Category Archives: Keeping track

Two Guys Walked Into a Movie Theater

One day in the spring of 2020, two men paid their money and stepped into a darkened movie theater, just as the trailers were rolling. TC sat in right-about the same spot where he always sat when he went to the movies, because it was familiar, and easy, and comforting to always know where he was going to sit without having to think too much about it. SB, after looking around carefully to see which seats were available, picked the one where he thought he’d get the best view of the screen, and the best-balanced sound…

That scene came to mind as I thought back on two recent reads. Ship of Fools, is by Tucker Carlson, who worked for CNN and MSNBC before joining the Fox network in 2009, where he is now far more opinion-entertainer than newsman, and is said to be one of the three or four most listened-to Trump whisperers. Tailspin – the People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty-year Fall, is by Stephen Brill, whom Wikipedia describes as a lawyer, journalist and entrepreneur, founder of The American Lawyer magazine and cable channel Court TV. Seeing the two volumes on the local library’s New Arrivals shelf I was struck by how similar their pitches were, both claiming to illuminate the reasons behind the present economic stagnation of middle and lower-middle class incomes, the persistence of poverty, decline of manufacturing, slow death of rural communities, tragic rates of incarceration (particularly among minorities) and frighteningly-high unemployment among high-school-educated men of all races, etc., etc. Despite the superficial similarity of focus, the books could hardly be more different, thanks to their authors’ individual approaches.

Where Brill’s writing is thoughtful, Carlson’s shouts. Where Brill cites data and quotes specific articles and documents, Carlson cites anecdotes. Where Brill criticizes both sides of the political aisle, Carlson exclusively blames ‘liberals,’ on the basis that they are no longer ‘liberal enough’ to counteract unnamed other forces (he cannot bring himself to admit those forces may claim to be ‘conservatives’) against whom they should be more effective. Nor is Carlson willing or wise enough to point out the role of corporations’ single-minded pursuit of short term profits in all this.

Both authors do note the role of ‘elites’ in all this decline, but again with differing critiques. Carlson wags the scolidng finger and derides the lack of success which so-called experts and academics have had in making things better, without offering any credible alternative.  Brill drills deeper and highlights how well-intentioned efforts to end discrimination and hereditary advantage have allowed – even driven – the brightest and most self-centered among us to work the systems and levers of commerce and government to their own advantage, thus empowering the 1% (or thereabouts, the blame is not nearly so centralized) to entrench their own wealth and power to the detriment of all other forces and factions.

Most tellingly, after each section addressing one of these maladies, and after thoroughly analyzing the problem and its origins, Brill cites at least one specific example of individuals or programs who are working with at least some degree of effectiveness, to address the issue. None of these efforts are big enough to make a ton of difference, but each of them is a signpost, suggesting what might work if applied at a larger scale. As an entrepreneur, he is well aware of the power of markets, when they are properly motivated (when there is profit to be had, that is). As an observer though, he is also wise enough to recognize that some problems (availability of health care to the poor or elderly, for example, or useful job-training for inner city and deeply-rural residents) will never motivate a pure free-market. Some issues will not be improved without communal action driven by other motives, which historically has only been mobilized at large scale through government action, or at least leadership.

Carlson makes little or no effort to suggest solutions except to demonize liberals, experts, academics and, it seems, just about everyone but bloviators, reality TV figures, radio talk show hosts and avid fans of the above.

As the current period of self-isolation tapers down, Americans (and those in other countries too) need to decide how to address its impacts. In so doing, we can treat the immediate symptoms and in the process perpetuate the problems that predate Covid 19, or we can see solutions that address both the short and the long term. It is that challenge which sent me back to thinking about these two very different ways to illuminate the same issues.

Halfway through the movie, TC and SB both smelled smoke, and watched in horror as a thick dark cloud quickly rose up to block out the screen image. Before they could react, the film stopped running and the house lights came up for just a moment, then immediately went black, revealing that, for some reason, the exit signs were not working either. In the darkness the audience started to panic.

Sitting in his familiar spot, TC began talking excitedly to those around him, reminding them that back in the good old days theaters used to have ushers who carried flashlights with lovely little red shields over the lenses. “If this theater still had ushers like that,” he emphasized, voice rising with indignation, “we could follow them out.” Standing full height in the choking darkness, he shouted to the entire theater, presumably out there listening for his leadership. “I want to talk to the manger,” he screamed several times, before falling into a fit of coughing and wheezing.

Meanwhile, SB, seeing the darkness around him, had whipped out his cell phone and powered up its flashlight app.  Crawling to stay below the worst of the smoke, he used his light to find others and encourage them to follow his example as he made his way to one of the exits. Others who had lit up their own phones made paths to the other exits, and out through the lobby to daylight and safety.

“Where the hell is the manager?” TC screamed, between coughing fits loud enough to be heard throughout the unseen, and now nearly empty, theater.  “I’m gonna rip him a new one,” cough, cough, “to make sure he brings back those ushers. If… “ cough, cough, “we ever,” cough, cough, “get out of here, that is,” cough, cough, cough.

And the rest, as they paraphrase, is silence.

Protest as Proof – The American Ayatollah

When thousands of Iranians demonstrated in their streets recently, Mr. Trump seized on it as proof that their nation’s leaders and system of government were broken, a failed system.

“Big protests in Iran,” Trump tweeted on New Year’s Eve. “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. 

His UN Ambassador, Nicki Haley echoed that sentiment, saying “This is the precise picture of a long-oppressed people rising up against their dictators.”

Frankly, I’d agree with them there.

For the sake of honesty and consistency though, will our Dear Leader agree that when millions of Americans demonstrated to protest his election and the policies he had promised to promote – and did so again a year later – logic dictates that also be regarded as proof that his leadership and administration are fundamentally broken, and represent a failure of democratic principles?

Of course not.  For this is a man who recognizes no logic except his own survival and prospering, no rules except the rule of his own gratification.

Our very own American Ayatollah.






Who’s in Charge Here?

Mr. Trump, in regard to questions about his possibly-upcoming interview under oath with the FBI, stated “I’m looking forward to it, actually…” “I would love to do that… I’d like to do it as soon as possible.”

This man, famous for his independence and confidence, then uttered weasel words to the effect that he would do so “…subject to my lawyers, and all of that.”


Mr. Trump, if you are the man you claim to be, you will do the interview regardless of what your attorneys say. Who’s in charge here anyway? Your entire campaign was – and your incumbency is – based on the claim that you and only you have what it takes save the U S of A from decadence and decline – and now you cannot decide for yourself whether to take an interview?


Put Up or Shut Up, Mr. Trump. Take the interview.


In a recent tweet about immigration, our President stated that those who do not agree to his preferred measures aimed at controlling illegal immigration become, by their disagreement, complicit in any future murders committed by illegal immigrants.

There are certainly many grounds upon which to disagree with that claim, but an intriguing alternative response might be to take it at face value.  For if the logic is valid – that taking a position on a political issue makes one morally complicit in any negative instances that might possibly occur relative to that position (regardless of the balancing positive effects) – then the following is also and equally true.

All those who advocate for gun ownership, gun rights, in fact the enter Second Amendment debate, are complicit in every murder or wounding committed with a legally-owned firearm.

And yes, Virginia, that is a far larger number, every year, than the number of murders committed by illegal immigrants.

But we will not hear that from our President,






Fair Is Fair

In the news today, US auto sales fell 1.8% in 2017.

So, the next time our current President claims credit for some suggestion of economic growth (such as the rise in the stock market, which is clearly the continuation of a long-term trend that began long before he took office), will he also accept credit for this development, which ended seven years of growth?

Let’s watch and see….

He Said What?

Following the Sutherland Springs shootings, our President opined that, if two townspeople had not pulled out their own guns and shot the perpetrator, he would have “.. had hundreds more dead…”

Considering what this deranged shooter was able to do inside that crowded church (horrible, terrible, indefensible, but not “hundreds”), or what the Las Vegas shooter did with an enormous crowed, time and multiple pseudo-automatic weapons (again, horrible, terrible, indefensible, but not “hundreds”), it is simply not credible that the TX shooter could have killed “hundreds” while speeding away with police in pursuit.

Once again, our President cannot help himself exaggerating to the point of obvious falsehood.   We deserve better.

It’s Put Up time

Put Up” – two words that can cut two ways, depending on which old saw one has in hand.

For those who hoped the election of 2016 would turn out differently – it’s past time to Put Up With It; to get over your frustration, disbelief or whatever else you may be feeling, and accept the result and work as best you can to forward your goals, under the new administration.

For those who are happy about how 2016 turned out, it is also Put-Up time – as in Put-Up or Shut Up.  Time for our new President to deliver on his plethora of promises, and for all his colleagues and supporters to show they can actually solve real-world problems, not just invent slogans that simplify the issues beyond recognition.

With that in mind, my first challenge to Mr. Trump is this:  you said you were the only man who could help ordinary Americans, the ones who feel they have limited jobs, limited opportunities, limited wealth, limited prospects.  If you’re so good, by summer of 2020 (when the next election season is roiling like a creek in springtime), we should clearly see a statistically-significant reversal of the trend for wealth to accumulate in the top few percent of households.

And before anyone  hauls out that old line about liberals wanting to re-distribute income or wealth, it won’t wash.  The re-distribution has been happening for decades, damn it!  Redistributing from wage and salary workers to the top tier of business, real estate and securities owners.  That’s the real social engineering that’s been going on, partly due to trends beyond our control – technology, a populace more enamored of entertainment than education, other nations maturing into real competitors instead of farm teams – but also due largely due to a tax code which favors those who already have wealth over those who are trying to accumulate it.  (Yes, Virginia, the less you tax home purchases, business profits, capital gains, hedge fund fees and inheritance, the greater will be the relative tax burden on wages and salaries – the only vehicles most working folks have to improve their position).

I admit I’m skeptical, seeing as how you’ve turned over the reigns of the economy and policy to Goldman Sachs and the rest of the investment banks, to mega-corporation CEO’s and lobbyists; but maybe trickle-down economics will work out differently this time around…

The point is, if three years after your election the proportion of wealth held by those in the top tiers has not decreased, then you will not have delivered and the people should be the ones snarling ‘You’re Fired!’.

Yeah, its Put-Up time, for  all of us.

“Stronger and More Powerful”

From his country club in New Jersey in August 2017, our President stated that, as a result of his “first order as president” the nation’s nuclear arsenal has been renovated and modernized and is now “stronger and more powerful than ever before…” As reported by many, the review of nuclear posture which he ordered was nowhere near his first order and had no effect on the renovation, modernization or strength of nuclear capability, it is just a review (though, of course, it may lead to some action in future, which when and if worked out in full detail, approved, funded and executed, might someday affect the capability, in some as yet undemonstrated way).

As so many times before and since, the strong and powerful message of our leader’s words is that they are meaningless, except in the damage they do to his and our nation’s credibility, and what they tell us about his character .