Tuesday, September 26, 2023

And trump Keeps Losing Like the Drunken Gambler He Is

The news broke earlier tonight, and I've been feasting on the schadenfreude ever since. The judge overseeing the New York case vs. donald trump and his Trump Org issued a summary judgment that apparently nukes his corporate empire from orbit (via Michael R Sisak at AP News): 

Judge Arthur Engoron, ruling in a civil lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, found that Trump and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and exaggerating his net worth on paperwork used in making deals and securing loans.

Engoron ordered that some of Trump’s business licenses be rescinded as punishment, making it difficult or impossible for them to do business in New York, and said he would continue to have an independent monitor oversee Trump Organization operations...

Engoron’s ruling, days before the start of a non-jury trial in James’ lawsuit, is the strongest repudiation yet of Trump’s carefully coiffed image as a wealthy and shrewd real estate mogul turned political powerhouse.

Beyond mere bragging about his riches, Trump, his company and key executives repeatedly lied about them on his annual financial statements, reaping rewards such as favorable loan terms and lower insurance costs, Engoron found.

Those tactics crossed a line and violated the law, the judge said, rejecting Trump’s contention that a disclaimer on the financial statements absolved him of any wrongdoing.

“In defendants’ world: rent regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land; restrictions can evaporate into thin air; a disclaimer by one party casting responsibility on another party exonerates the other party’s lies,” Engoron wrote in his 35-page ruling. “That is a fantasy world, not the real world.”

trump is, obviously, railing on social media that the ruling is "unfair" and "un-American," but the judge isn't going by trump's words he's going by trump's actions, and trump kept acting fraudulent enough to earn this summary judgment (link to court papers).

There's still a trial: This ruling covered a portion of AG James' case against trump. The imposition of more penalties - to the tune of $250 million - is up to a jury to decide, and it's looking like that part of the case starts this October 2nd.

(breaks out the celebratory whiskey) Wait, I don't drink. Anybody else like whiskey...?

From what I gather, this ruling - and whatever comes of the penalty phase - means trump and his sons - Ivanka somehow avoided getting meshed into this civil case - will be blocked from any and all business dealings in the state of New York. An inability to maintain a financial corporate empire would/should/could undercut any attempt by trump and his lackeys to perpetuate any grifts and con games. I'm not fully versed on the law, so obviously I will follow up with someone - likely Emptywheel - who is.

In the meantime, trump once again lost a major judicial matter. He's not made of Teflon when it comes to the law, and his failings will continue to pile up as his sins are an affront to all of Heaven and Humanity.

More whiskey?

Friday, September 22, 2023

Roma Invicta

Apparently it's a guy thing. Maybe it's a Euro-White Caucasian thing because I don't know how many Asian and Latino and Black guys think it, but apparently at least here in the United States a lot of men admit to thinking often about Ancient Rome.

It seems this matter came to the fore a few weeks back when women on Tik Tok and Instagram began quizzing their husbands and boyfriends how often they think about the Glory That Was Rome. It became unavoidable on social media where men began openly confessing - or bragging - that yeah Caesar and sea-proof concrete and movies about gladiators are oft on their minds.

The pontificating came later, like this from Caroline Mimbs Nyce in the Atlantic

All roads lead to Rome—and apparently so do all male thoughts. Across social media, women have been encouraged to ask the men in their life how often they think about the Roman empire and to record the answer. To their surprise (recounted in videos posted all over TikTok, Instagram, and more), many men purport to think about the Roman empire quite a bit. One reveals that his iPhone background is Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii, a painting depicting a Roman legend. “Men Are Thinking About the Roman Empire All the Time” has quickly become a meme of its own. Even those who don’t cop to this behavior still sometimes do it. “Probably not a lot, why?” one confused man replies when asked, before admitting that he thinks about the Romans three or four times a month. “The Roman empire was a very big part of history,” he says defensively.

Presumably some of this is performative, an attempt to project oneself as the sort of history bro who can mansplain Catullus. These men could surely learn something from Cullen Murphy. An Atlantic editor at large and the author of the 2007 book Are We Rome?, Murphy has spent decades thinking about the Roman empire. His work focuses on all of the analogies between ancient Rome and the modern United States, and what, if anything, the analogies portend. “The comparisons, of course, can be facile,” he wrote in a 2021 magazine story reopening the question. “Still, I am not immune to preoccupation with the Roman past.”

Murphy's interview has a few interesting tidbits:

Nyce: What do you think the appropriate amount of time one should spend thinking about Rome is?

Murphy: Well …

Nyce: Are you a biased source on this question?

Murphy: Yes, I’m probably not a good person to ask. Personally, I can’t get enough of it. It’s just such a fascinating topic. One of the great things about having a bit of a fixation on this topic is that it makes me very easy to buy for...

Nyce: Are you surprised by how many men purport to think about the Roman empire all the time?

Murphy: I am a little bit surprised. I’m not surprised that men are more likely to think about it than women, if that reporting is true.

Over time, this subject has been presented as gendered, though it is not inherently gendered. A lot of the best recent work about Rome has to do with diverse cultures and about women. But if you look at the broad sweep of historical writing, from ancient times onwards, most of it was done by men. Most of it is about men. And much of the subject matter is about military affairs, which has also historically been something that men have gravitated to more than women...

There are in truth a number of women who also think about Rome as much as the men, but it seems as though the cultural and historical norms of that ancient civilization - the militarization, the obsession with personal honor, the ability to party in togas - retain great appeal for men across the social spectrum. As Sarah Bond and Stephanie Wong note at MSNBC:

“Men, to our core, I think are warriors,” some guy called Adam Woolard once stated to his betrothed on video. As it turns out, his fiancĂ©e is former “Bachelorette” star Hannah Brown, who has 1.2 million followers on TikTok. In his next breath, he then claimed that the Roman Empire was all about being ready for battle — as are modern men. But is the measure of a man really based on ancient Rome...?

Rome has a long history that served particularly aggressive men, and in the late Republic there were little to no consequences for public discussion of imperialism, colonialism and misogyny. Imperialism was rewarded with triumphal processions, and ancient literature written for elite audiences celebrated expansion and subjugation. Caesar paid the price for longing for a monarchy, not for committing genocide in Gaul. Roman “freedom” of speech was extended especially to free men who served as heads of their family (a status called the pater familias). The patriarchy was legally codified and came with the power to punish children, wives and enslaved persons who stepped out of line in the household. It is this inherent male power, combined with distorted pop culture portrayals of Rome in television and film, that have conjured a new nostalgia culture for a Rome that never truly existed for 99% of the populace...

A white man who dreams of grisly showdowns on the battlefield might believe that, in some lifetime 2,000 years ago, he would have been born into a noble family somewhere in the Roman Empire. He would have had a British accent. It would have been possible to rise through the ranks to become a despotic war hero, earning his name-check in the annals of history. Perhaps he would even be part of an inbred political dynasty and take on the mantle of his warlord father, destroying barbaric legions and marrying his first cousin in order to further the family line. After a day of slaughter, he would decamp to his swanky villa on a Capri-like coast, where he would get sloshed on natural wines and engage in unspeakable — but very debauched — sex acts. Then he would wake up the next day and do it all over again. 

But humor us historians, and let’s talk statistics. In all likelihood, he would have come from much humbler origins. Around 1 in 4 people in Roman Italy during the Roman imperial period was enslaved. Most others, if they were free, were rural peasants, artisans or people manumitted from slavery. Harsh climates, ambient warfare and decimating plagues dictated the life of many, which is possibly the furthest thing from a cinematically sexy storyline that ends in a blaze of blood, guts and glory...

It can well be that the male obsession over Rome is to fantasize about the power and patriarchy that Rome as both Republic and Empire came to represent through our studies of history. That a number of men admit to such thoughts could seem a dark sign about how we handle gender roles in our modern society.

The thoughts about how things were back in Roman times echo the fantasies men have about being superheroes, or athletic savants, or artistic geniuses, or badasses of any manly code, or anything other than an office manager or work drone in the real world.

We should note that American history, our American culture as defined by the Euro immigrants (conquerors), our political and social constructs owe a lot to what our constitutional Founders wanted to base a national identity upon. The basic principles of checks and balances between the three branches of federal government - and then the balances between the federal and the states - hark back to how the Romans set up their bureaucracy between the Senate (hereditary), the Consuls (no singular king), the elected assemblies (freedmen only could vote), and the various offices like the Tribunes that could hold the powers of the others in check. It mostly worked until internal and external crises led to the rise of dictators and imperators (what we would call Emperors). The historical mirror of our current crises - the rise of a would-be dictator in trump - has been noted already by pundits and historians.

Rome's influence on modern Western civilization is unescapable. It reaches through the European languages - French, Spanish, even some Germanic and Slavic, and especially English - that came to American shores. Art and music, theater and literature, what's popular culture today all have ties in some ways to what became popular in Rome. The American love of sports? Chariot races (the Nika Riots almost destroyed the Roman Byzantium Empire). The American love of toga parties? That would be obvious.

As an American Eurowhite Male, I cannot hide from this question. Yes. Yes, I do think often - not that I count the times - about Ancient Rome and its modern influences. Part of it can't be helped because I studied Latin in high school and college (Alas, my language skills have faded over time: I can barely translate the written word anymore). Part of it can't be helped because I studied European history, and Rome was kind of unavoidable as a topic. Part of it can't be helped because my political diatribes here on this very blog often require me to think of the republican model of checks and balances I hope to see regain value in our government currently torn apart by partisan misrule.

Any regular reader of this blog can note the near-annual remembrances of the Ides of March and my personal advocacy versus the Far Right's War On Saturnalia.

I'm not really kidding, people.

I would like to think my thoughts about Rome are benign, that I focus on the positive aspects of what Roman civilization brought to human history. I am aware of the dangers of patriarchy, slavery, and military violence that were built into that ancient fallen empire: I speak to the hope that the American venture into republicanism evolved over the decades by ending slavery and empowering citizenship to women as political and cultural equals. Yeah I know, the letter of the law is there but the spirit of it? Still working on it. Our nation's militarism, the cultural obsession with manhood, the racism ingrained into our system, and the ongoing mistreatment of women are serious issues. But our American republic - I hope - is aware of these problems and working on solutions, as opposed to how Rome handled it by devolving into Empire and perpetuating the decay a few more centuries until it collapsed on itself.

Just as long as we American men (and women) who vote understand that the would-be Caesars offering themselves to lead us - the likes of donald trump and his Far Right sycophants - are nothing like the Romans of old. trump is no Augustus who moderated his own wants and built a city of marble that stood for centuries: trump is more Nero, spoiled and destructive, who fiddled while Rome burned.

Think to the Rome that gave us wine, the engineering feats of the aqueducts, the exile of kings, Cincinnatus, and the paved roads that connected a world (the roads go without saying!). Think of what Monty Python - the descendants of Roman-occupied Britons - pointed out what the Romans ever done for us. (bloody 'ell, I can't embed YouTube videos at the moment)

"Brought peace?"

"Peace? SHUT IT!"


Thursday, September 21, 2023

So They Can Rule Over Ash

I have said this many a time over the years: There is a sizable faction within the Republican Party ranks that simply do not want the federal government to function in any way. They will force shutdown after shutdown all in the attempt to destroy the existing system so they can rebuild their own twisted Utopia on its ashes.

And now, I'm not the only one. Even the GOP Speaker Kevin McCarthy has gone public with the not-so-secret revelation (via Tatyana Tandapolie at Salon) about his own damn caucus:

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., appears to have had enough of his hardline Republican colleagues after they defeated a procedural vote on a Pentagon funding bill for the second time this week.

On Thursday, six Republicans — Reps. Dan Bishop, N.C., Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ga., Matt Rosendale, Mont., Andy Biggs, Ariz., Eli Crane, Ariz., and Tom Cole, Okla. — joined Democrats in voting against the rule for the Pentagon appropriations bill 212-216, preventing the legislation from moving forward in the chamber. As The Hill reports, votes on rules, which dictate debate for legislation, are partisan and predictable matters as, usually, the majority votes in its favor and the minority votes against it. The rule's failure to pass in votes on both Tuesday and Thursday of this week is rare, marking an embarrassing jab at the Speaker.

With the Sept. 30 government funding deadline looming, McCarthy voiced his frustrations with his colleagues' blockages after Thursday's failure. The rule's defeat is "frustrating in the sense that I don't understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate," McCarthy told reporters in the hallway outside the House chamber, adding, "This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down. It doesn't work."

To be fair, the House defense appropriations bill was a big eyesore. It was going to gut "diversity" training in order to play to the anti-Woke crowd, it was going to cut defense spending by 8 percent across the military branches, it was going to waste money on restarting construction on trump's goddamned border wall, and it was going to stop financial and supply aid to Ukraine.

It was a bill that was never going to get past a Democratic-controlled Senate, and definitely not get past President Biden's veto stamp. And yet, the House Republicans are extremist enough - even among their moderate rational factions - to where they should have passed the vote to even bring this to the floor for a regular vote.

That they couldn't underscores the schism among the competing groups looking to impose their own fanaticism upon their own party as much as the federal government. Not so much that there are "moderates" anymore among the Republicans, but that there are congresscritters from districts relying on military funding who don't want to cross that line.

But those aren't the congresscritters who matter, are they? No, the ones who matter among the House Republicans are the arsonists looking to force a shutdown to achieve their goals.

Matt Gaetz in particular is itching to use the removal tools the extremists negotiated out of McCarthy back in January. And it's not really over Gaetz's argument that McCarthy is not pursuing impeachment on Biden the way the hardliners want. It's barely over Gaetz's fantasy that he could take over the Speakership position himself (even he has to know his scandalous background alienates fellow Republicans).

It all has to do with the reality that a No Confidence vote to remove McCarthy would cause the ultimate chaos. There's no other leader among the Republican ranks that could appeal to the entire caucus to take over that top spot. Jim Jordan? There are other Republicans who hate him as a grandstander with scandal baggage. Steve Scalise - the other possibility back in January - is currently getting treatment for a rare blood cancer, and also doesn't have a lot of party support. Every other ambitious wannabe won't get enough votes to clear the 218-vote hurdle because enough congresscritters still favoring McCarthy will vote against the replacement out of spite.

Even with the reality they need to stand united against the Democrats sitting on the sidelines waiting for defections to rally to them, these Republicans would end up knee-capping each other in the rush to become the next Speaker.

Which still fulfills the Freedom Caucus' fantasy of a perpetual government shutdown: Without a functioning House, there will be no spending bills passed. Nothing will get done. Outside of risking defections from House Republicans in Biden-friendly districts, the Republicans could enjoy a broken divided government all the way through to the 2024 general elections.

And thanks to massive gerrymandering and voter suppression back in Red States, the House GOP can well avoid any accountability from the voters for their sabotage.

This could get uglier than usual. A shutdown is pretty much a given at this point. It would have to take 8-12 Republicans to cross the aisle on their own to deal with Democrats, shift the Speakership to the Dems, and avoid the damage the wingnuts want to impose. However, there is no such courage among House Republicans to make that move. It would doom their political careers (unless they flip Democratic outright in a Dem-friendly district).

There are no brave souls among Republicans. They pander to their rabid voting base and they whine to their media allies, but they are cowards hiding in their safe spaces unwilling to commit to the hard work that governing requires.

Get ready for another shutdown brought to you by a broken, reactionary, cowardly Republican Party. They will not rule, so they will straight-up ruin.

Gods help us.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Punching Themselves Just a Little Bit More

Update: Thanks again to Driftglass over at Crooks & Liars to include this article at Mike's Blog Round-Up. Please give a chance to read the blog and leave suggestions for good book titles for the non-fiction novel project I'm working to complete ASAFP, thank ye.

When the Republicans gained a (slim) majority in the House of Representatives this 2022, a good number of pundits and bloggers saw this coming. Here's me, seeing it coming

The Republicans ought to be rejoicing in that they control the House, which they can use to investigate Biden's administration family for scandals every day they meet on the Hill, and file every impeachment complaint until all they do is vote on embarrassing Biden and Harris for the 2024 campaign (lacking control of the Senate, no impeachment will go their way: For the Republicans it's all about making the Democrats look corrupt and weak to their own voting base). They are openly planning repeated hearings over Russia's planted evidence Hunter Biden's laptop, as it's the only thing they can do other than force federal shutdowns to break the entire government...

And after eight months or so of staging congressional investigations that went nowhere, the Far Right factions of the House have gotten their lapdog Speaker to roll over and beg for his career (via Mary Yang at the Guardian):

Kevin McCarthy, the speaker of the US House, announced on Tuesday he is launching a formal impeachment inquiry into president Joe Biden – despite resistance from Republicans in the House and Senate, where an impeachment vote would almost certainly fail.

The order comes as McCarthy faces mounting pressure from some far-right members of his chamber, who have threatened to tank his deal to avert a government shutdown by the end of the month if he does not meet their list of demands...

According to McCarthy, findings from Republican-led investigations over the summer recess revealed “a culture of corruption”, and that Biden lied about his lack of involvement and knowledge of his family’s overseas business dealings...

Here's the sticking point: The House Republicans could not find any credible witness or piece of evidence that tied Joe Biden to his son Hunter's questionable business activities.

Many of the allegations center on the president’s son, Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, during his father’s term as vice-president. Republicans allege that Joe Biden improperly benefited from his son’s foreign connections but, after several months, have produced no evidence. Watchdog groups say Republicans do not actually have evidence to back up their claims.

One such watchdog group the Congressional Integrity Project issued a review of the Oversight Committee's - led by James Comer - failures to present witnesses or documentation that could have backed the House GOP claims. They provide examples such as their own witnesses from the IRS arguing that Biden never interfered in their investigations into Hunter Biden's taxes, and Comer claiming to have audiotape proof of Biden taking bribes before admitting he wasn't sure the tapes (and the source of those tapes) even existed. The nine regular followers of this blog might remember I wrote about some of this - especially Comer's screwups - a while back:

But if we're taking Comer's work seriously, then what Comer's admitting to is a terrible breach of investigatory procedures. One of the first things you gotta do when you're pulling witnesses together is that you gotta talk to them face-to-face as soon as possible, get their statements on record, verify the source(s), confirm they're in a position to know, etc. What Comer's admitting during that interview is that they didn't even have a handle on the informant to confirm the whistleblower was even real.

The House Republicans were charging ahead without having any evidence or witness to guide them. It's that whole "cart before the horse" and/or "get your damn ducks in a row" idiom (or metaphor, I'm not sure which) in real life.

As I concluded in the same article: At worst, the House Republicans honestly didn't care if they had a witness/whistleblower at all. All they really wanted was the illusion that they had dirt on Biden.

The House Republicans are screaming "Witch" in their witch hunt against President Joe, but that's not a real nose it's a false one. It doesn't matter to them. All they want is the appearance of Biden (and his administration) being corrupt so that they can bully and bluff the refs national media into perpetuating the Both Sides lazy narrative that would protect their banner carrier (trump) from the very real criminal indictments trump faces before the 2024 election. As Li Zhou notes over at Vox:

Republicans also hope to see their nominee, likely to be former President Donald Trump, retake the White House next year. But Trump is beset by many legal problems. The inquiry, and a possible impeachment, will allow the GOP to go on the offensive against Biden ahead of the presidential election in 2024 and defuse some of the attention on Trump’s legal baggage.

Zhou also notes how McCarthy's weakness has been exposed here: Pandering to an extremist Freedom Caucus that doesn't care how this impeachment will play in battleground districts against their narrow House majority:

As such, the inquiry appears driven more by the House GOP’s internal dynamics and political goals than the substance of the allegations. Earlier this year, McCarthy gave any member of his caucus the ability to call for a vote on his ouster in exchange for the speaker’s gavel. In recent weeks, some on his party’s right flank have threatened to oust him if he didn’t pursue an impeachment inquiry, putting pressure on him to take that step.

That’s not to say all Republicans are behind the move, a reflection of just how wide an ideological spectrum McCarthy needs to keep happy. Although more conservative Republicans like Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) have been urging an impeachment push for months, others including Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) have previously spoken out against it.

Even the way McCarthy decided to launch the inquiry — unilaterally instead of by a full vote, as he’d said ought to be the only way impeachment inquiries are authorized — is reflective of how big a tent the speaker needs to cater to. McCarthy’s majority depends on lawmakers who won in districts Biden carried; forcing them to vote yes on an inquiry would have been damaging to their reelection prospects next year, and could have put the GOP majority in jeopardy.

For all the damage Far Right Republicans hope to inflict on Biden here - both personally by attacking his family, and politically - they are not looking at the reality of how most voters won't be affected by the implications of impeachment.

Anyone who's been politically aware since the Clinton administration can tell you this. Back then, the Republicans who took Congress in 1994 promised the nation a thorough investigation into Bill Clinton's scandalous behavior involving Whitewater... and ended up impeaching him for lying under oath about an improper (but not criminal) affair with an intern. A sizable portion of the American population watched this political theater... and yawned a bit before going to the 1998 midterms and reduced Republican seats, a staggering loss that ended Newt Gingrich's Speakership and led to a nervous Republican Senate into refusing to reach even a simple majority vote to remove Clinton. It was as though most Americans knew the charges were a sham and punished the Republicans for wasting everyone's time.

It didn't affect American voters either when Republicans during Obama's presidency promised to impeach him for any number of alleged crimes (including his birth certificate) but noticeably never presented any factual evidence to justify those claims. As Jonathan Chait noted back in 2010 for the New Republic, it was all Scandal TBD (To Be Determined) and to hell with comity or bipartisanship, it was the GOP trying to drown Obama in mudslinging to discourage his supporters. Americans again yawned and voted Obama to a second term in 2012.

Impeach as a campaign weapon didn't even matter much when Democrats imposed it on donald trump and with actual evidence of misconduct in office to back it up. The impeachment over trump's extorting Ukraine into even faking a criminal investigation into Hunter Biden in 2019 may have had legitimate cause, but much like the Clinton impeachment years earlier it was going to end as a whimper in a Republican-controlled Senate that was never going to vote against their own criminal boss President. The second impeachment regarding trump's violent insurrection effort on January 6th to disrupt Congress's electoral certification was an attempt to have it on record of what trump did, but again a divided Senate did nothing to remove trump (even with good cause). And those impeachments did nothing to discourage 74 million Americans from voting for trump in 2020.

I've noticed this about impeachment before. It's a toothless mechanism in the Constitution designed before partisanship rewrote how our government works:

Looking back at the history of impeaching those who served as President, we can recognize the moments where the need for impeaching a corrupt President did not occur because that President's party also controlled enough of Congress to make the point moot. We can see the moments when impeachment was used as a partisan weapon instead of upholding the Constitution. We can remember how only once in our nation's history did impeachment seem likely - Nixon was facing that fate before he resigned - only because our political landscape was genuinely bipartisan enough to see the reality of how Nixon's acts threatened the public trust.

Impeachment is broken. Either it is too partisan a tool that threatens the independence of the Executive Branch, or the Legislative Branch is too partisan and corrupt to properly employ the impeachment process in any legal and just manner...

The Founding Fathers may have created the Impeachment process but did so in an era when partisanship had yet to form during our nation's infancy. They did it under assumptions that civic duty and personal honor would drive the individuals in Congress to value integrity over impulsive selfishness. They never considered the reality that Congresspersons - especially when one of their parties turned corrupt the way the modern Republicans have - would avoid their own accountability, that the entire elective process - bent and battered by decades of gerrymandering and false narratives - would fail to hold them accountable when they failed the people and themselves.

The kabuki dance we're about to see from the House Republicans isn't about accountability, as they themselves do not believe themselves accountable thanks to safe gerrymandered districts back home. This isn't about corruption because despite all their wailing and gnashing of teeth they haven't proven it. 

This is about embarrassing Biden and weakening him on the political stage in order to depress voter turnout in 2024. This is about making it easier to deflect or avoid the real corruption trump is confronting in multiple courtrooms over the next six months.

But it's not going to work. The Republicans keep tripping over themselves failing to find any "evidence" of Biden's alleged sins. Attempts to make Democratic or Center-Left voters worry about supporting an "impeached" President in Biden overlooks how the very partisanship that the Far Right uses to divide the nation will compel hardened liberal and progressive voters to support Biden even more. 

And it's not going to distract Americans from the reality that trump faces in each of the courtrooms where his criminal charges continue apace. Whether it's this November in Georgia or March 2024 in DC or Manhattan or May 2024 in South Florida, by the next Republican national convention we are dealing with the reality that trump is convicted on even one felony criminal charge. The courtrooms are not meant to be partisan, with cases determined by an American jury of our peers, and no amount of mudslinging thrown by Far Right Republicans will change those facts.

The Republicans are desperate. They can't run on issues, and yet they're driven to attack attack attack as the only way they can win elections.

Only now, the blows are hitting their own as they punch themselves in the collective face trying to defend the indefensible.

This would all be enjoyable to watch if it didn't threaten the fate of American democracy and upholding the rule of law.

Monday, September 11, 2023

As They Were on September 11

Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.
-- Marcel Proust

We are now 22 years on from the tragedy of September 11 2001.

There's little else we can do except remember how those events affected us then and haunt us to this day. 

What becomes troubling is the loss of remembering how things were before that day, what exactly we were enjoying, what we were debating amongst ourselves, what we were hoping to do with our lives in the futures we were about to engage. 

At best I can remember what it was like moving into an actual home at the age of 31 - a townhouse - instead of living in apartments through my 20s. I can remember I was still thinking of living in South Florida as a temporary thing - even though I'd been there since 1994 - because I was still job-hunting for library work back up towards Tampa-Clearwater where my family and high school friends still lived. Here I am more than twenty years later and I feel regret that I didn't make an honest effort to settle down where I was - to go out and make more friends away from work, to do a better job of finding a love life, stuff like that - because it added into my lack of a social life that affects me still.

And that's just me, and that's me being selfish when this day we need to remember the people we left behind.

What the world was going into 2001 was a lot different than the world we are now in 2023. We've been into and out of troubling wars that did nothing to resolve the political woes of the post-Cold War and in some respects made them worse across the Middle East and Europe. Our nation seems to have gone into this mental fugue state were we don't even talk about what we'd done in Iraq and Afghanistan, unlike the discourse and self-reflection that haunted us in the 1970s over our wreckage in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. There hasn't even been any public discussion about war memorials for those occupations as though we're ashamed to admit we were in those places for 10-20 years, as though our failures to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan can't be mentioned.

It's as though we as a nation are only trying to remember the parts where we alone were the victims of a global tragedy, going through the motions to honor the dead in New York and DC and Pennsylvania and nothing more.

But the things we're remembering about 9/11 are not the things as they were. They're just our folklore now, legends fading into myth. We're not remembering the facts of how we failed ourselves and the world leading up to Bin Laden's attack, and how we're failing now as wars continue to rage across the world from our inability to confront the rage of little men in power.

Welcome to the world that not only Bin Laden wanted, but the world that Bush and Cheney and Halliburton and Putin and a hundred dictators and wannabes wanted. All the things we've become after September 11. It's not how we should be honoring the ones we love.

Saturday, September 09, 2023

Working On a Greatest Hits Album

Trying to go back through more than 13 years of political blogging to filter down enough articles to publish as a book is tough going.

I tried looking at pulling together as much of the stuff I'd blogged - hell, still blogging - about the nightmarish trump years, but I ended up with over 700 pages of the first draft, and an aggressive weeding still left me around 450 pages. If I'm trying to find an audience, overwhelming them with something the bulk and weight of a British encyclopedia is not the way to go. Even academic libraries will avoid ordering a copy.

So I decided to go through and do a Greatest Hits collection of the best blog articles I've done since 2006, except THAT was getting to 400 pages and I hadn't even gotten into 2019 at that point (my growing habit of writing long essays to impress the judges starts getting worse that year). Part of the problem was that I kept including extra blog articles to provide context to ongoing political issues or scandals I had been covering. /sigh

So, third stage of the project: I'm just going to limit myself. Just going to say "Thirty best articles, no matter what." If I need to provide context, I can add Author's introductory abstracts where needed. Just focus and get the good stuff to the readers.

Sorry for the distractions otherwise. If anything major happens on the trumpian front - say, more indictments - I will jump on that shit and blog some more stuff to add to the sequel book I've got planned BWHAHAHAHA.

In the meantime, any suggestions for a decent book title?

Update: Okay, I found my 30 articles. Page count at a respectable 159 right now. Anything I add for context shouldn't put me over 200 pages, so this is good. Still need a decent book title.

Monday, September 04, 2023

For Our Consideration on Labor Day, the Best American Movies (So Far) of 2023

So here we are September 4th, 2023 set as Labor Day holiday, when our hyper-capitalist society/government pays lip service to the vitality of Workers' rights (while businesses stay open forcing those workers to miss any actual vacation time).

In a nice touch, half of our entertainment industry out of Hollywood/LA California is currently on strike as the majority of workers - the screenwriters, actors, and associated trade groups - are fighting the studio CEOs - many of whom never worked as creators in the business - over royalties from the newer streaming services and guaranteed wages/hirings for their workforce, as well as putting a stop by the companies to using generative AI - computer programming - for cheap and disreputable methods of replacing the creative types altogether. 

There may be a lot of glamour and wealth associated to Hollywood, but the vast majority of people who put it all together - set designers (I know one), writers, editors, background extras (I know a few, ever watch the church fight scene in Kingsmen? The guy with the beard, wait there's like 20 of them well anyway he's in there), associate directors, stage hands, best boys, worst boys (Airplane! reference), second unit camera crews, actors who never get the name on the marquee but are relied on to provide memorable quirky characters - are barely earning minimum wage. Most of the jobs are temp, they're paid by contract that end when the filming projects end, and so a lot of them struggle to pay rent. Even Lawrence Olivier, one of the greatest actors of his generation, took on crappy film roles because "Money, dear boy."

So while we can cheer on the screenwriters and the actors who are fighting for their livelihoods - for better and consistent pay, for ensuring AI doesn't remove the human element of creativity, for bigger pieces of the pie that the CEOs are hogging for themselves - we should also take note of what Labor Day also signals: The unofficial end of the summer.

Technically, autumn begins on the equinox (this year's is September 23) but as most of our lives revolve around school (as kids and as parents and workers) we think of our seasons in that regard. Summer is when school breaks (usually after Memorial Day) and when school resumes (most places the week before Labor Day, although some places planning ahead for bad weather days have moved it earlier).

Hollywood noticed the summer months were great for business, starting in the 1970s when crowd-pleasing blockbusters like Jaws and Star Wars realigned the production model for the decades that followed. As a result, every weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day were programmed for budget-busting extravaganzas that the studios gambled on generating insane profits to cover their losses on the gambles that failed.

While the summer blockbuster calendar has evolved over the years - Hollywood has found April as good a time for big-budget films as May - it's become an annual tradition. It's also become an annual tradition for Hollywood to release certain types of films in the other seasons: Autumn becomes a time for romance and horror (Halloween, kiddos) flicks, and Winter (at least before January) the time for stylish low-budget movies to get into the film critics Year's Best lists and aim for the Golden Globes and Oscars awards to give themselves artistic pretensions. January is when you dump the movies you don't expect audiences to enjoy - although some do become blockbusters because the studio heads didn't get it or else the film plays to a timely issue - before a mini-cycle of romance and horror flicks in February to lead into the next cycle.

Having grown up to the Blockbuster era - ever since I got hooked on Star Wars - I've paid some attention to how this system works, and have gotten a little frustrated over the years about how Hollywood and their film academy mistreats the big money-makers of the summer when it comes to doling out the awards signifying great work and craftsmanship.

I was livid in 2008 when the Dark Knight got ignored for a well-deserved Best Picture nomination, and it's been a point of contention with me since Mad Max Fury Road that Hollywood needs to realize that despite the money-making interest of blockbusters many of those films are genuinely well-made. Audiences may be lured to spectacle but they're also lured to well-written stories, well-acted performances, and eye-stunning camerawork. The Oscars do hand out technical awards and the production-value awards like Visual Effects and Sound Editing, but the top-tier awards like Best Actor/Actress, Best Director, Best Picture? It's insanely rare for a crowd-pleasing blockbuster to win any of those awards much less get nominated, especially if it was a summer release film.

The Vulture review site is with me.

To that I say "No More." It's high damn time that we start recognizing the effort, sweat and blood and tears that go into the blockbuster films and crowd-pleasing surprise hits. If there was anything good about the backlash following the Dark Knight snub was how it opened up the Best Picture category to cover up to 10 films, expanding the odds that a box-office winner can win the Oscar as well. Here's my list of "YOU BETTER NOMINATE THESE FOOKING MOVIES ELSE THE STREETS OF L.A. WILL SEE RIOTS" nominations:

M3GAN: It's about time the January dump movies get a champion to rally their cause. Yes, it's a campy horror movie. Yes, it's another "Robot Turns Violent" movie. Yes, it's not supposed to win awards. But the audiences picked up on the black comedy, caustic criticisms of the Silicon Valley business model of rushing production, and sly way the whole thing got put together. Getting any of the technical awards would be likely, but also Best Makeup or Costuming (for the work on making M3gan a believable humanoid) as well as Best Screenplay alongside the Picture nom. Horror movies need more love, dammit.

Admit it, this is the Hero Shot for M3gan



Granted this is another horror-comedy movie in the M3GAN vein, with the caveat that this film had its own interesting real-life backstory that ensured a built-in audience. What gives this film the award-worthy boost is the quality of the cast - a surprising number of A-Listers and award winners - and people involved in its production (Phil Lord and Chris Miller, two guys responsible for the best post-modern franchise works of the past decade). Despite the silliness - and shocking gore - of the film's plot, there's a lot here to qualify Cocaine Bear for Best Picture, along with Best Actor (DAMMIT RAY DESERVES IT) and Best Catering.

Admit it, this is the Hero Shot for Cocaine Bear

Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse: When the Dark Knight got snubbed in 2008, another critically-acclaimed blockbuster in Wall-E also failed to receive a Best Picture nomination. That snub was due to Wall-E being animated, which exposed the Academy's snobbery when it came to animated film. Apparently, nominating Disney's Beauty And the Beast back in 1991 did not set the standard: All it did was create a new Oscar category so that the award voters could go right back to ignoring high-quality animated works. 

Thing is, animated movies still count (Foreign feature films, after all, can get nominated for Best Picture as well). So Spidey better be under consideration Academy members, because GODDAMN this film was a literal work of art. Pulling from different art styles - watercolor, diagrammatic, cut-paste, stop-motion - and layering it with thousands of details - and thousands of differently drawn Spider-Men - you can hang individual cels from this movie in museums. Tying it all together are impressive voice-acting performances (ANOTHER thing that ticks me off is how the Oscars ignore voice acting, but that's another rant) and a tight yet expansive screenplay pulling on the Spider-Man mythos to set up legitimate drama, humor, pathos, and tears. The last third of the movie itself is considered one of the best (and darkest) cliffhangers since Empire Strikes Back.

This is a movie that deserves Best Picture consideration as well as Best Director, Best Editing, Best Sound and Sound Editing, Best Screenplay (adapted), and with any luck FINALLY a vocal performance - Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Daniel Kaluuya, Oscar Isaac - getting an acting nom.

This is NOT the Hero Shot for Miles Morales or Spider-Gwen Stacy.
You have to watch the movie to see their
individual moments of AWESOMENESS.

Barbie and Oppenheimer:

I've kind of talked about this already, but since both movies came out, the reality of both movies as Oscar-worthy contenders cannot be denied

It is hard to separate each movie now, not just because of the cultural memes that the Barbieheimer Event generated, but because of the eerie similarities and reflections shared between both films. Both movies with auteur directors deserving of Oscar consideration. Both movies with surprisingly well-plotted screenplays addressing the human condition (vanity, fear, the questioning of our place in the cosmos, gender role expectations (yes even in Oppenheimer)). Both movies with deep pools of actors that could earn the films multiple Acting nominations.

There is a terrifying possibility that given Barbie's blockbuster status (still ongoing) as one of the biggest box-office hits of all time that the Academy will ignore it for the Big awards - Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Cinematography - when this year's nominations are made. They dare not. Every critique and review of the movie spells out the artistic merits in spite of it being a mere "Intellectual Property" product. Audiences are not going back to re-watch that movie because of the memes but because Barbie - especially its themes of women's identity - speaks to them as an experience, something very few films - even the artsy pretentious ones - can affect.

Oppenheimer - as I mentioned before - was clearly Oscar bait from the get-go, but genuinely earns that consideration due to the high quality work put into it. That it will get Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Cillian Murphy), Best Supporting Actor (Robert Downey Jr), Best Screenplay (adapted), and likely Cinematography and Editing won't even be up for debate. 

What will be up for debate will be which of the two movies - joined at the hip by fate forever now - will actually win the big awards when the time comes next February 2024 when they open the envelopes and hand out the Oscars.

(glances back and forth)

I say go for it. Academy voters, figure out the math and plan ahead to make it so that BOTH Barbie and Oppenheimer tie in each category they qualify for. DO IT. SHARE THE OSCARS. Share the Acting trophies (Murphy and Gosling for Actor, Robbie and Blunt for Actress), share the Director's (Nolan and Gertwig), share the Editing, share the Cinematography, share the Best Picture (it's what they should have done for La-La Land and Moonlight). Hell, share the Sound Editing and Set Designs and the Costuming awards. I think the only things you can't share are the Screenplays (Barbie may be an IP but the script is original) but get the Original and Adapted anyways!


Granted, this will suck if you're a Spider-Man fan, but honestly Best Animated Feature by itself is still a worthy award...


(Hollywood releases in the winter season a Martin Scorsese historical epic Killers of the Flower Moon with its own cast of A-Listers and high artistic quality that makes it an obvious Oscar contender for everything other than Gratuitous Use of the Word Belgium in a Dramatic Presentation)

(muttering) Goddammit why does Martin have to do this every time other good movies are released that same year to snub his work again...?