We'll enter this into the "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow" Division --
"I think she should smile a lot more often, I think the country would be better for it."
-- Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Nancy Pelosi scowling during the State of the Union Address
Oooo, Cool, the ANNIE protocol to fix everything! "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile." For which the ever-cheery Press Secretary is Honorary National Chairwoman. I know that at least I feel so much better I see Ms. Huckabee Sanders break out into that ear-to-ear grin America loves.
When they punch you in the head, smile, darn ya, smile! That's what will make the country better. When they kick you in the gut, smile. That's all it takes to make America great once more. A smile.
So, hobo man! So, Dapper Dan. So long for a while -- you're never fully dressed without that big, beautiful and glorious smile!!!
Just like Melania Trump had throughout the speech.
Make America Smile Again.
Friends asked me to let them know what Trump said in the State of the Union Address because they weren't planning to watch. I replied, "And the reason you think I will be watching is because...??"
They thought I'd be tuning into get something to write about this morning. I said that I am unable to watch Trump speak for more than 15 seconds at the very upper limit, and if I had to watch him read poorly off a TelePrompter for an hour my head would explode. And not watching him talk for more than 15 seconds has not limited my ability to write accurately about him. There are articles, video clips, analyses, tweets, spokespeople and plenty enough else to figure out reality and watch is going on. Indeed, I've found that 15 seconds, at the very upper limit, is a generous and very fair amount of time given the substance and amount of time and thought he himself has put into the material. And given that he likely had next to zero input in writing the State of the Union address and was probably seeing it for the third time when reading it poorly to the nation, I think that not watch was a close equivalent.
Further, I would ask them -- "Did you not read my article yesterday?", where I wondered what part of "The Republican Party, as a party, has no credibility any longer. It's gone, they have torn it up and thrown it away. What they say, as a party, has no meaning" wasn't clear and would make them think that listening to Trump (who I also noted the Washington Post had documented has lied over 2,000 times since coming to office) for an hour would change all that?
I explained that I was moderately interested in some of the post-speech clips and commentary, though not the part where it would be said (as we know it would be) that he read the speech well and didn't come across like the crazy, out-of-control Trump we see all the other times in public and that he came across as more "presidential" than usual. Nor was I interested in hearing him say how great the economy is because the stock market is so high (though unmentioned, I'm sure, that it's less of an increase than during Barack Obama's first year when it had been in a tailspin), and how low the unemployment numbers are (though unmentioned, I'm sure, that when the unemployment numbers were plummeting when Barack Obama was president, Trump had called those fake) and how strong the economy is (though, unmentioned, I'm sure that it's built entirely on the turnaround created by Barack Obama on the heels of the Bush economic meltdown, and the economy still has far to go and huge salary inequality.) And I said that I have absolutely no interest in seeing SarahHuckabeeSandersKellyanneConway DevinNunesMitchMcConnellPaulRyanLouisGohmertSteveKing say, "The president hit a home run tonight", nor hear Lindsay Graham saying, "That's my good friend the president who I know and love and play golf with who has America's best interests in his heart."
For the record, I wrote the above last night before the speech. We'll see how close I came.
I also knew that I could catch up on the highlights and low-lights later. And watch Joe Kennedy's Democratic response.
Moreover, I know what the state of the union is. I watch the news and read about it. And I wrote about it yesterday.
Instead, I went to a Writers Guild screening of an upcoming movie called, Please Stand By. It’s based on a play by Michael Golamco, who wrote the screenplay, about an autistic young woman who sneaks away from her caregiver to submit a 400-page script she wrote for a Star Trek scriptwriting contest. (Note: most screenplays are around 120 pages.) It stars Dakota Fanning, Toni Collette and a British actress who I’ve been pushing for a movie project I'm involved with, Alice Eve. Also, Patton Oswalt has a very nice, small role.
The movie is smart, well-directed and with good performances. It's at its best when dealing with the young woman in her residential-care environment. It gets a bit too episodic (and somewhat coincidental) when she hits the road, though that's still an important part of the film for her character, and it does wrap-up well. Interestingly, in a Q&A afterwards, the writer noted that his play had been a one-act and only dealt with the story up to the point when she leaves the residence and goes out the door to hit the road. The film expands on the play about what happens next.
(By the way, given that I saw the movie at the Writers Guild Theatre, it will not shock you to learn that the biggest laugh of the evening comes after she mentions that she's written this screenplay -- and "it's 427 pages.")
The movie is 93 minutes. I'm told that that's just about the same length as Trump poorly-reading the speech written for him. Kismet. And given that the evening was hosted by the WGA's Disability Committee, I heard more about helping others with compassion than I suspect the American public did watching Trump for the same amount of time. Further, there was a reception after the screening, so not only did I keep my head from exploding but I also got cupcakes. A win-win all around!
Here's the trailer.
Since I suspect there will be a lot of tap-dancing on television tonight, I thought I'd jump in ahead of things. Here's a wonderful 9-minute segment from a Gene Kelly TV special in 1959 where he performs joyously with his co-star from Singin' in the Rain, Donald O'Connor. I'm not a big fan of "the dance," but some things transcend that. This is one of them...
It was not a good day for justice.
Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe, longtime career agent with an impeccable record of service to this country, announced his official retirement, after months of attacks and pressure from the White House.
Republicans voted to release their party's staff-written Intelligence Committee memo attacking the FBI, despite the Justice Department calling such an action, "irresponsibly reckless" for putting classified sources at risk.
Republicans voted to not allow the release a memo from Democratic members of the same Intelligence Committee which referenced material that put charges in perspective.
House Republicans opened an investigation of the FBI and Justice Department.
And Trump announced that he will not be enacting sanctions against Russia that had passed the Senate by a vote of 98-2. And passed the House 419-3. And was signed by the president -- making the sanctions A Law.
How dismal a day was it? That last issue, Trump refusing to enact a near-unanimous law to punish the nation's enemy for imposing itself on our election process, barely made the news, and you only could find it online if you paid close attention because the other stories of the day were so much bigger than even that.
Last night, I was talking with a friend who said, "You know how Republicans are going to spin McCabe resigning? They're going to say that..."
And I cut him off, explaining that I was now at the point where I didn't care what Republicans "were going to say." Because we all know what the Republicans are going to say. They've been saying "it" or some variation for the past year, ignoring reality, dismissing the concept of justice and forgoing the protection of the country against outside and inside attack, all for the sake of being complicit in protecting Donald J. Trump from investigation in the Russia probe.
How ironic that the "line" Trump himself said mustn't be crossed was a "Red" line. One can only imagine how deeply Red it is.
Republicans have shown themselves willing to accept an outpouring of daily lies from the White House and its spokesmen (2,000 from Trump alone, the Washington Post has counted in the past year), while making unrelenting efforts to tear down the FBI and intelligence services which serve to protect the country from attack by our enemies, and shredding the Constitution from abuses of power and obstruction of justice. All just to protect their dwindling racist and white supremacist base.
I wish I could say this is hyperbole. But it's not. The attacks are persistent. The firing of FBI Director James Comey, reassignment of FBI General Counsel James Baker, forced resignation of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, dismissal and continued attacks against FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, Trump ordering the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Republican charges of a "secret society" of dark state FBI agents (which turned out to be just a party related to a gag calendar), House Republicans releasing a private memo to discredit the FBI, pressure on Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to quit, Trump demanding loyalty from the independent Comey, asking FBI Deputy Director McCabe who he voted for, furious his Attorney General overseeing the independent Justice Department wasn't protecting him, calling the Justice Department "his," House Republicans starting an investigation of the FBI and Justice Department...and on and on and on, to the extent that I don't have it in me to keep adding more to the list.
It is not hyperbole. I can only wish it was hyperbole.
Consider the words yesterday by Walter Shaub, who had been the Director of the Office of Government Ethics in the Trump administration before not being able to take it any longer and resigning --
"So, they're moving from assault on the rule of law to all out war on the rule of law."
It is indeed an all out war on the rule of law. And it is not just Trump flailing away to protect himself from investigation, but being given full protection and support by elected officials of the Republican Party.
I have reached the point of having now no expectation of any actions from the Republican Party -- most especially the House -- in acting to preserve justice and protect the interests of the United States against the nation's Russian enemy. I have no expectation that Republicans in the Senate will act on behalf of justice either, though I hold out the possibility that the smallest handful might do so and act in concert with Democrats to occasionally create a majority. But that's as far as I go. The Republican Party has disgraced itself and removed all credibility, making it instead a front-organization for pure self-interest. Even when those self-interests are approving grossly-incompetent and inexperienced appointees, white supremacists and undermining the State Department. Public service to country is not part of the Republican platform.
And again, this is not hyperbole. And again, I pass along the words yesterday of former Director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub.
"Today was a big day for some people who put party over country. It was one of the darker days of the past 40 years for democracy."
This disgrace and removal of credibility is a black mark for its base, as well. And that racist base starts foundationally with an evangelical center which now gives "mulligans" to a leader who has been recorded on video admitting to sexual abuse, been separately accused of sexual abuse by 19 women, had an affair with a porn star while his third wife was pregnant, and paid $130,000 in hush money -- all the while that "family values" core of faux-morality additionally supported a Senate candidate accused by nine women of child molestation.
And from that disgraced, hypocritical core, the Republican base branches out to its racist white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Klan members made up of some "very fine people" in the words of the president -- all without full outrage and total condemnation by his protecting minions in the party.
The Republican Party, as a party, has no credibility any longer. It's gone, they have torn it up and thrown it away. What they say, as a party, has no meaning. What they "say" about Andrew McCabe is empty white noise. About most-anything. The presumption of truth by the Republican Party has been abused too often and is gone. Any trust of the GOP must not only be earned back, but earned with standards profoundly higher than the norm because they've dug a pit too deep. And for the party, it will take many years to earn once again.
This isn't to say that there aren't honorable, honest, decent, well-meaning Republicans. There are. But to remain in their party they too now have hurdles they must face. Because by remaining in their party, they have given aid and comfort to racism, hatred, misogyny, injustice and the cold protection of lies. By remaining in their party, no matter their best instincts, they are tarnished the same way a chimney sweep has to brush off the muck every time he leaves his place of business and enters the world.
Several months ago, I wrote that this is no longer about Trump. That it is now about the Republican Party which is enabling him. That not only holds today, but is more deeply true than before. They are complicit in actions against the United States.
And I wish this were not hyperbole.
Those who sit in the Republican Party defending its actions and those of Trump are so far on the wrong side of history that they can no longer see the line they crossed long ago.
There is hope, and happily there is redemption. But my best guess is that the first significant step will come in the mid-term elections.
On Sunday night, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley sent out a ludicrous tweet about a political comedy bit that aired during the Grammy Awards.
The issue isn't whether Ms. Haley should have liked the sketch or written a complaint. It's what she wrote to complain about that was so loopy.
Apparently, Nikki Haley hasn't paid attention during those "always" years since music has "always" had politics in it. The music of the '60s was OVERWHELMED with political protest songs. It was virtually the very point of the music movement of that decade. Folk music of the '50s was HIGHLY political. The most-famous folk music group of that era, The Weavers, were Blacklisted and had their careers ruined for supposedly being political -- with such "dangerous" songs as "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and "If I Had a Hammer," which Nikki Haley probably later sang at summer camp. I Nikki Haley doesn't think that the Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and on and on and on had politics in their songs, she's wasn't listening close enough...or at all, just paying attention to the "music."
But even further, the likely reality is that if the Grammys had had James Woods, Scott Baio and Ted Nugent reading from The Art of the Deal, would she have posted a complaint? I'd bet a whole lot of cash money not. So the U.N. Ambassador shouldn't pretend her whining is about how she just loves "music" and doesn't want "politics" thrown in. She doesn't want politics she doesn't approve of.
And the most ridiculous thing of all is that if she actually, truly, honestly, really doesn't want politics in the arts or sports or any area that has nothing to do with politics, then she should tell her boss to keep his own pie hole shut and stop tweeting about it.
And the thing is, the bit wasn't all that wonderfully-done or particularly funny. It was okay, but not a whole lot more than that, just sort of straight forward. If you want to complain about the sketch, that's what you should complain about. It was fine, and that's about it.
I'm trying to figure out how to write this properly. The challenge is my conflicting reactions of great admiration and utter incredulity about the very same thing. My great admiration is first and foremost and honest and sincere. However, the utter incredulity is overwhelming.
I will withhold all names but one, to protect the "innocent." And that "one" is only because the story can't be told properly without it being referenced. Alas, that makes it easier to track down the specifics I'm referring to, but my assumption is that most people won't have the interest in doing so, but if so, that's the reality of life. And still, even then it might not be certain who I'm referring to. Which is just as well, since the "who" isn't ultimately the point here, but the why.
I was on Facebook last night, and saw a little notice for someone running for Congress in Los Angeles – and I knew who it was. I haven’t seen the person for many years – we used to travel in the same circle and crossed paths quite a few times. Very nice, quite bright, and talented. We didn't know each other well, but this was good person who I liked. As happens, that circle separated a long while back, people went their separate ways, and I haven't seen many of them in perhaps 15-20 years. However, when I joined Facebook a while back, some of their names cross my path, and I "Friended" some, even though we haven't exchanged any communication between us. And then came that notice about running for Congress.
I checked out the campaign website, and happily saw that it was a Democratic candidacy. The mission statement said thoughtful, insightful things about why it was important to run next year, and have a Democratic presence across the country. It all sounded great. And all the better, it was in Los Angeles, so I could spread the word about someone I knew and liked and would be an asset on any ticket, I'm sure. Being in the 28th Congressional district, I figured maybe I’ll write a nice piece about the race. I didn't know where the 28th district is, though, and what Republican would be the opponent – assuming that my distant acquaintance would be able to win the Democratic primary. So, I checked it out. And…
It turns out it’s a Democratic district. And it's not an open seat, but there’s a Democrat currently in office. So, this would be primarying the incumbent. But far worse than that, the sitting-candidate is – Adam Schiff!!!
What on EARTH is any challenger in that race thinking?? Adam Schiff?? The Ranking Member and co-chair of the House Intelligence Committee?? Outside of Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the most outspoken and important Democrat in the House against Trump?? That Adam Schiff??!!! Running in a Democratic primary against Adam Schiff??!!!! Seriously??? Adam Schiff is not only great, out-spoken and important, but he also has one of the highest-profiles of any Democrat in Congress!!
The only thing I can think of is that at some point I’ve read that Adam Schiff is thinking of running for Dianne Feinstein’s seat whenever she retires. So, maybe the thought is to run to get your name known if and when the seat becomes open – though Feinstein is running for re-election next year, so that possible opening is six years away, unless something untoward happens earlier. But even stretching possibilities that far, that’s the best I can think of. Because otherwise, this seems inexplicable. The point of Democrats running everywhere and being competitive in every district in the country is wonderful, getting voices heard where they're needed and otherwise silent. But as far as I can tell, new and unheard voices aren't remotely needed in the CA-28th district. Adam Schiff is wonderful. Maybe I'm missing something, but I honestly don’t have a clue…
I’ll go a step further: if Adam Schiff, of all people, one of the most outspoken critics against Trump and strongest defenses against the Devin Nunes-wing of the House Intelligence Committee, got defeated, whether by Republicans or within his own party, it would send an absolutely terrible message about public interest in the investigation. So, Democrats shouldn’t even want to think about seeing him not get re-elected.
Not that that's likely, mind you -- he won his last race against his Republican challenger by 78-22 percent. So, given that reality, and how terrific, visible and important he is in Congress right now...WHY? No matter how good and smart and thoughtful you are -- as this person really is -- WHY???
I was so pleased when I saw that someone smart and good I knew from years past was running for Congress. I'd be happy to offer my support in almost any other district -- even my own, and I like my representative a lot. I'd feel good with someone like this is Congress. But when I saw who the opponent was -- Adam Schiff! -- I'm at a total loss. As I said, I hope I'm missing something. Perhaps it's as simple as wanting to be part of the political process, even knowing you don't stand a chance, to send a message across the land about participation. But even at that, I’m almost sort of glad we haven’t seen each other for so long, because if we were still in touch I don’t know what I’d say if asked what I thought, or to sign a petition. Is there a polite way of saying, “Oh, dear heavens, no!!!"???
It's not because this is an impossible race to win. A famous Spanish proverb is "Only he who attempts the ridiculous may achieve the impossible." So, if it's the dream in your heart to be elected to Congress -- great. Go for it. That's not the question. It's -- if you're going to enter a race, even for the noblest of reasons while knowing you will near-certainly lose, you are on the ballot to win, so: why on earth would you want to win in this district in the first place and not do everything you possibly can to make sure that Adam Schiff, more than perhaps any Democrat in Congress, gets as many votes as possible to send a critical message against Trump?
I have great admiration for the effort and utter incredulity.
I've been reading Joseph Anton which is written almost like a novel in the third person, but it's a memoir by Salman Rushdie about his early life and time during the 11 years being under the fatwa. It's quite good -- the title comes from the code name he used during that time, "Joseph" coming from Joseph Conrad, and "Anton" from Chekhov. And amid it all, there's one particularly interesting, fun passage that stands out for being one of those things we refer to as unintended consequences.
It comes during a section on negotiations to find a publisher for his upcoming novel, The Satanic Verses. There was no controversy at that point, so the issue was a case of advance money and what publisher would be best to handle the distribution.
He had been with a small publisher for a few years and had become close to the owner, and his agent (with whom he was also close) recommended it. However, other agents were involved, as were other, larger companies. (One -- which made the best offer -- was owned by Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp, and Rushdie notes how thrilled he is that the offer was turned down, because he's certain they never would have supported the book after the difficulties began.)
In the end, for long reasons explained in the book, he went with one of the larger publishers. In the process, though, it hurt his friendship with the smaller publisher, and with his agent and friend, who he lost when he took the other offer.
Rushdie notes that, as it happened, over time, his strong friendship with the small publisher and agent managed to build itself up again, and they became very helpful supporters during his time being protected, which he explains in detail later in the book. But it was something else long in the future which he said likely never would have happened if he had stayed with his former publisher, and so it turned out to be the decision all for the best, even though it didn't seem like that at the time.
As Rushdie notes, because his former publisher was so small, it is not likely that they could have handled the pressures caused by the fatwa. Even his large, corporate publisher had huge difficulties with it -- having to build extra security measures in to their headquarters and pay a great deal for extra security personnel. Not to mention needing the cover of a large enterprise to be able to handle all the requirements of logistics that came crushing down on the company. He says that if the small publisher had handled The Satanic Verses, it's likely that they would have been overwhelmed by it all, taken huge financial its, and gone out of business.
And if that had happened, he writes, the small publisher, Bloomsbury, "would never have survived to discover an obscure, unpublished children's author called Jo Rowling."
This is an older "Not My Job" segment from 2010 out of the archives of the NPR quiz show, Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! Peter Sagal's guest is Tony Shaloub, from such series as, Monk and Wings, and the movie Big Night. It's a charming conversation, and particularly enjoyable as he discusses his penchant for playing...well, not normal characters and talks about his brother the inventor.
There's sort of a fun postscript to the episode. In the interview, Shaloub talks about his brother who invented a particular product. (I don't want to give it away.) Well...about three weeks ago, I was watching a rerun of Monk (it was the episode where the character has to adopt a lost dog, which plays into the plot, for those of you who watch reruns, as well...) -- and his assistant brings up the product! It's easy to tell since, as you'll hear, the product has a very offbeat name and use.
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, and is a regular columnist for the Huffington Post and the Writers Guild of America. 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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