Robert J. Elisberg is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter, novelist, Huffington Post columnist and tech writer. Elisberg Industries provides thoughtul and often humorous insights into news, entertainment and much else in between.
Yesterday, I saw a tweet from CNN that mentioned how the National Park Service had just announced the newest National Park to the system, one that was located in northwest Indiana. I was scratching my head because I know that area very well. It's not only up in the corner of Indiana that basically borders Chicago, but I grew up with a lot of relatives there, in Gary. My grandmother Rose lived there -- and I spent lots of vacation time with her on the lakeshore in area called Miller Beach -- and the family had a department store, H. Gordon & Sons. Down the sandy road from Grandma Rose was her brother, my Uncle Ben and his wife, and next door were their kids the Kaplans, who are my cousins. (The youngest son, Jim, lives out here now. In fact we're having lunch on Thursday.) And down the street from them were Stanley and Margie Kohn, wonderful people, who are cousins, too. And then others in the city itself.
So, as I said, I know that area well. And I couldn't think of what in the world would be a National Park. I knew there was the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which is centered around where they live and then up the Indiana coast of Lake Michigan. But nothing else -- so other than turning the deserted steel mills into a National Park, I was flummoxed.
Side note. The Indiana Dunes are wonderful. And some of the family was even involved to a slight degree fighting for them to get some sort of protected status, since it's a very fragile ecosystem. Oddly, an Illinois senator back in the 1950s, the great Paul Douglas, worked hard for protecting the Indiana Dunes, and Stanley Kohn was involved, as well, working with Sen. Douglas. So, it was a huge deal when the 15,000-acre dunes area finally got recognized with National Lakeshore status in 1966. Stanley was a great guy -- he worked at H. Gordon & Sons, and was as quiet and gentle and nice a man as you'd like to find. Tall and lanky, he was the opposite of his dear wife Margie, who was a pistol -- open, honest, outspoken, directly blunt and nurturing to all, I think she did social work and a lot of community service. They lived on the Dunes, and had an open-air porch separate from their house where I just looooved having barbecues.
By the way, I think Margie's favorite food was popcorn. And one year, probably about 50 years ago, she'd heard about this local popcorn company in northeast Indiana that supposedly had the best popcorn anywhere. So, she had to drive out and find it. It took her a while to track the place down, and finally getting there she knew she had to buy a huge sack of kernels in major bulk, since this wasn't a trip she'd make often. She brought it all back, and sent packages of popcorn around to family and friends -- including us. And that was the first time I'd heard of this small, local company that hadn't yet gone national called Orville Redenbacher.
Another diversion. It was for Margie and Stanley's 50th anniversary party that I got the biggest laugh of anything I've ever written. My brother John had the idea that since I wrote parody songs, I should write one to the tune of the old song, "Margie," made famous in the 1920s by Eddie Cantor, and he'd accompany me on guitar. While I knew a bit about Margie and Stanley, I asked my mom for some additional details, since she grew up with Margie as her older cousin when a little girl. (Though they were second cousins to me, they were significantly older, probably in their 60s when I barely hit my teens.) Anyway, one thing my mother mentioned is that something that drove Margie crazy was that -- living on the Lake Michigan dunes -- people's shoes always had sand on them, and that acts like...well, sandpaper when one walks through a house, shredding the floor, so Margie insisted that people take off their shoes before entering the house, and if you were going to put them on later, you'd darn well better smack them around good and get every grain off. Anyway, armed with my memories and notes, I went off to write the song.
Came the night of the anniversary, our family drove to Indiana for the event, held in some town south of Gary that had a nice French restaurant. (I'll always remember that, this being Indiana, the nice French restaurant had a basketball hoop in the employee lot behind the place.) When it came time for the song, my brother played, and I did my best singing. It went fine, the room of about 75 people seemed appreciative, and then I got to one verse which ended --
And let's all strike up the band And not track in any sand For Margie, Margie. For you.
Well...I got to the words -- "...in any sand..." -- and couldn't go any further. The room exploded with the most laughter I've ever gotten for, as I said, anything I've ever written. My brother and I just had to sit there for about 15 seconds before we could continue.
But I digress...
Okay, so I had to figure out what in the world the National Park Service had found there in northwest Indiana to add to their list as a National Park.
And it was -- the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore!!!! They upgraded its status. It never even occurred to me that they would do so. It was such a long battle just to get National Lakeshore status that moving it to any greater designation just didn't seem possible. But it is.
I sent a note to my cousin Jim -- who grew up on the Dunes -- and asked him if he'd heard the news. He hadn't and was overjoyed. Me, too. Mainly for Sen. Paul Douglas...and Stanley Kohn. And Margie. And all the other relatives involved and people of the area who grew up on the Dunes.
You can read an article about it here. But mainly, I love this tweet and photo that the National Park employees sent out today with their new "sign" covering up the old "Lakeshore" designation.
We have a new song from Randy Rainbow, this time channeling Madonna rather than Broadway. The song is fun, though I don't think one of his top efforts -- but it's particularly appropriate, and has some good interchange between him and Trump.
Yesterday, I was exchanging some notes with my friend Michael Shoob, who is an accomplished filmmaker of such films as the drama Driven and the wonderful documentary Bush's Brain, based on the book about Karl Rove. We were discussing Roger Stone's ill-advise, egregious Instagram threat towards the judge overseeing his case, and Michael off-handedly mentioned that, as he put it, "My Dad was a pretty gentle, tolerant guy (and a Federal Judge for 37 years), I feel sure that he would have sent the Marshalls out there to pick him up and Stone would have been back in jail."
As low-key and modest about his pretty gentle and tolerant dad as Michael was, the larger story is that Marvin Shoob was the Atlanta judge who oversaw the infamous BNL bank scandal case in 1992 about the $5 billion unauthorized bank "loan" to Iraq laundered by the GHW Bush Administration -- and who, as a result of it all, publicly criticized the U.S. Attorney General for not pursuing the case with an independent counsel. That Attorney General? William Barr, just nominated by Trump and approved by the GOP Senate...
That's of note because, as Rachel Maddow devoted a long story on her show yesterday, Barr now oversees the Special Counsel and has been publicly critical of the investigation. So, it's uncertain and understandably concerning to people what the future holds for Robert Mueller and his team.
With that in mind, this article from (as whimsy has it) yesterday, as well -- it was a busy day yesterday, though this came first thing in the morning -- in Politico, written by Darren Samuelsohn, about major difficulties for Trump and his circle face regardless of what happens to the Special Counsel investigation. The story, "Trump can't run the Mueller playbook on New York feds" is a detailed look at how how Robert Mueller has passed off a good amount of his investigation to another division in the U.S. Justice Department, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. And the SDNY (also known sardonically as the "Sovereign Districst of New York) is renowned for its independence -- and has no parameters constricting what it investigates, unlike the mandate for the Special Counsel. Further, what it does investigate is large state-related, and most charges it can come up could be outside the purview of a presidential partner. Moreover, they are so independent they may not feel constrained by department policy and could therefore indict a sitting president if they felt it was justified.
(As John Sale, a former SDNY and Watergate prosecutor says in the article, “I’m thoroughly convinced the SDNY will make its own evaluation. They will not say that’s a department policy. They’re obviously looking at the president and I wouldn’t rule out that they could decide you can indict a sitting president.”)
Among the areas they are currently investigating are the Trump inaugural, Michael Cohen and the Trump Organization. And many of the people they have as cooperating witnesses are among those who have known and worked with Trump the longest, like Cohen, Trump organization chief financial officer Allen Weiselberg, and David Pecker, CEO of AMI, the owner of National Enquirer.
The article notes that Trump's difficulties with the SDNY are compounded because, unlike his personal attacks on Mueller, in an effort to discredit the Special Counsel in the eyes of his base, he will be challenged to do with same with the SDNY. Not only is there not a single personality to focus on, but their investigation is not centered on Trump's time in the White House but before, so there can be no claims of Executive Privilege nor charges of "witch hunts" against supposedly non-existent collusion with Russia. And their investigations can (and likely will) go on long past whenever Robert Mueller delivers his own report.
The article is terrific and interesting on its own merits, but for anyone kept up sleepless at night about whether Robert Mueller is fired and what will happen to his report, the piece is like an electrocharge jolt to a weak heart, giving it strength, joy and a new, long life
John Oliver returned last night with the new season of his Last Week Tonight. After my recent move, my cable subscription changed -- since I was grandfathered in with my old Time-Warner subscription, and my new Spectrum account includes several premium channels at pretty much the same price. And this includes HBO which means I finally got to see Oliver's entire show for the first time, rather than just segments.
I've long been a huge John Oliver fan -- no, seriously, a huge fan beyond the norm, even recommending him to a movie producer only six weeks after his first appearance as a "correspondent" on The Daily Show (going so far as having a friend who was a writer on the show put together a reel of Oliver's best work). So, this was a long-awaited treat. And happily, the show did not disappoint. It was quite wonderful.
But at the center was his look at what will happen with the deadline for the official Brexit only weeks ago. It was deeply detailed and informative, highly entertaining, and (at its core, of course, this being a comedy show) incredibly funny.
Side Note: The film project I recommended him for never ended up going forward, so it wasn't a case of him "rejected" by the producer. Just normal Hollywood Development Hell. So, the movie world's loss was HBO's gain.
Brexit III: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) - YouTube
Earlier today, Nell Minow, my fellow co-head of the Apology Institute of America, sent me a Facebook posting about a profoundly weak non-apology from a British politician over a deeply racist comment she made. It's my turn to return the favor. This just in from the lawyers of Roger Stone who today submitted a court filing that apologized for his Instagram post today that trashed the ethics and threatened the life of the judge of his pending trial.
Looking through our AIA manual's guidelines for "Meaningful Apologies," I'm wondering how socially -- and legally -- substantive a one-sentence "Gee, I'm sorry" is when you've trashed and threatened the life of the sitting judge for your upcoming trial, and further how heartfelt when you have someone else say it for you... Especially since it doesn't even include the classic, "If I offended the judge..." or even "This isn't who I am" (which is particularly problematic since it is exactly who Roger Stone has spent a career trying to make clear in as public a way as possible that it is precisely who he is).
By the way, to be clear, being "legally substantive" is not generally a condition that Ms. Minow and I look to for grading the quality of an apology. But when an apology is offered for threatening the life of the judge for your upcoming trial (not to mention slamming her work and ethics), and your lawyers feel obligated to file a court brief in response, then the little-known and even-more rarely used "legal" codicil does kick in.
Usually, at a bare minimum, throwing oneself prostrate before the court to beg for mercy is considered a good place to start before even getting into what you're apologizing for and why. And secondly, having a letter from your doctor to support the explanation of your condition requiring the plea is pretty much thought to be highly-valuable to present to the judge, as well.
And if you simply are so craven that you can't manage any of that or actually apologize in any way yourself, then trying "That wasn't me, your honor, but my evil twin" is probably better as apologies go than having someone else say "Gee, I'm sorry" for you.
Here's hoping that everyone here -- and everyone, period -- had a safe weekend surviving the National Emergency. Reports of hoards of non-white people gathering to cross the Mexican border have been pouring in from far-right wing blog sites. True, more reports have been pouring in than marauders but you can never be too prepared.
On the positive side, food and medical supplies are being gathered by our Canadian neighbors and convoys have been arranged to bring them in to the needy her in the United States. Happily, this effort should be successful because there is no outcry for border wall protection to the north, so the trucks, vans and bicycles will be able to trundle in with only a wave and "Howdy!" to greet them.
Lest anyone is concerned about our government standing on guard to protect us all during this most dangerous of National Emergencies, there is the heroic Lindsey Graham (R-C) -- when confronted with the fact of defense allocations would be diverted in Kentucky to the building of Trump's wall (or at least the very tiny few miles of Trump's wall that could be funded -- telling the public, “I would say it's better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border...right now we've got a National Emergency on our hands.”
Now, one might think this is a risky proposition since Kentucky ranks 45th on the list of most-educated states, and that that would appear to be far more of an emergency. But to be clear, Lindsey Graham can be cavalier about this because his state of South Carolina ranks higher than Kentucky and is 42nd out of 50 on the most-educated list.
And lest anyone be concerned that Trump himself can't multi-task and keep his eye on what's important while vacationing at his country club to play golf and eat at the omelette bar, know that he's on top of everything when he sent out this tweet on Sunday --
Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC! Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real Collusion!
The contestant today is Brent Sverdloff from Rhinebeck, New York. I was able to get the hidden song pretty quickly, and I think most people will, too. As the for the composer style, it came down to two people -- very different from one another. It seemed a touch unlike one of them, so I went out on a limb and guessed the person I didn't know well specifically because the piece was more "moody" than I associate with the other composer. And was wrong. It was that other composer.
On this week's 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guest is screenwriter and multiple Oscar & WGA nominee, David Magee, who wrote Mary Poppins Returns, as well as such films as Life of Pi and Finding Neverland.
In honor of it being the NBA All-Star Weekend, the guest contestant on the 'Not My Job' segment of this week's NPR quiz show, Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!, is Mike D'Antoni, head coach of the Houston Rockets of the NBA. The talk is largely about basketball -- but don't go rushing off, since he's a pretty open, amusing guy. And the quiz is a lot of fun.
I had something else planned for this morning, but interrupt it for this National Emergency...
To be clear upfront, I am going to state the obvious: I think Trump's proclamation of a "National Emergency" (sic) is galling, pathetic, stomach-churning, autocratic, and I assume wildly unconstitutional and illegal, and fill in the rest of the like-adjectives you can think of.
That out of the way, I am also not overly-concerned by the impact of it. (I don't mean the precedent it would set, but rather the immediate results.) And in some ways is a good thing. Let me explain.
For the sake of argument, let's assume that all challenges to this fail, that it gets through the courts, beyond the Supreme Court, and every effort to stop it in Congress, and he gets his money. The most money that Trump will get is $8 billion. Now, of course, that's a lot of money that would be take from areas that need it, including bizarrely, national defense, and which will cost the taxpaying public. But it's a paltry amount as part of the national budget, and it's nothing he can really do much of anything with. Keep in mind that Trump was once offered $25 billion for his wall which he turned down because it was not nearly enough. Some studies say that $50 billion would be needed to build what Trump is talking about. Perhaps even more. So, $8 billion will not come even close to building his "wall" or accomplish anything of substance. All it will do, the only thing, is placate his base. A base which already adored him and believes he could do no wrong. If there was no wall built, that base would still adore him, blaming its absence on Democrats, a weak Republican Congress, the courts and whatever other targets they could think of. Anyone, anything but Trump. So, while the only thing this $8 billion would do (again, assuming he actually gets it) is placate a base that didn't need placating.
On the other hand, it is going to cause massive damage to Trump himself in other ways, and to the Republican Party.
Even if Republicans in Congress vote for it, they will hate that they feel they have to. We know this because, when the GOP controlled both houses of Congress and the White House they never passed a bill for a wall. So voting for it now only means they feel obligated to do something they're against. All because Trump put them in that hated position. They know it's idiotic, they know there's no "emergency," they know this is not needed. (After all, we know that, again, because Trump just told us all in the Rose Garden.) So, this will cause a major rift between Trump and Republicans in Congress.
Further, I feel certain that the public will upset by this and blame Trump -- and the GOP for enabling him. We know this because polls show that the public is strongly against a wall. And also we know that the public voted for Democrats to take control of the House of Representatives despite Trump not only campaigning about the threat of marauding Hondurans coming to take over the U.S., but also sending actual troops to the border. They knew there was no "emergency." So, to see Trump circumvent the Congress by calling for a "National Emergency" (sic) and taking money from national defense can likely only outrage the public and lose Trump -- and the GOP which enabled him -- support.
And this further will push a wedge between Trump and the Republicans in Congress, who see the looming 2020 elections when all the House is up for reelection and Republicans in the Senate this time around are the ones most at risk. Not only will that make it more difficult to get any legislation through, but when the Senate is the body that votes on impeachment, I'm not really sure if you want to risk pissing off your only means of support. And they will all know that this set a horrific precedent. (Though in fairness, that being the case, enabling Republicans in Congress would have no one to blame for that but themselves.)
And all this is based on the assumption that it all goes through and Trump gets his money for his wall. There's almost nothing to gain from that, and a huge amount to lose.
Now imagine if he doesn't get it. That he's stopped by the courts or Congress. That may even be worse. Yes, Trump will have lots of people to blame, and his base will love it. But they'd love him regardless. And everyone else will be infuriated that they had to go through this autocratic madness. And it will be a humiliating loss.
To repeat what I said at the beginning: I think Trump's proclamation of a "National Emergency" (sic) is galling, pathetic, stomach-churning, autocratic, and I assume wildly unconstitutional and illegal, and fill in the rest of the like-adjectives you can think of. And I hope it gets stopped cold at every possible corner where it can be, in the most blunt, devastating way.
But it's a no-win situation for him whatever happens.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take my cue from Trump and go on vacation to play golf...