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Posted by on Apr 6, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

What Trump Should Have Done on the First Day of His Presidency

 

 

Continuing to Ignore America’s Deteriorating Infrastructure Spells Trouble — Both for Him and for Us

 

I don’t make it a habit of dishing out political advice to someone I loath.

Today, I’m making an exception.

This unsolicited wisdom, if followed, could provide a desperately needed political achievement for the thoroughly inept Trump Administration, now 75 days into what’s likely to disintegrate into the most shameful presidency in American history.  Despite all the current distractions, now seems like a good a time to speculate on how things might have been different.

On day one, President Trump’s very first act should have been the signing Executive Order #1 — rebuilding the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure.  Whatever it took, whatever the cost, whatever the political willpower required to get things moving forward — a massive public works project intent on fixing America’s crumbling roads, bridges, pipelines, dams, and other indispensable groundwork would have instantly launched the new presidency in a positive direction.

Had President Trump simply announced, “I’m here to make America great again,” followed by the public signing of a massive public works project, he might have parlayed that genuine display of goodwill and willingness to govern into something far greater.  That would have been a stroke of bold new leadership.

Imagine the political fallout of that moment, which cannot be overstated given how bad things have gone since then.  Had “rebuilding America” been the first act of the new Trump presidency tens of millions of American workers would have cheered the news.  Maybe roads and bridges doesn’t sound sexy, politically speaking.  But everyone in America understands maintaining them is a vital function of government.  Republicans, despite budget concerns, would have been forced to support Trump’s initiative.  Democrats, the party typically associated with big government, would have been placed immediately on the defensive, backed into a corner — and likely forced to work with the new administration to bring good jobs and construction projects back to their home districts.  Even those of us who despise Trump, the person, would have supported Trump, the president, on the critical issue towards making massive infrastructure improvements.  Who would oppose the prospect of millions of new jobs being created instantaneously?  On day one?  Answer– virtually no one.

Seriously, who in their right mind opposes making sure our roads and bridges are safe?  It’s was a sure-fire home run.  A can’t miss idea.  A consensus builder.  A national initiative.  The ultimate act of placing “America first.”

That’s how President Trump should have kicked off his new administration.  Had that been the strategy, he would have won “bigly” on that single issue, leading to unforeseen bipartisan cooperation which could have produced additional common political ground.  The foundation for a working relationship would have been bronzed.  President Trump could have rightly called himself a “unifier,” if only for a day.  Perhaps most important, it would have been the right thing to do for America.

Well, none of this happened, of course.  Instead, President Trump spent his first day attending three inaugural balls, which was to be expected.  He also signed four executive orders.  Two of those acts dealt with staffing his new administration.  One was the reversal of a housing program instituted by the Obama Administration which made new homes more affordable to low- and middle-income Americans (not sure why there was so much urgency to reverse that policy).  The fourth and final act of the day was dismantling parts of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”), although Trump admittedly “had no idea healthcare was was so complex,” as he remarked later.

The nation’s infrastructure might as well have been a manned trip to Mars.

Alea iacta est.  The die was cast.  The death spiral began.  On the following day, President Trump began spinning mindless fantasies demonstrated by a bizarre visit to Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters where he spent much of the solemn occasion bitching about media coverage and lying about inauguration attendance.  From there, the lunacy train pretty much ran off the rails and has been flipped upside down in a ditch, ever since.  Oh my, what could have been instead.

Weeks later, President Trump finally raised the forgotten infrastructure issue for the very first time during his faux-State of the Union-style address to members of Congress.  His remarks elicited loud cheers from both sides of the aisle, and even drew high praise from his most vicious critics.  For the first time Trump was even called “presidential.”

Once again, President Trump had a rare golden opportunity to lead and to make good on a critical campaign promise that was important to everyone in the nation.  Unfortunately, the words didn’t match the actions.

Another month-and-a-half has elapsed, since then.  During that time, President Trump released his first proposed federal budget.  Guess what?  Inexplicably, and to everyone’s astonishment, his budget slashes spending on infrastructure!  There’s no trillion dollar increase investment in America.  Once again, Trump is lying.  He talks a big game out in front of the folks while continuing his adoration tour of self love.  Then, when ink meets paper we actually see that his policies obliterate the funds necessary to so the job.  It’s yet another bait and switch.  Here’s the latest update on Trump’s false infrastrcuture promises and mess:  Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Could Be His Biggest Con Yet

So, what happened?  Well, perhaps this administration is just way too caught up at the moment in Kremlin-gate.  One can see why that would be a distraction.  Perhaps Trump is too busy focusing on the musical chairs within his own staff, which continues changing by the minute.  Maybe Steve Bannon misplaced the smeared cocktail napkin on which the nation’s priorities were scribbled.  Who knows the real reason why infrastructure now seems like the last thing on the president’s mind.  Trump’s out on the golf course so often (13 times, so far) that he’s forgotten all about America’s deteriorating roads and bridges and water supplies.  I guess it’s hard to see rusted bolts from the 18th hole tee-box at Mar a Lago.

Whatever the reasoning, if reason even exists at all, President Trump is blowing it — big time.  He’s blowing it policy wise.  He’s blowing it politically.  Trouble is, this isn’t just bad for him.  The consequences are far worse — for us.

This isn’t an problem that can wait much longer.  It’s not like another four years can go by without taking some significant measures.  If roads were arteries, then we’re an overweight nation with a three-pack-a-day habit and cholesterol levels off the charts.  We don’t just need a new diet and an exercise program.  We need electric shock therapy.

There are other Flints out there waiting to detonate.  Years ago, we saw what happens when critical infrastructure is ignored.  Seven people died needlessly when a bridge servicing an interstate highway collapsed in Minneapolis.  Last week, another bridge collapsed in Atlanta.  These might seem like isolated incidents, but the reality is — the ice is melting fast on the lake and we’re all exposed on a warm spring day.  One recent study found that a whopping 59,000 bridges across America are structurally deficient.  Each one of these roads and bridges is a ticking time bomb.

Here’s an idea:  Instead of wasting our precious national treasury constructing a worthless border wall with utterly no benefit to most Americans, that money should instead be spent on things that really matter.  We’re realizing now that making America great again wasn’t a sincere promise, so much as an empty slogan.  The infrastructure issue was just a cheap applause line for Trump during his feel-good campaign, intended to opiate millions of Americans into believing he’s really committed to governing when his actions have revealed that he’s the antithesis of governance.

Our roads are cracking.  Our bridges are swaying.  Like Trump’s unraveling presidency, it’s just a matter of time before things start to collapse and disaster occurs.

 

 

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Posted by on Mar 30, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 1 comment

A Mirror Reflection: Republicans and Russians Entangled in a Perverse Love Affair



 

Over the past year or so, President Donald Trump has viciously attacked several targets.

He’s attacked his victims at campaign rallies, press conferences, interviews, and most notably on social media (Twitter).  Each attack plenty of evidence.  No one disputes these attacks have occurred, which number in the hundreds.  Momentarily, I’ll get to a partial list of those Trump been attacked.

Amidst all the bombastic bluster, there’s one notable person who hasn’t been attacked.  Moreover, the nation he rules with an iron fist and the acts of aggression he’s taken haven’t received even a peep of criticism, despite what’s become an autocratic state teetering on fascism now engaged in hostile military action against its neighbors.

Not a single tweet from the President of the United States in response.

Not once.

Not a single time.

Not a single comment.

So, who is this individual enjoying presidential immunity?  And what makes him the unlikely beneficiary of so much love and admiration in the face of so many other petty attacks on far less significant public figures.

Let’s examine the record.  Here’s a partial list of notable people and public institutions which have been attacked by President Trump within the past 12 months.  There’s ONE NOTABLE EXCEPTION:

President Barack Obama — former President (blasted ceaselessly by Trump for the past six years dating back to birther nonsense and recently accused of committing a felony).

CNN — worldwide new organization (blasted numerous times and called “bad people”).

Hillary Clinton — former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, ex-First Lady, and two-time Presidential candidate (attacked innumerable times, often with fabricated accusations).

The New York Times — one of the world’s most trusted and respected news organizations (attacked dozens of times and repeatedly tagged as “failed,” even its though financials have never been healthier).

The Cast of “Hamilton” — the hottest ticket on Broadway (referred to as “overrated” even though no once can get a ticket at face value and tickets are being scalped at $1,200 a seat).

“Saturday Night Live” — An American television institution (which has been going strong for 41 years and is currently in the midst of a ratings renaissance, largely fueled by Trump-related humor).

Jill Stein — Flawed third-party presidential candidate (which made her an inviting target, because she’s a strong woman and Donald Trump is uncomfortable around strong women).

Sen. Chuck Schumer — Senate Minority Leader (even though Trump donated more money to Schumer than any other senator over the past 20 years, he’s became a frequent target of attacks once Trump became a Republican).

Arnold Schwarzenegger — Disgraced former Republican Governor of California (attacked numerous times for stepping into the starring role on a shitty “reality” television show once fronted by a con-man).

Meryl Streep — A 20-time Oscar nominee — more than any actor in history — and perhaps the most honored film icon of all time (described by Trump as “overrated” in his tweets).

Rosie O’Donnell — Not typically worth anyone’s time or attention (but whom appears to be an unhealthy obsession by the President).

The U.S. Intelligence Community — The NSA, the CIA, the DIA, et al.  Roughly 100,000 professionals working around the clock to keep America safe (recently compared to Nazis by President Trump in an incendiary tweet that caused mass derision).

Angela Merkel — Chancellor of Germany and arguably the world’s leading advocate of true democracy (accused by Trump of “ruining Germany” and being “the worst Chancellor of all time”….might want to re-think that one and pick up a textbook referencing “Year 1933,” Mr. President).

And…..

Vladimir Putin — Russian dictator and murder.

[READ MORE:  BACKGROUND ON PUTIN’S CRITICS WHO HAVE BEEN MURDERED]

Take a guess which individual has not been criticized, not even one time, by President Donald Trump.

_____

So, what’s with the bizarre secret love affair between Republicans and the Russians?  

Its not just a cozy relationship.  It’s a consensual orgy.  Please explain how the patriotic political movement which supposedly champions “love of country” over just about every other virtue has this freaky attraction to a tyrannical regime which has been at odds with the United States for a nearly a century?

Let’s look at history.  Thirty years ago President Ronald Reagan called the former Soviet Union “the evil empire.”  Today’s tryst between President Donald Trump and Russian murderer-dictator Vladimir Putin would have been unfathomable back then.  Now, Republicans aren’t just silent.  They’ve become willing accessories, like plodding the alcoholic with free booze and daring him to drink like a man.  Based on the volcano of evidence emerging about the Russians meddling in the 2016 American presidential election, it appears that some Republicans might even be traitors.

Indeed, today, when it comes to America’s stance on Russia, Sen. Joe McCarthy would probably be to the left of the Republican Party.  That’s how dangerously far out of the mainstream these sycophants have moved, who proclaim the peculiar dictum, “America First.”  Sounds like Republicans should change their slogan to “Let’s Make Russia Great Again.”

_____

This isn’t just a Trump thing.  The previous Republican president wasn’t so much corrupt, as painfully naive.  When George W. Bush met Vladimir Putin for the first time in 2001, he infamously remarked, “I looked (Putin) in the eye.  I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy.  We had a very good dialogue.  I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

During that jaw-dropping exchange, it should be noted that Putin wore a large cross, symbolic of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Bush, an impressionable figure holding deeply religious convictions saw Putin wearing the holy amulet and somehow drew the astounding conclusion that Putin’s character could be assessed with affection.  Never mind that Putin has never once been seen wearing that cross since that meeting with the former Republican president.  In short, Putin played Bush like a cheap fiddle, tapping into his religious gullibility.

The Republican Right, once convinced Russia was the anti-Christ, did a quick about-face.  They snapped into line and marched behind Bush’s stunning personal appraisal of a leader widely-known by every other world power to be a vicious thug.  Republicans haven’t departed from this naivete since.  They’ve collapsed into an echo chamber of deceit and denial.  While Putin consolidated his power within, in part by murdering 293 people in the Russian apartment bombings and later on killing at least 40 political rivals via poisonings and other mysterious methods of murder, few Republicans raised objections.  Certainly not President Trump.

[Note:  Years later after leaving office, in 2010, former President Bush retreated from this opinion and admitted his previous assessment had been a mistake]

_____

When Russia invaded the Eastern Ukraine in 2014, the Obama Administration took swift action.  President Obama instituted bold economic sanctions against the Putin regime and many of his well-connected financial interests, which eventually hampered the Russian economy, including slowing down their oil production and mining exports.  Much of the international community joined in the sanctions and bombarded Putin with public criticism, not just for the illegal Ukraine invasion, but for his own internal crackdown which has essentially turned Russia into a dictatorship.

About two years ago, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President.  While all the other candidates from both political parties accurately noted that Putin was a bad guy, Trump stunned everyone.  He professed support for many of Putin’s brutal actions.  He even expressed personal admiration for Putin.

No one really knows yet why Trump has this mysterious deep-seeded love affair with Putin, a flame-hot attraction which shows no signs of burning out anytime soon.  While just about everyone else on the planet calls Putin out what he is — a dictator who rules over Russia like a 21st century version of the Mafia, the president looks the other way.  Trump’s odd affections certainly aren’t based on fears of triggering a military escalation.  After all, Trump has repeatedly attacked other potential adversaries — including China and North Korea — which pose similar threats to global stability.  Only Putin and Russia get a free pass.

Why?

_____

Paul Manafort, the corrupt slime ball lobbyist who’s burrowed into each of the last four Republican presidential administrations, has made quite a fortune shilling for many of the world’s most awful dictators.  He’s carried the baggage for some real pricks.

Manafort is willing to do anyone’s dirty work, provided they’re willing to shell out millions in “consulting fees.”  Manafort, recently exposed for having 15 bank accounts with millions in secret funds [READ MORE:  MANAFORT’S SECRET MILLIONS], was discovered to be the beneficiary of about $10 million annually in payments from at least one Russian bank, with close political and financial ties to Putin.  Oh, and Paul Manafort used to be Donald Trump’s campaign manager.

Follow the money.

How about Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s hand-picked National Security Adviser, who was booted out of the fresh cabinet before he even had a chance to order new business cards?  He had meetings with the Russians, too.  Flynn committed the blunder of lying about his relationship with the Russians (make that at least one Russian known to be an intelligence agent), even misleading his closest political ally, Vice-President Mike Pence at one point during the internal White House game of musical chairs.  Now disgraced, Flynn could emerge as the talking yellow canary as investigations continue to ramp up.  [Breaking News:  Flynn is now offering to provide full testimony, if provided immunity.]

There’s also the President’s dirty son-in-law, Jared Kushner.  His daddy, who initially bankrolled baby Kush when he was first starting out in New York real estate, once served prison time for his financial crimes.  Kushner, married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, now sits in a plum chair as a White House adviser with easy and instant access to top-secret information as well as a direct 24-hour speed dial to the President of the United States.

Trump Administration spokespeople, and even the President himself, have repeatedly denied any connections or secret dealings with the Russians.  Nothing to see here, move on, they insist.  However, just last week Kushner was exposed to be less than forthcoming about his private talks with the Russians.  When it leaked that Kushner met with officials from at least one of the Russian banks currently under economic sanctions, that triggered yet another mad scramble within the West Wing to get their crumbling story straight.  Kushner is scheduled to testify soon about his secret relationships with the Russians in front of the House Committee on Intelligence, the highly-partisan panel now engaged in what’s masquerading as an “investigation.”

Manafort.  Flynn.  Kushner.  That’s just a few of the Trump officials now tainted in this dirty cesspool.  What is it with all these Trump advisers and the Russians?  [READ MORE:  TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDES AND RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE]

_____

President Trump has lied numerous times about these relationships and secret meetings.  It seems implausible he didn’t know his son-in-law, campaign manager, and National Security Adviser were meeting multiple times with the Russians.  Hell, it doesn’t seem just implausible.  It appears absurd.  This begs the famous question that was asked once before during another Constitutional crisis — “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”

What’s been discussed here are the financial ties and behind-the-scenes dirty deals which might favor Russian economic interests and Trump’s financial empire.  This doesn’t even begin to take into account creeping suspicions about the Russians meddling in the presidential election, which could be closely related.  On one occasion, then-candidate Trump committed an appalling act of treason — which should have been an automatic disqualifier — when he encouraged the Russians to hack into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.  [READ MORE:  TRUMP’S CALL FOR RUSSIA TO SPY ON CLINTON]

_____

What’s most puzzling here isn’t so much the questionable behavior of President Trump or his associates, which has become all-too predictable.  What’s far more puzzling is the perverted sense of twisted nationalism exhibited by nearly all of his strongest supporters, who continue to deny, deflect, and discard any suggestion that we should be concerned about Russian espionage.

The party that supposedly puts “America first” shares Trump’s cozy feelings about Putin and the Russians.  This love fest has now been going on for 16 years, since President Bush’s initial meeting.  The party that was once so mistrustful of the Russians (remember “trust but verify?”) now are willing to take them at their word.  The party that once stood up for human rights in the former Soviet Union during the dark days of the gulag is all but silent when it comes to Putin murdering his political opponents and shutting down the press.  The party of Reagan has morphed into the party of Trump.

Enough said.

This isn’t patriotism we’re witnessing, folks.  It’s treason.  It’s an unwillingness to face stark reality.  It’s refusing to ask legitimate questions that demand answers.  It’s about trusting the Commander-in-Chief who might have been compromised by a foreign power.

These are the ugly truths about two political paramours on opposite sides of the globe, but who may, in fact, be much closer in terms of their own tactics and shared world view.  It’s way past time to start asking questions as to why President Trump seems so infatuated with Vladimir Putin.

The rest of the world sees a dictator.

President Trump likely sees Putin as a mirror reflection.

 

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Posted by on Mar 9, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Personal | 3 comments

The Night I Met Donald Trump at Shaq O’Neal’s 33rd Birthday Party

 

 

Twelve years ago tonight, I met Donald Trump at the most unlikely of affairs — former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal’s 33rd birthday bash in Miami Beach.

Why was I invited?  I have no connections to the NBA or Miami’s hipster social scene.  I hate going to parties.  And, hanging out with celebrities is way overrated.

Well, I wasn’t invited to Shaq’s party, exactly.  But I did fly all the way across the country.  I stayed the entire evening.  I also hung out with celebs including Shaq O’Neil, future President Donald Trump, and a young up-and-coming comedian who shall be mentioned later.

I’m writing about this story for the first time.

_____

Two months earlier, right after New Years, I was at the Sea World park in San Diego on a family vacation.  Miami Beach, Shaq O’Neal, and Donald Trump were 3,000 miles away, but might as well have been somewhere on the moon — for all I cared.

That’s when my cell phone rang.

The voice on the other end informed me about a potential marketing and public relations opportunity for the company I was working for at the time.  In addition to my annual seasonal work at the World Series of Poker, I also worked full-time for PokerStars.com, serving as their Director of Communications.  Those were exciting days to be working in poker, when we all had money to burn and the sky was the limit.

For the princely sum of $135,000 PokerStars.com had the chance to be the “official sponsor” for Shaquille O’Neal’s 33rd birthday party.  That figure amounted to pocket change for Isai Scheinberg, PokerStars.com’s enterprising founder and then-owner/CEO.  Shaq’s party was certain the be the social event of early 2005, even going so far as to generate national attention, especially in the sports and entertainment media.  O’Neal was then at the top of his game.  He’d just left the Los Angeles Lakers where he won an NBA title, signed as a free agent with the Miami Heat where he joined legendary head coach Pat Riley.  He’d lead them to their first world championship the following year.

O’Neal wasn’t just a basketball player.  He was a superstar.  He appeared in movies and was one of the most recognizable athletes in the world.

$135,000 sure sounded like a bargain.

Sponsoring the birthday bash meant paying for the mega-party which was to be held on ritzy South Beach, on the night after the Heat played a home game in Miami in early March.  Everyone who was anyone was invited and expected to attend.  This party included a stellar guest list certain to generate lots of publicity and perhaps even some much-needed goodwill with numerous celebrities.  TMZ would even be there, their cameras rolling, just in case anything wild happened.

After a follow-up conversation with Dan Goldman (PokerStars.com’s Director of Marketing) and Isai, we jumped at the chance to host Shaq’s party.

This wasn’t just about poker.  This was Creative Branding 101.  This was being hip.  This was being at the center of the scene where much of our player demographic wanted to be.  We were about to entertain the most popular sports stars in America, numerous A-List celebrities, and one brash New York real estate developer who a dozen years later would become the 45th President of the United States.

What could go wrong?

_____

In early 2005, PokerStars.com ranked the second-largest online poker site in the world.  The site was raking in millions, remarkable since at the time there were no more than about 200 employees worldwide.  The site might as well have been a mint.  PokerStars.com was printing money.

But for Isai, and his son Mark (who was just as instrumental in building the site and creating the empire that was to come), ranking second was totally unacceptable.  We knew our software was superior to the game design used by industry kingpin, PartyPoker.com.  We knew our customer service was top notch in the industry, out hustling every other company in the gaming sector, including the land-based casinos which might as well have been living in the previous century.  We knew that our top management was genuinely driven by something more than just making money and was run by dedicated poker people who knew the game backwards and forwards and were clued into what players wanted in a poker experience.

The push was on to become the number one poker site in the world, both in terms of daily traffic and reputation.  Sponsoring non-gambling mainstream events like Shaq’s birthday party was yet another way to try and legitimize our company — which despite our best efforts — was still tainted as a shady gambling company based someplace that might as well have been Outer Mongolia, and therefore was quasi-legal.

Of course, no one gave this financial shakedown a second thought.  The irony of multi-millionaire athletes, presumed billionaire financiers, and movie stars having their personal entertainment paid for by an outside company was preposterous.

We’d all jumped the shark.  This was cultural insanity.

_____

Shaq’s birthday party took place at the swanky Hotel Victor, a refurbished Art Deco percolator for Miami’s “in crowd,” where South Beach’s thriving gay scene intersected with local elite.  Think of the movie — “Birdcage.”  A few years earlier, fashion icon Gianni Versace had been gunned down just steps away from the main entrance to Hotel Victor.

Rich Korbin and I became the chosen ones.  We were plucked to play the role of party hosts, representing the official sponsor — PokerStars.com.  My qualifications for this role were suspect, at best.  However, Rich was essential to the operation.

Rich was known as the man to get things done at Stars.  “The fixer” has a bad connotation.  But if we had a fixer, it was Rich.  He made things happen, and it was usually best not to ask about details.  We didn’t want to know.  When we’d ship stuff to events and ran into the Teamsters Union, and we needed our freight moved before everyone else’s shit got rained on at the loading docks, Rich greased the wheels and got us set up before everyone else.  When it came time to negotiating a new deal with a supplier playing had ball on the contract, Rich ball-busted the shit out of them.  That was Rich’s talent.  “The Art of the Deal” should have been written by Rich Korbin.

Rich also seemed to have connections just about everywhere.  So, he hired a handful of local poker dealers based around Miami to pitch cards all night.  We planned on running two poker tables non-stop as long as they’d let us run the games.  Given the legal restrictions against gambling and the precious time demands of party guests, we agreed it was best to run something called Sit n’ Go’s.  That’s basically a small tournament of 9-10 players, usually lasting not more than 30-40 minutes.  We expected to give away thousands of dollars in prizes.  Hopefully, the media would stick around and we’d get some “free” promotion for PokerStars.com, which would only end up costing us closer to $160,000 with all the extras added in.

Who knows — maybe Rich and I might even make TMZ.

_____

Sometime around 30 years ago, an unknown marketeer saw a tremendous opportunity in the mundane.  Take a closer look at old movie newsreels of athletes and celebrities.  When out in public back in those days, famous people up through the end of the 1970’s were almost always interviewed while bunched up in crowds along with other people hanging out in the background.  Entertainment and sports media lacked much in the way of commercialization.  There were no logos.  Corporations didn’t dabble in what later became known as — entertainment marketing.

Then, at some point during the “Greed is Good” 1980’s, a marketing maven somewhere who likely never got proper credit (more fittingly, the blame) for the idea saw lots of precious media real estate being wasted and decided to change every aspect of how pop culture is covered in the modern age.  And so, that’s how the “Step and Repeat” banner got invented.  When the person of the focus took a step, the logo was imagery repeated over both shoulders.  It didn’t matter where the celebrity stood or the position of the head and face.  There was the logo behind.  Note that’s how the banner got its name.

Today, you can’t watch a soccer game or see an interview with a movie star on television without absorbing a corporate logo plastered somewhere on the screen.  The Step and Repeat banner is now used everywhere, in all sports and major media events.  After a ball game, athletes are interviewed with corporate logos emblazoned in the background.  Now, even parties have the unremitting Step and Repeat banner in the background, and Shaq’s Miami bash was no exception.

Our banner that was special made that evening included logos from PokerStars.com and — much to my shock when I initially saw it — Hennessy, the brand of cognac which has a reputation for being a favorite of hipsters.

What in the hell was Hennessy doing on our Step and Repeat banner?  We paid a premium for that space!

That was the first time I’d seen Hennessy was involved in our party.  I’d been led to believe PokerStars.com had an exclusive on the marketing.  Gee, I wonder if Hennessy had to fork over $135,000 for their role as the “official sponsor?”  Err, make that — “co-sponsor.”  Something seemed dirty about this deal.  Of course, this is how those deals work.  It’s standard practice.  This is the bait and switch game, and companies fall for it — hook, line, and sinker — every time.

Still, if we were going to share media exposure, then I suppose we could do a helluva’ lot worse than being connected to Hennessy.  Poker and a premium liquor — that’s a coveted pairing.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to share the limelight with chewing tobacco, or tires, or worse — an insurance company.  Thank you, Geico — for presumably not returning the phone call or we might have been paired with that green lizard.

That night, the Miami Heat defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 108-100.  That was a good thing.  We didn’t want the Heat to lose, which might have cast a spell over the jovial expectations of Shaq’s birthday party.  Winning basketball players are happy basketball players.  Oh, and thank goodness the game didn’t go into double-overtime, which could wrecked the evening.

Sometime around 9 pm, Tara Reid was among the first celebrities to show up on the red carpet and walk the Step and Repeat, which marked the glitzy entrance to Hotel Victor.  Reid was either so drunk or so stoned off her ass that she had to be helped up the ramp to walk.  She was a hot mess.

Limos and Bentleys and Rolls Royces pulled up in front at the red carpet and one by one the celebrities paraded like pretty people in front of the cameras.  I worked the red carpet “line,” making sure the dozens of media outlets got the shots they needed while making certain no celebs were held up for too long by any one photographer or interviewer.  My mission was to keep the line flowing steadily, getting the shots, and making sure the celebrities weren’t overwhelmed.

My career had been reduced to an ass-kissing enabler.

 

Coming Next in Part 2:  Meeting Trump and Playing Poker with Shaq

 

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Posted by on Mar 1, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 3 comments

Empty Words and False Promises: Dissecting President Trump’s State of the Union Address

 

 

Let’s begin with several positive things about President Trump’s first State of the Union address, which took place last night.

First, President Trump’s opening remarks condemning the alarming increase in hate crimes across America — including several antisemitic acts and deadly violence against immigrants — was both timely and decisive.  For the first time in 40 days of this new administration, we finally witnessed the actions of a President, instead of a circus clown.

President Trump’s speech also included a number of specific policy shifts many of us will support if implemented, including liberals like myself.  Some of these proposals include:

Disengaging from military and financial conflicts in the Middle East.  President Trump noted that the amount of money wasted on pointless wars (specifically in Afghanistan and Iraq) could have “rebuilt American infrastructure two times over.”  He’s absolutely correct.  So, let’s quit wasting more time, money, and brave American lives.  Let’s get the hell out of that region once and for all and let those people solve their own problems.  [Note:  Unfortunately, reducing involvement in that region won’t apply to America’s blind support for Israel, which the president tirelessly reiterated last night.]

President Trump is absolutely correct when it comes to the controversial issue of reducing cumbersome federal regulations which inhibit new drugs coming to market and experimental medical treatments which might save lives.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) imposes many absurd restrictions on new treatments, including waiting times that usually take several years.  Here’s a guideline that will streamline things:  If a drug has already been cleared in other industrialized countries and appears to be working well, then fast-track its approval.  Cut out the red tape and allow it into the United States (of course, a federal bill to allow the importation of foreign drugs was shot down last month, with Republicans blocking this proposal in overwhelming numbers).  Moreover, let’s allow so-called “risky” drugs to be used on terminally-ill patients who have no other options and who will most certainly die without some kind of miracle cure.  President Trump insisted that he wants to reduce FDA regulations, and we should all get behind this strongly.  [Note:  He’s absolutely wrong on other FDA matters, such as food safety, which is may also receive lax treatment.  I’m speaking of experimental new drugs, not cutting all regulations across the board, which is the Republican position.] 

The U.S. must make a considerable investment in updating and improving our domestic infrastructure.  This is a longtime Democratic plan (pushed by liberals), dating back as far as the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), under Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Democrats have always supported what have been called “make work” projects providing millions of jobs and improving the nation’s roads, bridges, and other centers of transportation and commerce.  It’s nice to see President Trump finally acknowledge what we leftists have been preaching for a very long time — that infrastructure improvements must be a permanent fixture and responsibility of federal government.

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Unfortunately, while there were many positives in the speech, President Trump also continued to misrepresent facts and misstate what have clearly been the contradictory positions of his own party on matters of the utmost importance to this country.  Here are several examples from last night’s speech:

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) — All Republicans, President Trump foremost among them, have been screaming and scrambling to dismantle so-called “Obamacare” for the past six years.  Now we see that was nothing more than dog-whistle campaign rhetoric designed to make the Right-wing base wet their pants with excitement.  Now that they’re totally in charge, we’re still waiting for their “beautiful plan” (Trump’s words) to be revealed to the American people.  We continue to wait, and wait.  Fact is, Republicans have nothing to propose.  President Trump even admits publicly that he doesn’t know the first thing about a America’s complex health care system.  Yet, he did spend considerable time slamming the ACA last night, (falsely) saying it’s collapsing (no, it isn’t).  It sounded like just another red-meat campaign speech.  The bottom line is this:  Republicans have nothing on the table that will replace the ACA.  Not a thing.  Many Americans now realize this system needs to be improved, not scrapped.  President Trump is either a liar or ignorant on this topic — very likely both.

Backing NATO — President Trump has openly questioned the role of NATO for the past two years while running for office.  He’s said many times that traditional treaty organization may no longer be necessary.  That might be a debatable position and we should have that discussion.  Yet last night, President Trump completely reversed himself on this issue pledging to fully support U.S. involvement in NATO.  Moreover, he committed at least one laughable gaffe, stating that NATO helped to save the world from fascism during two world wars.  Uh, no it didn’t, Mr. President.  NATO wasn’t formed until 1949, four years after the end of World War II.  Apparently, your speechwriter Steve Bannon needs to take a world history class.

Increasing Defense Spending — What’s the looming global conflict that requires the U.S. go so far above and beyond the bloated all-time record high appropriations for so-called national defense?  We’re already spending more money on boots and bombs and military bases than the next dozen nations in the world — combined!  We’re winding down pointless unwinnable wars in the Middle East (if President Trump’s other pledge is to be believed).  We’re headed towards a more isolationist role in world affairs, by his own admission.  Why in the hell is President Trump proposing to increase military spending by nearly 10 percent?  This is insane, especially given the national debt and the dire need to spend money here are home improving our country, rather than trying to rebuild war zones in the Middle East.  This is madness.

Defeating ISIS — President Trump talks a good game about defeating the terror group ISIS.  On the campaign trail, he pledged to wipe out ISIS within the first 30 days of his new administration.  Well, it’s now Day 41.  What objective to that end has been accomplished?  Has ISIS been defeated yet?  President Trump did approve a disastrous military excursion into Yemen, which resulted in failure.  Just prior to his speech, the president tried to shift the blame to his predecessor (President Obama) and the military for the failure on his watch, which he approved.  What a shameful gutless display of leadership.

Protecting Clean Air and Water — Last night, President Trump pledged to protect clean air and water.  How nice.  Yet, while his mouth was saying one thing, he’s been doing quite another behind the scenes.  He’s vowed to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  He already signed an Executive Order which will dismantle the Clean Water Rule, which was instituted during the Obama Administration.  Trump’s deregulation will now allow companies to turn waterways into sewers.  Polluters rejoice!  President Trump is a fraud on this issue, and everyone knows it.

Helping Our Veterans — President Trump’s pledge to take care of America’s veterans is a farce.  Dismissing the fact he held a fundraiser for veterans during his presidential campaign last year, and then skipped out on writing the check to the charity, congressional Republicans have a dismal record when it comes to funding veterans issues.  [SOURCE HERE]

Crime — Once again, President Trump played fast and loose with the facts when it comes to crime.  All statistics reveal that crime has actually decreased over the past few decade.  Yet, from listening to President Trump’s speech one would think there’s lawlessness in the streets.  Violent crime certainly is a problem in many places and this must be addressed.  Yet, several overtures from urban mayors and leaders seeking a discussion with the new administration have been ignored.  Trump and Republicans love to talk a good game when it comes to crime.  But, they’ve proposed nothing in terms of solutions, other than building more for-profit prisons and criminalizing drugs (see new initiatives by the Department of Justice on recreational marijuana use).  President Trump also ignored what is probably the worst public health crisis of our time, which is Opioid abuse and addiction.  Not a single word about that topic was mentioned.  Shame.

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Indeed, President Trump’s speech was noteworthy for what wasn’t mentioned.  Despite rambling on for more than an hour, taking on wide ranging topics, climate change wasn’t brought up once.  Neither was America’s unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels.  The President did do plenty of cheer leading for the coal industry and oil companies, however.

Oh, and while America’s military commitments comprised a significant portion of the speech, there wasn’t a single mention of Russia.  Go figure.

There were also three specific moments during the president’s State of the Union address which left me and many other liberals gasping in disbelief:

— President Trump proposed creating a new federal agency supposedly to operate within the Department of Homeland Security.  This agency will be known as VOICE.  That stands for “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement.”  This is an utterly appalling idea which brought audible gasps from the audience when it was first introduced in the speech.  Why would the federal government create a new agency that would discriminate based solely, not on the victim of the crime, but the perpetrator of the crime?  What next?  A federal agency designed to protect us only from criminals with brown hair?  What does this absurd proposal say to the hundreds of thousands of actual victims of crimes all across America?  The distinction made for victims of illegal immigrants (a number which is statistically decreasing, by the way) says to all those who were robbed, stabbed, shot, or murdered by anyone other than an illegal immigrant — screw you.  We’re only interested in your case if you were attacked by an illegal.  Otherwise, get lost.  This is a politicized agency based on hate and fear.  It is an appalling idea.

— President Trump’s line about limiting government corruption was absurd and obscene, particularly coming of an eight-year presidency with no scandals whatsoever.  He said, “we have placed a hiring freeze on nonmilitary and nonessential federal workers.  We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption….”  Again, more laughter from the audience.  Draining the swamp of government corruption would actually mean not hiring Wall Street insiders, political flunkies, and billionaires, which is precisely what this administration has done since taking office.  President Trump continues to use his pups to enrich himself, runs from questions on his international business connections, and still steadfastly refuses to release his tax records.  To utter the words “drain(ing) the swamp of government corruption” is ludicrous.

“The time for trivial fights is behind us.”  President Trump actually said those shocking words with a straight face (which elicited laughter from the gallery).  Trouble was, he wasn’t joking.  He was serious.  This delusional one-man hate-machine, obsessed with tweeting attacks against actresses at 4 am has already lowered “trivial” to subterranean depths.  No politician in my lifetime has engaged in more trivial bullshit.  For this impostor to stand before the American people in the hallowed gallery of congress and preach to us — the American people — about “trivial” behavior is a disgrace.  He should have been laughed out of the Capitol Building for that remark.

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Finally, President Trump is either a liar (well, that’s already been established) or else he’s very bad at math.

The President is proposing to increase the size of the military by nearly 10 percent.  He’s proposing to increase funding for veterans.  He’s proposing to build a wall on the Mexican border, which will probably cost about $35 billion.  He’s proposing to spend $1 trillion (that’s with a T-as in trillion) on domestic infrastructure improvements.  He’s proposing not to touch government entitlement programs — including Medicaid and Social Security.  And now — get this — he’s going to cut taxes.

Someone please explain how anyone can propose to increase the federal budget by perhaps 20-25 percent while cutting taxes?

I’m still waiting.

Oddly enough, the press and public reaction to the speech was largely positive.  Afterward, he was described repeatedly as “presidential.” This is the depth of the dungeon which has come to define to appallingly low expectations of the Trump Administration.

The evidence is clear — this was a speech filled with empty words, false promises, and plenty of lies.  Why should anyone be surprised.  Lies and empty rhetoric is something this president has truly become an expert at.  In fact, he’s the best of all time.

 

Writer’s Note:  Technically, this was not a State of the Union address.  However, I’m using some literary latitude and categorizing it as precisely that based on the setting, content, and delivery. 

 

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Posted by on Feb 28, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

Revulsion for the Man vs. Respect for the Office

 

 

If someone you absolutely loath was elected President of the United States, if you were to meet that person, would you agree to shake hands?

 

Within a few minutes, President Donald Trump will make his first-ever address to a joint session of congress.

In response, some opposition legislators have announced their intentions to openly rebuke the 45th president.  Some Democrats won’t attend at all.  Others will stand silently in the House gallery and refuse to clap, which is the customary gesture of respect afforded to all chief executives both when they enter and depart the chamber.  At least one Democrat has stated that he will not shake President Trump’s hand, if it’s extended.

That’s what you call a rebuke.

No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, we can all agree on one thing.  American democracy entered unprecedented and uncharted political territory, and the ways things are now headed, the great continental divide may only get worse in coming months and years ahead.  In other words, pretty soon, this might get really, really ugly.

How did this happen?

President Trump has brought this level of ire entirely upon himself.  His outrageous behavior, insulting demeanor, repeated lies, petty bickering, and brazen unwillingness to work with members of the legislative branch (even those within his own party) has alienated representatives on both side of the aisle on Capital Hill.  He’s not exactly been Reaganesque when it comes to charm, either.  He is, to millions, actually billions — a repulsive figure.

This unparalleled rebuke isn’t really partisan.  Party lines don’t explain the intensity of repugnance.  Consider that President Bush was viciously slammed by Democrats, especially during the last two years of his administration, when two pointless wars raged on and the economy finally crumbled into the crapper.  Still, the Democrats always stood up and applauded President Bush at all official and ceremonial events.  He was always treated with respect.  Personal exchanges between partisans were even cordial on every occasion.  Indeed, for all his faults (and they were staggering), most of his political opponents personally liked President Bush — the man.  And so, he was afforded not just common courtesy, but respect because of the office he held and the gentleman he was (is).

During President Obama’s eight years in office, Republicans sometimes took off the gloves when it came to civility.  One attention-seeking Republican congressman even shouted at President Obama during a State of the Union address, eliciting audible gasps from both Republicans and Democrats.  Yet, while Republicans treated President Obama in a vile manner, within partisan circles and when riling up the base, they still afforded the 44th president all the standard courtesies.  They stood and applauded when he entered the House chamber.  They might not have been very congenial behind closed doors.  But at least Republicans acted civil in the presence of the President and in front of the American people.

However, President Trump is a different animal, entirely.  And frankly, I’m not even sure how to react to him.  Many on the Left are also having difficulty coming to terms with this new reality.  The question is — can we revile the man, but still respect the office?  

I don’t know.

Certainly, my personal and professional experience in Washington. D.C. culture strongly influences my view on this.  I’ve spend almost half my adult life living and working in the nation’s capital.  Those years not only enriched my life and afforded me an extraordinary world view, it also exposed me to all kinds of different people with a wide gambit of political ideas.  Throughout my experience in Washington, we were taught to respect those who were in office.  Congressmen were always addressed with the preamble, “The Honorable….”  Political appointees were always afforded some measure of deference.  And, the highest elected official in the land was always addressed as “Mr. President.”  There were no exceptions.  Ever.  Republican or Democrat — the office deserved dignity.  Always.

President Trump makes continuing these proud traditions most difficult.  A man who by all accounts appears mentally unbalanced, who is utterly obsessed with himself, who has displayed unwarranted hostility towards a majority of American citizens, and who is attacking basic rights, protections, and institutions does NOT deserve my respect.  That view is shared by a lot of people, it seems.

I tried hard to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt, at least for awhile.  Like many Leftists, I was initially appalled by the 2016 election results.  But, I accepted them and was fully prepared to move on and make the best of things, presuming Donald Trump the bombastic con-man would somehow grow into the office and come to portend some measure of dignity within the office once held by Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.

So far, that has not happened.  Until it does, I see no reason to respect either the man, or the office.

For me, as a political traditionalist, what some might even called old-fashioned, as someone with dozens of friends and associates who have been and remain Trump supporters, this isn’t a decision I take lightly.  I do want to believe my elected officials.  I do want to respect them, even those I’m opposed to politically.  I do want to give them the courtesies they would normally be entitled to.

Sorry.  But I cannot give that respect to this man who will walk into the House of Representatives tonight and address the nation.  My respect isn’t a rubber stamp.  It’s not given lightly, nor automatically.  He was given a chance to earn my respect.  So far, all he’s earned is my revulsion.

 

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