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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. 

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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.”

SOME WOMEN WON’T BE WEEPING

In Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 18, 2020 at 12:06 am

On February 3, Right-wing talk radio propagandist Rush Limbaugh stunned his 20-million Fascistic followers with the news that he had been diagnosed with Stage Four lung cancer.

No doubt Limbaugh himself was even more stunned: In April, 2015, as a constant cigar smoker, he told his radio listeners that smoking was not dangerous.

“Firsthand smoke takes 50 years to kill people, if it does. Not everybody that smokes gets cancer. Now, it’s true that everybody who smokes dies, but so does everyone who eats carrots.

“I would like a medal for smoking cigars, is what I’m saying,” Limbaugh added.

On February 4, 2020, the day after he announced his cancer diagnosis, he got one: President Donald Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the Nation’s highest civilian honor.

But while Limbaugh’s millions of Right-wing “dittoheads” are in mourning, at least two women will not be shedding tears on his behalf.

One is Sandra Fluke, an American lawyer and women’s rights activist. 

Fluke was a third-year Georgetown University law student when she testified before Congress on February 23, 2012. Her subject: The need for insurance companies to cover birth control.

Sandra Fluke

Fluke explained that many universities—such as Jesuit ones—refused to provide insurance coverage for contraception. As a result, such costs can run as high as $3,000 during the three years a woman attends law school.

On February 29 and March 1, 2012, Limbaugh—the spokesman for the American Right—called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

Rush Limbaugh

Limbaugh further charged that she couldn’t afford contraceptives because she was “having too much sex.”

Then Limbaugh—who likes to champion the glories of “family values”—closed with this salacious gem:

“So Ms. Fluke and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal: If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. And I’ll tell you want it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

On March 3, 2012, President Barack Obama called Fluke to say that her parents should be proud of her for speaking out for women.

After learning of the President’s phone call during his radio show, Limbaugh made a kissing noise with his lips and mocked Obama:

“That is so compassionate. What a great guy. The President called her to make sure she’s OK. What is she, 30 years old? Thirty years old, student at Georgetown Law who admits to having so much sex she can’t afford it.”

Another woman who won’t mourn when Limbaugh croaks is Sharon Bialek. She was one of multiple women who accused 2012 Presidential candidate Herman Cain of making aggressive and unwanted sexual advances.

On November 7, 2011, she gave a press conference where she recounted the following: 

In mid-July 1997, she asked Cain—then CEO of the National Restaurant Association—for help in finding a new job or getting her old one back. Bialek had been laid off from the educational foundation of the NRA.

Sharon Bialek

Cain offered to help and she traveled to Washington to meet him.

Cain took her to an Italian restaurant for dinner. Then:

“While we were driving back to the hotel, he said that he would show me where the National Restaurant Association offices were. He parked the car down the block. I thought that we were going to go into the offices so that he could show me around.

“But instead of going into the offices, he suddenly reached over and put his hand on my leg under my skirt and reached for my genitals. He also grabbed my head and brought it toward his crotch. I was very, very surprised and very shocked.”

When she rejected his advances, he replied: “You want a job, right?”

Bialek never got her job back—or help from Cain in finding another one.

On November 7, 2011, Limbaugh attacked Bialek. Calling her a “babe” and “the blonde bombshell,” he joked about Cain’s attempt to extort sexual favors via her need for a job.

“Ha-ha-ha-ha,” laughed Limbaugh, whose net worth exceeded $400 million. “That’s it. Cain decided to provide her with his idea of a ‘stimulus package.’” 

But Limbaugh wasn’t through: “Get this now. I have been wrong in pronouncing the fourth Cain accuser’s name as “Be-allek.” Gloria Allred [Bialek’s attorney] says that her name is pronounced ‘Bye-a-lick,’ as in ‘Buy a Lick.’”

To drive home his point, he made crude slumping noises over the microphone.

Limbaugh’s attitude toward women may well be influenced by his own appearance and history with them. He was balding, grotesquely obese—weighing at least 300 pounds—and usually reeked of toxic cigar smoke.

And he may have had “trouble” in the bedroom department: In June 2006, Customs officials confiscated Viagra from Limbaugh’s luggage at Palm Beach International Airport, as he was returning from the Dominican Republic. The prescription wasn’t in Limbaugh’s name.

He has been married four times—and divorced from his first three wives:

  • Roxy Maxine McNeely (1977 – 1980).
  • Michelle Sixta (1983 – 1990).
  • Marta Fitzgerald (1994 – 2004).
  • In 2010, he married Kathryn Rogers.

When Limbaugh finally dies, the biggest regret many women may have is that his 20 million Fascistic disciples can’t be buried with him.

GREEN BOOK: A MOVIE WITH A TIMELESS MESSAGE

In Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 12, 2020 at 12:07 am

Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosts its Academy Awards ceremony, better known as “Oscar Night.”

Each year, Academy members make their choices for such categories as Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress.

And each year, before those selections are announced at the ceremony, there is a huge buildup of anticipation among Americans over which person or movie should win acclaim.

Then that year’s selections are quickly forgotten.

But some movies should not be quickly forgotten. Among these: Green Book, which won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 91st annual Academy Awards in 2019.

Green Book is based on the true story of a concert tour by a black classical and jazz pianist, Don Shirley, and his driver and bodyguard, Tony Vallelonga. Mahershala Ali plays Shirley and Viggo Mortensen plays Vallelonga.

The two men are polar opposites: Shirley is cultured and eloquent; Vallelonga is streetwise and volatile. Shirley is used to dealing with the cream of New York society. Vallelonga is used to dealing with its dregs—as a nightclub bouncer. 

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Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley

Gordon Correll [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

When his nightclub closes for renovations, he responds to an ad by Shirley for a driver for his eight-week concert tour through the Midwest and Deep South.

This is 1962, a time when a black Air Force veteran, James Meredith, must be given protection by deputy U.S. marshals when he enters the segregated University of Mississippi. White and black “Freedom Riders” are canvassing the South, sitting at segregated lunch counters and often being attacked by members of the Ku Klux Klan and equally racist Southern police.

In fact, the title of the movie—Green Book—is derived from a travel guide written for blacks venturing into the Deep South: The Negro Motorist Green Book. Written by Victor Hugo Green, its purpose is to help blacks find motels and restaurants that will accept them.

And as Shirley and Vallelonga make their odyssey through the South, they find themselves staying at separate hotels—and sometimes together, after Vallelonga slips Shirley into his own room.

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An AV Film review called Green Book “a kind of comforting liberal fantasy, a #NotAllRacists trifle that suggests that our deep, festering divisions can be sutured through some quality time on the open road, resolving differences over a bucket of KFC.”

Not so. It took far more than a bucket of KFC to cement the friendship between Shirley and Vallelonga.

At the start of the movie, Vallelonga throws away a glass after a black construction worker drinks from it. But during his tour of the South, he becomes increasingly sympathetic to the plight suffered by Shirley—and other blacks forced to daily endure a series of humiliations.

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Viggo Mortensen as Tony Vallelonga

Georges Biard [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

According to television critic Rebecca Theodore-Vachon: “Green Book is a feel-good movie. It doesn’t really require a lot of critical thinking or self-analysis. You know, people walk out of the movie feeling that, oh, well, racism is over, we’re good.”

Actually, the film makes clear that some people will always be racists. Thus, Shirley finds himself repeatedly forced to eat in the segregated rooms of the hotels where he’s to play concerts. And he’s almost murdered by a group of racists when he makes the mistake of going into a whites’ only bar. He survives only because Vallelonga arrives in time to rescue him.

And Shirley proves just as great a friend to Vallelonga. He introduces the semi-literate bouncer to the power of the written word by helping him craft articulate, heartfelt letters to his wife.

Toward the end of the movie, Vallelonga and Shirley are pulled over by a Mississippi police officer. Shirley’s “crime”: Being black—and out at night. When the officer insults Vallelonga, Tony punches him—and he and Shirley wind up in jail.  

Shirley asks for permission to call his “lawyer”—and the man he dials is Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

Kennedy, in turn, calls Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. Barnett is already having his share of troubles with the Kennedys, and he orders the police: Let those men go—now! 

This scene underscores the importance of electing people who will stand against injustice. Watching the release of Vallelonga and Shirley, it’s impossible to imagine the Trump administration intervening in such a manner.

At the end of the movie, Shirley visits Vallelonga’s home—where he’s warmly received by Tony and his family. The film’s end credits reveal that the two men remained friends until they died, within months of each other, in 2013.

In 1950, a Western called Broken Arrow-–starring James Stewart as Tom Jeffords and Jeff Chandler as Cochise—told the true story of a friendship between a white man and an Apache. For many Americans, this came as a revelation.

After decades of seeing Indians depicted as bloodthirsty savages, audiences saw that there were those—among red men and white men—who could rise above prejudice and see each other as worthy of respect.

The lesson of Green Book is exactly the same. And it’s needed now more than ever.

COWARDICE–NOT TRUTH–RULES AT THE WASHINGTON POST

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on January 30, 2020 at 12:09 am

During the early and mid-1950s, “CBS” came to have two meanings.

For the overwhelming majority of Americans, it stood for “Columbia Broadcasting System.”

But for many of the reporters and editors working in its News Division, “CBS” came to mean “Cowardly Bastards Syndrome.”

William L. Shirer had worked as a newspaper reporter for Universal News Service, a wire service for William Randolph Hearst. Assigned to Germany, he had been one of the first American reporters to chronicle Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.

In 1937, with the Hearst empire losing money, he found himself fired. Shortly afterward, he was hired by Edward R. Murrow, European manager for CBS News. Murrow hadn’t had any experience in journalism; he needed a top-flight reporter.

Shirer, a veteran reporter speaking fluent German and French, fit that bill.

Together, Shirer and Murrow were the beginning of what would become the CBS News empire. Shirer remained in Nazi Germany until December, 1940, when just ahead of the Gestapo, he left for the United States by passenger ship.

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William L. Shirer 

Meanwhile, Murrow achieved international fame reporting on the London Blitz, his signature introduction to each broadcast being: “This….is London.”

Thus, when both men returned to the United States after the war, they were genuine celebrities. Murrow took a job as a CBS vice president. Shirer continued to work as a correspondent.

In 1947, however, their longtime friendship came to an end.

Americans’ attitudes toward the Soviet Union—their ally during World War II—were hardening. Right-wingers saw no difference between liberalism and Communism. And Shirer was strongly critical of the Truman “loyalty oath” program for government employees and his catering to foreign dictators like Chiang Kai-Shek.

J. B. Williams, a maker of shaving soap, withdrew sponsorship of Shirer’s highly-rated Sunday news show. Within a month, CBS, through Murrow, moved Shirer’s program to Sunday midday and then canceled it.

Shirer blamed Murrow for not defending him—or the independence of the news division. After being fired by CBS, Shirer warned Murrow; “I’ve been through this before with newspapers. But you’re going to get it, too. Don’t kid yourself.”

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Edward R. Murrow

Murrow’s turn did come, starting in 1958, with the cancellation of his hugely successful—and controversial—investigative series, See It Now.

Then, on October 15, 1958, in a speech before the Radio and Television News Directors Association in Chicago, Murrow attacked TV’s emphasis on entertainment and commercialism at the expense of  public interest.  

William S. Paley, the chairman of CBS and a longtime Murrow friend, never forgave the broadcaster for “biting the hand that feeds him.”

His influence almost ended at CBS, in 1961 Murrow accepted President John F. Kennedy’s invitation to direct the United States Information Agency. 

In 1965, Murrow, a heavy cigarette smoker, died of lung cancer at 57. Shirer died in 1993, at 89.

But the Cowardly Bastards Syndrome didn’t die with Shirer and Murrow. It lives on in American journalism—most recently at The Washington Post.

On January 26, basketball celebrity Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

Several hours after Bryant’s death, The Washington Post’s national political reporter, Felicia Sonmez, tweeted a 2016 Daily Beast story that detailed a 2003 sexual assault allegation made against him. 

The criminal charge was dropped, but Bryant settled a civil suit with his accuser for an undisclosed amount of money. He didn’t admit guilt, but he admitted that while he saw the encounter as consensual, his accuser did not.

Sonmez’s initial tweet about the allegation against Bryant ignited a firestorm of outrage. But she defended it, writing that “any public figure is worth remembering in their totality.”

Sports-obsessed fans, who worship celebrity jocks as genuine heroes, loudly disagreed. Sonmez found herself deluged with insults and death threats on Twitter and in her Inbox.

Then came the indignity of being put on suspended leave by her employer—The Washington Post.

Before she was suspended, Sonmez received an email from the Post’s executive editor, Marty Baron: “A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this.”

Tracy Grant, the Post’s managing editor, said in a statement that Sonmez’ tweets “displayed poor judgement that undermined the work of her colleagues.” 

How tweeting a true story about a dead celebrity “undermined the work of her colleagues” was not explained.

Bryant had been charged with rape.

He had settled out of court on the same charge.

And truth is supposed to be the ultimate defense in a libel or slander lawsuit.

On top of that, Somnez had not even written the story—she had merely posted a Daily Beast story on Twitter. 

Erik Wemple, the Post’s media critic, wrote that Grant told Sonmez in an email that her tweet didn’t “pertain” to her “coverage area”—politics.

Responded Wemple: “If journalists at The Post are prone to suspension for tweeting stories off their beats, the entire newsroom should be on administrative leave.”

The Washington Post has had many proud moments—such as the publishing of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and its monumental coverage of Watergate from 1972 to 1974. 

For journalists who cherish their freedom, this moment will long live in infamy.

WHAT’S AT STAKE IN THE IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on November 27, 2019 at 12:07 am

On March 24, 2019, Attorney General William Barr received the long-awaited report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller about Russian efforts to subvert the 2016 Presidential election.

According to Barr, the report—which no one else in the government had seen—showed no evidence that President Donald Trump had colluded with Russian Intelligence agents.

And now House Republicans—acting entirely on that claim—suddenly went on the offensive.

On March 28, all nine Republicans on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence demanded in a letter that Representative Adam Schiff (D-California) resign as its chairman.  

On the same day, President Donald Trump tweeted: “Congressman Adam Schiff, who spent two years knowingly and unlawfully lying and leaking, should be forced to resign from Congress!”

Other Republicans quickly joined the chorus:

  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California): Schiff owes “an apology to the American public” and should step down from his post as head of the Intelligence committee.
  • Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel: “They [Schiff and House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-New York] should be removed from their chairmanships. They owe the American people an apology. They owe this President an apology, and they have work to do to heal this democracy because this is our country we are talking about.”
  • South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham: “He’s getting into conspiracy land and he’s acting like an Oliver Stone type figure. That to me is not helpful to him but I’m not going to ask him to resign from Congress.” 
  • White House Adviser Kelleyanne Conway: “He’s been on every TV show 50 times a day for practically the last two years, promising Americans that this President would either be impeached or indicted. He has no right, as somebody who has been peddling a lie, day after day after day, unchallenged. Unchallenged and not under oath. Somebody should have put him under oath and said, ‘You have evidence, where is it?’”

On March 28, Schiff—speaking in a firm and controlled voice—addressed his critics in the House and beyond. 

It was a speech worthy of the one William Shakespeare put into the mouth of Mark Antony at the funeral of Julius Caesar.

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Adam Schiff

“My colleagues may think it’s okay that the Russians offered dirt on the Democratic candidate for President as part of what was described as ‘the Russian government’s effort to help the Trump campaign.’ You might think that’s okay.

“My colleagues might think it’s okay that when that was offered to the son of the President, who had a pivotal role in the campaign, that the President’s son did not call the FBI, he did not adamantly refuse that foreign help. No, instead that son said that he would ‘love’ the help of the Russians. You might think it’s okay that he took that meeting.

“You might think it’s okay that Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, someone with great experience running campaigns, also took that meeting.

“You might think it’s okay that the President’s son-in-law also took that meeting.

“You might think it’s okay that they concealed it from the public.

“You might think it’s okay that their only disappointment after that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn’t better. You might think that’s okay.

“You might think it’s okay that when it was discovered a year later that they’d lied about that meeting and said it was about adoptions, you might think it’s okay that the President is reported to have helped dictate that lie. You might think that’s okay. I don’t. 

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“You might think it’s okay that the Presidential chairman of a campaign would offer information about that campaign to a Russian in exchange for money or debt forgiveness. You might think that’s okay.  I don’t.  

“You might think it’s okay that campaign chairman offered polling data, campaign polling data to someone linked to Russian intelligence. I don’t think that’s okay.

“You might think it’s okay that the President himself called on Russia to hack his opponent’s emails, ‘if they were listening.’

“You might think it’s okay that later that day, in fact, the Russians attempted to hack a server affiliated with that campaign. I don’t think that’s okay.

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“You might think that it’s okay that the President’s son-in-law sought to establish a secret back channel of communications with the Russians through a Russian diplomatic facility. I don’t think that’s okay.

“You might think it’s okay that an associate of the President made direct contact with the GRU  [the Russian military Intelligence agency] through Guccifer 2 and Wikileaks, that is considered a hostile Intelligence agency.

“You might think that it’s okay that a senior campaign official was instructed to reach that associate and find out what that hostile Intelligence agency had to say, in terms of dirt on his opponent.

“You might think it’s okay that the National Security Adviser-Designate [Mike Flynn] secretly conferred with the Russian ambassador about undermining U.S. sanctions, and you might think it’s okay he lied about it to the FBI. You might say that’s all okay.

“You might say that’s just what you need to do to win, but I don’t think it’s okay. I think it’s immoral. I think it’s unethical. I think it’s unpatriotic. And yes, I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion.”  

Not one Republican dared challenge even one accusation Schiff had made.

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