Monthly Archives: February 2019

Things Change

Image result for things change amecheAs some of my readers can attest, I host a bi-monthly event at a local bookstore titled, “Cinema and Conversation.”  After viewing the film, we discuss the central theme and how it is developed as the movie unfolds.  Last Friday, I selected a 1988 production Things Change, starring Don Ameche and Joe Mantegna with an original screenplay by David Mamet and Shel Silverstein (a truly odd couple).  Described by Roger Ebert “as the joining of menace and comedy,” the film tells the story of Gino (Ameche), an Italian shoe repair shop owner who is recruited by the mafia to take the fall for one of their own who is suspected of a murder.  In return for serving an anticipated three years in prison, the mob boss offers to fulfill his dream of retiring to Sicily and owning a fishing boat.

Between the time of the agreement and Gino’s court appearance at which he will plead guilty to “shooting the son of the bitch,” he is placed in the care of Jerry (Mantegna), a less than successful mob operative who is “on probation.”  Rather than spending three days in a hotel room in Chicago, Jerry takes Gino to Lake Tahoe for one last fling before his pending incarceration.

When I woke up this morning, I started thinking about a parody in which Jerry is portrayed by Michael Cohen.  Until I realized I had cast the former Trump consigliere in the wrong role.  In less than two hours, Michael Cohen will be testifying before the House Oversight Committee before, like Gino, heading to prison for the same three years (another synchronistic marker).

SPOILER ALERT: The following analysis of parallels between Gino and Michael require my sharing key moments in the film.

A seminal moment occurs very early in the movie.  At first Gino declines the offer until the Chicago don’s girlfriend Miss Bates rejects his offer to light her cigarette.  Believing he has no value to these people or maybe anyone, he changes his mind.  “I’ll do it.”  Which brings me to Michael.  After many years of blind  loyalty to Donald Trump, including criminal activity in support of his boss’ personal, business and political goals, Michael fully expected to be rewarded for his service.  His fishing boat was an office in the West Wing of the White House, a dream that never materialized.

There’s a reason they call it blind loyalty.  One’s ability to see virtually disappears.  Even after Trump jettisoned Michael for a whole new team of hangers-on, Cohen was still willing to lie to protect his employer.  In Things Change, Jerry warns Gino that his faith in the Chicago don is misplaced and urges him to run.  One can only imagine Michael shares Gino’s rationale for sticking to the agreement. “We had a deal.  I gave them my word.”  Honor among thieves.

The other thing that changes over the course of their performances is the power relationship between Jerry and Gino.  Jerry constantly reminds Gino he is the boss.  He has made the Tahoe adventure possible.  He is in charge.  However, Jerry wrongly assumes his authority is based on position or title which he uses to conduct transactions.  Meanwhile, Gino accumulates power through the formation of new friendships.  And when he and Jerry face the most dire of situations, Gino decides it is time to draw on these intangibles.  Just when Jerry determines his life may be over, Gino calmly tells him, “I’m gonna make a phone call.”

Michael Cohen, in an interview with Vanity Fair’s Emily Jane Fox, said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump.  In this remake of the 1988 version of Things Change, Jerry (now played by Trump) still sees the world as a series of transactions, which once completed have no residual obligation.  In the meantime, Gino (Michael) realizes his deal was one-sided and begins establishing new friendships.  And just as in the original, the new Gino decides, “I’m gonna make a phone call.”

In 15 minutes, things may change dramatically.

For what it’s worth.


The Devil Made Me Do It

In his closing remarks at this week’s Vatican “summit to protect children,” Pope Francis referred to members of the Catholic clergy who abused vulnerable boys and girls as “tools of Satan.”  In the penitential liturgy at the end of the conclave, he  added, “We must say, like the prodigal son: ‘Father, I have sinned'”.

Image result for geraldine jonesExcuse me, Your Holiness, that may have worked for Flip Wilson’s alter ego Geraldine Jones, who passed off her less than lady-like behavior by telling us, “The Devil made me do it!”  It does not apply here.  In fact, it is an affront to scapegoating, a term which first appears in 1530 A.D. bible involving the sacrifice of a ruminant beast on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, to purge congregants of their sins.

The art of scapegoating precedes its name.  Among the earliest marks for the world’s ills were women: Eve for having tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit and Pandora for having released all the evils on earth by opening a box.   History is littered with scapegoats.  Some as seemingly insignificant as  blaming Steve Bartman’s interference of a foul ball at Wrigley Field which possibly kept the Chicago Cubs from advancing to the World Series.  Others, of historic proportions, such as Hitler’s  attacking Jews and a global Zionist conspiracy for conditions in Germany after their defeat in World War I.

At least in the latter two cases, the scapegoats were real people.  It’s hard to blame outside forces when you live in a closed society.  There is no Harold Hill-like travelling con-man to proclaim, “There’s trouble in Vatican City.”  Desperate to point a finger at anyone but themselves, the Church created an imaginary bogeyman.  The Devil!  Beelzebub! The Prince of Darkness!  If he did not already exist, would the villain have been Pennywise the Clown?  “IT made me do it!”

Much is being made these days about using RICO–The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act–to prosecute Donald Trump’s role in the decades of potentially illegal activity conducted under the auspices of the Trump Organization, Foundation, Campaign, Inauguration Committee and White House.  The case against Trump University (Art Cohen v. Donald J. Trump), filed in 2013 and settled out of court in 2016, was a RICO class action suit.

The law has two features which make this possible.

  • It provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.
  • It allows the leaders of a syndicate to be tried for the crimes they ordered others to do or assisted them in doing.

Perhaps it is time for a second round of RICO legislation or what I would call the Religion Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.  The Catholic Church is a corrupt organization under the RICO definition and deserves investigation, and if appropriate prosecution, by external entities, not its own hierarchy.  Consider the following.

  • Confession is a system of self-imposed justice and punishment.  A few Hail Marys can be exchanged for a hail storm of sexual abuse.
  • It does not hold itself to societal standards.  According to the Pope, priests sin.  Society calls their actions crimes.
  • They determine punishment.  Cardinal McCarrick was defrocked, “dismissed from the clerical state.”  He is currently living in a friary in western Kansas, which is located (drum roll) one block from the Victoria Elementary School.  I wonder if the only difference between the Church and a crime syndicate is the latter would have suggested McCarrick go on a fishing trip to Lake Tahoe?
  • Do not tell me the leadership of the Catholic Church has not “assisted” in these crimes.  Destroying records of misconduct and moving predators from one diocese to another, putting other children in danger, is the definition of aiding and abetting criminal activity.
  • And finally, Pope Francis promised the Church would clean up its act, “We want all possible measures to be taken so that similar crimes aren’t repeated.”  I’m sorry, but you had 2,000 years to do just that.

Maybe this is the reason the fastest growing religious denomination in America is former Catholics.

For what it’s worth.


Cultural APnea

The screen shot, below, from the Associated Press was captured at 7:16 am this morning.

It is the third day in a row the lead has been about a disgruntled actor, who is accused of staging a fake hate crime, to enhance his public persona.  Before January 29, 2019, I would venture an overwhelming majority of Americans did not know who Jussie Smollett was nor did they care.

In the meantime, a 49 year-old Coast Guard officer has been charged with stockpiling weapons for the alleged purpose of killing the Democratic leadership in Congress, several Democratic presidential candidates and journalists critical of Donald Trump.  His hit list consisted of 22 names including:

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schmer
Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT)
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)
Senator Cory Booker (NJ)
Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA)
Senator Kamala Harris (CA)
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY)
MSNBC Host Joe Scarborough
MSNBC Host Chris Hayes
CNN Host Chris Cuomo
CNN Host Van Jones

In the old days of print journalism, the lead story was said to be “above the fold.”  The digital equivalent is a news service’s home page.  Do the digital editors at the Associated Press truly believe Jussie Smollett deserves more attention or represents a greater threat to the country than Lt. Christopher Hanson?  I hope not, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

Trumpism does not exist without its twin Kardashianism with its focus on celebrity where fame, not character or accomplishment, is the measure of success. Kudos to the FBI and the Coast Guard for averting this potential disaster.  My fear is Lt. Hanson is not alone.  How many more Lt. Hansons are stockpiling weapons and creating hit lists?  Instead of sending reporters to the Midwest to continue interviewing Obama voters who like Donald Trump, maybe those resources would be better devoted to understanding why individuals who claim they support the “law and order” guy have so little respect for what the term actually means.

For what it’s worth.


The Neuron Bomb

The race for ultimate military advantage accelerated during the second world war when each side conducted research and developed bigger and more destructive weapons.  The goal?  To accelerate the end to the conflict.  There was just one problem.  As evidenced by the carnage which accompanied the use of atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the aftereffects of thermonuclear warfare outweighed the advantages.  What good is victory if it requires massive time and treasure to rehabilitate the targets of these powerful armaments?

Image result for samuel t cohenEnter Samuel T. Cohen, a scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who in 1958, came up with the concept of the neutron bomb, a low yield thermonuclear device which emits lethal neutron radiation in a limited area without the physical devastation associated with exiting atomic detonations.  The immediate concern was the buildup of Soviet tank forces along the NATO border.  In other words, immobilize the soldiers without obliterating the cities and infrastructure they guarded.  To date, such weapons have never been used in actual combat.

An interesting concept.  Eliminate the human element but retain the infrastructure so it can be used for future purposes.  At Deprogramming101, where counter-intuitive thinking is the order of the day, we often ask, “What if the opposite was true?”  In this case, what if you could eliminate the infrastructure and keep the people for a future purpose.  And what if by infrastructure, you mean not only the physical assets on the grounds but the institutions which make your enemies formidable opponents? Thus the title of today’s post, “The Neuron Bomb.”

Again, imagination is not needed.  It is already here.  And what may be more chilling is the development, testing and deployment of the neuron bomb may have been a collaborative effort between the United States and Russia.  First, let’s define what exactly is a neuron bomb.

A device or system which effects motor neurons which receive signals from the brain and spinal cord to control everything from muscle contractions to glandular output.

And what is the effect? Similar to the way an electrical surge can reverse polarity of a light switch (on becomes off and off on), the neuron bomb alters the natural direction of an individual’s thoughts and behavior.

The evidence of its existence?  A series of illogical shifts in attitudes and actions which are contrary to previously deep-rooted beliefs held by Republican members of Congress.  Examples include:

  • Literal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and adherence to a system of checks and balances between three co-equal branches of government.
  • A balanced budget.
  • An open marketplace is the best place to identify economic development and job opportunities, not industrial policy which picks winners and losers.
  • Opposition to the public taking of private property.
  • International alliances have been at the root of American economic growth for 70 years.
  • The FBI and U.S. intelligence community are unequaled in terms of domestic safety and homeland security.

Samuel Cohen touted one advantage of his neutron bomb was the ability to deploy it tactically, affecting limited areas rather than wide swaths of geography.  This appears to be more true with the neuron variety.  Pick a target population and BOOM.  Farmers in the upper Mid-West have lost the ability to make a connection between a dramatic rise in small farm bankruptcies and foreign push back in response to market disrupting tariffs.  Working class households in middle America are puzzled why their 2018 tax bills barely changed when Amazon paid no federal taxes on $11 billion in profits.  Seems like someone is jamming their neurons.

One would think a national priority would be developing the equivalent of the Reagan-era strategic defense initiative (SDI or Star Wars) to counteract this new offensive weapon.  Think again.  Despite warnings from Donald Trump’s own Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats in August 2018, “We continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russian to try to weaken and divide the United States,” the administration does nothing.  And in some cases, with the acquiescence of Republicans in Congress does less than nothing.  Consider the following story in USA Today from August 2018, “Republicans block $250 million to beef up election security.”

It is enough to make one’s brain cells hurt.  Or is that just a side-effect of the neuron bomb?

For what it’s worth.


Mitch McConnell’s Human Shield

I have just had an opportunity to talk to President Trump.  And I will say to all my colleagues, he is prepared to sign the bill.  He will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time.  And I have indicated to him that I am going to prepare…to support the national emergency declaration.

~Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, February 14,  2019

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cautioned President Trump privately this week about the consequences of declaring a national emergency to build his border wall, telling him the move could trigger political blowback and divide the GOP, according to two Republicans with knowledge of the exchange.

Washington Post, February 1, 2019

For the leader of a political party which regularly challenges the science of evolution, the rate at which McConnell adapted to a change in the environment is mind-blowing.  I understand the majority leader (and I use the term leader loosely) is walking a tight rope.  He did not look comfortable making the above statement. An individual who time and time again pontificates about the sanctity of the U.S. Senate must have realized he had just, as several pundits noted, handed over the keys to the upper chamber to Donald Trump.

I believe he did this under the assumption the courts will bail him out.  If and when the Supreme Court rules the declaration to be a violation of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, I have no doubt McConnell will take credit for warning Trump and declare the Supreme Court “proved me to be correct.”

This reminded me of the following  cartoon about the Israeli/Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip in an on-line article penned by Alan Dershowitz.

Image result for cartoon about hamas using children as human shields

Except in McConnell’s case, the human shields to whom he looks to protect the institution he sullies by his political cowardice are not children.  See below.


Yesterday, newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr took the oath of office placing his hand on a copy of the Bible.  I would have felt more comfortable if he, and every other elected and appointed federal official, would take their oath on the U.S. Constitution to which all citizens should pledge allegiance rather than a religious symbol which represents only a subset of the vox populi.

For what it’s worth.