Me Academy. Pick Me.

Dear Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences:

I respectfully submit my name for your consideration as the host of the 91st Academy Awards broadcast. I know you’ve had some difficulty filling this role. In fact, your track record in this area is pretty shaky. It’s another nice mess you’ve gotten yourself into!

Its hard to understand why finding a host for the movie industry’s biggest night, and one of the highest rated television broadcasts of any year, should be so difficult. But the rumor mill says many very big names in the entertainment industry turned you down this year. Oscar, you have a problem.

This year’s announced choice, comedian Kevin Hart, withdrew. Those darn social media posts from the past just keep coming back to haunt you. What you got here is a failure to communicate. I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse.

Here’s the beauty of my candidacy. Unless you watched the PBS broadcast Nightly Business Report over the last three decades, you haven’t a clue as to who I am. I’m ready for my close-up. No expectations. No pre-existing prejudice.

During those decades I made thousands of appearances on network television, so I know what end of a camera to look at. In addition to all those CEOs, economists and politicians, I’ve interviewed hundreds of stars in the entertainment industry. I liked most of them and they seemed to like me. Best of all, I’ve managed to keep a low social media profile. I doubt I’ve ever offended anyone with my Facebook or Twitter accounts.

At least until recently, when PBS decided to get out of the news business and sold our program to CNBC, leaving those of us of AARP membership age to freelance as independent commentators. Even then, the only person I’ve criticized is a certain Oval Office occupant who, sources tell me, is often the focus of barbs from the Oscar telecast stage.

Actually, sources don’t have to tell me this because I am a great fan of film. And that’s what you should have in a host, a great fan. I’d consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I simply love the movies. I quote from them far too often in social situations. And I have to contend with finding room for my collection whenever hunting for a new home or apartment. You build it. I will come.

I’ve even been to the Oscars once. My wife Amy, a producer, inventor and entertainment lawyer took me before we were married. Tom Hanks won for Forest Gump. David Letterman was the host, so I know how not to do it. “Oprah. Uma. Oprah. Uma.” And that was one of his best lines. But tomorrow is another day!

No I don’t sing and I don’t dance. But I won’t embarrass you either. I have done a fair amount of public speaking. And while I haven’t really written a joke since my Triangle Club days, I know how to work with writers and take direction.

The time has come. Let a member of the audience host the Oscars. I’d love the job. This is the stuff that dreams are made of. I’d be king of the world. And this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Me. Pick me.

Thank you for your consideration,

Scott Gurvey

 

Winners. Losers. 2020.

We’ve done it. We’ve survived Election 2018. And of course there are winners, losers, and implications for 2020. A few, in no particular order.

We the People. Tough call here. On the one hand, we won. We decided that an unconstrained government is not a good thing and we restored at least the potential for a check and balance for the next two years by putting the House of Representatives in the hands of a different party. We also turned out in record numbers for a midterm. Can we keep it up?

On the other hand, we proved once again that we are a deeply divided nation. Moderates lost to partisans. The future for bipartisanship seems as bleak as before. Race remains the greatest dividing issue. Even a geography based solution involving the dismemberment of the nation doesn’t seem practical as the divide is between urban and rural residents, not between states or regions. The election of 2018 was decided in the suburbs. 2020 may be decided there too.

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Don’t be suppressed

Someone rings the doorbell right around Jeopardy time, not the best moment to interrupt, and I go downstairs to answer. There are two young men at the door. One carries a clipboard. The other a stack of papers. It is election season and I expect to get a pitch or two but instead am simply asked if I intend to vote. “Yes” I reply and the questioner proceeds to ask if I want to vote by mail. “No” is my answer and he launches into a fervent speech about how much easier it is and how they can help not only by supplying me with a “Vote by Mail” form but also with a ballot I can fill out to cast my vote right then and there. At that all my alarm bells go off and I ask them who they are and who they represent. They quickly cover by saying, “Well, if you’re not interested…” and heading off down the block.

I go back upstairs and rejoin Amy, knowing not to interrupt the sacrosanct Jeopardy-Wheel of Fortune hour until a commercial break, when I give my report. She agrees the encounter was strange but says it was not a big deal. The more I think about it, the more I think it is and hop in the car to see if I can find the young men.

vectorstock_331471They are just a few block down, and I watch them return to a parked car. In the backseat  I notice lawn posters promoting the candidacy of one Jay Webber. A light bulb appears over my head. Jay Webber, a state representative, is the Republican running for election in my congressional district, New Jersey’s 11th. Retiring Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen has represented the district since 1995.

Webber is being challenged by Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a Naval Academy graduate, Navy helicopter pilot, and an assistant US attorney. The race is close and this is clearly a “flippable” seat as the Democrats try to win control of the House of Representatives.

Most of the 11th district is Morris County, with a rather solid Republican voting history. But I live in Upper Montclair, a part of Essex County’s Montclair Township broken off and attached to the 11th in the 2010 dedistricting. Montclair is reliably Democratic. So what were Webber’s people up to? Well, if they could convince me that I had voted by handing a ballot to them, which they tossed, and I stayed home, my presumably Democratic vote for Sherrill would be suppressed.

Fat chance.

Voter suppression appears to be a major part of the playbook this year. At least, based on my observation, the playbook the Republicans are using.

In Georgia, at least 53,000 registrations were delayed due to the state’s unique “exact-match” law, requiring personal information on voter applications match what is on state databases, right down to the hyphens and middle names. Federal Courts blocked election officials from implementing that law.

The top election official in Georgia is, as it is in most states, the Georgia Secretary of State. For this election that is Republican Brian Kemp. Kemp also happens to be running for governor. The conflict of interest is undeniable. And just to drive home the point, Kemp’s Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, recently alerted experts to vulnerabilities in Georgia’s voting database.  Kemp immediately announced an investigation. Of Abrams and the Democrats! How do you spell conflict of interest again?

Up in North Dakota, first term Democrat Senator Heidi Heitkamp faces a tough reelection challenge from Republican congressman Kevin Cramer. Heitkamp won six years ago by fewer than 3,000 votes. She won handily in areas with large Native American populations. N.D.’s Republican controlled legislature passed a law requiring voters to have actual street addresses on their identification. Many Native Americans do not have U.S. mail service and use post office box numbers on their I.D.s. This voter suppression gambit could keep 70,000 Native Americans away from the polls. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to get involved.

In South Carolina, strict voter ID laws requiring department of motor vehicle (DMV) photo IDs will make it harder for people who don’t live near a DMV to get the document they need to vote.   And, one thinks not so coincidentally, S.D. cut the number of DMV offices, and polling places, by 20 percent. The cuts are mostly in minority neighborhoods where people tend to vote for Democrats.

In Dodge City, Kansas, a single polling location serves the city’s 27,000 (mostly Hispanic) residents, and a local official moved that location out of the center of town to a remote location a mile away from the nearest bus stop. Figures.

Thousands of online registrations have been rejected in Texas, which some people see as the leader in voter suppression nationwide. In Texas the trick has been to exploit the solid control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion to effect one of the most contorted gerrymanders I have ever seen.

Texas 35CD

This baby is my favorite. Texas’ 35th Congressional District. This is a gerrymander that actually looks like the salamander on which the pun is based. The Supreme Court, in one of its memorable 5-4 decisions, Abbott v. Perez, right along party lines, thinks this slithering little thing is just fine.

And last on my list, which was in no particular order, Nevada. In Nevada, 90,000 voters were “purged“, placed into “inactive status”, by Republicans following the Supreme Court decision Husted v. Randolph. Also 5-4. The same 5-4.

Bottom line, the Republicans are doing everything they can to stop people from voting. The more people vote, the more Republicans lose.

 

 

The Preachers of Hate

PittsburgMemorialThe last of eleven funerals was held today. Eleven people, shot dead in simply because they were Jewish.

A federal grand jury has charged 46 year-old Robert Bowers with 44 crimes including hate crimes resulting in death. Bowers has pleaded not guilty. So we’ll do the journalism thing and note that he is the “alleged” assailant and that he is considered innocent until proven guilty. We will also note that the indictment alleges that on the morning of the Sabbath, October 27, 2018, Bowers drove to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, entered the building with multiple firearms, and opened fire. He also engaged public safety officers, wounding several before he was wounded and captured. While inside the Synagogue, Bowers made several statements indicating his desire to “kill Jews.”

It was the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history. But of course Jews have faced many millennia of persecution and oppression and even in America Jews are no strangers to anti-Semitic incidents, which an Anti-Defamation League audit found rose 57% in 2017.

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No. Just No.

I’ve had it. I’ve had it with whataboutism. I’m done with false equivalency. No more political correctness. You can take your gaslighting someplace else. I’m tired of demonizing, of disinformation, of scapegoating, of rationalization and of lying and deception of all kinds.

Thirteen pipe bombs were sent to prominent Democrats, including former presidents Obama and Clinton, and other Trump critics. That’s a fact. The FBI has arrested Cesar Sayoc, 56, and charged him with a long list of crimes in connection with the bombs. That’s a fact. They also impounded a white van, which they say was Sayoc’s, its windows covered with political images and stickers of President Trump and his critics, including pictures of some of the bomb recipients with gun sights superimposed on their images. That’s another fact.

This is the time when you would expect calming words of reassurance from the White House. The kind you would have heard from Ronald Reagan, from George Bush (both of them), from Bill Clinton and from Barack Obama. What did we get from the current occupant of the Oval Office?

TrumpBombTweet

That’s right. Trump blames “Bomb stuff” for distracting from his political message. Yes of course the alleged bomb sender Sayoc is a nut job. But this is not the same as the case of James Hodgkinson, shot and killed by police after he opened fire on Congressional Republicans practicing for a charity baseball game. Hodgkinson wounded four including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who  nearly died.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders immediately claimed an equivalence. But it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Hodgkinson once volunteered for Independent Senator Bernie Sanders during his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. But there is no record of Senator Sanders urging violence on his supporters and the Senator, upon learning of the loose connection, took to the Senate floor saying, “I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be, violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”

Trump, on the other hand, has a long history of exhorting his supporters to, well, just read the quotes yourself:

TrumpQuotes

Of course Trump didn’t send the clearly deranged Sayoc out to cause mayhem. But he created the climate which can trigger an unstable person to act. In this he is aided by conservative media led as always by Fox. I have never seen anything like the Fox channels which, with apologies to Shepard Smith, spend most their on-air hours serving as Trump mouthpieces. Here’s Lou Dobbs of the Fox Business Channel:

DobbsTweet

Also on Fox, Geraldo Rivera said the bombs may have been sent by “someone who wanted to embarrass President Trump, somebody who wanted to affect American political life. It could have been a Russian invention.”

Conservative radio was all over the conspiracy theory. Rush Limbaugh suggested a “Democratic operative” may have sent the bombs. “Republicans,” he said, “just don’t do this kind of thing.” Michael Savage said there was a “high probability that the whole thing had been set up as a false flag to gain sympathy for the Democrats.”  And from conservative commentator Anne Coulter:

CoulterTweet

It’s time to get a grip. Deranged people do deranged things. But if you promote violence through a steady stream of exhortations to commit violent acts, conspiracy theories and lies, you have some responsibility when others put your words into deeds.

The best summation of this entire escapade I’ve heard comes from John Oliver, the host of HBO’s “Last Week with John Oliver”, who I find to be one of the most astute political commentators of our age. Oliver said:

“OK, I’ve got it: So Obama flew to Florida, mailed a bomb to himself in Washington, then flew back just in time to avoid it—all to frame this guy,” said Oliver, pointing to a photo of the bombing suspect. “Now, I’m not saying that that man’s theory doesn’t have any holes in it, but at least we can all agree: He really outsmarted Geraldo Rivera.”

I say amen.

Justice Kavanaugh

It’s Justice Kavanaugh now. Damn it.

Not that there was really any suspense. The Republican take-over of the federal courts has been a decades long project and, as usual, the lackluster resistance of the Democrats has been powerless to stop it. It does not matter that Americans, by a 51-41 percent margin, disapprove of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Americans preferred the Democratic candidate for president in 2016. A lot of good that did her.

I can hear it now. Even from some friends and relatives. “You’re just a ‘g d’ east coast liberal Democrat.” And then there’s, “Elections have consequences.” Thank you Lindsey Graham. First of all, I’m from Chicago. Not even close to either coast. Second, I was born into a very Republican family and I have voted for many Republicans over the years. But the Republicans I respected are either dead, retired, or primaried out of office. What’s left is a group of people who see politics as a blood sport where winning is everything. People for whom cooperation is anathema and no tactic out of bounds on the road to victory.

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Constitution Day

We celebrate September 17 as Constitution Day, marking the day in 1787 when delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution of the United States in Philadelphia.

I remember when I first studied this great document. You couldn’t graduate from the eighth grade in the Chicago Public Schools without passing an exam on the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Illinois. In class of O’Keeffe Elementary I was fascinated by the text and the little we learned of the history. And I have remained impressed today, after much more detailed study in college and graduate school, and as I teach First Amendment law to young journalists.

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