From the archives. This week's contestant is Bob Lagerquist from Eugene, Oregon. This was one of those puzzlers where I was sure I knew the hidden song, but couldn't quite get it. And then, about halfway through I moved closer...and then I got it. I think my problem was that at first it sounded like another song, and when that happens it's hard to get the song out of your head. As for the composer style, well...no, I couldn't figure that out. Knowing the answer now, I understand it, but it's not part of the composer's style I'm most familiar with.
On this week’s Al Franken podcast, his guests are debate prep veterans James Carville and Philippe Reines, as they game out (as Al puts it) the Most Important Event in the History of the World. Plus Al shares some thoughts on the great Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This is a wonderful episode – Carville is Carville and always lively and interesting to listen to about his perspective on debates. (Made all the more fun as he keeps getting interrupted by phone calls he has to take and a vacuum cleaner.) But the segment with Philippe Reines is highly-recommended, even if you’ve never listened to these podcasts before. Reines played Trump in debate prep with Hillary Clinton in 2016. And the stories he tells of the preparation he himself took to study Trump and learn how to get in his head and know what to expect from him is absolutely fascinating, as are his tales of dealing with Secretary Clinton in their prep. And then he and Franken do a mock-debate of sorts. If you only want to hear the part with Reinnes (again, highly recommend), you can just to the 28-minute mark.
The Mystery Guest on this segment of What's My Line? is Allan Sherman. Long before Randy Rainbow (though without the production value), Allan Sherman didn't just have a successful career in the 1960s with his song parodies, but at the early part of that he was a true phenomenon. When I was a kid, I went with my mother and saw him perform in concert at this height. In fact, he even references that concert in his autobiography, A Gift of Laughter. He's goofy and having fun here, interacting with the panel more than most guests.
But his appearance is special for another reason most people aren't aware of. After the very long success of What's My Line?, another somewhat similar quiz show came along and had a solid, successful run, I've Got a Secret? And why that's notable is that it was co-created by a young man starting out in the entertainment business on the production end -- Allan Sherman.
You can jump to his segment at around the 16-minute mark.
In my article here yesterday, I wrote how as many well-deserved fire alarm bells were going off in the news over Trump's horrific statement on transition, I thought it would backfire on him and in a big way, because at heart almost all Americans, whatever their party and political beliefs, want a peaceful transfer of power. Some cultists may not mind since it’s Trump, but even most Republicans do want a peaceful transition, and I was sure that nearly all (if not all) undecided independents do. And now comes this from a pollster who does a regular focus group of undecided women voters and says things took a major turn this week.
“Multiple people immediately jump in to say that they’re leaning more towards Joe Biden,” Sarah Longwell said. “Then it was revealed that the big thing impacting their thinking had nothing to do with the courts — it was Donald Trump’s refusal to state that he would accommodate a peaceful transition of power.”
You can read the full story here.
The first month of his time in office, Trump said that he would have a great new healthcare plan that would be so wonderful it would have more in it that the Affordable Care Act and cost less. He also said that "No one knew that healthcare was so hard," so, you know there's that. (And yes, pretty much everyone knew that healthcare was really incredibly hard.)
Over the past 3-1/2 years, Trump kept talking about his wonderful new healthcare plan that would be better and cheaper and nowhere in sight. And in July, he told Chris Wallace on "Fox News" that his big, beautiful, new healthcare plan would be announced in two weeks.
For the record, "two weeks" was August 2, which as the calendar flies was 53 days ago. But what's two months when we're quibbling over...well, never.
But...but...Good News! Yesterday, Trump finally released his big, beautiful, new healthcare plan!!. Honest. And it was really cool, as long as you're only into the environment and conserving paper. And not actual providing healthcare to anyone.
Trump's plan does the following (sort of, bear with me, don't jump to any conclusions) --
It gets rid of "surprise billing," where people go into the hospital under their insurance plan, and work is farmed out to third parties who aren't covered by the plan, and the patient gets a big bill that they have to pay.
It also protects coverage of pre-existing conditions.
And in addition, it's important to note that if you were expect more, no, that's pretty much it. Like I said, it's great if you're into saving paper. There's also a "However...", which I would imagine most people were expecting, even with something this dismal.
The first "However" is that it doesn't actually get rid of surprise billing. It's just a non-binding executive order. He directs Congress to work with him to get rid of surprise billing.
And the second "However" is that Trump's Justice Department is currently in the Supreme Court working with 28 Republican states to argue on behalf of eliminating the entire Affordable Care Act which would mean getting rid of protections of pre-existing conditions.
So, that's it. Pretty much two bullet points, and two "However's..." to go with them.
Trump's big, beautiful, new healthcare plan. In the middle of a pandemic. Where 207,516 Americans have died, so far.
Personally, I think Trump would have been much better served to do what he always does, promise and do nothing, just keep putting it off. He could have said that his big, beautiful new healthcare plan was still on its way, and you'll love it because it will be so amazing. Few people would believe him, but he couldn't be criticized for the details. But this -- releasing this as his big, beautiful new health care plan -- this is nuts. This shows he's got nothing. This is reaching into your pockets and pulling them out, showing that you have a gum wrapper and a torn, used tissue.
Given that Joe Biden was on the team that passed the Affordable Care Act, I suspect that the topic will come up in the debates. And that he will have a whole lot more to say about healthcare than Trump. Especially since we're in the middle of a pandemic where healthcare is really quite important.
And make no mistake, this isn't just Trump's big, beautiful new healthcare plan. This is the new healthcare "plan" of the Republican Party.
Because, yes, this isn't about Trump, we know who he is. This is about the elected members of the Republican Party who enable him, support this "plan" and are complicit.
At any other time, so many other stories would be the five-bell headline -- from the Breonna Taylor decision to charge no one in her killing, despite having settled a civil suit with the family for $12 million...to reports of former Secretary of Agriculture Rick Perry in an apparently-corrupt deal with a Ukrainian oil company to sit on its board... to the story of how the current nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security (after having lead it illegally for months as "acting head") oversaw a $6 million contract to a firm where his wife worked. And more.
But they pale to Trump's comments not guaranteeing a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election, and suggesting ballots be ignored -- on the heels of a hair-raising article in The Atlantic that described Trump plans to subvert the Electoral College by having Republican legislatures in battleground states take back the power to appoint Electors.
As much as I was repulsed by Trump’s response at the press conference, I loved that he was asked – and that the reporter followed up. So, perhaps we'll start to get journalists challenging him more, not in "debate," but to get his words on serious, uncommon matters like this on the record. And in that regard, I also think that answers like he gave will repulse most voters, including some Republicans who aren’t cultists, but most-importantly undecided Independents. I say that because I don’t think almost any American voter wants a contested election or wants a president to not commit to peaceful transfer of power. Cultists may be okay with their beloved Trump refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, but as a principle of Constitutional American life, I don’t think a president not committing to a peaceful transfer of power is something that comes across well to Americans. And it will hurt him even more in the polls, for which yesterday there were two new ones that show him 10 points behind.
And ultimately, that will be the biggest protection against Trump's attempt to manipulate and challenge the results – having, hopefully as big a landslide victory as possible. It may not be that, it may not even be a victory at all. But as all major polls show in the popular vote and by Electoral vote, it appears headed in that direction. There was a major election analyst this week (I forget who, sorry), who said there is a much greater chance of Biden getting 350 Electoral votes (40%) than of Trump just winning (25%). And I think every public action like this on Wednesday that Trump makes hurts him with those in the middle all the more. And it's not that it changes people's minds on a wide, massive scale, but just stripping away 1% is significant.
And no, I don’t know. But that’s what I think.
I also think there's a big hurdle in Trump trying to challenge the validity vote-by-mail and taking it to court. And that hurdle is that voting-by-mail is not only legal in every state, and in operation in every state, but has been for many generations, so the precedent is very long established.
All that aside, there are two other issues related to this, in particular to the article in The Atlantic, that I believe offset some of the hair-on-fire horror that the author reported on Trump and GOP plans.
The first is when I heard Barton Gellman, the author of The Atlantic article, state as legal fact something that supports the foundation of his article, which was a plan by Team Trump to challenge Electors being decided by popular vote, so that the Republican state legislatures can pick their own Electors, which was long-time past how things were handled before tradition changed all that. What Mr. Gellman said was that Bush v. Gore set down the principle that states can take back the power of votes to determine Electoral votes. The thing is...my understanding of Bush v. Gore is that it very clearly said that its ruling should not be taken as precedent, and that it solely pertained to this one specific election in Florida in 2000.
Now, maybe there’s another argument that supports states taking back the power. Or maybe the Supreme Court could rule that way on its own. But using Bush v. Gore as the precedent to substantiate your article is (as far as I can tell) without any foundation. At the very least, I’m surprised that I didn't hear any analysts bring this up.
And there was one other thing The Atlantic article seems to ignore as a critical hurdle to its Worst Case Scenario -- a major thing.
Even if everything ends up happening exactly like article says Team Trump is in the early stages of tenatively maneuvering, the Electoral College doesn’t work like that. It doesn't just meet, tabulate in their votes, and it’s all done. Those votes actually have to be certified by the House and the Senate! And…it’s not the current House and the Senate, but the Congress which meets in January, after the results of this election have taken place. The new Congress. Which means very possibly a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate.
I think that if Trump and Republicans actually pull off this outlandish plan, it is near impossible for me to imagine a Democratic House, let alone also a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate (if they take control) certifying such an unprecedented power-grab end run around the popular vote.
Yes, if it all transpired this way and came down to that, it would certainly be a political mess. But the point is that it's not the simplistic matter of just manipulating state legislatures and counting the Electoral votes. There is another layer of protection built in.
But for all of this -- for all the hideous ghastliness of Trump's statement and The Atlantic reporting of GOP plans, the one statement that stands out just as loudly, if not more so now, that all the times before. And the mantra can be repeated by everyone here in their sleep --
This is not about Trump, we know who he is. This is about the elected members of the Republican Party who enable him and are complicit in it all. This only happens if the Republican members of Congress support and allow it. And they do support it. And do allow it. And at its core it is pure, book-definition fascism. Attempting to undermine trust in government institutions, and undermining what the truth and reality are, so that those in power are free to define it.
This isn't about Trump. It's about today's Republican Party which has gone full fascist.
You may not care much about football or sports. So be it. But bear with me (no pun intended). This is about football, yes, but it's mostly about the foundation of the man underneath it all.
I was very saddened to read today about the passing of Chicago Bears Hall of Fame halfback Gale Sayers, at the age of 77. Because of a leg injury, he only played seven years, but oh those years. Man was he great. The cliche "poetry in motion" was invented for him, fluidly gliding through the line, stopping, changing directions and making cuts you didn't think were humanly possible. When he was a rookie, he tied the NFL record by scoring six touchdowns in one game. He led the league in touchdowns that rookie year, with 22. He was that special.
By the way, the first knee injury didn't end his career -- he rehabbed, actually came back...and then led the league in rushing the next year! As I said, he was that great. But another injury to his knee is what ended it. When he was elected to the Hall of Fame, he was the youngest man in the history of the league.
And as amazing a runner as we was, by all accounts I've read over the years, he was a better person. Many people may know of all this because of the most acclaimed TV movies of all time was made about him and his relationship with fellow halfback Brian Piccolo, the first black and white roommates in NFL history, though that was only just a small part of the film, notable as it was.
His time with the Bears was odd. In what has to have been the greatest draft in NFL history, the Chicago Bears had two first-round selections in 1965 -- and they picked Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus, not only another Hall of Famer but considered by many the greatest linebacker in the league, but if not, at least of the five best. The college award for best linebacker of the year is called the Butkus Award, that's how great he was. What made it all odd, though, was that the team was absolutely awful -- yet with Sayers on offense and Butkus on defense, even as a little kid I knew enough not to miss a game or a down whether the Bears had the ball or not. They were both too special to watch.
I remember another player on that team, too -- Brian Piccolo. If you've never seen the TV movie (the 1971 original with a young James Caan and a young Billy Dee Williams, since they tried remaking it a few years ago), it's highly-worth checking out, just a wonderful film, and it gives a good sense of who Sayers and Piccolo were. Here's just a hint of that.
But all that aside, I have a special affection to Gale Sayers for a particular reason.
Through the first 50 years of the Chicago Bears existence, they played in Wrigley Field, after the Cubs season was over. Though I'm a big Bears fan, have seen countless Bears games over the years on TV, and been to years and years of college games at the beloved Northwestern (where my dad had season tickets for 49 years) and UCLA, I've only been to one Chicago Bears game in person in my life. But that one game, which was played at Wrigley Field, was not just the only time I saw the Bears play live, but it was my first professional football game ever, -- and boy, it was a doozy. It was the game when Gale Sayers as a rookie scored six touchdowns to tie the National Football League record, which still stands. December 12, 1965.
The day was pouring rain and the field was muddy, but while most everyone else was sliding all over the place, Sayers was seemingly unfazed, running free through the San Francisco 49ers defense, or what positioned itself as a defense. The Bears won 61-20. What isn't generally remembered is that although Sayers scored six touchdown, the team actually took him out of the game after three quarters when he had five touchdowns. Perhaps it was because they were so far ahead, perhaps it was because of the muddy field they didn't want to risk injury. Probably both. In fact, they only put him in the fourth quarter, for just one single play. A punt return. And he ran it back for a touchdown! His sixth, which tied the record. Through the mud, with the opposing San Francisco 49ers slipping all over the place. (Also notable about that rainy day is that it was also the game where the 49ers kicker, Tommy Davis, who at that point had the longest streak of kick extra points...missed. Which is why, you'll note, that they ended up with just 20 points, not 21.
This is an affectionate video of Gale Sayers sitting down with a sports reporter and going through film of his six touchdowns. Sayers was always a modest man (the title of his "as told to" autobiography is I Am Third), though an honest one. And in this video you'll hear him repeatedly say, "They couldn't touch me. They couldn't touch me." That isn't bragging. As you watch this video, what you'll see is that...they couldn't touch him.
For what it's worth, our seats were in the upper deck, sort of in the area of the end zone to the right, though we were a little further away, to the left. Yes, it was up high, but we had a great view of the field and everything that took place that glorious, albeit dreary day.
I was going to end things there, on real life -- but I decided to go back to reel life, and the movie Brian's Song. In 1969, Gale Sayers were given the George S. Halas Courage Award (named, as it happens, for Sayers' coach). He won the award for coming back from his devastating knee injury -- a rehab he credited to being made possible by his roommate Brian Piccolo. But though Sayers got the Courage Award, what those in the room didn't really know was the serious condition his dear friend was in, and he gave a famously moving speech, which was memorialized in the film. But though it got edited a bit for the movie, this was basically what Sayers said in his acceptance --
And I decided to go back to the movie because I found an excerpt of the actual speech. And as you can see, it really was Sayers.
"...He has the heart of a giant and that rare form of courage that allows him to kid himself and his opponent --cancer. He has the mental attitude that makes me proud to have a friend who spells out the word 'courage' twenty-four hours a day, every day of his life. You flatter me by giving me this award, but I tell you that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. It is mine tonight, it is Brian Piccolo's tomorrow... I love Brian Piccolo, and I'd like all of you to love him too. Tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him."
That's Gale Sayers. And that's only just a part of while he'll be missed. And remembered.
As I listened to White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany twist herself in knots and try to explain to an unrelenting Jim Acosta of CNN why Trump wasn't lying when he said that "nobody" was really affected by the coronavirus, despite 205,471 deaths of Americans, so far -- and 7,097,937 infections, so far. And these were only in the United States. In fact, around the world, there have been almost 32 million human beings infected by the coronavirus and just under one million people have died. So far. So, that whole "nobody" thing, not so much.
And yet, on and on, Ms. McEnany went on, trying to explain that Trump was being honest and only talking about young people -- despite that, no, he wasn't, and, of course, despite there also being an actual recording of Trump telling Bob Woodward that he knew young people could get infected by it.
And as I listened to someone from the White House once again try to explain what Trump meant when he said something horrible and irresponsible and cruel and racist, I just started to wonder when it was that we formally went past the line where it become officially head-numbing to hear a White House spokesperson again explain "What the president meant when he said..." something.
I mean, words matter. But when it comes to the President of the United States, words not only matter, they can be life-and-death critical. A president should ever have to have it explained what he meant, but though in life that does occur on occasion, those occasions should be rare -- not something so common that the White House Communications Office has the words, "What the president meant when he said..." on speed dial and a macro.
Of course, most people know what Trump "meant" when he says something. We've heard him for four years. We know he meant something egomaniacal or cruel or untrue or racist. The only time we don't know is when it's totally incomprehensible and a mindless bunch of word less. Or "covfefe."
The thing is, this -- like most things -- isn't just about Trump, though he and his spokespeople have turned it into an art form. (Can we ever forget "alternative facts"?) But Republicans making bald-faced lies and then having to explain what they actually meant when the lie is too egregious even for them to double-down on and they're called out on it. The list is too long and massive, but a few leap out. Like when Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson said that President Obama was responsible for the battle that killed Captain Humayan Khan (son of Khizr Khan, who had spoken at the Democratic Convention) -- except the problem is that Capt. Khan did in Iraq in 2004, and Barack Obama didn't take office until 2008. And of course, there was Republican lying claims of birtherism long before Trump made it his campaign issue. And maybe one of the most legendary of all, there was the infamous article by Ron Suskind in 2004 when an unnamed W. Bush White House official (now believed to be Karl Rove) who chided Democrats for living in a "realty-based community" while Republicans "created our own reality."
In other words, you tell the truth, we make it up.
And that's just been standard operating procedure for Republicans. And as it often happens, I can delve into the archives and explain what I mean.
Back in 2011, I wrote an article about then-senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) getting caught in a lie so blatant that he ended up coming out with one of the more stupid, teeth-aching attempts to explain it away.
This isn't about Trump. It isn't even specifically about All Republicans. This is just one individual. But especially because of what his mind-numbing explanation for his lie was, it is all too indicative of what Republicans have been doing for decades, and what Trump does when he breathes. Over 20,000 Trump lies that the Washington Post documented in just over two years of his time in office.
Yes, all politicians lie. All people lie. But it's how you lie, what you lie about, how you explain your lie, how you correct your lie, if you correct your lie and why you lie that separates people.
This is just a look at Jon Kyl.. But when we live with this sort of thing for decades because one party has "created their own reality" and live on "alternative facts," and as a result of all that we now live with the standard, default White House explanation of "What the president meant when he said..." -- this is far more than a look at Jon Kyl. It's about Trump. And it's about much more than Trump, it's about the elected members of the Republican Party who enable him, are complicit and, in fact, long-since laid the foundation for him.
So, we head back to April 13, 2011.
The Road to Hell is also Paved with Bad Intentions
As a young man, Jon Kyl, the Republican junior senator from Arizona, was convicted of selling heroin, and he spent eight months in federal prison.
This remark was not intended to be a factual statement. Rather, it was to illustrate that Jon Kyl, a Republican senator, is from Arizona.
Yes, that was unfair. But just because Jon Kyl wasn't actually convicted of drug crimes doesn't mean he hasn't committed any legal abuses. Make no mistake, in his early days in Arizona state politics, he was reprimanded for 12 ethics violations, though avoided expulsion on a technicality, changing the spelling of his name which originally was "John Kyle."
This remark was not intended to be a factual statement, either, rather it was to illustrate that Jon Kyl doesn't have the letter "H" in his name.
Joking aside, there is something I do admire Sen. Kyl for. It is his deft skill manipulating the English language to avoid responsibility for making a gross smear on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Addressing his senate colleagues, Mr. Kyl had said that abortions accounted for "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does" - though the actual, truthful number is 3 percent. When later confronted over these shamefully inaccurate remarks now in the official Congressional Record, he hid behind his staff, which commented that "His remark was not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, an organization that receives millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, does subsidize abortions."
Forgetting for a moment that this isn't even an attempt at an apology, there only two options here: either Jon Kyl takes you for an idiot, or himself.
To be fair to Jon Kyl and sympathetic, he has unfortunately been painfully distracted lately, due to a bitter divorce he's going through, brought about by the exposure of a 12-year, secret affair with his secretary.
Just to clarify, this remark is not intended to be a factual statement, rather it was to illustrate that Jon Kyl has a secretary.
A case could be made that Jon Kyl knew his senate statement was a lie when he gave it, or at least that he didn't care whether it was false or not. But even if one chooses to graciously accept that it was just a horrific mistake - we all know what a proper reply should have been. We all know how we ourselves would have apologized. We would have said -
"I'm sorry. I made a mistake. I relied on information given to me, and I should have checked it myself. I apologize to Planned Parenthood, to my senate colleagues, and to the American public. I will immediately correct the Congressional Record. And will strive to make sure such a horrible error doesn't occur again."
We wouldn't have had a lackey say for us - "His remark was not intended to be a factual statement."
Jon Kyl's lie and lying response reminds me of an election several years back for the Writers Guild Board of Directors. An unsigned letter was mailed that smeared each candidate on an opposition slate. Later, one of the non-attacked candidates was asked for his reaction to the anonymous smear of his opponents. Not wanting to defend his opponents, he said with a thoughtful, sad expression, "The fact that it got all the names and some of the ages right is what made the letter so hurtful."
All I could think was, "No! The fact that it got all the names right is what made the letter - a smear."
It was the same attitude weaving through Jon Kyl's own smearing statement and smarmy, staff reply. It's as if the truth doesn't matter. That anything can be said if it helps you. And if you're forced to address the lie, dismiss it as not being intended to be the truth.
Of course it's not intended to be the truth. It was intended to smear!
This is an attitude that permeates the conservative movement these days. Democrats can lie, too, and when they do, it's just as wrong. But these days, the "say whatever you want," "truth be damned" weight has been falling more heavily on the Republican and conservative side. Perhaps because they're the ones in attack mode. Perhaps because the truth that Social Security, Medicare, universal healthcare, and public education all actually help people causes Republicans political trouble.
Whatever the reason, when the truth hurts you, and you choose to say anything to win, the truth doesn't matter.
To make a point attacking President Obama, Bill O'Reilly describes U.S. troops massacring Germans at Malmedy during WWII - when the truth is the exact opposite. To prove a rally was popular, Glenn Beck shows a photograph of the crowd - when the truth is that the photo was taken years before. To terrify the GOP base, Sarah Palin and others lie that Democrats want to kill old people. And on and on the spiral downward goes.
But of course, truth actually does matter. And we should not only expect it of our children, but also our politicians and social voices. Yes, I know that's a lot to expect. So, let's make it easy and start small -
Let's expect it of Jon Kyl.
That remark is intended to be a factual statement.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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