Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Trump Jumps In / Denny Is Nobody’s Fool / The Not-So-Hot Cup

Trump’s In… Television news these days, whether it’s local, cable or national, can be aptly labeled as ‘The Triumph of the Trivial.’ Significant news, i.e., the Middle East, the pervasive and enveloping corruption of our political system, the accelerating erosion of American infrastructure, is barely discussed; it’s all about rains in the Midwest, a fire in an empty three-floor warehouse in Jersey City, Kim Kardashian’s rear end, 45-minute car chases on the 405, or another barely believable health ‘breakthrough’. Broadcast news is ‘broken.’

That’s why I have to laugh upon observing broadcasters on television snicker quietly about the entrance of Donald Trump into the 2016 Republican primary race for the nomination to run for President. Because, in actuality, Mr. Trump is an early Christmas gift to television news reporters. With already-announced Republican candidates such as Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and Jeb Bush in the race, the campaign looked mighty dreary to the likes of Don Lemon, Scott Paley or Joe Scarborough. And, let’s not forget who’s on the other side: how long have we been compelled to gaze upon the countenance of Hillary Clinton? Since the dawning of the Bronze Age?

You're Welcome, Journalists.
So, when Donald Trump announced, you could almost hear the hurrahs and exhalations coming out of the television set.  Why shouldn’t a personage like Wolf Blitzer, whose monotonic delivery could cure anyone of insomnia, jump for joy? Instead of issuing pleas for candidates to be forthright on immigration, farm subsidies, civil rights, and a million other issues that every candidate will avoid, Mr. Blitzer just puts the microphone in front of Mr. Trump and he gets all the juicy racist, xenophobic and belligerent sound bites he wants. ‘Hey,’ Mr. Blitzer says to himself,’ I don’t have to do anything. This is a hell of a lot of fun. Keep nuking ‘em, Donald. I’ll just sit here, as mute as a church mouse, and bask in your feigned outrage.’

Of course, let’s face it, Mr. Trump doesn’t stand a chance. Right now, though, he sucks the oxygen out of any room he’s in with his bombastic comments, and his Republican opponents are completely overshadowed. And, as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, we’ll begin to see stories out of the press that assert ‘Trump is rising in the polls…a groundswell.’ But, I suspect his future will be akin to the phenom pitcher who wins his first couple of games, is shelled in the next two games as the hitters figure him out, and is back in the minors soon after: Mr.Trump, who appears to have tripped over his enormous ego and injured himself [his ‘brand’], will be dispatched soon as a viable candidate. In fact, my money’s on his dropping out within a couple of months.

In the meantime, let’s all just relax and enjoy the spectacle of a Trump campaign for President. Because if it’s fireworks and some ‘juice’ you want, and, yes, even some guffaws, Mr. Trump will certainly provide that. All good things do come to an end, though: just consider what is coming down the pike after he’s gone: a series of scintillating debates between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush [probably]. Yikes. A triple espresso, no sugar please, before I nod off.

Denny – He sure had Mr. Gripes fooled. Dennis Hastert, formerly the Republican Speaker of the House, appeared to be a rather innocuous sort: good-natured, affable, a good old ‘Joe.’ In fact, I’d hazard a guess that his amiable demeanor went a long way in securing for Mr. Hastert the prestigious Speaker job, following the skein of disreputable characters who preceded him.

So, imagine my surprise when I opened the newspaper one morning and read that Uncle Denny had been arrested for a series of personal bank withdrawals of more than $10,000, and then lying about them. [In the FBI’s mind, withdrawals of that size may be a ‘trigger’ for money-laundering crimes.] Then, surprise turned to shock when I found out that that Mr. Hastert had been paying a blackmailer individual payments of $50,000 a month for some time, and had at the time of his arrest already shelled out $1.75 million!

At this point – evoking the old adage that ‘Yes, I was born at night, but not last night’ -- Mr. Gripes immediately pondered questions that any half-sentient being would bring up, “What the hell was Mr. Hastert up to, paying that kind of money?”, and “How did a simple man such as Mr. Hastert get his hands on so much money?” After all, he never made more than $175,000 annually as a Congressman, a princely sum surely, but certainly not enough to pay that $50 Grand every month without, apparently, difficulty.

Well, it turns out Dennis Hastert needn’t take second place to the King himself, Bill Clinton, regarding smarmy and sleazy affairs. It seems that Mr. Hastert, when he was wresting coach at a high school years ago, molested adolescent boys on the team. [Coaching wrestling seems to bring out the pedophiles, doesn’t it?] Much later, one of his victims threatened to expose Mr. Hastert and demanded money to keep quiet; arrangements were then made for the monthly $50,000 payments. 

When Mr. Gripes learned that Mr. Hastert had an accumulated wealth of between $3.5 million and $11.3 million the day he left Congress, he immediately smelled a rat. Or, if I may mix metaphors and animals, something was mighty fishy. And, sure enough, Mr. Hastert had ‘stolen’ that money. In Congress, though, they steal money stealthily, even quasi-legally.

Mr. Hastert didn’t have to rob a bank, or steal from some widow’s estate. He simply passed some federal legislation. Here’s how the scam works: A group of investors, inclusive of Dennis Hastert, forms up and buys a tract of acreage out in the boondocks in central Illinois. [The group defines itself as a ‘trust’, thereby precluding anyone from finding out that Mr. Hastert is one of the investors, an obvious indication that something nefarious was going on.]
Mr. Hastert then sponsors a federal appropriations bill authorizing a highway to be built through the very land that his trust had bought, and shepherds the bill through Congress authorizing its construction. Bingo….the land he bought is now much more valuable, as a highway is about to be built through it. He clears millions of dollars from the subsequent sale.

Mr. Hastert is now a scorned and disgraced individual and probable molester of children, but really I suspect he’s not alone in pulling off this kind of thievery: a lot of politicians enrich themselves in exactly this manner, or by utilizing other behind-closed-doors, secretive methods. And, the hypocrites that they are, they constantly are badgering us for not participating in elections in sufficient numbers. Why should we, when we know this kind of monkey business goes on all the time.

Mr. Hastert, though, will skate through this arrest and subsequent trial [if there is one], Mr. Gripes assumes. Oh, yeah, he’ll be fined a bit [not enough to hurt him, mind you], get a suspended sentence perhaps, and be lectured on ethics by some political-hack judge. He should be sent ‘upstate’ for a long time, but he’ll basically get off scot-free. His cronies will protect him. And, that virtual impunity enrages Mr. Gripes more than anything else in this sordid tale. 

World Cup Hype - Yeah, Mr. Gripes will admit he is on occasion a stick-in-the-mud grump. Hyperbole, for one thing, automatically blows up his ‘grumpiness’ meter; yesterday’s women’s World Cup championship game, between the United States and Japan, was simply nauseating in its delivery of those good old American staples of jingoism and exhibitionistic braggadocio. [One sports talk host admitted he ‘shed some tears’ after the Americans won – get a life, big guy.]

No country on earth is as self-centered and as in love with itself as this country. We as a nation are simply unable to show the least humility vis-à-vis other nations. And that lack of modesty and ‘our-way-or-the-highway’ thinking get us in trouble a lot, i.e., Vietnam, Iraq. We’re very bad winners; today I did not see one word of graciousness or kindness toward yesterday’s opponent and loser, Japan. 

But enough geo-political malarkey. Let’s look at the World Cup competition as a whole this past month. I think I may be the only clear-eyed observer of the overall play who saw just how awful the competition actually was. Scoring was virtually non-existent [the championship game was an exception], and the play on the field generally shoddy and sloppy. And, very frequently, the games were played in cavernous stadiums, with a few hundred fans in attendance, bunched together amidst fifty or sixty thousand empty seats. A pitiful, sad tableau for the TV viewing audience. 

Perhaps Mr. Gripes is disappointed because last year’s Men’s World Cup in Brazil was so exhilarating: jammed stadiums, fans and citizens of every country in attendance, rolling, rollicking energy both on the field and in the stands, a multitude of national flags on display, and, of course, magnificent play on the part of world-class soccer players, demonstrating astonishing athleticism: it was a joy to watch, and a glimmer of our eternal hope of an utopian world in which all countries get along.

The enormous difference between men’s and women’s sport play, out of political correctness, is never discussed in the press – never. But, it’s a fact of life. Yes, the athletic abilities of the women participating in this competition were extraordinary -- I don’t want to diminish that fact. But, let’s be real: male athletes – stronger, bigger, faster – make for a much more interesting spectacle – in this sport, and a lot other sports, too….OK, you’re great at synchronized swimming, I’ll concede that.

Oh, while I am huffing and puffing about women’s sports, there’s something else that’s bugged Mr. Gripes: women’s professional basketball is in dire need of a face lift. There are too many turnovers and too many missed shots, including, rather remarkably, lay-ups. There’s remarkably little ‘flow’ in the games; there are so many mistakes. The solution is simple: lower the height of the basket rims from 10 feet to 9-1/2 feet. Immediately, there’d be injected into games much more excitement, with more scoring, and slam dunks, too. 

And, the women’s league, now basically subsidized by the men’s National Basketball Association, might actually flourish, and manage to sustain itself. Lowering that rim would work wonders. It’ll never happen, though: there simply is no way that rights groups would accept a lower rim – somehow, in these bizarre times, some women activists would equate a lesser height with a regression to second-class citizenship.

But, if opponents might stop and consider a change to 9-1/2 feet, look at all the positives that would ensue: a lower rim means more scoring [right now, it’s appalling how low-scoring the games are]; more scoring would mean more interest and more fans of the sport, and men might even start attending in significant numbers; more interest and more attendance means more money coming in; more money coming in means more games played [right now, the season consists of a meager 32 games], and possibly even an expansion of the league to other cities. And, guess what? A thriving women’s professional basketball league would lead to more players playing, more front-office executives, and more auxiliary jobs created, i.e., in the playing arenas. That’s right: jobs, jobs, jobs, and very good ones, for women.

Hillary, I’ve got a great idea:  forget all that ridiculous populist hokum [the $125 million you and Bill have currently in the bank kills that BS] you’re attempting to foist on us, and make part of your platform this wonderful jobs-creation concept of 9-1/2 feet. A landslide victory is assured.

Jim Israel
Mr. Gripes
July 6, 2015

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