Dear American News Media: Please Stop Being “Accessories To The Murder Of Democracy”

How Biden Has Been Covered in the News 100 Days Into His Administration |  Pew Research Center

You would think having a story as big and juicy as Donald Trump – a man who wore his treason on his sleeve (“Hey, Russia, if you’re listening…!”) – who said things like “Mexicans are rapists” and “pussy grabbing”, and who lied so often and about everything that the press started keeping count – would have inspired a Golden Age of American Journalism. Instead, our news media whiffed on it completely. Rather than be inspired by the dogged skepticism of vintage Woodward and Bernstein, our news media saw the New York Times’ Judith Miller – the Queen of Access Journalism – their mentor, patron saint and role model. Don’t remember Judy? She sold her journalistic soul to gain access to Dick Cheney when he was veep. She went to jail for 85 days rather than reveal that the source for all her Iraq War/Valerie Plame Affair coverage was Scooter Libby (Cheney’s chief of staff – who’d been lying to her and using her the whole time as a weapon against knowledgeable war critics. Judy Miller was an accessory to corruption. That’s why other journalists snicker these days if you call Judith Miller “a journalist”.

In yesterday’s Washington Post (December 6, 2021), opinion writer Dana Milbank laid down quite an opinion about how he and his fellow colleagues in the Fourth Estate “are serving as accessories to the murder of democracy”. For those of us who have been underwhelmed (shall we say) by the news media’s coverage of the greatest story of their lifetimes, this was welcome contrition (if eons too late). But, hey – better late than never, right? Milbank was writing about the news media’s openly hostile coverage of the first year of Joe Biden’s presidency versus the news media’s coverage of the last year of Trump’s presidency. Milbank got the Post to pony up some money for data and analytics. They paint an ugly picture – for American democracy in part because the American news media has confused skepticism (what they’re supposed to have on their tool belt) with cynicism.

One can see – graphically – how the news media gave favorable coverage to Trump even as he “presided over a worst-in-world pandemic response that caused hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths; held a superspreader event at the White House and got covid19 himself; praised QAnon adherents; embraced violent white supremacists; waged a racist campaign against Black Lives Matter demonstrators; attempted to discredit mail-in voting; and refused to accept his defeat in a free and fair election, leading eventually to the violence of Jan. 6 and causing tens of millions to accept the “big lie,” the worst of more than 30,000 he told in office”. And, one can see how the press gave far less favorable coverage to Biden despite the fact that he and his administration’s policies had gotten more Americans vaccinated and back to work, gotten the economy revving (so much so that inflation became “the” issue to some “journalists”), reduced the scourge of childhood poverty in America by half and passed into law a once-in-a-generation, transformative infrastructure spending bill.

Milbank suspects his “peers across the media have fallen victim to our asymmetric politics. Biden governs under traditional norms, while Republicans run a shocking campaign to delegitimize him with one fabricated charge after another.” Yeah… both sides don’t do what the Republicans are doing. ONLY Republicans do that. ONLY Republicans have ever done that because ONLY Republicans see white hegemony as their birthright. Same concept: when a Republican suppresses a Democratic voter’s right to vote – a violation of their rights and of the law – they are behaving as criminals for a political purpose. When that Democratic voter responds to having their rights violated, they are responding as a CRIME VICTIM. And, while the crime was committed for a political purpose, the victim’s response ISN’T POLITICAL.

Accept, it is to our news media. “Both sides do it” brand journalism has convinced American journalists that everyone acts politically all the time no matter what. Problem is, it simply isn’t true. Standing up for one’s rights may be a political statement, but it’s not “political” the way the act of deliberately taking away those rights is. And, because American journalists insist on seeing everything through a political lens, they end up equating opinions formed from facts to opinions formed from feelings. All opinions, ya see, are created equal. Even if they’re not.

Milbank puts it this way: “Too many journalists are caught in a mindless neutrality between democracy and its saboteurs, between fact and fiction.” It’s that false assumption of neutrality – that journalism means never taking sides. In a sense, that is what we need journalists to do: not take sides – with any particular political stance. That doesn’t mean journalists can’t have a point of view complete with political leanings. That’s just honesty. So long as the journalist can report evenly – giving the benefit of the doubt where due but denying it where it’s already been spent – their politics don’t matter. All journalism should be advocate journalism – for the truth. All journalists should be relentless in their pursuit of the core “why” – WHY does anyone do what they do?

Alas, that’s way easier said than done. Getting to any one person’s core why or any story’s core why takes more than just dogged determination. It takes imagination and perspective. It takes rock solid analytical skills. It takes the ability not just to listen to people but to hear what they’re actually saying. Being a good journalist is damned hard. Being a good writer is hard. Same goes for being a good anything. Being mediocre and banal are far easier bars to clear. But then, what are we to expect of “accessories” to democracy’s murder?

That’s accessories as opposed to the actual perps.

That is how American journalism will defend itself. “Don’t blame us, blame the people whose stories we were covering”. IOW, don’t blame journalists for repeating the bullshit their sources told them (even if the whole point was to get those reporters to repeat the very bullshit they repeated as they reported). The “Useful Idiot” defense, is it?

“TRUMPOCALYPSE: THE MINISERIES” Casting Office — UPDATED Casting: “THE INSURRECTION CAUCUS”

U.S. Vice-President Biden smiles as he speaks with Croatian PM Milanovic in Zagreb

So far, we’ve cast the Trumps — father, sons, daughter/sex partner & wife/handler. They’re all below today’s casting thoughts — THE INSURRECTION CAUCUS!

I have a feeling we’re going to end up expanding this part of the story exponentially. What we saw, live on TV, was the tip of the iceberg that was planned; most of it failed to happen the way it was drawn up in the days preceding the insurrection. That’s the brick wall the Republican Party and Trump are rushing headlong into: the insurrection didn’t occur spontaneously (the way they all hoped it would seem). The insurrection was planned, paid for, coordinated and carried out as a joint effort whose participants included everyone from useful idiot MAGA foot soldiers swept up in the moment to Right Wing money donors to Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani to a slew of Republican members of Congress to Donald Trump himself.

Hell, the January 6 Insurrection might just warrant an entire season unto itself. But, let’s start with our principals, shall we? The casting office is right over here…

CHARACTER

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE

Always happy to demonstrate that she is, in fact, dumber than any box of rocks – even if that box is empty – Marjorie Taylor Greene called the historic, bi-partisan, infrastructure bill the House just passed “communism”. She called the NBA “fascist” for refusing to let unvaccinated Kyrie Irving play in a basketball game and for letting Magic Johnson play when he had HIV. She insisted people being forced to inoculate themselves against a deadly virus were “just like the Nazis force[ing] Jewish people to wear a gold star.” This woman is wrong about literally everything. I bet when she says “hello” — that’s wrong, too. Or a lie.

Here’s MJT –

And, to play this larger-than-life lump of certifiable loser? I suggest the mega-talented SARAH SNOOK (most recently Shiv Roy on HBO’s excellent “Succession”.) Sarah understands how to play a duplicitous, intelligent women who aspires to get a piece of her soul back one day. I bet she’ll figure out how to play this trailer trash Lady MacBeth.

Sarah Snook to play trailer trash Lady MacBeth Marjorie Taylor Greene?

MATT GAETZ

Matt takes being “smarmy” to places smarmy never thought it could reach. He’s white, frat boy privilege on steroids. He’s a drunk and a skunk with a taste for underage girls. Under different circumstances, Matt would be seen as nothing more than a clown. Insurrection can turn even clowns deadly.

To play Matt? I’m thinking of The Big Bang Theory’s JIM PARSONS… Jim has a bunch of things going for him here. He can play Matt’s clownishness & the pathos of his humanity (even Matt has humanity — it’s what will make his bitter tears so bitter (and so enjoyable because they’re bitter). Jim Parsons also has the requisite amount of forehead.

Can Jim Parsons fill Matt Gaetz’s forehead? I say “yes!”

JIM JORDAN

Jordan and Gaetz always feel like they can’t decide who’s the wing man and who’s the wing man’s wing man. Gymbo looks like he couldn’t get comfortable inside his own skin if his life depended on it. How ironic then that just hearing Jim’s voice makes everyone else’s skin crawl. Imagine you’re the Fly-By-Night Diploma Mill that gave Jim Jordan a JD. How proud they must be of having trained a legal mind as fine as Jim’s.

To play Gymbo, I like former Doctor Who/Duke of Edinburgh MATT SMITH. Like most British actors, Matt can slip into an accent like Jim’s as easily as slipping into Jim’s awful wardrobe. It takes a bright actor to play a stupid person and it will take every ounce of Matt’s considerable talent to plumb the depths of Jim Jordan’s considerable stupidity.

Matt Smith could definitely pin a characterization of Jim Jordan to the mat.

KEVIN McCARTHY

Kevin is like the greyest of grey men. Aside from being able to march in lock step with other Republicans, Kevin McCarthy has zero useful skill sets. Kevin still needs to answer for “There are two people I think Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” which he said out loud (it was recorded) as he entered a roomful of GOP leaders on June 25, 2016, a month before the GOP nominated Trump to be POTUS. If Kevin even suspected that Trump was compromised by a hostile foreign power engaged in active cyber war against us, he had a responsibility to say something. Not only didn’t Kevin say anything about this secret, he agreed with then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to keep that secret a secret. “That’s how we know we’re family,” is how Ryan put it, feeling every bit the cosa nostra gangster he was alluding to.

To portray this soulless waste of carbon? I’d go for Mad Men’s JOHN SLATTERY. Slattery’s great at playing grey men who are hollow at their centers.

John Slattery would knock Jim Jordan out of the park — and doesn’t that sound well-deserved?

STEVE BANNON

For a guy who supposedly doesn’t drink, Steve Bannon always looks like the world’s sloppiest drunk who just went on the bender to end all benders. The Department of Justice needs to get off its ass and stand by the January 6 Commission’s subpoenas. Bannon honestly thinks he and his democracy-hating religious zealots will get away with betraying America. We The People look forward to disabusing Steve of this mistaken idea. The more Steve cries about it, the more we’ll like it!

Bannon’s an interesting character. We could go John Goodman here, but I’d cheat the age a little and cast someone who’s always seem to capture a certain “living rough” dynamic. I’m all for NICK NOLTE. Nick’s a good actor but I ain’t buying him as a Wall Street type. Nick’s better at squirrely, old bastards who either had too much to drink or they’re off their meds and need to go back on them. Bannon’s a squirrely old traitor drunk on authoritarian Kool-Aid.

PAST CASTING THOUGHTS

DONALD J. TRUMP

How do you play the most notoriously corrupt, bloated orange scumbag to ever befoul the planet? How do we even cast it? Carefully, of course… Some thoughts: BRENDAN GLEASON as Trump…

NOTES: Gleeson played Trump in “The Comey Rule” on Showtime.

WOODY HARRELSON as Trump

NOTES: I’ve always liked Woody Harrelson’s “interior” range. It’s amazing and we’re going to need an actor with incredible emotional range to play a character with VIRTUALLY NONE.  It’s like getting an actor to sing off key.  The ones who can actually sing will automatically do it better.  They even know where off-key is.

NOTE ON ALEC BALDWIN: Alec Baldwin is a talented actor who is caught in a terrible circumstance . It breaks my heart (personally and as someone who’s produced movies and TV shows), what happened because it shouldn’t have. Baldwin’s Trump was always caricature over character (by design). That’s not to put him out of the running just… not now.

IVANKA TRUMP

SCARLET JOHANSSON as Ivanka Trump

NOTES: There’s a kind of irony in an actress great at playing Black Widow to play the part of a woman who acts like an actual black widow spider.

AMANDA SEYFRIED as Ivanka

NOTES: Some things just seem so natural…

DONALD TRUMP, JR

MIKEY DAY as Donald Trump, Jr

NOTES: Presently, the actor who’s gotten closest to nailing Don Jr’s unctuousness is an actor satirizing him. That’s probably not a coincidence. Still — we need some competition here. I’ll put my mind to it if you will…

ERIC TRUMP

Alex Moffat as Eric Trump

NOTES: As with Mikey Day’s Junior, SNL’s version of Eric — and I love Alex Moffat’s Eric — stands for the moment as “the” Eric. Competition’s good for everyone — Trump’s included.

MELANIA TRUMP

CASTING OPEN!

Awaiting Picture, so here’s the real Melania — in the one photo I can find of her smiling like she means it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Melania’s smiling this way at Putin. Not cos Melania respects international relationships but because she worked the whole damned time as Donald’s handler on Vlad’s behalf. Hey, how do you say “I don’t care, do you?” in Russian?

VLADIMIR PUTIN

MADS MIKKELSON as Vladimir Putin

NOTES: Mads played the Bond Villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. By all accounts, Vlad Putin is the Bond Villain America fully deserves.

RUDY GIULIANI

KATE McKINNON as Rudy Giuliani

NOTES: Personally, I’m not sure a human can play the entirely humanoid Rudy but my mind’s open. Kate McKinnon can do anything. I bet she could do a fully deep dive into Rudy and actually pull off an amazing, lifelike (without being cartoonish) characterization. But still — for the moment, the part’s wide open.

Another thought:

To play crazy…

…HIRE crazy…

MORE CHARACTERS TO COME!!!!!

Living At The Mercy Of A Lie

Though the news media has placed Donald Trump’s “final lie tally” above 30,000 (that means Trump must have lied on average 21 times a day), the truth is, Trump lied every single time he opened that anus-shaped mouth of his. For starters, there’s “The Big Lie” itself. We have a political party hewing to what everyone agrees is “a big lie”. Think about that! But then, Trump’s entire presidency was a lie. Trump was never, EVER, the legitimate POTUS. That’s not a political assessment, it’s a criminal justice assessment.

Just because we can’t officially call a car thief “a car thief” until he’s convicted for his car thievery, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a car thief every moment before we convicted him. In fact, he was a car thief the entire time. For reasons of fairness to the thief, we refused to acknowledge the stone cold truth about him until late in the game. In a sense, we were living inside a kind of “lie-adjacent” that the car thief was an honest actor and a good citizen when the truth stayed the same the whole time: he was and remains a criminal. At least, that’s a lie with a higher purpose.

The authority to govern flows from the election process. We elect people to govern us on our behalf. The assumption, of course, is that our elections are free and fair as is their tabulation. I’m not sure that’s ever really been the case here in America. White people have actively worked to keep everyone not them from voting since the founders stood by “All men are created equal” without actually meaning it. The truth of America has always been “E Pluribus Unum”. But white people — the descendants of white, Christian, mostly Northern European heritage — have always seen America through blinders of their own invention. That’s why America remains a great idea as yet unrealized. Because we persist in living not just one lie, but multiple lies — and every last one of them is a product of racism.

As Virginia holds an election today, our (always perspective-free) news media has made the tightening poll numbers for Virginia’s governor a referendum on Joe Biden, completely ignoring the fact that the Republican candidate — Glenn Youngkin — has made “critical race theory” the entire thrust of his campaign. The news media understands — they report it — that everything about the “critical race theory” debate is utter horse shit. More to the point — that it’s racist! But, because our news media never aggregates stories about Republicans (they still think Republicans — even as they stand beside insurrection and insurrectionists — are “honest actors”) and never questions their motives the way they question every Progressive’s, Youngkin tossing overt racism into the mix is just another “legitimate campaign strategy”. It’s not! It’s racism,, pure and simple! And that means that the reason the gubernatorial election in Virginia is close has zero to do with Joe Biden (who our news media insists this is about) and everything to do with racism.

But then, our news media thinks it’s up to racists to decide if they’re racists — so, when it comes to the whole topic of racism, our news media remains intensely white in their framing and viewpoint. Why would a journalist ask a racist if they’re racist? How the hell would they know? Unless they want to be a pariah, of course they’re going to deny being racist. FFS, Trump still insists he’s the “least racist person ever”. Anyone buying? No? So why ask this racist his opinion about anything related to race?

Right — because we insist on living inside a lie that racists can determine whether or not they’re racist.

Having been born in 1959, fourteen years after the death camps were liberated, I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust in a large, upper middle class Jewish suburb of Baltimore. My community didn’t shy away from the murder that had just been visited upon us. Even Jews who couldn’t point to an actual family member, felt the camps’ breath on them. I grew up identifying completely with the boy in this famous photo —

“Why me?” his eyes shout. “What did I ever do?”

The Holocaust was the product of nearly two thousand years of aggregated Jew hatred. What made Germany’s take on genocide so much more successful than any previous genocide was industrialization. Germany applied factory work dynamics to the murder of human beings. Jews became a commodity. If an individual Jew had value as a slave worker (that’s what you are when you work for free — a slave), they were kept alive (and then worked to death). If they had no value upon entering the camps, they were disposed of in the cheapest way possible. My first Hebrew School teache had a number tattooed into her forearm. She wasn’t shy about reminding us that she was among the “lucky ones”.

Where did such intense, homicidal anger come from? Why, it came from a lie, of course…

Ask almost one hundred percent of Christians where Christianity came from — what it’s actual origin story was — and they will get it wrong. More likely, they have no idea. The Truth was made irrelevant at the start, having been replaced by pure, unadulterated mythology. Jesus did not invent Christianity. He was born, lived his entire life and died a Jew. He taught Jewish lessons and mythology to other Jews who understood the context in which Jesus taught and spoke. When the priestly Saul of Tarsus “came to Jesus” on the road to Damascus and reinvented himself as “The Apostle Paul”, he set out to spread what he said was Jesus’s message. But, when he arrived in Jerusalem, Paul got pushback from Jesus’s family. The Jesus Paul had in his head wasn’t actual Jesus (Jeshua ben Joseph).

But, Paul persisted. Whether Jesus’s family believed (as Paul did) that their family member was the messiah, we don’t know. Regardless, Paul was better at it. And, when Paul turned away from the Jews (who’d rejected him and his version of Jesus) and took his version out to the Gentiles, he did it knowing he now had free rein to make “Jesus” into anything he wanted “Jesus” to be. None of the Greeks or Romans living in the far flung communities of Asia Minor to whom Paul wrote his letters and epistles were familiar with any of the Jewish mythology Paul was altering to make his version of Jesus fit into the larger accumulated Jewish messiah myths.

To appreciate Paul (and I think the guy was an absolute genius!), you have to see the world he was marketing his ideas to. He was, mostly, converting polytheists to monotheism (well, a kind of monotheism). Polytheist gods weren’t divine the way Yahweh (the Hebrews’ God — the one we now call “God”) was. And polytheistic gods weren’t really concerned with humans in any significant way. They certainly didn’t see humans as their creation the way Yahweh did. That was the first major disruptive change: Yahweh was a god who cared about humans because he personally created us.

Paul took that spiritual innovation and improved upon it. By the time Paul was done reimagining the Jewish mythology, he had this construct. All human beings are sinful because of Eve’s original sin in Eden. The only redemption available to sinning humans is via Jesus, who died in order to redeem humanity’s sins. And — bonus points (the point of the whole exercise in fact) — if the believer is willing to believe in Jesus and his story exactly the way the church teaches (to the letter!) then that believer can, like Jesus, conquer death.

That, in a nutshell, is Christianity’s sales pitch: believe in it and beat death. You can’t take away from its genius because we’re still talking about it.

Now, once you get into the actual tick tock of Jesus’s story (as cobbled together by the early church fathers from various third, fourth and fifth-hand accounts), you bump into myriad contradictions and fractured logic. Just for starters, if the whole point of Jesus is to redeem humanity via his death, then Jesus NOT dying would be a problem for Christianity. Does Paul have the same vision on the road to Damascus if Jesus dies in his bed, an old man surrounded by his loved ones (including wife and many children)? What’s his basis for Jesus’s messiah-hood then?

For the story/mythology logic to work, Jesus must die. Well, if that’s the case, then Judas’ betrayal is as essential to eternal life as Jesus’s dying. No betrayal, no crucifixion. No crucifixion, no Christianity. I won’t even bother with all the factual problems Paul’s (and the early Church’s) version of events presents. But then, Paul didn’t care about historical accuracy. In fact, historical accuracy was Paul’s enemy.

As it was the enemy of the church Paul’s letters and epistles was forming.

“Do unto others” is a simple teaching with profound implications. That did not interest Paul. In his defense, new religions need new rules. If new rules are going to stick (or be held out as divine), they have to carry weight. Ritual is essential to religion (as it is to most things humans do). But, the moment ritual becomes dogmatic, it starts to service itself and not the person performing the ritual. “Do unto others” becomes “Do what we say — or else!” Those aren’t the same messages.

“Jews killed Jesus” is, top to bottom, no true. Paul spreading it — knowing it wasn’t true — made it a lie. It has always been thus. The entire history of European anti-Semitism is based on this lie. The Holocaust was that lie’s biggest, ugliest, cruelest, most successful iteration.

So, lying on a cultural level is nothing new to us. Hey, “War On Christmas” anyone? “All men are created equal” is a bit of a lie if you consider that the men who wrote and stood by it didn’t mean “all men” though they did mean “only men”. Our news media is a product of white hegemony culture. That’s what pays the bills and their salaries. So, it’s hardly surprising that they frame everything from an embarrassingly white perspective. But, part of that bad framing insists that bad actors are good actors and criminals acting for political purposes are no different from the victims of their criminal behavior; a vote suppressor and the voter being suppressed “both do it” by this thinking.

That is a stinking lie.

Living a lie is exhausting. Living the GOP’s lie is potentially lethal to the republic. We The People need to call this lie out for every bit of the lie that it is. For the majority of Americans, the Truth will absolutely set us free. That same Truth will put a whole lot of Republicans behind bars forever.

In The TV Ad Wars, Progressive’s “Flo” Kicks “Doug” (And His Emu’s) Butt – Fight Me!

If you’re a regular consumer of cable TV news, you’re also a consumer of all the ads the news channels run in a constant, mind-numbing cycle. Big Pharma and Big Insurance own the bulk of the real estate; at least, that’s how it feels inside my head. Big Pharma’s “slice-of-life” ads beg to be satirized, especially the part of each ad where — as we watch our characters living their best lives (now that they’re cured!) — a Voice O’ God narrator speed reads a list of the “cure’s worse than the disease” side effects. See how happy these formerly afflicted people are now? They wouldn’t be so happy if any of this drug’s side effects ever kicked in. While Big Pharma stokes our fear of getting sick, Big Insurance stokes our fear of every other bad thing that could ever happen to us: car accidents, natural disasters, death (especially death). Living life each day, it turns out, carries the risk that something bad or expensive could ruin all our hopes and dreams. What’s that old joke about how to make God laugh by telling “him” your plans?

Big Insurance wants to inflame every latent fear cowering in the shadows of your mind — and, like an arsonist who’s also a fire fighter, their whole deal is to step forward as the loving savior who’s got your back!

For a price, of course.

Insurance is an essential concept to our capitalistic way of life. But, talking about insurance — geez, could anything be more “middle aged” and dull? The insurance industry is run by bean counters to whom the green eyeshade look is “a look”. And their product, essential as it is, is boring. For a long time, insurance companies took an entirely “adults in the room” approach to marketing their product to the unwashed and uninsured masses. Nationwide was “on your side”, You were “In Good Hands” with Allstate. If something bad happens, “Like A Good Neighbor State Form is there”. According to the New York Times, that all changed in 1999 when the Martin Agency created the Geico Gecko “to both reinforce Geico’s name and help the public figure out how to pronounce it”. The Gecko clicked however. He was funny and strangely human. An audience that didn’t care about insurance stopped to watch the ads not because fifteen minutes would change our lives but because we wanted to know more about the guy pitching it at us (lizard though he may be).

Before too long, Progressive Insurance — who no one even knew existed — created Flo (and her team), Allstate created Mayhem, Farmer’s Insurance rolled out J. K. Simmons as Professor Burke and Liberty Mutual created the LiMu Emu and his partner/friend/wing man Doug.

What all these insurance companies did was create IP (intellectual property) — characters who, they hoped, would encompass essential elements of their “franchise” within it. When you see the character, you’ll think of that insurance company. If the character made you laugh — in a good way — you’ll not only remember the insurance company, you’ll remember them fondly. If that’s all that happens, the insurance company is already ahead. Branding is a massive undertaking. But, if you end up buying insurance too? Back up the Brinks truck.

Now, I can claim a little bit of real world expertise when it comes to marketing and creating a franchise character. I’ve written and produced TV and feature films within certain franchises. My first produced TV show script was for “Freddy’s Nightmares: The Nightmare On Elm Street TV Series”. I’ve put words into Freddy Krueger’s mouth. I’ve also written and executive produced “The Outer Limits” for Showtime. OL’s franchise is more thoughtful than Nightmare On Elm Street’s. The “Control Voice” was always the weakest franchise character among all the anthology series that ever succeeded. I mean, who is he? What is he? I wrote and executive produced that show for two whole seasons and I still don’t get that character.

I also reinvented “Tales From The Crypt’s” Crypt Keeper when I took over running Tales going into its third season on HBO. Here’s a muuuuuuuuch younger version of me in the middle of a writing session with the dude. Love-hate. Yup. That was us.

When I took over writing the Crypt Keeper, Kevin Yeagher (Kevin created the CK) had gone as far as he could with his amazing puppet (run by six puppeteers) as the Crypt Keeper sat in the same chair wearing the same burlap sack outfit cracking the same painful puns for 25 episodes. In fact, when my partner Gil Adler and I took over at TFTC, it was supposed to be the show’s final season. We were caretakers wheeling the body to the TV show graveyard. Except that’s not what happened. Gil and I reinvigorated the show, I reinvigorated the Crypt Keeper and HBO went on to order four more seasons, Universal ordered three Tales feature films, the Crypt Keeper got merchandised and co-branded with Budweiser beer (among other products) and the Crypt Keeper even got a kids’ show. Not bad for a literal “dying concern”.

The question I asked — it’s what got me hired — was “What does the Crypt Keeper do when he’s not being the Crypt Keeper?”

What does he do when he punches the clock and goes home? What are his hobbies? What does he like to eat and drink? Who are his friends? What does he think about? Giving the Crypt Keeper an interior life gave him a life. Having a life made him more viscerally real to the audience who embraced him as they hadn’t before.

That’s my operating principle. It’s the bar characters have to clear (in my mind) to be “successful”. If we measure success by durability, that some characters endure while others don’t — that’s a good enough yardstick for me. Once you create a good character however, the real hard work begins: casting. Get it right, you’ll create a magical feedback loop that continually builds upon itself and its own invention. Get it wrong and begin to plan on getting fired.

In the current TV ad environment, these characters are succeeding because of superb casting: Geico’s Gecko succeeded beyond every expectation in large part because actor Jake Wood imparts so much humanity to his character. The CGI people gave the Gecko great eyes. Jake Wood makes every emotion the CGI guys invoke play for real inside our heads. That’s way harder than it looks. Bravo, everyone involved, bravo!

Jake Wood, the voice of the Geico Gecko

Not every great character can be “filled in” with great detail. Allstate’s Mayhem — like Farmers’ Professor Burke — is a good running joke but not really a character. Dean Winters, the actor who plays Mayhem is always fun to watch and the spots are usually clever. But, does Mayhem have a family? What must a family of Mayhems be like? Uh oh… am I about to make somebody rich?

Dean Winters is Allstate’s Mayhem

Similarly, J.K. Simmons’ Professor Burke is a great comic conceit more than a character. I’m not sure this character’s inner life is crying out for further exploration; I’m not sure this character has a meaningful interior life. In order for his home life to be interesting, Professor Burke would have to be something completely different in his off hours. Like a sex addict or a serial killer.

J K Simmons is Farmers’ Professor Burke

That brings us to Flo v Doug.

It’s not a fair fight; Flo and her crew win hands down. I’m not sure if Flo’s creators — copywriter John Park and art director Steve Reepmeyer, at the Boston-based agency Arnold Worldwide — anticipated how successful their creation would be. In 2008, in that very first ad, It’s just Flo, incredibly upbeat and super helpful.

The team at Arnold got it spot on when they hired Groundling alum Stephanie Courtney. Courtney has an improv player’s ability to make every environment believable simply by how she’s “being”. How she’s “being” creates the environment for the audience. Courtney sells Flo’s hyper-realness by believing in it so utterly herself that we do too. That’s how improv works: the actor literally wills the world in their head into ours. Being a good improv player, Courtney also fills her character with inner life (to justify how the outer life should look and sound).

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Here’s the Flo character’s first appearance —

You get the feeling she really, really lives to work.

It took a while for the Flo character to move from the retail floor to the corporate offices, for her crew to arrive and become distinctive characters unto themselves (the character Jamie especially). To its credit, the creative team at Arnold didn’t quit at Flo. Each and every member of Flo’s team is a distinct character with a distinct inner life; each time we get a glimpse, it makes sense — even when it’s completely surprising as it is with the Jamie character. Improv can only flourish in a “Yes, and!” environment. If I begin a scene by asking my scene partner “Do you like my hat?” She better say something like “Why, yes — I do! And I love the tropical birds! What are their names?” That will keep the improv going whereas if she says “What? You’re not wearing a hat”, the whole thing will die right there, on the spot. Progressive has “yes, and-ed” Flo into a whole believably organic world.

Over time, Progressive would sell itself by extending Flo’s world — including Flo’s family (Courtney usually plays the whole clan herself). There’s a Thanksgiving spot that gives the concept plenty of room to run around in.

A believable inner life. That’s the key to a great franchise character.

Before we shift to Liberty Mutual’s Doug, I want to give a shout out to another great Progressive character with a deep (I’d even say “profound”) inner life — the “Motaur” — half man, half motorcycle —

Throw in the Dr. Rick character (the guy trying to teach people not to turn into their parents) and you have a whole network’s worth of great characters.

By contrast, Liberty Mutual sure does try hard. Their various spots include the “Park With A View Of The Statue Of Liberty” world (it’s like a half-baked idea generator) and the Doug-Emu teaming. Goodby Silverstein & Partners developed Doug and the LiMu Emu. Per Liberty Mutual’s own web site: “The humorous and over-the-top duo who appear on the scene to share their knowledge and help protect people from paying too much for insurance coverage. LiMu Emu and Doug bring a new twist to the classic buddy-cop duo – partners guided by the notion that it’s a crime to pay for things you don’t need – going above and beyond to ensure they do their duty.” 

Okay — a simple enough concept but… oy, if you have to work that hard to sell or explain “funny”, it means the thing you’re selling probably isn’t. It’s not that the idea of a solid blue collar guy being partnered with an emu isn’t side-splittingly hilarious… oh, wait — maybe that’s the problem. Doug and his Emu partner are amusing. They’re a single funny thought. A sketch with a solid if unremarkable guffaw in it — and that’s all. The idea simply can’t support much more than that. This isn’t a casting issue. Not at all. David Hoffman does everything he can with the character. He works wonders with very little meat on his character’s undernourished bones.

Giving Doug and Emu girlfriends was cute. Clever even. They’re awkward and awkward is funny. But even awkward needs somewhere to go. What makes an awkward scene funny is that we, the audience, wouldn’t want to be in such a scene because even just watching it is cringey-funny. In the commercial below, the series achieves something remarkable.: a moment of genuine humor that works within the concept but also points to the concept’s limitations. It occurs at the end, when Doug offers Emu some food…

The awkwardness of Doug offering Emu chicken is terrific because it’s real. It points to how inorganic all the other awkwardness is. It’s a testament to Hoffman’s acting chops that he gets a great underplayed moment from an overplayed character.

By contrast, the Progressive ads are a master class in squeezing every last drop of painful humor from awkwardness. Jim Cashman’s Jamie is a fabulous creation with a completely unexpected off-stage life. It’s the contrast between an awkward character and a secure, confident inner life that makes Jamie compelling and infinitely watchable.

Jim Cashman as Progressive’s “Jamie”

Now that that’s off my chest, I can turn back to MSNBC. Hey, look! A Big Pharma ad’s on! And I am grateful as can be that I don’t (think I) have any of the diseases those characters have. And, damn if the side effects don’t sound horrifying enough to make even the Crypt Keeper fear for the worst.

Trump Is Now Trying To Do To The Rest Of America What He Did To The GOP — Turn Us Into Him

Donald Trump is a virus in human form. That shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone.

Viruses are simple creatures — strands of RNA trying to make more of themselves. To do that, they need to invade a healthy cell — and use the cell as a kind of cheap sex hotel. The virus reproduces by turning our cells into it — and then using our cells to spew more of its Frankenstein RNA far and wide making us both sex hotel and pimp. No wonder we feel so tired when we get sick — we’re working our asses off at the cellular level. America feels similarly exhausted, doesn’t it? Like we’re fighting an actual disease in our body politic. I’m not sure where the metaphor ends or where the reality begins. Most of us thought (we hoped certainly) that Joe Biden winning the election (by seven million more popular votes no less!) would put this nightmare to bed. A strong showing by actual democracy, we assumed, would make the point strongly enough that most of the Republican Party would back snap to its senses and realize the terrible mistake they’d made climbing into bed with Trump.

That didn’t happen. It’s not going to because Donald Trump literally turned the GOP into him.

Trumpism hasn’t just replaced what we used to call “republicanism”, it’s superseded it. However… the GOP didn’t turn from gentlemen into bullies when they hitched their wagon to Trump’s. Gallant didn’t suddenly become Goofus. The Republican Party had been Goofus-ites long before they became Trumpites. Something about Trump made sense to them. They had always aspired to Trump’s level of sociopathic brashness but retail politics had always prevented them from actually trying it: what if they failed? Trumpism was a herd of elephants in a china shop. He approached retail politics the way a truck hijacker approaches a parked semi filled with high end goods.

Some quick history: in the Reagan Revolution’s dimming twilight — as Bill Clinton succeeded by demonstrating how Democrats could win elections by acting like Republicans — the Clinton-despising right wing money (they think of themselves as “Captains of Industry”!) took a good, hard look at its prospects for the future. Having turned the formerly progressive “Party of Lincoln” and Teddy Roosevelt into the Dixiecrats, the RW Money (always the “heart of darkness”) saw two things: 1) a rapidly diversifying America taking political power that had always been theirs, and 2) electoral extinction hurtling at them. The choice they faced was either share power with the rest of America (which, to them, meant having less money in their pockets cos paying more taxes), lose power entirely (a very real possibility if they ever began to share power), or seize power entirely — under false pretense — in order to hold onto power forever by shoving a state of permanent minority rule down America’s throat.

The Republican money chose option three.

By the time Donald Trump landed in their midst, the Republican Party was already deep into hijacking the judiciary — recognizing that lifetime judicial appointments were the key to stopping progress and progressive ideas dead. The RW Money wrote off controlling the House of Representatives (where they’re always running for re-election), assumed they’d always hold onto the heavily-tilted-toward-them Senate and understood that only extraordinary means (like Bush v Gore) could ever win a presidency; the popular vote being a lost cause, they focused on the Electoral College, America’s grand bargain with slavery. The federal bench — and its lifetime appointments — that was the RW Money’s chosen path forward to the fever dream of permanent minority rule.

From his first moments as Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell has been the Right Wing Money’s golden boy, walking point on hijacking the judiciary. He denied Obama not only a hearing for Merrick Garland but the chance to fill more than a hundred open federal bench slots. When the majority of Americans voted for Barack Obama, we voted for the people he’d choose to fill these slots. Apparently even winning elections doesn’t have the same consequences for Democrats as they do for Republicans. Mitch McConnell has been a beacon of white corruption his entire political career.

Ah, but even Mitch’s deep corruption wasn’t absolute corruption. To get there, the GOP needed Donald Trump.

The Republicans knew when they made Trump their nominee in 2016 that Russia owned him outright. They talked about it amongst themselves! Out loud! It was recorded! As current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy walked into a meeting of GOP leaders on June 25, 2016, he said: “There’s two people I think Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” No one in the room reacted with shock or surprise. There was nervous laughter — that’s why McCarthy reiterated how serious he was: “Swear to God!” Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan (third in line to the presidency!) asserted himself as the adult in the room. He didn’t issue orders that someone competent immediately begin investigating these accusations. He didn’t say “Geez, Kev — that’s crazy! You seem genuine. We better call the FBI since hat’s what we all swore an oath to do if something like this ever happened” Nope. Instead, Paul Ryan committed them all to keep this secret secret. “That’s how we know we’re family” is how he put a bow on it.

When asked about this conversation a year later (as far as I can tell, it was the ONLY time anyone in that room has been questioned by journalists about this conversation), Kevin McCarthy insisted he was joking. Does it sound like he’s joking on the tape — or does it sound like he “might be” joking? Washington Post reporter Adam Entous didn’t seem to think so. Kevin McCarthy got laughs in the room! Nervous laughs! But, that wasn’t Kevin McCarthy killing the room, that was Kevin KILLING OUR DEMOCRACY. Alongside Donald Trump. And Russia.

This is a story about a desperate, white mans’ political party making one last gasp Hail Mary chuck toward the distant end zone (where, they hope, permanent minority rule will catch the ball and score the winning TD). The Republicans — already corrupt — hitched their wagon to Bigger Corruption. Ah, but not just “bigger corruption”, the Biggest Corruption: TREASON.

Destroying the country is bad. Doing it in concert with countries we know want to destroy us? Badder times a kajillion.

Our dimwitted press seems utterly incapable of aggregating the very story THEY have reported. Were they capable of adding information to a story and then building new parts of the story upon new information as they report it, we would be way further down the road to resolving Trumpism than we are. This emperor’s nakedness is his corruption. It’s there. It’s a fact of life. And every single bit of it is illegal. I wonder… does our “journalist class” think that a car stolen right in front of them in broad daylight is any less stolen than a car stolen somewhere else in the dead of night? We The People didn’t normalize “Mexicans are rapists” and “pussy grabbing”, the news media did when they equated those two very real assaults on our senses and culture with the utter bullshit of “But her emails!” “That,” our press insisted, was “both sides doing it”.

Oy.

Already, Donald Trump, like a virus, was turning us into him. America’s politics have always been ugly. But, one side, by habit, has always accepted violence as a political weapon. And, going back to Watergate, one side has consistently seen skirting the law if not outright breaking it as an acceptable campaign strategy. The reason Democrats never ever feel compelled to cheat in order to win an election is because Democrats really and truly believe in governing and want to govern. They believe in the rule of law and in upholding their oath to defend the Constitution against ALL enemies foreign (and especially) domestic. One doesn’t suppress the opposition’s voters or gerrymander because one believes one’s ideas are better. Those are things one does when one has NO ideas and only power for its own sake matters.

The majority of Americans are very good people. We want our children to grow up with the brightest futures imaginable. That is, we want all of our children to grow up that way. What makes a Republican a Republican is their knee jerk disgust at the thought of using government to help ordinary Americans. Republicans see government as a giant cash machine for them and their friends.

Perversely, it will probably be the coronavirus pandemic that saved American democracy from Donald Trump. Trump’s relentless corruption dulled news media senses already dulled by “both sides do it” thinking. But even our feeble-minded press couldn’t figure out how to normalize all that death. Having to work remotely from their houses fixed a fair amount of that flippancy. Being cast out of their safe media bubble — forced to struggle with the very technology itself (rather than having “tech people” to do it) — for a little while there, it really humanized the news media. Getting their mojo (and their sets back) has had the opposite effect. They’ve stopped seeing crime committed in front of them as crime.

Plenty of Americans have been miles ahead of the news media in seeing how the dots connect in this story. We never put on a pair of reality blinders as they did. We saw Trump for the con man and criminal he is and wondered why journalists couldn’t see the same thing. That’s the call coming from inside the house again. Trump has already, to a large degree, turned the news media into him, too.

Every time the news media asks (having scratched their head over it for years) “Is Trump racist?”, that’s the press being Trumpified. Of COURSE he’s racist! Why the hell are you asking him? How the hell would Trump know if he’s racist? He has zero perspective. How about asking some of the victims of his racism (there are plenty!) if Trump’s racist; they know! Every time the news media asks “What’s the hold Trump has over the Republican Party?” they demonstrate their inability to tell this story. They’ve lost the thread completely.

Yeah, sure, Trump’s base scares them — as do the ups and downs of retail politics. They only like it when it’s fun! But the thing that scares them most about Trump and their ongoing involvement with him is how un-fun it can be when Trump’s madness is upon him and he’s looking for someone to blame. Then, all bets are off. Then it all comes down to the Trump gang’s willingness to keep that secret they all agreed to keep in June 2016 when Kevin McCarthy confirmed their wort suspicions. Trump had already set the hooks in deep.

They were Trumpified.

America won’t give Trump that choice. Even if he just outright takes it and forces America’s hand even further, Americans won’t give in to fascism the way Germans did. American diversity will stand in fascism’s way. There won’t be nearly enough manpower to contain all the woke opposition the Trumpublicans will encounter. And that is where it will end. The Republican Party — now entirely Trumpist — will crash and burn when treason finally gets slapped onto the table and we begin to prosecute it.

The rest of us will have to worry about whether there’s enough popcorn for the show.

“TRUMPOCALYPSE: THE MINISERIES” Casting Office

U.S. Vice-President Biden smiles as he speaks with Croatian PM Milanovic in Zagreb

Back at the early days of the Trump madness — in the middle of his term — back when we thought our world had gone pretty much as bonkers as it could get, I wrote a post called “Trumpocalypse: The Movie”.  I smile now at my charming naivete — to think that the Trump madness could be contained within one measly feature film.  Re-thinkiing “Trumpocalypse” as a mini-series also threatens to be too small a vehicle to contain the “Trumpocalypse” story  but the thing about a mini series is it has an end point.  After the last episode, it’s done.  If we do this right, there should be no more — no sequels, no spin offs, nothing.  Whereas, if we made “Trumpocalypse” an on-going series with no end date in sight… You see what I mean?  We NEED this show to be finite because this can’t be our only show.  There’s great stuff – important stuff — on other channels that we need to get to and quickly.

Not only has the “Trumpocalypse” mini series got way more storylines in it, it’s got way more characters.  How do we organize our casting process so that, when we get to “the day”, we have not only a great cast but a great cast that will complement each other?  

I’d like to start by casting first the Trump family.  Then those immediately around it — the “inner circle” if you will.  Then, I would begin to cast the mini-series — going chronologically — major story by major story.  As this is going to be an ongoing project that’s changing on the fly, I’ve no doubt some stories will demand to be cast in the right here, right now.  Hey — welcome to life in a casting office!  Things change all the time.  Actors drop out and new characters and whole storylines suddenly get added.  If ya can’t stand the heat…

So, without any further ado, please welcome to our Casting Office! You’ll see where I’ve left the casting door open for everyone else to bring their suggestions and their casting notes…

CHARACTER

DONALD J. TRUMP

ALEC BALDWIN as Trump…

NOTES: Baldwin’s is probably the most familiar Trump. It’s an excellent caricature. And, considering that Trump IS a caricature of a human. playing Trump as a caricature makes a certain kind of sense. I wonder if there’s not a way to “multiple-cast” Trump since he worked in so many different ways on our psyche. Just a thought for later discussion…

BRENDAN GLEASON as Trump…

NOTES: Gleeson played Trump in “The Comey Rule” on Showtime.

WOODY HARRELSON as Trump

NOTES: I’ve always liked Woody Harrelson’s “interior” range. It’s amazing and we’re going to need an actor with incredible emotional range to play a character with VIRTUALLY NONE.  It’s like getting an actor to sing off key.  The ones who can actually sing will automatically do it better.  They even know where off-key is.

IVANKA TRUMP

SCARLET JOHANSSON as Ivanka Trump

NOTES: There’s a kind of irony in an actress great at playing Black Widow to play the part of a woman who acts like an actual black widow spider.

AMANDA SEYFRIED as Ivanka

NOTES: Some things just seem so natural…

DONALD TRUMP, JR

MIKEY DAY as Donald Trump, Jr

NOTES: Presently, the actor who’s gotten closest to nailing Don Jr’s unctuousness is an actor satirizing him. That’s probably not a coincidence. Still — we need some competition here. I’ll put my mind to it if you will…

ERIC TRUMP

Alex Moffat as Eric Trump

NOTES: As with Mikey Day’s Junior, SNL’s version of Eric — and I love Alex Moffat’s Eric — stands for the moment as “the” Eric. Competition’s good for everyone — Trump’s included.

MELANIA TRUMP

CASTING OPEN!

Awaiting Picture, so here’s the real Melania — in the one photo I can find of her smiling like she means it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Melania’s smiling this way at Putin. Not cos Melania respects international relationships but because she worked the whole damned time as Donald’s handler on Vlad’s behalf. Hey, how do you say “I don’t care, do you?” in Russian?

VLADIMIR PUTIN

MADS MIKKELSON as Vladimir Putin

NOTES: Mads played the Bond Villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. By all accounts, Vlad Putin is the Bond Villain America fully deserves.

RUDY GIULIANI

KATE McKINNON as Rudy Giuliani

NOTES: Personally, I’m not sure a human can play the entirely humanoid Rudy but my mind’s open. Kate McKinnon can do anything. I bet she could do a fully deep dive into Rudy and actually pull off an amazing, lifelike (without being cartoonish) characterization. But still — for the moment, the part’s wide open.

MORE CHARACTERS TO COME!!!!!

The Republican Party Is What Happens When Bad Ideas And Thinking Metastasize

The reason Republicans have to rely on gerrymandering, voter suppression and terrible legislation to win elections is because nobody except them will vote for their ideas. To be clear, the only problem Republicans see looming in America’s future is diversity and the loss of political power that diversity will cost them. They see a loss of political power as a “cost” rather than as what must happen if America is ever going to live up to its full E Pluribus Unum potential as the greatest experiment ever in human self government. The fact is, conservative America doesn’t want America to live up to that potential. They want “All men are created equal” to mean what it meant to the country’s white, Christian, land-owning founders — just them and only them. That is originalism. A very bad idea (because it’s bullshit). Originalism isn’t the idea itself, originalism is the bad idea’s manifestation out here in reality. The idea is a toxic cocktail of racism, bigotry, misogyny, magical thinking and outright bullying. Want to know what happens to someone who swallows this idea?

Look around. You can practically smell the cancer.

This awful idea — that America is some white peoples’ homeland (aside from the Native American population white peoples’ pathogens obliterated) — flies in the face of reality. Europe is white, Christian America’s homeland. And, while the organizing principles that knitted themselves into our Constitution flowed from the French Enlightenment, some of those principles also flowed from pure, unadulterated greed. The entire southern economy was built on stolen labor — slavery. That is what slavery is ultimately, stolen labor. A slaver wants a slave to work for zero pay. Sure, the slaver will have to feed, clothe and house the slave, but (the fact that slavery thrived in America proves the point), those costs must have been negligible compared to the profit one could make off the actual slaves themselves.

To this day, people will argue — thinking it’s a good argument — that, without slavery, the south could never have had an economy and thus neither could Early America. First, that means America can only happen with slavery in the picture. Bullshit. Most of Europe got rid of slavery and built their economies just fine without it. They may have enslaved the lower classes indirectly and in a thousand other ways, but, at least they quit buying and selling humans in public. Republicans don’t want Americans learning Critical Race Theory because, being conservatives, they want America to live in the past but they don’t want America to examine the past (because then they wouldn’t want to live in it). If conservatives really believed that getting all Americans to live in the past was a good thing, they’d package it that way.

Conservatives are very good at packaging things. Being cynical, they understand how to direct message. The world is black and (especially) white to them. Whatever they feel matters more than any fact ever could. Therefore, the Truth is whatever they say It is. If, they say “Mission Accomplished” then whatever the mission is, as far as the Republicans are concerned, that mission is as “accomplished” as it’s ever going to be. Of course, the mission wasn’t accomplished. We should never have invaded Iraq — another awful idea. We should never have changed our objectives on the fly in Afghanistan.

Bad ideas flow from Republicans like pus from a wound. Trickle down economics? Bad idea. Tax cuts for the wealthy? Bad idea. Refusal to admit climate change is real and it’s being sped up by human activity? Bad idea. Making church and state the same thing? Bad idea. Poll taxes? Bad idea. Separate But Equal? Bad idea. Slavery itself? Horrible idea! Segregation? Bad idea. Refusing women the vote? Bad idea. Citizens Unlimited? Bad idea. Making Donald Trump their 2016 nominee despite knowing Russia owned him (as GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy himself put it: “There’s two people I think Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!”) Bad idea. Obstructing justice on Trump’s behalf? Bad idea. Taking part in the January 6 insurrection? Bad idea.

I could go on… and on… and on.

As the Reagan years waned, the Right Wing Money saw diversity’s handwriting on the wall of America’s future. That terrified them because it meant that after 200 years of bamboozling the rest of America into believing that “All men are created equal” referred only to them, the rest of America was done with being bamboozled. America has always been a great idea poorly executed because white people selfishly held America back. Fortunately, that bad idea has run its course.

The only real idea conservatives and Republicans have in their heads is permanent minority rule. That would be originalism’s natural, organic conclusion: the “originals” get to run America forever just because they say so. Talk about a crap idea! That is what has been metastasizing all along in real time. Unable to get the Constitution itself to go along with their bullying, Republicans in Texas devised a way for ordinary citizens to do the hard work of keeping women in their place. Republicans in the rest of America have already seized on this cancerous idea and begun to metastasize it even further. They want to make this cancer even more cancerous still.

What makes this idea even worse — from the conservative perspective — is that the short term gains (putting women in their place) will be superseded by electoral oblivion when those same women show up en masse to vote out every Republican they can. It is a very bad idea to take away anyone’s rights; they’re not going to take it well — or take it PERIOD. The Republicans probably expect to slowly squeeze the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness out of America but they’re going to be shocked by what America does.

In all the places where authoritarianism and fascism succeeded, it did so in homogenous environments like Germany where everyone (fascists and non fascists) were German. Their families were German (or proto-German) for a millennium at least. Their whole culture was homogenous. Same goes for any place where authoritarian power ruthlessly asserted itself: it’s always done so in a relatively homogenous culture. That’s not the case in America. For the first time ever in human history, a nation has been slowly building itself using other nations to supply the people. That’s the whole point of America and the American dream: anyone from anywhere can come here and — provided they’re willing to put in the sweat equity — reinvent themselves and their futures. In America, the past is NOT prologue.

The world has flocked to America — bringing its great ideas with it. America is what happens when great ideas flourish. But, our present is what happens when a bad idea — permanent minority rule — tries to bully a good one: diversity. The best way to deal with a cancer is to either radiate it out of existence or excise it outright as soon as possible. That is exactly what America must do.

Because it’s a really good idea.

Of Republicans And Rabbit Holes

How does one answer the question “And when did you stop beating your wife?”? There is no good way,. That’s the point. Same goes for “When did you stop loving me?” or “Why don’t you respect the flag?” These aren’t legitimate questions. They’re a passive-aggressive set up meant to put the person being asked the question at the event horizon of a rabbit hole. On one side of that horizon — wide open space in the form of logic and reason. On the other — a chaotic, blazingly bonkers, Wonderland-style black hole that sucks every bit of reason from any argument (before you can even argue it) and compresses this concentrated nonsense down into a singularity of such incredibly dense illogic that no kind of enlightenment or rationale can penetrate it whatsoever. This is true darkness. Logic as a null set. And every Republican’s intention is to suck, draw or push the rest of us into and down that very rabbit hole.

When Mitch McConnell — the long time chief engineer of all Republican rabbit hole construction — told Barack Obama (the democratically elected president) that, despite the fact that the MAJORITY of Americans voted for him and therefore for the his judicial nominees that he couldn’t fill Scalia’s vacant SCOTUS seat, he not only put Obama at the precipice of a rabbit hole, he put America at the precipice of one. What McConnell was doing — denying American voters the benefits of winning elections.– is an enormous rabbit hole. Mind you, if the Democrats attempted such a thing (which they wouldn’t; Democrats simply do not think this way), every single Republican’s head would explode. No part of the Republican argument makes the least bit of sense. But then, no one really expects it to — that’s a whole other rabbit hole that the first rabbit hole (voting rights) lives inside of. No one expects Republicans to EVER make sense.

For all their insistence that “both sides do it”, our news media do not hold “both sides equally culpable”. For some reason, the guilt always gets hangs around Democratic necks. That’s probably because the Republicans, not wanting EVER to take an ounce of responsibility for their actions (cos why would “the party of personal responsibility” do that?”), have split the scene before responsibility could be accurately assessed. Joe Biden did not put us into Afghanistan on an endless mission. His administration didn’t pre-negotiate this surrender with the Taliban, Donald Trump’s administration did that. Biden didn’t lock his team out of the transition process — where they might have learned how Team Trump was setting them up for failure. Team Trump did that.

Afghanistan itself is the rabbit hole where empires go to plunge helplessly to their demise. To report the story without all its context is to mis-report it. And yet, mis-report it our news media does — even knowing what they know because, one of the constants about Republican rabbit holes is that facts never get aggregated or integrated into the general knowledge base. Think about it — how long, how many lies, did it take for our news media to finally admit and accept that Trump was more likely to lie to them than tell them the truth?

The first official lie Trump told them was “Mexicans are rapists” and, to this day, the news media has more or less accepted that candidates for the office of president can say — and get away with saying — such things. That, right there, is another rabbit hole. Right beside it is one marked “pussy grabbing”. And beside it, another marked “But her emails”.

That Republicans keep shoving us down their rabbit holes is understandable. It’s the only way they can win election any more since no one but them wants to live in the racist, misogynist, ignorance-embracing shithole that they dream of turning America back into. That the news media insists that Republicans are honest actors seeking to undermine our democratic principles as a matter of “political choice” is flat out offensive. The GOP’s moves to undermine and alter the results of elections 2016 and 2020 were not and are not political acts at all. They’re entirely CRIMINAL — though being done for political reasons.

When Democrats respond to these criminal actions, they are not acting politically either. They are citizens responding to criminal acts being perpetrated against them (albeit criminal acts being carried out for political purposes). When the news media insists regardless that it’s political (since politic are what’s motivating the Republicans), we get this wonky, stilted, wholly inaccurate view of the playing field.

Every last one of our problems — the climate, voting, treason, the pandemic — has been exacerbated by whatever the Republicans’ response to it has been. That’s not a coincidence. There is a method to the GOP’s madness — a point to this terrible exercise: permanent minority rule. That is what sits on the other side of the singularity all this Republican greed and corruption are drawing us toward.

If Christianity Isn’t In The “Do Unto Others” Business (It Isn’t!), What Business Is It In Exactly?

Outside of its “sales literature”, Christianity has zero use for “Do Unto Others”. Same goes for Jesus. Christianity uses Jesus the way McDonald’s uses Ronald. He’s a mascot, nothing more. The church is about as worried whether their actions would meet Jesus’s approval as McDonald’s is worried about Ronald’s. As the McDonald’s Corporation would remind you: Ronald is just a clown. The institutional church feels pretty much the same way about Jesus. “Do unto others” is just another part of the “Christianity Brand”. To its credit, the early Christian Church realized early on how important branding would be in building their new institution. Hey — they seem to have understood that “branding” was a thing to begin with. What’s the symbol for literally every church — for the Christian religion itself? A cross. Remember — prior to being taken over by the Christian church as the symbol representing itself, crosses were the Roman equivalent of an electric chair or a gas chamber or a guillotine. If the Romans had invented the guillotine before the French did (the idea for the device was proposed in 1788 by French physician and politician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin), Christians would all be walking around today with little guillotines around their necks.

Hmmmm… Christianity isn’t really worried about the guy ON the cross (crosses can have him or not have him — they mean the same thing; Jesus is an adornment on a cross)… that must mean that Christianity cares more about the cross itself. The Romans crucified people because the shape of the cross causes a person nailed to it to slowly, painfully, agonizingly asphyxiate — usually over several days. If they had found a circle or a square caused an equally painful kind of death? They probably would have used that instead. The point isn’t even the cross. It’s what the cross causes that Christianity is really messaging: death.

The first message (never mind the “first cause”) is “Jesus died”. Not “Jesus taught ‘Do unto others’,” Jesus died. That was the essential thing about Jesus to Paul The Apostle as he went about inventing Christianity. That’s a stone cold fact: Jesus had zero to do with the invention of Christianity. Paul had EVERYTHING to do with it. One could remove Jesus and every one of his teachings from everything most Christian churches call “Christianity” and you’d still have Christianity. That’s not a criticism. Hell — that’s Paul’s genius and Paul, most certainly, was a genius. The way we look at Paul has to be different from the way we look at Jesus because we KNOW Paul was 100% real; unlike Jesus, Paul left behind a written record of himself. The bulk of the New Testament is composed of Paul’s letters and epistles to the burgeoning Christian communities spreading across Asia Minor.

The fact that there WERE burgeoning Christian communities across Asia Minor was entirely because of Paul. Without Paul, those communities don’t exist. They never start. The idea for them — for what those communities are going to believe — originates in Paul and NOT in Jesus. Jesus — Joshua ben Joseph is how he would have thought of himself — was born, lived and died a Jew. He grew up steeped in the Jewish texts, Jewish traditions, Jewish mythologies and Jewish thinking. Key to that way of thinking is “Do unto others” or, as it’s expressed in the Mishna and Talmud, “Tikkun Olam”. It is every Jew’s obligation to make the world a better place for having been in it. One does not get a choice in the matter; it’s an unspoken commandment from God. Making the world a better place begins with treating everyone as YOU would wish to be treated aka “Do unto others”.

Jesus never thought of taking his message outside the Jewish world. Why would he? He wasn’t trying to invent Christians when he preached the Sermon On The Mount, he was trying to make Jews better Jews. Nothing Jesus did — let’s remember that the stories we have of Jesus were not even remotely eyewitness accounts; they were collated and edited and chosen as canonical by the Christian church’s early leaders who themselves were part of the invention process. Again — this is not a criticism, it’s merely an observation of the process by which Christianity came into the world. And it WAS a process that took CENTURIES to happen — and the texts they were using as part of that formative process themselves were the accumulation of as much as a MILLENNIUM of oral traditions finally written down.

After his “conversion on the road to Damascus” from Saul of Tarsus to Paul the Apostle (a thing we can assume DID happen because real person Paul wrote about it), Paul went to Jerusalem to try and sell the powerful vision in his head. The problem was, Paul — who’d never met Jesus — was trying to sell HIS version of Jesus to people (including Jesus’s FAMILY) who actually KNEW Jesus, who’d actually heard Jesus speak — who’d heard his message straight from his mouth. They rejected Paul and his version of Jesus out of hand. Their version of Jesus — the REAL JESUS (as much as we can point to a “real Jesus”) — more or less died with them. Not long afterward, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and the Jewish presence in Palestine was mostly obliterated for almost two thousand years. Scattered to the diaspora, Jewish culture turned away from a physical temple to a more intimate, rabbinic approach where questioning God’s true intent so as to decipher a meaning was the goal.

Paul meanwhile took his version of Jesus to the Gentiles. Unlike the Jews who’d rejected him, the Gentiles didn’t know Jesus and didn’t know any of the Jewish mythology Jesus knew and based his teaching on. Also, the Gentiles didn’t know any of the messiah mythology from The Book Of Daniel or The Book Of Enoch. If Paul strayed from what was written and understood, none of the Gentiles were going to call Paul on it like the Jewish community would. That liberated Paul to both adulterate and “improve upon” the original with his own focus. To Paul, it was the fact that Jesus died and, in Paul’s telling of it, rose from the dead like a zombie.

Who tells us Paul rose from the dead? Was it Jesus? NO — it’s Paul. Paul is the only reporter the church relied upon to tell us who Jesus was. Our version of Jesus is Paul’s version of Jesus; not his family’s version or even Jesus’s version of Jesus. It’s all Paul’s version. And Paul — here’s the true heart of his genius — was selling the idea that if Jesus could rise from the dead and defeat death itself (and isn’t that what scares human beings most?) then so could someone who believed in Jesus (so long as the version of Jesus you believed in was Paul’s). THAT is what Paul invented; it’s what the institutional church Paul also was inventing took as its Big Sales Tool.

“Have you heard the good news” is how they put it — and it also was genius. Prior to the Jews and their personal, monotheistic tribal god Yahweh (the god we’ve come to call “God” though, really, god is Yahweh’s job description not his name), the polytheistic gods had a very different relationship with humans. Yahweh on the other hand was personally interested in humans since he, personally, created them. Yahweh has a lot of the Canaanite god “El” in him, Yahweh’s creators having been a lesser tribe in that larger tribe’s shadow. El’s presence is still felt in various place names: “Isra-EL” for example or “Beth EL”. Yahweh creates Adam in his own image. How sad for Yahweh that Adam let him down in the end (oh, right — that was all Eve’s fault).

Paul cleverly took the “mankind’s fall from grace” idea from Genesis and made that the whole reason Jesus died — no, HAD TO DIE. The whole point of Jesus’s existence, Paul told his followers, was to die as collateral for Eve’s “original sin”. Nowhere in Judaism is such a thing demanded. But it is in Christianity because Paul (and then the early church “fathers”) put it in the faith they were mythologizing on the fly.

Think about it: if Jesus, instead of being crucified, lives out his days teaching and preaching to fellow Jews and dies in his bed, a respected old man (though maybe not by the temple and its priests), then Paul never has a revelation about Jesus dying (that Jesus’s family thinks is hogwash) and Christianity never comes to be. Or, maybe Paul does have his revelation on the road to Damascus — except it’s NOT about Jesus dying and being resurrected — it’s about Jesus’s message: “Do unto others”. Instead of founding a church outside of Judaism, Paul, instead, would have become more Jewish.

He’d have become a better Jew than he was. More devout maybe. More thoughtful about what Yahweh said was important (Yahweh being a mercurial cat to begin with).

The early church needed compliance with its emerging mythology, not more discussion about it. That’s why they created a canonical testament — a New Testament that reimagined and reinvented the Old Testament by turning it away from everything Jesus thought to everything Paul thought. And Paul, don’t forget, had been soundly rejected by his own. Paul, as we know, took being spurned badly. We have no idea whether or not Jesus was actually crucified even. We have Paul’s account of it and the accounts — the four canonical gospels — whose stories lined up just enough to seem like a coherent narrative. Again: there are no contemporaneous accounts of anything Paul or the Gospel writers describe. All we have to go by is them — and the thing they were beginning to figure out and figure out how to sell: Christianity.

Jesus taught his followers that none of them needed a Temple or its priests. They, Jesus taught, were corrupt! Anyone and everyone could speak directly to Yahweh without a “middle man”. That’s how approachable Yahweh was. So, how come there’s a church speaking for Jesus (of all people)? It’s a total contradiction of a core teaching. Same goes for all the dogma required to justify any church’s existence. Churches do not, in fact, teach anything “Jesus” because their very existence would disturb Jesus to his toes were he to actually experience a “second coming” and return.

Not only would Jesus be disgusted by the religion that rose in his name, he’d be doubly disgusted by that religion’s anti-Semitism. Jesus never had an anti-Semitic thought because he was a Semite. He would find the church’s history repellant. He would be crushed by the number of his fellow Jews who the church-with-his-name-on-it murdered in cold blood just because they were Jews. He would be especially blown away by how that church-with-his-name-on-it turned “Do unto others” into “Do what we say”. There may not be a bigger contradiction in the whole history of contradictions.

But, that’s exactly what Christianity’s selling. In their defense, they are selling rubbish and magical thinking — that requires a lot of hard work especially in a world that replaced theology as the Queen of Sciences with actual science. Had Paul chosen to try and sell real Jesus, he probably would have failed. His version captivated the Gentile world. In time, Paul’s genius became the state religion of Europe. Think that’s what Jesus had in mind as he preached the Sermon On The Mount?

The Reason Big Business Will Absolutely “Quit” The GOP Is The Same Reason Bill O’Reilly No Longer Works At Fox News

Hey, remember Bill O’Reilly? Bill sure wishes most of us did remember him. But, for most of America, O’Reilly sits in the “Whatever happened to?” heap and not anywhere near the top. The reason most people don’t even think about O’Reilly any more as a “choice” in the news-entertainment marketplace is exactly the same reason that all America’s Big Businesses are now turning their backs on the Republican Party over the violently anti-democratic voting laws its members have drawn up all over the country, starting with Georgia. In a consumer-driven, free market economy — that, itself, relies on a stable, genuinely democratic political environment to cash flow it — anything that causes those consumers to stop consuming products & services is bad for business. If those causes are potentially long-lasting (more to the point, if the EFFECTS those causes cause are likely long-lasting), it’s entirely in Big Businesses long term interests either to remove or mitigate those causes as quickly (and cheaply) as possible. But, Big Business also knows it has a secondary problem to contend with: branding and co-branding. Just as Fox News saw clearly that continuing to co-brand with Bill O’Reilly had to end, so, too, will America’s Big Businesses see that they can no longer “co-brand” with the GOP.

O’Reilly, remember, had a history of sexually intimidating female co-workers (though the word in his mind was probably “seducing”). This happened. And, famously, this. This did, too.

Meanwhile, a paradigm that had actually shifted years before was finally recognized by America’s Big Businesses — at least the ones who advertised on Bill O’Reilly’s top-rated Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor”. As Time pointed out on April 6, 2017, ” …companies that advertise on The O’Reilly Factor have seen intense pressure on social media to stop running ads on the show. Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai were the first companies to pull their spots…”. Seeing the positive response those two big companies got, more of O’Reilly’s sponsors, their “integrity” having been fluffed, either pulled their ads from O’Reilly’s shows or (in the case of My Pillow, thought about it). Consider for a moment, what this really meant.

This was not one decision made in one boardroom that changed things, it was one decision being made in MULTIPLE boardrooms that changed things — because it all flowed from the same key data point: the majority of buying decisions in American households (especially the larger buying decisions) were being made by WOMEN. Appeal to the women in American households and your chances of making or keeping those households as customers increased. However, lose them as customers — especially over something like serial sexual harassment allegations — and you’d probably lose them forever. All those boardrooms saw it clearly: they could not advertise on any show having anything to do with Bill O’Reilly a moment longer. They transmitted that new paradigm to the 21st Century Fox Board (they oversee Fox News among other things). The 21st Century Fox Board did the only thing they could do as responsible stewards of their corporate entity: they canned Bill O’Reilly’s ass despite the fact that he was their main cash cow.

That’s freakin’ tectonic! Quietly, in the background, America’s Big Businesses took care of business — yes, out of greed, but also out of greed that recognized it needed to be on the right side of history. That happens from time to time; it’s like a broken analog clock being right twice a day. While crony capitalism has made a mess and a mockery of American capitalism — a thing which Team Biden, we hope, will begin to rectify in ways large, small and permanent — actual capitalism has, out of sheer survival instinct, worked as a kind of shifting ballast. That precedent is being repeated right here, right now in Georgia. While Coca Cola, Delta and Home Depot among many others had hoped to avoid getting dragged into American politics, if you donate money to legislators who want to legislate away our democracy — from a minority position — that fact now officially binds you together in the public’s consciousness. In other words, America understands that if you donate money to a politician, we can now take it for a fact that you AGREE with what that politician is trying to do. If the politician to whom you give money actively seeks to take away a customer’s VOTING RIGHTS, then that customer — and every other customer — will assume YOU also seek to take away your customer’s voting rights. If you can live with that — go ahead. Try it on. It won’t fit how you think it will.

Big business, if it’s to endure, must think strategically — in the longest terms possible. What’s good for the next quarter or two may be toxic to every quarter beyond. Living for today at tomorrow’s expense is how businesses die. This behavior doesn’t require a soul; only a survival instinct. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky nailed this dynamic tension in his brilliant screenplay “Network” where — 25 years before it came to be — he envisioned the corrupting journey our news media would take from being respected, respectable news organizations to being entertainment companies with a little news thrown in. He saw Fox News coming from a million miles away. In Chayefsky’s Nostradoumus-like imagining, a weary news anchor named Howard Beale (who works for an imaginary 4th network called UBS — this was well before anything like Fox existed) becomes an unlikely populist icon/Jeremiah who taps into America’s latent rage; they’re all “mad as hell” and are “not going to take it anymore!” The UBS board, torn between keeping their integrity — albeit as the 4th place network and finally justifying themselves to UBS’s shareholders by making a little money for a change, choose the latter of course. But, Howard Beale is less than compliant. The silly man has begun to believe his own hype about being a “Jeremiah”. In this scene, UBS Chairman of the Board (played brilliantly by Ned Beatty) reads the riot act (and a few other acts) to Howard Bealed (Peter Finch who won an Oscar for his wonderful performance but died of a heart attack before actually winning the thing!).

It is one of the best pieces of screenwriting EVER. Fight me, if you dare…

Most of the corporations mentioned are no longer players — or even playing, some of them. They’ve been replaced by Amazon and China. But, aside from that? Almost every single word applies.

Bill O’Reilly was not accorded the kindness of such a “sit-down” with Rupert Murdoch. That’s how far gone, O’Reilly was. America’s Big Businesses have officially put the Republican Party on notice.

The GOP now finds itself sitting in the chair Howard Beale sat in while Ned Beatty rails at them. Remember what happens to Howard Beale in the movie? Spoiler Alert: it’s the very same thing that’s going to happen to the GOP. No one will mourn them. Hell, no one will even bother to make the funeral.

The world will be too busy trying to make a buck.