Bribery can get you into top schools. (This is news?)

The mainstream media is obsessed this week with parents who got their under-qualified kids into prestigious colleges by using a fixer who funneled bribes to “certain college officials,” as Alia Wong of The Atlantic put it before stating the obvious:

The country’s elite have long used their wealth to get their kids into top colleges via legal and widely recognized means — legacy and athletic admissions tend to favor the wealthy, and those who can pay for test prep and expensive sports get an additional leg up. In extreme cases, wealthy parents make hefty donations to schools, or, for example, pay for new campus buildings. The 33 parents now being charged allegedly opted instead for organized conspiracy.

“The media focused on this story because it’s crude and involves a few celebrities,” I said to my friend Swamp Rabbit. “They usually ignore college admission scams. There are no front-page stories about mediocre students like George W. Bush and Jared Kushner getting accepted at Ivy League schools.”

“Of course there ain’t,” the rabbit said. “Unethical and legal is okay, but unethical and illegal gets you arrested. What else is new?”

Nothing is new, I told him. The cost of education (and everything else) keeps growing, along with the gulf between the wealthy and the rest of the country. As the student loan bubble expands, it’s clear that the middle class — what’s left of it — no longer has the earning power to handle college costs. The poor never did.

So a lot of people walk around feeling angry and frustrated. Some of them, the dopes who voted for Trump, blame the cost of higher education and the rest of their woes on Mexican desperadoes and so on. Others just step back and say the hell with all politicians, and thus help monsters like Trump come to power and make the situation even worse.

“You must be one of them experts,” the sarcastic rabbit said. “So tell me, when are the peeps gonna get wise?”

I thought of the busload of Democrats running for president — Beto O’Rourke is the latest — of all the confusion and in-fighting up ahead.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But when they do, it won’t be because of the mainstream media.”

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Re Murdoch and Trump: Who’s zoomin’ who?

Swamp Rabbit was replacing a plank on the front porch of my shack while I read aloud from Jane Mayer’s comprehensive takedown of Fox News:

…As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword. The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead…

“Ain’t technology grand?” the rabbit said. “Who knew back in the day we’d have a president who tweeted Fox News stories like they were gospel? Who knew what a tweet was?”

Mayer noted in her lengthy article that 88-year-old Aussie billionaire Rupert Murdoch launched the Fox television network in the 1990s and hired Roger Ailes to create for it a conservative news station that would mimic his “unapologetically lowbrow” tabloids. Under Ailes, Fox and its talking heads perfected a hatefully paranoid style that won the hearts and minds of poorly educated, anti-elitist white people all over the country.

Swamp Rabbit hammered a nail through the new plank and into a crossbeam. “The best part of the article is where Mayer explains that Murdoch helped turn Trump into a tabloid star forty-some years ago, even though he knew Trump was an idiot.”

I disagreed. “The best part is where Mayer says Murdoch unknowingly invented Trump’s base. He didn’t like it when Trump ran for president, but Fox viewers did.”

Ailes had been wary of cozying up to candidate Trump and had reportedly told Murdoch, “Trump gets great ratings, but if you’re not careful he’s going to end up totally controlling Fox News.”

But Murdoch eventually warmed up to the idea of a President Trump, especially after Ailes was forced out of the picture (sexual harassment allegations). A source told Mayer, “[Murdoch has] always wanted to have a relationship with a President — he’s a businessman and he sees benefits of having a chief of state doing your bidding.”

So is Trump a useful idiot for Murdoch, or has Murdoch merely fooled himself into thinking this is so? Which of these ugly old white men is the true master of the right-wing media universe?

“What’s it to you?” the rabbit said after driving another nail into the porch floor. “Ain’t neither of them chumps gonna help you get this shack back in shape.”

Footnote: Life is less dreary in the movies. My idea of a media mogul is Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane — a charming and dynamic dreamer who wanted to save the world until he was corrupted by power. The real-life Kane is Murdoch, a cold-blooded money counter who, like Trump, is (in Mayer’s words) “devoid of almost any ideology besides self-interest.”

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GOP still clings to Trump’s sinking ship. Good.

The heater in my shack broke down yesterday, so Swamp Rabbit and I put on heavy coats and huddled around a space heater to watch newly disbarred lawyer Michael Cohen testify at the House Oversight Committee hearing. Cohen started with a summary assessment of his former guru, Donald Trump: “He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat.”

“Yo Mike, tell us what you really think,” Swamp Rabbit said to the flat screen. “Stop beatin’ around the bush.”

It was refreshing to hear Cohen state the obvious, but the Republicans at the hearing weren’t having any of it. One after another, they scolded Cohen for being a liar and a fixer but somehow never addressed the fact that he’d been a liar and a fixer for Trump.

The hearing — what I saw of it — was a monotonous charade, with only a few instances of comic relief. At one point Rep. Paul Gosar, a vile wingnut from Arizona, ended a tirade against Cohen by shouting, “You’re a pathological liar. You don’t know truth from falsehood.”

Not missing a beat, Cohen replied, “Sir, I’m sorry. Are you referring to me or the president?”

Cohen’s testimony will probably be a big help when the feds indict Trump for insurance fraud, tax fraud, and/or bank fraud, and who knows what else. Cohen even showed copies of two checks he says he received from Trump’s gang as partial reimbursement for paying Stormy Daniels to keep quiet regarding her alleged one-night (two-minute?) stand with Trump.

I told the rabbit this: Republicans will ignore the checks and all other evidence that their dear leader is a racist, a con man and a cheat, as well as a fool, ignoramus, bully, coward and, yes, a would-be dictator. (Mainstream media prefers the more polite word “autocrat.”) They’ll ignore it all because they’re as rotten as Trump and would gladly accept him as dictator if that was the price for their re-election.

“Yo Odd Man, tell us what you really think,” the rabbit replied.

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Don’t flip out, it’s only a movie

Swamp Rabbit was booing the selection of Green Book for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. “That movie sugarcoats racism,” he said. “They had to rewrite history so white peeps would like it.”

“You’re a white guy, but you don’t like it,” I countered. “I’ll bet you haven’t even seen it.”

This was a good year for diversity, I reminded him, even though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is still mostly white and male. I told him to wise up — award shows are not so much about singling out works of art as about trying to guess which way the culture is trending and which films have pleased the most people.

Members of the academy voted to split the difference this year, I explained, running through the list of nominees:

Green Book and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman are both about racism. Both did well at the box office, but Lee’s film was deemed too didactic (one critic called it a “cinematic sermon”) and not the sort of feel-good movie that often wins the big prize. It had to settle for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Roma is about class issues, filmed artfully in black and white. It got a strong push from Netflix but it’s still an indie film, subtitled, made on a relatively small budget. But Alfonso Cuarón was named best director. (Five of the last six “best director” Oscars have gone to Mexicans!)

The Favourite features three strong women characters, but its humor is too subversive for middle-of-the-road audiences. It won for Best Actress, the very British Olivia Colman.

Black Panther made a ton of money and is visually stunning, but its characters are cartoonish. It’s a fashionably black variation on all the other Marvel movies.

Bohemian Rhapsody has a gay hero and an eerie performance by Rami Malek (Best Actor), but it’s essentially a corny musical biopic like Hollywood has been cranking out since The Glenn Miller Story (1954).

And so on. There were too many nominees, which is a reflection of the fact that tastes are becoming more diverse and Hollywood is struggling to please more and more audiences.

“I kind of like Bohemian Rhapsody,” Swamp Rabbit said. “It brought a tear to my eye.”

“That’s what it was supposed to do,” I replied. “It follows a formula that was invented to make swamp rabbits cry.”

“I resent that, Odd Man. What was the best new movie you saw?”

I named Cold War, a masterfully directed, unsentimental Polish film about the fragility of romantic love and the inevitability of loss and misery.

“Well, ain’t you the sophisticated one,” the rabbit said. “Why don’t you move to Poland or somewhere else with subtitles? You could be miserable over there instead of here.”

“I can’t afford to,” I admitted. “I have to settle for being miserable on U.S. soil, at least for now.”

Footnote: It was another bad year for music at the awards show. The guys in Queen were/are good musicians, but I can’t think of two songs more obnoxiously stupid than “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Lady Gaga is talented and hard-working but her song “Shallow” is overwrought. That’s the kindest adjective I can think of.

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The ‘national emergency’ is Trump

From The Hill:

President Trump said on Friday that he “didn’t need to” declare a national emergency but did it to speed up construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

“I want to do it faster. I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster,” Trump said during a press conference at the Rose Garden in the White House.

It seems Trump doesn’t know what “emergency” means. Or he was inadvertently admitting his executive order was made on false premises — that he knows there’s no emergency. I asked Swamp Rabbit what he thought of the grabber-in-chief’s latest unforced error.

“He don’t care about errors.” Swamp Rabbit said. “He knows there ain’t gonna be no thousand-mile brick-and-mortar wall, no steel slats. He knows illegal border crossings are way down since 2000, there ain’t no crisis. The crisis is in the White House, not on the border.”

I asked him to explain. He said Trump’s only talent is for stirring up fear and hate in the ignorant and easily led — his base, as he calls them. If he concedes defeat regarding the wall, he’ll lose his base, and then lose the support of congressional Republicans who stick with him because they fear being driven out of office by his base.

I poured the rabbit a half-glass of whiskey for being so astute. “What about the Republicans who say they’re for the wall but unhappy with Trump because he’s setting a bad precedent by declaring an emergency in order to usurp powers that the Constitution assigned to Congress?”

The rabbit drank up and laughed, hee-hee-hee. “Trump don’t need to usurp nothing, them chumps been handing power to him since he took office. They think they’re using him to get what they want — tax cuts for the rich, right-wingers in the Supremes and so on — and can cut him loose when Mueller nails him, or when the base finally realizes he ain’t on their side.”

“But that’s a dangerous game,” I said. “What if Mueller doesn’t nail him? What if Trump’s morons never get wise to him? Congress would be stuck with a president who acts like a dictator. Then what?”

The rabbit sat down on my porch, dangling his feet over the swamp. After a while he said, “Gimme another drink, I have to think about that one.”

Footnote: The mainstream media are as confused and torn as Swamp Rabbit. Reporters and editors created the Trump monster over decades, by presenting him as a savvy businessman and “deal maker,” even while knowing all along he was a fraud and a dangerous fool. Now what?

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Trump to Democrats: Stop digging, or else

From Donald Trump’s State of the Union address:

An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigation… If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.

“Wow, the grabber-in-chief is rhymin’ tonight,” Swamp Rabbit said. “But what’s he talking about?”

“He’s talking about the thing he can’t talk about,” I replied. “Federal lawyers in D.C. and New York are digging for evidence that Trump and his minions were involved in major crimes. He knows the Democrats in the House, now that they’re the majority, will be free to help the feds dig deeper. He’s warning the Dems to back off.”

The rabbit rolled his eyes and drank gin from a juice jar. “What you mean by warning them? He gonna have them whacked if they investigate?”

“No one knows what he’ll do,” I said. “He might stamp his feet and binge on cheeseburgers. Or he might start World War III. It depends on his mood.”

The cold snap had passed. We were watching the address on my laptop, which sat on my desk near the wood stove, next to an open window that looks out on the swamp.

“That’s crazy talk,” the rabbit said, playing devil’s advocate. “Congress can overrule Trump if he gets too rowdy, and the Supremes can stop him if Congress don’t.”

I reminded him that the Senate is still controlled by Republicans, almost all of them Trump supporters, and that the majority of Supreme Court judges are right-wingers, including the two Trump appointees.

“Try to learn, rabbit. The closer Mueller and his gang get to busting Trump, the more likely he is to declare a national emergency over immigration or impose more tariffs or cook up something sinister with his main squeeze, Vladimir Putin.”

“Don’t matter what he does. Nobody’s above the law, not even the president.”

“Maybe not, but Trump’s doing a good job of appearing to be above the law, don’t you think?”

Footnote: Trump sounds like Richard Nixon in the 1974 State of the Union: “One year of Watergate is enough.” But the digging continued, and Nixon resigned in August of that year.

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Blowin’ smoke on Super Sunday

I was sitting on the porch with Swamp Rabbit, trying to nail down the silliest Super Bowl moment. Was it Budweiser’s “Blowin’ In the Wind” commercial or the halftime performance by Maroon 5?

“Ain’t nothin’ silly about ‘Blowin’ In the Wind,'” the rabbit said. “The song plays and you see a beer wagon pulled by them big horses with them wind turbines in the background and them words on the screen: ‘Now brewed with wind power for a better tomorrow.’ It’s a good message.”

“Budweiser is blowing smoke,” I replied. “They’re hooked up with two of the worst right-wing organizations in the country — the American Legislative Exchange Council, called ALEC, and the Chamber of Commerce. No way ALEC will go for clean energy. Climate deniers care about today, not tomorrow.”

The rabbit lit a cigarette and blew smoke at the porch’s tar paper roof. “Budweiser is using wind power, and that helps the environment,” he said. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, Odd Man.”

I told him wind energy is part of Anheuser-Busch’s campaign to make people believe their beer is “natural” and “organic.” It’s a propaganda stunt to mislead beer drinkers, a huge demographic that’s easy to fool.

I said, “Next you’ll be telling me Maroon 5 is a great band instead of a third-rate boy band that was hired because a lot of big-name acts turned against the NFL after they banned Colin Kaepernick for protesting racism.”

The rabbit looked at me and said, “Of course they’re a great band. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be at the Super Bowl.”

We jawed about the game itself — a mostly dull affair in which the Patriots beat the Rams 13-3 — and about how the Super Bowl disappoints most years because of the gulf between the hype and the reality. I told him the vulgarity of the spectacle is no longer funny once you realize the team owners have the mentality of slave owners.

“If you think it’s that bad, why’d you watch part of the game?” the rabbit said.

I had to think about that. “It’s the dead of winter,” I replied. “I had nothing better to complain about.”

Footnote: Speaking of vulgarity, I worked at an auto show on the day of the Super Bowl. On my way into the PA Convention Center, I passed a guy hawking stuff on the street corner. “Pretzels!” he shouted. “Candy! Cotton candy! Super Bowl rings!”

There were no takers.

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