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: Politics Page 1 of 19

Beto O’Rourke Speaks in Davenport at the River Music Experience on May 20, 2019

Beto O’Rourke at the River Music Experience in Davenport (5/20/19).

Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. (Bill Gluba, former Mayor of Davenport, to his right, in background.)

Beto O’Rourke.

River Music Experience, May 20, 2019, Davenport, Iowa.

Beto O’Rourke rally; May 20, 2018; Davenport, IA.

Former Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba at the Beto O’Rourke rally inside the River Music Experience in Davenport, IA. (5/20/19).

Beto O’Rourke taking questions in Davenport on 5/20/19.

Crowd member at the Beto O’Rourke rally. (He said he’d seen JFK when he was 2.)

Alyssia Gaiman introducing Beto O’Rourke at the RME on 5/20/19.

Beto O’Rourke.

Beto O’Rourke; former Mayor Bill Gluba in background (right).

A young future voter at the Beto O’Rourke rally.

The crowd in the room at the Beto O’Rourke rally on 5/20/19. I overheard a member of the traveling press say it was the 3rd largest rally he had seen for the candidate.

Working press; Beto O’Rourke rally on 5/20/19 at the River Music Experience in Davenport, IA.

Beto O’Rourke, potential Democratic presidential nominee, came to Davenport (IA) on May 20, 2019, and spoke to a crowd of about 200 enthusiastic supporters at the River Music Experience. Introduced by former Iowa Congresswoman  Alesia Gaiman, Beto entered, stage left. He may have thanked her with a wrong first name (sounded like a different first name from the press risers), but, if it was a faux pas, it was the only one I heard.

When Beto finished with a brief introduction about his vision for unifying this divided nation, he took questions from the audience for an hour and a half.  Both Beto and the audience acquitted themselves nobly.

Were the questions arranged in advance? I don’t think so, but both the Iowans who spoke and the candidate came off as smart, alert and prepared.

Here were the topics of the questions with Beto O’Rourke displaying an impressive ability to answer without a teleprompter or notes:

Question 1: LGBQT rights and how to restore them.

Question 2: His plans to revise the criminal justice system (with a backhanded slap at former Senator and Vice President Joe Biden for not handling this well enough while in office.)

Question 3:  Advice for a first-time voter who feels overwhelmed.

Question 4:  Will you fully fund the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)?

Question 5:  Immigration issues.

Question 6:  The student debt crisis.

Question 7:  Minimum wage concerns.

Question 8:  Collective bargaining rights for teachers in Iowa (which, aside from pay, have been stripped by the GOP legislature.)

Question 9:  The national debt and what to do about it.

Question 10: Gun violence in the schools and what to do about it.

Question 11:  How would you pay for everything you propose?

Question 12:  Your Middle East policy, especially in regards to Saudi, Arabia.

Question 13:  Solar and wind power and other alternative forms of energy.

Question 14:  The opioid epidemic in this country.

I am not knowledgeable enough about the organization of Democratic politics in Iowa to be able to tell you if these questions were assigned in advance.  I can tell you that O’Rourke pirouetted gracefully from one question to the next with an impressive array of statistics at his command. Did the organizers arrange for questioners (like the  retired Muscatine defense contractor who worked in the Middle East) to be present to ask these very relevant questions? Sounds plausible; seems more likely when a small child asked in perfect English, with no hesitation, about the IDEA act. However, the teacher mentioned coming directly from another meeting about the Iowa Supreme Court decision, and most questions seemed valid and unscripted.

Still, I’ve been to many rallies, starting in 2004 and continuing through every presidential election since then.. (2008 Content Producer of the Year for Politics for Yahoo) and this was a well-organized, well-informed crowd and—perhaps most importantly—a well-informed candidate. Very well-informed.

So let’s hear Beto O’Rourke’s fix(es) for these weighty questions.

Q 1 (LGBQT rights): The individual who asked this question appeared very feminine, with long blonde hair, until the question was asked. The voice was very male. Transgender? Don’t know; can’t tell you. Beto answered the question by saying, “Every American should be treated equally.” He shared that, “In my home state of Texas, you can be fired for your sexual orientation” and condemned such practices, saying, “No state can except itself” from providing equal rights to all U.S. citizens.

Q2 (Criminal justice system). The questioner identified himself as Chris Rice. Beto’s answer to the inequities of the criminal justice system and what improvements he would like to implement as president were: 1) End the war on drugs (2) No U.S. “for profit” prisons. (3) Eliminate the cash bail bonding system.

Q3 (1st time overwhelmed voter): Sharing that he had visited 34 college campuses (as well as high schools and middle schools) Beto reassured Jimmy Feeney by saying, “I’m here and I’m listening.” He said, “Show up (at the polls) with the courage of your convictions.”

Q4 (IDEA question): Yes, Beto would fully fund the IDEA.

Q5: John Dunsheath, who asked about immigration issues was given a heartfelt response about an issue Beto O’Rourke knows only too well, being from El Paso, Texas, a border city. He talked about the train known as “the beast” that immigrants take from Central America to the Mexican border, and said, “Amy and I have these conversations” about what they would do if they were in the dire circumstances that the immigrants seeking asylum endure. He suggested that we should lift visa caps. [*I’d like to refer readers to a comprehensive discussion of Beto O’Rourke’s views on the immigration issue and “the wall” by giving you these links to previous articles on this blog in February of this year]:

https://weeklywilson.com/16733-2/; https://weeklywilson.com/beto-orourke-speaks-out-cont-the-end/; https://weeklywilson.com/beto-orourke-speaks-out-day-3/;https://weeklywilson.com/beto-orourke-speaks-out-cont-2/

Q6 (Student debt): Beto affirmed that “crisis” was the right word to use for the student debt situation. He mentioned the $1.5 trillion outstanding debt and said that 10% of those in debt are either in danger of defaulting or have already defaulted on their student loans. He suggested expanding loan forgiveness programs, making college free, and recognizing that trade occupations are a valid career  choice.

Q7- (minimum wage): Kevin O’Brien, who identified himself as a 40-year union member, brought up the current minimum wage of $7.25, which, he said, was inadequate. He has 5 children (all college graduates), but commented on how expensive his adult children’s medical insurance was in relation to his own. Beto countered that, in Texas, the largest provider of mental health services was the state. In Harris City, Texas, the City Jail costs $110 a day, which entitles the prisoner to health care (and makes the Harris City Jail the largest provider of mental health services in town.) O’Rourke suggested a form of Medicare for Americans who are uninsured or cannot afford the cost of supplemental insurance.

Q8 – (Collective bargaining for teachers in Iowa) – I was way behind the curve on this one. In my defense, I’ve been in Texas since January, but I didn’t know that the Iowa GOP-dominated legislature and governor had stripped teachers’ unions of most collective bargaining rights—-previously in existence for half a century. In reading up on this issue (which is near and dear to my heart as someone who led the charge for collective bargaining rights in Silvis, Illinois, in 1979-1980) I learned that a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision was 4 to 3 to uphold stripping this right to negotiate such items as class size, length of school day, free periods, lunch hour length and everything except pay. A teacher quoted in a Des Moines Register article said, “Morale is very low.” O’Rourke said, “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of in my life” and called it “Penny-wise and pound foolish,” saying the teachers educated in Iowa are not willing to remain in the state to teach. Iowa’s loss is Minnesota’s gain. How will Iowa attract top-notch teachers? Teachers can go elsewhere and have collective bargaining rights, (which simply means a say about the conditions under which they must work.)

Q9 – National debt – Citing a national debt of $22 trillion, which is going up $1 trillion annually, O’Rourke noted that “The GOP can forget about representing themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility.” Pointing to the wars that added $6 trillion to our national debt, unfunded by “W,” Beto suggested that lowering the tax rate from 35% to 21% was a fiscal mistake and re-doing it would help lower our national debt.

Q10 – (gun violence) – Anna Cynthia, a student, voiced her fear over gun violence possibly reaching into her own classroom. Beto mentioned that the government mandated that gun violence and its causes could not be studied, as cigarette addiction because of nicotine was, after Big Tobacco was overruled.  He talked about the deleterious effect of the NRA and gun lobbies, stating proudly that his campaign was not taking any PAC money.

Q11 – (How to pay for all this?) – Beto stated that we must “scrutinize every cent spent” and pointed to the endless war in Afghanistan, going on for his entire lifetime (he turns 47 in September). “Do not lead with the military, but with diplomacy.”

Q12 – Middle East – While acknowledging that MBS in Saudi, Arabia had cold-bloodedly plotted the murder of U.S. journalist Khashoggi, I did not hear the solution to our continuing affiliation with Saudi, Arabia, which leads us into wars  in places like Yemen and Sudan.

Q13 – (Solar & wind power) – O’Rourke mentioned that Iowa is second only to Kansas in harnessing wind power to create electrical power. He proposed a $5 trillion increase in programs to invest in wind and solar power over the next 5 years.

Q14 – (opioid epidemic) – O’Rourke talked about how, in his travels, he has met  addicts or former addicts, sometimes veterans, who describe how they originally became addicted because of prescription drugs. Beto’s solution? Not sure, as this was the last question of the night and the natives were restless.

Overall, it was an impressive performance from the charismatic candidate from Texas. As a winter resident of Austin,(Texas), I identify and was pulling for him when he ran against Uncle Festus from The Munsters—err, Ted Cruz. An interesting ticket would be Biden/Beto.

I highly recommend “Running with Beto,” which I covered at SXSW.  You can read my review of that here or on www.TheMovieBlog.com.

(L to R) Wife Amy, daughter Molly and Beto O’Rourke onstage in Austin, Texas, at the Paramount Theater,  on March 9, 2019, at the premiere of “Running with Beto.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abortion Rights Under Attack in the U.S.

For close to half a century, the GOP has tried to overturn Roe v. Wade and curb women’s right to reproductive freedom. This concerted effort to prevent a pregnant female from deciding not to carry a child to term does not come with adequate funding or societal help to assure that the overwhelmed potential mother would be able to care for said child, in the event that she were forced to go forward with her pregnancy. While chipping away at the social network like a demented woodpecker, the GOP has simply thrown around hot-button words (“socialism,” “abortion”) knowing that they will evoke the crazy response they want in their followers. There has been no GOP up-tick in social programs to assist, for example, women of color with several children and no supportive mate.

Says Planned Parenthood president Leana Wen, “The threat to safe, legal abortion in America is at risk like never before.” In the past 9 years over 400 state laws have been passed restricting abortion services. Eight states have only one abortion clinic left. Exploiting the explosive “wedge issue” has become one of the mainstays of the GOP talking points, along with calling anyone who believes that a woman’s reproductive decision should be hers a “Libtard” or a “liberal snowflake.” Interesting to report, there are no similar liberal perjorative names aimed at the Conservative wing of the GOP, specifically designed to denigrate their political beliefs and, in some cases, not only verbally attack them but physically attack them, as well.

As for the majority of Americans on this divisive issue,  60 per cent believe abortion should remain legal and it is conceivable that one in four women of child-bearing age might decide to have an abortion in her lifetime. Some of these women may have been victims of rape or incest. Others may have health issues that would put their own lives at risk or simply not have the economic or psychological means to support a child at that time in their lives. Still, the anti-abortion foes will paint these women as monsters. The Conservative forces will misrepresent the point(s) at which ethical doctors will perform an abortion, and will continue to use unflattering semantics and Biblical backing from evangelical sects to support their point of view, irrespective of the wishes of the women, themselves. (I remember Dr. Howard Dean, campaigning in Iowa in 2004, telling us in someone’s back yard in Muscatine, Iowa, that he had gone through the records of his home state of Vermont and there had been NO record of a late-term (after the sixth month) abortion in the state of Vermont ever.  This was in response to a question from the Iowa caucus crowd).

In some states—Mississippi, for example—they are in the ongoing process of passing a fetal heartbeat law that bans abortions as early as six weeks, despite the fact that a U.S. district court has already struck down a law in the same state banning it at 15 weeks. Even if the opponents of legalized and safe abortions do not succeed in overturning the laws, the amount of time that these moves take can have an impact. Once closed, an abortion clinic may not open back up. Says Cecile Richards, former President of Planned Parenthood (currently under budget attack from the White House), “Even if Roe is still the law of the land, whether or not pregnant people can actually access abortion is another question entirely.” To all those individuals who are reading this and “tsk tsk-ing” about abortion, in general, I would recommend that you read “Cider House Rules” by John Irving before  becoming too secure in your position. Irving’s father and grandfather were obstetricians and he charts the drop in female mortality rates that accompanied Roe v. Wade. The safe abortion center in Bettendorf, Iowa, was forced to close some time ago, a result of the Conservative right’s concerted and never-ending attacks on them. With a Republican legislature in Des Moines, the service is no longer available in an area of 350,000 people, which, for the state of Iowa, is among its 3 largest metropolitan areas.

Meanwhile, proposed legal decisions like “June Medical Services v. Gee”  and 2016’s “”Whole Roman’s Health v. Hellerstedt” continue to move forward, challenging the current status quo. The packing of the courts by Trump supporters is not a good thing (think Brett Kavanaugh) and 21 of U.S. states are classified as “hostile” or “very hostile” to abortion rights, while only 4 are “supportive” or “very supportive.” Five states currently have so-called trigger laws that would immediately ban abortion if Roe v. Wade fell. The state of Arkansas has no exceptions for rape or incest and would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by 10 years in prison.

According to the National Institute for Reproductive Health, 422 bills were introduced in 44 states and the District of Columbia, which were aimed at protecting reproductive rights in 2018. One hundred were fully enacted into law. “Public support for Roe v. Wade has never been higher that it is right now” says a former Planned Parenthood leader: “If you are one of the majority of Americans who care about access to safe and legal abortion, now is the time to make your voice heard.” Otherwise, the Conservative plan is to make it so hard to access this currently legal right that it will, in effect, cause the downfall of Roe v. Wade without having to actually legislate it out of existence. In 1976, only 3 years after Roe v. Wade went into effect, the Hyde Amendment blocked federal Medicaid dollars from going toward abortions and the Supreme Court upheld that as constitutional in 1980. In “Planned Parenthood v. Case” the court further determined in that 1992 decision that limitations could be put on abortion as long as they didn’t create “an undue burden. (A blanket right was turned into a circumstantial right.)

Julie Rikelman, Director of U.S. litigation for the Center for Reproductive Rights says, “Even if the Supreme Court never utters the words ‘Roe is now overruled,’ it can do a huge amount of harm.” Are the women of 2020 willing to go back to the days of back-street illegal abortions (one of which left a friend and former classmate of mine dead in her apartment in Iowa City, Iowa, back in 1964? I hope that the young women of the United States start paying attention to this area that DJT is also stirring up and, flying the false flag of Conservative evangelical piety, is attacking as he is attacking most other bulwarks of our Constitutional democracy.

Forgetabout Joe Biden’s Hugging Penchant and Concentrate on REAL Problems

Okay…I’ve waited for a while to weigh in, but I’m watching Bill Maher’s show right now and they are discussing the fact that the recent hoopla over Joe Biden’s kissing the back of a candidate’s head (which only now, many years later, she has decided offended her) is “much ado about nothing.” They are discussing the fact that this recent furor might be a generational divide.

I agree.

“Biden has to know better. This isn’t a joking matter.” This was written by a reporter commenting on the child who joined Biden onstage, where Biden actually draped his arm over the child’s shoulder(s) and said he had gotten permission to do so.

Maher says: “Humans are going to touch each other.” Someone just called former Vice President Joseph Biden “a creepy old grandfather.” (Sigh) He may be old, but so is Donald J. Trump, the likely GOP nominee. And so is Bernie Sanders.

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.

I have met Joe Biden on several occasions, primarily because I covered presidential races in 2004, 2008, 2012 and a very small part of 2016. In 2008, it was not unusual to get a phone call in the Iowa Quad Cities and be told by a Biden campaign worker that there was going to be a rally at Doc Seng’s house.

Doc Seng (veterinarian Dr. Seng) is now dead and there probably won’t be any rallies at his old place, but, if Joe Biden does run, there will be rallies somewhere, just as there were in 2008. (Did you know that Joe Biden was the National Campaign Chairman for Jimmy Carter’s campaign?)

I used to chat with Jimmy (Joe’s brother) and Hunter (Joe’s son) and I even interviewed his then-young granddaughter, Finnegan Biden. At no time did then-Senator Biden hug me inappropriately or, from what I observed, hug anyone else in an inappropriate manner. The closest I came to being hugged was probably Christopher Dodd; that wasn’t horrible, either.

It is really difficult, (especially in the light of the Access Hollywood tape), to think that this sudden focus on Vice President Joe Biden’s tendency to hug people is anything that disqualifies Joe Biden from seeking and holding the office of President of the United States.

We should put aside the nattering over nothing and direct our attention and focus to important things, like global warming, the Mexico wall that Trump wants to spend a small fortune building, Obamacare and fixing it, our crumbling infrastructure and fixing it, defending our elections against foreign adversaries, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, the looming debt that Trump has committed us to, Puerto Rico, struggling farmers, education, and any number of REAL issues and forget about whether some female now working for Bernie Sanders would rather not have had her shoulders touched when Vice President Biden was kind enough to campaign for her in her home state.

Trump Twitter Museum Is Launched at SXSW

As President Donald J. Trump continues to castigate a fallen war hero 7 months after his death, it seemed particularly timely to post the photos of the Presidential Twitter Library that Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Show” people put up at SXSW on the mezzanine of the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin.

There are counts of how many times DJT mentions President Obama; how many times he mentions various Fox News People (Greta Van Susteren won that one); how many times he mentions each of his children. (Tiffany snagged only 5 mentions, total).

There is the gold-plated toilet room—where you could have had your picture taken on the gold-plated throne.

And there were tweets—lots and lots of tweets.

Government by tweet. Insult by tweet. Etc., etc., etc.

 

 

 

 

Trevor Noah introducing visitors to the Trump Twitter Library on the mezzanine level of the Driskill Hotel during SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

“Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins:” Documentary on the Journalist at SXSW

(*Named an Audience Favorite Documentary at SXSW)

Documentary “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” at SXSW. (SXSW Press Photo).

“Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins” showed at the Paramount Theater in Austin as part of SXSW. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January. Director Janice Engel has culled footage of the legendary Texas wit and journalist to entertain and inform us of her skill as a humorous columnist, a talent which was often compared to that of Mark Twain.

Ivins’ column was carried by 400 newspapers through syndication at the time of her death from cancer in 2007. Ivins, the former co-editor of the Texas Observer, who also put in time at the esteemed New York Times, was known for calling George W. Bush “Shrub” and telling her public that Dan Quayle was so stupid that if his brain were transplanted into a bumblebee, the bee would probably fly backward.

She wrote about Texas politics and Texas politicians and was a close friend of famous Texas Governor Ann Richards. Ivins once described a particular politician as having an I.Q. so low, “if it gets any lower we’ll have to water him twice a day.”

Ivins grew up in River Oaks, went to St. John’s and was a child of Texas oil and gas privilege. Much of her character was formed in conflicts with her strait-laced Republican father, who was known as General Jim or Admiral Jim because of his stern authoritarianism.

Ivins enrolled in Scripps College in 1962 but was not happy there, and transferred to Smith College in 1963. She became romantically involved with Henry “Hank” Holland, Jr., a family friend and student at Yale whom she later referred to as “the love of my life”. After he was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1964, her friends said that she never seemed to find anyone else who could replace him. They suggested it was why she never married. She spent her junior year at the Institute of Political Science in Paris and received her B.A. in history in 1966, earning a master’s degree from Columbia University‘s School of Journalism in 1967.

Her first job after college was with the Minneapolis Tribune.  Molly Ivins became the first female police reporter at the paper. Ivins joined the Texas Observer in the early 1970s and later moved to The New York Times. The New York Times was not a good fit and Ivins moved back to Texas, becoming a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald in the eighties and then the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when the Times Herald was sold and shuttered. The column was subsequently syndicated by Creators Syndicate and carried by hundreds of newspapers nationwide.

The new documentary contains footage from Ivins’ numerous appearances on television, but also interviews with many of her longtime friends and acquaintances. Her witticisms are front-and-center, as when she said, “I’m not anti-gun; I’m pro-knife” or “You got to have fun while you’re fighting for freedom, ‘cause you don’t always win.”

Janice Engel, Director of “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” at SXSW. (SXSW Press Photo).

Director Engel told interviewer Charles Ealy in an Austin American Statesman piece: “She’s not only a prophet; she’s the voice of now. She is more relevant today than she probably was when she was alive.”

The struggles of Ivins to go it alone in what was then substantially a man’s world and to overcome alcoholism and cancer are part of this engrossing documentary. As Ivins herself said of her fierce battle against cancer: “Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.”

This one is both poignant and hilarious at the same time, and well worth a watch.

“For Sama,” Named Best Feature Documentary at SXSW: Behind the Scenes of the Siege in Syria

 

 

https://images.sxsw.com/OmkWk_NPatsx2ymZWMOMnGzSbME=/878x0:4955x2912/images.sxsw.com/57/e1a26cc7-d574-4707-8f13-52848b9384e8/under-a-falling-sky-142452 Photo of Waad al-Kateab, documenting the violence in Aleppo, Syria (SXSW Press Still)

“For Sama,” Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ searing documentary about the Syrian crisis, was named Best Documentary Feature at SXSW on March 12th. Said the judges, “This extraordinary and harrowing documentary captures an epic personal story of a mother’s love for her daughter and a wife’s love for her husband through the lens of the bloody and brutal siege of Aleppo.”

Waad al-Kateab stayed in Aleppo, where she had been a student in the fourth year of an economics degree at the university. When the rebellion against Assad’s corrupt regime broke out—much of it initially fomented by university rebels—the protesters were hopeful. Waad al-Kateab, a photo-journalist who continued filming for the duration, said, “To try to live a normal life in this place is to stand against the regime.”

Waad al-Kateab’s husband, Dr. Hamza el-Koteab, was one of only 32 physicians who chose to stay in the besieged city to care for the remaining residents; it is clear Aleppo’s remaining residents feel abandoned by the world. “We’re crying out to the world: Help us! ..But no one does anything to stop the regime.”

During the time that Waad al-Kateab spent in Aleppo  across a 5-year span and during 6 months of constant bombing, she and Hamza fell in love, got married, and had their first child, Sama. The film is entitled “For Sama,” their daughter, because Waad wanted to let her daughter know what they were fighting for in staying behind long after others had fled. As Waad says, “Our new life with you felt so fragile…as fragile as our life in Aleppo.”

The family eventually ends up actually living in the hospital, but the hospital is constantly being bombed by the Assad regime with Russian air support. At one point,  8 of 9 hospitals in East Aleppo have been destroyed; Hamza’s is the only one left, seeing 300 patients a day. Waad al-Kateab and Hamza had one hospital bombed while they were out of the facility, which killed 53 people, including the doctor who delivered Waad’s daughter.

There are many heart-rending scenes of adults and children being brought to the make-shift hospital only to die there or be declared DOA. There are dead bodies literally everywhere within the hospital;  one of the most ghastly scenes is of the victims of a mass execution, all of whom were civilians but showed signs of torture and had been shot in the head. Their bodies—at least 30 corpses— laid out in the street as a warning. The burial pit that forms their mass grave instantly summons memories of Nazi Germany. The scenes of the hospital being bombed evoke the “Sixty Minutes” segment that visited Aleppo hospitals  while they were under fire. One heart-warming but tragic moment is of the emergency C-section of a 9-months pregnant woman. Her child is saved, with difficulty; the mother is beyond help.

Ultimately, after 6 months under siege (December, 2016) the United Nations calls Dr. Hamza, who has become a voice for the Syrian people and whose face has become known to the world saying, “If you surrender, they will spare your lives.” The couple faces a harrowing decision regarding their small daughter. The  thought is this: She has a better chance of making it if they (the authorities) don’t know that you are her parents.

Waad al-Kateab cannot leave her daughter behind, however. The couple and their neighbors, who have three children, attempt the perilous journey out of Aleppo and into exile. As they drive, sharp shooters shoot at the ambulance. Waad says, “The silence makes you feel the city is dead.” Each check-point is dangerous. Will they all make it out alive?

The bombed ruins of a once-beautiful city confirm the diagnosis that the city, along with many of its inhabitants, is dead. Waad’s husband, Dr. Hamza says that in 20 days they saw 6,000 patients and performed 890 operations.

This is a must-see story of survival under siege from directors Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts which had its World Premiere (financing by the UK) at SXSW. Hopefully, it will air soon on PBS.

Beto O’Rourke HBO Documentary “Running with Beto” World Premiere on March 9, 2019, at SXSW: Crowd Wants to Know: Is He Running for President in 2020?

(L to R) Amy, Molly and Beto O’Rourke on March 9, 2019, in Austin, Texas at the World Premiere of HBO documentary “Running with Beto.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Beto O’Rourke (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Running with Beto,” the HBO documentary that will air on HBO in early spring (May 28 release date), was screened at a World Premiere at the Paramount Theater in Austin this morning (March 9 at 11:30 a.m.) and a rapt crowd of supporters got to see Beto O’Rourke, his wife Amy, and their daughter Molly (as well as all those associated with the film) up-close-and-personal during a Q&A after the film.

I was seated in the third row on the right for “Running with Beto” when a large group of people began ascending the stairs that lead to stage right. The tallest of the group, hunched over so as not to block the credits then running, was Beto O’Rourke, who managed a small wave to those of us who noticed his entrance with family and campaign workers and Director David Modigliani.

All spoke to us after the film. Director David Modigliani described his goal as “wanting to capture a moment in Texas where there’s a real political re-awakening going on. It’s never too late or too early to get involved in politics.”

The crowd outside the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, at SXSW, waiting for the World Premiere of “Running with Beto,” an upcoming HBO documentary, on March 9, 2019 at 11:00 a.m. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Modigliani had creative control of the film, however, saying that the 700 hours of footage they shot in nearly final draft format was cleared as his project (others wanted the job, as well) with Beto over lunch in Austin.  Beto protested, “I didn’t realize it would be THIS involved. I am very Begrateful that you did this with us.  The audience was probably wondering why Shannon Gay wasn’t the candidate.”

Shannon Gay was a particularly feisty blonde worker on the campaign (and in the film) who fought for Beto’s win to promote veterans (among other issues). She was seen crawling around on her roof to tack down a large campaign sign in a prominent spot. When asked what her reaction was to being onstage this day,  Shannon’s response was typically Shannon: “I wish I had a vodka IV,” (which got a laugh). She is shown in the documentary saying “Tough as Texas, my ass” (an allusion to Ted Cruz’s campaign slogan) and “I want so desperately to hear Beto tell Ted Cruz ‘pack your shit and get the Hell out of Dodge.’” Easy to see why Shannon’s outspoken advocacy will catch your eyes—and ears.

(L to R) Wife Amy, daughter Molly and Beto O’Rourke onstage in Austin, Texas, on March 9, 2019. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

When Amy O’Rourke (Beto’s wife) was asked her reaction to the rough draft that “David was kind enough to show us in advance,” she said her reaction was that it was “Very powerful. We knew this was their (HBO’s) film and we trusted him (Modigliani) at every turn.” She also added, to the crowd’s amusement, “The only thing I asked was ‘Could you take out some of the expletives?’” The film was separate from the campaign. It was being edited up until six months before the election.

In an Austin “American-Statesman” article that ran the day of the World Premiere (March 9th) Modigliani said, “The film is about people responding to crisis in democracy and allowing themselves to be vulnerable and allowing themselves to participate in politics in a new way.”

David Modigliani, Writer/Director of “Running with Beto.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Modigliani went on to say, “I felt it was brave of Beto to give us the access that he did. There is real conflict and tension and there are moments where he doesn’t always come off as a prince. It just shows the realities of the stress on the campaign trail, the realities of stress and tension within the family.  It has a realness that we were able to capture because of the access we were afforded. They were committed to running a no-BS campaign and we wanted to make a real no-BS film that captured that experience.” Modigliani, a Massachusetts native who is a graduate of the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas (and the director of the 2008 documentary “Crawford,” about George W. Bush’s effect on that small Texas town) added from the stage during the Q&A his suspicion going in that Beto’s campaign was going to be interesting, that O’Rourke was a total long shot, and that he was unlikely to win.

However, said, Modigliani, “I felt like there was going to be a national conversation that was going to run through the middle of this race.”

O’Rourke was asked point blank, from the audience (in the Q&A following the show), if he was going to run for President. He bobbed and weaved on that one. You can sign up to be one of the first to find out at [email protected] [Sounds like a yes, to me.]

When the turnout in Harris County in Texas increased from 26,000 to 60,172 in the last election cycle, you know something is happening at the grass roots level. The possible candidate, onstage after the film, said, “Thank you to everyone who allowed themselves to hope and to dream.  I am grateful. I was like, what can we talk about up here that will not make me cry.” (laughter) He added, commenting on the many candidates who subsequently drew inspiration from his unsuccessful attempt (and have begun campaigns of their own) that he visited every one of Texas’ 254 counties. The O’Rourke campaign brought the Democratic party alive in Texas like it had not been in over 25 years. Said Beto,“Turn hope into action.”

Adam Schiff, John Bolton on “Face the Nation” on March 3, 2019

 

“I saw Little shifty Schiff,” is the way the President of the United States referred to the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee recently when addressing the CPAC Conservative conference. The following article summarizes appearance(s) by John Bolton and Adam Schiff as part of “Face the Nation” on March 3, 2019 (today).

“The President’s ready to keep talking” (John Bolton).

Q:  So, is North Korea a growing threat?

A:  President Trump’s objective has always been denuclearization. The president opened the door in Singapore. He kept the door open during that 8 month period. The North Koreans can walk through it. It’s really up to them.

Q:  Within a year? That is what you said after Singapore.

A:  Operationally, how long would it take, you asked then. With a few exceptions, our judgment was that we could do it within a year, once the progress was started. There’s no expiration date. The President is fully willing to negotiate at lower levels. I think we will keep the maximum pressure in place. Relief (from the sanctions) they can get, if they de-nuclearize.

Q:  Did you know that (complete de-nuclearization) was not on the table?

A:  We don’t know what’s on the table from North Korea until it comes out of the mouth of Kim Jong-Un. We didn’t walk away with a failure. We honestly didn’t know. We’ve tried to make it clear to them: we’re not going to make the mistakes of previous administrations (Obama in Iran mentioned).

Q:  You’ve tested this proposition on negotiating from the top down now. But the success rate has not been any more than in the past. Would you go back to doing it from the bottom up?

A:  The success rate in the past has been zero, so that’s not a hard bar to overcome.

Q:  But they can still produce nuclear fuel. He no longer looks like a pariah. Didn’t Kim Jong-Un gain from this? He sat across from the President almost as an equal.

A:  I’m the national security advisor. I’m not the national security decision maker. My job now is to help the President and give him my advice. He’ll make the decisions. The position of the administration is de-nuclearization and that’s what we are prepared to negotiate on.

Q:  When was Otto Wermbeer brought up?

A:  In Singapore. The best thing North Korea could do now is come up with a complete explanation of what happened to him.  I’ve heard the President talk about Otto on numerous occasions in the past. I  know how concerned he was.

Adam Schiff from Boynton Beach, Florida

Q:  The President personally attacked you yesterday at CPAC (calling him “Shifty Schiff”). Can you clarify what the Democrats and the Investigation Committee you head up are looking for?

A:  We have seen from our own investigation and the Special Counsel’s just how perilous it would be to limit our investigation. (Mentioned Trump Tower Moscow) That was a deal that stood to make him more money than any other in his life and that is the most compromising position I can imagine. We’re also looking at persistent allegations that the Russians have been laundering money through the Trump properties.

Q:  Who can answer those questions?

A:  We’ll need to talk to Deutsche Bank and some of the banks that did business with Mr. Trump (mentioned that most banks would no longer do business with Trump, except for Deutsche Bank) and we’ll also want to talk with the accountants and chief financial officers for the Trump organization. We’re bringing Felix Sater in to speak about Trump Tower. There are any number of people who can testify as to whether America’s national security has been compromised because the President has been doing business with the Russians.

We have a deep and compelling interest as to whether others know more about his (Cohen’s) false statements to Congress.

Q:  Cohen said he had no direct evidence of collusion with Russia.

A:  I think there is direct evidence in the e-mails offering dirt on HRC, offering that dirt to Donald Trump, Jr. There is an acceptance of that offer in writing from Don, Jr. Apparently the President took part in the lies to cover that up. Mananfort and the polls…Roger Stone…(these are germane, he implied).

Q:  Impeachment grounds?

A:  While there’s abundant evidence of collusion, but is there proof beyond a reasonable doubt of criminal conspiracy? We will have to look at the whole body of improper acts. We will have to await the evidence from Bob Mueller to see if there is evidence of collusion.

Q:  Kevin McCarthy has called for your recusal because of your contact with Cohen.

A:  That’s pretty frivolous. I invited Michael Cohen to testify and he accepted. That is what Kevin McCarthy is upset about. The extent of my contact was just inviting him to testify and laying out what were the threats against him and his family. Mr. McCarthy can be excused for not knowing how to run a criminal investigation. The degree to which Mr. McCarthy and others have prostrated themselves before this president is one thing he cannot be excused for. For Mr. McCarthy to debase himself and go along with this is, I think, unforgivable.

(After his remarks were over, Adam Schiff asked that the cameras be turned back on so he could respond to the remarks of John Bolton):

I was struck by how Bolton responded. This is indication of a President and a staff that is not well prepared that is flying by the seat of its pants but whose actions have world wide consequences.  (Schiff added this observation on the heels of John Bolton’s previous comments, and said that even the President’s own security advisor could not agree with his own president. Touche, Mr. Schiff.)

The 2 leaders spent far longer traveling to the summit than they did negotiating. Sixty hours for Kim Jong-Un and 17 for Trump to fly halfway across the world. (Kim’s people are forbidden to travel).

North Korea depends on state-owned businesses, like small business that send money to North Korea from Vietnam. Kim does not want to be isolated. He wants the financial strain on North Korea lifted. At least neither side seemed willing to escalate to war, leaving the door open to future diplomacy, but Kim Jong-Un won a footing almost equal to that of the United States as he sat opposite the President. What did the U.S. get?- The team of talking heads, including the chief correspondent for the New York Times said that usually the President would only come in for the final 10% of such negotiations, but this administration seemed to have done no prior planning. As they put it, “Nothing was pre-cooked.”

North Korea Nuclear Summit Bulletin from Vietnam at 1:30 A.M. (CDT) on Feb. 28: No Nukes Is Good News?

    Kim Jong Un of North Korea
        (Wikipedia image)

The Nuclear Summit between North Korea and the United States ended abruptly 2 days into the process and was carried on NBC News at 1:30 a.m. CDT:

Trump:  “I want to thank all of the people of Vietnam for having treated us so well.”

We have relatively attractive news from Pakistan and India. They’ve been going at it and we‘ve been in the middle trying to help them both out.

Venezuela has been very much in the news and we’ve been sending supplies. We’re sending a lot of supplies down to Venezuela. You would think the man in charge currently would let the supplies get through.

On North Korea, we just left Chairman Kim. We had a very productive time but we felt it wasn’t a good time to be signing anything. We spent pretty much all day with Chairman Kim. He’s quite a guy and quite a character. At this time, we decided not to do any of the options. It was a very interesting 2 days.

Sometimes you have to walk and this was one of those times.

(Then he threw the discussion to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo)

Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo:

We had brought a team and tried to make real progress. Unfortunately, we didn’t get all the way. We didn’t get to something that ultimately made sense for the United States of America. I’m still optimistic. I am hoping that we’ll get back together and work something out. I think as we continue to work on this in the days and weeks ahead, I hope we can get to the goal of de-nuclearizing North Korea.

I’m very optimistic in the progress that we made. It put us in a position to make good progress. They couldn’t quite get to the point of making a deal. I hope we’ll do so in the days and weeks ahead.

Q:  Has this process been more difficult than you thought?

A:  It was about the sanctions. Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety. They were willing to de-nuke a large portion of the area that we wanted. We will continue to work, but we had to walk away.

Q:  All things are still in place?

A:  We haven’t given up anything, and frankly I think we’ll end up being very good friends with Chairman Kim and everybody. It was about sanctions. They wanted sanctions lifted, but they weren’t willing to give us the areas that we wanted.

Q:  (John Roberts of Fox News) Did you get any distance towards Kim’s vision of de-nuclearization?

A:  He has a certain vision and it is not exactly our vision, but it’s a lot closer than it was a year ago. For this particular visit we decided that we had to walk.

Q:  (Sean Hannity): If he wants the sanctions completely off and you wanted more, how do you bridge that gap?

A:  We have to get what we have to get.

Q: (Sean Hannity)_ Could you elaborate a little bit more?

A:  I want to keep the relationship going. As you know, we got our hostages back. Chairman Kim of North Korea promised me he isn’t going to do testing of nuclear. I trust him and I take him at his word. Mike (Pompeo) will be speaking with his people. It’s a process and it’s moving along. We could have signed an agreement today, but I just felt it wasn’t appropriate.

Q:  Did you learn anything new about Chairman Kim of North Korea? While this was going on Michael Cohen called you a liar, a con-man, a racist.

A:  It’s incorrect and it’s very interesting, but I think having a fake hearing like that and having it in the middle of this very important summit was really a terrible thing. They could have made it even a week later. Having it in front of this very important summit was a terrible thing. He lied about so many things but he didn’t say there was any collusion. I was a little impressed about that, to be honest. I call it the witch hunt. This should never happen to another president. I call it the witch hunt. I now add the word hoax. The most important question was the one about collusion and he said he saw no collusion. (Trump said that Cohen lied about 95% of the time rather than 100%).

Q; What was the atmosphere between you and North Korea’s Chairman Kim?

A:  Very good, very friendly. We shook hands. There’s a warmth that we have. I hope it stays, and I think it will. This should have been solved during many presidential runs before me. People talked about it but never did anything. .It was a very friendly walk.

(Secretary of State Mike Pompeo)

We are certainly closer today than we were 36 hours ago. Real progress was made. Everyone had hoped we could do just a little bit better, but both sides are resolved to achieve it.

Q: How do you find things in common between you and North Korea’s Chairman Kim when you are from such different economic systems and even from different generations (from a foreign correspondent)?

A: We just like one another.

Q:  Do you think this meeting was premature (BBC)?

A:  You always have to be prepared to walk. We could have signed something, but it just wasn’t appropriate. I’d much rather do it right than do it fast.

Q:  (South Korea reporter) Can you elaborate on the options?

A:  We discussed many ways. De-nuclearization is a very important word. To me, it’s pretty obvious. We have to get rid of the nukes. But North Korea is in an incredible location. ..There’s tremendous potential in North Korea. I think its going to be an absolute economic power.

Q:  David Sagner of the NY Times: Six months ago you said we should come back and ask you about it if nothing had been solved. In that time you have seen the number of missiles from North Korea increase. That’s been a pressure point on you.

A:  Some people are saying that and some people aren’t. We’re partners with a lot of countries on this including Russia, China and others. I don’t want to do something that is going to violate the trust that we’ve built up.

Q:  More detail?

A:  Chairman Kim of North Korea wants all the sanctions off. He was willing to do things, but we have to have more than that. We had to do more than just the one level.

POMPEO: There were timing issues. There were a lot of other issues that we needed to discuss.

Q:  (black reporter): Are you still wanting North Korea to give up everything?

A:  I don’t want to say that to you, because I don’t want to put myself in that position. I’m always prepared to walk. I’m never afraid to walk from a deal.

Q:  Are you afraid the testing will start again?

A:  He said the testing will not start. He said he won’t do testing of anything having to do with nuclear.

Q:  Jessica Stone of CVTN:  How would you describe China’s role in facilitating the engagement so far?

A:  China has been a big help. 93% of things come in through China to North Korea. China has an influence and China has been a big help and Russia has been a big help, too. About 28 miles of the border…things can happen there, too.

Q:  Did the topic of China come up?

A:  We did talk about China today a lot. He’s getting along with China and so are we. (Lots of talk about how great things are going in the U.S. that has nothing to do with the question). “We have the strongest economy possibly that we’ve ever had.” Cited Fiat Chrysler as building a new plant. “But China is having some difficulty, as you know.” He mentioned the tariff moneys which have decreased the U.S. bottom line. “I want them (China) to do great, but we’ve been losing anywhere from $300 to $500 billion a year. Many presidents should have done this before me, but nobody did.” (Later, he cited the Obama administration by name, but insisted that it went back further than that.)

Q:  Message from President Moon?

A:  I like President Moon. We have a great relationship. Believe it or not I have a great relationship with almost every leader. Some people would find this difficult to believe, but we do. We’ll be calling President Moon very soon. I’ll be calling the President of Japan.

Discussion following Trump’s 40 minute press conference: A lunch meeting did not happen and a scheduled signing ceremony did not happen.  Peter Alexander of NBC News said they wound up abruptly. Trump flew 800 miles for nothing, basically. The last time Trump walked (the wall) he ended up with a deal that was worse than he had before. It’s not entirely clear what he can do to go forward. Why is there any reason for optimism? Clearly something happened at some point. Trump flew halfway around the world and then flew home early empty-handed. “They didn’t get to the finish line at all.”

 

Michael Cohen on “Late Night”: Were the Congressional Hearings of 2/27 the “Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players”?

 I watched (most of) the Michael Cohen testimony today on CNN. I even taped the earlier testimony, in case I wanted to go back and watch, for instance, the argument that broke out between a Democrat and a Republican about Donald J. Trump’s racist tendencies. I thought these tendencies had been fairly well established back when the state of New York targeted DJT and his father (Fred) in a sting operation that involved the duo not renting to blacks.

A black couple was told there was “no room in the inn.” Immediately afterwards, a white couple was rented an apartment. This is old news and easily checked out online. There have been plenty of other examples since then, but that would bog down this mention of today’s appearance of Michael Cohen in front of Congress and serve no purpose other than to rehash old news.

I was most put off by Republican Jim Jordan (blue shirt, yellow tie guy) who was extremely hostile and, in a particularly funny moment, tried to introduce an amendment AFTER he had already yielded his time. Then there was Congressman Matt Gaetz who threatened Cohen on Twitter, saying Michael Cohen’s wife was likely to hear about his girlfriends. (Didn’t happen). Gaetz added the rather low comment, “I wonder if she’ll be waiting for you while you’re in prison.” As Seth Meyer said on “Late Night,” “I didn’t think anyone could out-sleaze Trump on Twitter, but you did it, my friend.”

There was talk of whether Michael Cohen wanted a job in the White House.  Meyer said, “Well, that would have been a solid source of income for weeks.” I was instantly reminded of General Kelly, face buried in palm for weeks, saying, “This is the worst job I ever had.”

THINGS WE LEARNED TODAY:

1)Michael Cohen testified that Trump knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.

2) Michael Cohen testified that Trump knew about the leaked Democratic documents from the DNC.

3)  Michael Cohen expressed contrition and (hopefully genuine) remorse and endured a great deal of unattractive, immature bashing from the Republicans in the hall.

Seth Meyer showed a picture of DJT in Vietnam for his “summit” with North Korean’s Kim Jung Un and made the comment, “Trump finally went to Vietnam, but he’s getting killed back home.” For those of you who have been living under a rock, this was a reference to the bogus bone spurs that Trump used as his excuse to avoid active military service in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

4)  Michael Cohen told the assembled Congressmen and women: “He (DJT) had no desire or intention to lead this country, only to market himself.”

Democratic National Convention, 2008, Denver: CNN Headquarters. (Photo from Connie Wilson’s book “Obama’s Odyssey.”)

Michael Cohen went on to talk about Trump’s goals when he began running for President and even shared that he was the one  responsible for setting up a website to explore a potential run, early on. According to Michael Cohen, 5)  “Donald J. Trump ran for office to market his brand and to increase his power. He would often say, ‘This campaign is going to be a great info-mercial.’

Added Seth Meyer, “like most things on infomercials, it turned out to be much crappier than it looked on TV.” 

6)  Michael Cohen spoke about the Trump Tower Meeting, specifically, Donald Trump, Jr. coming in and walking behind DJT’s desk and speaking to his father. Said Cohen, “What struck me as I look back was that DJT had frequently had told me his son Don, Jr., had the worst judgment in the world.” Meyer said, “That’s saying a lot when he claims his son is even dumber than he is, because he’s as dumb as a box of rocks.” (Ouch!)

Then came a close-up look at Paul Gosar (R, AZ), whose own siblings took out ads endorsing his opponent in 2018. A dentist from Arizona, he couldn’t get his statement out before his time expired, but he came with a giant poster that bore a picture of Cohen with the words, “Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!” What struck me was that he could simply put Trump’s face over Cohen’s and it could  become a permanent fixture of any televised appearance by Agent Orange in the future, since Trump has told well over 9,000 verifiable lies since assuming office.

Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins (R, LA) was highlighted, saying, “I didn’t know who you were until today really.” He also likened Cohen to “many of the thousands of men I arrested” saying he doubted the sincerity of all of the criminals he had apprehended, who claimed remorse after their arrest. Higgins’ accusation was that Cohen was angling to get a TV show from his appearance this day.

7)  Cohen replied, rather calmly, “Mr. Higgins, “I’ve been on TV representing Mr. Trump since 2011.”

 As Seth Meyer said, “He looks like the kind of guy who’d say, ‘Well, I don’t have a TV set. I get all my news from a gossip-y alligator.” The writers also compared Jim Jordan’s rapid-fire staccato outburst of names of individuals who were currently accused of being less than forthcoming (Jim Comey was one) as “Like a Fox News version of ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire!'” Meyer was right; the entire outburst was like a small child on the playground.

Actually, nearly all of the Republican questioners of Michael Cohen, the sad-eyed beagle amongst them, came off that way. Their chief purpose was not to elicit information. They don’t seem to care if Trump is a petty or a major criminal, but only whether they will remain in power.

8)  It seems quite sad that they are completely indifferent as to whether or not the Chief Executive (the guy with his finger on the nuclear button) might be  a traitor (a “useful idiot”) or in bed with the Russians or maybe just a petty small-time criminal who used money from his (so-called) cancer charity to pay for a portrait of himself and cheated on his taxes every chance he got. [Constitution? What Constitution! Pshaw! Ain’t no big deal!]

As Meyer concluded, the hearings merely showed ” that Republicans are supporting Trump despite the fact that there is still so much to learn about him.”

 

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