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THE IDEAL REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Humor, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 4, 2021 at 12:05 am

Many Republican strategists fear that, with the defeat of Donald Trump by Joe Biden in 2020, Democrats now have a lock on the White House for 2024.

And the base of the Republican Party continues to demand candidates who are increasingly Fascistic.

The top officials of the Republican Party have decided that science holds the answer: They will use cloning to create the perfect, unbeatable Presidential candidate.

They have directed scientists from the National Institute of Health to resurrect—via DNA samples—several past, hugely popular Republican leaders.

The first of these is Abraham Lincoln: Destroyer of slavery and defender of the Union.

The scientists then introduce him to a sample of Republican voters to gauge his current popularity.

The test audience erupts—but not in the way party officials expect.

“Race-mixer!”

“He’s the reason we have all these damn civil rights laws.”

“He invaded the South—and destroyed states’ rights!”

To head off a riot, the scientists rush the startled Lincoln-clone off the stage.

Then they introduce their next resurrected candidate: Theodore Roosevelt, the trust-busting conservationist. 

Again, the test-audience erupts:

“Tree-hugger!  Tree-hugger!”

“He’s the guy who broke up the big corporations—lousy Socialist!”

Startled Republican officials hustle the Roosevelt-clone out of the building.

Finally, they bring out their third choice for victory: A cloned Ronald Reagan.

For the test audience, this is simply too much:

“Not him!  He legalized abortion in California when he was Governor!”

“He let all those damn Mexicans come into California! We need someone who kicks them out!”

Desperate, Republican leaders go into a huddle.

“What are we going to do?” asks one. “Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan were our most popular Presidents.”

“Yeah, but that was in the past, before Donald Trump showed us the way,” says another. “We need a candidate who speaks to our base today.”

“Hey, I’ve got an idea. But there’s just one catch. The guy I have in mind wasn’t actually born in the United States.”

“So what?”

“That would violate the Constitution.”

“Screw the Constitution. You know what Donald Trump always said: Why spoil the beauty of the thing with legality?”

So the Republicans again order the scientists to return to work one last time.

When the last resurrected candidate is presented to the test-audience, the crowd rises as one, shouting: “That’s him!  That’s him!”

“The one we’ve been waiting for!”

“The one who really speaks for us!”

“He’s totally anti-abortion—and he hates uppity women!” 

“He makes even Trump look like a pussy!”

“Yeah—he hates Socialists, gays and nonwhites, and he really believes in a strong military!” 

Then the audience suddenly hushes as their cloned savior raises his hand for silence.

“All right, all right, I vill do it,” says the clone-candidate. “But the last time I led people to greatness, they proved unworthy of me.

“So I vill do it again—but only on von condition!”

“Yes, yes!” screams the test-audience.  “Anything you want!  What is it?”

“Ziss time….”

….no more Mister Nice Guy!”

TRUMP AND TRAGEDY: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on May 7, 2021 at 12:10 am

For historian and classicist Victor Davis Hanson, Donald Trump possesses an unappreciated self-awareness and sense of what it means to be a tragic hero.

Trump was into the first year of his Presidency when Hanson penned his article, “Donald Trump, Tragic Hero,” published on April 12, 2018. 

To make his case, Hanson cites a series of popular Western movies featuring lethal men who risk—and sometimes sacrifice—their lives on behalf of others too weak to vanquish evil on their own.

Victor Davis Hanson (@VDHanson) | Twitter

Victor Davis Hanson

Thus in the classic 1960 film, The Magnificent Seven, the Seven slaughter the outlaw Calvera and his banditos—and then ride into the sunset. As they do, Chris (Yul Brynner) tells Vin (Steve McQueen): “The old man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We always lose.”

Writes Hanson: “He knows that few appreciate that the tragic heroes in their midst are either tragic or heroic — until they are safely gone and what they have done in time can be attributed to someone else. Worse, he knows that the tragic hero’s existence is solitary and without the nourishing networks and affirmation of the peasant’s agrarian life.”

Chris may know this, but there is absolutely no evidence that Trump does. He has never shown even an awareness of sensitivity and self-knowledge, let alone the possession of either. Trump is at best semi-literate. The concept of tragedy—as expressed in the Greek tragedies to which Hanson refers throughout his article—means nothing to Trump.

Moreover, the Seven have risked their lives—and four of them have died doing so—on behalf of villagers who can pay them almost nothing.

It is inconceivable that Trump would risk anything—especially his life—for people he regarded as poor and thus unworthy of his concern.

The Magnificent Seven (1960 poster).jpg

Copyright © 1960 – United Artists Corporation.”, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In their first encounter with Calvera (Eli Wallach) the bandit chief offers to make the Seven partners in his ravaging of the village. Of his intended victims, Calvera sneers: “If God had not wanted them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”

If Trump had heard Calvera’s offer, he would have instantly accepted it.

In June 2016, USA Today published an analysis of litigation involving Trump. Over the previous 30 years, Trump and his businesses had been involved in 3,500 legal cases in U.S. Federal and state courts.

Of the 3,500 suits, Trump or one of his companies were plaintiffs in 1,900; defendants in 1,450; and bankruptcy, third party, or other in 150. Trump was named in at least 169 suits in federal court.

Many of those cases centered around his refusal to pay contractors for their finished work on his properties. Most of the contractors didn’t have the financial resources—as Trump had—to spend years in court trying to obtain the monies they were owed. As a result, they never received payment—or, at best, only a small portion of what they were owed.

When he ran for President in 2015-16, Trump repeatedly promised poor and middle-class Americans a far better plan for medical care than the Affordable Care Act. 

He spent the next four years thuggishly trying to dismantle “Obanacare,” the signature achievement of Barack Obama, America’s first black President. But never did he offer even a general outline of his own alleged plan to “replace” it. 

Hanson tries to draw a further parallel between Trump and the fictional Tom Doniphon, the unsung hero of John Ford’s 1962 movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962 poster).jpg

Copyright © 1962 Paramount Pictures Corporation and John Ford Productions, Inc.”, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hanson sums up the movie thus:

“Tom Doniphon (John Wayne)…unheroically kills the thuggish Liberty Valance [Lee Marvin], births the [political] career of Ranse Stoddard [James Stewart] and his marriage to Doniphon’s girlfriend [Vera Miles] and thereby ensures civilization is Shinbone’s frontier future. His service done, he burns down his house and degenerates from feared rancher to alcoholic outcast.” 

It is inconceivable that Trump would take the risk of committing a crime on behalf of someone else—or being able to resist bragging about it if he did. It is equally inconceivable that he would give up a woman he wanted for the happiness of another man.

Most unbelievable of all is the suggestion that Trump would imitate Doniphon by quietly riding off into the sunset.

Trump has often “joked” about becoming “President-for-Life.” After losing the November 3 Presidential election to former Vice President Joe Biden, he filed 60 lawsuits to overturn the will of 80 million voters. Those failing, he tried some old-fashioned but unsuccessful arm-twisting of several state lawmakers to “find” non-existent votes for him.

Finally, on January 6, he incited a mob of his fanatical followers to attack the United States Capitol Building. Their mission: Stop the counting of Electoral College ballots certain to give Biden the victory.   

Victor Davis Hanson is a brilliant scholar and colorful writer. But his effort on Trump’s behalf is embarrassing and appalling.

In a series of bestselling books, he has eloquently chronicled the heroism of the ancient Greeks in defending their budding democracy.

It is depressing—and frightening—to discover that this same man can blatantly ignore the criminalities and even treason of the greatest and most destructive tyrant to ever attain the Presidency.

TRUMP AND TRAGEDY: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on May 6, 2021 at 12:10 am

Victor Davis Hanson has long been a distinguished historian and classicist at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

On April 12, 2018, the year before the publication of The Case for Trump, Hanson offered a preview of its upcoming contents in an article published in the well-known conservative magazine, National Review

Its title: “Donald Trump, Tragic Hero.”

“The very idea that Donald Trump could, even in a perverse way, be heroic may appall half the country,” begins his first paragraph. 

“Nonetheless, one way of understanding both Trump’s personal excesses and his accomplishments is that his not being traditionally presidential may have been valuable in bringing long-overdue changes in foreign and domestic policy.”

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Donald Trump

Having laid out his thesis, Hanson writes: “Tragic heroes, as they have been portrayed from Sophocles’ plays (e.g., AjaxAntigoneOedipus RexPhiloctetes) to the modern western film, are not intrinsically noble.”

On the contrary: A true tragic figure is a noble character with a fatal flaw, which ultimately destroys him.

To cite one from literature: Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Hamlet believes that his father, the king of Denmark, has been murdered. He believes the murderer may be his uncle, Claudius, who has seized the throne. Hamlet is brilliant, athletic, supremely eloquent and conscientious. But he’s not completely certain that Claudius is guilty, and in his hesitation to strike he lays the seeds for his own destruction. 

To cite one from history: British General Charles George Gordon, sent by the British government in 1884 to evacuate the Sudanese city of Khartoum. But instead of evacuating its citizens, he chose to stay and fight the oncoming army of Mohammed Achmed, an Islamic religious fanatic who called himself The Madhi (“The Expected One”).

Although Gordon’s dynamic leadership enabled the city to hold out for almost a year, the British relief force arrived too late. The city was overwhelmed and Gordon himself killed.

Various theories have emerged to explain his motive: He was a religious fanatic; he had a death wish; he was arrogant to believe he could hold off an entire army. Any one or more of these theories could be correct. 

Charles George Gordon - Wicipedia

Charles George Gordon

But the fact remains that for almost an entire year he kept alive about 30,000 men, women and children. It was only the failure of the British to send a relief army in time that allowed the city—and Gordon—to perish. 

Tragic heroes always have a cause that is bigger than life—something that makes giving up life worthwhile. They always recognize this, and they have the ability to put into perspective the ultimate sacrifice—giving up life—for the good of something bigger. 

Which brings us back to Trump. Apart from being a five-times draft-dodger during the Vietnam war, he has never made an act of professional or personal sacrifice for anyone.

On the contrary: he has been forced to shut down both his Trump Foundation and unaccredited Trump University.

Trump was forced to pay more than $2 million in court-ordered damages to eight different charities for illegally misusing charitable funds at the Foundation for political purposes.

And his university scammed its students, promising to teach them “the secrets of success” in the real estate industry—then delivering nothing. In 2016, a federal court approved a $25 million settlement  with many of those students.

This is hardly the stuff of which tragic heroes are made.

The Controversy Surrounding Trump University - ABC News

Hanson cites several examples from famous Western movies to make his case that Trump deserves the status of a tragic hero. 

One of these is the classic 1953 “Shane,” starring Alan Ladd as the soft-spoken gunfighter who intervenes decisively in a range war.

Writes Hanson:

“He alone possesses the violent skills necessary to free the homesteaders from the insidious threats of hired guns and murderous cattle barons. Yet by the time of his final resort to lethal violence, Shane has sacrificed all prior chances of reform and claims on reentering the civilized world of the stable ‘sodbuster’ community.”

Comparing Trump to Shane is unbelievably ludicrous. Shane doesn’t boast about his past—in fact, this remains a mystery throughout the movie. Trump constantly brags—about the money he’s made, the buildings he’s put up, the women he’s bedded, the enemies he’s crushed (or plans to).

Moreover, Shane takes the side of poor homesteaders at the mercy of a rich cattle baron, Rufus Ryker. Ryker tries to bully the homesteaders into leaving. When that fails, he hires a ruthless gunman named Jack Wilson (Jack Palance).

In the film’s climax, Shane kills Wilson, and then Ryker, in a barroom showdown. Then he rides off—much to the sadness of Joey (Brandon de Wilde), the homesteaders’ son he has befriended.

“There’s no living with a killing,” says Shane. “There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. And a brand sticks.”

And so he rides on, knowing that his gunfighter’s skills make him an outcast among those very homesteaders whose lives he’s saved.

If Trump appeared in the movie, it would be as Ryker, not Shane.

Shane empathizes with the plight of others. Ryker–like Trump–hires others to do his dirty work. 

TRUMP AND TRAGEDY: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 5, 2021 at 12:13 am

“America needs the outsider Trump to do what normal politicians would not and could not do.”

That was the assertion made by Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California.

Among his bestsellers on military history:

  • The Second World Wars
  • Carnage and Culture
  • Wars of the Ancient Greeks
  • The Western Way of War
  • The Soul of Battle: How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny

Historian Victor Davis Hanson said there has been no consequences for the wrongdoing by elites in society and warned that republics and successful states fall apart when the elites fall out of touch with the people."We have a whole bunch... here at home, that feel they can dictate to people and they're never subject to the ramifications of their own ideology and policy," he said of elites. "And it's like the emperor has no clothes and then they're surprised that Trump won or surprised that peo

Victor Davis Hanson

In 2019, Hanson turned his attention to politics—specifically, The Case for Trump.

Its dust-jacket provides a useful summary of its contents:

“This New York Times bestselling Trump biography from a major American intellectual explains how a renegade businessman became one of the most successful—and necessary—presidents of all time.

“In The Case for Trump, award-winning historian and political commentator Victor Davis Hanson explains how a celebrity businessman with no political or military experience triumphed over sixteen well-qualified Republican rivals, a Democrat with a quarter-billion-dollar war chest, and a hostile media and Washington establishment to become president of the United States — and an extremely successful president.

“Trump alone saw a political opportunity in defending the working people of America’s interior whom the coastal elite of both parties had come to scorn, Hanson argues. And Trump alone had the instincts and energy to pursue this opening to victory, dismantle a corrupt old order, and bring long-overdue policy changes at home and abroad.”

The Case for Trump by Victor Davis Hanson | Basic Books

Hanson’s book appeared before Trump:

  • Tried to coerce Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to smear former Vice President Joseph Biden, who was likely to be his Democratic opponent in the 2020 Presidential election.
  • Allowed the deadly COVID-19 virus to ravage the country, killing more than 400,000 Americans by the time he left office. 
  • Attacked medical experts and governors who urged Americans to wear masks and socially distance to protect themselves from COVID-19.
  • Ordered his Right-wing followers to defy states’ orders to citizens to stay-at-home and wear masks in public to halt surging COVID-19 rates.
  • Became the first President in American history to refuse to accept the results of a Presidential election.
  • Tried to overturn the November 3, 2020 election of Joe Biden through 60 lawsuits and the arm-twisting of several state lawmakers.
  • Sent a mob of his fanatical followers  to attack the United States Capitol Building. Their mission: Stop the counting of Electoral College ballots certain to give Biden the victory.         
  • Was twice impeached during his four years in office—the only President to be impeached twice (and acquitted by a Republican Senate which ignored his litany of crimes).

But his book appeared after Trump had:

  • Fired FBI Director James Comey for pursuing ties between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.
  • Tried to fire Independent Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who was assigned to investigate those ties after Trump fired Comey. 
  • Attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions for refusing to fire Mueller.
  • Attacked the integrity of Federal judges whose rulings he disagreed with.
  • Given Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey  Kislyak highly classified CIA Intelligence about an Islamic State plot to turn laptops into concealable bombs.
  • Amassed an infamous record as a serial liar, in both personal and Presidential matters.
  • Attacked the integrity of the American Intelligence community.
  • Sided with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin against the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency which unanimously agreed that Russia had subverted the 2016 Presidential election.
  • Repeatedly attacked the nation’s free press for daring to report his growing list of crimes and disasters, calling it “the enemy of the American people.”
  • Branded America’s longtime ally, Canada, as “a national security threat.”
  • Praised brutal Communist dictators Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
  • Shut down the Federal Government for 35 days because Democrats refused to fund his ineffective “border wall” between the United States and Mexico. An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay. The shutdown ended due to public outrage—without Trump getting the funding amount he had demanded. 

So much for Hanson’s claims that Trump had been “one of the most successful—and necessary—presidents of all time.”

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Donald Trump

Then there’s Hanson’s claim that “Trump alone saw a political opportunity in defending the working people of America’s interior whom the coastal elite of both parties had come to scorn.” 

In November, 2017, Trump and a Republican-dominated House and Senate rammed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 through Congress. It became law on December 22, 2017.

According to Chye-Ching Huang, Director of Federal Fiscal Policy, the law did nothing to help ordinary Americans.

Testifying before the House Budget Committee on February 27, 2019, Huang stated that the law:

  • Ignored the stagnation of working-class wages and exacerbated inequality;
  • Weakened revenues when the nation needed to raise more;  
  • Encouraged rampant tax avoidance and gaming that will undermine the integrity of the tax code; 
  • Left behind low- and moderate-income Americans—and in many ways hurt them.

For American corporations, however, the law was a godsend: 

  • Cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent;
  • Shifting toward a territorial tax system, where multinational corporations’ foreign profits go largely untaxed;
  • Benefitting overwhelmingly wealthy shareholders and highly paid executives.

This was hardly an attempt at “defending the working people of America’s interior.”

Trump never made another attempt to “reform” the tax laws.

IT’S BIDEN VS. TRUMP–IN FICTION

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 19, 2021 at 12:10 am

Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump to become the 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021.

But before scoring that victory, he racked up a series of incredible adventures as a private investigator—in fiction.

In Hope Never Dies: An Obama-Biden Mystery, author Andrew Shaffer has fashioned a novel that is half-mystery, half-bromance.   

Vice President Joe Biden has just left the Obama White House and doesn’t know what to do with the rest of his life. Then Finn Donnelly, his favorite railroad conductor, dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues.

To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” calls on the skills of his former boss: Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. Together they scour biker bars, cheap motels and other memorable haunts throughout Delaware.

Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery (Obama Biden Mysteries)

Then Biden unearths a disturbing truth about his longtime—and now dead—friend. This, in turn, leads Biden and Obama to uncover the sinister forces behind America’s opioid epidemic.

The book is pure fantasy fun, as evidenced from this review by Alexandra Alter in The New York Times

“[Hope Never Dies is] a roughly 300-page work of political fanfiction, an escapist fantasy that will likely appeal to liberals pining for the previous administration, longing for the Obama-Biden team to emerge from political retirement as action heroes. But it’s also at times a surprisingly earnest story about estranged friends who are reunited under strange circumstances.”

A reader named Casey, reviewing the novel for Goodreads, writes: “While Shaffer could have leaned into nostalgia alone, he’s written a solid mystery with the characters fleshed out as more than just clichés. 

“The reader really feels Biden’s longing to be helpful and his anguish over seeing 44’s legacy undone so quickly by an individual who shall remain nameless. (The presidential zings in this book are incredible, truly.)

“The tension between the two rings as true as it did when they were in office….By all means, this book shouldn’t work as well as it does. For a few hours, I got to enjoy the company of politicians who behaved like adults (mostly). It sure was nice.”

Contrasting with the relatively lighthearted fictional images of Joe Biden and Barack Obama is the immensely darker one of Donald Trump.

Don Winslow offers Trump an extended cameo appearance in The Border, his massive, 736-page novel about America’s war on drugs—and the horrific violence it has spawned in Mexico. It’s the third of a trilogy of novels vividly portraying the violent costs of an unwinnable conflict. 

The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog Book 3)

Art Keller is a dedicated agent of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). For over 40 years, he has waged all-out war on Adán Barrera, the godfather of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.

Appointed director of the DEA, Keller now faces a series of deadly enemies:

  • A heroin epidemic surging across America; 
  • Hitmen who want to kill him;
  • Politicians who want to sabotage his agenda; and
  • An incoming administration that’s allied with the very drug traffickers he’s trying to destroy.

And heading this administration is John Dennison—Donald Trump in all but name—who:

  • Gratuitously insults people on Twitter;
  • Fires a Special Counsel;
  • Gets blackmailed by a woman he once bedded; and
  • Colludes with drug traffickers for a multi-million dollar loan to finance his Presidential campaign.

Whereas the reviews for Hope Never Dies were as upbeat as the book itself, those of The Border reflect the novel’s mercilessly grim take on a war that can’t be won. 

Los Angeles Times:The Border is intricate, mean and swift, a sprawling canvass of characters including narco kingpins, a Guatemalan stowaway, a Staten Island heroin addict, a kinky hit woman, a barely veiled Donald Trump and DEA agent Art Keller, who….has been noble and merciless, a conflicted wanderer who makes America face the transgressions committed in its name.”

Rolling Stone: “Clocking in at over 700 pages, it is his most overtly political installment yet. He takes on the Trump administration directly, creating a fictional candidate, then president, who stokes racist fears of Mexicans, campaigns on ‘building the wall’ and, along with his venal son-in-law, gets caught up in a shady real estate deal involving Cartel money.”

NPR: The Border becomes a book for our times. Like Shakespeare, it makes a three-act drama of our modern moment. Like Shakespeare’s plays, it shows us a world that is our own, a history that is our own, a burden that is our own, rendered out into the rhythm of scenes and arcs, chapters and parts.”

Obama concentrated the full force of his attention on reforming American healthcare—by making it available to millions whose insurance refused to provide coverage.

Trump’s top priority was to separate the United States from Mexico with an impenetrable wall—and he even diverted $3.6 billion from Pentagon funding to pay for it. 

Like John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama will likely be positively remembered as much for what he tried to do as what he succeeded at doing.

Like Richard M. Nixon, Donald Trump will likely be remembered as a menacing stain on American history. 

LIFE BEGINS ANEW–AND STAYS THE SAME–EACH NEW YEAR’S EVE

In Entertainment, History, Social commentary, Uncategorized on December 31, 2020 at 12:08 am

New Year’s Eve, 2020, will soon lie behind us.

And for most people, saying “Goodbye” to 2020 can’t happen soon enough.

New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for people to reflect on the major events of the previous 12 months. Some of these are highly personal. Others have been shared by the entire country.

Some of these remembrances inevitably bring pleasure. Others bring pain.

And 2020 has been a year of pain for millions.

Starting in January, COVID-19 swept across the globe. To date, it’s infected 82 million worldwide—and taken 1.79 million. In the United States, it’s infected 19.7 million and killed 341,000.

Coronavirus is the voice of the Earth | Schumacher College

COVID-19

But, as the year came near its end, a ray of hope suddenly dawned: Two anti-COVID vaccines finally appeared on the market.

It would take time for them to reach significant numbers of people. But now an end to the global pandemic was finally within sight.

At the heart of every New Year’s Eve celebration is the fantasy that you get to start fresh in a matter of hours. And with that fantasy comes hope—that, this time, you can put your sorrows and failures behind you. 

And for millions in 2021, life will look brighter—because Donald Trump, whose Presidency has been marked by unprecedented criminality and treason, will leave office on January 20.

True, he’s not going gently into that good night.

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Donald Trump

Ever since former Vice President Joseph Biden won the votes of 81 million Americans, Trump has refused to concede. Even worse, he’s repeatedly—and falsely—claimed that he was “cheated” of victory by massive electoral fraud. 

He’s pressed these lies as high as the Supreme Court—and has seen more than 50 cases dismissed by judges or withdrawn by his lawyers.

So he is going.

The last New Year’s Eve to be marked by worldwide fears was that of 1999:

  • Fear of Y2K—that our highly computerized, globally-interconnected world would crash when the “19″ at the start of every year was replaced with a “20″.
  • Fear of Armageddon—that Jesus, after dying 2,000 years ago, would return to destroy mankind (except for those 144,000 righteous souls He deemed worthy of salvation).
  • Fear of the Millennium itself—of ending not simply another decade and century but an entire thousand-year period of history, and thus losing our historical ties to the familiar highlights of our own (and America’s) past.

And, especially where Y2K was concerned, news commentators were quick to stoke our anxieties.

Long before New Year’s Eve, TV newscasters repeatedly warned that, when midnight struck on January 1, 2000, the three places you did not want to be were:

  • In an airplane.
  • In an elevator.
  • In a hospital.

Countless numbers of people in America and around the world stocked up on food, water, batteries and other essentials for surviving an emergency.

Merchants and police feared widespread rioting and violence. If Y2K didn’t set it off, then fears of a heaven-sent Apocalypse might.

In San Francisco, along Powell Street—a major center of tourism and commerce—store owners boarded up their doors and windows as New Year’s Eve approached. Many closed earlier than usual that day.

Fortunately, when midnight struck on January 1, 2000, the predictors of the coming Apocalypse were proven wrong.

  • Computers kept working—and civilization didn’t crash along with them.
  • Jesus didn’t miraculously return from the dead—just as he hadn’t during any previous year.
  • And those who feared that the Millennium would usher in a strange and frightening new world soon found that 2000 was not all that different from previous years.

New Year’s Eve 1999 is now 21 years distant. But some lessons may still be learned from it:   

Each year is a journey unto itself—filled with countless joys and sorrows. Many of these joys can’t be predicted. And many of these tragedies can’t be prevented.

Learn to tell real dangers from imaginary ones. Computers are real—and sometimes they crash. Men who died 2,000 years ago do not leap out of graveyards, no matter what their disciples predict.

Don’t expect any particular year to usher in the Apocalypse. In any given year there will be wars, famines, earthquakes, riots, floods and a host of other disasters. These have always been with us–and always will be. As Abraham Lincoln once said: “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

Image result for Images of fireworks on New Year's Eve

Don’t expect some Great Leader to lead you to success. As Gaius Cassius says in William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “Men at some time are masters of their fate. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.”

Don’t expect any particular year or event to usher in your happiness. To again quote Lincoln: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

If your life seems to make no sense to you, consider this: The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once noted: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

WHEN HUBRIS STRIKES, CATASTROPHE FOLLOWS

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on June 24, 2020 at 12:09 am

Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci desperately sought a high-stakes position with the Donald Trump White House.

He would have done better to have studied the truths offered in the 1940 movie, The Man I Married.

Carol Cabbott (Joan Bennett) is the editor of The Smart World, married to Eric Hoffman (Francis Lederer) a German. They have a seven-year-old son, Ricky (Johnny Russell).

Sometime in the 1930s they decide to vacation in Nazi Germany. Eric is quickly enamored of the Third Reich. His ardor is shared by Frieda (Anna Sten) a former schoolmate who reunites with him.

Frieda and Eric attend Nazi gatherings, and he decides to stay in Germany. Carol, however, is appalled at the cruelty and barbarism of the Reich and can’t wait to return to the United States.

The Man I Married.jpg

As time  passes, Eric becomes more strident in his worship of Adolf Hitler. Carol and he grow increasingly estranged.

Eventually, Eric tells Carol he is in love with Frieda and wants a divorce. Even worse, he wants to keep his son in Germany, to raise him as a loyal follower of the Nazis. 

For Carol, the situation is desperate: Under German law, Eric’s rights will trump hers.

But then fate takes a hand. While visiting his elderly father, Eric learns something truly shocking: His mother was a Jewess—the absolute worst calamity that could befall an ardent Nazi.

“If you won’t let your son return to America with his mother,” says his father, “I will go to the authorities and show them the marriage certificate.”

Eric is stunned. So is Frieda, who is standing by when the news breaks. Disgusted that she was about to “racially defile” herself, she angrily stalks out.

Suddenly, Eric now says he doesn’t know what came over him, and he wants to return to the United States. Even more startling, he expects to go on with his marriage to Carol, as if nothing has happened.

But, for Carol, the damage is too great and the marriage is over.

She and Ricky return to the United States without Eric—who has lost everything: His wife, his son and his future with the Third Reich.

Now, fast forward to the 21st century of Donald Trump’s America—and the fate of Anthony Scaramucci.

Anthony Scaramucci at SALT Conference 2016 (cropped).jpg

Anthony Scaramucci

Jdarsie11 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

In 2005, Scaramucci founded SkyBridge Capital, a global alternative investment firm.

But, in 2017, hoping to attain a position with the Trump administration, he resigned from his co-management role and ended his affiliation with SkyBridge.

On January 12, 2017, he was named Assistant to President Trump and director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Then disaster struck. On January 31, Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, called Scaramucci “to tell him he should pull out of consideration.”

Priebus opposed Scaramucci’s appointment because of Scaramucci’s stake in Skybridge Capital. The reason: Skybridge held a majority stake sale to RON Transatlantic EG and HNA Capital (U.S.) Holding, a Chinese conglomerate with close ties to China’s Communist Party.

But then Scaramucci’s future with the Trump administration suddenly appeared a reality.

On July 21, 2017, he was named as White House Communications Director, to take office on July 25. Even more importantly, he would report directly to the President—and not to Priebus, as had White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Spicer, who had opposed Scarmucci’s hiring, resigned on the day of the appointment. Priebus had also strongly argued against the hiring, to no avail. 

Then Scaramucci’s own hubris intervened.

On July 26, in a call to Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker, Scaramucci said he would rid the White House of “leakers.” He threatened to fire the entire White House Communications staff if Lizza didn’t reveal the source who had leaked the story of a dinner he had had with Trump.

He blasted Priebus as a “leaker” and “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” and predicted that Priebus “would resign soon.”

Scaramucci also had harsh words for Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon: “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock. I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.”

On July 27, Priebus resigned as chief of staff.

The next day, Trump announced that he had named retired general John F. Kelley as Priebus’ replacement. 

Then, on July 31, Scaramucci joined Spicer and Priebus as an ex-White House employee—dismissed by Trump at Kelly’s request, according to The New York Times

And, like Eric Hoffman in The Man I Married, Scaramucci found himself without a marriage. 

His wife, Deidre Ball—like Carol Hoffman—despised the man he yearned to work for: Donald Trump.

Married to Scaramucci in 2014, Ball filed for divorce in early July 2017 when she was eight months pregnant with their second child. (In November, she dropped the divorce case.) 

On July 24, 2017, Deidre gave birth to the couple’s son, James—while Anthony was in West Virginia attending the Boy Scouts Jamboree with Trump. He reportedly sent her a note: “Congratulations, I’ll pray for our child.” 

Like Icarus, the mythical character who flew too close to the sun, he rose to the heights—and plunged to his doom.

DONALD TRUMP AS HOWARD BEALE

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 13, 2020 at 12:44 am

Donald Trump has been compared to Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Gaius Caligula. But perhaps his counterpart lies not in history but in fiction. 

Specifically, the fictional news anchor Howard Beale in Network, the 1976 satire written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet. It starred Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall, Peter Finch and Beatrice Straight.

Network (1976 poster).png

Howard Beale (Finch) the longtime anchor of the UBS Evening News, is about to be fired because of declining ratings. 

So he announces on live television that he will commit suicide on next Tuesday’s broadcast.

UBS fires him, but then agrees to let Beale appear one more time to leave with dignity.

But once Beale is back on the air, he launches into a rant that contains the most famous—and most often-quoted—line in the film:

“I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter….

“We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat….

“So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!'”

Network12.jpg

Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network

Beale is clearly losing it. But his outburst causes the newscast’s ratings to spike. Instead of pulling him off the air, the top brass of UBS decide to exploit Beale’s antics.

Soon he’s hosting a new program called The Howard Beale Show, where he’s billed as “the mad prophet of the airwaves.” Ultimately, the show becomes the most highly rated program on television.

But then Beale’s ratings slide as audiences find his sermons on the dehumanization of society depressing.

To rid themselves of Beale and boost their season-opener ratings, the network’s top executives hire a band of terrorists called the Ecumenical Liberation Army to assassinate Beale—on the air!

Forty years after Network, Right-wing voters sent “reality show” host and real estate mogul Donald Trump to the White House. 

Related image

Donald Trump

Republicans have reveled in his antics and enthusiastically supported his most heinous acts, which have included:

  • Repeatedly and viciously attacking the nation’s free press for daring to report his growing list of crimes and disasters, calling it “the enemy of the American people.”
  • Repeatedly “hinting” that he wants to be “President-for-Life.”  
  • Allowing predatory corporations to subvert Federal regulatory protections for consumers and the environment. 
  • Repeatedly and viciously attacking American Intelligence agencies—such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency—for unanimously agreeing that Russia interfered with the 2016 Presidential election.
  • Shutting down the Federal Government for more than a month on December 22, 2018, because Democrats refused to fund his “border wall” between the United States and Mexico.
  • Pressuring  Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to provide “dirt” on Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic Presidential candidate Joseph Biden—and threatening to withhold military aid if Zelensky refused.

The greed-obsessed honchos of the fictional UBS Network believed they could parley Howard Beale’s madness into greater profits.

Similarly, power-obsessed Republicans in the House and Senate believe they can parley Donald Trump’s tyrannical and unstable nature into lifetime tenure for themselves.

They have silently watched—or given their enthusiastic support—as he has attacked one cherished American institution after another:

  • A free press
  • An incorruptible Justice Department
  • An independent judiciary.

Yet, like the executives at UBS, Congressional Republicans may soon be forced to turn on their most poisonous creation.

Right-wing Fox News Network gave its enthusiastic support to Trump during the 2016 Presidential race. And it has continued to do so throughout his more than three-year Presidency.

But on September 22, 2019, Fox News declared: “Many voters are frustrated with how the federal government is working and a growing number are nervous about the economy….

“Fifty-one percent say the economy is in only fair or poor shape.

“[Trump’s] job ratings on every other issue tested are underwater: national security (45 approve-48 disapprove), immigration (42-54), international trade (38-53), foreign policy (36-54), guns (35-56), health care (34-56) and Afghanistan (31-49).

“Currently, 45 percent approve of the overall job the president’s doing, while 54 percent disapprove.

“About two-thirds (64 percent) think many people — if not nearly all people — in government are corrupt, and almost half (46 percent) say the Trump administration is more corrupt than previous ones.”

This was before the Coronavirus pandemic hit the United States—and the Trump administration’s inept mishandling of it. While Trump insists that everything is under control, there aren’t enough testing kits for the ever-growing number of victims. More importantly, there is no vaccine for the virus.

Republicans may soon be forced to face the following dilemma:

  1. Can I hold onto my power—and privileges—by supporting Trump?  Or: 
  2. Can I hold onto my power—and privileges—by deserting him?

This is how Republicans define morality today.

DYING OF THE FEAR: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 10, 2020 at 9:52 am

The outbreak of the Coronavirus has terrified Americans in ways not seen since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

For months after that horror, the two most profitable businesses in the country were video rental stores and food delivery services.

People stayed indoors—and at home, as if they believed this was the one place they would be safe. Everyone feared the next big terror attack—and didn’t want to be on hand when it exploded.

Restaurants, nightclubs, amusement parks and the airlines suffered accordingly.

World Trade Center – September 11, 2001

In the early 1980s, the AIDS epidemic had truly frightened millions of Americans. At first, no one knew what caused it—or, more importantly, how it was spread.

At first, gays were thought to be the only ones at risk. Then the list of potential victims kept expanding to

  • Intravenous drug abusers
  • Native Haitians
  • Recipients of blood transfusions
  • Those with multiple sex partners.

But with the passage of time—and the introduction of AIDS-fighting drugs that allowed victims to generally live ordinary lives—Americans’ fears gradually decreased. AIDS was seen as a disease like tuberculosis—dangerous, but unlikely to strike if you took reasonable precautions.

And now America is facing a new fear—that of the Coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19.

SARS-CoV-2 without background.png

 

Coronavirus

In December 2019, a pneumonia outbreak was reported in Wuhan, China. By December 31, the outbreak was traced to a novel strain of Coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that affect birds and mammals. In humans, Coronaviruses cause respiratory tract infections that are typically mild, such as the common cold. Coronaviruses can cause pneumonia and may cause bronchitis.

When the virus surfaced in China, Americans didn’t worry, as it seemed confined to Wuhan. But then it began spreading.

By January 30, 2020, 9,976 cases had been reported in at least 21 countries, including the first case in the United States.

At that time, United States health authorities repeatedly assured Americans they had nothing to worry about, that “we’re on it.”

For example: On January 28, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar II stated at a press conference: “We’ve been monitoring this virus and preparing a response since back in December, but it’s more than that. Preparing for these kinds of outbreaks is part of daily life at HHS and for America’s public health professionals.

“Preparedness is a day job around here. We are constantly making investments, training personnel at all levels, carrying out simulations and exercises, and sharing information.

“This commitment goes straight to the top: The President and I have been speaking regularly about this outbreak, and I have been speaking with the senior officials at HHS and the White House multiple times each day since the outbreak began to represent an international threat.” 

This was strictly boilerplate rhetoric. What Azar didn’t say was this:

  • Upon taking office as President,  Donald Trump had gutted the permanent epidemic monitoring and command groups set up inside the White House: The National Security Council (NSC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 
  • The reason:  Pathologically jealous of President Barack Obama, Trump has tried to destroy every vestige of Obama’s legacy as the first black President of the United States. And these disease-monitoring groups were set up by Obama following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.
  • Also: In the spring of 2018, Trump pushed Congress to cut $15 billion from national health spending—and cutting the global disease-fighting budgets of the CDC, National Security Council, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • The Federal $30 million fund for Complex Crises was eliminated as well.
  • In April, 2018, National Security Adviser John Bolton forced Tom Bossert, director of the infectious disease unit at DHS, to resign—along with his entire team.
  • In May, 2018, Trump ordered the NSC’s global health security unit shut down.
  • Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who headed the unit, was reassigned.
  • Neither the NSC nor the DHS epidemic team has been replaced.
  • The “advice” Trump has offered on the epidemic is misinformation—based on ignorance or willful lying. Example: “I think the [World Health Organization estimate of Coronavirus casualties of] 3.4 percent is really a false number—and this is just my hunch—but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this because a lot of people will have this and it’s very mild. They’ll get better very rapidly, they don’t even see a doctor, they don’t even call a doctor. You never hear about those people.”

Above all: Azar didn’t dare say that Trump doesn’t see Coronavirus as a threat to the lives of 300-plus American citizens.  Instead, he sees it as a threat to his continued reign as President.

Trump has repeatedly “joked” about how great it would be if the United States—like China—had a “President-for-Life.” And he has accused those Democrats who impeached him for obstructing Congress and abuse of power as guilty of treason.

In the Coronavirus, Trump has met his match in an enemy he cannot bribe or intimidate. The tragedy is that untold numbers of Americans will pay the price for his ignorance and narcissism. 

RELIGION AS MUZAK

In Entertainment, History, Social commentary on February 26, 2020 at 12:11 am

According to Wikipedia: “Christianity is the most adhered to religion in the United States, with 65% of polled American adults identifying themselves as Christian in 2019.”

The United States has the largest Christian population in the world, with approximately 167 million Christian adults.

And Christianity continues to play a major role in American politics.

On August 9, 2017, The Guardian ran a story entitled: “In God We Trust: Why Americans Won’t Vote In An Atheist President.”

And it opened: “What do Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? They all profess to be religious. As a new study shows, people think the worst of non-believers. What does this mean for US voters?”

The study, conducted by the University of Kentucky, found that throughout the world, people distrust atheists. To them, those without faith are more capable of immorality than religious people. In fact, American voters are less willing to elect an atheist than any other category of candidate, including gay or Muslim.

In 2016, allies of Hillary Clinton considered painting her rival, Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders, as an atheist. They believed it could cost him votes in evangelically-populated states such as Kentucky and West Virginia.

Sanders, who is Jewish, rushed to deny he was an atheist.

And nearly every President has regularly attended the National Prayer Breakfast. This is a yearly event held in Washington, D.C., usually on the first Thursday in February. President Dwight D. Eisenhower began the tradition in 1953. 

And yet for all the reverence Americans have for the Christian religion, few of them dare to examine these two fundamental truths about the Bible:

  1. Its stories cannot be independently proven, and
  2. Many of its stories violate the most fundamental notions of common sense.

Consider these examples:

  • God creates Adam from dust. (This absolutely contradicts everything we know about how men and women reproduce. Would-be parents don’t throw dust into the air and see it instantly turn into newborn babies.)  

God creates Adam–as painted by Michelangelo

  • Adam and Eve meet a talking snake. (Presumably it spoke Hebrew. When was the last time a zoologist had a serious discussion with a serpent?)
  • Noah saves the world’s wildlife by stuffing them into an ark. (Sure—untrained wild animals are going to meekly walk, two-by-two, into a huge building. Then they’re going to let themselves be caged. And Noah and his family must store a huge variety of food for each type of animal for an indefinite period of time. And the sheer stench of all that animal urine and feces would have been horrific.)
  • Moses parts the Red Sea. (Some scholars believe “Red” has been mistranslated from “Reed,” which is like upgrading “the White Quail” in Moby Dick to “the White Whale.”)

Image result for Images of Moses parting the Red Sea

Moses (played by Charlton Hestono) parts the Red Sea

  • Lot’s wife becomes a pillar of salt. (A human being can be turned into ashes, but not salt.)
  • Samson kills 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. (Even Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his physical strength couldn’t kill so many men—except with a machinegun.)
  • Daniel is thrown into a pit of lions—but survives because an angel closes their jaws. (This sounds inspiring—until you remember that didn’t happen when Christians were thrown to the lions by the Romans.)
  • The will of God violates physical laws. (Jesus turns water into wine and raises Lazarus from the dead; Jonah lives inside a fish for three days; Noah dies at 950 years.)
  • Jesus rises from the dead. (There have been near-death experiences, but there has never been a documented case of someone being certified as dead who came alive again.)
  • Jesus will return more than 2,000 years after he died to wipe all evil from the earth and usher in a paradise for his faithful followers. (There has never been a case in recorded history of anyone returning from the dead decades or hundreds of years later—let alone more than 2,000 years later.)

“The Transfiguration of Jesus” as painted by Carl Bloch

So why do millions of people unquestioningly accept so many stories that totally contradict the most basic truths of common sense?

Like Muzak, these stories—and other Biblical tales—have been absorbed over time through several mediums:

  • Countless parents have told them to their children.
  • So have countless pastors and priests.
  • From the 1940s to the 1960s, audiences reveled in such spectaculars as “Samson and Delilah,” “The Ten Commandments” and “King of Kings.” When people watch Biblical movies, they believe they’re seeing The Truth as it’s laid out in the Bible.
  • The gospel music scene has produced mega-hits like: “Shall We Gather at the River?” “Take Me to the King,” “Down By the Riverside.”

It is not necessary to actually be religious to run for and win public office in the United States. But it is essential to claim to be. Donald Trump—totally lacking in humility and spirituality—became the darling of evangelicals in 2016.

As Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in The Prince:For men in general judge more by the eyes than by the hands, for every one can see, but very few have to feel. Everyone sees what you appear to be, few feel what you are, and those few will not dare to oppose themselves to the many.”

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