Thursday, June 1, 2017

Potomac Dream

I've dreamed of the future since elementary school. For the record, it's a useless talent. When your days tend to blur together, dreaming of the future normally amounts to a faint sense of déjà vu when real life catches up to the dream. (This is not uncommon.)

Dreams are fleeting things, experiences that fade in the light of the morning sun. But a recent dream rather seared itself onto my consciousness.

I sat next to a bridge in Washington, D.C. on the edge of the Potomac. The ground was green with grass. A podium was set up with the river behind it, early in the morning. It's Inauguration Day.

I sat in the second row of a children's choir. I was full-grown so I have no idea why. Richard Nixon was sitting next to me. I knew it was 2017 and Nixon looked as old as he would have been if he'd lived this long.

The Rock got up to speak, and went on a rant about the evils of Obamacare. (Is Dwayne Johnson a conservative? Has he spoken on the ACA? I have no idea.) I saw Paul Ryan standing in the background. His eyes were a pure black, save for yellow pinprick pupils.

The Rock finished speaking and Nixon stood up to accept the Presidency. He turned to me then, and shook his head before he walked to the podium. He spoke for a bit, stated that he was resigning effective immediately, and walked away. Then I woke up filled with a certainty that Donald Trump would not finish out his term.

I'm not a skilled oneiromancer and, let's face it, this is all probably conjecture based on a bad Chipotle dinner. But this was a couple months before the Rock started joking about politics, and I don't trust Paul Ryan one bit. There's some new bit of nastiness coming from that man, mark my words.

But the main thing is it was a hopeful dream, in its way, and hope is a precious thing. Maybe it'll amount of nothing. But maybe, just this once, the tide will end up sweeping the big monster away before it can do too much damage.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

On The Firing of James Comey

Current mood: Makoto Niijima

I didn't plan to resurrect this blog for a political post, but I need a place to go over the last 48 hours in long form so I can get all the madness straight in my head.

Yesterday President Trump started his day by demanding Congress ask Sally Yates, under oath, how classified information was leaked to the press after she discussed it with White House counsel (sic). He did this with both his personal and official POTUS Twitter accounts, after reported attempts by his staff to pressure the Senate to cancel her appearance before a judiciary subcommittee. Trump’s tweets alone could be considered tampering with a federal witness testifying against him.

Sally Yates did testify and confirmed that she warned the Trump administration that Michael Flynn, who was Trump’s national security adviser, was lying to them about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador and that he could be vulnerable to blackmail by the Russian government. In short, he was compromised.

A report by NBC News the same day revealed that President Obama had also personally warned Donald Trump not to hire Michael Flynn. President Obama had previously fired Flynn from his post as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Former DNI James Clapper also testified before the Senate on Monday, and stated he was unaware of the FBI’a investigation into contacts between Donald Trump and the Russian government during the 2016 election. His prior statement that there was no evidence of collusion between Trump and the Russian government was rendered invalid. Despite that, President Trump repeatedly asserted Monday that Clapper testified again that there was no evidence of collusion. This was a lie.

Republicans on the subcommittee did not concern themselves with the fact that the Trump administration was directly warned that Flynn was compromised and refused to fire him for two weeks, and only after this fact was revealed to the press. Instead they questioned Ms. Yates on the leaks that led to Michael Flynn being fired, and her refusal to defend Trump’s travel ban as acting Attorney General, for which she was removed from her post. Ms. Yates acquitted herself well.

That was Monday. Today, Tuesday, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was in charge of the Trump-Russia investigation.

He did so on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had previously recused himself from the Trump-Russia investigation because of his own ties to the Trump campaign and conversations with the Russian Ambassador. Today he recommended firing the man leading the Trump-Russia investigation, an act that has almost no precedent in American history. (The last FBI director to be fired was fired for multiple ethics violations, and was the first FBI Director to be fired in U.S. history.)

President Trump claims Comey was fired* because of his aggressive handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails, an action he previously claimed was being "soft" on Clinton and which he had previously praised Comey for.

What it actually looks like is that President Trump, after attempting to quash Ms. Yates’s testimony, is firing Director Comey to replace him with a surrogate who will end the Trump-Russia investigation. This amid breaking reports that grand jury subpoenas have been issued regarding Michael Flynn's business records, and with Director Comey scheduled to testify in a closed session of Congress on Thursday.

This sort of thing has happened before.

Trump's actions today are a blatantly impeachable offense, the latest in a long list of offenses against decency, honesty, and reason by the Trump administration. This is an unacceptable abuse of the President’s power, and it must end.

I will be calling my Senators and my Congressman tomorrow morning to request the following:

1. That they demand an independent commission to investigate President Trump's ties to Russia.

2. That they refuse to confirm any nominee to replace Director Comey who will not pledge to recuse themselves from the Trump-Russia investigation and appoint an independent investigator to complete it.

3. That they demand the immediate resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions for violating his recusal and interfering with the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign.

4. That they draw up articles of impeachment against President Trump for interfering in an ongoing investigation into his own campaign.

I strongly encourage all those reading this to do the same, and to continue to pressure Congress to act until we no longer have an Administration that abuses its power at every turn for its own benefit. As much as this was ever a question of party, President Trump has pushed us beyond that point today. He must be held to account.

This is going to get worse before it gets better. But we have to keep working to make sure that it does get better.

One day, if we don't weaken.

*Fox News reports Comey resigned, which he obviously did not. Thank you Fox News.

Monday, January 2, 2017

GOP Pigs At The Trough

Tonight Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R, VA) introduced an amendment to the House rules package that moves the Office of Congressional Ethics under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee. That means:

1. The Office of Congressional Ethics, now the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, is no longer a bipartisan, independent office. It is under GOP control.

2. The Office can no longer investigate anonymous tips against lawmakers.

3. The Office can no longer disclose any of its findings to the public or other government entities.

The Republican conference passed the amendment 119 to 74. It will be voted on by the full House tomorrow as part of the Rules package. It will pass.

It's not even the first day of this Congress, Trump is not even in office, and the GOP are already acting like pigs at a trough. If you agree this is a problem, give Rep. Goodlatte a call at (202) 225-5431, and maybe call Speaker Ryan at (202) 225-3031 and your own Representative, and let them know how you feel.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Insanity of Donald Trump's 500 Businesses

I read some horrifying information today about just how bad Donald Trump's conflicts of interest are. You're welcome to take a look yourself: here's a Twitter thread on Trump's business organization, and here's a Newsweek article on his conflicts of interest.

To sum up:

Donald Trump does not run a company. Donald Trump runs about 500 companies, all set up as either sole proprietorships or closely held partnerships. This means that all of them go on his personal tax return, not a business tax return. This lets him take advantage of massive tax breaks, and explains why his son claims his tax return runs to 10,000 pages.

Additionally, most of those businesses carry massive loads of debt from different banks. So he cannot afford to disentangle himself from his businesses. Even if the banks allowed him to sell, he can't afford the tax payments that would result. So no matter what he says, Donald Trump will never be able to divest himself of his businesses, and the conflicts of interest involved will remain a problem.

To date, those conflicts include:

Being $364M in debt to Deutsche Bank, which is currently fighting a $14B settlement being leveraged by the Justice Department for securities fraud in 2008.

Trump Tower, currently being built in the Philippines, which the Trump children stand to make millions of dollars from during Trump's presidency. That assumes the good graces of Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, who has since rising to power massacred 4,500 Filipinos using vigilante death squads.

A Trump complex in Turkey, which was built in partnership with the local Dogan group and is providing Trump's children with, again, millions of dollars. President Erdogan of Turkey recently detained a senior executive of the group, sending its stock price plummeting, and has since Trump's election strenuously called for the extradition from the U.S. of Fethullah Gülen, a 77-year-old Muslim spiritual leader who has lived in Pennsylvania’s Poconos region for many years and was accused by Erdogan of inspiring the recent Turkish coup attempt. It's hard not to imagine a quid pro quo arrangement to trade Gülen for the Dogan group's welfare. In other words, blackmail of a U.S. President.

Roll on 2017. Either Congress impeaches Trump on his first day in office or we're all fucked.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Five Writing Lessons From Suicide Squad

The wife and I went and saw Suicide Squad over the weekend. We didn't expect it to be a good movie, but we laughed all the way through Batman vs. Superman, so why not? And coming out of the theater we agreed that Suicide Squad was probably better in the sense that we weren't immediately mocking everything about it, so that's something. And it's a good movie if you enjoy looking at Cara Delevingne. Because holy shit, there's a lot of Cara Delevingne to look at in this movie. I mean distracting amounts of Cara Delevingne. Did anyone tell her Enchantress wears a literal robe and wizard hat in the comics?

She wears WHAT?!
But never mind all that! Some things could have been done better, and my writer's mind has seized them in its rusty vice. And some things about the movie, actually did get done remarkable well. So let's have a look, shall we?

1. You Really Need To Watch Your Tone

Not swearing - go ahead and fucking swear if you want, you fuck. I'm talking about the overall feel of your work, or your voice if you like. It's important for a single book to have a consistent tone throughout, or to have a tone that evolves in a natural progression from beginning to end. What you don't want is to ping-pong between like four different tones.

Suicide Squad ping-pongs between like four different tones. It opens in Gauntanamo Bay, Louisiana, then jumps to a bunch of flashbacks that go tense-political/standard-supervillainics/politics-again/WTF-Harley/more-politics/horror-movie/back-to-politics, and that's just like the first ten minutes! The soundtrack doesn't help because none of the songs stay on for any length of time - I'm not sure there even was a score, it was so lost in the rest.

If the movie had maintained a consistent tone (preferably not the darkest one), it could have been a hell of a lot better. So take a look at what you're writing/creating and make sure you're not bouncing around like Harley on a surprise meth injection.

2. Don't Spare The Knife

Task Force X, the titular Suicide Squad, is a gang of criminals that get picked to do dirty jobs for the U.S. Government in return for reduced prison sentences. That's it. It's the Dirty Dozen with supervillains, something even the director acknowledges. And one of the traditions for that particular trope is that a fair portion of the people picked for the "Suicide Squad" are going to, um, die.

Unfortunately, probably because of sequel concerns, only one member of the Suicide Squad actually dies in the film. (Well, two if you count Enchantress, but she's the main villain and that's a whole different problem with superhero movies.)* It's a pretty decent death, done well, but it's kind of ridiculous how low the body count ends up being given the threat the Squad is facing. A few more Z-list villains getting offed might have made the threat more credible. (How do you get time for more villains? See point 3.)

*Yes, three if you count Slipknot. But who cares about Slipknot?

You have to be willing to kill your characters when the situation is so bad that nobody dying is absurd. Also...

3. Kill Your Grinning Evil Darlings

For all the hype Jared Leto's Joker got he doesn't actually do a hell of a lot in the film. His only real contribution is to abduct Harley Quinn from the Squad briefly, but she ends up right back with the damn team anyway after his chopper gets shot down! Basically the Joker moves Harley from roof level to ground level. That's it.

Joker could have been left as a flashback character to tease an appearance in a later Batman film. Hell, let him have the stinger too. The rest of the time he used up would have been much better used to flesh out the Squad, patch a few plot holes, or just introduce a couple more warm supervillain bodies to off in creative ways. Instead we got Jared Leto being vaguely creepy, and a few thousand horror stories about working with him that will dog his career for the next decade.

Don't leave a character or a scene in the story that isn't necessary. Cut cut cut!

4. Shoot The Damn Guard

You've heard that a gun placed on the mantel in Act One needs to go off by the end of Act Three, right? Well Suicide Squad loves putting guns on mantels, but it doesn't actually fire too many of them off by the end of the movie. The excepion is the neck bomb implants, which get fired off almost immediately. (Because nobody cares about Slipknot.)

A prime example is the abusive asshole Guantanamo guard early in the movie. Deadshot tells him flat out he's going to kill him. The rest of the Squad has reason to hate him. And then the Joker turns up and makes this guard his new best friend to try and spring Harley Quinn. (After killing the last guy who was his new best friend.) Yet somehow the movie forgets about this guard for the second and third act, and he remains alive by film's end. What the actual hell? Did Mindy Kaling pull some strings? (I did not recognize Ike Barinholtz from the Mindy Project but the guard is totally him.)

Do not set up a character to be obviously killed off and then fail to do it. Pick your guns off the mantel and pull the trigger.

5. Don't Let Your Heroes Let Your Villains Win

In a lot of ways Suicide Squad is a disjointed mess of a plot, but I will give the movie credit in how it treats Enchantress, the main villainess. She's being forced to work for Amanda Waller under threat of death, but manages to escape briefly by playing on her minder Rick Flagg's emotions. She can't reclaim her captive heart, but she frees her brother, who immediately begins a killing spree. Waller sends Flagg and Enchantress in to deal with it, but Enchantress bails and gets her brother to protect her from Waller. She then immediately starts working a plan to end the entire planet.

At no point in all this do the villains, er "heroes", get an obvious chance to stop her that they screw up. Even Rick Flagg only knows she's done something, not what, and it goes bad so fast that there's no time to figure it out. Enchantress pretty much executes her plan perfectly from start to finish, and it's only because she doesn't know what the Squad's capable of that she loses in the end.

I've seen a lot of plots where the heroes screw up to advance the bad guy's plot. It's refreshing when the villain actually is just competent enough to be a major threat.

Anyway. Hope some of that was helpful, and now I'm going to tuck in. Sweet dreams...