It's been too long since I've posted a song by Sara Niemietz. So, it's time to rectify that. In the past, I've posted some wonderful -- and occasionally off-beat -- covers by her of classic songs. I thought instead today it would be nice to have one of her originals.
This is from her new album, Travel Light, a song called "Monroe." I mentioned it here in my review of her concert several months back, but realized I hadn't posted it. And now I have. It's a charmer.
Tuesday was one of those days. I don't have it in me to choose which One Thing Only to write about, so instead I bring back the Morning News Round-Up and offer just some random comments about stories that broke only yesterday, as well as thoughts that other news items provoked.
So, Jared Kushner had his top secret security clearance lowered today, which means he's been operating at a level beyond what is safe. Or to put it in terms that Trumpets would understand -- for the past year, Trump "put us all at risk." A major story related to this broke late Tuesday about how at least four foreign countries (that we know of) specifically singled out Kushner to exploit him. But to make matters worse, there is no word from the White House that Kushner's responsibilities will change, and that he will continue to oversee the Middle East, China, Mexico, and Canada, as well as be in charge of digital communications. It's profoundly difficult to imagine how someone can be in charge of any of these area, let alone all of them without having full access to top secret intelligence. Not to mention without having any experience. But apparently not only did Trump "put us all at risk with Kushner, but he continues to. Oh, and another thing it's profoundly difficult to imagine -- that Robert Mueller hasn't been deeply investigating Kushner for, among many other things, his unreported contacts with foreign leaders while discussing his business interests, which are in serious trouble.
Only one year into his administration, with investigations piling up around him, Trump announced his "re-election campaign," which seems mostly a way to raise money and to seem unconcerned that the ground is collapsing underneath him. And in making the announcement, Trump hired Brad Parscale, the digital media director of his 2016 campaign, to run his re-election campaign. This may mean little to most people, but it's worth noting a few things. First, "digital media" is one of the areas under investigation by the Special Counsel for its seeming ties with Russia. And also, just six months ago Pascale signed a $10 million deal with CloudCommerce -- which is a shady penny stock company that has not turned a profit in 20 years yet has spent over $20 million of investor money and had a top executive caught in an FBI bribery sting, later convicted of a felony, but still advising the company. Oh, and yes, Trump only knows the Best People...
The Special Counsel's office has proposed dropping 17 charges against Rick Gates following his guilty pleas last week. While that might sound nice of them as part of the plea deal, it should terrify the administration since it suggests the investigation has gotten significant evidence in exchange for Gates' plea. Prosecutors don't just randomly reduce charges so much unless they get something highly-valuable in return.
Because there were SO many other huge stories yesterday, it knocked THIS *huge* story off the main news -- but in the coldest time of the year, mid-winter in February, temperatures soared above freezing at the North Pole. How adorable it is that Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord -- the only nation in the world who is not a member. The Only Nation in the World. And let's repeat something else, but it bears repeating. And shouting. The North Pole is Above Freezing in February!!!
At her press conference yesterday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed Trump's several tweets trying to pawn off blame of the Russian attacks on President Obama. That's like blaming FDR for World War II because he didn't stop Germany before it launched its attacks. What it also does is ignore that Trump isn't acting to stop Russia which is STILL attacking.
Related to this, now that Trump has acknowledged, however lamely, that Russia did attack the U.S., what should not be forgotten is Trump's earlier statement that Putin had told him that Russia didn't do this, and Trump said he believed him. I hope a reporter questions the press secretary about this discrepancy and dangerously-poor judgement.
Last week, Tucker Carlson did a major "expose" on "Fox News" about how supposedly CNN had scripted the words of Colton Haab, one of the survivors of the Parkland high school massacre shooting. It turns out, not a shock to most rational people, that the story was untrue and that Haab's father admitted to re-writing an email. But almost more than that, what a dismally-weak, indeed smarmy "correction" by Tucker Carlson when he said on his show yesterday, “For the sake of honesty and full disclosure to which we are committed, we have to tell you there is no evidence as of right now that CNN tried to give Colton Haab a scripted question, and we wanted you to know that.” Excuse me, but..."Right now"?? No, there is NO EVIDENCE, period. Carlson got the story totally wrong. And further, he offered no apology. As co-proprietor with Nell Minow of the Apology Institute of America, I will add that this gets an F. It really can't even be called an apology, because it not only doesn't apologize but Carlson doesn't even suggest he was wrong. Just that he reported something that turned out different. So far.
And all that was only yesterday. Just yesterday. And I'm sure I'm still leaving out a lot. We're at the point when we'll start longing for the Good Old Days of last week.
This is an endearing performance from Linda Ronstadt with The Muppets of the song, "When I Grow Too Old To Dream." In fact, I found a quote from her where she says about this that it's “The very best I ever sang this song” I guess The Muppets just bring out the best in folks...
For the past 10 years on Bill Gates' blog, "Gates Notes," he and his wife Melinda post their annual letter about their huge foundation. This year, for the tenth anniversary they did something different, and it's very interested. The each separately answered the "10 Toughest Questions We Get."
And the questions are good, and blunt. I don't think they're as "tough" (as in difficult to answer) as they are blunt, but they certainly aren't softball.
Here are the questions:
• Why don’t you give more to the United States?
• What do you have to show for the billions you’ve spent on U.S. education?
• Why don’t you give money to fight climate change?
• Are you imposing your values on other cultures?
• Does saving kids’ lives lead to overpopulation?
• How are President Trump’s policies affecting your work?
• Why do you work with corporations?
• Is it fair that you have so much influence?
• What happens when the two of you disagree?
• Why are you really giving away your money–what’s in it for you?
You can read their individual responses here.
To draw attention to this, the couple appeared on Good Morning America. And then answered questions, as host Robin Roberts took questions from the studio audience.
We watched the Olympics all day for two weeks, so you could have a life...
Okay, the Games are over. There's now this empty void, but that's okay, I'll get past it, I always do. It just takes a little time.
Anyway, all that's left to comment on are the Closing Ceremonies, so I'll dive in.
I thought the Closing Ceremonies were wildly uninteresting. While I like the use of computer graphics, and have actually argued for them for years at such outdoor TV spectaculars, like Super Bowl halftime shows, they should be to augment the show, not be the show. If they're the focus of the pageant, then it’s like we’re just watching a cartoon. And to me, that's what so much of the presentation was. It certainly was impressive technology, and pretty. But I found it empty, and told me little about the culture.
What most surprised me, though, was how thin the Chinese presentation was for the 2022 games in Beijing. That's because it was produced by the same brilliant film director, Zhang Yimou (whose work includes The House of Flying Daggers and Hero), who did the otherworldly stunning -- if a little creepy -- Opening Ceremonies for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. Last night's not only also relied on computer graphics, but also came across like they forgot that had to do this and threw it together last month.
Also, as I noted beforehand, my concerns came to be, and Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir were, unfortunately, a waste. I’m sure many people, if not most thought they were “fun,” because of their rapport with one another, but they added nothing to what was going on. They knew little about most of the athletes, who they were, what they did during the Olympics and why that may have been meaningful, and the thing about the Closing Ceremonies is that identifying them as they march in is half the fun of the Parade of Athletes. Putting into perspective why they're so happy. Terry Gannon did the best he could, but he’s been focused with figure skating for the Games and didn’t know most people, and could only add a limited amount. That’s where someone like a Bob Costas shined. At one point, Gannon asked about whether the Closing Ceremonies was where the athletes really had a chance to finally deal with one another, and Lipinski burst out an enthusiastic, "Yes!" and explained that that was why it was so special. Happily, it was left to Weir to note quietly that they tended to mingle in the Olympic Village during the Games. I love the Closing Ceremonies for what they are, but at their best they can be so rich and vibrant, and be the proper culmination of the two weeks of sport spectacle that went on before. These just pretty much...were.
And one huge, personal complaint that I'm sure most people couldn't have cared less about – NBC didn’t have the "Scroll of Entire NBC Production Crew" that I always find touching, 10 minutes of names going by to honor those who pulled this remarkable technical achievement off. I was told by my pal Clare Duffy Swift -- whose senior producer credit I always love spotting -- that she was told someone thought that they did run the credit, but at a "weird time." That may be, though especially given how much I watched the broadcasts and didn’t see them, it’s hard to miss a 10-minute crawl… But even if I did miss them at some weird time, “weird times” doesn’t count. Having the credits come at the very end, as they show the montage of highlights is always a highly dramatic and lovely way to honor everyone.
But the Olympic flame is now out. It was mostly quite wonderful. And now life goes on. Until two years from now in Tokyo. Kon'nichiwa.
I'm incredibly impressed with Trump when he said today about the Stoneman Douglas High School AR-15 massacre, “I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon.” What impresses me is that he'd be able to run with his bone spurs. For all the people chiding him, they're overlooking how much that would hurt, and so how really hard that would be.
And yes, I know that people are posting the video of Trump scurrying away from a bald eagle that snaps at him in his office, but that's unfair because it's very different from a semi-automatic weapon. For one thing, a bald eagle can fly. And for another, it's the symbol of our country, so Trump backing away was probably a sign of respect.
And keep in mind, it's not unreasonable in the slightest to think that Trump would run into the high school without a gun in the face of semi-automatic fire. That's because if he did, he'd be surrounded by half a dozen members of the Secret Service protecting him, with trained snipers shooting at the attacker.
Mind you, I do think that people are missing the bigger issue though when Trump said he'd have run into Stoneman Douglas High School without even a gun against a semi-automatic AR-15. Because the real question, and the only one with substantive meaning, is if he could single-handedly take down a plane full of armed terrorists like Harrison Ford did when president in Air Force One? Because that's really tough.
In the end, though, for all the ridicule, I do believe that Trump believes he actually would have run in to the high school AR-15 massacre without a weapon. Because that shows how nuts he is and that a con man is most successful when he convinces himself to believe his lies.
I got into a bit of a kerfuffle yesterday on social media, offering some critical words about long-time senator Dianne Feinstein who, to the surprise of some (myself included) didn't get a primary endorsement from California Democrats over the weekend at their state convention. But though I was surprised by the action -- or lack thereof -- I understood it. However, most people who don't live in California likely don't have as detailed a view of her over the decades and can't quite understand why not all Democrats are fully-enamored with her.
To be clear, there are many things about Dianne Feinstein that I like and even admire. And the problem isn't that she is a bit right of center on too many issues. It's that she's a bit right of center on too many issues in a state that is one of the most Blue and most liberal in the country. As a result, her representation doesn't often match the liberal constituency that has elected her.
There were some people responding who said that Sen. Feinstein being re-elected so many times speaks to how much voters look for a leader and that her leadership was therefore appreciated. But life is rarely that simple, especially with someone who is so controversial that her own party didn't endorse her. There are many reasons she's been reelected. Some are indeed due to her often providing good representation. But some are due to Democrats not challenging strong, well-funded incumbents in primaries (especially incumbent senators for which a challenge requires a great deal of money), and then rarely having worthy Republicans opponents to run against in the state.
In fact, the whole issue of Republican opponents may even have come into play as a consideration this year. After all, the lack of endorsement was only for the primary, for which the convention chose to be open-minded, not the general election. That's another matter entirely, most-especially given California's odd election law which most people outside the state are unaware. This is whereby the top two vote-getters in the open primary become the candidates on the ballot for the general election. By not endorsing Sen. Feinstein in the primary, which she's almost certain to win, and win by a lot, it leaves the door open for one of her better-funded challengers to get enough votes to be the other candidate on the ballot, rather than a Republican. And that not only obviously guarantees a Democratic victory in the race, but also accomplishes something else very important -- it helps depress the Republican vote in a low turn-out midterm election by not even having a GOP candidate to vote for in the U.S. Senate race.
But I think there's another reason that this year in particular there were many Democrats at the state convention upset with Feinstein, perhaps more than usual. At the age of 84, it was thought she'd retire. After all, another term would keep her in the U.S. Senate until she's 90. And while there's something noble about that if one can continue to serve well, there's also the reality of politics which comes into play. And waiting to run this year if she didn't were two extremely strong candidates: Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both on the House Intelligence Committee, either of whom would give California vibrant representation for decades. And would be shoe-ins in this possible Blue Wave mid-term election, most-especially in California. However, when Dianne Feinstein announced her candidacy, neither congressman wanted a primary fight with a sitting senator of their own party, so they pulled out. Not only does that mean six years are now lost to the upper house for these two strong politicians, but -- although it's likely California will remain Blue and liberal in 2024 -- six years ahead is an uncertainty in politics, compared to a far-more near-100% sure present.
Again, there is much that Dianne Feinstein has done that I've liked over the years. And even admired. What she did releasing the Fusion GPS transcript over Chuck Grassley blocking it was wonderful. But in a very liberal state like California, she is too often on the conservative side of centrist to represent the state as well as it deserves. And as much as she has every right to run for re-election, if she cared more for the long-term good of the party, she would have stepped aside.
We watch the Olympics all day, so you don't have to.
As the Games near an end, there isn't a great deal to comment on about the events. The Olympic Athletes of Russia were playing Germany for the Men's Hockey Final, and I was sort of hoping both teams lost, but no go. Still, I did check out some of the end, which was very exciting. Four goals in perhaps the last five minutes to end regulation in a tie -- when OAR scored with 45 second left when short-handed during a penalty until they pulled their goalie. And then OAR won in overtime.
And, yes, I stayed up until 1:15 in the morning to watch the Women's 30K Cross Country (about 20 miles). But then, how could I not? Jessie Diggins, maybe my fave athlete at these Games, was racing. She did well, but finished seventh. However, she's been voted to carry the American flag during the Closing Ceremonies. Good choice!
They held the Figure Skating Gala, and I thought the performers they showed were all remarkably talented and artistic, but -- man, that was one of the darkest, most somber "galas" I've seen. While I think it's nice when the skaters have a chance to show their artistic side at this event, they're sort of doing that during the competitions. In the past, when they've held the gala, the skaters seemed to be more likely to show other sides of themselves and have a bit more fun. I don't mean "funny" (though some were), but high-spirited. With last night, I felt like I'd been dumped back in the 1950s Beat Generation and was in a coffehouse with everyone dressed in black, with mood lighting, a single spotlight and a performer onstage raging against the world. But they were talented. Just morose. In fairness, I think the event went on much longer (since there were about 40 skaters in the finale), and these few were the ones NBC chose to broadcast.
In the morning on NBCsports, they ran two, hour-long, wonderfully-done documentaries about past Olympics -- though one of them, while absolutely terrific, I felt was oddly misguided. It looked at the hot politics of the 1968 Games in Mexico City, noteworthy for a great many reasons, but particularly the "Black Fist" protests by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and focuses on the conditions that lead up to it. To be clear, it covers all the various issues -- notably East-West tensions heightened by Russia's invasion of Czechoslovakia) -- and was seriously impressive, but I thought out of place in the wind-up of the Winter Olympics, rather than something to most-impactfully run during the coming Summer Games. I suspect it's because it's the 50th anniversary, so fair enough for that, but it just seemed very out of place. (On a personal note, one thing I did love was a short detour where they discussed and gave full credit -- long overlooked -- to Dick Fosbury for invented the revolutionary Fosbury Flop which all high jumpers now use, and even had footage of Fosbury today talking about it. Equally wonderful, I've been looking for years of footage of Fosbury competing at those Games with sound -- because one of my indelible Olympics memories is the reaction of the stadium seeing this odd style for the first time ever -- and they have some brief footage of that and comment on it.)
More fitting was the following-documentary about the figure skating competition at the 1988 Winter Olympics on their 30th anniversary. Though certainly without the impact of the 1968, it was very enjoyable, looking at the women's competition between defending Olympian Gold Medalist Katharina Witt of Germany and Debbie Thomas of the U.S , and for the men the "Battle of the Brians" -- Canada's Orser (who coached by the men's Gold and Silver winners this year) and from the United States, Boitano. One tiny, fun tidbit is Thomas's insistence -- and surprisingly, not totally without reason -- that Nike got its slogan, "Just Do It," from her, since the documentary shows her mouthing that phrase on camera right before beginning her skate...and six months later, Nike released their ad campaign.
If you missed them and are interested, both documentaries should be streaming now here on nbcolympics.com.
NBCsports also had an excellent and extensive compilation of highlights of the Games. Hopefully they'll re-air it later on NBC or on their nbcolympics.com website, as well.
Speaking of NBC, I've been noting along the way things that I think they've done wonderfully and what they've flubbed on. But one thing I haven't mentioned is how in awe I am that they pulled this off yet again. It looks so effortless, cutting back-and-forth, and crisply showing all these events. But the organization and manpower it requires is breathtaking -- and to time things back to the United States and balance productions across three networks is...and do so without many hiccups is seriously remarkable. So, yes, while I do think they handled some things very poorly, we're dealing on a profoundly high level here.
And...and...and I turned on NBC early today, putting on a show they had called Olympic Gold -- and it was a very long report by -- Mary Carrillo!! And it was, not shockingly great. Alas, it was about the history of snowboarding, and it wasn't during the main Olympics broadcast, but we'll take what we can get and be thrilled that she wasn't at least ignored. I don't know how long her report was since I tuned in late, during the story which had already started. But what I saw was 15 minutes. Joy!
NBCsports aired two terrific documentaries this morning, both of which will stream here on nbcolympics.com. But the first, an absolute gem about the 1968 Summer Olympics and politics, will air on NBC today (Sunday) at 4:30 PM. (The other is fun, but not as substantive, about figure skating at the 1988 Winter Games.)
I'll write more about them later today on Bob Sledding
The contestant for this week's Piano Puzzler is Genevieve Wild from Quakertown, Pennsylvania. I could hear the tune, and almost clearly, but just couldn't get it. It's definitely known, and I got it later when pianist Bruce Adolphe brought the music out more, but it was tough, even though known and clear. The composer style seemed to be from an era that I overlap with a lot of composers, so I took a guess. I was surprised that I was somewhat close, but didn't get that either.
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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