This didn't get much attention and largely slipped through the cracks, but I found it notable.
Last week, Jessikka Aro, a Finnish investigative journalist, was told by the U.S. State Department that she would be receiving the highly-regarded International Women of Courage Award, which would be presented to her by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Ms. Aro's credentials are significant, among other things facing death threats over exposing Russia's propaganda efforts well-before it came to light with the 2016 presidential elections.
Then there was a slight hiccup. The department read Jessikka Aro's social media posts and -- in addition to taking on the Russian government in her professional work-- it turns out that personally she often said things critical of Trump.
Not long after, and I'm sure this is just pure coincidence, the State Department took back the award. Their explanation is that the original announcement was just a "regrettable error."
A U.S. diplomatic source who was aware of the department discussions said, “It created a shitstorm of getting her unceremoniously kicked off the list. I think it was absolutely the wrong decision on so many levels,” adding that decision “had nothing to do with her work.”
According to ForeignPolicy.com, "The State Department spokesperson said in an email that Aro was 'incorrectly notified' that she had been chosen for the award and that it was a mistake that resulted from 'a lack of coordination in communications with candidates and our embassies.'”
The spokesperson added, “We regret this error. We admire Ms. Aro’s achievements as a journalist, which were the basis of U.S. Embassy Helsinki’s nomination."
So, let's get this straight -- the U.S. State Department admires Jessikka Aro's achievements as a journalist," informed her that she was going to be given an award for her courage, then read her social media posts critical of Trump, and somehow made a "regrettable error" and "incorrectly notified" her about it.
I'm still trying to figure out how one incorrectly notifies someone so accomplished and courageous about an award under any condition. But especially when the department says they actually admire her achievements. With no explanation of what this lack of communication was, that made the error so regrettable.
Hey, maybe it actually was just a regrettable error of an incorrect notification where an admired and courageous journalist wasn't supposed to get an award for courage in admirable journalism..
The Trump administration is just so reprehensibly thin-skinned because of the pathological ego at the top that the concept of "courage" is anathema to them all and the Second Amendment is the only one they care about, but most-especially not the first about a free press without government interference, and after reading critical comments by the otherwise-admired journalist they were terrified, or just offended at being criticized by a courageous reporter, and backed out.
To be clear, as shameful, pathetic and problematic as it is -- as government precedent and just on general principle -- this is not a First Amendment issue. But you can see it from here...
The entire ForeignPolicy.com article by Reid Standish and Robbie Gramer can be found here.
Earlier in the week, I embedded the wonderful and long main story from last Sunday's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Before we get to next week's new show, I thought I'd update it all with the equally wonderful, though much shorter opening sequence from last week's show, a very funny and deservedly-scathing look at Trump.
So, Trump finally responded about the terrorist attack in New Zealand that killed 49. And Trump said white supremacy is just a very small number of people around the world who have problems, adding that we don't know enough yet about the New Zealand killer and are gathering information, over half a day later . It is now up to Republican members of Congress to disavow Trump's benign dismissal of terrorist attacks by white supremacists - or such tragedies are on them.
Let's be very clear because this is extremely easy: the New Zealand terrorist killed 49 human beings, and he left a 70-page manifesto, one in which he specifically said that he saw Trump a symbol of white identity -- and Trump says "We don't know enough about him yet." Yet (forgetting the direct connection to him, which is a massive amount to forget...) in other attacks not by committed by a white person he's been instantaneous in condemning them as heinous terrorist attacks we must protect ourselves from.
This is not about Trump, we know who he is. This is about the elected members of the Republican Party.
One of the latest efforts by the Republican Party is to try and blame the college bribery scandal on entitled, liberal Hollywood elites. Meghan McCain did as much on her The View rant the other day when she attempted to paint herself as the victim (yet again) somehow. (I can't quite figure it out, but it involved Hollywood Liberal Elites not considering Arizona State University an Elite College like Yale and Harvard. And no, I'm not kidding.) And all of this effort -- as far as I can tell -- is because two actresses were on the list. So, apparently, in Far Right Conspiracy Theory World that means everyone was a Liberal Hollywood Elite.
What I find remarkable (although not surprising, given the empty state of today's Republican Party, throwing away the concept of morals to support Trump, accused pedophiles, wife beaters, pathological lying, neo-Nazis and more) is how Ms. McCain or most anyone on the far right actually know the political affiliation of all the donors. For all I know, they indeed all are liberals. Everyone of them. It's absolutely possible. Though what is even more possible -- in fact, probable -- is that they aren't. For all I know, 70% are conservative Republicans. (For those keeping score, note that I'm being fair enough to not say that they could all be Republican.)
I don't have a clue who they all are. And most anyone being fair would say the same.
What I can say, and do have a clue of is that --
Among money that can be directly accounted for, at least $220,000 went to Republican entities. Much of that to Mitt Romney, and a lot to the Republican National Committee, the Republican Senatorial Committee, and the Republican Campaign Committee. So, there you have it, and...Oh, okay, wait a moment. Not only that but also Lori Loughlin and her husband donated to Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mitt Romney (R-UT).
Well, gee, so much for that "Hollywood Liberal Elite Theory." It was really cool while it lasted... (Okay, with today's GOP, I have no doubt that this crackpot, disproven theory will nonetheless continue along with Pizzagate and HillaryIsTheRealOneWhoColludedWithRussia.
To be clear, there were donations to Democratic politicians and Democratic organizations. But then, I'm not someone blaming this all on reactionary Republican wingnuts -- or whatever the opposite is of Liberal Hollywood Elites. (Given that "Liberal Hollywood Elites" is often wink-wink code for "Jews," perhaps the opposite may be simply "Christians." Though again, I'm not blaming the scandal on them. As a fun sidenote, though, I did find a lovely interview with Lori Loughlin on the Christian Broadcast Network website where she talks about balancing her family, work and faith. It's very sweet.) Scrolling through the list, a quick glance appears reasonably split somewhat evenly between political parties.
(Disclaimer: Years ago, I very briefly had an agent who was just starting out. The agent's assistant was Lori Loughlin's sister. We had lunch once, though as personable as she was that was largely the limit of our interaction since she rarely responded to my emails which ultimately was one of the main reasons I left the start-up agency after only about six months, because I thought an assistant returning a client's emails was not an unreasonable expectation, at least as a starting point . I do not blame this on Lori Loughlin. She was busy balancing her family, work and faith.)
In the end, though, I think the only common denominator that we can fairly make about the people who paid bribes to get their children into colleges is that everyone of them were all financially well off. This is the polite term for "rich." So, if Republicans and Meghan McCain truly, honestly want to put the blame on anyone, that might be at least a good place to start.
Not that they will. Because it would give their brand a bad name.
Okay, worse name.
Several friends were disappointed (again) that Paul Manafort didn't get the maximum sentence yesterday aasked me my thoughts. They're similar to what I wrote after the first sentence though with a lot more information now to add to it.
I absolutely am utterly understanding of all the people who wanted Paul Manafort to get the longest sentence that was possible and being disappointed (and a little surprised) it wasn't more. But as I said the other day, I think that's mainly an "I want revenge" attitude, not one related to the law and how it impacts sentences for other people upcoming. In the end, although disappointing that it wasn't more, this is all fine. Not only is 7-1/2 years in federal prison really pretty awful, most especially when you're starting it when 70 years old and used to a grand lifestyle of high-living…but the New York City indictments from the D.A. could bring him up to 16 more years -- and keep in mind that he's already plead guilty to all the facts he was indicted for, which is a pretty high hurdle to overcome. AND there are still likely to be further charges by the New York State Attorney General. AND FURTHER, it's not even certain that Robert Mueller is done with him, and could bring additional federal indictments, this on Russian conspiracy felonies (boy, would Manafort's lawyer be red-faced about that), not just financial crimes. On top of which (yes, there's more!) the U.S. Justice Department petitioned the court for him to pay $25 million in restitution. So, while being bothered that he doesn't already have 30 years in prison and accept that the concept of "May he rot in hell" is very understandable, I can't lose much sleep over his sentence yesterday not being the maximum. Paul Manafort was not celebrating his good luck last night. Yes, I wish Manafort got more. A lot more. More than was even allowed. But his future nonetheless is really very dismal.
But my biggest reaction to yesterday's sentence is focused more on the many other Really Big Names yet to be indicted who are far more complicit in even bigger national crimes than Manafort. And that because (to me) I think the New York City District Attorney may have been even the biggest news. It not only give Manafort potentially more time in prison (up to 16 additional years), but more importantly it had to have given a horrifically bad night to Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka and Jared. And Trump. It not only shows how even New York City -- not just the state -- is going after them, but that the D.A.'s office has already been investigating it and were so prepared that they were ready to go the INSTANT the federal sentencing came down. More than anything, perhaps, it's that blatant preparation that should stoke the most terror in their bodies.
It may even be the most important news here. It shows how prepared they were – it not only shows how prepared they are, but that they are well-passed “fishing expositions” or trying to figure out if there are any crimes hidden. It shows they they know precisely what they’re looking for, and they found it. Further, and on its own pinnacle, none of these indictments, if proven guilty, can be pardoned. And the fact that the D.A. went after mortgage fraud - which, as I said, could get up to 16 years in prison - and these potential defendants are all realtors involved with mortgages, they all have to have been in hell last night. (If they're smart, which admittedly may not be the case…) And this is just New York City, not even New York state. Or the feds.
So, to me, as much as most of the attention was on Judge Jackson's sentence, those New York City indictments to me wee the biggest part about the day's sentencing news, even though it wasn't directly related to sentencing.
"I've never seen hatred like this, and to me they're not even people. It's so, so sad, I mean morality is just gone, morals have flown out the window we deserve so much better than this as a country. You know it's so sad. You see the Democratic Party -- they're imploding. They're imploding. They have no message. You see the head of the DNC who is a total whack job. There's no leadership there. And so what do they do? They become obstructionists because they have no message of their own. They have no solid candidates of their own. They lost the election that they should have won because they spent 7 times the amount of money that my father spent. They have no message so what do they try and do? They try and obstruct a great man, they try and obstruct his family, they come after us viciously, and its truly, truly horrible."
-- Eric Trump (Third Favorite Son-NY) on Sean Hannity's show, "Fox News"
I was very tempted not to write anything and just let the fellow's word stand alone. I mean, there's no reason to really try to "refute" them anymore than if you'd try to explain to a raving lunatic baying at the moon that it's not actually made of pockmarked potatoes, and yes, men really truly did walk on it. But in the end, what he said is so funny, how can one not take easy pot shots?!! God created ridicule for a reason. It's almost like Eric intentionally chose to put a "Kick Me" sign on his rear end. So, I consider this God's work.
For starters therefore,, it is an absolute certainty that Eric Trump has seen hatred like this. If not, he has been living in a fantasy bubble his whole life and not been looking very hard. The only other explanation is that maybe people just hide it well when talking to him. Though I'd think the smirks and rolling eyes would be a dead giveaway. Even to someone as seemingly clueless as he appears to be.
Not seen hatred like this? At the very least, he had to have seen it in the GOP when a black man was president. Or every night at the dinner table when his paterfamilias started ranting about minorities or women who wouldn't sleep with him. Even if he zoned out at those times, he had to have seen it when his dad called Third World nations "shit holes." It was hard to miss, it made all the headlines.
Also, for the record, according to the Religious Right, Democrats became people the moment of conception. So, as much as Eric is trying his best to dehumanize people who are a threat to his father and family inheritance, which is oh-so fascist of him, he's caught in an awkward position of disagreeing the Republican base. Which is the #1 Rule of Trump Fight Club. Do not disagree with the base, no matter how racist, close-minded, misogynistic and empty.
And while he says that he doesn't see Democrats having "a message," I believe that although there is not an excuse for that, there is an explanation. When Democrats in the House recently passed a Fair Elections bill and also passed a major gun control bill, Eric -- like so many elected officials in today's Republican Party, beholden to the gun manufacturer corporation-owned NRA and Big Money interests -- doesn't see that as "a message" but rather a threat. So, it's just a semantics thing.
All that said, Eric Trump does make a very reasonable point about how morality "is just gone, morals have flown out the window and this country deserves better." So, hat's off to his keen sense of observation. Though to be fair, it's incredibly hard to miss when you're surrounded all day by those people who endorse accused pedophiles, ridicule the disabled, are charged publicly by 16 women for sexual abuse, have serial affairs when married, pay off porn actresses to keep them quiet in order to skirt election laws, take out full-page newspaper ads calling for the death of five innocent black kids, are sued by the government for racial discrimination, launder money with mobsters, describe many neo-Nazis as very fine people, surround themselves with women beaters, conspire with America's main foreign adversary, obstruct justice and oh so much more. And by "those people" I mean -- oh, you've figured that one out.
And it's nice too how he points out that the Democrats should have won the 2016 election. For all his dad's woeful bleats of innocence, it's refreshing to see, no matter how obliquely, a family acknowledgment of outside help to accomplish the unexpected.
At least I think he means the 2016 election, since -- although he says the Democratic party is imploding -- they did swamp Republicans in 2018 and won back the House of Representatives with a 38-seat majority, which (if that's imploding) he should be eternally grateful because otherwise impeachment and Senate conviction would have happened two months ago, about a week after the new members were sworn in. So, given that this is Eric Trump after all, it's possible that he did mean 2018 and just wasn't paying attention or didn't understand what happened. But still, it was good of him to acknowledge that outside forces did help
(I did also get a smile from Eric drawing attention to how little money his dad actually spent in the 2016 election after having insisted he was going to "self-fund" it all. Well, of course the entire Democratic Party spent so much more than Trump did! They're an entire political party. Trump is just a single, pathological lying con man who quickly shifted all fundraising to outside interests and the GOP.)
There's so much more that he said, but unfortunately I'm not exactly sure what he's rambling about so it's difficult to even quip about it. Clearly between Nancy Pelosi (most especially) and Chuck Schumer there is not only leadership, but at a level that has run circles around Trump and drives him nuts. (Which isn't that long a drive.) Nor do I have a clue who he trying to "slam" by saying there are no strong candidates, since the joke is that the field is so bizarrely overcrowded. Nor do I know what Eric considers a "whack job," particularly since the standard he's surrounded by is so abysmally low.
So, at a certain point, ridicule has it's limits and you let one's words speak loudly for themselves
The father of the Republican Party was right. Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt.
There was a bit of news coverage yesterday about how Trump went back on his "promise" (shocking, I know...) not to cut Medicare when his proposed budget cut Medicare. And not only did it cut Medicare, it did so to the amount of $817 BILLION over ten years. Almost a trillion dollars. In fact, if you include proposed cuts to Medicaid, it was over a trillion dollar.
The budget will never pass -- not just won't it ever get past the Democratic House, it likely won't get past the Republican Senate. There are more than enough Republican senators up for reelection in 2020 who would like to get reelected.
But that's the point to what in some ways was a larger story that didn't get covered. And that's that Trump's budget proposal may have been the final nail in the coffin for his own deeply-shaky reelection chances.
It doesn't matter that the budget won't pass, nor that the core of his base may love the proposal. What matters is that he made the proposal. The cut Medicare. By $817 billion.
I am sure that right now the Democratic National Committee is making TV ads for the 2020 election that have footage of Trump repeatedly, endlessly promising that he will never, ever, not ever cut Medicare. And then show footage of news coverage of Trump proposing that Medicare be cut. By $817 billion.
Here's something that must be understood down to one's toes: people over 65 REALLY LOVE MEDICARE. In fact, people over 60 who are nearing 65 REALLY LOVE MEDICARE.
Mind you, I didn't say Democrats Really Love it. I said "people." It not only drastically cuts one's medical costs and offers significant health protection. (There's a reason that the proposal for full national health care is referred to as "Medicare For All"...) But it offers those massive benefits at a time when people are likely to face more medical needs -- and at at time when no longer have a steady income. To cut Medicare benefits may literally be a "life and death" proposition. Regardless of what your party is. It's a health issue. It's a life and death issue. It's an economic issue. It's a broken promise issue -- over the kind of promise you really don't want to break.
Cutting Medicare can be the kind of thing that can get people to become activists. And get people who might have otherwise voted Republican not vote Republican. And vote Democratic to save their Medicare.
To be clear, I'm not saying that ALL Republicans over 60 would vote Democratic because of Trump proposing to cut Democratic. But you don't need ALL of them to. More to the point, you may only need to focus on Independents who were hesitatingly leaning Republican.) A shift of only 2% of the electorate, whatever their association, can shift a 50-50 election into an easy 52-48 victory. A shift of just 5% can turn a close election into a landslide.
And remember: Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million. And he sneaked through in the Electorate College by a razor thin margin of only about 70,000 votes in a few states. And it's not like he's done anything in two years in office to pick up any of those votes that went against him before.
So, TV ads and campaign speeches that remind people over 60 that Trump not only broke a Really Major Promise not to get Medicare and Medicaid made a proposal to cut Medicare and Medicaid. By over a TRILLION DOLLARS!!!
This was something off-the-cuff he rambled on in a speech. This was a budget cut that went through levels and deep levels of discussion and analysis. And in the end, enough people somehow thought this was a really great idea. Go back on a major promise and cut back a life-and-death program that a massive part of the electorate of both parties REALLY LOVE. And many dearly need.
"We will actually protect your Medicare and Medicaid. Trump will promise he will -- but he promised it over and over...and then proposed to cut it by over a trillion dollars."
Coming soon to a 2020 campaign near you.
On HBO's Last Week Tonight, the main story that John Oliver did was about robocalls. It wasn't as substantive as many of his other stories, but it was certainly about something of high interest (and angst) to people and very entertaining. And the moment I saw what the story was, I was sure he was going to have one of their Big Surprise Twists at the end. Stick around...
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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