Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Reading

A Good Pick — Charles P. Pierce on the selection of Sen. Tim Kaine as the Democratic vice presidential candidate.

The least surprising moment in the 2016 presidential campaign came down on Friday night, just in time to stop the ceaseless vamping on cable television (Note to Chris Matthews: Using Hugh Hewitt to kill time simultaneously kills your audience, in some cases literally): Hillary Rodham Clinton will run for president with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.

I will get my personal feelings out of the way first. I am overjoyed. Over Tim Kaine? Hell, no. I am overjoyed because my senior senator will remain my senior senator, ya greedy bastids.

OK, now for the rest of you.

It’s a good pick. It’s a solid pick. It’s the kind of pick that Bill Clinton made in 1992 and Barack Obama made in 2008. It’s nowhere near as risky a pick as John F. Kennedy made in 1960. It’s not the kind of weird pick that Richard Nixon made in 1968, or the kind of misguided pick that Al Gore made in 2000. It’s not the kind of process-of-elimination, who-will-hold-my-straitjacket pick that the opposing party made this week. In fact, I’m more concerned that my judgment on such matters has been so warped by the political wild kingdom I experienced in here that HRC could have chosen to run with a cup of warm cocoa and I might have applauded until my palms bled.

The most intriguing part of the pick to me is not that Kaine speaks Spanish. (Geez, TV people, enough with that noise. It’s not like he learned differential calculus on the back of a coal shovel.) What’s intriguing is that he learned it as a Jesuit missionary in Honduras, taking a year off from Harvard Law School to work with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. This shows a commitment more to the Catholicism of Papa Francesco than to that of the retro Papist opposition. And, seriously, does anyone doubt the presidential candidate’s dedication to the constitutional right of choice? I seriously doubt that Tim Kaine is going to go rogue on this issue. And, besides, the party itself has left the whole personally-opposed-but-OK dodge far behind. The Supreme Court is one vote away from a solid pro-choice majority and, even skating one justice down, it’s pushing back hard against the SLAPP suit strategy employed by several states. Nothing Tim Kaine can possibly do will reverse that.

Trade is more problematic. He did vote to fast-track the awful TPP deal, and the optics on that are not good, but they only appear seriously bad if you take He, Trump’s blathering about trade deals seriously and, therefore, think enough progressives believe that bushwah to make a dent in the Democratic base in November. I don’t. We’ll see. Otherwise, he may be boring, but he’s not timid. He fought tobacco in a tobacco state, and coal in a mining state and, in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, he fought for gun-control in a state that has more than its share of NRA members. As Ari Berman pointed out on the electric Twitter machine after Kaine’s announcement on Friday night, Kaine was fighting for open housing in Richmond freaking Virginia when He, Trump was refusing to rent to African Americans in NYC. The fact remains that if, on the basis of his record, Tim Kaine is considered a centrist, then the center of the Democratic party has moved considerably to the left since HRC’s husband first ran for president.

The obvious downside is that it puts a Senate seat in play in a deeply purple, deeply vital state, and that problem was seriously exacerbated by another event that took place on Thursday, far from the convention in Cleveland or the rallies in Florida. In April, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe signed executive orders restoring the voting rights to some 200,000 Virginians who had completed their excursions through the criminal justice system. On Friday, three months to the day from McAuliffe’s announcement and only a few hours before HRC called Kaine to ask him to join the ticket, the Virginia Supreme Court blew that up, issuing a 4-3 decision that invalidated McAuliffe’s executive orders and, according to calculations done by Berman in The Nation, thereby taking away the voting rights of nearly a quarter of the state’s African American electorate. The glass is half-full if you believe that Tim Kaine is strong enough to keep Virginia in the Clinton column. The glass is half-empty if you believe that, not only can he not do that, but also that with this decision, neither can whatever Democrat runs for Kaine’s Senate seat. The Virginia court’s decision is the real joker in this deck.

I expect the usual suspects to be dissatisfied. I expect the usual suspects to raise a kind of hell for a couple of days. I expect the usual suspects who cover the usual suspects to try and make a Trump-Cruz blood feud out of Sanders-Clinton over this decision. I expect that all of this is wrong. Anybody who lived in Cleveland this past week would feel the same. I don’t mind looking both ways when I cross the street for a while.

Donald’s Turn — Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune on Trump’s 11 o’clock number.

Thursday night Donald J. Trump delivered the angriest 11 o’clock number in the history of American show business. If you don’t know that phrase, it’s a useful one. In the old days Broadway musicals began at 8:30 and wrapped up at 11:15 or 11:30. The 11 o’clock number was the biggie near the end, usually reserved for a major character on the threshold of a revelation or a breakdown.

Think “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy.” Last night, as he accepted the Republication presidential nomination in Cleveland, it was “Donald’s Turn,” this time for him! For him! For him!

“I alone can fix it,” he said. “It” meant America and all its problems, the “humiliations” it has suffered, the “horrible” trade deals, Obama’s divisive and racist rhetoric (really?), the rampant “crime and violence” that afflicts us. He will fire it all.

“Dark” was the word much of Twitter couldn’t get away from last night, characterizing Trump’s tone and content. It seems like a weak descriptor for what was actually being sold. Business Insider and LA radio host Josh Barro tweeted: “Normally, Trump has a magnetic personality that lets him get away with things. He disarms you by transparently having fun. Not tonight.”

Come November, the speech we heard Thursday night will be reassessed either as a success or a failure. Come November, it may well prove the naysayers wrong in retrospect, as they’ve been wrong all along when it comes to the global branding whiz, bankruptcy-prone developer and famous star of NBC’s “The Apprentice.”

Breaking it down, the speech was a methodical, monomaniacally intense rant, delivered by a human repository of angry-mob discontent. Early on, when Trump uttered words such as “humbly” (as in “humbly” accepting the nomination) or “peace” or “warmth,” he took no audible cue from the meaning of those words. He looked and sounded like he was ready to pop.

When he promised that nobody in favor of “violence,” “hatred” or “oppression” would be allowed to enter his United States, if he was elected, it was not easy to tune out his own campaign’s tendency over the past 12 months to stoke the most violent, hate-filled and oppressive instincts in his base.

When he screamed “I love you all!” at the end, he sounded as if he were saying “I can barely contain my bile!” Only when Trump went off-teleprompter for a few ad-libbed fills (“BUH-lieve me,” or “horrible … just horrible”) did he sound like his disarming self, the Trump who has proven so politically effective thus far.

Campaigning on a stern “law and order” platform did the trick for Richard Nixon in 1968. Trump’s speech referenced “law and order” more than once, telling the people, the marginalized, laid-off, passed-over populace: “I am your voice.” By speech’s end Thursday, that voice sounded like a vengeful growl. But then, as convention speaker Tom Barrack said earlier in the evening: “An animal in the jungle … that is Donald.”

In “Rose’s Turn,” the greatest 11 o’clock number Broadway ever wrote (Jule Styne, music; Stephen Sondheim, lyrics), the ferocious stage mother originated by Ethel Merman busts loose, her resentments and regrets and grievances pouring forth in a catharsis combining elements of striptease, revenge and breakdown. It’s an angry number. Conspicuously lacking music, though weirdly Trump’s choice of outro music was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,“ Donald’s turn turned the spotlight on a one-man, 76-minute show performed by the emblem, and beneficiary, of this casually brutal American moment.

Big Words — Humor from Andy Borowitz.

LONDON (The Borowitz Report)—The theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking angered supporters of Donald J. Trump on Monday by responding to a question about the billionaire with a baffling array of long words.

Speaking to a television interviewer in London, Hawking called Trump “a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator,” a statement that many Trump supporters believed was intentionally designed to confuse them.

Moments after Hawking made the remark, Google reported a sharp increase in searches for the terms “demagogue,” “denominator,” and “Stephen Hawking.”

“For a so-called genius, this was an epic fail,” Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said. “If Professor Hawking wants to do some damage, maybe he should try talking in English next time.”

Later in the day, Hawking attempted to clarify his remark about the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee, telling a reporter, “Trump bad man. Real bad man.”

 Doonesbury — What was that?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016

Hello, His Name Is Edmund

I met Edmund Lupinski in September 1971 when we were both cast in the University of Miami Ring Theatre’s production of George Farquahar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem, directed by the Old Professor.  (He had a lead as one of the beaux, I did two character parts.)  We did a number of shows together, everything from musicals such as Guys and Dolls to the 18th century comedy The School for Scandal, and I’ve always considered him to be a good friend.  He’s also a terrific actor, as you’ll see in this demo reel that he’s put together, including his most recent role on screen in Hello, My Name is Doris with Sally Field.  I thought I’d share this quick look at some of his work.  Enjoy.

A Speech Only A Dictator Would Deliver

If you stayed up to watch Donald Trump deliver his nearly 90-minute harangue, I admire you for your courage and your ability to control your gag reflex.  All I did was read the transcript and catch a couple of clips and I’ve had enough.

What it all came down to is that Donald Trump told America and the world that we are in a hell of a mess and he is the only one who can fix it.

That has been the message of every dictator — from the left or the right — for time out of mind. Every one of them has cited facts they claim to be true yet are easily refuted.  Every one of them has found a scapegoat to blame for the problems their citizens faced and accused them of treachery or worse.  Every one of them has claimed to be the voice of the people, and every one of them, whether they’re standing on the stage at Nuremberg, the balcony in Rome, the wall of the Kremlin, the plaza in Havana, or the gates of the Forbidden City, has risen to power or seized it with that messianic claim, and every one of them has done it at the expense of lives, fortunes, and freedom.  Fortunately no one has ever stood on the steps of the Capitol in Washington and delivered a speech like that, and if we are to live and grow and survive as a country, we never will hear it.

Mr. Trump’s speech was all about him, how “I” will do this, “I” will stop that, “I” will make some other thing happen.  It was rarely “we,” and when it was, it was about what his administration — his government — will do to others.

But this is a nation of “We.”  “We hold these truths to be self-evident,”  “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union,”  “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  The echos of Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Roosevelt were lost in the bombast and narcissism of this belligerent bully who knows nothing of true compassion for anyone other than himself or what would feed his ego.

The one thing every dictator knows is how to feed fear and divisiveness.  They know that it is far more easier to exploit our weaknesses than call upon us to work together; to accuse rather than encourage, to divide rather than multiply, and deliver on “What’s in it for me?” rather than “Ask not what your country can do for you.”

It’s hard to resist the siren call of a dictator: Let me be the one to solve all your problems, real or imagined, even if what I promise will cost you that which you hold most precious; not just your freedom but your sense of honor and dignity of living in a nation that has placed unity and service and the freedom to be who you are without inciting hatred or fear of the unknown.  But what you saw or read from the stage last night in Cleveland was not a call to the nation that holds those values.  It was a call to give them over to someone who cannot even convince himself that being a leader in America is not about him and his glorification and the trappings of power but the dedication to the finding the best in every one of us.  That is the one thing you did not hear from that stage in Cleveland last night.

Trump Stage 07-22-16

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Big Deal

Lost in all the hoopla and angst over the Republican convention was the news that the very conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down some major portions of Texas’s voter I.D. law that was whooped through by the legislature about ten seconds after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, found that the law had a discriminatory effect on blacks and Latinos, who often lack the forms of identification required under the Texas law. But the ruling did not strike down the law entirely, ruling instead that new procedures must be found to assist potential voters lacking the required identification.

The ruling also sent back for reconsideration the question of whether Texas legislators had acted with a discriminatory purpose in passing the law in 2011, a finding that would have forced new judicial oversight of any changes in Texas election rules.

The big deal is that this ruling will effect the voting in Texas in November, which means that a lot of people that the Republicans were trying to keep out of the voting booth — mainly blacks and Latinos — will be able to vote.  It’s unlikely that it will make a big enough change to turn the state blue, but it could have a ripple effect on the other states where their voting laws have been manipulated to suppress the minority vote.

It should also be noted that the 5th Circuit is one of the most conservative courts in the country.  They are the go-to court if you want to uphold restrictions on abortion clinics or same-sex marriage or almost any other right wing peccadillo written into the law.  But in this case, the Court ruled en banc, which means the whole court returned the opinion, and the only recourse now is the U.S. Supreme Court.

So unless SCOTUS issues an emergency stay between now and November, the elections in Texas just got a lot more interesting.

“There Will Be Blood”

Well, Donald Trump did say that there would be anger and disruption at the Republican convention, but I don’t think he meant that it would be at the hands of Ted Cruz.

The Republican convention erupted into tumult on Wednesday night as the bitter primary battle between Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz reignited unexpectedly, crushing hopes that the party could project unity.

In the most electric moment of the convention, a clamor broke out as it became clear that Mr. Cruz — in a prime-time address from center stage — was not going to endorse Mr. Trump. It was a pointed snub on the eve of Mr. Trump’s formal acceptance speech.

As hundreds of delegates chanted “Vote for Trump!” and “Say it!” Mr. Cruz tried to dismiss the outburst as “enthusiasm of the New York delegation” — only to have Mr. Trump himself suddenly appear in the back of the convention hall. Virtually every head in the room seemed to turn from Mr. Cruz to Mr. Trump, who was stone-faced and clearly angry as he egged on delegates by pumping his fist.

If this was TV, we’d cut to a starkly-lit hallway in the basement of the convention center where a maintenance worker would come across a bloodied corpse, sinister music would be heard, and a voice-over intones, “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate but equally important groups….”

How’s that party unity thing working out for you, GOP?

Short Takes

Texas voter I.D. law struck down.

Trump employee admits to plagiarizing Melina Trump’s speech.

Secret Service investigating Trump advisor who advocated executing Hillary Clinton.

Turkey issues ban on professional travel for academics in wake of coup attempt.

R.I.P. Garry Marshall; producer, actor, and director of Pretty Woman.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

On This Date

Where were you forty-seven years ago today?  I was in Northport Point, Michigan for the weekend at my grandmother’s summer place on Grand Traverse Bay.  We watched it on black-and-white TV, and as the walk on the moon approached, the rock band (Newt and the Salamanders) playing at the party next door took a break to watch history take place.

A Nightmare On Lake Erie

At what point will the Republicans wake up and realize, “Holy shit, we’ve just nominated Freddie Krueger“?

Seriously, though, and in spite of the fact that the New York Times gives Hillary Clinton 3-to-1 odds of winning in November (on the other hand, Nate Silver notes that Clinton’s lead now is the same as John Kerry’s was at this time in 2004), I cannot remember a time when a presidential candidate actually had me frightened for the future not just of this country or my personal life and safety, but that of the planet.

It truly frightens me that 45% of the country can look at Donald Trump and then place their lives, fortunes, and whatever else they value in the trust of someone who clearly is unqualified to lead a one-car parade, let alone a country and by default the most powerful nation on Earth.  And if it really happens, I seriously doubt that the America we will see in four years will look or behave as it does now, and not in a good way.