The tsunami of disasters that is the Trump administration is SO overwhelming that it's easy to forget news stories that would have sunk any other administration at that instant. Sure, it helps having a complicit Republican Congress that is will to overlook obstruction of justice, abuse of power and conspiring with foreign enemies in order to enable him, but it's oh-so-much more than just that. Even a story like yesterday's about Trump ordering the Department of Justice to investigate itself for their investigation of him is merely just "one of the latest," not even the otherwise Banner Headline of the Year.
And make no mistake, the DOJ's investigation is an investigation of Trump. His own lawyers have said that the Special Counsel called him a "subject" of the investigation. And you'd generally think that the subject of an investigation shouldn't be allowed to investigate their own investigators. Well, okay, I think that, but maybe "law and order" Republicans think differently.
But that's just yesterday's news. As is -- sorry, was -- the story of yet another Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr. and Erik Prince (who lied to Congress about not being there), along with representatives of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates during the campaign. And we know how stories like those push others out, like last week's high school massacre in Texas and Trump's bizarre near-silence on it (old news), Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen laundering hush money for a porn actress and the Russians (old news), the missing SAR bank files for those payments (old news) which now seem to have been restricted by the Treasury Department, and the Senate Intelligence Committee issuing a report that confirms the intel services findings that Russia did try to influence the election ordered by Putin (old "fake" news). And those stories pushed out the story of Trump's staffer who "joked" (supposedly...) about John McCan dying -- with no public apology yet, despite one being promised. And that pushed out the many stories of the seemingly-unending scandals by EPA Director Scott Pruitt...
And on and on and on. Pushing one Trump administration disaster out of the headline for the next one.
All of which made me realize a story long-since forgotten which is one Democrats should continue to be pounding on, since -- although it's not a "scandal" in the non-stop salacious or criminal Trump meaning of the word -- it's one which has had direct and profound impact on the public and will have even far-more down the line. Yet it's one that has been largely overlooked because it's been relegated to Way Old News -- which in this administration is usually anything more than five days ago. And this is ancient, almost prehistoric, all the way back in 2017.
And no, I'm not even talking about how the "tax cut" for the richest Americans added $1.5 trillion to the national deficit over the course of 10 years. (Quick side note on that: I Remember that photo op Trump took with Harley Davidson motorcycles? (VROOM!) Well get this -- the company took their big corporate tax cut and are closing a U.S. factory & moving it to Bangkok, Thailand. AND they used their tax cut to buy back stock for themselves! But it gets even better! Harley Davidson is based in Milwaukee, WISCONSIN. The home state of...yes, Paul Ryan, the sycophantic Speaker of the House who enables Trump.)
No, no, not the massive debt issue of the "tax cut," I'm referring to another result entirely of that "tax cut" -- which is so easy to forget since it was a give months ago, another lifetime in Trump Years. It was how when Trump and the Republican Party voted for that "tax cut" bill to get rid of the individual mandate which gutted the Affordable Care Act.
That's how disastrous the Trump administration has been. That SO many awful things have happened SO often and SO regularly on a near-daily (sometimes hourly) basis that it's easy to forget that in the midst of one of its most harmful actions -- adding $1.5 trillion to the national deficit -- even that wasn't bad enough, and they destroyed health care.
And the reason it's especially easy to forget this is because the removal of the individual mandate, which among other things will cause 13 million Americans to lose health coverage, is because that action doesn't take effect until 2019...after the mid-term election. (Republicans were very smart and even more cowardly about making sure of that.) So, most Americans at this point have probably totally forgotten all about that. Forgotten that in the GOP's unending effort to "Repeal and Replace" the program, they not only weren't ever able to figure out how to "replace" it -- but couldn't even properly "repeal" it. And so, they just shredded the thing.
Shredding is easy. Replacing is hard. As we've seen, since Trump and his GOP band of merry men (robbing from the poor to give to the rich) STILL haven't come up with that Trump-promised "better, cheaper, beautiful health care" replacement. Or...well, ANY replacement, for that matter.
It's my hope that when it comes time to campaign in earnest for the mid-terms and Republicans try to make the "tax cut" their one and only notable "achievement" -- assuming that adding $1.5 trillion to the deficit can be considered an achievement -- that Democrats themselves try to remember to remind the public that along with that gift of a $1.5 trillion deficit comes a bonus, the forgotten, upcoming destruction of health care.
Cheers. To your good health...
If you missed the season finale of Saturday Night Live, hosted by Tina Fey, they had one particularly-fun standout sketch and song. Here 'tis --
On Friday, I read a headline on the Raw Story news site that I found absolutely hilarious. It read, "Arizona Republican running for US Senate seat wants to build a wall to keep Californians out." Okay, yes, I know you probably think that either I'm lying for a joke or that I mis-read the source and it's actually from The Onion. After all, no "serious" and self-respecting politician -- not even an overtly-pandering Republican trying in soul-crushing desperation to appeal to the most highly idiot-racist portion of the base -- would do something so eye-rollingly and uproariously stupid.
So, here's the screen shots to prove it.
So, there you are. See! I was telling the truth. Yes, a real-life pandering Republican who is actually and honestly running for the United States Senate (!!!) is suggesting that Arizona build its very own wall in order to keep out its fellow-citizens -- U.S. residents from a state with the fifth largest economy in the world, bigger than even Great Britain. Hey, if it works for Trump and Mexico, why not Arizona and California? (Okay, okay,, it hasn't worked for Trump and Mexico, but now that's just quibbling)
Never mind the pure idiocy of trying block the Interstate Highway system. And never mind the pure idiocy of not recognizing that one would be able to...well, simply drive around the border and just come in from Nevada. (Which would be REALLY EASY, taking you about 10-20 miles out of your way.) Or come in from Utah. Or from Colorado. Or from New Mexico. Or for that matter, come in from real Mexico where there isn't a wall. Unless, of course, Martha McSally plans to have Arizona build a wall around all its borders and keep everyone out. That doesn't appear to be her crackerjack plan, though. It's just to build a wall at the Arizona border with California. And never mind the concept of merely getting an airplane ticket and just plopping in that way -- or take the train -- since after all you don't need a passport to go from one state to another.
And by the way, lest you think that Martha McSally is your garden variety right wing nut job, someone running for the U.S. Senate on one of those loopy 3rd party "Americans Against Sanity" ticket. Oh, no, she is actually an already-elected United States Congresswoman "representing" Tucson in the 2nd District. No, really.
To be clear, her intent is not to keep out all Californians with her really cool Arizona Wall. It's that she doesn't like all them illegals in California and is afeared they'll come into Arizona. Because, apparently, you see, Arizona doesn't have any illegal Mexicans in their state, despite sharing a border with Mexico that is 2-1/2 times longer than the California-Mexico border. And despite the fact that if the Mexicans who came into California actually wanted to really come into Arizona in the first place, they could have...well, come into Arizona in the first place, rather than take the roundabout route of initially going into California and then take a right-turn and "Go East, Young Man," reverse Horace Greeley and travel into Arizona.
But here's the thing --
The reason I find this story so hilarious is not why you think. It's not for all those reasons I've noted that the dear Rep. McSally (R-AZ) has come up with for her truly idiotic, racist idea. If for another reason entirely -- which says a lot given how truly idiotic her racist idea is.
No, the reason I find the story so hilarious is because -- I wrote it as a joke 12 YEARS AGO!! In fact, almost to the day! This real news story about Ms. McSally was published on May 18, 2018. I wrote my joke story in the Huffington Post on May 16, 2006.
And by the way, after I published it -- and I swear to you this is true -- there were several user comments who thought it was real. I couldn't believe that I had to explain to them it was a joke. Now, yes, I know that we now have evidence from Martha McSally that an idiot Republican Congresswoman made almost the exact same suggestion and meant it. But not only do we now live in a post-Trump world where such idiocies are possible...but, more to the point, when you read my article you'll see how even more intentionally over-the-top it is as a way to satirize such racism as highly and blatantly as possible.
And yes, I am proud, gobsmacked and just a little bit nauseated to say that I presaged Trump.
Here was that article. May 16, 2006
Illinois Citizen Group to Build Wall on Indiana Border
A private citizens group in Illinois today announced plans to build a wall along the Indiana border to keep out those they say are streaming across the unprotected state line. The problem, they say, has been growing for the past 30 years.
“Ever since the oil refineries in Gary began closing in the mid-1970s, people there have had to find other income,” states the leader of the group, T. Herbert Duffy. “They’ve been streaming into Chicago ever since.”
Duffy’s organization was founded four months ago in mid-January. “We didn’t actually care about immigration,” he acknowledges. “We just got together because it was so butt-numbing cold that all anyone could do was sit in the basement shivering. So we came up with the idea of this club.”
At first, the only agenda item was to complain about shoveling snow. It was only after the Spring thaw came that the illegal Indianan idea popped up. “Our wives kicked us out of the basement, and we needed another problem or they’d make us come home. That’s when Phil started complaining about having lost his job, and blamed the Illegals from Indiana.”
Although the man had worked in a Galesburg tractor factory that had closed in order to manufacture cheaper overseas, the Minutepeople still knew they had their issue. “It just pissed us off, all those illegal Indianans sneaking into Illinois to steal our jobs and womenfolk. A couple of six-packs will do that.”
The mission grew from there. Starting from only five disgruntled men, they began recruiting, and found that there were enough people who wanted to get out of their house or meet singles that the club grew to its present total of 57 Minutepeople.
“That wasn’t our original name,” Duffy acknowledges. “We wanted to call ourselves Minutemen. We even had a lot of t-shirts made up. But someone thought there was another group with the name. Back in the Civil War or something. [Editor’s note: it was the Revolutionary War.] We figured it was better not to get sued, so we changed it.” A similar situation impacted the women in the club. “We had intended to call them Minutemaids, but we got a ‘Cease and Desist Order” from the orange juice company. So, we’re all Minutepeople.”
The name has its own sense of history, Duffy relates. “My wife would ask me to take out the garbage, mow the lawn, and I’d all always say, ‘In a minute, honey. In a minute.’ The name just stuck.”
As attention to the wall-building grows, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has announced that he is ordering members of the State National Guard to the Illinois-Indiana border. “We will be sending four National Guardsman,” a spokesman for the Governor’s office reports. “There are going to be a lot of drunk guys with loaded firearms in the hot sun, and we don’t want another Dick Cheney incident.”
At present, the wall along the Illinois-Indiana border stretches 12 feet. The Minutepeople hope to have it completed by the end of August, though Duffy figures late-Autumn.
Many experts figure that it will take at least several hundred years. Some suggest longer. “With soil erosion and the natural corroding of cheap materials they bought,” states Lawrence Eberhardt of Eberhardt Fencing, “within 30 years they’ll likely have to start repairing their earlier work.. Then, each year the later-construction will begin falling apart. This could stretch until eternity.”
Duffy and the Minutepeople remain undaunted. They insist they will finish the wall. It’s a mission now to the club. “I know some people have said this is all racist, but that’s not true. If Indians want to live in Indiana, that’s fine. We have some right here. But wherever you live, you don’t enter somebody else’s land uninvited. That’s been true in America ever since the Pilgrims landed in America.”
Duffy is clear to insist, that it’s not just Indians the Minutepeople want to protect Illinois from, but all Illegals. The problem, he says, is that there aren’t enough border guards in Illinois. “Or actually, any.” That’s when they knew they had to build the wall. “To keep all illegal immigrants out. All.”
When asked if that includes illegals from Kentucky, Duffy hedged a little. “That’s the really squiggly part of the state border,” he noted, “and it’s pretty hard to build a wall on something that shape. We can bend our metal piping a little, but not that much.”
However, the Minutepeople are concerned about illegal immigrants from Missouri. “In some ways, they’re worse than Indiana,” the Exalted High Poobah noted. “Who wants all those St. Louis Cardinals fans here?! The Cardinals suck..” But the Minutepeople don’t have any plans to build a fence along the Illinois-Missouri border. “No, that’s why God created the Mississippi River,” states Duffy. “If anyone from Missouri tried to swim across, their fat butts would sink.”
The river, however, is only the first line of defense against both the Missouri and Iowa borders. “If any Illegal tries to drive into Illinois over bridges, you can see them coming. And since it’s mostly single file, that makes them easy to pick off. Also, we’re buying landmines to plant along the shore.”
That only leaves the Wisconsin border to the north.
Duffy admitted that initially the Minutepeople had forgotten about the northern border. But after a good laugh and a couple of beers, he said they all realized, “We really got nothing against Wisconsin. Cheese, beer, how can you not like them? Hate the Green Bay Packers, but the Bears rule, so what? The only thing about Wisconsiners is that when they come here they drive tractors really slow down the middle of the road. Forget ‘em. They’re like us, they’re okay.”
It’s a difficult mission, but one that makes Duffy’s wife Helen extremely proud. “I know the Tribune did a big state poll which said 98% of people in Illinois thought the Minutepeople were idiots, but I don’t believe polls. I’m sure it’s less than that. We do get about 75 phone calls every night yelling at us for being un-American, but I don’t believe phone calls either. I’m sure they’re just wrong numbers. And every morning our house is covered with eggs, but I don’t believe the egg-throwing. I’m sure they’re just trying to give us food for our important work.”
In the end, T. Herbert Duffy is proud of all that he and his Minutepeople have accomplished in so short a time. “Some may call us vigilantes,” he says, appreciating his 12-feet of fence, “and while that is true, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it got us on TV.”
This week's contestant is Garrett Fitzgerald from Orono, Maine. I got the hidden song within about six notes, and if you don't get it at all you aren't trying. Shockingly, Mr. Fitzgerald missed it -- and didn't even get it on a second listen. As for the composer style -- I didn't know. I only had one guess, and though wrong, I was surprised that composer Bruce Adolphe said that person overlapped with the correct answer, and that there were even touches in the pieces. So, though wrong I almost considered giving myself honorary mention. But seeing that I probably should have gotten it right -- and I think others can -- I won't...
I absolutely love Michael Palin. Love, love, love his work. Everyhing Python, of course, but also Ripping Yarns, his many travel documentaries (most especially the joyous Around the World in 80 Days and Pole to Pole), and his movies, from A Fish Called Wanda to A Private Function (an odd film, but he's a joy) to Brazil to the recent The Death of Stalin, and folderol in between. The good news is that he's done so much work that's there still a great deal left to see.
And here's a wonderfully-enjoyable hour-long BBC documentary on the good fellow, A Life on Screen, done just this year.
Back in my dark days of doing movie PR, I was working at Universal Pictures when we released Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. And one of my assignments was to moderate a Q&A with the Python gang after a screening of that film -- alas, it has ever been a disappointment that he was the one Python who couldn't make it. (Side note: I was bowled over by how nice his writing partner Terry Jones was. And surprised by how nice Eric Idle was.)
But I know that Michael Palin would have been even nicer. I say that because my good friend, the writer-director Rob Hedden made a documentary early in his career about the making of Brazil, and raved about how amazingly nice Palin was. He's shown me outtakes of the day he went to Palin's home to interview him which has just heartwarming and hilarious. But then, what's in the movie is aces enough. Most actors hate doing behind-the-scene interviews during a production, you have to maneuver around their schedules and back them into a corner until they can't back out. But when Rob and his small crew (which included his wife, Jan) showed up at Palin's home on an off-day (P.S. as much as actors hate doing behind-the-scenes interviews during a production...they ABSOLUTELY HATE doing them on their off-days. The phrase you hear is -- "No. It's my OFF-DAY") -- he not only graciously gave them as much time as they needed...but suggested that rather than just a simple sit-down interview, how about if he did a number of sketches as different characters, playing various staff members of Michael Palin protecting him from the film crew. Oh, and since the filming took a long time, he invited the crew in and made them lunch.
That's why I feel comfortable saying he would have been nicer.
(I wrote about Rob's documentary, What is Brazil? and embedded the 30-minute documentary, which you can see here. It's one of the best "making of" documentaries I've ever seen. Yes, he's my friend, but I'm not alone -- it won two awards and even showed at the Smithsonian Institution. And by the way, when this BBC documentary deals with Palin's appearance in Brazil...they actually use several sequences from Rob's documentary! If you look in the lower left corner, you can see the credit to What is Brazil? and Rob as director. But I digress.)
For all the joking they make about his travel documentaries for the BBC, they're absolutely wonderful. The two I mentioned above are particularly great, but most especially Around the World in 80 Days. They don't explain what about it makes it so great -- probably because most of the British audience knows -- but it's unique. It's one of the rare travel documentaries with a plot. Palin tries to recreate Phileas Fogg's journey in Jules Verne's classic, and so there are deadlines to make connections through the multi-part series, so there's conflict throughout, and it actually builds to an exciting conclusion. Pole to Pole -- which makes a trip between poles -- does sort of the same thing (trying to make the trip before weather closes travel off), and it's very good, though the first remains the best.
A few notes. At one point, he refers to getting a letter of praise from "Spike." That's Spike Milligan, one of the creators of The Goon Show, which Palin earlier references as his comic inspiration. Also, there are several interview with Connie Booth, who later appeared with Palin in a movie he co-wrote -- but she's also John Cleese's ex-wife, and one of the co-creators and stars (as the maid, 'Polly') of Fawlty Towers. And finally, at about the 44-minute mark something goes bizarre with the sound for about three minutes. The picture continues, but it's like we get the opening three minutes of sound instead. But then it reverts to normal at around 47-minutes. I have no idea what happened, but clearly that isn't the way it went out over the BBC.
All that said, here's the BBC documentary
When deciding on a "Today's Tweet," this is an absolute no-brainer. The Chicago Tribune has never been especially known for its whimsy, but they tweeted this today –
The guest contestant on this week's 'Not My Job' segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! is LeVar Burton. Host Peter Sagal has a very charming and open chat with him, that's often very funny and covers among other things how the public's reaction to him depends on how old they are -- whether they react to Roots, Star Trek: The Next Generation or Reading Rainbow.
At the moment, I'm in the middle of reading Al Franken's book, Giant of the Senate. I put off reading it until I was past the angst and felt up to making it through. The book is absolutely wonderful. Serious, hilarious, open, honest and thought. It's also heart-breaking, knowing that he's no longer in the Senate for what was most-definitely a transgression, but what I don't think should have been a career-ending one. Especially since it occurred in another part of his lifetime before the Senate as a comic satirist, and was not intended to hurt, but be a joke that went wrong. And it was wrong. But there are levels of "wrong," which life should be able to differentiate. (For instance, the Senate could have voted to censure a member. Or a party could have stripped a member of valuable committee seats. Or taken away critical funding for a re-election campaign. Or...well, you get idea -- depending on one's transgression, there are a lot of options between "Having a Job" and "No Job.") And it most especially should not have been career-ending most especially when we see who became President of the United States and who almost became a U.S. Senator from Alabama, for starters.
But that alas is the past, and the book as I said is terrific. And it's also good timing, because only yesterday, Al Franken posted on Twitter a link to his first public speech since leaving the Senate. It was given at the Privacy Xchange forum in Lisbon, Portugal, and his talk is on "Privacy, Competition and Russian Election Meddling." Much of it deals with privacy issues that were exploited on Facebook by Cambridge Analytica. Don't expect jokes. It's a serious, thoughtful talk. And with questions at the end, it lasts almost 50 minutes.
He starts at around the 18:30 mark. Even if you don't watch the whole thing, it's worth watching at least some. And to just see him again dealing so thoughtfully and meaningfully on such an important public issue.
A few weeks back, when writing about Heather Headley appearing at the "A Starry Night" gala with Northwestern alumni from Broadway, movies and TV, I posted several videos of her for people who didn't know her work and mentioned that she got her big break starring in Elton John and Tim Rice's Broadway musical version of Aida. But for all those videos I posted, I realized that I didn't have anything from...Aida! We are here to rectify that.
So, here then is Headley and cast 18 years ago when they appeared on The Rosie O'Donnell Show singing "The Gods Love Nubia." Even at the start she was none too shabby. But then that's why she got hired -- and won the Tony Award.
And as a bonus, here a few days later is Heather Headley winning the Tony Award. The presenter was Kenneth Branagh, and came against some pretty impressive, experienced competition: Audra McDonald, Marin Mazze, Rebecca Luker and Toni Collette.
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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