The Heist Movie

killing-posterAs a fan of heist movies, I saw Logan Lucky last week and was, as expected, disappointed – for too many heist movies suffer from the same problems: major plot holes and all-too-convenient twists that turn certain doom into success whose odds are less likely than winning Powerball twice in a row. Despite killer ensemble casts, exotic locations, cool cars and clothes, the heist genre usually involves an outlandish script that, in the end, leaves the viewer wishing things could have been better.

Directed by heist-meister Steven Soderbergh (Oceans 11, 12 & 13), the action in Logan Lucky is fast and exhilarating, and the cast of characters involved in the heist all have their requisite unique quirks. In fact, the pace is so fast you often don’t realize how ridiculous the action is until hours after you’ve left the theater. Without giving anything material away, the Logan family – Jimmy (Channing Tatum), Clyde (Adam Driver), and Mellie (Riley Keough) – are among a long line of Logan’s who have a black cloud of bad luck hovering over their heads. After Jimmy loses his job working underground construction at a Nascar track, he conjures a plan to steal money from the track. It’s time to turn the Logan luck around.

He comes to this point after learning on the job that the track stores cash from concession stands in an underground vault – and that the cash is transported automatically from POS terminals through a network of pneumatic tubes. Jimmy needs a demolitions expert (mandatory for all heist movies) who happens to be incarcerated in a local jail. All Jimmy needs to do is break his demo buddy Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of jail on the day of the job, and secretly return him to serve out his sentence afterwards. If that’s not enough, the plan requires Clyde to go to jail on purpose to accompany Joe in the plan- and he too must be broken in and out. Although by the end of the movie it’s not clear why it was necessary for Clyde to go inside.

Anyway, that’s enough bullshit right there to make you shake your head. But it only gets crazier as additional conspirators join the heist. They’re able to masquerade as exterminators, garbage haulers, maintenance workers – anyone you need them to be to waltz into a place unchallenged. In fact, everyone on the team seems be able to saunter anywhere they want without worrying about security guards, locks, fences, surveillance cameras, motion detectors – all the kinds of things you’d expect to thwart penetration of the track vault, and none that exist.

Do they get the money? Can they get Joe and Clyde in and out of jail undetected? Can Mellie the hot chick drive better than Richard Petty? Watch the movie – but don’t be shocked if your suspended belief doesn’t come back from the dead. Oh, another question to ask yourself at the right time: Did they even need the demolitions expert which prompted the whole idiotic break-in/break-out scheme in the first place?

The heist movie genre tends to be fairly formulaic in that several elements appear in just about every attempt. Here are a few:

  • The place where the loot is stored must be absolutely impenetrable – so impenetrable that no human being need monitor it. It can be underground encased in 100 foot thick concrete, guarded by a lattice of lasers, submerged beneath the ocean floor – yet in the end not so impenetrable after all.
  • If the vault is monitored by security guards watching on closed circuit TV, one of the following weak spots will exist: there will be a corner of the vault that is out of sight of any camera, the closed circuit TV system can be disabled with a wire cutter, someone can hack the system and put up a visual façade that fools the monitors that all is well in the vault.
  • Trained personnel overseeing the security of phenomenal wealth are easily distracted, easily fooled and remarkably gullible. Every heist movie includes characters that waltz right past shady behavior and blow off suspicious interactions.
  • Sixty seconds in a heist movie takes 10 minutes of screen time.
  • The heist gang must acquire a device that does not really exist, pull off a stunt that mortal, earth-bound humans cannot perform, or rely on a total breakdown of internationally accepted norms of behavior.
  • If the heist movie was made before 1970, the robbers must get jammed in the end; after 1975 they must get away with it.
  • Finally and thankfully, most heist movies feature a delightful ensemble cast which usually makes a disappointing movie enjoyable.

Now, here are some examples:

Oceans 11 (1960)
Slick movie featuring the Rat Pack. Requires the heroes to knock out the electricity of the entire Vegas strip on New Years Eve. Yes, it requires a demolition man. They get the loot out in a garbage truck which passes swiftly thru a police roadblock – maybe because it’s driven by a shuckin’ black guy (Sammy Davis, Jr.). In the end, the loot – which they store in a dead co-conspirator’s coffin – is burned up when the dude is cremated.

Oceans 11 (2001)

Modern-day substitute Rat Pack-ish actors redo the original. This time it takes a thing called the “pinch” to knock out Vegas’ juice. Really? This pinch is something you can actually obtain? And it’s theft doesn’t spur a national dragnet?

Oceans 13

The gist of this heist is to cause full mayhem at a ritzy casino owned by a dirtbag. The plan is to rig the casino’s myriad games to pay out in unusually generous quantities, then encourage all the winners to leave before they can lose their winnings back. The heist team includes guys who go to a factory that make casino dice so they can trick them out to come up 7’s. And they get the casino owner to carry a cellphone that disrupts a key security element of the casino. More unbelievable shit occurs climaxing with the boys simulating a scary earthquake with a gigantic drilling machine. Don’t ask.

Sexy Beast

The team must extract enormous wealth by breaking into a vault from under water via a pool in a next door bathhouse. Funny how often banks build their impenetrable vaults adjacent to easily accessible structures. In the end the lead character is allowed to keep a pair of ruby earrings and 10 pounds while his psychopathic tormentor winds up buried beneath a swimming pool.

Heist

The goal of David Mamet’s intricately crafted heist: steal gold bullion from a Swissair jet right before it’s scheduled to take off. The diversion: blow up a radar unit on the grounds causing the taxi-ing plane to stop on the tarmac. The heist: remove the gold while no one in the airport does a fucking thing. By the way, the robbers are able to bring a van onto the runway without the bat of a lash from anyone in authority. And as in Oceans 11, the robbers drive the loot off the property past a phalanx of law enforcement who have no imagination and nary a hint of curiosity.

The Killing

Directed by Stanley Kubrick and released in 19xx, this heist movie has moxy. Since this is 1956 all it takes for the robbers to enter the sanctum sanctorum is a knock on the door. In the end the mastermind gets away with it – almost. Just before he boards a plane his luggage with the loot breaks open on the tarmac.

The Usual Suspects

A handful of guys overwhelm 30+ armed men to board a ship full of … nothing. Well, nothing except Keyser Sose.

Mob Movie Alumni Succumb

mobsters

In just a couple days three actors who played in critically acclaimed mob movies died:

Frank Vincent (Goodfellas, The Sopranos) – Played Billy Batts in Martin Scorcese’s award-winning Goodfellas and then had to wait a few years before he could join the cast of The Sopranos because David Chase thought Vincent had been too identifiable as Batts. In the end, Frank Vincent as Phil Leotardo fleshed out the final years of the TV series in fine fashion.

Gastone Moschin (Godfather Part 2) – Moschin – a well-regarded Italian actor in his native country – played the manipulative Don Fannuci who eventually gets the bullet in the head from young Vito Corleone.

Harry Dean Stanton (Godfather Part 2) – Harry Dean went on to play an amazing array of characters, so his brief stint in GF2 is not that impactful. Still he was a member of an extraordinary cast. His role as an FBI agent was to oversee the turncoat Mafioso Frank Pentangeli. Of course, why he needed to continue to provide protection after Frank decided not to help the prosecution of Michael Corleone remains a mystery.

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This Week Through the Looking Glass

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Alice encounters Tweedle Paul and Tweedle Ryan

Many people in the past several days have made pretzel-logic comments worthy of Lewis Carroll. Here is a sampling.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders

During a press conference in which the main topic was Trump’s gutsy decision to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (aka. DACA), Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended her boss for “upholding the law.” DACA was an Obama nod to reality that spending big bucks to dog children who had been brought to America illegally by their parents was not the best use of limited immigration enforcement resources. After all, these kids known as “Dreamers” had no say in the decision to come here, and in the meantime had grown up like every other American kid: going to school, playing sports, working and paying taxes. Their threat level is certainly lower than that of Eric Bolling. Regardless, many people see Dreamers’ presence on US soil as an affront that must be dealt with through expensive tracking, lengthy judicial review and ultimate deportation.

Still, Sanders fell through the looking glass when she said this: “We are a nation of law and order. And the day that we start to ignore the fact that we are that, then we throw away everything that gives these people a reason to want to come to our country.”

In other words, the very existence of a DACA policy keeps young people from wanting to come to the U.S. Although it sounds absurd – like something from the mouth of the Red Queen – it makes sense why Trump may ultimately change his mind and support DACA.

Scott Pruitt

Following the devastation visited upon Florida by Hurricane Irma, EPA head Scott Pruitt said this about the inevitable chatter linking a super-storm to climate change: “To use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to this people in Florida.” Mr. Pruitt meet the Mad Hatter.

Bringing up climate change after a major weather event most likely exacerbated by the effects of climate change (ocean warming, rising sea levels) is “insensitive”? Are Floridians softer than the cheeks of Jared Kushner?

Following Pruitt’s logic, we shouldn’t mention terrorism on 9/11 lest we force sensitive New Yorkers into underground safe spaces. C’mon, Scott. Come up with a better way to perpetuate denial and resurrect phrenology.

Martin Shkreli

Out on $5 million bail and suffering from shkrelitis (a rare disease in which a person is born without a soul), former hedge fund scammer and pharmaceutical scrooge Martin Shkreli posted a bizarre challenge on Facebook: grab a strand of hair from Hillary Clinton’s head during her upcoming book tour and receive a $5,000 award. Although Shkreli’s lawyer noted “He says things that are stupid. I don’t think stupid makes you violent,” the judge in the case thought otherwise and revoked the massive bail. Given that Clinton is protected by Secret Service, and attempt to yank out one of her hairs would no doubt cause a slight fracas.

The smirking Shkreli can now play the Cheshire Donkey in prison while he awaits trial in January.

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan on Trump’s plan to end DACA (September 1 version): “I actually don’t think he should do that. I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix.”

Paul Ryan on Trump’s plan to end DACA (September 6 version): “President Trump was right in his decision. He made the right call.”

Ryan: both Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.

End Note: Fuck you Equifax

equifux

By now half of America knows Equifax – the collector and disseminator of personal information under the ruse of doing a service known as calculating a credit score – is a sham operation with no scruples, no technical competence and no ability to manage crisis. Why do they even exist, given that two other companies, Experian and TransUnion, provide redundancy?

Several weeks ago Equifax learned that detailed personal records of a mere 143 million Americans were confiscated by hackers, and in the ensuing days in which they kept the breach a secret at least a few Equifax execs dumped their company stock. Since going public with the debacle Equifax has behaved worse than Uber on steroids. The minimum they could do is to help people lock their files so further damage is reduced – but no. These hollow-souled corporate miscreants can’t or won’t even provide basic support. Equifax stock has justifiably plummeted $30 a share to $114 in the past week.

In any event, as suggested by several news outlets I visited an Equifax website where I was supposed to be able to request a credit freeze which would thwart would-be criminals from initiating an unauthorized raid on my family jewels. Sure enough I met more Equifax incompetence. After putting in my last name and last 6 digits of my social, I had to pass one of those irritating Captcha tests. You know – the ones that challenge you to click on the blocks in an array that contain a picture of a storefront, or a road sign, or an Equifax exec drinking Louis Roederer Cristal in Monaco.

Sure enough, every time I successfully satisfied Captcha, I was presented with another Captcha to navigate. After four or five tries, I peered around my office looking for a peephole and waiting for Allen Funt to emerge and yell, “Smile – you’re on candid camera!”

Fuck you Equifax.

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Make it Snappy, Texas

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Texas has experienced a whirlwind of sovereignty in its 600 year history starting out as a territory of Spain, then of France and later Mexico, then as a separate country known as the Republic of Texas, followed by entry into the United States of America (1845) and a subsequent exit to join the short-lived Confederate States of America (1861), and finally re-entry into the US of A in 1865 where they have bided their time, stewing until the opportune moment arrives when they will bolt once again. It’s not called the Lone Star State for nothing – these people harbor smoldering grievance over what they consider the looting of their wealth by the Federal government. Here is the rationale for secession as explained on the Texas Secede website.

In many ways. Over the past century-and-a-half the United States government has awarded itself ever more power (but not the lawful authority) to meddle with the lives, liberty, and property of the People of Texas (as well as those of the other States).

Sapping Texans’ wealth into a myriad of bureaucratic, socialist schemes both in the U.S. and abroad, the bipartisan despots in Washington persist in expanding the federal debt and budget deficits every year. Texans would indeed gain much by reclaiming control of their State, their property, their liberty, and their very lives, by refusing to participate further in the fraud perpetrated by the Washington politicians and bureaucrats.

By restoring Texas to an independent republic, Texans would truly reclaim a treasure for themselves and their progeny.

Lately the fervor in Texas for an exit strategy has increased. For example, the Washington Post reported in June that “a secession bill won overwhelming support from the mock legislature in Texas Boys State, the American Legion’s summer program where youth leaders create and run their own government.” This was the first time since the Boys State (which is kind of like the Model UN) was founded 80 years ago that one of its chapters voted to bolt the union.

This came a couple months after the Texas Republican Party was almost forced to vote on putting pro-secession language in its platform after the demand fell just two votes short. Tanya Robertson, a Texas State Senator and avid proponent for secession said “there’s been a big groundswell of Texans that are getting into the Texas independence issue. I believe conservatives in Texas should have a choice to voice their opinion.”

She also told the Houston Chronicle that the big reason Texas should leave the US is the overall dissatisfaction with politicians in Washington D.C. and dismay with federal spending.

And therein lies the irony, for Ms. Robertson represents parts of Harris County and Galveston – recent victims of Hurricane Harvey.

What’s an ungrateful secessionist to do when her state is devastated by a monster hurricane like Harvey and needs to slurp up $100 billion from the bad old Federal government – besides contend for Hypocrite of the Century Award? Will she be able to get over the dismay of accepting federal spending? My guess is she’ll take the money -and the credit – and be sure to remember to vote against aid to other states that suffer similarly in the future.

Residing in New York – one of the most highly-taxed states among the 50 (for now) – I only wish Texas had seceded before the Harvey devastation occurred.

Then they could get on line behind Bangladesh, Angola, South Sudan and all the other sovereign nations begging for clean water and a bag of rice.

Unpredictable or Just Tragically Non-strategic?
Donald-Trump-1053758
Trump shoulders the white man’s burden.

Kim Jong-Un continues to emanate his noxious farts across the Pacific Rim, taunting his biggest enemy the United States with threats to nuke a major city or reduce Guam to a rock pile. And with each salvo, the Washington intelligentsia wrings its tiny hands. What does Un want? What can we do? Have we run out of road to kick a can down? Is “Fire and Fury” an ultimatum or the next Vin Diesel movie?

The analysts at Major Terata have mostly figured it out. Mr. Un wants to reunify the Korean peninsula to avenge his father’s defeat at the hands of the Yankees in ’53. And His Portliness plans to do it once he’s confident no one will stop him. He doesn’t want to turn LA or Chicago into a smoldering miasma of radioactive dust and steam. He doesn’t want to be left alone. He certainly doesn’t give a shit about handouts of food and oil.

China’s not going to do anything constructive, and no bullying from Trump is going to change that. The Un-ster is biding his time, puffing up his assault weapons, waiting for the day the US withdraws the 30,000 military personnel from Seoul – then he invades. And what can anyone do about it? Is the US going to risk the loss of San Francisco to save Taejon?

In view of this gloomy outlook, Trump seems intent on fucking up the situation even more.

He parades around boasting of his unpredictability, head-faking his opponents into submission. But he’s really a strategic simpleton. Consider this buffoonery:

  • He threatens to shut down all commerce with any country that does business with North Korea -which essentially means China, a trading partner that does hundreds of billions with the US. The goal? Shut off NK’s supply of oil. Last time someone did that to a country, that country attacked Pearl Harbor and introduced America to WWII. In other words, Trump seems bent on delivering a double-patty shit sandwich of a Great Depression and World War III.
  • Trump continues to excoriate the Iran nuclear deal even though all evidence suggests the plan is working. Iran is not violating the deal, yet Mr. Orange demands his team fabricate a reason for the US to withdraw. Why? Because to do otherwise would amount to an admission that Obama had gotten it right. In the meantime, Trump sends a message to Kim Jong-Un that the US doesn’t abide by its deals – thus shutting down any avenue for a negotiation.
  • Who among the Pacific Rim countries does the US need most to stay cool in the face of intimidation? How about South Korea whose citizens share a border with the Hermit Nation and who would be quickly devastated should a provoked Un decide to push the button down. So what does unpredictable Trump do? He calls out the South Korean government as “appeasers” and threatens to blow up a significant bi-lateral trade deal. If that’s not non-strategic I don’t know what is.

And then he tweets this out!

untweet

Paul Newman’s Rolex

1504494237855

A rare Rolex Daytona watch given to Paul Newman by his actress wife Joann Woodward is set to go to auction on October 26. Auction house Phillips in New York whispered a target price of $10 million. That buys a lot of Casios. In fact, you could probably buy the whole Casio watch factory for that sum. But the Newman Rolex is in a class by itself.

The watch is stunning by itself; but add in the Newman effect – engraved with a loving phrase from Joann, featured in several photos upon Paul’s wrist, worn in top class auto races – and you have an auctioneer’s wet dream.

1504439035293
Prediction: the watch goes for north of $15 mil.

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Resign with Honesty – Please

kammen

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer endured unrelenting opprobrium and ridicule during his short stint in the job – much of it coming from his malignant boss Trump. Day after day, week after week the man could do no right. Yes, he self-immolated regularly, but he also was dealt one after another shit hand. Trump would make some lofty pronouncement that Sean was forced to defend, only to learn that Mr. Unpredictable had renounced it contemporaneously.

So when Spicer finally concluded resignation was the only path forward, he explained that it was in response to Trump’s decision to bring in a new Communications Director – the vile Anthony Scaramucci. Everyone knew Spicer had 1,001 real reasons to leave, but he chose to shamelessly blame it on the Mooch.

A few days ago, top American CEOs warming the bench on a couple of Trump’s fig-leaf business advisory boards resigned en masse. IBM’s Ginni Rometty lead the exodus and explained it this way:

The despicable conduct of hate groups in Charlottesville last weekend, and the violence and death that resulted from it, shows yet again that our nation needs to focus on unity, inclusion, and tolerance. For more than a century and in more than 170 countries, IBM has been committed to these values. … We have always believed that dialogue is critical to progress; that is why I joined the President’s Forum earlier this year. But this group can no longer serve the purpose for which it was formed.

Again, the resignation was blamed on some bad alt-right behavior in Virginia instead of the real reason which is Trump ‘s instability and racism. And when it comes to issues facing the economic health of the nation, Trump is a buzzkill. To wit: his desire to simply walk away from NAFTA with no plan for the fallout, his willingness to shut down the government unless his asinine wall gets funded, his suggestion that it’s OK for the government can default on its debts, his maniacal focus on resurrecting 19th century industries while ignoring those of the future. Despite his so-called CEO bona-fides, the man is a menace to big business.

But Rometty and gang could not bring themselves to cite their real reasons for disbanding the economic forum. Hell, they didn’t even lay blame for Charlottesville even tangentially on Trump’s ante-bellum rhetoric.

Now we learn that Dan Kammen resigned his position as Science Envoy for the State Department because … Trump screwed up on Charlottesville. Really? That’s why Kammen is bagging his 20 year career in government?

Kammen has been a scientist in the employ of the Department of Energy, the EPA and the State Department – and he also holds a directorship at UC Berkeley. Why couldn’t he just cite the real reason for his resignation: that Trump and his addled deputies are the most anti-science Luddites to run a government since Pope Urban VIII and his Vatican vagabonds castigated Galileo for daring to suggest the earth revolves around the sun. (How do you say “fake news” in Latin?)

Otherwise you’d have to believe that eminent scientist Dan Kammen was willing to accept Trump’s ignorant war on science forever as long as he kept his rancid racism in check.

C’mon all future resigners: have the guts to say it loud and proud exactly why you’re leaving the stink factory. Because it stinks.

The Day the Clown Died

clown

The death of comedian, actor, writer, director and TV huckster Jerry Lewis revived discussion of his never-screened, rarely-seen debacle of a movie titled “The Day the Clown Cried.” The Lewis production – which deals with imprisoned children, Nazi gas chambers…and a clown – is legendary for being perhaps the worst movie of all time. And we’re not talking bad in a good way like the films of Ed Wood and John Waters. Or even low budget stinkers like “Squirm” and “Porky’s 23.”

If you believe those who were involved in its production, or the handful of people close to Jerry who got to scope some dailies, “The Day the Clown Cried” is an inadvertently tasteless clump of poor acting, bad cinematography and nauseating storyline.

Jerry plays over-the-hill circus clown Helmut Dorque (pronounced Doork according to the script) who is arrested by the Gestapo after a couple of their agents spotted him drunkly insulting a framed photo of Adolf Hitler. Deep into the story Dorque suffers the wrath of fellow inmates who challenge him to perform his supposedly world-class clown act, only to watch him fail miserably. (Sidebar: The movie may have done better as a half hour “Twilight Zone” episode – but reading the script it’s clear Jerry tried to stretch a thin tale into a full-length epic.) Could there be anything more pathetic than watching a clown be unfunny? Here is some of the treacly dialog:

PRISONER: If he’s Germany’s greatest clown, God help the Fatherland. Doork, the Great! You got paid for that? To go without food is bad enough, but to have to watch that!
2ND NEW PRISONER (accusingly): You’re not the clown I saw. You lied. You’re big all right. A big liar.
4TH NEW PRISONER (contemptuously): And I was going to tell my kids!
UHLMANN: He’s no clown. Not even a bad one.
HELMUT: I am. I am a clown! Give me a chance. I just got started.
But the men continue to walk away. Helmut tries to do a hand stand, but his hands slip in the mud, and he lands ignominiously on all fours. When he looks up, only Adolf, Galt and Uhlmann remain.
ADOLF (sadly): That’s what we’ve been eating our hearts out to see! You stink. You really stink.
HELMUT: I… I slipped. I can do it.

Someone kicks mud into Dorque’s face and soon the clown sn on his knees in complete humiliation. Suddenly a small child approaches and, naturally, finds Dorque’s antics hilarious.

Soon enough the Nazis discover that Dorque’s abilities to charm young children with his goofy antics can be useful in keeping them calm before their ultimate demise in the gas chambers. Yikes! What a concept – and probably the main reason Lewis decided after the movie was in the can to keep it there.

In the end, Dorque – like the Pied Piper of Hamlin – escorts his young fans into the chamber and goes down along with them.

Someday, maybe soon, now that Jerry is gone, this artifact will play somewhere for cinephiles to ogle and debate. Will the audience sentiment be that “The Day the Clown Cried” was far ahead of its time – or will they exclaim “I’ve seen better film on teeth”?

End Note

eclipse

Trump tweeted out this meme the other day. Clearly it’s another in a long swipe by Trump to boast of his (white?) superiority over Obama. But another interpretation is that Trump is a mere moon in a solar system centered around the brilliant Obama.

Also, even though Trump looked directly at the obscured sun, is he that ignorant not know that eclipses last only a few minutes? Where’s the rest of the meme where Trump’s smug face slides off to the right never to be seen again in our lifetimes?

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Virgil, quick, come see, there goes Robert E. Lee

Confederate Statues New OrleansAfter a portly subhuman with a bad haircut named James Alex Fields plowed his car into a crowd of people in Charlottesville killing one and injuring more than a dozen, some observers likened the attack to the ISIS tactic for sowing terrorism in urban redoubts. After all, incidents of Islamic terrorists slamming pedestrians with motor vehicles have occurred across the globe in recent years.

Ironically, another tactic of terrorism favored by ISIS (and Al Qaeda) is the destruction of statues and monuments erected by peoples and cultures with whom they find no common ground. The Taliban was vilified for destroying an enormous status of Buddha in Afghanistan in 2001, and ISIS destroyed many ancient ruins of significant cultural value when they were “in charge” of territory in and around Palmyra, Syria.

Slowly then suddenly America has entered a bifurcated state driven by the pros and cons of dismantling of monuments erected to honor Civil War veterans of the Confederate army. The long-defunct Confederacy has become the touchstone of modern racists, which in turn has made the existence of countless bronze and granite statues in the likenesses of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, and others into a tug of war between haters like the KKK and neo-Nazis, and those who hate the haters.

Human civilizations have long documented their presence in history – good and bad – by drawing on cave walls, standing stones atop one another, hoisting totem poles, erecting grand edifices, making films, and on and on. Without such artifacts, those who follow would have no lens into what these civilizations were like, what they accomplished, what they stood for, what caused their downfall.

Consider the dilapidated ovens in Auschwitz, the shell of the Product Exhibition Hall in Hiroshima and the sunken Arizona in Pearl Harbor. Each a broken relic kept intact as a testament to an episode of historical significance. Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda films Triumph of the Will and Olympia survive to this day to be studied for their cinematic artistry – even though some might make a case that their existence is an abomination. The Enola Gay aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima has been restored and sits in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum where people on both sides of the debate can reflect on its meaning.


Should this film be studied or banned from viewing?

When a civilization purges documentation of its time on earth – the good and the evil – humanity is the lesser for it. Think about what treasures were lost when the Library of Alexandria in Egypt was burned by Julius Caesar in 48 BCE.

Let’s resist the urge to act like ISIS. The various and sundry monuments to the Confederates who fought against the abolition of slavery should be removed from their pedestals of admiration and placed in public museums where the hatred can be curated for future generations.

Fuck You HP

A recent TV commercial for HP’s Spectre x360 PC shows a presumably sick kid lying in a hospital bed. A healthcare worker enters the hospital room carrying one of HP’s illustrious laptops, and proceeds to tell the apprehensive kid that she’s “afraid I have some terrible news.” Yikes! Now at this point the viewer has no idea who the sponsor is – and given the nature of what appears to be the making of a heart-rending story one might expect it to be a spot for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital or another in a long line of ambulance-chasing law firms trolling for a new generation of mesothelioma sufferers.

The kid expresses some concern but not nearly enough given the circumstances. Wouldn’t anyone – old or young – at least gulp when hearing the words “terrible news”? Instead, the kid calmly awaits the news that he has … bugeyes! And these fictitious cartoonish bugeyes are then shown to the kid on the slick HP laptop – and everybody has a rip roaring time.

This ad is such artifice that it belongs in the annals of the most shitty TV commercials of all time. Imagine a real life situation in which a care-giver made a joke that implied you have 2 weeks to live. Or that the brain scan you just had showed a tumor the size of a lemon. If HP was honest, they’d show the kid stabbing the worker in the eye with a rectal thermometer – and then googling “how to dismember a hospital intern” on the slick laptop.

CEOs Head for the Hills

IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty issued the following memo today regarding the decay of Trump’s Strategy and Policy Forum:

By now, you’ve seen the news that we have disbanded the President’s Strategy and Policy Forum. In the past week, we have seen and heard of public events and statements that run counter to our values as a country and a company. IBM has long said, and more importantly, demonstrated its commitment to a workplace and a society that is open, inclusive and provides opportunity to all. IBM’s commitment to these values remains robust, active and unwavering.

The despicable conduct of hate groups in Charlottesville last weekend, and the violence and death that resulted from it, shows yet again that our nation needs to focus on unity, inclusion, and tolerance. For more than a century and in more than 170 countries, IBM has been committed to these values.

Engagement is part of our history, too. We have worked with every U.S. president since Woodrow Wilson. We are determinedly non-partisan – we maintain no political action committee. And we have always believed that dialogue is critical to progress; that is why I joined the President’s Forum earlier this year.

But this group can no longer serve the purpose for which it was formed. Earlier today I spoke with other members of the Forum and we agreed to disband the group. IBM will continue to work with all parts of the government for policies that support job growth, vocational education and global trade, as well as fair and informed policies on immigration and taxation.

Just two questions:

1. Why join in the first place? Anyone worthy of being on a “strategy and policy forum” should have known that associating with a narcissistic sociopath like Trump would lead nowhere good.

2. Why not specifically call out Trump’s ugly behavior? The memo makes it sound like the group was disbanded because of misbehavior in Charlottesville, instead of the real reason which is that Trump is a fucking racist lunatic.

Gimme my Infrastructure

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A fellow traveler stuck on the escalator at the 86th Street station.

Trump talks a lot about spending a trillion dollars on fixing infrastructure, but he hasn’t done anything about it to date. (Maybe he should up the ante to a quadrillion dollars to gather more attention.) Meanwhile, subway and rail systems in New York City continue to break down.

The power went out on the Q line today – and I was stuck on the escalator for 45 minutes!

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Lord of the Lies

lordCNN booted Trump shill Jeffrey Lord from its AC360 program hosted by Anderson Cooper for tweeting the infamous Nazi shout-out, “Sieg Heil!” (hail victory). Lord was reacting in a fashion often familiar to hard-right wingers to a Twitter antagonist who took issue with him. Lord quickly deleted the Tweet, but as everyone who has graduated third grade knows, once you blurt out a tweet it lives forever. That Lord would choose a Nazi salute to diss his tormentor publicly is just one more example of the poor man’s intellectual disorder.

Jeffrey Lord – an early Trump supporter and sycophant – was added to the AC360 talking-head lineup in yet another of cable TV’s ill-advised attempts to add “balance” to the slate. This is never a good thing. Panelists should come to the table with bona-fide reputations for intelligence, integrity and honesty – and their political persuasions should weigh very little in their recruitment. When a left-leaning show like AC360 brings on a righty to mix in with the cadre of liberals the audience doesn’t smell balance – they see craven tokenism.

In the case of AC360, Lord played the punching bag every night – and deservedly so. His comments and analysis were routinely ridiculous to the point of risibility. A common defense of Trump or someone in the administration would be to point out how some democrat in years gone by had done the same thing. Lord would make nonsensical analogies that often made his own case worse.

Jeffrey Lord was an embarrassment – yet he maintained his perch at Anderson Pooper’s table precisely to be the embarrassing foil for the rest of the gang. I’m sure CNN was upset with the “Sieg Hiel” tweet not because of its caustic meaning but because they’ll now have to scrounge up another nitwit to wear the token dunce cap.

After all, that CNN kept Lord in the line-up after the so many times Cooper lost his shit is prima facie evidence of their satisfaction with Jeffrey’s useful idiocy.

Battle of Inchon? I’ll look for it in the App store.

In a recent test of 1,746 adults who were shown an unlabeled map of Asia, only 36 percent could point out North Korea. The only thing I find surprising about this is that there were that many correct answers. Americans are a lazy bunch who find solace – even pride – in ignorance about anything other than pop culture.

It’s particularly troubling that the U.S. and North Korea are casually throwing around threats to fling nukes at each other, yet the level of angst in this country seems comfortably low. Perhaps it’s because the last time things got so heated was in 1962 during the Cuba Missile Crisis – well before the majority of Americans (and their parents) were born – that there’s so little concern. Few people alive today have any direct experience with nuclear saber-rattling.

I suspect most Americans are oblivious to the back story of the animus between the U.S. and North Korea, and how we came to be mortal enemies.

I’m sure most Americans have virtually no understanding of the Korean War – and I would bet no more than 36 percent of adults could identify the century in which it was fought. And yet we’re possibly stumbling toward a conflagration with an adversary that could devastate Seoul, Guam, Tokyo, Hawaii and potentially a big city on the West Coast.

This week I reread the story about the Battle at Inchon and was reminded of how close the North came to overrunning the entire Korean peninsula – which might have triggered the use of nuclear weapons less than a decade after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Watch this old-time reel and see if you learn anything new.

End Note

This is Major Terata’s 300th blog post.

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The Mooch Screws the Pooch

Mooch11In 2012, B-List “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken appeared on “The Celebrity Apprentice” hosted by carnival-barker Donald Trump. He was “fired” in the season finale. In an interview Aiken gave later to the News & Observer of North Carolina, he claimed “Trump didn’t decide who got fired on Apprentice, I mean, NBC made those decisions.” Aiken added this scathing indictment of Trump’s lack of program control: “There used to be a little thing right on his desk that looked like a phone — he pretended it was a phone — but it was actually a teleprompter where the producers were sending him notes.”

In other words, the cool and decisive businessman Trump portrayed on “The Apprentice” was nothing more than a suited puppet.

Given Trump’s hiring and firing practices since taking office it would seem Aiken’s insights are spot on.

It should be clear to all by now that Trump is a terrible hirer. He has taken very public issue with the performance of several employees including “very weak” AG Jeff Sessions, Chief of Staff Reince Pubis, Press Secretary Sean Spicer and HHS Secretary Tom Price who took shit from Trump for not closing the Obamacare repeal (as if he pulls all the levers to accomplish that feat.) Oddly, Trump berates these people as though he inherited them from a previous manager instead of choosing them himself. No doubt Trump will keep up the abuse against Sessions in the hope the little Hobbit will resign and save Trump the grief of firing him.

In the most recent head-scratcher, Trump brought on board the bloviating Anthony “Mooch” Scaramucci as the new communications director – presumably to tighten up the operation and shut down damaging leaks from the West Wing. In reality, I believe Scaramucci’s sole purpose in joining the administration was to browbeat Spicer and Pubis into quitting so that Trump wouldn’t have to fire them. No sooner had Scaramucci gotten his foot in the door, Trump retained a new Chief of Staff – Gen. John Kelly – who promptly fired the undisciplined, foul-mouthed Mooch. Note that Kelly, not Trump was credited for chopping off Mooch’s head.

The Mooch lasted all of 11 days in the job – just long enough to sow panic in the ranks and accomplish the purge Trump wanted but couldn’t bring himself to engineer.

Guess the Congressman

One of these slobs is an actual member of Congress. Can you guess which one?

Congress

For the answer, Google “Brent Farenthold”….

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RIP: Martin Landau

LandauI was a faithful fan of the 1960s TV show “Mission: Impossible” with its dramatic self-destructing tape introducing the week’s impossible mission to IM Forces leader Jim Phelps. Following the tense theme song by Lalo Shiffrin, the next few minutes of the program would dramatize Phelps’s process of assembling his team. He’d ponder glamor photos of several candidates but every episode required the same cast: a strong man (Peter Lupus), a demolitions/MacGyver-type dude (Greg Morris), an elegant couple experienced in the finer arts of espionage (real-life married couple Barbara Bain and Martin Landau), and someone to fill a mission-specific role played by a different guest actor each week.

It was always Martin Landau as Rollin Hand who was the most captivating of the ensemble cast. He was the inside man most at risk. The man who had to survive on wits, cunning and confidence. The man most likely to be “disavowed by the secretary” should anything go wrong – per the voice on the opening tape.

Years later I discovered Landau as the preening yet sinister henchman in “North by Northwest” along with heavy-weights Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason. Landau’s performance was especially delicious as he played the character with just the right amount of obsequiousness.

Watch this juicy clip where Landau’s Leonard reveals the film’s crucial scam to his boss, Philip Vandam.

Sadly, after “North by Northwest” and the successful run of “Mission: Impossible” for which he won a Golden Globe, Landau found himself in the wilderness, unable to snag decent roles befitting his skills. Like all good actors he kept acting, but it wasn’t until 1994 that he got the opportunity to shine once more in multi-dimensional role as the aging Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” opposite Johnny Depp.

Love this scene – RIP Martin Landau.

Books by Conservatives Top the Charts

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Appearing this week on the best sellers list in the New York Times Book Review are three relative newcomers by right wing celebs moonlighting as authors.

Number 10: Understanding Trump by Newt Gingrich. “The former House speaker explains the president’s philosophy and political agenda.”

Is this a book or an index card? And how many errata will be issued between now and the end of the year?

Number 7: The Swamp by Eric Bolling. “The Fox News host suggests how Donald Trump can fight corruption and cronyism in Washington.”

Curiously missing from Bolling’s book: Don’t hire your daughter and son-in-law to be senior advisors; don’t pimp your products while occupying the Oval Office; stop raiding Goldman Sachs for every open slot in your administration.

Number 3:Rediscovering Americanism by Mark Levin. “The radio host argues (what else) that the founding fathers would be shocked by the expansion of the modern government.”

They might also be shocked by flying machines, cell phones, anesthesia, television, atomic weapons, corn in a can. So what. Times change – for some.

Liberty Mutual: Insurance for Wimps

In a recent TV ad Liberty Mutual explains its superiority to Brand X because it covers a call to the local auto repair shop to fix a flat tire! That’s right – young men today cannot be expected to manage such daunting tasks as changing a tire. That’s what insurance is for.

A feeble boy in the ad struggles with a panoply of tool-like objects while his sorry-case-for-a-human friend phones daddy for advice. Meanwhile, the dude standing next to mommy smirks smugly knowing he’ll never need to learn any of life’s fundamentals because Liberty Mutual is there (for a fee) to handle it when things go wrong.

I suppose starting a car by popping the clutch, changing the oil, and driving with the left hand while insinuating the right down a girlfriend’s blouse are all soon to be lost arts.

End Note

Let’s stop referring for now to POTUS and go for POTTB (pronounced Pot-bee) instead – after all Trump is really nothing more than the President of the Trump Base. Kinda like the way Annette Funicello ran her fan club, only less organized.

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Trump Family Thesaurus

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In the face of the war on oil, Trump’s children promote wearable petroleum products.

Trump’s children have played an outsized role in government while continuing to reap personal & financial benefits in a clear cauldron of conflicts of interest. However, their collective bad behavior is not homogeneous (that would put them on the wrong side of the Trump base that abhors homo-anything.)

As it turns out their various forms of ill-gotten gains are rather complex in nature making it difficult for some to accurately describe their abhorrent characteristics. In response, we at Major Terata offer this two-dimensional thesaurus to press contributors and bloggers seeking just the right adjective to describe the moral turpitude.

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This Week in ‘That’s Rich’

Trump tweeted this missive the other day:

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What about a president who refuses to give information on his tax returns? Is it fair to ask “what is he trying to hide?”

End Note: Rexit

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wipes his face during the delegation photo with leaders from Global Coalition working to Defeat ISIS at the State Department in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2017.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTX3286X

Clearly unhinged, Trump is reverting to his Apprentice persona – a 1980s master-of-the-universe parody ready to fire anyone who fails to please his highness. At this moment Attorney General and honorary Hobbit Jeff (Dildo Baggins) Sessions is vulnerable to a thumbs down from Emperor Trump because he recused himself from an investigation in which he had a potential conflict – thus betraying his master.

Sessions in definitely a dead man walking.

But what about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, another of Trump’s ill-conceived appointments? Might he also be on the short list for extermination?

If so, the lead up to his forced departure will always be remembered as “Rexit.” So poetic.

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Coulter Suffers in Coach

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Obviously she’s never heard of Spirit Air

Given the rancid reputation for customer dissatisfaction the American airline industry has cultivated over the past years and months, it’s hard to imagine how an aggrieved passenger could actually generate sympathy for one of the big companies flying the unfriendly skies. But leave it to right wing wench (say that three times fast!) Ann Coulter to upset the dynamic and allow a company like Delta to grab the moral high ground.

Apparently big time TV personality and author of such rabidly anti-liberal one-word megahits as Godless, Mugged, Treason, Guilty, Demonic, Slander and the hilariously titled In Trump we Trust was requested by Delta’s in flight service personnel to relinquish her seat – in the coach (!) section that the millionaire personality had paid an extra whole $30 to secure. No doubt she foolishly believed the extra 3 inches of legroom was worth the risk of succumbing to on-board Gestapo tactics from Delta’s SS storm troopers – as well as the added responsibility of having to open the emergency door in case the plane from New York to West Palm Beach pulled a Sully and belly-flopped into the Atlantic Ocean.

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If Delta hired Stasi agents, Coulter would have been dismembered and stowed in an overhead bin

According to Delta, “Coulter originally booked seat 15F, which is located by the window in an exit row, however; within 24 hours of the flight’s departure, the customer changed to seat 15D, which is by the aisle. At the time of boarding, Delta inadvertently moved Coulter to 15A, a window seat, when working to accommodate several passengers with seating requests.”

That explanation seems to describe a situation just a trifle less fascist than the episode in which United Airlines bloodied a passenger in its effort to remove him from his fully-paid seat so a flight attendant could deadhead in his place. Still, Coulter had reason to be pissed. After all, as Ann explained she had consumed $10,000 worth of her own time to research and book the precise seat meeting her needs. . . in coach.

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Somehow that complaint seems disingenuous. She spent $10k worth of Coulter-time to optimize her experience in coach, when less than $1,000 would have secured a cushy seat in first class?

Are we to believe that Coulter can’t afford to take Netjets, or hop aboard a chartered plane, or even pay to get into first class and avoid all the bullshit? She’s bitching over being denied the perks that $30 buys on a run-of-the-mill airline? Are her books selling so poorly that she must slum with the rest of the “deplorables” heading to muggy, soulless Florida with pockets stuffed full of Golden Corral coupons?

In retrospect, it’s hard to feel pity for Miss Coulter. After all she could have taken her own advice from 2013 and flown an alternate airline to West Palm Beach where a certain Orange-tinged creature might have awaited her services.

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A Lesson from 1996 ALCS

trumpyankee
This is the form of a closer?

New York Yankees fans of a certain age will no doubt remember a strange game late in the 1996 season when the Bronx Bombers met up with the Baltimore Orioles for the first game of the ALCS. With the Orioles up 4 to 3, Derek Jeter hit a solid shot into deep right field – solid, but not quite enough to clear the fence. Just before the ball plopped into the glove of Oriole Tony Tarasco for a certain out, a young Yankees fan named Jeffrey Maier reached out and snagged it away. (Sidebar: the glove that Maier used to catch the ball went for $22K at auction.)

Incredibly, fan interference was ruled by officials to be a home run for Jeter thus tying the game; the Yankees went on to win the game 5 to 4, and the series 4 to 1.

It’s clear from every angle that the ball did not or would not have cleared the fence, and that Master Maier interfered.

But despite indisputable evidence the Yankees benefitted from a phenomenally horrible call by the umpire standing mere feet from the play, Yankee fans – instead of maintaining some semblance of restraint over the tainted outcome – celebrated Maier and his interference.

The New York Post called him the “Angel in the Outfield” as though God approved of the Yankees ill-gotten victory. Maier was feted all over town as a hero.

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I bring up this episode because it serves as an illustration of how people willfully ignore any and all evidence that their chosen team succeeded unfairly. And that no amount of protestation by opponents can penetrate the obstinance. I’m sure every legitimate complaint levied against Yankee fans by Oriole fans was swatted away as “fake news.”

This is a lesson that the anti-Trump crusaders have to reckon with. As evidence mounts daily of collusion with Russian players to influence the election, Dems and lefties hold out hope that the Trump base will finally cave to reality and admit their guy cheated his way into the Oval Office. They’ll say they’re beating the story to death because the whole sordid affair was an egregious assault on American democracy (which it was) – but in fact, the bigger objective is to wipe the smirk off the faces of “the deplorables.” They can’t wait for the day when the Yankees admit they should have lost to the Orioles that late summer day in 1996.

It will never happen.

Trump could be impeached, Kushner and dim Don Jr. could be imprisoned, Melania could go public on the heartbreak and shame of E.D. – and the base wouldn’t flinch. Trump will always be a business genius. He’ll always be the greatest deal maker of all time. Every American will beg not to win so much because of Trump’s terrific agenda.

Give it up Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon. Put a sock in it Rachel Maddow. Stop being so dramatic Joe (I used to be a Rep) Scarborough. Your quests to get the Trump base to show humility, eat crow, admit mistakes, beg forgiveness are, well… have you heard about a $22K baseball glove once owned by a 12-year old?

Just Look Out Your Fucking Window!

lawn

I received a letter in the mail from Lawn Doctor the other day advising how to manage my lawn during the dry conditions of the current drought – which begs this question: at what medical school did Dr. Lawn do his internship, Trump University?

It has rained just about every day in the Northeast since precipitation stopped being solid in April.

rain
Central Park is experiencing a bull market in rain this year.

Memo to Lawn Doctor: stop sending boilerplate memos and start crafting some missives that I can use – like how to cultivate cranberries in my back yard that is now a bog.

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Murkowski: Better than Impeachment

murk3
Flip these three and the game is over for Trump.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski joined the crowd the other day to bust Trump’s balls on Twitter about Orange-man’s infantile tweets against MSNBC super-flyweights Joe Scarborough and Mika (soon to be Mrs. Joe) Brzezinski. Here’s what the soon-to-be less frigid Alaskan’s Republican in the Senate had to tweet:

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Couple that with Murkowski’s recent vote-against-the-grain to deny moron Betsy DeVos the post of Education Secretary and you have what might be an actual maverick-in-the-making Senator (as opposed to an ersatz one like John McCain.)

Some background. After her father Frank resigned his position as Alaska’s junior senator Lisa joined the Senate in 2002. How did that happen? Frank resigned from the Senate to become governor of the state, and as such was in the Constitutional position to appoint someone to take his place – in this case, his daughter. She went on to face the voters in 2004 and won.

But six years later when her term was to expire, Lisa ran for re-election and was defeated in a primary by a Tea Party dude named Joe Miller who was championed by political savant Sarah Palin. Bravely, Murkowski soldiered on and pursued a quixotic write-in campaign. And though she captured just 39 percent of the vote, since the tally was divided among three candidates, it was good enough to prevail. She became the first successful write-in candidate for a Senate seat since the mid-1950s.

Although she got roughly zero support in her 2010 campaign from the Republicans and owed them nothing she chose to caucus with them after defeating the loathsome and litigious Miller. That was not required, but she did it.

At the time of this writing, Murkowski is pro-choice and pro-same sex marriage, and seemingly against Trumpish asshole-ism. Coming from Alaska she has to be pro on guns and drilling for oil and all that, but we at Major Terata believe Murkowski – one of the few female Rep Senators who continually gets treated like a back-bencher – has to be getting a bit sick of the “old boy” action in the body of which she is a member.

Could Murkowski be in the mood to pull a Bernie Sanders (VT) or Angus King (ME) and become an Independent who caucuses with the Dems? Is that a crazy notion?

Such palace intrigue has been common in New York where Democrats hold 32 seats in the Senate against the Republican’s 31, but because 8 of the Dems caucus with the Reps, the Reps run the show. It’s pure rancid politics all the way, but it can give a the discontented an opportunity to exercise power and wield influence.

Given her views, Murkowski might wish to be on the other side of the aisle. But what woman in her right mind would leave the majority and all its trappings to stumble into the wilderness of minority Dem status? No one – unless she had some fellow travelers. Two come to mind: Susan Collins (ME) and Don Heller (NV).

Collins has long been to the left of her Rep colleagues, and like Murkowski took issue with Trump’s stupid social media antics. She manages to survive because she is holding down a red seat from the mostly blue Northeast that would normally be in Dem hands, but she’s closer to Dem thinking than several actual Senate Dems. And Heller is suddenly on every Rep’s shit list for being the only Rep Senator who took a stand against the fugly Obamacare repeal bill because it would be bad (unlike troglodytes Ted Cruz and Rand Paul who came out against it for being too damn generous.) Heller is also up for reelection next year and is extremely vulnerable – as a Republican. (Perhaps if he switched out in time… then again, that didn’t work so well for Arlen Spector of the Keystone State.)

Still, what if Murkowski, Collins and Heller decided together to caucus right now with the other side? Because they have scruples and can no longer abide the foolishness of their leaders.

What if just three senators followed their hearts and bolted? The Dems would instantly have a 51 seat majority and run everything in the Senate. Such an outcome would be 10 times better than impeaching Trump and allowing Cyber-organism Pence to take over a Republican-dominated Congress.

Could such a thing happen? Two years ago, would you have said “President Trump” could happen?

What a Difference 3 Days Make

New Jersey is among several states that have Constitutional mandates to install a balanced budget every year starting on July 1. That is to say, the Governors and their Legislatures have 365 days to come up with a budget that each can swallow.

Of course, many can’t seem to muster the wherewithal to accomplish this basic task, and like NJ this year start off another July without a closed budget. Brinksmanship ensues. Miserly shutdowns of public services follow (despite the fact that essential services can somehow be maintained). In NJ’s case, the illustrious public servants chose to shut down – on the July 4th extended holiday – public beaches.

Today we learned that what was an intractable, inscrutable problem to solve in 365 days was eminently solvable in 368. How very odd.

Sadly, showing no sign of shared suffering you might expect from a normal political leader, absentee governor Chris Christie lolled about a stretch of verboten beach during a period in which mere Jersey mortals were barred from the famous shore and instead turned to reruns of Snookie and The Situation styling their armpit hair.

Imagine: if Christie had a scintilla of political savvy he instead of Trump might now be BLOTUS.

christiewhale
Just because you couldn’t celebrate your family reunion on the Jersey Shore this weekend doesn’t mean Christie should be denied.

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Uber’s Continued Decline: Tipping

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Q: What did the leper say to the prostitute?
A: Keep the tip.

I consider myself a decent tipper at restaurants and bars, driven in part by a desire to reward good service and compensate staff I encounter regularly, but also because I believe crappy tippers are reviled in the backroom and are more likely to find a booger in their pappardelle. Tipping in its barest form is really an exercise in avoiding personal shame and reducing fear of the unknown.

Still, I find the archaic tradition of tipping a mostly distasteful charade by management seeking to minimize costs perpetrated on consumers of practically everything that involves interaction with a human service provider. Rather than paying a decent wage, restaurateurs, cab companies, parking lot owners, and many others would rather shame their customers into making up the difference between poverty and minimum wage for their forlorn employees. It’s been a scourge of travelers for years now. Doormen, bellhops, concierges, cab drivers, baristas, bartenders, dudes who ticket your $100 third piece of luggage at the airport. All have a hand out for compensation; each capable of fucking you up should you fail to measure up. Stiff the baggage handler and when you arrive in Oakland you’ll discover your luggage is in Auckland. Boston? Oh, I thought you said Austin.

I pity the fools who dine with the mentally impaired who labor over the excruciating details of determining the tip. The guy who tries to determine to the exact penny a tip that when added to the bill will result in a round number. The guy who debates whether to tip on the bottom line or on the price minus tax. The guy who throws his share of the bill on the table, conveniently forgetting to add a tip.

And What about an expensive bottle of wine? Does the waiter deserve $27 more for corking a $150 bottle than a $15 bottle?

Not only is tipping essentially a shakedown, the practice is extremely uneven in its application. Someone who serves you “food” at Applebees expects a tip; that same person at McDonalds does not. You tip the guy who takes your bag at the curb, but not the guy who takes your bag at the jetway. Why not? Perhaps the best argument against this stupidity comes from Mr. Pink:

Now today we learned that Uber – that paragon of ride-hailing companies – is planning to modify their app to allow riders to tip drivers at the end of a ride. There was a time when the value proposition of Uber was the seamlessness of the ride: you hail, you get a ride, you get out, done. No money changes hands. Now, Uber – a so-called 21st Century entrepreneurial company whose mission is to disrupt the taxi status quo – is re-introducing a throwback to the 19th Century tip option. Presumably, like every other company that recoils at paying a living wage Uber has opted to press more of their salary challenges upon the customer/rider.

Now, instead of enjoying the promised seamless ride on Uber, the rider (most likely drunk) must decide whether to pay only the agreed-to fare (and risk a minus-2 star rating from Jugdish, along with banishment from hailing Uber for 2 weeks), or knuckle under and tack on 20+ percent while questioning Uber’s supposed superiority over a yellow cab.

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Where’s Alex Jones on Alexandria?

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Okay, but what about the baseball shooting hoax?

Should we expect Alex Jones and his conspiracy website Infowars to call bullshit on the recent alleged shooting at a Republican baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia last week? The one in which a person supposedly from Illinois whose name is said to be James Hodgkinson might have opened fire on Congressmen and aides with what might or might not have been an assault rifle and/or a semi-automatic pistol?

After all, the whole episode parallels the so-called Sandy Hook massacre in which 20 children and six staff members were supposedly mowed down in 2012 by a whacked out dude code-named Adam Lanza. After Sandy Hook, Infowars and like-minded patriots called into question the validity of the attack, claiming it was a staged event by anti-gun zealots looking to gin up sympathy for shredding the Second Amendment.

Proceeding with careful analysis, Infowars’ grand pooh-bah Jones said in 2014, “I’ve looked at it and undoubtedly there’s a cover-up, there’s actors, they’re manipulating, they’ve been caught lying, and they were pre-planning before it and rolled out with it.”

Might not the same be said about the baseball assault? Wouldn’t it be consistent in the eyes of Infowars followers for anti-gun nuts to stage an attack on Representative Steve Scalise, Republican Whip, and others in his entourage so as to foster support for stricter gun laws, or worse, total confiscation of all firearms?

Think about it. Have you seen any pictures of anyone shot at the ball-field besides Scalise? Where are these people? And what about Scalise’s alleged gunshot wound? A bullet to the hip and he’s in grave danger of losing his life!? Never in the history of Westerns and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies has anyone croaked from a shot to the hip.

Are people really supposed to believe that the “cop” shown in this clip throwing out the first pitch of the eventual ballgame between R’s and D’s was struck by a bullet from a deranged middle aged white guy? He seems fine enough to cast aside the prop crutches and hurl a fast ball down the middle.

And why were the Capitol police at a practice scrimmage on a weekend? Obviously they knew in advance about the plan and were poised to take in Democrat stooge Hodgkinson before he could rat about the conspiracy.

Finally, you can rearrange the letters in “Hodgkinson” to spell “Kinghoods.” More than anything else, that constitutes compelling and irrefutable proof that the shooting was a hoax.

Major Terata will continue to monitor the situation closely for ties between Scalise, Hodgkinson and the pizza joint that fronts for John Podesta’s pedophile ring.

Kalanick Takes a Hike

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Uber Ex-CEO Travis Kalanick counsels a driver on how to be a more effective asshole.

Uber founder Travis Kalanick has finally resigned his position as company CEO just a few days after saying he would take a short sabbatical from the job. After upsetting the moribund taxi industry with a slick app that connects people seeking rides with drivers seeking to give rides, Kalanick presided over a steady compendium of foolish errors that blemished Uber’s image – but hasn’t dented the company’s valuation (yet). These include sexual harassment, price-gouging customers during times of panic, hosting phony versions of their app to elude local laws, bait-n-switching drivers by lowering their take per ride, prying into the privacy of a rider who was raped by an Uber driver, deploying an app called “Hell” to track rival Lyft drivers.

Uber is a living case study of all that can be morally wrong with a company.

But as we blogged in July 2015, the biggest affront to society that Uber might inflict is the exploitation of its massive database of rider behavior. Uber knows an awful lot about where their customers come from and where they go, when they go, how long they stay, how often they visit a destination, when they deviate from a pattern of travel. All of this info poses a tremendous opportunity for Uber to fuck with people’s lives in ways small and large.

Advertisers crave access to the data so as to offer deals based on where people go. Law enforcement wants rider data to make cases and solve crimes.

And most concerning are governments that want access to the data so as to monitor behavior, predict unrest and clamp down on the populace. In early June, it was reported that the Egyptian government asked Uber for access to Uber’s live ride tracking tool known internally as “Heaven.” (Sidebar: Tools called Heaven and Hell – Is Kalanick a Dante fanboy?)

Supposedly Uber declined, so the Egyptian apparatchiks offered preferential treatment to a local rival called Careem who also supposedly declined. Egypt’s police state must have gotten a boner thinking about how they could predict the time and location of protests and shut down ride-hailing services to thwart transportation options to the protest sites.

As Uber strives for world domination, they will undoubtedly face greater pressure from governments (including the U.S.’s NSA) to share live and archived data on riders. Odds are, they’ll buckle.

Kalanick’s resignation will be met positively by investors, but the genie is already out of the bottle. Things are destined to get worse with Uber – only now the damage will be under the radar instead of on TMZ.

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Trump’s ISIS Head-fake

trumpisisRemember Tora Bora? Until the other day it hadn’t been in the news for years, so it’s completely understandable if someone born after 1996 thinks Tora Bora is a tiki bar drink served in a coconut carved in the shape of a monkey’s face. But others will recall it as the rugged mountainous region interlaced with caves and tunnels on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan where Osama bin Laden and his murderous Al Qaeda and Taliban acolytes hid out after the U.S. began its retaliation for the events of 9/11. It was at Tora Bora where American special forces closing in on bin Laden’s ass were pulled aside, on the orders of the George W. Bush administration, so that the local Afghan mujahadeen could close the deal. Who’d a thunk that the Afghan mujahadeen might be susceptible to taking bribes to allow bin Laden to escape into friendly Pakistan where he’d live another dozen years to watch porn and plot intergalactic destruction?

Anyway, after a decade in which Tora Bora was so low key that even Airbnb to this day has no listings, we saw this ominous headline:

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The first and only legitimate reaction has to be: Why is ISIS still around to sneak into Tora Bora given Trump’s claim more than a year ago that he has the best plan to beat the Islamic State (a plan he was keeping secret so as not to tip off terrorists, or worse, to inform one of his competitors for the nomination of his master plan)? The future POTUS boasted at the time at a rally in Connecticut, “We’re gonna beat ISIS very, very quickly folks. It’s gonna be fast. I have a great plan. It’s going to be great. They ask, ‘What is it?’ Well, I’d rather not say. I’d rather be unpredictable.”

Strangely – after all, he said he already had the perfect plan – once in office on January 28th, Trump signed one of those nifty leather-bound folders with his Crayola thus ordering his generals: “Within 30 days, a preliminary draft of the Plan to defeat ISIS shall be submitted to the president by the secretary of defense.”

Then, precisely 30 days later the Defense Department laid on Mr. Orange a plan so terrific he had no choice but to tout its brilliance. “As promised, I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS, a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians and men, and women and children of all faiths and all beliefs. We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.”

That’s the plan. And that’s why ISIS now owns Tora Bora.

I Love the Smell of KY in the Morning

I have a feeling actual Vietnam vets may not agree with draft-dodging Trump who once said this: “It’s amazing, I can’t even believe it. I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world, it is a dangerous world out there. It’s like Vietnam, sort of. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave solider.” And this: “You know, if you’re young, and in this era, and if you have any guilt about not having gone to Vietnam, we have our own Vietnam — it’s called the dating game. Dating is like being in Vietnam. You’re the equivalent of a soldier going over to Vietnam.”

Trump’s version of a land mine? Vaginas.

Presumably Mr. Germ-a-Phobe Donald Trump has managed to escape contracting any serious venereal diseases throughout his meat-market days (although based on his pronouncements of late, we can’t rule out the belated effects of syphilis). And because he personally requires no assistance to deal with sexually transmitted diseases, it only makes sense that no one else in America should either.

Today, six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) resigned in protest of the Trump administration. One of those members, Scott Schoettes said, “The decision to resign from government service is not one that any of us take lightly. However, we cannot ignore the many signs that the Trump administration does not take the on-going epidemic or the needs of people living with HIV seriously.”

Schoettes noted that the Trump administration took down the Office of National AIDS Policy website and has not yet appointed anyone to lead the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.

Maybe if Schoettes and his gang had served in Playtime-Vietnam like Trump, he wouldn’t need to fret over a few HIV/AIDS sufferers who must recognize that, according to the late, great and likely queer Jerry Falwell, “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals. It is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

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The Cabinet of Dr. Demento

PuckerTrump ran a cabinet meeting in front of the press and in a fashion usually associated with such illustrious narcissists as Kim Jong-Un and Saddam Hussein, went around the room and extracted statements of praise and fealty from the pitiful underlings. While each cabinet member sought to out-suck the previous sycophant, Trump sat there with an evil grin – relishing the embarrassment he was putting his staff through.

The spectacle simply added new reaffirmation that Trump is a sick fuck. He had the nerve to spout such bullshit as:

  • “Never has there been a president, with few exceptions who has passed more legislation, done more things.” The Republican controlled Congress hasn’t passed a single piece of major legislation.
  • The wonderfulness of his plan for the “single biggest tax cut in American history.” He has not proposed a plan; Congress ain’t working on one.
  • Taking credit for an economy that generated 1.1 million jobs in the past seven months, noting “No one would have believed it.” In the previous seven months, the economy generated 1.3 million jobs – also unbelievable, I suppose.

Observers continue to debate whether Sir Orange is a liar or hopelessly deluded. Does it really matter which?

Knowing that most people could not watch the entire cabinet charade without throwing up along the way, we at Major Terata have compiled the best of the worst ass-kissing statements and helpfully rated them on the “pile of shit” meter. You’re welcome.

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Dem Bums

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After losing by -2.8 million votes, Dems have to do better

Once again readers of the New York Times were treated to sage analysis about how the Democrats are a pubic hair away from complete irrelevance. In today’s Sunday Review section Frank Bruni moans that the Dems continue to fail nationwide because they haven’t “put forward the right candidate for a largely working-class region whose barns need paint, whose town centers want for bustle and whose manufacturing plants are too few and far between.” Of course, he takes for granted that the Dems could do such a thing without impacting their majorities in the big cities where voters don’t have barns to paint, but do have legitimate urban-centric concerns.

I’m always fascinated by such articles that declare the Democratic party all but dead. A disconnected dinosaur. In no way do I believe the Democrats are mostly ept (as opposed to inept), and any political party can always do better. But damn, why are commentators always chanting kaddish over the corpse of the Democratic party when the stats suggest something else. Consider:

  • In 2016, the Democrat candidate for president captured almost 3 million more popular votes than the Republican. If Dems have a problem with winning the presidency, it’s largely due to an archaic Electoral College system that disfavors them – not a lack of voter enthusiasm. (Sidebar: the last time a Republican won an open presidential election with a majority of popular votes was almost 30 years ago with George H. W. Bush’s victory over powerhouse Mike Dukakis in 1988.)
  • Although Senate Democrats represent 55 percent of the population, they hold an emasculated 48 percent of the seats in the U.S. Senate. Their weakness in the Senate is more a function of the stilted way in which each state is allotted two Senators than their crappy campaigning skills.
  • Republicans control the House of Representatives in large part through blatant gerrymandering which took place after the 2010 Census was completed. Although each party has taken advantage of this decennial opportunity to redistrict their states, it was only in 2010 that the computational and data mining capability advanced far enough to enable widespread, pinpoint gerrymandering. The result was that in many states the Reps took 60-80 percent of the House seats even though they had won the state with just a bit over 50 percent. The House Reps are ahead of the Dems by 39 seats, but the gap is largely because of gerrymandering rather than voters’ disgust with the donkey party.
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    Oddly-shaped North Carolina House district #12 that conveniently helps the Reps beat the tarheel out of the Dems.

So it’s fair to say the Dems could do better, but the litany of commentary that excoriates them for loss of influence in American government seems misguided. Perhaps the pundits should look at the systemic flaws in our electoral processes at least as hard as they look at Hillary Clinton’s pants suits.

At the end of the NYT article, Bruni reports on a conversation he had with Renee Gardner, a hotel maid in Fleischmanns, NY in the heart of the old-time Catskills. I guess because she’s more than 75 miles from a big city, she was compelled to vote for Trump (who presumably promised to bring back the borsht mines.) Here’s what she had to say: “Everything Trump was talking about sounded fantastic. And I believe most politicians are crooks, so let’s get a real person in there — even if he’s a crook, too. But I’ve learned a lot … he’s a moron.”

There may be hope yet.

RIP Adam West

Although die-hard Batman fans favor the darkness of the franchise captured in the several films – especially “The Dark Knight” featuring a staggering performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker – over the campy, 1960s television take on the DC Comics’ heroes and villains, the TV series was nevertheless a generally popular success during its bumpy three year run.

As a boy of about 10, I chose to skip joining the Boy Scouts because the den meetings took place on Thursdays – the same bat-time that the show aired on the ABC bat-channel. The network, hurting for content, decided to air two Batman episodes on consecutive days each week, ensuring the series would become particularly addictive to those with pliant minds. (Sidebar: It was common for the script writers to title each companion episode for the week as a couplet unworthy of Shakespeare, e.g.: “The Puzzles are Coming” followed by “The Duo is Slumming”.)

Adam West, who played millionaire Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego Batman died the other day at 88, thus reviving oldster’s memories of that campy Batman show.

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This is what passed for hunk in 1968

Forced to recall 1960s Batman in West’s wake, I fondly remembered one of my favorite episodes (#37 & #38) entitled “Hot Off the Griddle” / “The Cat and the Fiddle.” In the first half of the two-part episode that aired on a Wednesday lo the many decades ago, the Catwoman has incapacitated Batman and sidekick Robin on the roof of a building where a pair of giant magnifying glasses loom over the Dynamic Duo. Catwoman has put a plan in motion whereby the sun will soon align with the magnifying glasses and griddle the two heroes. Like every baddie in the movies, she inexplicably bolts the scene before the sizzling destruction occurs. In the second half, Batman and Robin miraculously escape the clutches.

Can you guess/remember how they got away? Answer below. Hint: Think “Apocalypto.”

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Muz-Ban 2.0: Still Buggy

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Saudis lick Trump’s golf balls, stay off Muslim ban list

Trump is having a hell of a time with his Muslim travel ban order. And as with everything Trump touches, much of the turbulence has been self-inflicted by a man who can’t seem to control himself.

After his first attempt to block Muslims from selected countries via Executive Order 13769, federal courts intervened to halt the implementation on the basis of its flagrant unconstitutionality. When courts take such actions they outline their reasoning and usually supply a roadmap on what alterations it would take to pass Constitutional muster. Rather than take a hint, master deal-maker Trump would prefer to double down, auger in deeper and further imperil his big “national security” initiative.

Much has been written about Trump’s dysfunction on this topic: his feral tweets that contradict his administration’s messaging, his attacks on the Justice Department as if they’re a fourth arm of the government not under his control, his insistence on making statements that only fuel his opponents case just as the issue is about to come before the Supreme Court.

We at Major Terata are more interested in exploring the makeup of the countries subjected to the ban. Trump’s “Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States” calls for the suspension of entry of certain aliens from six countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. All are shady countries to be sure; besides Iran, each is a near-anarchic entity hosting a hotbed of brewing terrorism.

But what about Iraq? Why aren’t they on the list? After all, here’s what the order says about that dysfunctional land: “Portions of Iraq remain active combat zones. Since 2014, ISIS has had dominant influence over significant territory in northern and central Iraq. The ongoing conflict has impacted the Iraqi government’s capacity to secure its borders and to identify fraudulent travel documents.”

A top harborer of ISIS, and yet Iraq’s swarthy citizens can just waltz right onto American soil, zipping right thru Customs while their comrades from Syria endure cavity searches executed by gerbils in TSA uniforms before being sent back. I imagine those unmolested Iraqis then renting a penthouse in Trump’s DC hotel and slaughtering a camel in the lobby bar while making clandestine deals with flaks from the Flynn Intel Group.

Remember an event called “9/11”? Nineteen terrorists hijacked four planes and used them to kill more than 3,000 people in the worst terrorist attack in modern history. Here’s where they came from: Saudi Arabia (15), United Arab Emirates (2), Egypt (1), and Lebanon (1). None of these proven exporters of terrorism is affected by the ban.

Omar Mateen who shot and killed dozens of party-goers at an Orlando nightclub was born in Hyde Park, NY to parents who came from Afghanistan, a lawless country under partial control of the evil Taliban – and one that is not on Trump’s travel ban.

And what about husband and wife team of Syed Farook and the pig-faced Tashfeen Malik, the perpetrators of the San Bernardino massacre in 2015 that took the lives of 14 people? Farook was born in Chicago and has roots in Pakistan where Malik was born. Pakistan, which aids the Taliban and gave quarter to Bin Laden is conspicuously absent from Trump’s lists of baddies.

And the other day, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen ganged up against Qatar as a sponsor of terrorism. Trump quickly took credit for the action against the tiny Persian Gulf country, but said nothing about Qatar’s absence from his ban. Perhaps the presence of a huge U.S. Army base outside of Doha influenced Trump’s genius deal-making brain against blacklisting both a sponsor of terrorism AND a good American buddy.

Worth noting: since the Sept. 11 attacks, no one has been killed in the United States in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from or whose parents emigrated from any of the nations on the Muslim ban list.

Prohibition Distillery

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Roscoe, NY on the bucolic upper branch of the Delaware River has long been known for two things: top-notch fly-fishing and the Roscoe Diner. Situated about halfway between IBM’s one-time biggest NY-computer development labs – Poughkeepsie & Endicott – the Diner became the go-to compromise location for engineers and managers from the two plants in the 1980s to meet and plot world domination.

Things have changed . . . for the better. Roscoe is now host to a fabulous distillery called Prohibition Distillery that produces some very nice bourbons, gins and vodkas.

On a boring drive along New York’s Southern Tier Expressway (aka. Route 17, I86, and the Quickway), I stopped into sleepy Roscoe to gas up and go. The next thing I knew I was sampling some really fine spirits and enjoying a tour of the liquor works. I walked out with bottles of their top-end bourbon and an amber-colored gin that had spent some time curing in used whiskey barrels.

The word “hand-crafted” gets thrown around a lot, but the booze produced by this micro distillery definitely captures the original intent.

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Kathy Griffin Gives Bad Head

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Kathy Griffin supplied the enemy right wingers with some “fair and balanced” ammo against their own chicanery.

The next time some liberal whines about an alt-right threat on the life of Obama, or Hillary, or Elizabeth Warren, or Anthony Wiener (OK , maybe not him) – Kathy Griffin can stand tall knowing she has served up an uber-antidote for the conservatives.

Griffin quickly went to Twitter to atone…

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(Sidebar: At this point, is the “Follow” button even necessary?)

Sorry, Kath: co-opting ISIS imagery for comedy works about as well as Nazi ovens. Just ask Jerry Lewis.

The Verdict: Banishment from “New Years Rocking Eve” with human toilet brush Anderson Pooper. And then oblivion.

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Integrity Steps Aside for Trump

coatBefore Trump acquired the fabled Mar-a-Lago from breakfast cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, the compound gates sported the coat of arms of Joseph Edward Davies, Marjorie’s third husband. In 1939 the powers that be in Britain granted Davies the heraldic symbol which features a fist holding an arrow atop a shield of three lions and two chevrons. Below the shield is a ribbon upon which the word “Integritas” – Latin for integrity – appears boldly.

After Trump came along, he saw to it that the places in and around Mar-a-Lago would continue to showcase Davies’s coat of arms with one small alteration: the word “Integritas” would be replaced with “Trump.” This makes sense as Trump must mark everything he owns (or borrows) with his moniker. In with Trump and out with Integrity – is there a better metaphor for the man’s intrusion into America’s business?

It’s fair to say Davies’s heirs and rightful owners of the coat of arms are upset by Trump’s confiscation of the family’s symbol. It’s a moral and probably legal offense. Some heirs want to sue, but at least one elder advises against it; not that there’s insufficient case, but as he notes about Trump, “I knew him and the way he operates. And the way he operates, you don’t sue Trump, because you’ll be in court for years and years and years.”

Integritas indeed.

You can read more about this typically Trumpian theft in the New York Times.

But if you thought Mr. Orange would stop there, you haven’t seen the FBI’s new seal.

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Where will Tiger Woods Strike Next?

First we have this stunning headline:

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Then just a few hours later, this shocker:

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What’s next, Tiger drops a deuce in the 18th hole at Trump National?

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