Saturday, April 20, 2019

Mueller Time Again

When Attorney General William Barr - whom everybody keeps calling "Bob Barr," confusing him with Bob Mueller and ironically naming a former Republican congressman from Georgia who supported the impeachment of Bill Clinton - released the Mueller report (with redactions) on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, we found out some interesting facts.  First Trump campaign officials made overtures to Russian nationals, some of whom were believed to be Americans because they contacted them through the Internet. (The Russians pretending to be Americans were sending out anti-Hillary propaganda and operating out of building in  St. Petersburg - St. Petersburg, Russia, not St., Petersburg, Florida.)  Robert Mueller's report offers a caveat that, while there were many contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians while the Kremlin was hacking computers, including that infamous June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and Russians operatives over possible "dirt" on the opposition, there was no agreement of collusion between the two parties.  There was no collusion . . . but only because there's no evidence that Paul Manafort and a Putin operative met at a hotel in Prague or Bratislava or wherever and hashed out a plan to sabotage Hillary Clinton.
"While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign," Mueller wrote, "the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges. Among other things, the evidence was not sufficient to charge any Campaign official as an unregistered agent of the Russian government or other Russian principal. And our evidence about the June 9, 2016 meeting and WikiLeaks' release of hacked materials was not sufficient to charge a criminal campaign-finance violation."
Trump also tried to have Mueller fired or at least reined in, and he even asked then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to withdraw his recusal.  Sessions may be a bigot, but he' not dishonorable; he refused to listen to Trump.  ("Death before dishonor," as they say down in Sessions' native South.)  Many more White House officials stopped Trump from committing any act that could be perceived as a crime; in instances when they failed to do so, Trump himself didn't commit a criminal act only because he didn't know what the hell he was doing.  Because justice was not obstructed - mainly because Trump himself never actually tried to stop Mueller, preferring that someone stop Mueller for him - Mueller decided there wasn't enough evidence to accuse Trump of obstructing justice, but because of all the obvious examples of how Trump wished to impeded the investigation, that was why he could not exonerate Trump either.
Barr has since declared that Trump has been cleared, twisting the facts to suit Trump's argument while leaving out all of the evidence and teh charges pointing in a different direction.  Trump, in fact, figured that the jig was up when Trump, upon hearing the Mueller would investigate Russian interference in the election, said, "Oh, my God.  This is terrible.  This is the end of my Presidency.  I'm f--ked."
This is all bad news . . . for the Democrats.
What???  The intent of the Mueller report is to avoid the issue of accusing Trump of any wrongdoing; rather, it is meant to provide Congress a guide for how to proceed.  He wrote that there should be a process where the evidence is weighed, the charges are made through Congress rather than through an indictment (you apparently can't indict a sitting President), and the accused defends himself.  But with enough cherry-picked conclusions to allow Trump, his supporters, and the whole goddamned Republican Party (one honorable exception: Mitt Romney) to claim exoneration at a time when most Americans don't have the stomach for a Watergate-type investigation, the Democrats have two choices, and either way they could give Trump an advantage in the 2020 elections.  If they investigate Trump in the House and possibly vote on impeachment, it will anger the Republican base and turn off swing voters more interested in health care and living-wage jobs than shenanigans in the White House.  If they don't investigate, they let Trump get away with everything he's done up to now . . . and will do later.
I've been told that the Democrats can focus on the issues for 2020 and still investigate Trump - "walk and chew gum at the same time" - but this is a party that famously blows it when faced with dealing with Republican scandals.  The Iran-contra affair should have been a boon for Democrats in the 1988 presidential election, but it was their third straight loss despite Vice President Bush, who won the Presidency over Michael Dukakis, having had more to do with that scandal than he was willing to admit.  How far back do you want to go?  The Teapot Dome oil scandal that occurred under President Harding and was uncovered after Harding's death in office in 1923 put Republicans in an embarrassing position going into 1924, but they kept the Presidency after the Democrats took 103 ballots at their convention to nominate one John W. Davis, an esteemed diplomat, to oppose President Coolidge, who won a full term.  (To be fair, Coolidge had nothing to do with the Teapot Dome.)  And those scandals were nothing compared to the Trump White House, a scandal in and of itself; the Teapot Dome scandal involved illegal profiteering on government oilfields and Iran-contra was an earnest attempt by President Reagan at détente with the Ayatollah Khomeini gone awry when renegades in his own National Security Council hijacked it to beenfit right-wing mercenaries in Central America.
What we have going on now is even more serious than Watergate.  If the Democrats can't figure out how to capitalize on this level of corruption while still promoting a positive agenda for 2020, then they're finished as a party.
Less mentioned but just as important is the finding that the Russians tried (successfully, alas) to sow division, influence voters, and promote chaos and discord in the 2016 presidential election, interfering in what Mueller called a "sweeping and systematic fashion."  Even if Trump had lost, as was expected, Russia would have still divided people enough toi make a Hillary Clinton Presidency a nightmare for Hillary herself.  Maybe the Russians weren't involved with WikiLeaks as much or as closely as suspected, and maybe the Democratic National Committee should have gotten a better firewall for their servers,  but even the most die-hard Julian Assange fan or the most ardent Jill Stein voter (again, I voted for Dr. Stein out of a personal dislike for Hillary that goes back long before Russian interference in our elections was an issue) has to admit that Vladimir Putin was up to something.  After all the evidence of Russian malfeasance not involving collusion or obstruction of justice, there's no other conclusion anyone can come to.  
As I believe I said once before on this blog, the twenty-teens have been a disastrous decade for the nation.  It began with Citizens United and is ending with citizens divided, with all sorts of social, political and cultural failures in between.  And no one has been able to get away with so much and profit over the polarization of Americans than Donald J. Trump.  How his Presidency unfolds and what ultimately happens with it could tear this country up eve n more.  Or it could be a catharsis preceding a rebirth and renewal of America.  On this Holy Saturday, I'm not optimistic of the latter possible outcome coming to pass. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Music Video Of the Week - April 19, 2019

"Renegade" by Styx  (Go to the link in he upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

April (Thunder)Showers

I'll get to the Mueller report release later.  But now, the weather.
This past weekend, my area of New Jersey was under a "slight" risk for severe thunderstorms, which is actually pretty serious for New Jersey.  When I went to bed late Sunday night, there were no severe-weather watches.  That night, I woke up with a pain in my arm; it was two in the morning. I got up, took some aspirin, and checked the latest weather watch.
That's when I saw the tornado watch for all of New Jersey.
We didn't get a tornado that night, but we did get a thunderstorm that was as severe as Catherine Deneuve is beautiful.  Yes . . . that severe.  It woke me up at 4:25 A.M.  The lightning, wind and rain were so intense that I was certain the night light across the hall and the digital clock in my bedroom would go out any moment .  Miraculously, the power stayed on, and the storm lasted only twenty minutes.  I was glad that it was over so soon.
Except that it wasn't.
A new storm system the like one last weekend is affecting the same areas of the country that were affected by the last storm.  That means more tornadoes in the South, more bow-line supercells in the Southeast, and more thunderstorms along the East Coast.  The Storm  Prediction Center, as of this writing, has most of new jersey in a marginal-risk zone for severe weather, with far northern new jersey in a regular-thunderstorm zone.
This time yesterday, the marginal-risk zone was farther south.  Tomorrow, the Storm Prediction Center might very well include all of New Jersey in a risk zone, with part of the state in a slight-risk zone.
But at least we won't get really bad storms like the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, right?  Well, even a marginal-risk zone can leave room for storms like the one that hit us last weekend.  The forecast for my area calls for the chance of "locally damaging wind gusts" (read downed tree limbs and power lines) and, of course. heavy rain (a flash flood watch is already out for northern New Jersey). 
Climate change is making me fall out of love with spring.  April and May used to mean benign, mild weather in which to enjoy the tulips and the flowering trees, brought to you by soft showers.  Now spring is just as treacherous as the heart of summer (which promises to be hellishly hot on the East Coast this year). The derecho we had last May (which I still haven't recovered from psychologically) is still very fresh in my mind; I'm more than convinced that we could deal with another weather "event" like that very soon.  But I didn't think I'd ever have to deal with severe, power-threatening weather during the Easter season.
We'd better get used to this, as I have absolutely no confidence in anyone - last of all Americans - to do something about climate change. 
I may be back. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Notre Dame and Civilization

The devastating fire that almost completely destroyed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris only reminds people all over the world how tragic life can be . . . except maybe most Americans.
Yes, that was a loaded statement, so bear with me.  Notre Dame was and is a monument that encapsulates everything that signifies Western civilization.  It was built to project, truth, faith, beauty, art and culture.  It's only fitting that it stands in Paris, regarded as the most beautiful city in the West, if not the world.  But it was likely built with the understanding that something constructed and furnished with such great care and attention to quality and detail, could be easily lost.  To understand civilization is to understand that, as James Howard Kunstler (expect me to quote and paraphrase him liberally here) wrote, life is tragic, everything we love is bound to be lost, and life will go on without our own selves.
Architecture defines a civilization, and the architecture of Notre Dame defines France perfectly.  So, alas, does architecture in the United States.  While our older buildings - those that have been preserved as opposed to those that were cavalierly destroyed to make way for, say, sports arena that look like giant carburetor filters - define our past, our more recent buildings define our present.  And the buildings we've been erecting for the past seven decades mostly define our tawdriness, our disrespect for tradition, and our lack of standards (qualities commonly reflected on the record charts these days).  Kunstler wrote in his 1996 book "Home From Nowhere" that Americans defy the reality of life's tragic nature - the essential building block of any civilization - by erecting buildings not worth caring about. Virtually every tract house, highway retail strip, condominium complex, and office building amplifies that apathy.  Kunstler explains it this way:
"When a hurricane blows away sixty condo clusters along the Florida Coast, nobody outside Dade County sheds a tear for what is lost, not because other Americans are heartless but because people of even modest intelligence can tell whether places are worth caring about, though perhaps they can't say why.  In the heartland, mobile home parks are commonly referred to as 'tornado bait.'  Nobody could say that about an Italian hill town and get a laugh, not even an American."
And what are we to make of the recent tornadoes that hit the American Southeast and the Midwest?  Many of the houses destroyed were poorly, shoddily built, and it could be easy to shrug off a rural shack in Mississippi or a tract house in Ohio as no big loss.  But the news reports remind us that people died in these structures, and it only serves to remind us that no matter how hard we try to deny life's tragic nature, life reminds us of how tragic it can be.
The weather system that affected the Southeast and the Midwest, by the way, produced severe thunderstorms in the Northeast, and one struck the new World Trade Center with lightning, as if to mock the idea of such a building reaching to the sky.  It only reminded me of the karma of 9/11 in that, before the Twin Towers were destroyed and before the Pentagon was hit, these buildings were derided for their inhuman gigantism and their banal architecture, yet the U.S. Capitol - one of the most beautiful buildings in the United States - survived 9/11 when passengers on another jet airliner foiled the attempt terrorist mission to destroy that building.  Imagine the even greater tragedy that would have unfolded had al-Qaeda succeeded in destroying that temple of democracy.
And Americans do get it, even if they don't know it.  Case in point: In 1989, Mead Hall, the 1836 mansion on the campus of Drew University, my alma mater, in Madison, New Jersey, was in the middle of renovations when a fire gutted the building.  Students were sad for the mansion . . . while making wisecracks about how it was too bad the fire didn't happen to the University Center, a loathed brick and cinder-block box built in 1958.  Mead Hall is still standing, the renovation having been completed in 1992.  The University Center was replaced by a new building that, likely, will sooner or later inspire the same derision that its predecessor did.  To say that it's nicer than the old building may not be saying much.  But That is the difference between buildings worth caring about and buildings not worth caring about.  We mourn what is lost when we recognize its value we laugh at the loss of what we know has no value.
And then there is what our unwillingness to deal with tragedy has done to whole places.  Our efforts to build a civilization that contradicted reality by replacing real places with perfect, sanitized simulacra of authentic human settlements - namely, cities - only led to the devaluation and destruction of most of our great urban centers.  I once mentioned the fall of Detroit, once thought of as the Paris of the Midwest, as well as the current state of Newark, outside which I live.  Our clownish efforts to deny life's tragic nature is evident in the fact that, while no one could ever make jokes about a great loss in Paris, Newark, like Detroit, is a punch line.  Notre Dame may be gone - temporarily - but Paris is still there.  In Newark, the Catholic archdiocese's Sacred Heart Cathedral is still there.  It's the city that's gone.  When Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders said the same thing about her hometown of Akron, Ohio in one of her songs, she could have been referring to virtually any city in America.     
The fire in Paris came at a sadly ironic time - the beginning of Holy Week, which celebrates Christ's martyrdom and resurrection for the redemption of humankind so that the Gates of Heaven could be reopened.  The fact that the French plan to rebuild Notre Dame is a testament to their faith not just in the promise of redemption but also their faith in culture and history, two ideas Americans are increasingly divorced from these days.  We are increasingly one of the least happy peoples in the West, looking for real connections and real life in our everyday existence but not finding it, except maybe only a simulation of it online or on TV, but our failure or unwillingness to understand the realities of life undermine that.  "All our efforts to nullify life's tragic nature have paradoxically led us into deeper unhappiness," Kunstler wrote in 1996.  "What we have done to the physical fabric of our country finally is not an illusion but a genuine tragedy.  We have come close to making civilized life impossible in the United States."
And we completed the job at the ballot box twenty years after Kunstler wrote this.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Julian Assange

Julian Assange was arrested by the British after the Ecuadorian Embassy in London canceled his asylum.  He'd apparently become a bad house guest, as he couldn't replace the litter his cat's box.  Among other things.
I can't make any sense out of Assange.  People think he's a hero, other people think he's a villain . . . there are certainly good arguments on both sides.  The release of  92,000 from his WikiLeaks site pertaining numerous "friendly fire" incidents and civilian casualties in Afghanistan - courtesy of U.S. Army soldier Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning - illuminated some of the gravest mistakes in the prosecution of the war against the Taliban, but it may have compromised the progress of the mission there.  Assange's release of  documents showing what a fraud Hillary Clinton is something I give him credit for, but he did not release Donald Trump's tax returns as he promised - which cancels out that credit.   And his efforts to help Manning hack into computers to get information he thought was necessary to make public has been dismissed as more like espionage than journalism by the very papers that published the Pentagon Papers in 1971 - the New York Times and the Washington Post.  This could scare reporters into refusing to accept ill-gotten but relevant information on important matters.  Like, say, Donald Trump's tax returns.
Meanwhile, there are two charges of sexual assault against him in Sweden.  Assange has denied both allegations, and he says he is happy to answer questions the British may have for him about the case.  One thing's for sure - the final verdict on whether Julian Assange is a hero or a villain hasn't been handed down yet.
But whatever happens, I sure do hope that someone takes care of his cat. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Edge of '19

I may be a little late in commenting on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees for 2019, but better late than never.  This may be the last time you hear from me about anything for awhile, because my area of the country is under a severe-weather threat (although nothing as severe as yesterday's weather in Texas is expected), so that usually means a power and/or cable outage, and I've been getting too many of those lately.
Right.  The class of 2019 was as musically diverse as always, I guess, but there's only one black artist among them - a woman, and it's no one like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, or Labelle's Nona Hendryx - who made some records that sound more like prog and heavy rock than the sort of dance music associated with performers of her race and her sex.  It's someone who does make the sort of dance music associated with performers of her race and her sex.  Proving once again that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doesn't seem to know what "rock" really is, and being politically correct is more important than musically focused.  Oh well, here are my takes on each inductee:
The Cure.  Robert Smith is God.  So I've been led to understand.  The Cure are edgy, to be sure, and the fact that they've never been hitmakers in the Top 40 sense and the fact also that they rarely get any radio play show that they have that rock and roll attitude.  So, yeah, this is a no-brainer.
Def Leppard.  This is the most indefensible induction this year.  Def Leppard were a hack metal band that came up with songs misogynistic enough to embarrass Brian Johnson, played with more flash than with substance (think of them as a heavy-metal Duran Duran), and clownishly aped their name from Led Zeppelin (not to mention the medieval obsession), and Joe Elliott's imitation of Robert Plant was hardly a sincere form of flattery.  If  any band was indicative of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's penchant for awarding mediocrity over artistic integrity.
Janet Jackson.  You know what I'm gonna say about her, don't ya?  Okay, I'm not saying Janet Jackson isn't a good singer or anything, and I'm not saying she's a first-rate entertainer, but so is Barbra Streisand, and no one is urging that the Rock and Roll of Fame induct her.  Janet Jackson's music has a good beat and you can dance to it, but it still isn't rock.  Good grief, her brother Michael made more records worthy of being called rock, and he did it so effortlessly.  Now, I know that some Janet Jackson fans consider her the Queen, and they're not going to like anything I've said against her Rock Hall induction, but guess what? I don't care.  The fact that she's sampled America riffs doesn't impress me - in fact, it shows how clueless she is - I mean, she thinks America is rock?  And they shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame either (and aren't, last time I checked).
Stevie Nicks.  Another no-brainer.  Stevie Nicks proved herself as a solo rock artist with her monumental 1981 album Bella Donna, which featured the classic "Edge of Seventeen" and also cast male LA rockers Tom Petty and Don Henley in subservient roles in their duets with her.  She's the best white female American singer of her time, and she is in complete control of her career.  Like Janet Jackson, but more of a rocker. 
Radiohead.  No contest.  They belong in the Rock Hall for bringing back prog from the dead after so many awful art rock bands killed it with their pretentiousness.  Radiohead are the smartest and most innovative prog band since Pink Floyd,  and they honor the prog genre as much as Floyd did.
Roxy Music.  They definitely deserve to be in.  Roxy Music were art rock in much different way than Pink Floyd or Yes, adding a dash of chic production and cool sophistication to their smart playing, and Bryan Ferry is one of the most compelling vocalists in all of rock.  Never heard Roxy Music?  Imagine New Romantic flair with some jazz-rock sensibilities and a little bit of  soul, and you get the idea. 
The Zombies.  The only question as to why the Zombies were inducted in 2019 is why they weren't inducted sooner.  "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No" are still infectious and enjoyable examples of sixties British Invasion rock, and they definitely had a sound all their own.
So, okay, not a bad class of inductees, but not a great one either.  I'm not going to complain about the usual snubs that persist annually, because all of my complaints are useless . . . except to say that, now that I have satellite radio, I couldn't help but notice how the broadcasts from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland almost never seem to include certain acts that get routinely snubbed by not even being nominated.  I think the Hall's directors have made themselves clear about those acts. 
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was originally established to honor rock and roll performers but has since gone on to include performers representing a variety of pop styles.  Whatever.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

There Is No Democratic Front Runner For President In 2020

There is no Democratic front runner for President in 2020.  
Let me repeat: There is no Democratic front runner for President in 2020!
I'll say it again: There is no Democratic front runner for President in 2020!!
I re-iterate: There is no Democratic front runner for President in 2020!!     
Okay, Bernie Sanders has a healthy lead among the declared Democratic presidential candidates, and his socialistic ideas are becoming widely popular among Democratic primary voters.  And, Joe Biden leads Sanders when you include him, even though he is undeclared as of now, and he represents the meat-and-potatoes Democrats who can't be bothered with Sanders' "revolution." But neither Biden nor Sanders are close to a majority.  Meanwhile, Beto O'Rourke is slowly rising by and competitive against Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg is even more competitive, placing third in some polls; he's like an Energizer bunny that doesn't slow down.  And the candidates in the single digits still have a chance to break out in Iowa or New Hampshire, as the voting is a long way away.  Everyone running so far comes to the table with different ideas and different perspectives, and Democratic primary voters have plenty of time to sort them out.  Don't believe anyone who says that Bernie Sanders is definitely going to win the nomination.
Well, he might.  It's worth noting that Sanders supporters - the Islamic State of Democratic primary voters - have so far expressed zero tolerance for an alternative, and they hope to get revenge against what the Democratic establishment did to him in 2016 by getting him the nomination.  I haven't seen any sign that he could win against Trump, though, and his supporters steadfastly refuse to consider an alternative because other candidates aren't "progressive" enough.  They wouldn't accept Martin O'Malley as an alternative in 2016 because they found his very liberal record as governor of Maryland - you know about Matthew Yglesias' article, I won't link to it again - insufficient.  Barack Obama made a note of this at a town hall in Berlin where he expressed fear that the Democrats could help Trump by fighting each other over a purity test instigated by the Bernie bros. 
You know, if Sanders supporters had been more open to O'Malley and recognized that he had a better chance to win, Hillary Clinton would have never been the nominee and O'Malley most likely would have defeated Trump,  and the rest of the 2010s would have been different.  But that was not to be, largely because Bernie bros (and their sisses) are an obnoxious, elitist bunch - more so than the Hillbots of 216.  So, again, don't believe that Sanders - or Biden, or that matter, assuming he actually runs - has the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in the bag.  In fact, I predict a brokered convention in 2020, given the vast quantity of candidates.  So, again: There is no Democratic front runner for President in 2020!!    
I had wanted to support Martin O'Malley for President in 2020 to get revenge against those who stopped him.  I thought it was just the Hillbots who laughed him out of contention, but it's since become obvious that the Bernie bros undermined him too.  As O'Malley is not running this time, I am seriously considering with Beto, Mayor Pete or maybe California congressman Eric Swalwell - they are all O'Malley protégés, and he's a good judge of character.  Thus, I could still get my revenge against the O'Malley-haters from 2016.  But because there are so many candidates to choose from, Unn D. Sided remains my choice for now (though you can tell I've ruled Bernie out).
And if I do back an O'aMalley protégé, I won't be eating Pop-Tarts in symbolic support - they're too carcinogenic. :-O

Friday, April 12, 2019

Music Video Of the Week - April 12, 2019

"Don't Let Me Down" by the Beatles  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Share the Nightmare . . .

Bibi No. 5.
Benjamin Netanyahu just won a fifth term as Prime Minister of Israel.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Resurgence of Nastasia Urbano

So now that the GoFundMe campaign for Nastasia Urbano is over, how is Spain's greatest model faring now?
Glad you asked.  Nastasia is now living in an apartment she has rented with the money from the GoFundMe campaign set up by her friend Daniel Mirabal Gallego-Díaz and - wait for it! - is now fielding modeling offers.  She's already modeled for a Spanish newspaper, of course, and she's even had a modeling session with her son.  The only thing she doesn't have now is the long, flowing chestnut brown hair that always made her so irresistible, but don't fret over how her short cut makes her look like she's about to join the United States Marine Corps; she'll grow her hair back.
The more important thing is, Nastasia is once again doing what she loves and what made her famous, and she would have been happy working at any old job just to have the comfortable life she has now regained.  And this is only the beginning, as Raul Rodriguez reports in on Spanish Internet news site El Español's "Jaleos Del Corazon" section.  Below is his article, translated and cleaned up by yours truly, about the most remarkable comeback in modeling in twenty years. 

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The resurgence of Nastasia Urbano: Top model leaves indigence, returns to fashion and moves into her own home
In recent years, the economic ruin of the model led her to accept precarious jobs and even sleep in the ATM booth of a bank in Barcelona.
Nastasia Urbano, 57, the legendary Spanish top model of the '80s who fell into disgrace and lived in poverty, is seeing light at the end of the tunnel.  According to what JALEOS has learned, her friend Daniel Mirabal Gallego-Díaz has managed to reach the goal for his GoFundMe page for her that was set at the beginning of February.
Gallego-Díaz, also a fashion professional, set up a campaign on the GoFundMe Web site where he requested 6,000 euros so that the former muse of Yves Saint Laurent could pay three months' rent on a small apartment outside Barcelona to live in with dignity.  Now that goal has been achieved by awakening the joy not only in Mirabal but in the very model he has been helping, who has reacted radiating happiness:
"I am the happiest person in the world and I am very grateful and overwhelmed by your kindness and love for me, helping me with money so I can start my life over without worries.  Sometimes I cannot believe that this has really happened to me, how lucky I am to have you.  My love and gratitude is endless and forever.  Your words are forever in my heart, of course, thank you very much also to my friend Daniel, whom I love, for the time and effort you put into this campaign.  Without you, Daniel, it would not be possible.  Thank you, my love, I love you with madness."
In response to Urbano's message, Daniel has responded: "I am the happiest man in the world!  Finally, we have obtained the money that I wished for Nastasia Urbano, since GoFundMe has told me that the amount I wanted for her has already arrived.  Thank you all, you have shown that the world of fashion is much more than lights, poses and five minutes of glory, and for all of you who do not work in this world but have helped Nastasia, I just want to just tell them that they are the most important ones and that makes us magical.  You have the power.  Thank you very much. "
The new life of Nastasia Urbano
According to Gallego-Díaz, the leader of the whole "Nastasia Urbano operation," Nastasia is "happy that they have given her all the money she needs, they have been great and they have given all sorts of help.  They have contacted me because it has been a campaign that has had a lot of repercussions. Nastasia is exultant, she is happy, she already has her apartment, a small one, and she has her dog . . .. She feels as if she has been reborn."
In addition, Gallego-Díaz says that her professional life is also in the midst of changes.  "I've gotten different calls for her from the papers, and the publishers that have come out, I've gotten them myself.   It's been a radical change.  She's changed his life, she has a project, she has a future, she's happy, she has an economic base . . ..  This is very important, she is happy and she is a new woman, "he concludes.
 The fall from grace of Nastasia Urbano
The life of the model, who caressed the sky with her fingertips in the '80s and even managed to earn a million dollars for twenty days of work, took a 180-degree turn in recent years.  After being the focus of attention of international designers and brands, economic ruin led her to accept precarious jobs to survive from day to day, and she even ended up sleeping at an ATM booth in the streets of Barcelona.
However, the perseverance of her friend Gallego-Díaz got her back to a place in the media - not only general media but media specialized in fashion.  In statements to this newspaper, Gallego-Díaz has expressed that all of this was "getting out of hand, I knew it was going to happen but they are getting in touch with me, media from all over the world." Gallego-Díaz also says, "Nastasia is overwhelmed.  It's all very important.  [It involves] publications, television networks that have been put in contact: Fox, Univision, a Russian television network, many fashion magazines that want her again. The agency Iconic Focus in New York already wants her, One Models in London, too . . .."

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There's no stopping her now.
Nastasia had fallen so hard and so far, her comeback is nothing short of astonishing.  She shows every intention to take advantage of the help everyone's given her and making it from here on on her own. :-)

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Book Review: 'Occupied' by Kurt Blorstad

The German invasions of Denmark and Norway in April 1940, code-named Operation Weserübung - the first major Nazi military campaigns since the invasion of Poland seven months earlier - were the invasions that turned a regional conflict between the Third Reich and the Anglo-French alliance into a second world war.  And Kurt Blorstad's father came of age in the middle of that catalyst.
Blorstad's novel "Occupied" is a novel based on his father's experiences as a boy born to Norwegian parents in the United States and growing up in Norway before and during the German occupation.  It casts light on a theater of World War II less well known than the Nazi occupations of Poland and France or the fight against the Japanese in the Pacific. Trygve is a boy who goes with his mother and younger brothers to live with his maternal grandmother in the late 1930s while his father, living and working in the United States, hopes to send for them to come to America.  It starts out as a typical coming-of-age story in the Scandinavian countryside at a time when rural life there was unaffected by modernity. Trygve and his brothers Thoralf and Odd learn how to farm and fish as well as harvest peat cakes for home heating, and Trygve learns the value of gainful employment by baking bread in a small general store.  Their mother and grandmother run the family together through the birth of Trygve's sister Thelma and with help from Trygve's kindly uncle.  The contrast between the old ways of rural life in 1930s Norway and the more advanced, more urban living pattern that Trygve's father has found in America are obvious, and Blorstad's illustrations of the mundane realities of Trygve's life are in fact a study in building character strong enough to face adversity - which becomes clear when life for Trygve's family and neighbors changes the day Adolf Hitler gives the signal to the German armies lying in wait to commence Operation Weserübung.
The German occupation of Norway illustrates how Trygve and his older brother Thoralf went from being boys to being men as they worked to keep their family well-fed and free from harm, trying to stay one step ahead of German soldiers who could arrest them for the smallest transgression.  But Trtygve finds his real strength in helping Norwegian resistance fighters and spying for them on the local German military base and prison camp, taking risks in helping to protect his country while assuming greater responsibility for his family.  While you know that Trygve will survive - the story opens with Trygve in the summer of 1999 telling his tale to his own son -  you'll be left in suspense wondering how he will survive and whether his family will make it through intact.
"Occupied" may seem like old hat to readers of World War II novels set in other Axis-occupied countries, but there are some telling moments here.  One involves the attempt by the Germans to secure a source of "hard water" that was later revealed to be part of the Nazis' attempt to beat the Allies in the race to build an atomic bomb.  Even if you've read novels about Axis-occupied lands elsewhere, the book is fresh and revealing because of the often-overlooked Nazi occupation of Norway and how its strategic proximity to Great Britain made it an important front in the war.  "Occupied" is Blorstad's noble effort to to look at the war in Europe in a whole new aspect and from a whole new perspective.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Trump Trouble?

Don't look now, but Donald Trump could be in serious trouble.
The Mueller report, which may or may not get out soon, apparently has more damning information and conclusions that Attorney General William Barr has let on about.  Trump is still saying that he has nothing to hide, and he's so confident in his non-exoneration in the Mueller report that he says he wouldn't mind if its contents were in fact released to the public.  He is safe  - so he assumes - in the knowledge that Barr will find a way to release just enough of the Mueller report to appear transparent but not enough to get him in more hot water.
On the other hand, Trump has made it clear that his tax returns are off limits, and he refuses to release them.  The Democrats are trying to subpoena them as part of an overall investigation of his business dealings, though they are not necessarily expecting to find anything that would lead to impeachment.  And yet Trump is curiously - unless you think he does have something to hide - resisting calls for a look at his tax returns.  (So is Bernie Sanders, but that's another post.)  He's hoping to divert attention from them by threatening to close the Mexican border . . . and firing Kirstjen Nielsen as Homeland Security Secretary due to her refusal to go back to a migrant-family separation policy.  To illustrate just how clueless Trump is about domestic security, he will, with the appointment of Kevin McAleenan to succeed Nielsen in an acting capacity, have had three Homeland Security Secretaries - more Homeland Security Secretaries in one term than either Bush the Younger or Obama had in two terms.      
Trump is so unpopular that he could lose the 2020 presidential election running unopposed.  Fortunately for him, the Democrats have to nominate an opponent.  I've already commented on nine declared candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, expressing a preference for none of them, and there may be twice as many declared candidates left for me to comment on before I'm through.  Ugh.  And even after I've vetted Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Pete Buttgieg, Tim Ryan, Wayne Massam (who?) and a dozen-odd more candidates I don't know from Adam or Eve, Unn D. Sided will still remain my preference.                        

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Anarchy In the U.K. (Again)

Brexit is coming.  An the United Kingdom is completely unprepared for it.
The British Parliament has been trying to find a deal that would allow the U.K. to leave the European Union with some sort of financial or economic ties with that bloc, and every effort to come up with a deal that would spare the British people an abrupt transition to being left on its own has failed. The U.K. is scheduled to leave the European Union this coming Friday (April 12) and Tory Prime Minister Theresa May is scrambling to get a deal working with . . . the Labour opposition. Led by a guy some of called a Marxist.  Yeah, that'll work out fine.
Many of the British people who support Brexit pine for an imperial past, a strain that has persisted  long after the Empire was dismantled.  People saw that strain fifty years ago when the British sent troops to put down a pro-independence faction in one of their remaining colonies . . . the West Indian island of Anguilla.  It was obvious when Margaret Thatcher allied herself so closely to Ronald Reagan and dragged her heels negotiating the fate of Hong Kong with China.  And of course, there was the Falklands War.  Britain is still a global power in terms of its influence and multilateral activity, but it's going to end up being a global pretender, the way things are going with a backward scheme like Brexit.
The only consolation I get from watching the Brexit controversy is that there's at least one national government out in the world as screwed up as the American government.    

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Touch of Joe

Joe Biden's old-school ways of campaigning finally caught up with him in this new age.  Former Nevada assemblywoman Lucy Flores came forward and accused him of having hugged her from behind an kissing her on the head while they were backstage at a 2014 campaign rally when she was a candidate for lieutenant governor of Nevada.  (She lost the election.)
Until now, Biden's only scandal was using the words of another politician back in the 1988 presidential campaign to describe his humble beginnings (though, to be fair, he and former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, that other politician, had similar backgrounds), which led to revelations that Biden plagiarized someone else's work for a college paper.  Now Biden faces a scandal over how he acts with women not his wife in the glare of the Me Too movement.  And for getting minimally physical with a woman in the heat of the excitement of a campaign rally.  Oh yeah, three women have made similar accusations. 
Biden's potential rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination (he's not a presidential candidate yet) all say that believe Lucy Flores, and Biden himself moved swiftly to control the damage.  He acknowledged the incident, he said it was never his intent to make Flores feel uncomfortable, and he says he's willing to listen to her concerns.  Not . . . good . . . enough.  Biden also apologized in an impromptu Twitter video, but more recently, he's been trying to laugh it off, though not too many people are laughing with him. Biden is about to learn what Gary Hart - who, ironically, was forced out of the 1988 presidential campaign over a sex scandal just as Biden was forced out of that same campaign over plagiarism - learned back in the spring of 1987.  He doesn't get the last word on this, and he doesn't get to move on until everyone else lets him, and by then, moving on to a withdrawal may be his only recourse.  Lucy Flores - who supported Bernie Sanders in 2016 and was at a Beto O'Rourke rally recently - still thinks this disqualifies Biden for the Presidency, and she's gone back to how he ran the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991 as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and botched the handling of Anita Hill's testimony over sexual harassment on Thomas' part. 
The thing is, Biden's transgression is hardly worthy of the term.  He didn't have an affair.  He didn't assault anyone.  He crossed the line, yes, but he did so thinking it was just innocent physical contact.  He's had physical contact with women before, yes, but he's also been touchy-feely with men, too.  That's the sort of fellow Biden is; he likes to literally press the flesh with everyone, getting close to people and connecting with people, because he lives people and he loves politics.   He has a penchant for glad-handling everyone just like the uncle he is.  (I'm not talking about literal nephews and nieces, though I assume he has some; I mean he's the uncle of the Democratic Party.)  He's not unlike the late actor Telly Savalas, who'd always glad-handle friends and fans and tell them he lucky they were to get "a touch of Telly."  And by all accounts, he was a great guy to hang around with.  So, it seems, is Biden.
 And Anita Hill?  Biden was completely foolish to cross-examine her as if Thomas were the victim, which was exactly the wrong strategy, but his bigger problem was reining in his fellow senators with their over-the-top grilling of Professor Hill  - including Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, who voted for Thomas and later regretted it, saying he realized Professor Hill had been telling the truth all along - and, I swear, Biden almost came to blows with Utah's Orrin Hatch.
Biden voted against Thomas in the end.  He believed Anita Hill after cross-examining her.  And he went on to become a major proponent of women's issues.  That part is left unmentioned.
What should not be left unmentioned is that any remedy to Biden's latest incident should be the equivalent of a slap on the wrist, not internal exile, as happened to Al Franken.  Because any punishment for sexual harassment or unwanted physical contact should only be out of proportion only when the act is also out of proportion.
Which begs the obvious question - why are we talking about minor physical contact ending a political career while Clarence Thomas - who reaffirmed recently that he's not retiring - is still on the Supreme Court?      

Friday, April 5, 2019

Pat Cleveland Has Cancer

Veteran model Pat Cleveland, who is such a force of nature all her own that she is in a class of modeling that no other model occupies, was diagnosed with colon cancer while in Paris.  She had surgery there and is recovering, and when she returns home to America, she plans to get chemotherapy.
There's one problem - she doesn't have health insurance.
Ms. Cleveland began modeling in the early seventies, when celebrity models were few and far between - many models of her generation are known more by sight than by name - so while she did attain celebrity with her unique presence, it never made her rich.  The result is that she needs help to pay the bills for her treatment, and if this sounds familiar, yes, this comes right on the heels of Nastasia Urbano's recent plight with homelessness.  I'm stunned by how many celebrated women in the world of fashion modeling are left high and dry despite whatever success or longevity they enjoy in their profession.
I don't know Pat Cleveland the way I know Nastasia Urbano, but I am connected to Ms. Cleveland's husband, photographer Paul Van Ravenstein, on Facebook, and you may remember that I got my picture taken with her by her husband at a movie screening.  She was very nice and gracious to me, as was her husband, and so I am eager to bring to your attention the GoFundMe campaign her husband has set up for her.
The campaign was started earlier this week, with a $150,000 goal.  It's already over two-thirds of the way there, having brought in $112,145 when I last looked, but Ms. Cleveland still needs more help to get to the $150,000 threshold. You can donate by going here.
I was just reminded this week of how devastating cancer is.  I just learned that my own uncle has colon cancer, and I also just learned that another uncle died from cancer this summer and a cousin - who was about to turn 40 - died of cancer as well just before Christmas.  
If you can donate to this campaign, I hope you can do so.  

Music Video Of the Week - April 5, 2019

"What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Monday, April 1, 2019

Hiatus Announcement

I am not going to post on this blog between now and this coming Friday, as I have to spend more time on other writing projects this week, so I'm going to be very busy very soon.
Besides, I need a break from writing commentary about current events for awhile.  I keep trying to spend less time on the Internet, and I still can't seem to cut my screen time.  Rest assured, my Music of the Week feature will be updated as scheduled, and I hope to have some commentary on the 2019 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies by the weekend.  I just hope nothing big happens this week - although, given the ongoing crises in Britain and Venezuela, who knows.  
This is not an April Fool's joke.  I'm currently in a mood where nothing is a laughing matter.  See you all soon.         

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sick Policy

Up until late this past week, Democrats were worried that Donald Trump, having been non-vindicated by William Barr's non-exonerating synopsis of the Mueller report, will build his base into a formidable juggernaut by whipping up anti-Democratic (and anti-democratic) sentiment over his opponents' investigations into his international and financial dealings.  
They can rest easy now. Trump wants to dismantle the remainder of the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats won back the House and were able to prevent huge losses in the Senate while capturing seven governorships - all while emphasizing health care at a time when the Affordable Care Act has actually become quite popular.  Democrats are more than ready to let Trump try to tear the health care law out while defending it.
Of course, the Democrats could easily snatch defeat from the jaws of victory if any of the leading Democratic candidates for the Presidency advocate some form of single-payer health care system - at a time when the politics and the process to get there are non-existent - allowing Trump to bash the Affordable Care Act because some Democrats want to replace it either. At least the Democrats have something to replace it with.  Hopefully, though, they won't overreach and try to give us single-payer when it can't happen just yet.
Of course, a certain politician from Maryland suggested phasing in an all-payer approach as a way of getting to single-payer, but you know how Democrats are, they won't listen to reason within their own ranks.            

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Nastasia Urbano - Six Thousand Euros!

We did it! :-D
Fifty-four days after it began, the GoFundMe campaign launched by Daniel Mirabal Gallego-Díaz to help homeless Spanish model Nastasia Urbano (pictured above left in the 1980s and above right in the 2010s) finally raised the intended goal of €6,000 (US$6,738.92) earlier today with one final donation, following a surge of larger donations in the past week.  Now Nastasia has the money she needs to get a place of her own, after having stayed with a friend, for at least three months.  In the meantime, she hopes to get some work to ensure that she doesn't end up on the streets of Barcelona again.  Not necessarily work as a model - although, in light of her recent modeling work in Spain, it's inexplicable why she wouldn't be able to find more modeling jobs, since she's still a knockout even with closely cropped hair - but any work of any sort that allows her to keep a roof over her head.        
Now it's Nastasia's responsibility to live life on her own again and be her own woman again as well, though, having known her for a few years (limited as our friendship may be to social media), I'm sure she will never be homeless again.  And, at 57 years of age, she has a life as beautiful as she is to look forward to.
Thanks to everyone reading this who contributed to Nastasia's GoFundMe campaign - you guys rock!  And thank you, Nastasia, for being my friend, letting me help you, and being an inspiration to those who get up after being knocked back down. :-)

Friday, March 29, 2019

Music Video Of the Week - March 29, 2019

"Volcano" by Jimmy Buffett  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Mueller Time Is Barred

After Attorney General William Barr looked over the report on the Russia investigation handed in by Robert Mueller  (below), he issued a summary of the Mueller report this past Sunday - giving talking heads on cable news something to talk about all day along on the slowest news day of the week (pre-empting in the process a couple of CNN documentaries I'd been hoping to watch!) - that said there was neither evidence of collusion between the Russians and Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign nor evidence of obstruction of justice.
Trump quickly claimed victory, suddenly embracing Mueller as a truth-teller and blasting the Democrats for insinuating that a crime had been committed and that they will pay dearly for their attempted character assassination.
So is this the end?  Are the Democrats doomed to wearing egg yolk on their faces all the way to next November? Is Trump vindicated?  Not so fast.  Mueller was supposed look at the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election and catch the guys who were involved.  He did that.  And while he found no evidence to suggest that Trump went so far as to collude with Putin to get himself elected President, he did find a whole lot of other wrongdoing that highlighted the extent of Russian interference in our elections.  There's another problem - while Mueller's report said that he couldn't find enough evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of justice, he couldn't find enough evidence to exonerate Trump either.  It was Barr who said that Trump was exonerated, which makes sense, considering that he was appointed by . . .  Trump.
And Rod Rosenstein more or less agreed with Barr's conclusion.
And while this investigation had nothing to do with Trump's finances and tax returns, there is some information in the Mueller report that could be helpful in those investigations being handled by the Southern District of New York and the New York State Attorney General's office, as well as House oversight committees.  So this isn't over for Trump.  But this should put to rest the idea that this investigation would be the silver bullet that would take Trump down.  Of course, the Mueller report should be issued in its entirety, and, in matters like this, we should never take the word of an Attorney General appointed by the President on such a matter as the final word.  But while it may raise more questions than it answers, looking at the full Mueller report isn't necessarily going to answer any more questions.  Democrats were ready to accept Mueller's findings - which, by the way, yielded a lot of indictments - whatever they may be, and now they have to do so.   
Besides, what if Trump is telling the truth and he did not collude with the Russians?  Could it be possible that the Russians did try to interfere in the 2016 presidential election even as Trump had nothing to do with it, and that any charge that he didn't win fair and square is being leveled by Democrats who are ready to blame everyone for Hillary Clinton's loss except Hillary Clinton herself for her lousy campaign and the Democratic National Committee for failing to get a reliable firewall for their e-mail servers when those same Russians decided to break into them?  No, of course not, that would destroy their narrative.
It seems nothing short of high irony that the biggest critics of what Trump called "this Russia thing" are not Trump supporters but are in fact liberals and anti-Clinton Democrats.  They saw the Russia investigation as another diversion from the real issues regarding the quality of life in America and a distraction from the fact that the Democrats have done little to help the people and have failed to pass universal health care or bank regulation.  The Russia story, as far as they're concerned, was just another ruse by establishment leaders to get people's minds off the real issues - Russophobia from the Cold War days repackaged to dupe the masses.  Well, guess what - the Mueller report is the best thing to happen for Democrats as well as for Trump.  It may be an even better thing for Democrats.  The Mueller report is the end of the beginning, a precursor to the other investigations I alluded to that will take place with a lot less noise for now.  This frees the Democrats, especially their 2020 presidential candidates, to talk about the issues affecting average Americans and not about Trump, even as Jerrold Nadler, Adam Schiff, and Elijah Cummings lead their respective House committees' investigations of Trump outside the limelight of public scrutiny.  These subsequent investigations could find something to reverse Trump's fortunes, but for now, Democrats have the opportunity to change the subject to serious issues like health care and climate change.  Nancy Pelosi's decision to avoid pursuing impeachment looks more like a stroke of genius and less like a stroke.
Note to Democrats: It was never Mueller's duty to save the day.  It's up to you to save the day by energizing your base and nominating for President someone people can actually vote for, as opposed to having a place to cast a ballot against Trump, while providing congressional oversight over his conduct in office.  Mueller's work is done.  You are only getting started.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

John Hickenlooper: His Name Is His Smallest Liability

John Hickenlooper should be a strong dark-horse candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination after relatively successful stints as mayor of Denver and as governor of Colorado.  So why do I have a problem with him?
Mainly because he supported fracking in Colorado.
Yes, I know he had hydraulic fracturing in his state follow strong, tough regulations to capture waste and methane emissions, which prevented 95% of volatile organic compounds and methane that leaked out.  That's as may be; he still supported fracking.  And five percent leakage is five percent too high.
Then there was his most recent comment about male presidential candidates being asked if they would pick a woman for a running mate.  Hickenlooper rhetorically asked why female presidential candidates aren't being asked if they would pick a man for a running mate.
Because the one female presidential candidate of a major party that we've had did just that?   
Hickenlooper seems to be interested in what's been called "woman issues."  He made his sexual history with women a focal point of his memoir, describing a sordid sexual history that would embarrass David Crosby and would have embarrassed Wilt Chamberlain. Say what you will about his fellow Coloradan Gary Hart; Hart believed that his own history with women was his own business.
You've probably heard accusations of male privilege unfairly leveled at other male Democratic candidates for the Presidency.  In Hickenlooper's case, they're well deserved.  It's a shame that Colorado has never produced a President, but the one thing worse than Hart's failure to win the White House would be Hickenlooper succeeding at that effort. 
Democratic presidential candidates: They come, I take a swipe at them, they go.  Who's up next? 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Flood This Time

Don't start looking here for commentary on the competition of Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election - not yet, anyway, as no one knows what's in it.  Today, I want to - no, I have to - talk about the flooding in the Midwest.   
Floods like this one along the Platte River in Nebraska have been so devastating that areas that have never been flooded before like look vast inland seas.  The floods were caused by rapid snow melt  and subsequent rain.  There's no place for the water to go, and it's just sitting there until the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers can drain it all out, leaving a lot of productive farm land under water.  To respond to the inevitable charge that it's only March and the water will likely drain out before planting begins, the flood waters are taking away badly needed topsoil - plowed down to almost nothing after decades - and leaving the land a whole lot less fertile.  It would appear that climate change has come to the Republican heartland, though no one there wants to admit it.
America, whose leaders think climate change is a hoax, was smitten with huge fires in California in 2018, and now it's flooding.  The order has been biblically reversed, but the proportion of the flood is consistent with Scripture.          

Friday, March 22, 2019

Music Video Of the Week - March 22, 2019

"Edge of Seventeen," Stevie Nicks  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Kirsten Gillibrand Smiles In Your Face

What she does!

I've always loved Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, but I'm not so sure I like Kristen Gillibrand, Democratic presidential candidate.  It's not that she suddenly became a liberal only after it was safe for her to do so, when she went from a representing a center-right House district in upstate New York to representing the entire state in the Senate; lots of moderate Democrats suddenly get progressive religion only after it's politically safe.  It's that she's made as her pet issue an issue no one could possibly against - ending sexual harassment - and has still managed to make enemies.
People are still smarting over her pressure on Al Franken to resign his Senate seat in Minnesota rather than face an ethics inquiry over charges of groping or other forms of inappropriate behavior towards women, which Franken denied.  An ethics investigation would have likely reprimanded him and allowed him to remain a senator and allow the voters to offer their own verdict on him in 2020.  But Gillibrand demanded the same punishment for the sort of behavior that is much more serious than anything Franken ever did - like anything Trump has done.  She took what some people call a  courageous stand against Bill Clinton for his sex scandals and how he was able to have an affair with an intern form a position of power - but taking this stand after having become safely ensconced in a Senate seat from a state so Democratic and after you no longer need help from the Clintons to stay there does not count as courage.  Especially when the indiscretion she condemned had happened twenty years earlier.  There's nothing wrong with Gillibrand advocating for a better deal for women, but there is something wrong with her trying to own the exclusive rights to the issue.
But never mind all of that back-stabbing of potential rivals like Franken or political benefactors like the Clintons.  She's stabbed her own supporters in the back.  After promising not to take any PAC money or rely corporate donors, an exceutice drug company Pfizer announced plans to hold a fundraiser for Gillibrand.  And Gillibrand thinks that's okay because the Pfizer executive in question is a woman.
I once included Gillibrand on my sister blog, my beautiful-women picture blog.  Now, she's become a reason why I'm seriously considering no longer including female politicians on that blog.  Because female politicians are just as dismaying and disappointing as their male counterparts.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Passing the O'Mantle?

Martin O'Malley got what he wanted when Beto O'Rourke announced his presidential candidacy.  Here's what O'Malley said in an e-mail to those who supported his 2016 presidential bid:
Beto O'Rourke of Texas announced . . .  that he is running for President of the United States. I am excited to do all I can to support him, and I hope you might consider supporting him as well.
So far in this campaign, about a dozen Democratic candidates have jumped into the race - some of them I know personally, many of them I like. But as I have gotten to know Beto O’Rourke, I've come to believe that he best represents the new generation of leadership our country needs. O’Rourke has the heart, talent, and courage to unite what has been torn apart, and to lead our country forward.
And why does O'Malley think so?  He didn't say in this particular e-mail.  He hasn't been much more forthcoming in answering that question on earlier occasions, either. 
I suppose O'Malley sees a kindred spirit in O'Rourke, and he has in fact said that one reason for his support of Beto is because of Beto's similarly liberal stand on immigration. But other Democrats support liberal immigration reform, so what makes Beto different?  As far I can make out, the only other thing O'Rourke really has in common with O'Malley is a surname with an apostrophe in it.  Only Irish identity politics could explain why a governor who came up with a green energy policy long before anyone in Congress did endorse for President a Texan who took donations from folks who work for oil companies, and only Irish identity politics could explain why a guy married to a judge would endorse a guy whose wife doesn't speak in public.  The O'Malley e-mail I just referred to, incidentally, was sent out to ask for donations for O'Rourke's presidential bid.
What day did he send it?  St. Patrick's Day, of course.
Meanwhile, the Beto backlash has already begun.  Kamala Harris, in a veiled insult, said she looks forward to a substantial debate with Beto in the Democratic presidential debates, which is tantamount to saying that she looks forward to an intellectual debate with Donald Trump in the general election campaign.  Amy Klobuchar thought O'Rourke had a lot of damn gall too say he was born to run for President, suggesting that its just one more example of white male privilege - no woman or brown person, we are told, would have said that and gotten away with it, but who's to say Beto did get away with it?  
Some of the anti-Beto rhetoric is a little over the top, to be fair, like the comment that no woman running for President has gotten the sort of coverage Beto got.  Whoever said that must have been asleep when the media were fawning over Harris for much of January.  By the same token, though, some male candidates for President would love to get the sort of coverage Beto is getting, if only because they have more substantial rhetoric - Jay Inslee on climate change, for example.
I thought O'Malley's Beto-backing would make him look silly if O'Rourke had not run for President, but he looks sillier now that O'Rourke is in.  His endorsement of Beto has only renewed toxic comments from anti-O'Malley trolls on social media, and O'Rourke, despite his fine start in Iowa, risks embarrassing O'Malley even more.  Like the news that O'Rourke wrote teenage-murder fantasies in his youth.  Only Irish identity politics could, again, explain why a guy who loves Celtic folk rock and reveres a poet like William Butler Yeats could endorse a candidate whose teen literature can only be explained as having come from someone who could be described as "mentally disturbed," "hyper-nihilistic" or "listened to way too much Black Sabbath in high school."
I admitted long ago that Irish identity politics was a reason I supported O'Malley, but I have also stressed that I had better reasons to support him, like his record as governor of Maryland.  But I'm not going to support Beto just because his last name is O'Rourke, or because O'Malley supports him.  O'Malley drives a Ford Explorer, but you don't see me trading in my Golf for an SUV just because my 2016 presidential candidate has one.  
There may be another reason O'Malley supports O'Rourke - because he's so reminiscent of Bobby Kennedy, a sainted politician O'Malley is barely young enough to remember.  But until O'Rourke can come up with something more substantial and honestly say he can propose new policies rather than oppose any man - or woman - then, the only things Robert Francis O'Rourke has in common with RFK are his Christian names and his haircut.  But that's another (long) post.
Once again, Unn D. Sided is my 2020 presidential favorite.             

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Nothing To See Here?

Donald Trump is so intolerant of Muslims that he had trouble condemning the mosque attacks in New Zealand, a country that couldn't be farther away from America or anywhere else. When fifty people died in those attacks, the most he could do was say how terrible it was - because what else could it be? - while offering no consolation to the survivors or to Muslims worldwide. 
He also said that he doesn't see white nationalism as a rising threat.  Well, of course, since he thought there were good people on both sides of the Charlottesville demonstrations.  Even if you take into account the greater problem of white nationalism in Europe as opposed to the United States, Canada or even New Zealand - countries that were all founded by non-indigenous settlers and have welcomed immigrants thereafter, as opposed to European countries that arose from indigenous populations - well, it's still a great problem everywhere.  And how is it that white terrorist groups like the Klan are called "secret societies?"  Why aren't acts of white nationalist violence taken as seriously as al-Qaeda or ISIS?   
I'm too flabbergasted to say any more . . .        

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Varsity Drag

Rich people have enough advantages in getting their kids into college, but the Operation Varsity Blues sting that caught college con man William Singer shows that those advantages go far beyond the pale.  As you all know, Singer created a rigged system in which he inflated scores of rich people's kids on both the American College Testing and Scholastic Aptitude Test exams so they could get into prestigious colleges and universities and sometimes bribed collegiate coaches to accept the students for their athletic abilities even when they participated in no sport more demanding than croquet.  The money paid to Singer was given in the form of fake donations to a fake charity.  Among the parents charged in the scandal were actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin.   
It's some once and for all to admit that American higher education is more about status and prestige than history, philosophy or classical languages - you know, subjects that make you think critically?  And the fact that students can get in more easily if they have athletic talent and can contribute more to the varsity teams than to the debating team only reminds us of how pointless and useless intercollegiate athletics are.  If college were really all about higher learning, these parents would have spent more time tutoring their kids or lowering their expectations once it became apparent that they weren't Yale material.
But, of course, it also shows how the wealthy and the powerful will always find a way to rig the system and keep out the rest of us - even when the greatest minds are not among the elite but among the riff-raff.  Great scientists, statesmen, artists, and other assorted geniuses are likely being left behind because they're not of the right socioeconomic background.  Or, as Paul Fussell once wrote, we adhere to the idea that "access to quality higher education should depend on how much money your father has," an idea he said "seldom seems to be called into question."    
Well, it's being called into question now.  And hopefully people will realize just how superficial the pursuit of prestige in higher education is.  Money can't buy you love, and it can't buy you intellect, either.  If I could sum up the folly of this whole scandal in one sentence, it would be this:  Lori Loughlin, a star of the vapid TV series "Full House" and a doyenne of Hallmark TV movies, arranged to have her daughters accepted into the University of Southern California with the understanding that they would join the women's rowing team and not necessarily pursue Shakespearean thespian training in the theater department.
Loughlin, who of course is not a classically trained actress, has been fired from all of her current projects, including her role in "Fuller House."  So much for prestige. 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Beto!

Well, well, well, well, only one day until I suggested that we might have to wait awhile for Beto O'Rourke to announce whether he's running for President, he decided to announce that he was going to . . . run for President!
Robert Francis O'Rourke is a walking set of contradictions.  He's seen by many as an exciting and progressive candidate for the Presidency and as a moderate who's the worst thing to happen to the nascent progressive movement since Obama gave us a watered-down, centrist administration.  O'Rourke has presented strong opinions on climate change and health care reform but has offered no concrete ideas or policies to deal with those issues.  He comes to the presidential campaign with the love and respect of Mexican-Americans in his hometown of El Paso and a commitment to racial justice and compassion for immigrants, yet he is seen as an egomaniacal honky who thinks he was "born" to stand for the Presidency in 2020.  He brings a record of accomplishment that is as thin as porridge - but so did Lincoln, we are told, yet we are also told that no woman or person of color with his record would be taken seriously.  On the other hand, he has more experience in government than what Donald Trump had in 2016 or what Howard Schultz has going into 2020.  He voted with the oil and banking interests.  He also supported Bernie Sanders' Medicare-for-all proposal.  He wants to work with Republicans just like Obama wanted to, but he wants to accomplish un-Republican things like abolish private prisons and legalize marijuana.
But what does Beto believe?  What one believes was a question neither Obama nor Bill Clinton - or Hillary Clinton, for that matter - could ever answer, and Beto hasn't answered it yet.  He's hit the ground running with his lofty rhetoric and his vague promises, but he needs to fill in the blanks.  Because his opponents are already doing so.  And I'm not talking about Trump or O'Rourke's Democratic opponents for the party's 2020 presidential nomination.  I'm talking about rank-and-file Democratic base voters who want to know how a guy who couldn't even defeat Ted Cruz for Senate could ever defeat Trump for the Presidency and call him a closet Republican masquerading as a progressive, a contemptible centrist jerk, a spoon-fed filthy-rich white boy benefiting from all the privilege that implies . . ..  but mostly a guy who's all style and no substance.  Perhaps the progressives in the Democratic Party have reason to be suspicious of Beto, but the nasty comments that have been hurled at him have been pretty silly.  He had his wife Amy by his side when he astutely released his announcement at 6 A.M. Eastern time,  just in time for the morning news cycle, and he got slammed because his wife was looking at him smiling without saying a word, with many people comparing her to a car show model or something like that. 
Thanks to his vagueness, however, Beto can expect more of that.  Obama ran a similar campaign of hope for the future in 2008, but his lack of substance as President led to an angry wave of right-wing populism that led to Trump.  Gary Hart waited too late to explain his "new ideas" when he ran against Walter Mondale for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984.  He learned that lesson for 1988, only to be done in by his own arrogance when he thought he could invite a "ladyfriend" to his townhouse three days before giving a speech laying out his ideas to a press corps who couldn't care less about his policies when his sex scandal had already mangled his carefully honed image.  As a Texan, O'Rourke probably knows how to deal with right-wing populism better than Obama, and he most likely doesn't have the same dubious personal life as Hart, but if he's going to take himself seriously as a presidential candidate and allow others to take him seriously, he's going to have to explain what he would do as President and how he'd do it without sounding like he's parroting threadbare Democratic talking points.
I am very interested in Beto but remain unconvinced that he's the one; I'm still considering Jay Inslee or Julián Castro, among (many) others, in fact.  Irish identity politics and Martin O'Malley's endorsement of O'Rourke aren't going to be enough for me to back him, though; without a substantial record to show me, Beto's going to have to do more to convince me that he's Lincolnesque for reasons other than his 6'4" height. But I'm willing to listen.
Unlike some people (*cough cough*, Bernie Sanders supporters, *cough cough*) I could mention.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Music Video Of the Week - March 15, 2019

"East Bound and Down" by Jerry Reed  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Nastasia Versus Catalonia

Nastasia Urbano (below) continues to get her life back together, but her GoFundMe campaign still remains short of the six thousand euros she needs after 38 days of fundraising.

I once joked, long before her descent into homelessness, that Nastasia, who got her start as a model in Barcelona after growing up in Switzerland as the daughter of Spanish nationals, was the most beautiful woman to grace that city with her presence with the possible exception of when American swimmer Janet Evans was there to compete in the 1992 Olympics.  But why don't the people of Barcelona take pride in Nastasia's accomplishments as a model?  The answer is no joke.
It's because Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, the region of Spain that has been in the news recently for trying to separate from the larger country, and Nastasia is not ethnically Catalan.  Apparently Catalans have a problem with those among them who are not Catalan themselves and run roughshod over the region's non-Catalan residents.
In the Spanish periodical La Tribuna del País Vasco, language professor Francisco Oya delves into how non-Catalan Spaniards in the region, particularly the elites, have mostly been shunned and dismissed, no matter how far they may go in life, and he urges the people of Catalonia to consider their humanity in the wake of Nastasia's misfortune.  It is required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the ethnic and separatist politics in the region in Spain's northeastern corner.  As always, I offer it here in translated form, cleaned up a bit to make it more legible.
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"So that our soul does not go out": Nastasia Urbano as a paradigm of the Catalonia of the "purists"
In recent weeks, various media have reported about a veteran top model who has been forced, at times, to sleep in ATM booths in Barcelona: Nastasia Urbano
Her name did not mean anything to me, maybe because I've never been especially mythomaniac or fond of glamorous characters: actors, models, athletes and others. But the reports always include some photos of her time of splendor, and then I recognized her: It was impossible to forget the splendorous beauty and exquisite elegance of that woman who watched me from the billboards, magazine covers and television commercials for more than two decades.
Consuelo Urbano, called Chelo by family and friends, starts out as a model in Barcelona. After triumphing in Barcelona, she passes to Milan, Paris, London. There, she begins to be called Nastasia, which sounds more international. But Europe is too small, so in 1981 she lands in New York, the destiny that consecrates the definitive global triumph of a supermodel. And, indeed, the city of skyscrapers surrenders at her feet: a contract with the legendary Ford agency, an advertising campaign with the historic Revlon cosmetics company, one of the most important worldwide, with which the most famous models of the moment work, such as Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford or Elle Mcpherson.
Especially memorable will be the commerical for the Opium fragrance by Yves Saint Laurent, filmed by David Lynch, no less, in 1992 with Nastasia as the absolute protagonist. The days of wine and roses follow one another vertiginously for the young Barcelonan: dinners with Jack Nicholson, Harrison Ford or Andy Warhol, parties with Melanie Griffith and Simon & Garfunkel, gigantic parties, alcohol, even cocaine. Nastasia avidly sucks all the glory and beauty of the world around her. And she triumphs professionally, without a doubt, thanks to her gifts, professionalism and versatility in different registers. A cover girl in the main international fashion magazines: Vogue, New Woman, Redbook. And not only advertisements for cosmetics, but also for clothes, a kind of advertising that is not so popular at that time. Despite this, Nastasia becomes the first model to sign a millionaire contract to advertise clothes: one million dollars for 20 days of work per year.
In one of her stays in Barcelona, ​​to visit her parents, she meets the man who becomes her husband. She will have children with him. Her professional triumph and personal happiness go hand in hand and have reached their peak. But the descent from the zenith is going to be really hard, too. The days of glory will be diluted while the money of Nastasia's Swiss accounts is appropriated by him who will eventually reveal himself as an interested and unscrupulous consort, before abandoning it. Nastasia begins to feel very affected by the decline, falling into depression and not being able to lead a normal life. She can no longer pay her usual expenses and ends up, sometimes, sleeping in ATM booths. She has hit bottom.
The only sweetness that will prove in recent years bitter is the help of Daniel Mirabal Gallego-Diaz, a fashion professional who met in the glory days and is trying to help, against all odds, by organizing a  GoFundMe campaign. Daniel seems to be the exception, because the fashion industry and the acquaintances of yesteryear have turned their backs on Nastasia.
It is very illustrative, to understand the social reality of Catalonia, to compare the current situation of Nastasia with that of other Catalan models that also stood out internationally, although none of these were in the select group of  the Ford agency in New York. Teresa Gimpera, a muse of the 1960s, is today an octogenarian spoiled by the Generalitat [Government] of Catalonia . . . and by the public or subsidized Catalan media. Long after she left professional modeling, there were always interviews with her on radio or TV3, collaborations, tributes, contacts, facilities and promotion for the modeling agency she created in Barcelona. All of which has allowed her to feel recognized, overcome personal misfortunes (a son died of AIDS) and lead a life more than worthy. The same happens with Judit Mascó, whose international career was institutionally supported when she was chosen to be the ambassador of the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, and who at 49 years of age continues to appear on TV3, has prizes and public recognition, invitations to events promoted by the Generalitat . . ..
For Nastasia there were never invitations to public events, interviews on TV3, offers of collaborations, recognition or institutional promotions of any kind, although her merits in the strict field of fashion were superior to those of Teresa Gimpera or Judit Mascó. Not even a little help in recent times, at least for a mere matter of humanity. You have to ask yourself: Why this difference in treatment?
The answer is that Nastasia was not one of them, unlike Teresa or Judit. Although from Barcelona, ​​she does not have a Catalan surname; her parents were Spaniards who had emigrated to Switzerland and had returned to Spain, therefore the kind of people regarded with contempt by the Catalan oligarchy and by the large percentage of Catalans who have been inoculated with supremacist poison. And this regardless of her professional value, good work or personal beauty. Nothing is recognized by these institutions created in the image and likeness of the 44 families that dominate the Catalan oasis: for those who are not Catalan, there is only discredit, slander - nothing but contempt, unless they diligently perform the established protocols of submission.  I've seen real boors - yes, with eight Catalan surnames - looking down their noses at doctors and university professors in Murcia. So the only options offered by Catalan institutions, created by supremacist separatism, to the majority of the population of Catalonia are civil death and abandonment or absolute humiliation. And they have shown, in the case of Nastasia and many others, that they are relentless. Epi and Sibilio were the glory of Catalan and Spanish basketball, two reference players in the history of the basketball section of F.C. Barcelona, ​​but they were not of Catalan origin or proved to be submissive enough, so they left the media scene as soon as they retired. Quite the opposite that Solozabal, who was made a commentator on TV3 and was named an honorary Catalan for having been a good boy and making the separatists content.  Also, if people in any of these cases work as a dependent official of the Generalitat, they will be subject to a relentless protocol of institutional harassment with impunity. We're seeing it with public school teachers . . ..
Indirectly and unconsciously, Nastasia reveals this situation when she expresses her nostalgia for New York City. "I miss it day and night, New York is a city that makes you vibrate, you go out and you get goosebumps," she says, and, referring to Barcelona, ​​"I've been dying out. My life has been extinguished. " Nastasia misses an open and cosmopolitan city, in which you feel integrated as soon as you arrive, because only your personal worth and effort is taken into account; nobody harasses you with identity issues or make you pay the absurd toll to use a minority language, absolutely useless as a vehicle of communication. In these aspects, Madrid is like New York, and it is not by chance that the capital of Spain has been chosen as a destination by prominent Catalan personalities, weary of the suffocating climate gradually established by separatism, with the complicity of successive Spanish governments: those of Albert Boadella, Francesc de Carreras, Felix de Azua, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Loquillo, and many more.
But that is just an individual solution. If the Catalans want to definitively end this oppressive situation and prevent our soul from going out, to use  Nastasia's beautiful expression, we have to take the bull by the horns and demand such elementary things in a democratic society as equal rights, respect for the law and the end of school indoctrination.
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I have friends who have known Nastasia far longer than I have, and a few of them believe she's not ready to go back to New York yet.  But it's easy to see why she's not ready to embrace Barcelona . . . because Barcelona is not ready to embrace her.
Whatever happens, I, as always, wish her the best.
And you can (and should) still contribute to her GoFundMe camapaign