What with the Impeachment Hearings going on, I figured it was time to bring back another Comedy Against Trumpism video. I was hoping to find one done by Ukraine, but alas there is none. (Perhaps it's been withheld...) The closest I could find was one for Moldova, which borders Ukraine to the south. (You'll even seen them on a map at about the 3:15 mark.) Here, Moldova makes their case (and it's a pretty funny, self-effacing one) that if it's going to be America first, at least could Moldova be second -- especially if one likes beer.
As a reminder, Peter Sagal is the host of Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!, the NPR quiz show from which I post segments here from time to time. He posted this below during Ambassador Gordon Sondland's devastating testimony today.
While I assume most people likely caught news coverage about yesterday's testimony, here's some details about what happened if you watched the whole thing -- though with more attention to the morning session, since that was the one with Lt. Col. Alex Vindman who was on the phone call in question and is one of the more notable witnesses.
As a general overview, the overriding word to describe the morning session was "infuriating" for how Republicans -- the party of "patriotism" and "loving the military" actually trying to tarnish the Purple Heart recipient in uniform.
On the good side, Vindman -- a 20-year veteran of the military and recipient of the Purple Heart -- was eloquent, soft-spoken and pointed. He gave a strong opening statement that became moving when he indirectly referred to attacks on him, and went into detail of his personal history and praise of his father’s courage coming to the U.S. for a better life and how two brothers also serving in the U.S. military. His detailed telling of the phone call was very effective. Jennifer Williams – who is Mike Pence’s aide and the other witness testifying – was low-key, explained she felt the call was unusual though wasn’t as concerned as Vindman, but she nonetheless was bothered enough that Republicans didn’t try to show her as a victory for their side – because she wasn’t.
On the bad side, when Republicans got their chance to ask questions they were body-curdling ghastly. I believe that is the objective term. Just a few examples:
The Republican lawyer Steve Castor took several minutes trying to undermine Lt. Col. Vindman's loyalty by bringing up how (it turns out...) Ukraine offered him the job to be their Defense Minister. Vindman's response was great. “I said no. I am American.” Still, this didn't stop Republicans on the Committee from periodically bringing up the outside offer. It's hard to know if disgraceful, reprehensible, sickening, shameful or pathetic is the best word to describe it.
(Throughout the day, Trump and Republican pundits were also trying to ridicule Lt. Col. Vindman for wearing his uniform, despite the fact that he was acting in his official capacity. And despite that the GOP always tries to pretend how much they love the military. And despite that when Oliver North wore his uniform to testify during the Iran-Contra hearings, it helped make him a right-wing hero for decades.)
Oh, and there was the exchange when Devin Nunes tried to undercut Vindman's authority by referring to him as "Mr. Vindman" before asking his question. After he finished, Vindman's first words were, "I'd like to be addressed as 'Lt. Col.', please."
One of the worst questions and best responses came when Jim Jordan angrily (okay, that's a given...) brought up how Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison (who was to testify in the afternoon) both had “concerns” about Lt. Col. Vindman's judgement. However, Vindman was brilliantly prepared and pulled out the most-recent job evaluation of him by Fiona Hill and read from it: “Alex is a top 1 percent military officer and the best Army officer I have worked with in my 15 years of government service,” he read. “He is brilliant, unflappable, and exercises excellent judgment.” He said that Morrison was new to the job and they may have just had a “clash of cultures.”
Jordan also tried to make suggestions that Vindman had leaked information. He kept noting he hadn’t. Despite this answer, this was clearly a big-deal question for Republicans since they kept addressing it all day. (I also kept waiting for Jordan to finally say he would be testifying at least in the Ohio State University case where witnesses have said he was aware of sexual abuse on the wrestling team by the team doctor but did nothing.)
Another Republican, Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) tried to make the point with visual aids that in the volumes of testimony, there has been no mention of the word “bribery” in either Vindman or Williams’ testimony or anyone’s, only by Nancy Pelosi and Democrats now. Eric Swalwell was next and had a brilliant comeback. He asked Vindman a hypothetical – if someone was sitting in a car, had been shot numerous time, was bleeding badly and told a policeman that he saw who shot him and identified the person who shot him, “Do you think a policeman would say, ‘I’m sorry, you didn’t say that the person was attempting involuntary manslaughter, I can’t take your testimony seriously and won’t investigate”? Vindman laughed, said his brother was the lawyer, he wasn’t, but no, that doesn’t seem how our justice system works.
Another good exchange with a Democrat --
Q: Are you a Never Trumper?
A: I am a Never Partisan.
The best lighthearted moment came when Democrat Joaquin Castro (twin brother of presidential candidate Julian Castro) said to Vindman that it was a pleasure to ask questions to a fellow-identical twin. He said that he hoped Vindman's twin was nicer to you "and didn't make you grow a beard." (Something I've long-suspected he did to separate himself from being confused with a presidential candidate.) Vindman corrected Castro about the timing of his birth and noted that was a full nine-minutes older than his "little brother," and added, "and the wisdom shows."
The afternoon session was between Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison. Both were names on the Republicans' wish list of witness to call. Bizarrely (though not really), the official "@GOP" Twitter account sent out a tweet during their testimony about how great these two Democratic witnesses were doing for Trump. It's hard to know, given the source, if this comment about the party's own witnesses was ignorant or intended to be deceptive.
It's also bizarre since they weren't such great witnesses for Trump -- though he felt so, too, tweeting out, "A great day for Republicans, a great day for our Country!." And though neither of the witnesses said they thought there was anything illegal on the call, their testimony was anything but "great" for Trump. After all, Morrison (who had also been on The Call admitted that he went to legal counsel immediately after the call ended. And Ambassador Volker changed his previous testimony to say that he he had known at the time that the push for Ukraine to hold an investigation was actually about Burisma company and the Bidens, then he would have objected to one. He also praised Joe Biden profusely as a man of great honor and character who he's known for 25 years.
Related to this was how good Eric Swalwell was – getting Tim Williams to say his job is to follow the president’s orders, but then admit he didn't follow-up on Trump's wanting an investigation and also hide away the call's transcript in a high-classified vault, which Swalwell noted showed that despite his words that the call was okay, showed that he knew there was something illegal about it. And despite Republicans trying to contend all day that this was solely about Ukraine's corruption, and that was the reason Trump wouldn't meet with their president, Swalwell also Volker to acknowledge that Trump happily meets with the leaders of highly corrupt nations all the time, like Russia, North Korea and just this week in the Oval Office, Turkey.
And this doesn't even take into consideration the morning session with the two on-the-call first-hand witnesses saying how unusual and problematic the call was.
And THIS was a great day to Trulmp!
So, you can imagine how horrible the rest of the week's testimony has gone for him...
How bad and disgraceful were Republicans in their questioning, but most-especially in their attempts to demean the honored military officer Lt. Col. Vindman?
Right after the hearing ended, I posted the following tweet. It wasn’t anything that was particularly notable, but I was just SO pissed off. I wrote –
"Note to @DevinNunes -- snarky sarcasm is not your strong suit. It takes a MUCH lighter touch. Stick with what you do best -- running to the White House with inside information and sucking up to Trump."
That’s all. I didn’t give it much a thought. Normally after a tweet, maybe I’ll get 10-20 “Likes” and 10 “Retweets.” Sometimes more, sometimes less. As of this morning, it had 708 “Likes” and 132 “Retweets”!!! Honestly, it really isn’t all that special a comment, as you can see, I’ve had much, much better. But what’s obvious is that it clearly struck a chord with people…
Sometimes, I guess things happen when you give the people what they want...
It's been a few weeks since we visited the ferns, so let's head back to the very funny Between Two Ferns as Zack Galifianakos interviews Natalie Portman.
I have a disagreement with Rachel Maddow. Last night on her show she said the blockbuster story of the day was that of David Holmes, the official at the American embassy in Ukraine who overheard the phone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland. My disagreement with her is not that the story wasn't a Really Big Deal. It was. But massive a story as that is -- and make no mistake, it's a massive one, perhaps the biggest on most days -- I think there was an even bigger story that she reported later in the broadcast, a breaking scoop from the Associated Press.
That story was about how Ukraine's president-elect Zelensky not only did feel pressured by Trump, despite him publicly stating otherwise, but even had a secret meeting with advisers on May 7, almost three weeks before the second Trump phone call. Moreover, this was also just one day after U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was recalled. Among those at the meeting with two top Ukranian officials and Amos Hochstein, a former American diplomat and Ukraine expert who advised Joe Biden on the country during the Obama administration.
Yes, the overheard Trump-Sondland phone call story is huge because it confirms details and gives lie to other testimony, making the Trump plan with Rudy Giuliani wider than previously thought. The Ukraine pressure story, however, is directly at the heart of the extortion-bribery charge of impeachment. The one and only serious defense Trump supporters have been trying to push is that Trump's call to Zelensky was fine because the Ukranian did not feel he was being pressured and said so publicly. This story breaks that one, final, weak defense. And further, it gives lie to the Republican contention that Zelensky couldn't have felt extorted since he supposedly didn't even know of the demand before the phone call. (Not that it matters if he was aware what was going on. If someone is trying to extort you -- they are trying to extort you. They don't get a pass because they covered their tracks so well.)
One thing of which I'm pretty certain of is that after the story broke and the show ended, someone from the House Intelligence Committee instantly began looking into contacting former diplomat Amos Hochstein about whether it's worth their while having him come in to give a deposition on the meeting with Ukraine president-elect Zelensky.
You can read the full story here, written by Desmond Butler and Michael Biesecker.
In fairness, yes, both stories of the day are huge. It’s really almost a toss of the coin which is bigger. I just fall on the side of the pressuring.
But let's put it this way: if one thinks that this story about Zelensky feeling pressured to the extent that he held meetings about it.is only the second biggest story of the day, then the day was even far-more horrifically worse for Trump than before...
A perfect call, indeed.
This week's episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was the year's finale for 2019. I was extremely pleased to see that the show's main story was about the census, which is critically important, and the Trump administration has been trying to manipulate it, which has gotten little coverage. While I found the humor a bit more forced than usual, the reporting itself was excellent and there was plenty of good fun with it.
By the way, at one point they show an old TV add promoting an earlier census -- given certain logistics I'm going to guess it's for 1970. The singer in the middle of the crowd who begins the number is Glenn Yarbrough, a member of The Limeliters who left for a solo career, and about who readers here might recall I posted a video not long ago singing the title song of an animated version of The Hobbit, "The Greatest Adventure."
You may recall Elise Stefanik, by action if not by name. She's the Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee who kept interrupting the proceedings by breaking the agreed-upon rules and then when she wasn't allowed to speak out of turn, snarkily kept whining that it was all Chairman Adam Schiff's fault.
(For the record, if you couldn't follow what the foundation of the issue was, it's this -- Before the hearings began, certain rules were set up on how the proceedings would be run, and they were agreed to. Among those rules it was determined that the first 45 minutes for each side would be restricted specifically and solely to either the party leader or the party's attorney -- and no one else. So, when Devin Nunes, the Ranking Member for the Republican Party tried to defer some of his opening time to Ms. Stefanik, that was against the agreed-upon rules. Neither he nor Adam Schiff could do that. Either Mr. Nunes or the Republican lawyer could speak during that first 45 minutes of GOP time -- but no one else.)
Anyway, after the hearing, Rep. Stefanik (R-NY 21) took to Twitter and began crowing about...well, something, but it seemed to be sort of that she had ostensibly, somehow exposed Adam Schiff to the world for apparently his supposed partisan unfairness -- and she was roundly trashed for it by those who understood that she was lying.
But what stood out most to me is that, in her social media complaints, she included a fundraising plea, asking people to donate to her campaign in order to allow her to keep speaking out against all this supposed Democratic unfairness. At which point it all became clear to me. After all, her interruptions and petulance during the hearing seemed so weird. But it seemed less weird (though no less reprehensible) when you saw it was a fundraising stunt to get people to donate money.
There's good news and bad news to this.
The good news is that it turns out the public took Elise Stefanik's words to heart, and they did indeed donate money to the race. The bad news is that people donated their money to her Democratic opponent, Tedra Cobb instead. And in a really big way.
How big? By the end of the weekend, Tedra Cobb had received over one million dollars!
Two things to keep in mind: first, the above is time-stamped at 5:25 PM , so 15 hours later I have no idea how much more money has come pouring in since then and what the total is up to now. And second, this is for a congressional race. One million dollars is a huge amount of money. And that's not how much Ms. Cobb has to spend, but only how much she's raised in four days.
To be clear, the New York 21st district is solidly Republican. So, Elise Stefanik is in comfortable position. But when she ran year ago against the same Tedra Cobb, her margin of victory was safe, but not insurmountable. It was 14 points. And we've see a lot of swings of 15-20 points in local elections during the past year. And that's before Ms. Stefanik drew so much attention to herself whining and lying to defend Trump. Will that and the million dollars and whatever else Tedra Cobb raises be enough to overcome last year's 14-point difference? Who knows, we'll find out.
But when you ask people to donate to your race, be careful what you wish for -- you just might get it.
Today's guest contestant on the 'Not My Job' segment of the NPR game quiz show Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! is actor Leslie Odom Jr. who came to particular fame winning a Tony Award starring in the musical Hamilton as Aaron Burr. Not shockingly he and host Peter Sagal don't talk all that much about his career but spend all the time interestingly talking behind-the-scenes stories about Hamilton.
This week, the guest on Al Franken's podcast is journalist Hendrick Hertzberg of The New Yorker magazine. The two fellows discuss how what's known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact will guarantee that the winner of the popular vote will become president.
You may have heard of The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. If so, it is agreement to award member states’ electors to the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide The compact will only take effect when the states that have adopted it have a total of at least 270 electors -- that's the number a candidate needs to win the Electoral College . At this point, 14 states and the District of Columbia have voted to be a part of the compact. This brings the total to 187 electors -- still 83 short of becoming operational. Most recently, Colorado’s legislature and governor have approved it (which would add nine more electors) and -- as Franken puts it -- "nervous Conservatives have put it on the ballot as a Referendum in 2020." He ads that Hertzberg explains it all and why it’s good for every American except Donald Trump.
From the archives, this week's contestant is Alex Strong from Bloomington, Indiana. This is one of the more unlikely songs I've heard Bruce Adolphe hide in a classical style. Somewhat as a result of that it's a pretty easy song to guess, I think, but that nonetheless makes it quite fun to listen to. The composer style is definitely gettable, too, although it's from a period that most people probably have a difficult time differentiating between several of the better known composers of the era.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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