Trump’s Terrible 21 SCOTUS Picks

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I’m still having a hard time accepting and digesting that Donald J. Trump is the president-elect of these United States.  What makes it painful is knowing that Clinton won the popular by more than 2 million votes and that but for voting irregularities including Russian tampering – breaking into DNC computers and the Wiki-Leaks, all apparently with the knowledge and encouragement of the Trump campaign – and GOP voter suppression in key battleground states, she would have won the electoral college and the election as well.  Donald Trump was right – the election was rigged – he and the GOP made sure of it. Now I am in the camp that argues Clinton should demand a recount and mount a challenge where irregularities were found. Unfortunately, she has indicated that she would not and has already conceded and what’s more, President Obama has already, for all intents and purposes, handed him the keys.  I still cling to the possibility that some bombshell will drop that disqualifies both Trump and Pence or that the electors will come to their senses and nominate Clinton instead and then the House follow suit.  I know I am dreaming.  Which brings me to the topic of this post.  The Supreme Court.

In a move of extreme dereliction of duty and disrespect to the President and the Constitution, the GOP has refused to even allow hearings on President Obama’s supreme court pick after Justice Scalia’s death in February.  They argued that the people should decide when choosing the next president.  It was a risky strategy that worked. Ted Cruz and others no doubt argued that 8 justices were all we needed suggesting that even if Clinton were elected, they would not allow any of her picks to move forward. So I say now to the Democrats, game on. Chuck Schumer has indicated that the Dems would use the filibuster if Trump nominates an extreme candidate and there is every indication that he will.

The National Review, a right wing rag, is positively giddy at the prospect of Trump naming William Pryor or Diane Sykes, the later considered an “originalist” that is, she and others being considered view the constitution as a fixed and dead document that the rich, white and privileged male framers might have recognized.  These two and 9 others comprised Trump’s orignal 11 picks.  He has since added 10 more to the list. Talk about turning the clock back.  Both Pryor and Sykes, indubitably, would overturn Roe v. Wade, and specifically Sykes has made statements and rulings that are hostile to LGBTQ rights.  Sykes, the more likely pick is even to the right of Scalia on the ideological spectrum; Pryor ever so slightly to the left of him. See Wapo chart.   I am reminded of the song, “Stuck in the Middle with You.”

Trump’s list of 21 including the aforementioned joker and clown consists of people who want to turn the clock back to a time when women had no reproductive rights and LGBTQ members could not openly and safely even come out.  On this list, you will find judges and even the most ideologically extreme Senator on the Hill, whose views are hostile to immigrants, women, blacks, the middle class, the LGBTQ community, the environment, and unions.  Many are candidates who do not resepct the separation of church and state, and do not favor gun safety measures. You can bet that they would protect the Citizens United ruling, to ensure that American elections can be bought by the highest bidders for generations to come. And if Trump is lucky, and God help us all if he is, he might get as many as three picks during his tenure.  People, Dems, if we don’t apply pressure on our elected officals to block these nominations, we are doomed!

Are there any on the list who would be acceptable?  No.  But if you look at the ideological spectrum chart from the Washington Post article above, those who are the farthest to the left of Scalia would be better than ones closer to his views and preferable to those extreme ideologues to his right. Unfortunately, the article only examined candidates from the federal bench, which I think only includes 9 of the 21. The most dangerous ones, the so-called “originalists” are Gorsuch, Kethledge, Sykes and the Lee brothers.

About all I can conclude here is that Trump’s picks are pretty bad.  There isn’t one that I feel the least bit comfortable with as a progressive.  I like the idea of diversity and ideally, I would like to see another Hispanic or Black or the first Asian or Native American on the court. But as we know, diversity of background does not always make the court more ideologically diverse.  If only the President would make a lame duck appointment and install Merrick Garland.  But that’s no likely to happen.  Best case is for Dems to filibuster the most extreme of the 21.  And if that means blocking all his picks, so be it.  In the words of the GOP, slightly paraphrased, Americans should have the right to say who their next SCOTUS justice will be. I agree. Americans elected Barak Obama and are still waiting for the Senate to hold hearings on his pick.  And don’t forget that Clinton won the popular by more than 2 million votes.  Americans have spoken twice now and deserve to be heard.

Thank You President Obama

Whether you supported President Obama or not, you should be thankful to him for his service.  And while it has been a tumultuous 8 years in which the GOP did all they could to to derail his presidency, unsuccessfully I might add, his accomplishments are many and all the more impressive.  As you evaluate the next presidency, keep President Obama’s achievements in mind.   Then decide if you and the country are better off in 4 years.

Terrorism: No ISIS or Al-Queda terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. The attacks in San Bernadino, Orlando and the Boston Marathon bombings were perpetrated by lone actors.

Unemployment: 4.9% as of October 2016. President Obama took office after the finanical markets crashed and a recession set in.  He injected a stimulus plan, bailed out the U.S. auto industry, and stabilized the economy. As a result, he’s presided over 6 straight years of declining unemployment.  Since 1920, only the Clinton adminstration can boast a better record of straight years of unemployment decline, at 7.

Gas Prices: I just filled my tank for $20 at $2.11 a gallon.  Yes, I have a small car with a small gas tank but still, 20 bucks! In 2012, Trump said that because of a deal the President made with the Saudis, that after the 2012 election, gas and oil prices would “go through the roof, like never before…” Wrong. Gas prices actually fell through the roof since Trump’s comment and are at their lowest levels, factoring in adjutments for inflation, since 2003 when gas prices begin to sharply increase during W’s adminsitration.

Immigration: For the record, I’d like a more welcoming policy.  That said, more undocumented immigrants settled in the U.S. during the W. Bush adminstration than during the Obama administration.  And among those, more overstayed a visa, than crossed the border, which calls into question the need for an expensive wall that U.S. taxpayers would be required to purchase.  Mexico isn’t paying for a wall and even Newt Gingrich confessed that Trump’s promise was nothing more than a rhetorical device a/k/a a blustering lie.

The Markets: If you have a 401k plan, thank Obama for your gains.  The markets respond favorably to calm and stability.  The Dow Jones has increased steadily and reached historic highs since the market crash of 2008.

Health Care: Say what you want about the Affordable Health Care Act, but more than 20 million previously uninsured citizens now have health care coverage. And while health insurance premiums are on the rise, fewer people are dying for lack of care. Were Obama care repealed and not replaced, (and the GOP does not have a detailed workable replacement plan) an estimated 15 million people would lose their insurance.  Folks, guaranteed heath care should be a human right in a wealthy country and part of our social contract. Actually, one of the main reasons premiums are going up is because not enough of the uninsured have enrolled in Obamacare.  Some people are willfully and defiantly paying the penalty to avoid having to buy health insurance at all, some, admittedly for financial reasons, but some purely on principle.  Nothwithstanding the reasons, the  insured are forced to absorb the costs through increased premiums.  And were those who have opted out to get seriously sick or have a costly medical emergency, who do you think would foot the bill if they can’t?

LGBTQ protections:  Human rights matter, including support for marriage equality, and anti-discriminatory laws to protect federal workers and students.

DACA: Immigrant rights matter. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival protects the children of undocumented immimgrants  who meet certain conditions from being deported.  Also, he supported the Dream Act which would have allowed certain undocumented youth who were pursuing education or were in the military and had been in the country for a certain length of time the possibility to earn citizenship.  Though it unfortunately did not pass Congress, the Dreamers’ plight could be addressed in an immigration reform bill which the President had hoped would be taken up before the end of his term in office.

The Supreme Court:  Diversity matters.  President Obama nominated two women to the high court and the first Latina in Sonia Sotomayor. Prior to Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, there had only been 2 other women ever to serve on the court.  He also nominated 171 women for federal judicial vacancies, more than any other President.

Diplomacy:  Just that, as a starting point.  I happen to think the Iran nuclear deal is in the best interest of humanity. They stop tying to weaponize their nuclear program and the world becomes a safer place.  Additionally, we’ve normalized our relations with Cuba after many years of failed sanctions that only hurt the Cuban people and did nothing to bring about political change there. I’ve always thought that the minute we lifted sanctions, the Castro regime would weaken. And it has in some ways such that soon, for better or worse, Havana will become the world’s playground again and hopefully, the Cuban people will benefit from the economic boom.

Climate change:  Our President believes in science and has joined with the rest of the world to try to do something about it.  As a father, he cares about what kind of planet his daughters inherit.

This is not an exhaustive list.  And I could publish a part II.  And while I disagree with some of Obama’s policies, it must be said that he was an exceedingly thoughtful and effective President who was graceful under fire and took the high road when gratuitously attacked.  I will miss him.

Top 10 Reasons to Vote Against Trump

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10.  Trump is a serial liar.  I’m not even sure he knows he lies as much as he does.  It’s as if he only has a short-term memory and a very tiny and selective long-term memory.  He seems to remember only slights and compliments.  He said he was against the Iraq war but is on record as saying he was for it.  He says he never met the disabled journalist he mocked at one of his rallies and yet the said journalist had interviewed him multiple times.  He said he respects women but is on record as saying he doesn’t and his actions and comments suggest otherwise.  He said his taxes are under audit, but has provided no proof that they are.  He and his surrogates have said he has given hundreds of thousands of his own money to his foundation but there is no proof that this is true.  He said Hillary Clinton is under investigation by the FBI and she technically is not. He said she is going to lock her up when he is elected and he can’t.  This is something done by Fascist regimes, not in a Democracy. He said he’s going to bring back jobs to America but leaves out that his own businesses manufacture outside the U.S. and buy products made in other countries that are also made in the U.S.  He said he met Putin, then said he doesn’t know Putin.  He has told so many lies and distorted the truth so many times about Hillary Clinton’s record that I’ve lost count.  Fact checkers reveal that Trump routinely lied during the debates and continues to do so at his rallies.  Trump says he is a great businessman, yet his companies have filed bankruptcy papers 6 times.  And amid fraud claims, Trump University folded.

9.  Trump might govern as an authoritarian dictator. He was inspired by a quote from a notable fascist, Benito Mussolini  which reads, “better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep,” and has praised Vladimir Putin repeatedly for being a strong man and for complimenting him for being “brilliant” which turned out to be a bad translation.  Putin himself clarified that he meant Trump is colorful or flamboyant, not brilliant.  Putin salivates at the prospects of using Trump as a puppet, which he seems to be doing to influence U.S. elections. Trump even went so far as to encourage the Russians to hack the missing 33,000 emails. This is outrageous – encouraging a foreign country to commit espionage on the U.S. and some would consider treasonous. Trump prides himself on being a strong man, with large hands and once bragged of being the best baseball player to come out of New York.  His masculine pride notwithstanding, Trump has shown a shocking lack of understanding and respect for democratic principles.

8.  Trump disrepects women.  He is on record as saying he likes to kiss them and grab them because he can get away with it.  A number of women have alleged that he sexually assaulted them.  His response has been that he doesn’t know the women and that after the election he is going to sue them all.  He is also on record as saying that women who obtain abortions should be punished.

7.  Tump has made racist and bigotted comments, calling Mexicans rapists, and denouncing a Mexican American judge as being biased in a case against Trump “University.” He was slow to denounce David Duke, a former KKK grand wizard who endorsed him.  He called for a ban on Muslims entering the country and even suggested the need to close down mosques.  He has essentially blamed the entire Muslim American community in the U.S. for not rooting out the terrorists among them – as if it were their sole responsibiltiy. He has shown very little concern for the humanitarian plight of Syrian refugees and argued that the U.S. should not accept any until we establish a vetting process, which we already have.  Trump has repeatedly dismissed the Black Lives Matter movement, has insisted that blacks live in hell, which many blacks take issue with, and has called for more policing.  He called for the death penalty for the black men who were wrongly convicted and subsequently exonerated for the rape of a central park jogger. And his father’s company, of which Donald was an employee, repeatedly discriminated against blacks in their housing properties and was fined by the Justice Department for doing so. Trump has appealed to white nationalists who blame immigrants for the ills of the country by promising to build a wall that Mexico will pay for to keep them out. Additionally, white supremcists groups including the KKK have endorsed Trump because they identify with his values. And now he is calling for people to go to the inner cities and watch (code for intimidate) for voter fraud in clear violation of the consent decree that the GOP was hit with in the 80’s for committing voter intimidation in New Jersey. One of the more egregious racist actions he has taken was questioning Obama’s citizenship and thus his right to be President. Then Trump tried to partially walk it back by suggesting that it was the Clinton camp in 2008 who started it all.  He tried to suggest that the many years he pushed this crazy birther conspiracy was somehow excusable because the story may not have begun with him.  And to top it off, he’s floated other consipiracy theories about whether Obama even attended Ivy schools demanding that he submit transcripts to prove he did.  This from a man who won’t even release his tax returns.

6. The Trump Foundation appears to be a fraud.  Apparently, people have contributed to the foundation and Trump has used some of this money to settle law suits and to buy a life-size portrait of himself. “Billionaire” Trump has said that he has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Foundation, but there is no evidence of this.  See David Fahrenthold’s reporting.  Not only is the Foundation fraudulent, but his business practices are suspect as evidence by the multiple contractors and small businesses who claim they were not paid for work done for Trump.  That coupled with his anti-union practices make Trump unfit to make anything about America or Americans great again.

5.  Trump refuses to release his tax returns that almost every presidential candidate in modern times has done before him, even his own running mate. He says he’s under audit and will release them after.  Nixon once released his while under audit.  There is nothing in the IRS code that prevents Trump from releasing tax returns while under audit if in fact he really is under audit.  He is obviously hiding something.  Could it be that he isn’t a billionaire?  Could it be that he has never given the charitable contributions that he said he has? Could it be that he does not pay taxes at all?  Actually, the one leaked release indicates that he did not and Trump subsequently said in a debate that the fact that he doesn’t pay taxes makes him smart.  A man who doesn’t pay taxes not because he’s poor but wealthy and privileged is a shameful man who is NOT a patriot.  Tax dollars fund education, defense, roads, entitlements, to name a few.  He is ok with YOU paying for these services and thanks YOU for paying them for him.

4.  Trump claims he is religious but is not, and apparently knows very little about religion.  Not that that religion is a test I use for a candidate, but he has shamelessly pandered to evangelicals suggesting that the Bible is his favorite book.  He does not seem to hold or practice ANY Christian values that I can detect raising doubts in my mind as to whether he has even read the Bible.

3. Trump seems to want to begin a nuclear arms raceHe has said that South Korea and Japan should have their own nuclear weapons.  He doesn’t understand why we have them if we can’t use them and has not ruled out their use in the future.  He is also on record saying that he likes war. What’s more, he has taken a pro-Russian position against NATO calling it ineffective and expensive and intimating that we should break our alliances in Europe. This is what I mean about Trump being Putin’s puppet – his Petrushka.

2.  Trump has no interest in governing.  He had even said that he would leave the buisness of governing to his running mate and simply go around the country making America great again, presumably by holding pep rallies. This is code for promoting his business brand which his children will continue to operate if he became president in an obvious conflict of interest.  He doesn’t seem to get how governing works and that he can’t just rule by decree.  He has repeatedly said that he will appoint supreme court justices without any mention of the senate’s role in the advise and consent process. Actually, the president can only nominate and there is no guarantee that the nomination will be confirmed by the senate or even get a hearing by the judiciary committee.  President Obama’s nominee, Garland, has yet to get a hearing and it has been nearly a year since Justice Antonin Scalia died leaving a vacancy on the court.

1.  His policies would simply be disatrous.  He calls for tax breaks for the rich.  He would end regulations that ensure safe food, water, drugs and air quality.  He would invest in practices that contribute to global warming which he denies is caused by humans.  He would end Obamacare resulting in millions losing health insurance. He might enact protectionist policies and start a trade war with China and Mexico.  The markets would respond disastrously and we would all lose our retirement savings and Social Security which Trump will probably have privatized.  If we are not wiped out by a nuclear war or swept away by rising ocean levels first, his policies will create a depression so deep it will make your head spin.

New Hampshire 2016

I was last in the granite state in 2008 as I recall and remember seeing lots of political signs for various candidates including then Senator Barak Obama and many more for the maverick senator John McCain in towns like Conway and Warner. As a democrat, I worried that New Hampshire was in the bag for the GOP. As it turned out, my fears were unfounded and Obama won New Hampshire in 2008 and again in 2012. 

In 2016, I am seeing a dusturbingly “bigly” level of support for Trump/Pence as evidenced by signage just as I did in 2008 for McCain. As I drove through Nashua, I even saw a display of Trump signs encircling an impressive and omnious show of civil war canons. This certainly puts a new light on what Trump may mean by “Make America Great Again.” Some of his supporters have actually begun talking about a revolution, an armed one I presume, because Trump along with the NRA controlled GOP, have low information voters, to put it politely, convinced, wrongly, that HRC will take their guns away, a claim they also made against Obama which turned out to be huuugely false. 

Trump now claims the election will be rigged, casting doubt on our democratic institution, as a conspiracy theorist and authoritarian fascist would. It’s not only Trump, however, but also GOP leaders who have been using this voter fraud angle to justify voter suppression laws which have made it harder for people, particularly students, blacks, latinos and the elderly to vote. By the way, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, an inconvenient fact, so this strategy is clearly designed to keep a reliable democratic base from turning out, or voting. The only frightening signal of voter tampering appears to be some sort of Russian hack into electronic voting machines in several states. Given Trump’s unwavering praise for Putin, his announcement that the election will be rigged is alarmingly suspicious. If a large scale hack  crippled voting machines, Trump could then appeal the election results. If HRC does win, Trump will argue that her presidency is illegitimate, not unlike his birther foolishness to delegitamize Obama. 

New Hampshire is an odd place. I am not certain HRC can win here with its predominately white voter base that has an independent streak. And the polls show a virtual deadlock between Trump and Clinton. I’ve seen as many Gary Johnson signs as I have ones for HRC while passing through towns in search of fall foliage, which is in short supply in the mountains but has been plentiful near the lakes region. This may have something to do with climate change, which Trump denies. He’ll instead promise to bring back brilliant fall foliage to the state of New Hampshire as part of his campaign to make America great again, “colors that will make your head spin, believe me.”

Trump’s Wall And All

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If you thought Trump was softening on immigration, think again.  And you would have good reason to think he had softened his stand if you had heard his speech in Mexico alongside the Mexican President.  But no.  The following evening after his morning meeting with Mexican President Pena Nieto, Trump gave his immigration policy speech in Phoenix and there was no sign of the softening that his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, had promised.  She even said she doubted that he’d say anything about a deportation force.  But she was wrong – he did.  In fact, he doubled down on the tough rhetoric, but there really wasn’t much by way of new policy in his immigration plan.  Even mass deportation isn’t new; President Obama has deported more immigrants that any other President.  Much of what he calls his immigration plan is a promise to enforce or expand existing laws and resources.

He plans to build a wall like we have never seen before, a beautiful, impenetrable wall with sensors above and below ground.  And Mexico will pay for it, even though Pena Nieto said emphatically in their private meeting that he would not.  The wall concept is actually not a new idea.  In 2006, legislators approved the building of 700 miles of fencing between the 2,000 mile U.S. Mexican border  at an initial cost of more than a billion.  Fencing is nothing new.  While a barrier concept is nothing new, walling is and would be much more expensive than fencing. As usual, Trump gave no specifics.  Will he tear down the old fence or wall it in? How much will it cost?  Has he even gotten an estimate? The 700-mile fence cost upwards of 6 billion in 2006.  A 2000 mile modern high tech wall would easily cost 200 billion or more.  200 billion would be better spent on domestic infrastructure projects. You could repair a lot of bridges with that and still have money left over to invest in clean energy projects AND upgrade the power grid. But seriously folks, how can he force the Mexicans to pay for it?  He can’t.  Now he could start a trade war with the Mexicans, but that would hurt both countries.  And they can’t pay for it anyway.  Half of Mexico’s population lives in poverty.  And while border security is an issue, the wall isn’t even necessary. Some border patrol officers think the existing fence and the other assets in place now are sufficient to deal with illegal border crossings which are at HISTORIC lows.

He plans to block funding for sanctuary cities that are, incidentally, within their constitutional rights not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.  And how would he cut off funding to them? He can’t without Congress.  The GOP tried in late October of 2015, but fell short of the 60 votes needed in the Senate.  Sanctuary cities are not hotbeds for crime.  In fact, the murder rate in San Francisco, one of some 300 odd sanctuary cities is much lower than in the non-sanctuary cities of Dallas, Ft. Worth, Columbus and Jacksonville.  Studies show that immigrants on the balance commit fewer crimes than the native population.

Mass deportation.  Well, President Obama has done a pretty good job of that in his 8 years in office.  So that would not be something new.  But the President is practical and reasonable.  He knows he can’t deport 11 million people.  First, it would be impossible even if he wanted to as Trump has called for.  Second, it would be inhumane to do so, to break up families and to send individuals back to their home countries who have nothing to do with crime and who have been working, law-abiding residents contributing to their communities and paying taxes.  Yes, paying sale tax, property taxes, tolls, and fees just like American citizens and in many cases ALSO paying income taxes, which the IRS allows them to do with a tax identification number.

Trump’s entire campaign is based on fear mongering and race baiting.  He wants Americans to believe that to make America great again, we have to get rid of immigrants, ban an entire religion, refuse to help war-torn refugees resettle, break away from our European alliances, not rule out the use of nuclear weapons, ban the press, privatize American schools and turn them into businesses, run the country like the business it is not, align with hate groups, and snuggle up to a Russian despot.  This is a plan to divide the United States, and to make it a frightening place. It will be exceptional, but not in a good way, one in which people will say that they’ll visit any place except the U.S. Lady Liberty would be ashamed.

Jason Bourne Again

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Jason Bourne still doesn’t know who he is, but he knows more about himself than he did at the conclusion of the last film.  Unfortunately, the fifth film didn’t quite live up to the first three.  I don’t include the fourth film because Damon wasn’t in it and I didn’t see it.

As you probably know, Damon plays Jason Bourne, AKA David Webb, who was a CIA operative gone rogue after failing to successfully carry out an earlier mission.  In the last film, Pamela Landy, a covert operations specialist tasked with capturing Bourne ended up exposing corrupt agency leadership and operations that had seriously gone afoul of the law.  In Jason Bourne, the new film, Heather Lee, played by Alicia Vikander, assumes the role of bringing in Bourne after a CIA computer hack exposes his whereabouts. The hack introduces an old character, former CIA agent Nicki Parsons, who had gone rogue to help Bourne elude captors in a previous film.  In her reprised role as a hacker, she wants to obtain and leak the special operations files that include a new endeavor even more disturbing than Treadstone.  However, the leak is thwarted and the rest of the movie plot focuses on the pursuit of Bourne.

One of the problems with the film was Vikander in the role of Heather Lee.  She came off as being an ambitious Millenial without any clear ethical standards.  She may have turned on the CIA, but it appeared she played her cards close to the vest.  It is not obvious whether she was trying to help Bourne or simply further her own career, though she did do him a solid (saved his life) by taking out the assassination happy CIA Director played by the elder Tommy Lee Jones.  While this would appear to be evidence that she was on Bourne’s side, in the end, she told another operative that she would bring Bourne in our have him taken down, which Bourne had cleverly recorded and used as justification for not turning himself in and working with the CIA, that Heather Lee had claimed was now free of all the corrupt agents and assets.  I’m not saying Vikander isn’t a good actress, but I am saying that I did not like the ambivalence of her character.  It was as if she too were a rogue agent who like Bourne had lost her memory.  The expression on her face throughout was one of stoicism and regret.

Like Heather Lee, Jason Bourne is as stoic as ever owing to his amnesia but continues to piece together more about his life as he obtains information little by little.  And while it might be easy to sympathize with the Jason Bourne character, one cannot overlook the fact that he is a trained assassin and has killed countless people, most in self-defense, and seems to have no regrets.  He also doesn’t seem to care about the ethics or lack of them of the various covert operations of which he had been associated and the evil ones that he now knows are in the works.  His modus operandi is self-preservation, not freedom, ethics, or patriotism.  And as such, it seems that Heather Lee and Jason Bourne are cut from the same cloth and are equally sketchy but more likable the rest of the CIA characters in the film.

Every Bourne flick has a memorable car chase and this latest film was no exception except that the action was not nearly as dramatic or suspenseful as the first three films.  Ok, the armored car driven by a rogue asset rolling over and smashing into cars was cool, but the black Dodge Challenger that Bourne appropriates can barely be seen in the night shots.  And besides, I’d rather have seen him in another Mini or a Smart Car or a Las Vegas police cruiser.  The chase scenes are more like futuristic computer animations with quick scene shifts and odd camera angles that obscure the clarity of the action.  Also, the action takes place in several cities – London, Athens, DC, Berlin, Las Vegas and Reykjavik, but I did not feel the sense of place as in previous films.  There are several shots of buildings and streets that only gave me the vague impression of place.  The filmmakers did the best job with Las Vegas, showing the skyline, and taking the moviegoer along on the car chase scenes through the strip.

The film was just ok.  It is not going to win any awards or get the ravest of reviews, but it is worth going to see on the big screen.  And yes, the film ends where a 6th version could easily and logically begin.  Jason Bourne lives to be bourne again.

Trump Leading in Louisiana Purchase States

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And this just might be his strategy, but it’s a risky one and provides the narrowest path to a victory or a tie.  Drumpf needs to win all 15 of the states that were part of the original  Louisiana purchase: Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Oklahoma and New Mexico.  Currently, he’s winning in 11 of the 14, trailing only in Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado and New Mexico, but trailing pretty badly in the last 3. Even if he were to win all 15, which is highly unlikely, he’d only get 125 electoral votes.  To get to a tie, he’d have to win PA and OH, AND the ENTIRE south, less VA, including, significantly, Florida and North Carolina where he’s behind and that ONLY gets him to 269.  To win outright, he’d have to flip a blue state and I think ME is the only realistic possibility.  If he’s as rich as he says, he might even try to purchase ME, but we won’t know just how wealthy he is until he releases his tax returns, and that ain’t happening.  But never mind ME, for Trump, a tie is as good as a win. If he has 269, so too would Hillary and the election would be decided by the House where the Republicans have an edge. As Napoleon might have said, se la vie.

When In New Orleans

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I finally made it to New Orleans. I only wish I could have stayed a little longer; a week was not long enough to do all the things I wanted to do.  If you are considering traveling to New Orleans, I have some suggestions for you based on my recent experience there.

Don’t consider – just go.  There’s no reason not to.  It’s plenty affordable.  It’s never cold.  Sure it rains some and can be steaming hot, but there’s plenty of indoor AC and cold drinks to be had everywhere you go.  There are tons of things to do and you don’t need a car to get around.  You can even take a bus from the airport for 2 dollars.

Go because New Orleans is one of the most culturally unique and interesting cities in the U.S. It is thought to be the birthplace of jazz which can be traced back to the influence of African slaves from different countries whose religious practices and community rituals prominently featured music on Sundays in the form of drumming, strumming, dancing, and singing.  It is a city that was colonized by the French and Spanish, apparent in the street names and architecture, and finally annexed by the Americans after President Jefferson acquired it from Napoleon as part of the Louisiana Purchase.  It is a city that initially showed promise but yielded little for the French and Spanish by way of riches.  New Orleans had no gold, silver or even decent pearls.  It did have a lot of flammable cypress trees that helped burn the city down twice and it had terrible outbreaks of yellow fever.  It only became economically valuable when they realized the area could produce sugar and cotton. What can be seen in today’s New Orleans are the remnants of its complicated society – the taverns frequented by drunken sailors, a “red light” district for pleasure seekers, fine and distinctive dining, hotels once frequented by the southern leisure class, and of course, the music clubs which cultivated original American music. And it is a town still recovering from the Katrina disaster, and may never fully.  It is a town with no hills or elevation of measure that is sadly sinking and may break apart from the mainland.  Support it as much as you can while it is still habitable.  New Orleans is a national treasure.

On a lighter note, when you go to NOLA, don’t try to stay right in the French Quarter.  You can stay a few blocks outside the quarter, say on Iberville St. which would probably also be cheaper.  We stayed at the reasonably priced Courtyard Marriott, a few blocks from the madness and noise of Bourbon St.

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When you go to NO, walk around the French Quarter during the day, but avoid it at night unless you like to be among drunken tourists walking around with punch bowls and bong-like devices filled with what looks like transmission fluid and anti-freeze.  The bars all serve pretty much the same expensive and watered down drinks and typical bar food.  There are some notable exceptions which include the Napolean House Cafe and Bar on Chartres St.  Try the classic Pimm’s Cup cocktail with a muffuletta sandwich.  Also, try a cocktail at the Hotel Monteleone at the rotating carousel bar.  If you dare to try an Absinthe based drink, the Absinthe House is the place to go, though be prepared to shell out 20 bucks for the privilege.

When you go, check out Preservation Hall at 726 St. Peter St. for live jazz by the house band.  It’s 15 bucks a pop with shows at 8, 9 and 10.  Get there by 7 pm to stand in line if you want a seat. You can buy a ticket on-line for a guaranteed seat, but it’ll cost you double.  Be aware that there’s no bathroom there and no drinks or food are sold or allowed in so eat, drink, and pee beforehand.   Preservation Hall is a hole in the wall, with no AC, but the music is fantastic and the experience is about as intimate and satisfying as it gets.

When you go, also go to Frenchmen St. for Jazz or Blues.  It’s a bit of a walk from the heart of the French Quarter, and I wouldn’t recommend that you try, but you could take a bus, cab or trolley to get closer.  Or if you are a Millenial, you could take an Uber or Lyft.  We took a bus. We went to a place called Bamboulas.  No cover. Tremendous music.  Spacious.  Airy.  Good appetizers.  Try the fried okra.  Seriously.  Jazz and Okra.  You can’t beat it.

When you go, eat at the Ruby Slipper on Canal St. for breakfast, but be prepared to wait. The Old Coffee Pot Restaurant on St. Peter St. near Preservation Hall also has a good breakfast.  For coffee and beignets,  go to Cafe Du Monde if you must but to be honest, our beignets were not as fresh as we would have liked.  We each got a batch of three – and in each of the batches, one beignet was fresh and doughy, and the others were crunchy and seemed old like they had been sitting out all morning under a heat lamp.  We ordered a third batch and had the same result; consistent, but disappointing.  The coffee was good and we bought a couple of cans of it to bring home. For lunch, try Domiciles for po-boys.  It’s a bit of a hike Uptown to Annunciation St. but you can make it out there by bus or trolley.  Worth the hike.  Try the hot sausage or the roast beef versions.  Also for lunch, eat at Coops on Decatur St.   Great gumbo, and jambalaya at ridiculously cheap prices.  Try the Coop’s Taste plate with an Abita beer.  For dinner, well, we only went out for dinner once because our lunches filled us up for the day but when we did, we tried Deanies Seafood on or near Iberville St.  I had the crawfish etouffee and it was to die for.  Finally, for dessert, head to Southern Candymakers at 334 Decatur St. for pralines. We sampled quite a few from different places and found the ones from Southern Candymakers to be superior.

When you go, go to the WWII museum on Magazine St.  It’s intense and the exhibits are well-designed and configured and cover both theaters of the war.  It’s pricey – 24 and 34 if you opt for the Tom Hanks 40 minute introductory movie.  We didn’t do the movie, but many people recommend it. If you don’t mind spending the extra dough and the extra time, go for it.  Don’t miss the Boeing exhibit to see a Flying Fortress, and  a P-51 up close hanging from the ceiling.

After the museum, walk over to the Cochon Butcher for lunch at 930 Tchoupitoulas St.  A little pricey, but good meat and a big selection of wine and whiskey.  Good desserts too.

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Another nice museum is NOMA, easily accessible on the Trolley which you pick up on Canal St. It’s not a huge museum but had tasteful exhibits.  The outdoor sculptures on the side of the museum are interesting and the stroll around the garden is pleasant.

DSC_0919 All the locals we met were friendly, helpful, and quite open to talking.  Maybe that’s southern hospitality, or maybe it’s that I am not used to friendliness in the Northeast where I live. NOLA, I’m going to miss you.  Hope to be back soon.

Despite Muggings, Rio Is Safe

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Ryan Lochte and some fellow swimmers were robbed at gunpoint after a night out of celebrating.  Lochte’s description of what happened sounded like a script from a crime drama.  Having been to Rio, I am not surprised that it happened, but it likely didn’t happen on the strip but in some other part of Rio not so heavily policed.  For the most part, from my own experience, I would describe Rio as a city, not unlike NYC, that is safe during the day and fairly safe at night when common sense practices are followed. Not that the swimmers didn’t follow common sense, in fact, they did the right thing by traveling in a group and taking a taxi, but unfortunately, they may have been targeted or watched and followed.  The details are not fully known – for example, it is not clear whether their taxi was an official taxi, an Uber or some other ride-sharing  operation.  But in any case, I would guess that a Brazilian driver would know not to stop for a car unless it was reasonably clear that it was a police operation or that not stopping would result in being shot.  Lochte said there were no lights, so I am assuming it was a car that pulled them over or pulled up to them in traffic and not a situation where they were in stop-and-go traffic and some guys with badges walked up to the taxi out of nowhere.

It all seems a bit odd, but where it happened clearly matters.  If they were in a high risk crime area, maybe the driver knew that their lives were in danger and that he had no choice but to stop or be shot.  We don’t know what the driver did; whether he tried to calm the theives or advise the guys to do whatever they were being told to do.  It may turn out that the driver helped in some way to save their lives. But we may never know.

Does that mean don’t go to Rio or don’t take a taxi if you are already there.  No.  When I was there, I took city buses everywhere, which was quite an adventure and a taxi service to and from the airport.  But I also had some local intelligence from a Rio resident and friend with whom we stayed.  She rode the buses with us and set up the taxi rides from services she knows and trusts.  We went out alone at night around Copocabana, (without our friend) but walked around in well lit areas and did not stray.  We never dressed flashy or flaunted cash and jewelry.  Not to say that the swimmers did.  We actually went out of our way not to stand out – to blend.  We even spoke mostly Spanish (we don’t speak Portuguese) so as not to be mistaken for rich and naive Americans who may not know that you can haggle over anything, even that trinket on the beach.  We took many excursions during the day and felt perfectly safe.  We even took a local bus through the favelas.  Frankly, I was more concerned about misquitoes than criminals.

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Admittedly, it is more difficult for Olympic athletes not to stand out, especially Ryan Lochte who is internationally known and who REALLY stands out in a crowd.  He absolutely did the right thing by ultimately not resisting the thieves but had me worried as he described his initial refusal to go down as ordered.  And according to his description, he actually never went down, and responded finally with “whatever” as he put his hands up. He really is lucky not to have been injured or worse.  Thankfully, all the guys are ok.  And as terrible as the stick up was, Rio is ok too.  In fact, it’s a great place to visit and as safe as any other big city in Latin America or the U.S. Michael Phelps concurred when he mentioned that he had been to Brazil many times and has never felt unsafe.

 

 

Olympic Medals Made Of Chocolate

What if those medals all the Olympians win were made of chocolate?  The gold medal would be made of the highest quality chocolate from Switzerland.  The silver medal, perhaps, would be of Belgian extract, although the Italian’s might take issue.  The bronze, well, nobody wants a bronze and so it wold have to be made of a common American chocolate, something like a Hershey’s Kiss, you know, a kiss for a good try, or the unheralded and quite delicious Zero bar, which apparently it still being manufactured, though it’s hard to find where I live.

Were this to come to fruition in the 2020 Toyko games, athletes would no longer have to pretend to take a bite out of their medals; in fact, they could peel off the foil and eat their medals right on the podium stand.