Category Archives: Media

A Few Bad Men

With appreciation to Aaron Sorkin, screen writer, and Rob Reiner, director, of A Few Good Men on which this parody is based.

Yesterday, Castle Rock Productions announced it has approached Rob Reiner to direct a sequel to his 1992 tour de force starring Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson.  Below is an excerpt from the working script.

A  FEW BAD MEN/Scene 45

[The United States Senate.  Chief Justice John Roberts gavels the session in order.  Donald Trump is sworn in as Adam Schiff addresses the witness.]

Schiff:  Take your seat Mr. President.

Trump:  What shall we discuss?  My golf game?

Schiff:  The meeting with your National Security Advisor in August 2019 where you told John Bolton you wanted to continue withholding military aid to Ukraine until they announced the investigations of Joe and Hunter Biden and Ukraine interference in the 2016 election.

Trump:  But that meeting never existed.

Schiff:  We believe it did, sir.  And you told Ambassador Sondland there was no quid pro quo, that you did not want the aid withheld.  He was clear what you wanted?

Trump: Crystal.

Schiff:  Could he have ignored the order?

Trump: Ignored the order?

Schiff: Or forgot it?

Trump: No!

Schiff:  When Sondland talked to Rudy Guiliani, any chance Rudy ignored him?

Trump:  Have you ever sat at the Resolute Desk, son?  Ever been in the White House situation room?  Ever had the fate of the free world in your hands?  People follow orders, son.  Otherwise they find their heads on a pike.  It’s that simple.  Are we clear?  ARE WE CLEAR?

Schiff: Crystal.  One last question before I call Ambassador Bolton.  If you ordered Ukraine’s military aid not be withheld, and your orders are always followed, then why was the aid withheld?  Why would it be necessary to withhold aid which had been appropriated by a bi-partisan majority of Congress and you signed into law?

Trump:  Because I was concerned about rampant corruption in Ukraine and their interference on behalf of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Schiff:  But you said you did not order the aid to be withheld?

Trump:  I know what I said!

Schiff: Then why was the aid withheld?

Trump:  Men can do things on their own.

Schiff:  But your men never do.  Your men obey orders, right?

Trump:  You snotty little bastard.  I request a recess.

Roberts: The court will wait for an answer.

Schiff:  If acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney did not order the aid be withheld, why was it withheld?  Mulvaney sent an email to OMB to halt the funding because you told him to.  And when your “drug deal” went bad, you told Sondland there wasn’t one.  And you locked down the transcript of the July 25th phone call to hide the direct evidence.  Mr. President, did you order withholding aid from Ukraine pending announcement of the two investigations by President Zelenskyy?

Roberts:  You don’t have to answer that.

Trump:  You want answers?  

Schiff:  I want the truth.

Trump:  You can’t handle the truth.  Son, I live in a bizarro world with walls that must be guarded.  Article II of the Constitution gives me more power than you can fathom.  You weep for Ukraine and curse my administration.  And my existence, while grotesque to you, depends on those walls.  We use words like lock her up, send them back home and covfefe.  They are the backbone of my support.  You use them as a punchline.  I haven’t the time or inclination to explain myself.

Schiff:  Did you order the withholding of military assistance to Ukraine.

Trump.  You’re goddamn right I did!  (Evangelicals gasp)

Schiff:  I suggest the witness be dismissed and we immediately move to a vote on the articles of impeachment.

Roberts:  The witness is excused.

Trump:  What the hell is this?  I did my job, I’d do it again.

Schiff:  We know, sir.  We know.

Trump:  I’m going back to the White House.

Roberts:  You’re not going anywhere.  Sergeant-at-arms, escort the president out of the chamber.  You’ve the right to remain silent.  (Everyone laughs.)

Trump:  I’m being charged with a crime?  This is funny, that’s what this is!  I’m gonna rip the eyes out of your head and piss on your skull!  You f***ing people have no idea how to win an election.  Sweet dreams, son.

Schiff:  Don’t call me son.  I’m a prosecutor and a member of the House of Representatives.  And you’re under arrest, you son of a bitch.

Roberts:  The witness is excused.

PRODUCTION UPDATE:

Rob Reiner, due to previous commitments chose to pass on the opportunity to direct this film.  Other considerations for director include Quentin Tarantino who has requested the title be changed to Once Upon a Time…in Mar-A-Lago or Baz Luhrmann who has proposed a musical version titled Moola Ruse.

For What It’s Worth
Dr. ESP

 

Ultimate Distraction

 

Much was made in the media whether Donald Trump would attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in the midst of the Senate impeachment trial.  Critics argued his leaving the country was a further sign Trump still fails to understand the gravity of his actions.  While supporters contended their leader was just continuing to do his job, promoting the United States as a model of economic growth and stability.  This approach is a continuation of a theme Trump first posited in August 2018, when citing the economy, said, “I  don’t think you can impeach somebody that’s doing a great job.”

The same could be said of the gang in 1950 responsible for the Boston Brinks Building robbery, the largest such crime in the nation’s history.  Under this legal theory, one can imagine Joseph “Big Joe” McGinnis claiming he and his 10 accomplices were immune to prosecution because the crime was so skillfully executed.  “You can’t throw us in jail after we did such as great job.  Some people say it was ‘the crime of the century.'”

However, when you look at the events this week you realize the ultimate distraction is the trial itself.  America is witness to perhaps the most prescient illustration of misdirection in the Trump era.  While press and broadcast media devote their time and space to a story with a predetermined outcome, we are deprived of coverage about an equally sinister series of events which may have an even greater impact on the future.

Just in case you too have been preoccupied with or ignoring the procedural and substantive roller coaster ride in the United States Senate, consider what Trump and his merry minions are doing under cover of impeachment.

During a Wall Street Journal interview on Monday, Trump revealed he plans to introduce a new tax-cut proposal in 90 days.

We’re talking a fairly substantial … middle-class tax cut that’ll be subject to taking back the House and obviously keeping the Senate and keeping the White House.

Anyone who criticizes Mike Bloomberg by charging him with “buying the presidency” needs to understand the difference.  Bloomberg is spending his own money.  In the above statement, Trump is telling you he is going to bribe you to vote Trumpist in 2020 using your children’s and grandchildren’s money.

If not, he needs to tell us how he plans to pay for this tax cut.  Does anyone really think  Trump is planning to avoid further increasing the budget deficit by rolling back some of the excesses for corporations or the wealthiest Americans in the 2017 so-called tax reform act?  Or reducing defense spending?  Or reducing the number of days he golfs at one of his properties at taxpayer expense?

The truth is you need not speculate.  He is telling us exactly how he’s going to do it.  Yet, under the cover of impeachment mania information about the priorities during a second Trump term is on page six when it should be on the front page.  Consider the following examples from the White House’s 2020 budget proposal.

The Trump administration on Thursday announced a repeal of a major Obama-era clean water regulation that limited the amount of pollution and chemicals in the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands.  The rollback of the Waters of the United States rule was announced by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler at an event in Washington at the headquarters of the National Association of Manufacturers, a trade group that has pushed for its repeal and replacement.  (NPR, April 2019)

President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget plan to slash federal funding for farm subsidies and other safety net programs for agricultural producers is getting criticized by farmers who say they are already struggling. (CNBC, February 2019)

Or this story based on an interview with the Wall Street Journal just yesterday.

President Trump suggested on Wednesday that he would be willing to consider cuts to social safety-net programs like Medicare to reduce the federal deficit if he wins a second term, an apparent shift from his 2016 campaign promise to protect funding for such entitlements.

Maybe the offsets will come from the Environmental Protection Agency or the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin signaled as much when he challenged teenager Greta Thunberg’s credentials as a climate change activist.

Is she the chief economist? Who is she? I’m confused.  After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us.

According to the New York Post, “Mnuchin’s swipe came two days after President Trump slammed ‘environmental alarmists’ to a crowd at Davos that included 17-year-old Thunberg.”  Can you say “toady?”  I knew you could.  Perhaps in the Latest Testament, the parable of David and Goliath will feature Thunberg and a Goldman-Sachs executive.

Image result for las vegas at nightLast night Steven Colbert had fun comparing Trump’s suggestion the wheel was invented in America to a ring of shiny keys designed to get you to look elsewhere. But the shiniest of objects is the impeachment itself.  As Dustin Hoffman observes of the Las Vegas Strip in Rain Man, “It’s very sparkly. Very twinkly.” And once again, the media and much of the public have unfortunately taken the sparkly and twinkly bait.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

A Thousand Days

 

BLOGGER’S NOTE:  The direction and content of many of the posts on this site begin with the title.  As you know by now, I am always looking for a play on words which compel the reader to ask, “Where the hell is he going with this one?”  My task is then to put together the facts which support the premise or suggest we need to take a second look into what at first seems obvious. The original subject line for today’s entry was, “Rat Place, Rat Time.”  Why?  Because I’m sitting in a row house in Baltimore, Maryland  What better location to reflect on the quickly evolving events which will determine the future for Donald Trump, than the place he described as a “rodent and rat infested mess.”  But as I was organizing my thoughts, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, announced the committee would be working through the two-week recess scheduled to begin today with hopes that the panel could provide the Judiciary Committee with corroborated evidence to support articles of impeachment, if warranted, by Thanksgiving.

Much is being made of comparable situations in American history as Donald Trump faces the increasing momentum toward impeachment.  I must admit, I wondered, “How does this compare to the cases involving Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton?”  I intentionally chose to omit Andrew Johnson from any such inquiry for two reasons.  First, he had never been elected president, ascending to the position following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination thus the issue never involved overturning a voter referendum.  Second, the forces behind his impeachment were members of his own political party who disapproved of his plans to quickly repatriate the confederate states with minimal punishment.

However, insight does not come from jumping to answers, but by asking better questions.  And the question I realized had not been asked was,  “To fully grasp the scope and import of current events, why would anyone limit comparisons only to two chief executives of the United States?  What about the other 42 predecessors who held the office prior to January 20, 2017?”  That is how my thoughts shifted from WHO and WHAT to WHEN?  And one answer emerged when New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney suggested, with the documentation already at hand, Americans have a pretty good idea of WHO was involved and WHAT happened between Trump and the newly elected president of Ukraine and which closets hold the skeletons.  All that is left to do is corroborate and verify actions by Trump, his accomplices and his enablers.  He closed by suggesting Congress should be able to complete the task by Thanksgiving.

Imagine, the fate and legacy of a president of the United States being determined by Thanksgiving of the third year of his first term.  What are the odds of that happening twice out of 45 opportunities or within the span of 56 years?  According to Representative Maloney, more likely than anyone could have contemplated a month ago.

I know what you’re thinking.  Dr. ESP, surely you’re not going to suggest there is any resemblance between Trump and John Kennedy.  Of course I am.  But not solely due to the coincidence in time in office before their fate is sealed.  Nor does it have anything to do with the ironic and eerie coincidence the names Kellyanne Conway and Lee Harvey Oswald both contain 15 letters.

Image result for writing a novelWriters of fiction and non-fiction write best when they know their subject matters.  And, as many of you know, I am currently drafting a political novel which offers a different and highly improbable twist on the Kennedy assassination.  My focus is on the still unanswered question, what was the motive for killing Kennedy.  To make the incredible just a bit more plausible, I have spent the past two years researching every aspect of the lives of JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby and other true-life individuals tangential to the story before injecting my fictional characters.  It has been an educational and highly enjoyable exercise in the art of manufacturing a conspiracy by finding the dots to fill in the manufactured connections.

In the end, both my novel and the real time saga of the Trump/Ukraine affair are not about conspiracy.  They are about legacy.  Having pored through every one of Evelyn Lincoln’s entries in Kennedy’s appointment calendar from December 1962 to November 22, 1963, one obtains a clear understanding of the interests and priorities of our 35th president.  And, in a limited number of cases, an appointment or a gap in time raises suspicions Kennedy’s closet may not have been skeleton-less.  I wish I could tell you more, but you’ll just have to read the book when it comes out.

So, this morning I wondered if I could gain a similar understanding of the 45th occupant of the oval office if I had equal access to his appointment calendar.  That assumes, of course, it has not yet been transferred to a code-word protected server.  The value of real-time observation in the age of 24/7 presidential news coverage is you no longer need to scour the archives of a presidential library to follow the chief executive’s movement.  Cameras document how he foregoes a trip to Poland on the premise of staying home to oversee the federal response to a pending Category 5 hurricane, bearing down on the Florida coast, but spends the majority of those days golfing.  You watch a man who has violated every one of the ten commandments leave a United Nations session on climate change to discuss religious freedom with evangelical christian leaders who oppose secular freedom for those who adhere to any religion but their own.

Bottom line?  One’s fate can seal one’s legacy. Sometimes, it takes an individual’s complete life time to grasp who they are and solidify their place in history.  In other cases, it only takes a thousand days.  And I will leave it to an historian as talented as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. to publish a sequel to his 1965 tribute to a fallen president, perhaps titled, “A Thousand Days Later.”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

Not That There’s Anything Wrong with That

 

Related imageLike life, the presentation of entertainment awards is not always fair.  I still bristle every time I think about the 1970 Academy Awards.  Despite the fact Midnight Cowboy took home the Oscar for best picture, best director (John Schlesinger) and best adapted screenplay (Waldo Salt), Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Ratso Rizzo was deprived of the best male performance award when John Wayne won for playing himself in True Grit.  Hoffman’s cinematic achievement was of particular note when viewed side-by-side with his big screen debut two years earlier as Ben Braddock in The Graduate.  

There are two reasons this outcome may not have been the injustice it appeared to be.  First, both Hoffman and Jon Voight (playing Joe Buck) were nominated for best actor and may have divided the vote among Midnight Cowboy’s devotees.  Second, this was Wayne’s third nomination (previously as Davy Crockett in The Alamo and as Marine Sargent John Stryker in Sands of Iwo Jima).  After 43 years on the silver screen and 170 roles in movies and television, perhaps Wayne was more deserving of a lifetime achievement Oscar, but this was the way his peers chose to honor him.  (CINEMA FOOTNOTE:  Midnight Cowboy is the only X-rated film to win an Oscar for best picture, although it would barely garner an R rating 50 years later under today’s standards.)

As I watched the Emmy’s last night, I wondered if there was a totally different reason members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences decided who would take home the prized statuette, particularly in the acting categories.  Before I make the case, let me say I did not see all of the performances, and of the ones I did see, none of the nominees were unworthy of consideration.  I just wondered if something else was going on.

Were Academy members trying to use this venue, the one time each year they have an international television audience to celebrate, not just the their art, but their values?  Despite its occasional flaws, the entertainment industry has become the voice of diversity and social justice in the era of Donald Trump.  Did voters look at the list of nominees and anticipate who might give the more compelling acceptance speech?  Consider the following four examples.

Jharrel Jerome for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie/Jerome portrayed Korey Wise in “When They See Us,” the story of the Central Park Five .  Only by winning the Emmy could Jerome introduce the actual subjects of the story as the “Exonerated Five.”  One more reminder Trump has still not apologized for calling for their execution.  I am not sure Jerome’s performance topped those of Jared Harris in “Chernobyl” or Hugh Grant in “A Very English Scandal,” but I am confident they do not hold a grudge against the Academy for giving Jerome the stage.

Michelle Williams for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie/Few viewers of her starring role as Gwen Verdon in “Fosse/Verdon” were probably aware of her demands during the series’ production, but I have no doubt Academy voters did.  As with Jerome, did they ask, “Is this a chance to share an important lesson we have learned with a broader audience?” If so, Williams delivered.

So thank you so much to FX and Fox 21 Studios for supporting me completely and paying me equally. Because they understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value. And then where do they put that value? They put it into their work. So the next time a woman – and especially a woman of color, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white male counterpart – tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her, believe her. Because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.

Billy Porter for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series/Porter became the first openly gay black man to win an Emmy for his role as Pray Tell in “Pose.”  Did Academy members hope Porter would make the connection that the presence of authentic characters, not stereotypes or caricatures, of all genders, colors and sexual preference/identity can be teachers and role models.  If not, his acceptance speech made the point anyway.

We as artists are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet. Please don’t ever stop doing that. Please don’t ever stop telling the truth.

Peter Dinklage for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama/If you questioned whether Dinklage would win an Emmy for the fourth time as Tyrion Lannister on “Game of Thrones,” you were mistaken.  Despite his four foot four inch frame, he stands tall among his peers as a representative of the entertainment community.  Once again last night, he did not disappoint.

 I have no idea what I’m about to say, but here we go. I count myself so fortunate to be a member of a community that is all about tolerance and diversity, because no other place could I be standing on a stage like this.

And no one, except Fox censors were shocked when he referred to the GOT cast and crew as “10 years of the most incredible, talented, funniest motherfucking (bleeped out) people–hey, it’s over, I don’t care–I’ve ever been lucky enough to work with.”  That too was a message, about loyalty to and faith in one’s co-workers, not self-interest.

So, sometimes it is not a question of whether the BEST man or woman wins.  A better question is whether the RIGHT one does?  Last night the moment eclipsed the performances, and even if there were artistic injustices, I’m okay with it.  Sometimes life is unfair.  But on occasions like this, we should echo Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

The King of Politics

 

Image result for the king of comedyAs some of you may already know, I co-host a monthly film series called “Cinema and Conversation” at our local book store.  Last night, I screened the 1983 Martin Scorsese movie, “The King of Comedy.”  It stars Robert De Niro as a wannabe stand-up comic Rupert Pupkin, who dreams of being on “The Jerry Langford Show,” the equivalent of a comic’s highly-sought breakthrough appearance on “The Tonight Show.”  Although favorably received by critics, it was a commercial failure, grossing only $2.5 million and it now ranks #6,644 on the all-time box office revenue list.

As I told last night’s attendees, you have to look at this movie from two perspectives.  First, it is a an example of how a talented filmmaker can turn a simple premise into a compelling theatrical experience through brilliant casting and understated directing.  At another level, “The King of Comedy” may be the most profound movie of the last 50 years, foretelling a future culture which did not exist when the film hit theaters in 1983.  Below the surface, “The King of Comedy” is a parable about a divided America in the Trump era.

This is not about Donald Trump’s self-serving interests, general character or policies.  You know how I feel about those.  This film explains why some of us view him as a villain and others see him as a hero.  When Pupkin (De Niro) gets a chance to share his dream with Langford (portrayed by Jerry Lewis), the talk show host gives him the following advice.

I know it’s a hackneyed expression, but it’s the truth, you’ve got to start from the bottom…It looks so simple to the viewer at home, those things that come so easily that are so relaxed and look like it’s a matter of just taking another breath.  It takes years and years and years of honing that and working that.

Pupkin’s response, “I don’t mean to interrupt you, but there’s a problem.  I’m 34 years old.”  Undeterred, Pupkin takes an unconventional, questionable path to getting his 15 minutes of fame.

Now close your eyes and visualize the same scene in my forthcoming remake, “The King of Politics.”  Trump shares his dream of becoming president of the United States with a former commander-in-chief (a hologram of Ronald Reagan) who advises him:

I know it’s a hackneyed expression that in America anyone can grow up to be president.  Look at me.  But it’s not that easy.  It’s not like anything you’ll ever experience.  But you can prepare yourself by first being a mayor or governor.  Or even president of the Screen Actors Guild.  It takes years and years and years to understand how government works.

Like Pupkin, Trump interrupts Reagan.  “But there’s just one problem, I’m 72 years old.”

I tip my hat to screenwriter Paul D. Zimmerman for virtually inking the script for my Trump bio-pic.  Why?  Because Trump IS a modern day Rupert Pupkin.  When Langford tries to exit the conversation with Pupkin, telling him to call his secretary, Pupkin mistakes the brush-off as encouragement.  When his phone calls are not returned, he goes to Langford’s office where the assistant (Shelley Hack) echoes her bosses admonition you do not start at the top.  The normal process is for the show to send a talent scout to watch you perform.  But Pupkin has never tested his material before a live audience.  To which the assistant replies:

As soon as you start working again, call and we’ll send someone down to check out your act.

Still believing he is destined to the be the new king of comedy without prior evidence of his talent or appeal, Pupkin goes on a journey of increasingly aberrant behavior to achieve his goal.  Sound familiar?

Like Pupkin, Trump is never dispirited by those who give him the cold shoulder or make jokes at his expense such as the ones delivered by President Obama and Seth Meyers at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner.  It only hardens his resolve to succeed.  And as the reincarnation of De Niro’s character, he crafts an unconventional and increasingly unethical, if not illegal, campaign which gives him his more than 15 minutes in the national spotlight.

But I digress.  This post is not about Trump.  It is a simple and rational explanation for the chasm which divides his supporters and critics.  For 38-40 percent of the country, Trump as Pupkin is an improbable success story.  It is as film critic Scott McCauley suggests of the Scorsese version, “…a saga of start at the top grandiosity.”  Trump believes he deserves to be at the apex of the political world just as Pupkin sees himself as the new king in the realm of entertainment. And both Trump and Pupkin prove it by beating the odds.

As for the rest of us?  It is not as though we believe there is only one way to earn the keys to the White House.  That every candidate needs to pay their political dues before becoming chief executive of the United State. After all, I vaguely remember supporting a wet-behind-the-ears freshman senator named Barack Obama.  In his manifesto for governance, he self-described his mission as audacious.  The difference, of course, is in this latter case, Obama’s success was not fueled by foreign interference, paying off porn stars or promoting hate of others. Although Obama’s rise was accelerated, it did not rest on shortcuts.

SPOILER ALERT.  Scorsese’s portrait of an overachiever concludes at the protagonist’s moment of ultimate success.  But the last scene is perhaps a harbinger of things to come.  Pupkin is silent in front of his adoring fans.  Is he merely basking in the glow of his new-found notoriety?  Or was he a one trick pony?  Was his rise the story?  Will his audience grow tired of him if there is no second act?  The demo tape he makes is called, “The Best of Rupert Pupkin.” It is equivalent to an actor receiving an Oscar for lifetime achievement after his or her first cinematic role.

Stay tuned for the sequel, “The King of Politics: Part II,” coming to a theater near you next November.

For What it’s Worth.
Dr. ESP