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: Local Page 2 of 25

Columns on local goings on could mean the Quad Cities of IA/IL (Moline, IL or Davenport, IA); Chicago; or Austin, Tx, since Connie spends parts of each year in those towns where she has homes. ‘Of local interest” could mean politics, opinion pieces, or business or entertainment-related subjects.

Trump’s Lawless Masses Breach Capitol, Endanger Lawmakers

I’m watching CNN “live” and listening to the voice of Manu Raju, Senior Congressional Corespondent, as Vice President Pence is being escorted from the building.

The Trump protesters have breached the building and the Vice President of the United States has been evacuated.

Both chambers are now in recess and one U.S. female representative said she had been told to evacuate her office because of a pipe bomb. You can see the protesters inside Statuary Hall, carrying their Trump flags and draped in American flags. They are just walking through, carrying their cell phones, but soon they begin breaking windows and climbing into the interior of the Capitol building.

“This is an incredibly dangerous situation that is unfolding.” (Jake Tapper) Trump is on Twitter complaining about Pence’s unwillingness to go along with his plans to wrest control of the election process.

One yo-ho is waving a U.S. flag outside of the roped-off walkway. The CNN commentators are remarking that “this is beyond anything I’ve seen in covering the Capitol for 20 years.” One tweet: Shame on POTUS for not doing anything to stop it. Jim Acosta says that, like Nero fiddling while Rome burns, the current president is “pouring fuel on the fire.” This is “a bonfire of the insanities” that has been going on for weeks now. “And now, this is what we’re left with.”

Acosta: “And, Jake: what is the plan to get these people out of there? This is just bedlam. What is Trump’s plan to get these people out of there?”

Manu Raju: “Very very tense. There is an armed stand-off at the front door of the Capitol. The D.C. Mayor is ordering a 6 p.m. curfew.”

“Bee Gone: A Political Parable”

House members are sheltering in place in their offices, but they are being told to evacuate. Pence has been evacuated. The protesters are all over this building.”

The protesters all look like yo-hos. They are attired in MAGA hats and plaid that makes them look like they’ve all just wandered in from plowing the north 40. The members of Congress are being given gas masks because tear gas was used in the Rotunda of the Capitol. Chief Ramsey (P.D.) is being asked how the members of Congress can perform their Constitutional duties today? He says, “You’ve gotta’ force them out. This is absolutely ridiculous.” Transit police can be seen walking outside, on the steps of the Capitol. There are people climbing up walls and tromping around. The president is stirring the pot and has unleashed something he cannot control. The Chief of Police says: “It never should have gotten this far.”

Charles Ramsey, the former D.C. Police Chief, says “He stirred them up. This is as close to a coup attempt as this country has ever seen. This is sedition. This is attempting to undermine the rule of law by using force.”

An unattractive man has just given the middle finger to the cameraman while shouting obscenities.

Jake Tapper is asking why more steps were not taken to insure that the Capitol would be safe. It seems pretty clear that the man in charge (Trump) has encouraged this. “I haven’t seen anything like this. This is the United States of America. This is the American Capitol!”

Tapper points out that this is Charles Ramsey’s “worst nightmare” and he mentions “major demonstrations in the city.” But, he said,  “We never had anything that came close to coming this far. They’ve got to take the gloves off and maintain control.” Ramsey seems quite perturbed that more force is not being used against the protesters who are storming the Capitol.

Tapper: “I don’t know if anything has happened like this since the days of the Vietnam War.”

I lived through the days of the Vietnam War. There was no disrespect shown to the Capitol during the anti-war protesters. “I haven’t seen anything like it since then. It doesn’t go that far even then,” said Charles Ramsey. (Very true).

The real question is when law enforcement is going to show up, in force.

There is at least one woman in critical condition after being shot in the chest on the Capitol grounds.

 

January 6th: History Is Made on Capitol Hill During Ceremonial Meeting to Certify Election

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

Texas politicians have been involved in the contesting of the presidential election results far more than those of other states including: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (recently reported by his staff for taking bribes in the service of a wealthy realtor), U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert. The “Metro & State” portion of the Austin American Statesman, today, had an entire story entitled: “Four Texas Republicans Who Have Humiliated Us.”

Cruz is going to contest Arizona’s election returns today—in just a few moments, in fact, inside Capitol Hill on the Senate Floor. (See some of those remarks at the end of this article.) Gohmert has had various legal actions thrown out of court. Former Ken Paxton aides reported him to the FBI and then began resigning in droves. An anti-trust lawsuit against Google was underway, but now, because Paxton’s former deputies are all accusing him of crimes in the service of wealthy donor Nate Paul (an Austin real estate investor), Paxton is seeking $43 million to go forward with the Google lawsuit with outside legal help. Paxton hired outside firms to conduct the suit, saying, “The legal services cannot be adequately performed by the attorneys and supporting personnel of the attorney general’s office.”

This was not true before Paxton was reported for misconduct in office, as the Attorney General’s office had thousands of employees and Deputy Attorney General Darren McCarty was leading the investigation, prior to Paxton’s misconduct in office.  Mateer, McCarty and Ryan Bangert, another senior lawyer involved in the case, all resigned after reporting Paxton to the FBI. All 8 of Paxton’s accusers have quit or been fired and 4 alleged in a lawsuit that the attorney general created a hostile work environment, including deploying armed guards, to force them out.

Google, of course, has assembled “the best lawyers unlimited money can buy.” Now, Texas tax-payers are being asked to foot the bill for hiring outside counsel to the tune of millions. The allocated amount to pay the monthly bills is $43 million, if approved by the Legislature.  If Google doesn’t end up paying those charges, Texas will try to recoup its costs in court. A second firm (Keller Lenkner) has laid out a similar payment plan. Texas has the largest Republican-controlled state attorney general’s office in the country.  With roughly 750 lawyers and 4,000 total employees. It’s  for the state to hire outside counsel. Paxton most recently hired outside lawyers last month, for his failed suit seeking to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.

Today, in the Austin American Statesman opinion piece (see below) entitled “Cruz’s Stunt Shows Contempt for Voters’ Will” the newspaper had this to say about all the shenanigans ongoing today on Capitol Hill:

“The Electoral College challenge planned by Senator Ted Cruz and other Republicans reeks of an audacious stunt, a desperate act to keep Donald Trump in the White House.

But this is no political game.  Something far greater is at stake here, something Americans hold dear: our nation’s standing as a democracy, the legitimacy of its government coming from the consent of the governed.

Cruz, a dozen other senators and about 140 Republicans in the U.S. House—including newly elected Rep. Pete Sessions, whose district includes a swath of northern Travis County, and Williamson County’s Rep. John Carter—plan Wednesday to stymie the confirmation of the Electoral college results.

They won’t succeed in preventing Joe Biden from being sworn in January 20th as president.  But they risk inflicting lasting and unspeakable damage, cratering the public’s confidence in our elections and deepening the partisan divides that make it harder for Americans to confront the pandemic, achieve an economic recovery and tackle other pressing challenges.

“The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee,” sixth book in the Christmas Cats series (www.TheXmasCats.com).

No kidding. It’s amazing that number isn’t higher, given the barrage of disinformation from Trump and conspiracy theories on social media.  Equally disingenuous, Cruz says “the unprecedented allegations of voter fraud” demand Congress’ intervention, ignoring the lead role he and other GOP officials played in amplifying those baseless claims.

Cruz would have Americans believe that a new “Electoral Commission” is needed to scrutinize the elections administered and certified by the states, opening the door for legislatures to pick a different president than the people did.  Nevermind the fact that at least 86 judges across the political spectrum have heard—and dismissed—all claims of election irregularities.  Or the fact that former Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department found no widespread fraud that would change the outcome of the election.  Or that a national coalition of election security officials, including some appointed by Trump, said “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Cruz’s crusade is not about election security  It’s about pandering to a diehard Trump base that he hopes will propel him to the White House in 2024.  It’s about the flurry of fundraising emails from Cruz, Carter and others seeking campaign donations to “join the fight”—as if it costs them anything to show up Wednesday and raise objections on the floor of Congress,

To no one’s surprise, Trump has handled defeat the same way he’s managed other political setbacks:  Spread lies and conspiracy theories.  Pressure key officials to bend the rules.  The appalling audio of Trump’s hour-long phone call last weekend with Georgia elections officials shows the leader of the free world demanding a “recalculation” of the votes to keep him in power–as if the results of an election were negotiable.

Trump’s antics have tested our nation’s commitment to self-governance and created a rift within the Republican Party.  Our democracy still stands because others within the GOP—from local elections officials to Republican-appointed judges—have shown their fidelity to the Constitution and the will of voters.

Laudably, a growing chorus of Congressional Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Chip Roy of Hays County, have refused to take part in challenging the election results on Wednesday.  In a statement with 6 other members of the U.S. House, Roy said taking such an action would “unconstitutionally insert Congress into the center of the presidential election process…(and) would amount to stealing power from the people and the states.”

Taken during a McCain rally at the Cedar Rapids Municipal Airport during the 2008 presidential campaign. Cover of Volume II of “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House.” (Available on Amazon in paperback and e-book).

Plenty of issues, from tax policies to judicial nominees, are fair game for partisan fights.  But the underpinnings of our democracy, the very notion that voters decide the elections must be sacrosanct.

Honoring the will of the voters should not be a Republican or a Democratic norm, but an American one.  The efforts to subvert that, first in failed lawsuits by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Rep. Louie Gohmert, now in the charge led by Cruz, are nothing short of seditious.

Cruz’ gambit on Wednesday will fail, too.

But what a shameful spectacle!

*******

“We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids!” (Mitch McConnell) If we overrule the election results, we damage our democracy. This election was not even unusually close The electoral college count was almost identical to what it was in 2016.

If this election were overturned by unsupported allegations from the other side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. Every 4 years would be a scramble for power. If we overrule the voters, we can damage the Republic forever.

The effects would go even beyond the elections themselves. Self government requires a shared commitment to the truth and a shared respect for the ground rules of our system. We cannot keep drifting apart into 2 separate tribes with a separate set of facts with nothing in common but a respect for the common institutions we share.

Every time since 2000, said McConnell, such a dispute took place. Republicans condemned those baseless attacks back then, said McConnell. “There can be no double standard.” We must not imitate and escalate what we repudiate,” said McConnell. It must not be “an endless spiral of partisan venom.”

Belmont Town Hall meeting on campus in Nashville, Tennessee, 2008.

“Honor the people’s decision,” said McConnell. “Show that we can still muster the patriotic fervor not only in victory, but in defeat.”

“It would be unfair and wrong to overrule the voters on this extraordinarily thin premise.”

I will vote to defend our system of government as we know it”

(The above from Mitch McConnell)

******

From Chuck Schumer:

The Congress does not decide the outcome of elections; the people do.

American people elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to be the next Pres. and VP of the U.S. And yet a number of our colleagues have organized an effort to challenge our free and fair election. They have no evidence of widespread voter fraud to change our election. That’s because there is none. They know that President Trump and his allies have lost no fewer than 62 legal challenges, rendered by many Republican judges appointed by President Trump.

In the process of objecting, they will embarrass themselves, their party and the United States of America. Merely accepting the results of an election is considered an act of political courage.

Barack Obama in Davenport, Iowa (River Center) during the 2008 caucus season.

That anyone, much less an elected official, would be willing to tarnish our democracy in order to burnish their personal political future, senators of good will from both sides of the aisle will explain why these challenges must be dismissed.

What message will we send today? What message will we send to every dark corner of the world where elections are stolen? What will we show those people? Will we show them that truth matters. There will always be a stronger coalition ready to push back, ready to defend everything we hold dear.

Let those words ring in the ears of every Senator. Let us do our duty to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help us God.”

(From Chuck Schumer)

****

Biden on the caucus campaign trail in Iowa prior to the 2008 presidential race. Don’t worry: I’ll be back to politics by the end of the week.

From Ted Cruz:

We have seen and will continue to see a great deal of moralizing from both sides of the aisle. We are gathered at a time when democracy is in crisis. Recent polling show that 39% of Americans believe that the election was rigged. That is a profound threat to this country and any administrations that will come.

I believe that there is a better way. Let me be clear: I am not arguing for setting aside the results of this election.

The Hays-Tilden election of 1876 appointed a 10-day investigatory commission. (Cruz wants to establish such a commission).

 

 

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to You !

Stacey opens a present.

Today was two days after Christmas in Austin (Tx). It was 78 degrees at the airport.

The holiday has also provided other 70+ days—all sunny—and, since arriving in early December, there have been at least 2 83 degree days.

We celebrated Christmas Eve at my son’s house opening presents and, on Christmas Day, between the two households, we prepared a feast of prime rib, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, corn on the cob, salad, rolls and a mixed berry pie with ice cream.

We have played euchre, rummy, Code Word, Upwords, Monopoly and Scrabble.

Daughter Stacey traveled in from Nashville. While here, Nashville suffered the explosion. This affected her Dec. 28th start on a new job, so she traveled back one day later than planned.

Everyone liked the presents they received and we have gone back and forth to each other’s homes, dining, playing games (in some cases, outisde) and it has been a stress-free holiday period. It is the culmination of the cancellation of all holidays since Halloween

Craig, Stacey, Connie,
Wrigley the dog, Elise and Ava

Sad news reached me concerning the death of my first cousin (Rollie Monson’s) son’s death while hunting (a heart attack) and my former brother-in-law, Ed Castelein, had a stroke.

Otherwise, no news is good news and, aside from trips to my son’s house, we have remained close to home.

Happy New Year upcoming on Thursday!

Sunset.

Republicans and Their Dubious Relationship with Facts

Joe Biden in Independence, Iowa, on the Fourth of July, 2019.

Paul Krugman is a columnist for the New York Times, but he was reprinted in the Austin “American Statesman” today talking about why Republicans seem to have such a tenuous grip on facts. He has a point. I think some of the explanation behind Krugman’s thesis can be laid at the feet of the fractured nature of today’s news—where even the Facebook-like meeting grounds have splintered into those that are far right, those that are far left, and Facebook, itself. So, here is Paul Krugman’s “When Did Republicans Start Hating Facts?”

I reprint it here because not all of you can re-read it on the pages of the Austin “American Statesman” (p. A11) and, in my own experience, there is always a pay wall up on the NY Times.

“Republicans spent most of 2020 rejecting science in the face of a runaway pandemic; now they’re rejecting democracy in the face of a clear election loss.

What do these rejections have in common? In each case, one of America’s two major parties simply refused to accept facts it didn’t like.

I’m sure it’s not right to insist that Republicans ‘believe’ that, say, wearing face masks is useless or that there was widespread voter fraud. Framing the issue as one of belief suggests that some kind of evidence might change party loyalists’ minds.

In reality, what Republicans say they believe flows from what they want to do, whether it’s ignore a deadly disease or stay in power despite the voters’ verdict.

In other words, the point isn’t that the GOP believes untrue things. It is, rather, that the party has become very hostile to the idea that there’s an objective reality that might conflict with its political goals.

Democratic National Convention, 2008, Denver: CNN Headquarters.

Notice, by the way, that I’m not including qualifiers, like saying “some” Republicans.  We’re talking about most of the party here. The Texas lawsuit calling on the Supreme Court to overturn the election was both absurd and deeply un-American, but 60% of Republicans in the House signed a brief supporting it, and only a handful of elected Republicans denounced the suit.

At this point, you aren’t considered a proper Republican unless you hate facts.

But when and how did the GOP get that way?  If you think it started with Donald Trump and will end when he leaves the scene (if he ever does), you’re naive.

Republicans have been heading in this direction for decades. I’m not sure whether we can pinpoint the moment when the party began its descent into malignant madness, but the trajectory that led to this madness probably became irreversible under Ronald Reagan.

Republicans have, of course, turned Ronald Reagan into an icon, portraying him as the Savior of a desperate, declining nation.  Mostly, however that is just propaganda.  You’d never know from the legend that economic growth under Reagan was only slightly more robust than it had been under Jimmy Carter, and slower than it would be under Bill Clinton.

And rapidly rising income inequality meant that a disproportionate share of the benefits from economic growth went to a small elite, with only a bit trickling down to most of the population.  Poverty, measured properly, was higher in 1989 than it had been a decade earlier.

Other measures suggest that we were already veering off course.

For example, in 1980, life expectancy in America was similar to other wealthy nations; but the Reagan years represent the beginning of the Great Mortality Divergence of the United States from the rest of the advanced world.  Today, Americans, on average, can expect to live almost 4 fewer years than their counterparts in comparable countries.

The main point, however, is that under Reagan, irrationality and hatred for the facts began to take over the GOP.

There has always been a conspiracy-theorizing, science-hating, anti-democratic faction to America.  Before Reagan, however, mainstream conservatives and the Republican establishment refused to make alliance with that faction, keeping it on the political fringe.

Reagan, by contrast, brought the crazies inside the tent.

Many Americans are, I think, unaware that Reagan embraced a crank economic doctrine—belief in the magical power of tax cuts. I’m not sure how many Americans remember that the Reagan administration was also remarkably hostile to science.

Reagan’s ability to act on his hostility was limited by Democratic control of the House and the fact that the Senate still contained a number of genuinely moderate Republicans.  Still, Reagan and his officials spent years denying the effect of acid rain, while insisting that evolution was “just a theory” and promoting the teaching of Creationism in schools.

This rejection of science partly reflected deference to special interests that didn’t want science-based regulation.  Even more important, however, was the influence of the religious right, which

Good Old Boy Fred Thompson, running as a Republican, in 2008.

 

first became a major political force under Reagan, has become ever more central to the Republican coalition and is now a major denier of the party’s rejection of facts—and democracy.

For rejecting facts come naturally to people who insist that they’re acting on behalf of God. So does refusing to accept election results that don’t go their way.

Sure enough, a few days ago, televangelist Pat Robertson—who first became politically influential under Reagan—pronounced the Texas lawsuit “a miracle,” an intervention by God that would keep Trump in office.

The point is that the GOP rejection of facts that has been so conspicuous this year wasn’t an aberration.  What we’re seeing is the culmination of a degradation that began a long time and and is almost surely irreversible.

Podcast of December 17th: Christmas Book(s) for Sale!

“The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats,” Book #1. (www.TheXmasCats.com for all 5 in the series, currently).

I posted the scheduled appearances for the rest of 2020 previously. This Thursday (Dec. 17) will, in fact, involve telling the audience about  books for sale, but whether it will be Sean Leary’s book or not remains to be seen. The evening will focus on the six-book series “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” if previously scheduled guest Sean Leary cannot make it, [due to a soccer game this time]. Always have a “Plan B,” when preparing a program, whether it is a radio show, a podcast, a television show, or something else. I’ve done very little talking about my own books on the 38 programs so far. Maybe this is the week—a week before Christmas—to talk about a 6-book Christmas series? I guess we’ll know by Thursday. One way or the other, you’ll get to hear about an appropriate literary purchase for the holiday ahead.

On December 24th there will be a replay of a previous program, and on December 31st (New Year’s Eve) that will happen again.

There are six books in “The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats” series, all of which can be seen by going to www.TheXmasCats.com. I would urge potential listeners to go out to the website while they are listening to me talk about how the books came to be.

Again, this is not a “for sure” program listing, as perhaps Sean will be able to join us to talk about his new book “Subliminal Cartography.” Maybe. Maybe not.

If not, you’ll hear the story of the newest book (“The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee”) first, as it is the newest release. I’m on schedule with completing the series for my granddaughters, as I always vowed to discontinue the series when the girls had outgrown Santa Claus. Their twelfth birthday is January 11th; the final book is out, and all six of the books are available on Amazon in time for Christmas gift giving, if you hurry.

So, what are the books and what were the ideas behind them?

Book #1: The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats

This book came out of the non-stop fighting between our two cats, the older cat and a new arrival, who joined us from the ravine as winter came on. They had to learn how to get along, and that is the “moral” of Book #1.

Book #2: The Christmas Cats Chase Christmas Rats

The girls were three when I began the series and they were selecting the next animal that the Christmas Cats, a gang of do-gooders, would aid. Rats came up next. Among other morals of this book it includes an admonition against prejudice and a plea to be helpful and kind to others.

Book #3:  The Christmas Cats Encounter Bats

Living here in Austin, as I am currently, this one should be a big seller at Book People, but, alas, it has no “spine” and I learned the valuable lesson that books in Book People (the largest independent bookstore in Austin) must have a spine, so that readers can read the title as they browse in the store (not that there is much “browsing” during the pandemic.  The moral: do not fear or destroy animals simply because you are unfamiliar with them. There is a “master plan” for every creature and that bat or insect or snake also has a reason for living.

Book #4:  The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer

Inspired by the deer kill staged at Scott County Park in Scott County, Iowa, the Christmas Cats rescue the hapless deer in the park and hustle them to the North Pole, where they learn to help Santa in his annual delivery of gifts. The illustrations by Gary McCluskey for this one are outstanding, and it is one of my two favorite books in the series. For the first time, a hard cover edition was available, although it is not listed on Amazon, which doesn’t help.

Book #5:  The Christmas Cats Care for the Bear

This one should be one of the most popular, as it is an anti-bullying tome. The little bear is being bullied because he has funny fur and is chubby. The good lesson to be learned:  bullying is wrong.

Book #6:  The Christmas Cats Flee the Bee

Donnie Drone wants to take over the hive because he doesn’t like the Queen Bee. He colludes with a less-successful hive to wrest control of the hive. All the worker bees in the hive begin to realize that they could all die if Donnie Drone remains in power, and they unite to drive him off. A timely political parable for our current time(s).

New Boston, Texas, on Night Three

Day 3 found us driving from St. Louis to New Boston, Texas.

The land was flat and uninspiring. I took several pictures along the way, especially one of a city sign for Pocahontas, Arkansas, in honor of our dear friends who used to live in Pocahontas, Iowa.

Naturally, none of the pictures I took has appeared in my mail, which is par for the course. I’ve sent them from my phone 3 times, but they are not coming through. (Sigh).

I did learn a lot about Pocahontas, Arkansas, today, a community of just over 6,000 residents, according to the 2010 census, versus the 1,910 who lives in Pocahontas, Iowa. It is a community on the Black River and, during the Civil War, when they seceded, it ended up having 35,000 Confederate soliders billeted there during the war at one point. Unfortunately for the town, the Yankees broke through the defenses and burned the downtown to the ground at one point. There were 3 Indian tribes that lived in this area back in the day.

The news tonight says there are 99,000 people hospitalized with Covid-19. I did a division problem that showed that the number of cases identified in November meant that each of the 50 states had 80,000 people ill with Covid-19. (Obviously, this was a simple division problem and some states—notably Maine and Hawaii—have done better than others.

St. Louis, Night #2

We had considered driving straight through to Austin, but an accident on the road slowed traffic to a crawl. I persevered and read on in “The Cartel” (p. 192), but darkness fell and we are now sheltering at the Holiday Inn in New Boston, Texas, just outside of Texarkana, where we ordered a pizza from Pizza Hut.

The news tonight in the U.K. “Guardian” says that Trump’s group is being investigated in a pardons-for-pay scheme.

Interestingly enough, the gas in St. Louis was cheaper than in the Quad Cities, but the gas here in Austin (lowest I’ve seen) was $1.63 a gallon. While picking up groceries, I noticed that the 90% ground beef was $4.57 a pound, while it was $6.47 a pound at the Jewel/Osco store on Kennedy Drive and Avenue of the Cities.

Travels to Texas: Night One

Chicago

On the road again.

We’ve made it to Chicago and here is the view from my window. Way more lights in the South Loop than last year.

On the way in on I-55 there was some sort of accident, so the 40 miles to the heart of Chicago took longer than usual, but we’re here now and on to St. Louis tomorrow.

I brought pork chops from our freezer at home and cooked them (also had an onion from home) and made green beans (also from QC) and there was a little bit of left over chicken from the 5.6 pound chicken (Wilbur) we made for Thanksgiving.

The weather has taken a turn for the colder. You can feel it.

We watched the end of “The Undoing” (disappointed that it ended the way it did) and “Fargo” (also a disappointing and confusing ending) and now I’ve managed to make it through all the morning news

Chicago

shows, so it’s off to bed.

RoboCalls Number One in the State of Iowa (No Wonder No One Has A Land Line Any More)

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

According to James Q. Lynch of the Des Moines “Gazette” bureau, Iowa was Number One with a Bullet in receiving robo calls this election season. Transaction Network Services which analyzes over 1 billion calls a day determined that Iowa voters received more than 610,000 robocalls—most of them political in nature—during the presidential election. On November 2nd, the day before the election, Iowans received more than 270,000 robocalls.”

This works out to be about 19.5 per 100 Iowans, making Iowa Number One in the nation with calls per population.

Most of the calls were being made on behalf of candidates on the ballot. “Lucky, lucky you,” said Jim Tyrrell, a senior director at the firm, noting that most recipients were happy that this political period was over.

Every morning, as I sat down to read my morning paper, I took 4 things: 1) the morning paper (2) my land line phone (3) my cell phone and (4) my morning coffee.

I am not technically “in” the state of Iowa, but being on the border means that the Quad Cities television and radio stations and our newspapers are carrying political ads non-stop. I would have to get up at least 3 times during this time period, unless I had taken the phones with me.

Dominion Voting Machine Conspiracy Theories: Only Crackpots Need Apply

Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute warns that the crack-pot Dominion Voting Machine conspiracy theories are harming cyber-security:

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

Last week, Julian Sanchez wrote about a crackpot conspiracy theory making the rounds: The allegation that voting machines or tabulation software produced by Dominion Voting Systems had somehow been “hacked” or “rigged” to alter the outcome of the presidential election. At the time, I worried I might be giving undue attention to an outlandish claim that—given how thin and easily debunked was the “evidence” for it—would surely fade away on its own. Apparently, I need not have worried. Since then, the Dominion Theory has not only led to the firing of Chris Krebs, the well‐​respected head of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency, but featured in a press conference held by Trump attorney Sidney Powell, who made it the centerpiece of a wildly implausible case that Donald Trump had won the presidency by a “landslide” and been deprived of victory by massive and systematic vote fraud. According to Powell’s increasingly byzantine version of the theory:

“The Dominion Voting Systems, the Smartmatic technology software, and the software that goes in other computerized voting systems here as well, not just Dominion, were created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chavez to make sure he never lost an election after one constitutional referendum came out the way he did not want it to come out.”

None of this is true. Dominion and Smartmatic are separate companies, and indeed competitors; the tenuous connection between them is that Dominion once purchased assets from a firm that had been owned and sold off by Smartmatic years earlier. Smartmatic is an American company, though its founders are Venezuelan, and its software was not used in any of the swing states currently under scrutiny. (It has provided software used in Venezuelan elections, but the company itself has called out electoral fraud there.) Powell’s claim appears to be little more than an effort to insinuate guilt by (very indirect) association with an authoritarian regime.

The other supposed “evidence” for chicanery linked to Dominion is equally shoddy. Election‐​night tabulation errors in Michigan—detected and corrected almost instantly—were speculatively attributed to Dominion software by online conspiracy theorists, but local election officials have since explained that they were the result of human errors, not computers misbehaving. Claims amplified by Trump that millions of votes had been “deleted” in Pennsylvania were unequivocally refuted by state officials. Trump appears to have picked up the notion from a report on the One America News Network, which got the idea from a blog post citing data from the polling firm Edison Research—though Edison itself had produced no such report.

Evidence against the theory is overwhelming, and has only become stronger in the week since my original post. Georgia recently completed a manual recount of paper ballots, supervised by the Republican secretary of state, and found no sign of any significant tabulation errors. (The states electronic voting machines generate voter‐​verifiable paper records, and in most battleground states the in‐​person votes that would have used such voting machines favored Trump, with Biden having the advantage in hand‐​marked mail ballots.) In an open letter, 59 of the country’s most prominent election security experts said they’d found no evidence of systemic fraud—cyber or otherwise.

None of this, alas, was enough to save Chris Krebs, until recently director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the Department of Homeland Security. For the sin of issuing a statement that the agency had found no evidence of voting systems being compromised, Krebs was summarily terminated by tweet, with Trump declaring the agency’s expert analysis “highly inaccurate.”

“We have it totally under control.” (Jan. 2020)

Since the evidence‐​free Dominion theory is unlikely to persuade any court, Krebs’ dismissal may be its most damaging consequence, at least in the short term. This is not merely because Krebs was widely respected and viewed as highly competent, but because the firing sends a clear signal to all government employees: if your own analysis contradicts the president’s claims about vote fraud, you shouldn’t expect to remain employed for long. This undermines CISA’s core mission, which includes assisting and coordinating with states which may lack the federal government’s capabilities when it comes to monitoring and detecting sophisticated cyber‐​threats. Now the specter of political interference hangs over any warnings the agency may provide in the future. The agency may now hesitate to provide state officials—and the general public—with reassurances about the integrity of local elections, while warnings about actual threats may be viewed with suspicion given Trump’s clear desire to find evidence of fraud. Nor is the harm limited to CISA. The Intelligence Community at large is on notice: produce reporting at odds with the president’s public claims, and you place your career at risk.

This is particularly poisonous because it distorts what’s known as the “intelligence cycle”: the process by which agencies gather intelligence, analyze it, disseminate reporting, and then use that information to allocate resources and prioritize the next round of intelligence collection. Any distorting effect on what is reported—either because employees feel obliged to emphasize information that confirms what the president wants to hear or suppress information that contradicts his presuppositions—risks creating a feedback loop, infecting the next round of planning and intelligence collection, and diverting resources and energy away from genuine threats and toward spurious ones. We should hope the president‐​elect has the wisdom to avoid such potentially toxic interference.

“The Comeback Trail” Will Leave You Laughing—and That’s Just What We Need!

George Gallo and Josh Posner took an old idea (based on a 1982 film of the same name  by Harry Hurwitz) and tweaked the basic idea of “The Producers” to give us the comedy “The Comeback Trail.” The movie stars Robert DeNiro, Tommy Lee Jones, Zach Braff, Morgan Freeman, Emile Hirsch and there is an uncredited cameo from Jason Bateman.

Gallo was the creative force behind “Wise Guys,” “Midnight Run,” and “Bad Boys,” among other amusing films. This is a World Class Cast and the music by Aldo Schllaku and cinematography by Lukasz Bielan are top-notch. Budget was estimated to be $25 million.

Here’s the plot in a nutshell (as revealed in numerous trailers): Max Barber (DeNiro) and his nephew Walter Creason (Zach Braff) have just released “Killer Nuns” (“They’re nuns with a bad habit.”). It’s another bomb from Miracle Pictures. [In fact, the Miracle Pictures slogan is, “If it’s good, it’s a miracle.”]

Walter borrowed $350,000 from Reggie Fontaine (Morgan Freeman) to make the picture, and Reggie wants his money back. Since Reggie isn’t kidding about wanting repayment, Max goes to James Moore (Emile Hirsch), a wealthy investor, and James (call him Jamie) demands that the great script for a film called “Paradise” be signed over to Jamie, in exchange for helping bail Max out.

It is while at Jamie’s mansion, where filming is taking place on yet another picture, that Zach Braff, seeking an autograph, inadvertently causes Frank Pierce, the star of the picture (uncredited cameo by Jason Bateman) to fall off a building.  (I wondered if Frank Pierce was modeled on Tom Cruise?) Pierce is killed,— but he was insured for $5 million.

That is the germ of the idea for Max: Hire an over-the-hill movie star of yesteryear, insure him heavily, and kill him off while making a picture. Then, collect the insurance. This isn’t too far off the idea behind “The Producers” when another Max planned to make a terrible Broadway bomb and collect for its failure. That original film with Dick Shawn (“Springtime for Hitler,” anyone?) unfortunately goes on to be a roaring success, which ruins Zero Mostel’s (Max Bialystock’s) plans.

Tommy Lee Jones is the over-the-hill Western star, Duke Montana, who is reduced to doing commercials for Big Earl’s Used Cars, while living in a retired actors’ home, where he is suicidal over his long-lost love, Bess.

THE GOOD

The dialogue frequently references famous movies of yesteryear. At one point, for instance, Morgan Freeman tells Max’s character that, if he is not promptly paid within 72 hours, “I’ll hunt you down like Redford and Newman in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.’” There is an amusing exchange when Morgan Freeman—a frequent investor in numerous film projects—-marvels to his sidekick, Devin, that they are on the movie set where “Gunga Din” was filmed.

“This is where they shot Gunga Din!” says Morgan’s character.

Devin responds, “Who is Gunga Din and why did they shoot him?”

It’s throw-away lines like this, plus the stunt horse Buttermilk (an homage to Dale Evans) that will tickle the fancy of true movie buffs.

The horse (Buttermilk) has various tricks that he’ll perform upon the uttering of a code word. Say “rocket” and he’s off running like one. Say “mattress” and he’ll lie down. Say “Rhubarb” and watch out! There is also a bull whose intentions towards the cast are deadly and a hanging footbridge over a canyon that makes Duke ‘fess up that he is afraid of heights.

THE BAD

I’ve never thought that Robert DeNiro played comedy as well as drama. He always seems to be over-the-top hammy in fare like “Meet the Fockers,” but the movies were still funny. His mugging for the camera (again) doesn’t keep the lines and situations from being laugh-out-loud humor at a time when we desperately need more laughter in our lives.

The movie was filmed in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico, and will be streaming by December 18th. Be sure to stay after the credits to see the hilarious phoney ads for “Killer Nuns” and films like “Cows from Beyond” by the mythical Miracle Films.

 

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