I was very sorry to read that Carl Reiner passed away last night. And very glad that he lived to the age of 98. And a fairly active 98, as well, with a book published last year and regular tweets on social media.
I won't recap his enire career, since that's much too long and has been well-documented in all the articles about him today. (I was going to post a nice photo of him, but when I came across this above, I didn't see how I could not use it, even if it only hints at him creating The Dick Van Dyke Show and doesn't even touch on his illustrious film career, writing Enter Laughing based on his semi-autobiographical novel and The Comic that reteamed with him Dick Van Dyke, directing Oh, God; The Jerk and All of Me, and acting, in among other things the Ocean's 11 films and starring in The Russians are Coming...The Russians are Coming -- something whose irony from his very public hatred of Trump must have struck him.) But I'm very glad that I had recently finished watching a boxed-DVD set of the best of Sid Caesar, whose series Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour brought Carl Reiner to fame as a performer, as well as a a writer.
I got to see Reiner live on stage from about 25 years ago when the Writers Guild held an event of "Caeser's Writers" -- which remains one of the funniest evenings I've had in the theater. Just a panel discussion, but what a panel. In addition to Carl Reiner, there was Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon Larry Gelbart and lesser-names but equal talents. Not present, but I believe he attended a similar New York event, was Woody Allen. That's quite a staff. And quite an event. While there was a moderator, Reiner's stature -- even among that group -- allowed him to act as a sort of train conductor to coral the other writers, though lion tamer might have been more apt. especially for Mel Brooks with whom Reiner had a long professional association with the "2,000 Year-Old Man" and an even longer friendship.
(That's Reiner's daughter Annie in between him and Brooks. The photo was taken two days ago.)
I was going to say that I didn't have any stories from crossing paths with Carl Reiner ...but then I remembered that I did, although we didn't talk.
In late-2005, during "awards season," I went to a small Academy screening of Hustle & Flow, the film that won a Best Song Oscar for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp."). It was held in a screening room that could seat about 70 people. Only a handful of us were there early, when I noticed by the door that Carl Reiner had showed up to check in. What stood out was that the young guard checking in guests had no idea who Carl Reiner was and had to ask his name and slowly go through the list of names. Through the slow process Reiner was incredibly polite, with no whiff at all of "How dare you!" petulance for not being recognized and having to wait. However, the few of us in the screening room saw all this and burst into laughter. When Reiner finally get OK'd for being on the list and walked in, those few of us gave him our "thumbs up" for getting approved, and he just graciously and sort of sheepishly shrugged. Mainly, I admired that Carl Reiner -- then 84 -- went to Hustle & Flow .
I did get to meet with his son. I only mention that because the two were very close, and I sense that Rob Reiner got his core and compass very strongly from his parents. It was when Reiner and his partner were looking to hire a story editor. I eventually got called in to meet with him, and we spent an hour talking. He came across as extremely personable, a highly-focused and smart, fun guy who was a terrific storyteller. Which, again -- from all I know about them, and to bring the story back full circle -- I have always sensed he got from his mother and father.
(Quickly, to finish the tale, in the end the partners felt their two-man operation was too small -- their Castle Rock company was still a few years away -- and so they didn't hire anybody.)
There's so much video to choose from to show for Carl Reiner, but I don't think you can go with anything first other than him with Mel Brooks as the "2,000 Year-Old Man." So, here they are in 1966 on the Hollywood Palace, hosted by Phil Silvers.
And as a bonus, because this is Carl Reiner, after all, so why limit ourselves to just one video, here he is as the host on the classic parody from Your Show of Shows of the TV program This is Your Life.
Yeah, yeah, okay, I think you all get it at the moment, Trump isn't just digging himself a deep hole, but he's called in a team of bulldozers. And Republicans can try to spin the Russia bounty story all they want, but Trump has lost the news cycle on this. His cult base may still think he got it covered and that it's all just a big hoax, but the bulldozers have dug a moat around them all, it's filled with water, and the rest of the country understands it's a horrible story whether Trump knew or didn't. And the problem for Trump in getting out of it is that it relies on people believing you, and he lost his credibility points long ago.
And that's even before the A.P. came out with a new story that apparently Trump was informed about this Russian bounty a year earlier than the New York Times reported. And to even make that worse -- and yes, it can get worse -- is that the person who has been telling his colleagues that he personally briefed Trump about it was... okay, wait for it...John Bolton.
So, yeah, Trump has lost the news cycle on this story. And it's a big story. Massive, striking at the heart of what most Americans hold dear, protecting the military. So, it's a story that is likely to be one of those that lasts. Moreover, Republicans have long-held a strong advantage in elections with support by the military. Trump's military support in 2016 over Hilary Clinton was 60-34%, But with this Russian bounty story on soldiers and with all the generals who recently spoke out so strongly against Trump, it will be interesting to see if there is any erosion in that long-held GOP military support. And any change doesn't even have to give Biden the majority. Or even shift a lot, for that matter. But with 26 points to play with, there is a lot of wiggle room, and if only five points gets cut from the 2016 margin, that's hugely significant because being as far being in the polls as Trump is right now, he can't afford to lose support from anywhere. But especially from voters he and Republicans count strongly on and never thought they'd have to focus any attention and money on. Especially the possibly of losing as much as a paltry five points . Let alone more than that. Because the U.S. military is a Really Big Special Interest Group.
And you know there will be an investigation in the House. There should be in the Senate, too, though there likely won't be. But it points all Republicans in Congress into a corner -- whether to defend Trump on such an emotional issue bordering on arguably traitorous action or dangerous incompetence for which he's lost the news cycle, or come down on the side of their long-time military support and U.S. defense and be critical.
All in the middle of a pandemic. And 47 million Americans filing for unemployment. And businesses going bankrupt. And the economy in trouble. And social change protest across the country so deep that even the Mississippi state legislature voted almost 3-to-1 change the Confederate symbol in the flag.
And the best Republicans can do is flail. Almost quite literally.
Yesterday, that ace suck-up Matt Gaetz (R-FL) posted the following tweet and photo --
When I initially saw this, my first response was that, okay, I can play that game, too -- "In Matt Gaetz's America, boot-jack stormstroopers rule your town, the government can take your children whenever they want, and minorities no longer have any rights."
Of course, the difference is that I openly admit I'm making exaggerations up. While Matt Gaetz wants you to believe what he's saying is true.
But then I realized that Matt Gaetz doesn't seem to understand the utter, mind-numbing stupidity of his tweet. Doesn't seem to grasp that the photo he attached not only has absolutely nothing to do with Joe Biden, and is literally of TRUMP'S America. In his blind, empty thoughtlessness to play up to Trump, Gaetz overlooked that the people in this photo aren't posing for an election ad, but instead the picture is very real and the people are very real Americans today, in a news photo, holding guns on other Americans right now who are peacefully protesting for social justice for Black Americans.
Gaetz didn't seem to get that this photo is not "all of us." These are Trump supporters. In Trump's America.
And it's not a good look. Especially during a pandemic. When you're being painted as a traitor in a news cycle you lost. And are losing by 8-14 points.
But this is the best that Trump and his acolytes (with an emphasis on the "light") have to play with.
And that's why when it's not just about Trump but all the elected Republicans who enable him, have blood on their hands and are complicit, they have nowhere to hide. And an empty hand of cards to play with. And we can see their cards.
Yes, they'll try dirty tricks and voter suppression. But even that can be seen by everyone.
And if Democrats are understandably wary because of what's at stake...imagine how terrifying it must be for Republicans.
Randy Rainbow has a new song parody out -- and it's wonderful. Really terrific and clever lyrics, and a great production, including a touch of animation and even a first-time musical "break." (I don't want to be more specific so as to not give it away.)
Normally, I would be loathe to post this video, since it's pretty violently brutal -- but as far as I can tell from watching it and from all that I've read about it, including the police write-up (from which this video comes), nobody was hurt -- remarkable as that may seem. Especially with the lesser-known addendum.
It took place four weeks ago, on June 1, in Riverside, California, which is about an hour east of Los Angeles. There were social protests going on there, and in middle of them a car drove up, stopped and the driver got out to throw a firecracker.
From the video released by the police, here's what happened next. If you've seen it, stick around anyway for some additional comment which I haven't seen.
As I said, I wouldn't have posted this if I was aware that anyone had gotten hurt. And I don't believe that's the case. But this falls under the heading of "Getting Your Comeuppance."
This video has gotten a little bit of attention, and where that's occurred, it usually notes that the driver was able to run off without getting hurt. And also the person in the passenger seat was able to get out of of the car before the big kaboom.
Fine. But what I haven't seen mentioned -- and I only noticed by playing the video over several times and pausing it is...there is someone is the passenger-side back seat who didn't get out!! And is in the car when the firecracker explosion goes off. I am absolutely certain of this. (You can check it out yourself.) And that never gets mentioned, as far as I have seen. Fortunately for the person, what I suspect happened that keeps them safe is that the firecracker is thrown into the front seat, and since the passenger is in the back, the seats protect the person from getting hurt by any flying debris and flames.
By the way, as you can see in the heading on the video -- with police badge logos embedded -- there was an arrest made of the driver last Tuesday, June 23rd. Here's the official police posting with the video.
Riverside Police Department
No Wheel of Trump today. No throwing darts at a spinning target to find out what topic pops up to address. It will come as no shock to find out that one item wins the day -- the New York Times article about Trump learning back in March that Russia paid mercenaries to kill American soldiers...and he not only did nothing, but continued to embrace Vladimir Putin, invited him to the U.S. and has pushed to have him re-invited as a member of a newly constituted G8.
There are two possibilities -- the story is true or it isn't.
I don't know for a sworn-fact if it's true. I do know that newspapers make mistakes. But then, so too do political administrations. I also know that when newspapers make mistakes, they generally acknowledge them. And political administrations rarely do. I know as well that if a newspaper makes too many mistakes it will lose subscribers and risk going out of business. Administrations are guaranteed four years in office. Finally, I know that over the past 100 years or so, the New York Times has an admirable record for accuracy, even if it not perfect. And in three years the Trump administration has lost all credibility with over 18,000 documented lies, incompetently overseen a pandemic from which so far 128,437 Americans have die, mishandled national protests for social change, and been impeached.
So, while not knowing for a fact what the truth is, credibility falls on the side of the New York Times.
Having said that, there is still an additional question -- once intelligence services determined that Russia had paid mercenaries to kill American soldiers (something Russia has a record of in conflicts with other countries, which lends further credibility to that part of the story), it remains to knowing if Trump was told or if he was kept in the dark.
Either explanation is disastrously terrible for Trump.
I've read many analyses that explain why it's possible intelligence services didn't tell Trump. I won't delve into any of the explanations individually, except for one -- that the intelligence service wasn't certain enough of the story in March or even the three months since to pass it along. And while that's possible, as are all the reasons, it's important to note that in just the three days since the New York Times story was reported, other intelligence has been uncovered to confirm it. So, putting all the explanations aside why Trump might conceivably not have known, all that's necessary here is to assume that, for whatever reason, the intelligence services chose not to tell the commander in chief that Russia had paid mercenaries to kill American soldiers, and 20 of them died.
Accepting the possibility that this is true, and it's certainly possible, it shows an administration totally out of control for one of its most important tasks, to protect its citizenry. It shows a president kept of of the loop from receiving information of the most critical nature of our top adversary. Kept out because of his incompetence and incompetence of those he's hired to handle such protection, or kept out because intelligence services don't trust him -- for good, proven reason. Though he should still be kept informed. Either way, however, this is horrifically bad.
It's also not likely. Because if it was the case, that this information was kept from Trump, his reaction would be -- or in any sentient human, should be -- an explosion against Russia and also against his intelligence services. Instead, the Trump response has been that he didn't know. And then went to play golf.
[UPDATE: Based on two new stories on Monday, it's even less likely that the information was kept from Trump. The first from David Ignatius of the Washington Post says his sources tell him that Pentagon officials were "pounding on the door" to get Trump to act. And the other, from Radio Free Europe (a sister-network to the Voice of America) says that days after the Russian bounty was learned of in late March, there was an unprecedented flurry of five phone calls between Trump and Putin over three weeks, all but one of which the White House hid from public records.'
Which brings us to the denials that he knew.
Again, none of the denials are with an outrage of fury that he wasn't informed and didn't know. Just -- well, gee, no, he wasn't briefed on that. Move on, folks. And the denials also don't include an insistence that the charge against Russia isn't true. At best, the White House has referred to them as "alleged" charges, not "false charges." And the denials center totally around the word "briefed." No, Trump was not briefed on this.
I'd love for the press secretary Kayleigh McEnany to be asked to define her use of the word "briefed." Because it's a very flexible term. It could mean a sit-down meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Director of National Intelligence and head of the CIA and FBI director. It could mean Trump being given the President's Daily Briefing document along with, given the serious nature of the information, a sit-down summary from the officer delivering the PDB and his superior. It could mean Trump actually reading the PDB (something we know he rarely does unless it's just charts and cartoons), rather than just being told. It could mean any number of things according to the White House Definition of the Day - and as long as that one thing didn't happen, then no, Trump was not officially "briefed." So, what would be better to know is a different, very simple question -- was Trump ever informed in any way about the intelligence report on Russia?
And even if the press secretary's answer is "No" - and I think most rational people are pretty certain that the answer is most-likely "Yes" -- the administration's credibility is so non-existent with his 18,000+ documented lies that it's reasonable to assume that Trump and those around him would lie. Because when you're a pathological liar, it's what you do, like breathing. But even if the press secretary's answer is "No," it begs the obvious and important question -- why then has Trump not been outraged by now learning he was not told about something so heinous and instead simply went to play golf??????!!!!!!!!
I would suggest that Trump saying nothing and then going to play golf are evidence that he wasn't shocked and outraged by the story and by not having been informed because he was informed and knew all about it.
But even bending over backwards and stretching all humane credibility and assuming that he wasn't informed, to not publicly respond with fury at both Russia and his intelligence advisors shows -- under the very best possible conditions -- a gross negligence and incompetence.
But that's moot because of course he knew. And did nothing to respond. But invited Putin to visit the United States and pushed to have Russia back into the G8.
Every once in a while, something gets invented on the Internet and takes on a life of its own. In this case, it's whoever came up with the idea of transposing the letters "AS" for a "45," Trump's presidential number, and brought for "TRE45ON."
And through this all, the Republican Party members in the Senate and House have been...silent. Almost near totally. And more than ever, when I've been writing holds true loudly and even more extensively --
This isn't about Trump, we know who he is. This is about the elected members of the Republican Party -- most especially the hardliners, the military hawks, the warmongers, those crying that any cut to the defense budget is un-American -- who enable him, are silent, have blood on their hands and are complicit.
On this week’s Al Franken podcast, he covers a topic that has been high on the list of the public’s concern after the coronavirus, though the two are strongly related – how will the pandemic affect the election. And in that regard, the guest is election lawyer Marc Elias. As Franken writes, “Democrats want every eligible American to vote. Republicans don’t. Nationally-renowned election lawyer Marc Elias discusses the battles ahead from now until November.”
On this week’s Stay at Home edition of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!, the guest contestant for the 'Not My Job' segment is rock-climbing champion Ashima Shiraishi who’s accomplished her records before the age of 20. From her amusing, matter-of-fact interview with host Peter Sagal, it sounds like – despite being one of the top climbers in the world -- she still lives at home with her parents, where she climbs around on cabinets to get dishes and other household needs.
From the archives. For the Piano Puzzler today, the contestant is Eric Ebbenga. It took a short while to pull out the hidden song, but I think it should eventually become quite clear to most people. And I felt it likely that I had the composer style, as well. But it was between two composers, and I guessed wrong. Listening to Bruce Adolphe play the piece again, I can see where I guessed wrong. You may have better luck.
Readers of these pages know my great affection of the Ravinia Music Festival, which is the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and also has pop, jazz, and theater programs and more. The park is in Highland Park, Illinois, just across the border from Glencoe, and was a long walk from where I grew up in Glencoe. I went to numerous programs as a kid and later worked for the festival for two seasons.
Ravinia has a huge 3,000-seat open pavilion, but also a massive lawn where people picnic and listen to the concert under the stars. Tonight, they are having a "Virtual Lawn Party" fundraiser. It's hosted by Kristen Chenoweth, and has a mix of classical, pop and jazz performers, featuring Ramsey Lewis, Michelle DeYoung, Patricia Raquette, Marquis Hill and Kevin Cole.
It begins at 8 PM Chicago time. (6 PM in Los Angeles, 9 PM in the East) with a pre-show 15 minutes before.
You can see the "program book" for the show with the selections to be performed here.
And the Virtual Lawn Party will stream here. Or if it works correctly, embedded below --
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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