russia’s hacking in our election was lost in the shuffle.

WIKILEAKS

Less than half an hour later, at 4:30 p.m., WikiLeaks dumped thousands of e-mails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s personal account. It included information about HRC’s speeches to Wall Street financiers. E-mails between Podesta and Donna Brazile (Chair of the DNC) were also released.

ACCESS HOLLYWOOD TAPE AFTERMATH

“I’ve never said I’m a perfect person…these words don’treflect who I am. I said it. I was wrong and I apologize. I pledge to be a better man tomorrow and will never, ever let you down.” (Donald J. Trump) Trump went on to pivot to Bill Clinton and saying he had done far worse and concluded, “See you at the debate on Sunday.”

A summit of the top advisers to Donald J. Trump convened and Priebus said, “It’s over.” Bannon did not agree (“What do you mean, it’s over?”) Mike Pence was dubious. “Are you fucking kidding me?” was Bannon’s response. “It’s a tape, dude.” Priebus insisted, “You don’t understand; it’s over.” Trump asked each of them to weigh in on the situation. Priebus felt he should drop out right now and avoid the worst loss in American history. Bannon insisted “Cut the bullshit; that’s bullshit.” Priebus floated the idea of Mike Pence stepping up and running with Condoleeza Rice, “W’s” former national security adviser and secretary of state. “That’s never going to happen,” Bannon said loudly. Chris Christie of New Jersey felt Trump should resign in order to protect his brand. Rudy Giuiliani felt that “Basically, you’ve got a 40% chance of winning.” Kellyanne Conway suggested contacting “60 Minutes” and doing a sort of public confessional with Ivanka on one side and Melania on the other, the women crying and Trump apologizing. Melania flatly refused.

Trump asked Bannon, “What do you think?

Bannon responded, “100%”

“100% what?”

“100% metaphysical certitude you’re going to win.”

Trump responded, “Cut the shit. I’m tired of 100%. I need to know what you really think.”

Although Priebus obviously was not a 100%-er, and he didn’t think Trump was, either, Bannon kept maintaining that Trump would win. He told the room: “We’re going to compare your talk with Bill Clinton’s action.”

“How are we going to do that?” (Trump)

Bannon suggested a Hilton Hotel ballroom at 8 p.m. that night with a hammerhead rally—which was a Bannon term for the diehard Trump fans wearing the MAGA baseball caps. Trump was delighted, while the others were opposed and a huge fight resulted with a compromise position at the end of it: Conway would have David muir of ABC helicopter in and do a 10 minute interview.

Bannon felt this was political suicide. Priebus again felt that Trump was toast. (“You guys don’t know what you’re doing. You’re going to go down.”) Various Republicans were coming out of the woodwork and telling Trump he should step aside for Mike Pence. Pence even released a statement: (“As a husband and a father, I was offended by the words and actions described by Donald Trump in the 11-year-old video released Saturday.  I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them.  I am grateful that he has expressed remorse and apologized to the American people.  We pray for his family and look forward to the opportunity he has to show what is in his heart when he goes before the nation tomorrow night.”

There were rumors that Pence had given Bannon a sealed letter that urged him to drop off the ticket.

Two hours later Melania released a statement defending her husband and saying, “I hope people will accept his apology, as I have, and focus on the important issues facing our nation and the world.”

At 3:40 p.m. Trump tweeted: I WILL NEVER DROP OUT OF THE RACE, WILL NEVER LET MY SUPPORTERS DOWN! #MAGA Preparations for the ABC interview were underway. Giuiliani and Christie gave Trump an apology statement to read. Trump was surly about reading the “all political” statement that screamed Giuliani and Christie. “I can’t do this. This is bullshit. This is weak.  You guys are weak.”

Christie interjected, “Donald, you don’t understand” and Giuliani told Trump that he had to do this. Trump turned to Kellyanne Conway and asked her what were the steps to cancel out on the Muir interview. She waffled, saying all her credibility was on the line, but Bannon said, “It’s not going to happen. He ain’t going to do it. If he does do an introduction you can’t have him do a live interview.  He’ll f****** get cut to pieces.” The apology was re-written, but it was still all Giuliani and Christie and polito-speak and Trump said, “I’m not doing this.” He delcared that he was going to go down to the roaring crowd gathered for the rally. The Secret Service insisted to Trump that he was NOT going to go outside. Trump headed out, saying “I’m going downstairs. This is great.” (*One cautious word for DJT: watch the movie about Huey Long.) Conway was telling Trump that he couldn’t cancel on ABC, but DJT said, “I don’t care. It was a dumb idea. I never wanted to do it.”

OUTSIDE THE ELEVATOR

Chris Christie (then Governor of New Jersey) and Steve Bannon had words outside the elevator. Christie said, to Bannon, “You’re the fucking problem. You’ve been the problem since the beginning.”

Bannon, dismayed, wanted to know what Bannon was talking about. Bannon, dismayed, said, “What are you talking about?” Christie responded, “You’re the enabler. You play to every one of his worst instincts…” The 2 men faced off and Bannon said, “Governor, the plane leaves tomorrow. If you’re on the plane, you’re on the team.”

Christie was not on the plane the next day. Trump, however, was, and, following on the heels of Rudy Giuliani doing all 5 networks, defending his client, he was the only one who completed a full Ginsburg (a term used for Monica Lewinsky’s attorney who appeared on all 5 network Sunday programs on Feb. 1, 1998.)

ON THE PLANE

After Giuliani had made the full Ginsburg–-a daunting task that must have been quit embarrassing and humiliating in many ways—the exhausted former Mayor of New York City who had pulled out every stop got to hear Trump say to him:  “Rudy, you’re a baby! I’ve never seen a worse defense of me in my life.  They took your diaper off right there. You’re like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?” When Bannon defended Giuliani as the only one of the Trump forces who had gone to the wall for his boss, Trump responded, “I don’t want to hear it. It was a mistake. He shouldn’t have gone on. He’s weak. You’re weak, Rudy. You’ve lost it.”

Giuliani just took the abuse with a blank face as the plane took off.

 

“FEAR” – Chapter 2: Bannon Comes Aboard

Image result for google images of Steve Bannon                                                                          Steve Bannon

Chapter 2 describes how Steve Bannon came to be involved in the Trump campaign for the presidency on or about August 13, 2016. Bannon was reading an article entitled “The Failing Inside Mission to Tame Trump’s Tongue”  in the New York Times (an article that would be just as timely today.)

Trump had no operation beyond the RNC at that point. His “campaign,” which he had announced in the infamous Trump Tower escalator speech, had been launched on July 21, 2016, and consisted of perhaps 7 people. The team was scheduling rallies in what I call Newt Gingrich territory, i.e., the cheesiest venues, “often old, washed-out sports or hockey arenas.” Bannon called Rebekah Mercer, one of the biggest and most controversial sources of campaign funding within the GOP. The family had an ownership stake in Breitbart.

Rebekah Mercer noted, “This guy Manafort’s a disaster. Nobody’s running the campaign now. Trump listens to you. He’s always looking for adult supervision.” In this fashion, Ms. Mercer urged Bannon to offer his services running the campaign, even though he admitted he had no firsthand knowledge of running such a large-scale operation. Ms. Mercer noted that Trump would accept him in this position because “This thing’s in panic mode.” She sized Trump, the outsider, up as “desperate.”

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The Mercers (Rebekah on right).(Image courtesy of jackrite blog)

That discussion between Bannon and Rebekah Mercer led to a meeting at the home of the New York Jets owner, Woody Johnson, for a fundraiser. The Mercers wanted 10 minutes with DJT. “Mananfort has got to go,” she told Trump. She added, “Steve Bannon will come in” and Trump’s response was that Bannon would never do it, to which Rebekah reassured him that Bannon most definitely would enter the fray.

Trump, in his usual style, blamed Manafort for his poor television skills (“He’s a stiff. He can’t do TV effectively.”)

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Candidate Trump and Reince Priebus (Image courtesy of Politico)

The next discussion revolved around 44-year-old Reince Priebus, a Wisconsin lawyer and chairman of the RNC for 5 years.Priebus viewed the month of August as a catastrophe (“A constant heat lamp that wouldn’t go away.”) Priebus had called Trump up after his negative remarks about Mexicans in his announcement of his candidacy, telling him: “You can’t talk like that.  We’ve been working really hard to win over Hispanics.”

At this point, according to Woodward, Mitch McConnell had already told Priebus to  shut the Trump funding spigot off and direct the RNC money towards Senate candidates. But Priebus decided to straddle middle ground: survival for the party and survival for him.“He had sucked up to Trump appropriately, but had also stressed his responsibilities to the RNC. He agreed to introduce Trump at rallies, referring to that as “extending a hand to a drowning man.” Priebus had said: “It wasn’t a campaign. It was a joke.” Priebus decided there was only one path forward, and that was to maximize aggression to conceal weakness.

Woodward then pivots to a meeting that took place at one of Trump’s golf courses at Bedminster (the Trump National Golf Club). Bannon was told to arrive at one o’clock and was given detailed instructions for finding the course (“Trump provided more detail than Bannon had ever heard him give on anything.”).

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Roger Ailes (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

When Bannon arrived early, he met up with Roger Ailes, who was surprised to see him. Others supposed to be present were Chris Christie and Rudy Giuiliani. (Ailes’ reaction upon seeing Bannon was “WTF.”) Something was said (by Bannon) to Ailes to suggest that Trump was going to be “prepping” for the first debate with Hillary Clinton, which was upcoming on September 26th. Ailes was surprised that Trump was “prepping” and Bannon corrected him, noting that he, Giuiliani and Christie couldn’t get Trump to “prep” but they did show up and talk some of the potential relevant issues with him, as he played golf or after he played golf.

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Paul Manafort (Image courtesy of CNBC.com)

Paul Manafort, then the ostensible Campaign Manager (now a convicted felon), walked in dressed in yachting attire and both men were disgusted. Trump arrived and wolfed down a diet of hot dogs and hamburgers “the fantasy diet of an 11-year-old kid.” Trump chided Manafort, saying: “You’re terrible on TV. You’ve got no energy. You don’t represent the campaign. I’ve told you nicely. You’re never going on TV again.”

Trump constantly derided “the failing New York Times” but secretly considered it to be Gospel, and he was upset with the coverage. Bannon tried to convince him the story was BS, but Trump “wasn’t buying it.” (“The assassination of Manafort continued for a while.”) Typical commentary on Manafort, by Trump, to Bannon: “This thing’s so terrible. It’s out of control..  This guy’s such a loser.  He’s really not running the campaign.  I only brought him in to get me through the convention.”

Bannon laid out a battleground scenario where 2/3 of the country thought the country was on the wrong track and 75% thought we were in decline as a nation. That would set the stage for a “change agent” and Hillary was the past. Bannon underscored and emphasized that the goal was to “compare and contrast Clinton.” Steve Bannon outlined a campaign where HRC would be made the tribune and representative of a corrupt and incompetent status quo of elites who were allowing the nation to go down the tubes. Trump would become the tribune of the forgotten man who wanted to make America great again.

“And we’re just going to do it in a couple of themes,” Bannon said.#1: Immigration #2: Bring back manufacturing jobs, #3: Get out of pointless wars. Saying that those were the 3 big themes that Clinton could not defend against, Bannon went on to say, “We’re just going to hammer. That’s it. Just stick to that.” He noted that “even when she’s telling the truth, she sounds like she’s lying to you.” Trump did not.

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Kellyanne Conway (Image courtesy of NYMag.com)

They agreed that Kellyanne Conway (who had previously worked for Ted Cruz) would be the designated campaign manager, but, to avoid any mention of Manafort’s ouster in the papers, he would retain a purely honorary title as Campaign Chairman but have no real power. Of Kellyanne he said, “We’re going to put her on television every day as the female-friendly face.” (They certainly did THAT! You could not avoid Kellyanne Conway on shows like “Meet the Press” and “Face the Nation” during this period.)

Bannon added that HE would never be on TV.  Kellyanne told Trump that he was “running against the most joyless candidate in presidential history.” (One could have said the same of Cruz, had he prevailed.) Kellyanne told Trump there was “a path back.” Kellyanne told  him: “You have built a movement. And people feel like they’re a part of it.” She counseled that the Trump campaign should never do national polling, as it was misleading. It was all about the electoral college and the 270 votes, so they needed to target the right states. She also said that “People want specifics” and “You need to make good on your promises.”

Asked if she was willing to devote months of time to help him win, Kellyanne acquiesced and said: “Sir, I can do that for you. You can win this race.  I do not consider myself your peer.  I will never address you by your first name.”

And so was born the trio of first-time campaign managers with a flawed candidate who did have a national reputation. “You’re fired!”)

“FEAR:” Chapter One

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                     Steve Bannon, The Man Behind the Throne

In Chapter One, Bob Woodward concentrates on Steve Bannon. He traces Bannon’s meeting with Trump back to August of 2010, when David Bossie, longtme House Republican investigator and conservative activist wanted to put Bannon, then 57, together with the Trumpster.

The chapter conveys Bannon’s linguistic style as very casual (“Dude” is one of the terms he uses repeatedly when speaking to Bossie). Bossie asks Bannon to come with him to New York to meet Donald Trump.:

“What about?” says Bannon.

“He’s thinking of running for president,” Bossie answers.

“Of what country?” Bannon responds.

It is casual insouciance like that exchange that gives us our first glimpse of the evil genie behind the throne, the Breitbach editor turned kingmaker. Bannon responds, “I don’t have time to jerk off, dude.” [Again, the casual insouciance].

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David Bossie (“Politico” image).

Finally, the meeting does take place, and Bannon and Bossie inform Trump that his plan to potentially run against Obama in 2012 has some problems. For one thing, his record shows him to have bankrolled those who might be considered liberal, and to have underwritten causes for candidates who are pro abortion, while, they tell him, he must be “pro life.” They suggest that he become a “Populist” president, but Trump never seems to be able to repeat the word “Populist” correctly, repeatedly calling it “Popularist.”

At that point in time, Bannon found Trump to be “engaged and quick. He was in great physical shape.  His presence was bigger than the man, and took over the room, a command presence. He had something.” Bannon felt that Trump was: “Archie Bunker, but a really focused Archie Bunker.” (Just what we all hoped for: Archie Bunker for President!) It is interesting to note how Omarosa talks about Trump’s physical and mental deterioration in her book “Unhinged”, based on having known and worked with the man for 15 years. It would be hard to imagine anyone today saying that Donald J. Trump was either “engaged” or “quick” and he is definitely not “in great physical shape.”

They reveal, to Trump’s amazement, that there are voting records that show he has only voted once in a primary in his entire life. (For Rudy Giuiliani, in 1989). Trump seems woefully ignorant of the most basic political facts and realities, but he keeps repeating that “that can be fixed.” The two old pols tell him to run in 3 states as though he were running for Governor. The three states are Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the first 3 caucus or primary states. They instruct him to start contributing $2,400 (the maximum allowed by law) to Republican candidates in a handful of battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida. They suggest he produce a policy book. (“You ought to do a book about what you think about America and these policies.”).

Later, leaving the meeting, the two men discuss the potential candidate. Bossie asks: “What about the policy book?”

Bannon responds:  “He’ll never do a policy book.  Give me a f****** break.  First off, nobody will buy it.  It was a waste of time except for the fact that it was insanely entertaining.”

And that (plus perhaps the Correspondents’ dinner roasting of Trump by Seth Meyer and Obama?) gave birth to the perfect storm of 2016 and Donald J. Trump’s candidacy.

Bob Woodward’s Book “FEAR”

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(Image from “The Headline”)

Bob Woodward’s new book “FEAR” came out today, and I am reading it.

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Bob Woodward (Twitter image), co-author of “All the President’s Men” and “Fear”

As with Omarosa’s book about the goings-on inside the White House (“Unhinged”), I will attempt to share with those of you with less idle time on their hands some of its revelations.

Today’s installment will deal only with the first 1% (I ordered it in e-book format), the Prologue. First, let it be known that Woodward had A LOT of help from his research assistant Evelyn M. Duffy, who has worked with him on five previous books.

PROLOGUE:

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(General Mattis, Gary Kohn, and General Kelly from the ArmWood Opinion Blog)

Gary Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs and one of the president’s top economic advisers comes off as one of those who is trying to keep Trump from screwing up by signing things he shouldn’t. Cohn, who spent 27 years at Goldman Sachs, is 6′ 3″ and full of self-confidence, notes Woodward. He is also from GOLDMAN SACHS, and, if you remember, Trump made a Big Deal of Hillary Clinton’s speech to Goldman Sachs, but now brings its president on as one of his most trusted advisers. (Go figure).

The Prologue deals with Trump’s unhinged (Omarosa’s book title) efforts to withdraw from the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, or KORUS. It isn’t so much that we get economic good from this agreement as that we get the ability to detect any attack that might  be heading towards the U.S. mainland from North Korea because of the work of the military infrastructure present in South Korea, which has been there ever since I was a little girl (the early fifties). The U.S. stationed 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea and operates the most highly classified and sensitive Special Access Program (SAP) providing sophisticated Top Secret codeword intelligence and military capabilities.

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(Image from 9news.com.au)

Woodward’s book (“FEAR”) notes that a missile from North Korea would take 38 minutes to reach Los Angeles. Thanks to this treaty and the intelligence apparatus in place there as a result of it, we would know that it was headed for us in 7 seconds. Compare that to the time it would take for Alaska to let us know if an attack from the Russians (15 minutes) and you realize that the ability to detect a lunch “in seven seconds” would give the United States military the time to shoot down a North Korean missile.”

Does Trump recognize that fact?

Apparently not. Woodward notes that it is “Perhaps the most important and most secret operation in the United States government. The American presence in South Korea represents the essence of national security.”

Why, then, did Trump want to withdraw from this important strategic alliance? Because he was angry that the U.S. had an $18 billion annual trade deficit with South Korea, plus our troops there cost us $3.5 billion a year to maintain.

Woodward notes, “Trump was always shifting, rarely fixed, erratic.” Prior to that, Woodward says, “Despite almost daily reports of chaos and discord in the White House, the public did not know how bad the internal situation actually was.” (Or should we say “is”?).

The letter, which Woodward displays on the page, was dated September 5, 2017. It was the trigger to a potential national and international security catastrophe. And Cohn, therefore, removed the letter draft from the Resolute Desk and placed it in a blue folder marked “KEEP.”

Woodward: “In the anarchy and disorder of the White House, and Trump’s mind, the president never noticed the missing letter.” Rob Porter is then noted as contributing to this attempt to stop Trump from doing something stupid. Porter attended Harvard and Harvard Law School and was a Rhodes Scholar, something no one has accused Trump of being.  “Cohn and Porter worked together to derail what they believed were Trump’s most impulsive and dangerous orders.” “Cohn at times would just yank it (an order), and the president would forget about it. But if it was on his desk, he’d sign it.”

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(No copyright infringement is intended & there is no profit from the reprinting of this cartoon image.)

Cohn: “It’s not what we did for the country.  It’s what we saved him (Trump) from doing.” Porter said, “A third of my job was trying to react to some of the really dangerous ideas that he (Trump) had and try to give him reasons to believe that maybe they weren’t such good ideas.” After citing the technique of “slow walking” a bill or order that Trump might unwisely sign, Porter said:  “It felt like we were walking along the edge of the cliff perpetually…It was like you were always walking right there on the edge.”

When confronted with arguments as to why the treaty with South Korea needed to remain in place, Trump said, “I don’t care. I’m tired of these arguments! I don’t want to hear about it any more.  We’re getting out of KORUS.” The cooler heads told son-in-law Jared Kushner that a good draft needed to be prepared and, from there, “Cohn and Porter did not prepare a next draft. So there was nothing to show the president. The issue, for the moment, disappeared in the haze of presidential decision making.”

Concludes Woodward, as the Prologue winds to a halt:  “The reality was that the United States in 2017 was tethered to the words and actions of an emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable leader…It was a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.”

Paul Manafort’s Trial/Verdict Under Attack by Trump

I’m not sure I’ll have a graphic to illustrate today’s Trump ruminations. 

Having just heard Trump going on  about what a “good person” Paul Manafort is (or was) in a news clip, when is it acceptable for a President to use his bully pulpit to interfere in the jury deliberations of a man against whom there is overwhelming evidence that he tried to defraud the U.S. government (and others) of rightful taxes by establishing overseas accounts in various tax havens? Shouldn’t the Donald be shutting up right about now?

But, no. He is ranting on about what a “great”  and “good” person Manafort, his former campaign chairman, is, which has certainly got to be considered anything but objective weighing of the evidence against Manafort AND prejudicial to a jury that might have dyed-in-the-wool Trump supporters amongst the twelve.

Any fact-based person would take a look at the faked bills of sale from gardeners and others, (with the owners of those companies taking the stand to testify that that is NOT their legitimate bill), and would say, “Well, at the very least, he’s a crook.” And a liar. And an opportunist who worked for the worst of the worst amongst dictators in Russian countries, which is not undocumented and not in dispute.

When the money ran out, Manafort began creatively spinning various stories to get money to support what most of us would say was a lavish lifestyle,–unless you are “in” to $900,000 ostrich jackets. (Loved the skit where an ostrich takes the stand and testifies against Manafort, on Seth Meyer’s late-night TV commentary). There’s a fantastically revealing story about Manafort’s financial decline in the latest issue of “Vanity Fair.”

The defense would have you believe, “Well, his second-in-command (Gates) is reponsible.” But, as one talking head put it, “If Gates was the quarterback, Manafort was Jerry Jones and owned the team.” It is worth noting that Gates netted a salary of only (note: I say “only” because we’re talking in millions of dollars for Manafort) $240,000 a year for keeping the books, while Manafort supposedly was paying himself over a million and a half (or more) from off-shore accounts to himself, illegally. And, of course, Gates embezzled from Manafort, so: “birds of a feather.”

At the very least, the presence of multiple offshore accounts to keep from having to pay U.S. taxes does not make Manafort a “good” person when he was the ring master for putting Donald J. Trump in office. Nor does it make Betsy DeVos a good choice for a Cabinet post (Secretary of Education) when she doesn’t have ANY experience in education (or much in finance) and sails a ship that is NOT registered under a U.S. flag, to keep from paying normal higher wages to the ship’s employees and to avoid port taxes of a U.S. registered ship. But that’s the kind of “draining the swamp” we’ve had with the Head Alligator in charge. Trump charges the Secret Service for use of his golf carts and really gouged those who rented the floor above him in Trump Tower for a while (his security detail). Since then, an unsightly trailer has been established outside the Trump Tower and is set up as Command Central for Trump’s security detail, to avoid the fleecing that was taking place in billing the government outrageous sums for a roof over their heads.

And let’s not even get started on the many other ways Donald J. Trump and family are making out like bandits while in office. It sure makes the days when former Presidents like Harry S. Truman (“The buck stops here”) refused to even take his pension, or when Jimmy Carter said he would not take positions, post presidency, on boards that might make it appear that he was profiting from having held the highest office in the land seem quaint and long ago. Has the entire morality and ethics of the U.S. really gone this far downhill in such a short time?

A few (not many, but a few) of my smart friends voted for Trump and have the cojones to admit it. They thought they were getting somebody from “outside” politics who would stop wasteful spending and rid the government of people like those now exclusively running it. They were wrong, and, some day, they will admit they were wrong, but, for now, can we just agree that jacking the national debt up, the way it has been increased under Trump is NOT a good thing? (Oh, for the days of Clinton’s surplus) and removing Obama’s ban on selling the extremely accurate missiles and bombs that just killed a schoolbus full of children in Yemen (when aimed at them by the Saudis) was probably another “bad” idea. Why remove that prohibition, which was put in place precisely because the previous administration feared that the Saudis might use them in such a way. (Let’s not forget that most of the 9/11 bombers were Saudis, something that the Bush administration tried to have us conveniently forget.)

In fact, this entire Trump presidency: bad idea. Let’s figure a way to start over and push the restart button that Hillary Clinton famously offered Putin once. No, I don’t mean by putting the much-maligned and unpopular former First Lady in office, but simply by getting rid of  Agent Orange (as Spike Lee calls him)  as quickly as we can. Our very survival may depend on it as we teeter and careen from crisis to crisis without a sane or smart hand on the tiller and with the entire National Security apparatus under constant attack. (John Brennan, anyone?)

AP, CNN Reporters Barred from Scott Pruitt Public Meeting

Difficult as it is to believe, today journalists from CNN and the AP (Associated Press) were physically shoved out of a public meeting chaired by EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, with only those whose names were on a White House list being allowed to enter and report on this public meeting of the PFAS National Leadership Summit. The information being shared was not classified and it was a public meeting. Journalists being banned from a public meeting or mistreated when attempting to attend is why I no longer cover presidential races in the U.S., but focus on film.

The official excuse used by EPA spokesman Jehan Wilcox was that “there wasn’t sufficient room.” Photographs from journalists who were allowed inside showed plenty of room. 

Oliver Darcy, Senior Media Reporter for CNN, was nearly apoplectic as he was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer and Sally Buzbee, AP (Associated Press) Executive Editor also issued a statement denouncing this obvious attempt to stifle the press press.

Wake up, people. This is how dictatorships seize and hang on to power.

Things I Learned at the Nail Shop: Annette Bening as Super Hero

When you go to the nail shop in Austin, you are surrounded by technicians who mainly speak to one another in Vietnamese (at least, I think it’s Vietnamese). Otherwise, you have only the large flat-screen television to occupy you. I learned that Annette Bening is going to be a Super Hero in the Marvel franchise—or, at least, that’s what the talking heads said, and it set off a fair amount of discussion amongst the three women and two men onscreen at the time.

 Annette Bening is being touted as a Super Hero for a Marvel movie. This caused a phenomenal amount of interest on the program I was watching (don’t know the name of it; think it’s local). The African-American young man, who had been talking about tickets to go backstage at a Justin Timberlake concert by signing up somewhere, posed the rhetorical question, “Which would you rather see? Annette Bening in a Marvel movie or Justin Timberlake?” (Please… May I phone a friend?)

It could be a very funny “riff” for “SNL” to take on this rumor, as all the icons of yesteryear seem to be fading into oblivion, since “Vanity Fair’s” Editor for decades,Graydon Carter, recently retired and the rumors are also rampant that Anna Wintour (memorialized, fictionally, in the film featuring Emily Blunt,  “The Devil Wears Prada”) may have just attended her final Met Gala. (Oh, the humanity!)

When you couple the above news with Elton John announcing that he is not going to tour any more after his final tour and the many headline names (Tom Petty, to name one) who shuffled off this mortal coil, often very unexpectedly, you begin to see the future. It is filled with Kanye (West) moments. And Justin Timberlake, who gave up bringing sexy back to going all woodsy on us and giving us a perfectly forgettable Super Bowl Halftime Show. [If my choices are watching Annette Bening in anything and Justin’s Super Bowl show, I’m going for Bening. (Sorry, Justin.)]

I was recently offered a deal where I could stream old classic movies for a monthly fee. It was suggested to me, in particular, because I review film, and, of course, how could I be “up” on ALL the movies of the past. (How could ANYONE be “up” on all the movies of the past, is more like it; I think I’m pretty solid on anything from 1955 on, but I’ve been outsourcing the Marvel epics.)

I need to make you aware of the soy bean crisis and the teacher crisis, so pardon me while I leave you with these images of the potential Super Hero at Sixty (birth year: 1958) and the interesting fact that her parents, staunch Episcopalians, were from Iowa. I wonder what they thought when they heard she was marrying Warren Beatty, then known as the World’s Biggest Womanizer?

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