Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Media's Crocodile Tears / The Middle East: Enough For Now / The Wall Debacle

Really It’s Not That Bad, Is It, Mr. Tapper? -- It’s been tough sledding for Mr. Gripes since Donald Trump’s election. How on earth is anything he chooses to write about going to compete – on an entertainment level -- with whatever that febrile, infantile brain of the President chooses to  bray about on any given day, or hour, for that matter.

After a long hiatus, I finally realize that the Trump Bizarro-World is a cornucopia of riches for snapping-turtle types like Mr. Gripes.

So, let’s get started:

At the outset, let’s acknowledge one certifiable fact about the circus we are so ravenously feasting on: the media, seemingly horrified and disgusted at the spectacle they’re experiencing up-close, will never acknowledge to stunned viewers that Donald Trump is an absolute godsend to all media: TV and radio ratings have jumped, newspaper subscriptions are going up; [Ironically, the ‘failing’ NY Times, gushing red ink, may prosper again due to Trump], and even stodgy, august publications like the New Yorker are seeing substantially larger subscription numbers.

What this means, predictably, are higher advertising rates, which will engender, naturally enough, larger profits for the entertainment/news corporations. The more outrageous Mr. Trump acts, whisper the TV stations and newspapers, the more the rapt, fascinated ‘viewing audience’ tunes in to see the Big Show -- and the cash rolls in. The media – the New York Times, CNN, the Washington Post, CBS, NBC, all of the giants – weep through crocodile tears.

And let’s not forget that not-happening, run-of-the-mill broadcasters -- Jake Tapper and Don Lemon come to mind -- by confronting Trump on occasion and acting so, so aggrieved, are raising their own profiles, which very likely will engender more lavish opportunities down the road. Mr. Tapper, for one, should send a ‘Thank You, Mr. President’ to the White House. 

Now to President Trump: we all are aware of his multiple shortcomings that will not serve him well as President – impatience, megalomania, rashness, greed, cruelty, ignorance, an inability to focus, mythomania [lying], lack of compassion, indolence, a bias toward authoritarianism, and a Manichean world view – but the one trait that stands out to Mr. Gripes is his, and I’m creating a word here, total in-educability. Mr. Gripes senses the President, in his term, probably will never bone up on essential policy issues, whether it’s North Korea, the Chinese military build-up, trade agreements, the burgeoning civil war in the Ukraine, or a thousand other issues. That task would involve solitary work and concentration, verboten to the Trump persona.  He’ll watch news on television, probably Fox, read a magazine or two [‘People’ and ‘Maxim’, most likely, certainly not ‘The Atlantic’], speak to his advisors, but never will he have enough information of his own to make intelligent decisions.

Mr. Trump prides himself on ‘winging it’, just as Mr. Gripes attempted to do when he had not studied for an exam. That particular methodology never worked for Mr. Gripes, and will not work any better for Mr. Trump. In fact, his rampant ignorance will most likely lead to emotional and irrational decisions. His final decisions may simply be based on the opinion of the last person he spoke to. Barack Obama, whatever his faults, did not make rash decisions; Mr. Trump, I’m afraid, will.  I dread the consequences.

The Middle East: Bye-Bye for Now -- Now, after all that, I bring up an issue in which Mr. Gripes finds himself in fundamental agreement with Mr. Trump: the Israel-Palestine quagmire.

First, some telling optics: the President met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a couple of months ago, and afterwards they held a press conference. Mr. Netanyahu sits to Mr. Trump’s right as Trump takes press questions on the Middle East. While Mr. Trump was babbling on, the look on Mr. Netanyahu’s countenance was priceless: he was the ‘cat that ate the canary.’ Smug, seemingly supremely content, almost gloating, the Prime Minister, after the hand-to-hand combat with Barack Obama for eight years, knew he finally had his yes-man in charge. ‘Man, after dealing with that bastard Obama for an eternity, this guy is going to be a piece of cake.’

As for the topic at hand, Mr. Trump announces --- very likely thinking, ‘I don’t know sh_t or even care  about this boring stuff’ -- that  he won’t take sides on the question of one state or two states, and then says, [I paraphrase] ‘in whatever form Israel and Palestine agree on a solution, that’s fine with me. Until then, the United States is hands-off.’ You know, when I heard that, I thought, ‘Trump’s absolutely right – why the hell should this country continue working our collective asses off to get these intransigent enemies to sit down and work out a peaceful solution, when nothing’s worked for 20 years?’

Hell, John Kerry, the feckless former Secretary of State, must have flown in circles around the Middle East 50 times trying to get a deal done, all for nothing. Enough already.  It’s not worth our time or attention until the parties themselves over there make an attempt to sit down and get serious about peace.

There are so many other dangerous, time-sensitive issues that have to be dealt with right now. Our energies should be focused elsewhere.

The ‘Wall’— A little bit of history: France built, between World War I and II, a fortification along the Switzerland-Luxembourg border to prevent another invasion from Germany.  Called the ‘Maginot Line,’ the French reasoned the wall was impregnable -- no longer would goose-stepping German troops come pouring over the open border. One problem, though: no fortification was built up north along the Belgian border.

Needless to say, the wall didn’t work – the Maginot Line is, infamously, one of the great follies of military lore. Germany, in 1940, invaded France by simply going around the wall to the south, through Belgium. Paris fell two weeks later, and all of France capitulated soon after. The well-deserved reputation of the French as military morons has stood to this day.

Well, Mr. Gripes is convinced history is about to repeat itself: the wall along the Mexican border that President Trump is planning to erect promises to be a multi-billion – many, many billions -- calamity, an unnecessary boondoggle that will surely line the pockets of some of Trump’s fat cat supporters, but serve no other purpose whatsoever. By the time it’s completed, the wall will be as useless as an appendix.

Let’s, first, break down some of the initial fanciful cost projections: in the White House budget,  the figure for the construction has been set at $5 billion. No one in the White House or Congress believes that figure for a moment. More reputable analysts who don’t have an ax to grind put the figure at $11 billion. And there’s not one word about the inevitable overruns: Mr. Gripes lives in New York City, just like Mr. Trump, and both of us know no major construction project is completed here without huge overruns of expenditures. Overruns are ‘baked’ into contracts here and elsewhere, as Mr. Trump surely knows. So, let’s double the figure to $22 billion. And that’s just for the construction.

I move on…..This is one huge project, covering about 2,100 miles of border. Some of that terrain is exceptionally rugged, and will be exceedingly difficult to ‘pacify’ even prior to any wall construction. That means an additional huge cost element to the project.

And what about the real estate along the border on which the wall will be built? The government has to negotiate prices for that land with the individual landowners. Indeed, through eminent domain, the federal government can take over privately owned real estate, but that doesn’t mean the whole process is going to be easy. And, once again, that means big delays, more lawyers, more litigation, more court dates, and another huge financial outlay. 

And, adding to the financial slaughter, President Trump has requested in his budget 15,000[!] additional border police, new judges and other personnel, which will lead to a brand-new federal bureaucracy, with all the attendant employee benefits and wages that promise to stretch out for decades.  And, of course, that means additional costs attached to the wall, and a few more billion added to the federal debt each year. 

Finally, perhaps the most salient point: by the time this monstrosity is finished, it’ll be outdated and essentially useless. Let’s suppose this takes 9, 10 years to build: no one has mentioned that technology advances, through much better functioning drones and space satellite surveillance, guarantee blanket electronic coverage along the entire length of the wall. Drones will take over the job of the wall in keeping out immigrants. No one will be unobserved coming over the border, purely via electronic means. Illegals crossing over will not stand a chance amidst all the cameras honing in on them, and capture will be virtually instantaneous. The wall will be obsolete on the day it’s completed – and stand for a very long time as another display of American idiocy and arrogance.

By Jim Israel, aka Mr. Gripes                         
April 18, 2017

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Hasta la Vista, Fidel/ Scranton Joe Is Running Again/ Christmas Plot?

Straight to Hell, Fidel --Mr. Gripes was handed an early Christmas present on November 25th: he woke up to discover that Fidel Castro had died. My immediate reaction: ‘The SOB is finally dead -- this morning there’s one less bastard on this earth.’

And, indeed, what a ruthless, cruel, heartless monster he was. And crazy, too: when Nikita Khrushchev and John Kennedy were attempting delicately to extricate their countries from initiating a nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, Fidel Castro’s persistent advice to Mr. Khrushchev was : ‘Go, go for it. Use the missiles to launch those nuclear weapons on the U.S. if America threatens Cuba.’  Castro was advocating the destruction of the planet, which would surely have followed any attack on the United States mainland. When I read this recently, I was immediately convinced: Fidel Castro was a demonic and murderous psychopath.

Mr. Castro did, miraculously, manage to survive 57 years in power, since 1959. That is astonishing.  But, readers, don’t be misled by the fools who still support the Castro reign. Don’t believe for a second it’s because there was a groundswell of love and devotion to Fidel. No, the Castros have maintained power through the very same means that all cruel despots use: a huge secret police apparatus that penetrates every aspect of Cuban society, eliminating any political opposition through intimidation and imprisonment, prohibiting a free press or free assembly, or simply through the barrel end of a gun, or the noose at the end of a piece of rope.

Cubans are a very gifted and beautiful people blessed with hard work-ethics, who reside on a gorgeous island that possesses bountiful natural resources. Fidel Castro essentially took these people and their magnificent country and ground them into the ground. Mr. Gripes laughs when he hears the apologists assert, ‘But Castro gave his people free medical care.’ Yeah, and the doctors, I bet, deal with a lot of malnutrition. The jobless economy is so dire, and has been for so long, that people struggle to eat. It’s an impoverished, tattered country.

Castro, when he came to power, had an opportunity to mold his country into one of the most envied nations on earth: his people, if they were treated differently, and if Castro had chosen a more benevolent path, could easily have achieved whatever they wanted. And let’s not forget that American investment and aid would have poured in. The country had everything it needed. But Castro didn’t hesitate to take another road: his ambition was one-man rule and domination, and if killing enemies and destroying the economy were the methods to get there, so be it. 

His supporters in this country never did accept Fidel Castro as the criminal he was. After all, he was a devoted Marxist, and the leader of a country that was a ‘workers paradise.’ Everyone would be treated the same, the doctor or the peon in the sugar fields. It was going to an egalitarian society. Castro promised this, and a lot of duped people in America and Europe believed him for a long, long time. 

Did you know that Cuban citizens, whose land is surrounded by the spectacular Caribbean Sea, are not allowed to keep their own boats! Why? Fidel Castro, a man of the people, was afraid his people would try to escape the ‘workers’ paradise’ and direct the ships to America, to a free life. Fidel Castro was a horrific, sorrowful catastrophe, who mistreated his own people right up to the end.

Jobless Man from Scranton -- At least he’s honest: Joe Biden, soon to be out of his job as court jester in the Obama royal court, admitted a couple of weeks ago, “I’ve done this [politics] since I was 26 years old; I can’t do anything else.’ Naturally, in the same breath he announces he’s running for President in 2020. Guys like him always are running for office, or getting ready to run. They’re like racehorses – lead them to a race track, and they witlessly run, and run, and run.

Mr. Biden, not a man of introspection, doesn’t realize he’s finished. His time has passed: he’s worked successfully the ‘I’m-from-scrappy-Scranton-and me-and-the-working-man-are-attached-at-the-hip’ crap for a long time. His supporters, however, extensively white, blue-collar, union, urban, and a bit long-in-the-tooth, have just rejected the Democrats and voted for Trump. He’s now a relic of the Franklin Roosevelt era.

When Mr. Biden confesses he can’t do anything else but run for office, he’s not kidding: I bet he couldn’t sell a chocolate bar or a comic book to kids on their lunch break in a candy store. Mr. Gripes, despite Mr. Biden’s jobless plight, sheds no tears for him; some fat-cat, liberal, Democratic tax-dodge foundation will give him a cushy $750,000 no-show sinecure for which Mr. Biden, flying first-class around the country while staying at $800-a-night, big-shot hotels, will attend well-heeled conferences to exhort crestfallen Hillary souls to keep the faith –2020 will be here soon enough.

Why is Joe Biden in such a hurry to announce a run at this ungodly early date? [Also, let’s not forget that challengers like Elizabeth Warren and, yes, Bernie Sanders, are growling about running, too]. Mr. Gripes has a theory. The Democratic Party, I suspect, is convinced that Donald Trump is going to fall on his face, fail miserably as President, and serve just one term, gift-wrapping a Democratic Presidency in 2020.

Beware, once again, my vanquished and wishful-thinking Democratic friends: Mr. Trump may turn out to be quite adroit at retail politics. In the interregnum before he takes office next month, for example, Donald Trump has already made some pronouncements that are broadly appealing to a majority of Americans: his caustic criticism of the ridiculous cost of the new Air Force One [$4 billion!], and his anger at the ongoing price overruns for a new military plane, the F-35 [$400 billion, and counting!!], are very shrewd ploys: no one is for extravagant waste. [Of course, nothing may come of his comments, but Mr. Trump is surely aware that first impressions in this country are usually all that’s remembered.]

Americans have known of outrageous overruns for decades, and nothing is ever done about them. I applaud Mr. Trump for at least announcing that the days of rubber-stamped approvals without real oversight are over. And if Mr. Gripes, who cannot conceive ever voting for Mr. Trump, is muttering, ‘Go get ‘em, Donald, beat on them like a drum,’ there are a hell of a lot of other potential 2020 voters out there, Republican and Democrat, thinking the same thing.

‘The War on Christmas’ – It’s bizarre that right next to the uproar these days about ‘fake’ news on the internet, Americans are simultaneously bombarded with the notion that this country is in the midst of a subversive ‘war on Christmas.’ Talk about a phony and spurious issue….

Mr. Gripes reasons that this is another ‘shot across the bow’ by the radical / evangelical right towards liberals and their media pals. It’s a slippery slope, the neo-Conservatives proclaim, when media and businesses instead of proudly asserting ‘Merry Christmas’, substitute ‘Happy Holidays’ as the greeting. Taking ‘Christ’ out of Christmas will be next, they say, then the elimination of Christ in public discourse and, ultimately, the banning of Christianity itself.

The fear is absurd on its face: Mr. Gripes took a stroll down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan a couple of weeks ago, enjoying immensely the Christmas decorations in department store windows, as well as the festive bonhomie of everyone walking down the avenue. Christmas, on 5th Avenue, is no different now than it was when my family and I took that same stroll 60 years ago.

‘They’re killing Christmas’ is a bold-faced lie. How does an obvious falsehood like this manage to endure for such a long shelf life? For one thing, it’s been promulgated by Bill O’Reilly for years, even though Mr. Gripes is convinced Mr. O’Reilly doesn’t believe a word of it. Let’s keep in mind, though, that Mr. O’Reilly is one terrific publicity engine for his endeavors, especially his books. [He did write one on Jesus Christ, in fact.] He knows that pushing this ‘dead Christmas’ idea, although patently untrue, arouses the conspiratorial tendencies of the Radical right, which always thinks liberals are out to snuff out ‘traditional’ American values and eviscerate our rights. Bill O’Reilly wants to create publicity, and a theory, however outlandish, about the demise of Christmas will have the media eating out of Mr. O’Reilly’s hands. And, voila, his books then fly out of the bookstores.

Let’s get one thing straight, by the way: the American Constitution guarantees religious freedom for all citizens. We’re free to belong to any religious order, whether it’s Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Atheism, Islam, even Paganism. Sure, we’re a predominantly Christian country, but religious freedom is a protected right for everyone, no matter how minuscule the number of believers may be.

What’s especially dismaying to Mr. Gripes is that our President-Elect has taken up the cause. The other day, he made it a point to emphasize the words ‘Merry Christmas’ repeatedly in an impromptu press conference, giving credence to those who think saying ‘Happy Holidays’ is all a conspiracy to delete ‘Christmas’ from our American lexicon. Doesn’t Mr. Trump have many more important matters to deal with, as he’s going to be President in less than a month? Maybe not.

It’s Mr. Gripes’ contention that Donald Trump revels in conspiracy-thinking. It fits him to a tee. First of all, if the theory is dramatic enough, it creates a lot of publicity – and good or bad publicity is all Mr. Trump is after. Second, there’s no need to be truthful: just create a ‘plausible’ fiction, throw it up against the wall, and see what sticks. Verifiable facts are bunk. Mr. Trump, with his Obama-birth fabrications [‘I have investigators over in Honolulu right now and they’ve come up with some real interesting stuff.’], knew it was a total lie, but that issue, I think, actually jump-started his campaign to the White House.

And, last, conspiracy theorists, like Trump, thrive on tumult, disruption – shake up the established order, and create noise. So, of course, Donald Trump is going to play up a Christmas conspiracy – it’s custom-made for him. 

Jim Israel, aka ‘Mr. Gripes’
December 31, 2016