White Of The Eye

White Of The Eye is one of the most confused, disconnected and disjointed horror films I’ve ever seen.  In fact, there’s very little horror in it at all, none of it particularly effective or memorable.  But that’s not its biggest problem.

Cathy Moriarty plays a woman torn between two men:  Alan Rosenberg, a multi-ethnic guy from her past, and David Keith, the Indigenous honky she dumped him for.  In a flashback sequence, while en route to Malibu Beach in the 1970s, she gets into a fight with Rosenberg.  The trip is taking too long (they’ve been driving from New York for weeks) and she’s quite tired of hearing Hot Chocolate’s You Sexy Thing.  When he angrily tells her to put her cigarette ashes in a tray, after ripping out the 8-track, she dumps them in his player instead.  He proceeds to dump 7UP in it so it doesn’t burn.

They arrive at some repair place where the grandson of the owner happens to be Keith (that hair, Good God) who is a whiz at installing and fixing electronic equipment.  (He thinks he’s a human tuning fork (he likes to hum like one) but never mind.)  Very quickly, he gets the portable 8-track back on track.  Since Rosenberg wants to stick around Globe, Arizona for a few days, he invites himself on a hunting trip with Keith.  To show his thanks, Keith bangs Moriarty.

In the present, Keith and Moriarty have a cute young daughter with a punching problem at school.  (Moriarty never did make it to Malibu Beach.)  But it’s their own relationship that’s on the verge of being knocked out.  Keith is continually being seduced by the wife (Alberta Watson) of some unseen cement tycoon who has a lot of time to herself.  (Moriarty can’t stand her and “slut” shames her behind her back.  They have zero personal interactions.  She just spots her one day going to the hair salon.)  She lures him to her secluded place in the desert by getting him to “fix” her satellite TV which clearly isn’t broken.

Keith can’t seem to make up his mind whether he wants to fool around with Watson or not which strikes me as disingenuous, no matter how he feels about Moriarty.  But inevitably, he gives in.  Moriarty finds out and punctures one of his precious, expensive business van tires.  She also tears him a new one.

Meanwhile, when Moriarty stops for gas one day, there’s the recently (and conveniently) released Rosenberg, now a mechanic who lives in the nearby hotel.  (We have no idea what he got pinched for.)  They reconnect and have sex which is weird because in the flashback sequences she can’t stand him.  Absence makes the loins grow hotter, I suppose.  Keith never finds out about it which makes Moriarty’s anger towards him regarding his own affair very hypocritical indeed.  She’s also indecisive about her feelings which doesn’t help the film’s already shaky credibility.

You’d be forgiven for thinking I’m describing a soap opera rather than a horror film because White Of The Eye is way more interested in this sizzle-free love rectangle than its misogynistic thriller plot.  You wouldn’t even know this is supposed to be a screen chiller for long stretches of time because scaring you doesn’t appear to be its main focus or concern, which is just as well since those aren’t good scenes anyway.

In the opening sequence, a local woman in this small Arizona town gets brutally murdered in her home.  The killer bashes her head against the glass door of her microwave and leaves a mess in her entire house which in the aftermath looks some kind of tasteless expressionist art display.  It’s an uncomfortable scene that serves as a reminder that there are way too many exploitative violence-against-women scenes in movies like this and I’m getting tired of seeing them.

Anyway, the cops, led by Die Hard 2’s Art Evans in a mostly good performance, seem to initially believe correctly that Keith is their man but they too hedge their bets and don’t do the obvious thing of asking a court for a search warrant of his house and van.  (There’s a weird scene when a fellow cop dials up Keith’s juvenile rap sheet (his father was an embezzler who managed to successfully disappear from his life) which perturbs Evans who doesn’t think it should be part of the investigation.  Huh?)  An hour of screen time later, a second woman is killed.  I wonder if Keith is a fan of The Undertaker.

The tire tracks left in the dirt by the getaway car from the murder scenes are a perfect match to Keith’s own.  Not many people in Globe, Arizona have these special tires on their vehicles and only one installs expensive stereo equipment in this area.  (If you have to look in your wife’s datebook for an alibi, you’re fucked.)  Also, some hard to understand Native American symbols are left behind at the first crime scene which is part of Keith’s heritage.  The explanation by Evans left me even more confused, unfortunately.

Whenever he’s questioned, though, Keith is stoic coolness, never betraying his dark secret, even though he belatedly and openly realizes his goose is getting cooked.  (Evans actually takes him back to the second crime scene to show him that he knows full well what he did but curiously does not arrest him!  Why not?)

But in the film’s second half when Moriarty realizes who she’s hitched her wagon to, he suddenly goes nuts, completely out of character for his mostly tranquil home life.  After discovering hidden body parts under her bathroom sink (that’s always fun), Moriarty makes a frantic call to a friend urging her to pick up her daughter.  But the friend wants to go see Gone With The Wind, a four-hour movie she’s never watched before, and so by the time she calls back, Keith picks up the phone and becomes livid.

It should be noted at no time up to this point has he ever abused Moriarty, his kid or even the family dog.  He’s never even said a bad word about his wife (although he’s not too thrilled about not hunting innocent animals anymore which he blames on her but whatever.)  So, for him to suddenly stab the hell out of their bed and then lock her up in the attic feels awfully sudden and tacked on.  It’s as though the filmmakers realized, oh shit, that’s right, we have to resolve the murder plot so let’s have our killer finally lose it in front of his family, the only people he’s never actually harmed.  (And yes, the poor pooch eventually gets shot by the heel, a very tired cliche.)

Near the end of the film, Keith starts sporting war paint and a couple of man buns (is he trying to be a samurai?) while wrapping himself in explosives that his young daughter thinks are hot dogs.  Just before that, he confesses his crimes.  But when you unravel his contorted reasoning for murdering pretty dames, it still feels like fairly standard woman-hating, no different from most movie slashers.  How Alberta Watson gets spared makes absolutely no sense.  Regarding the flashbacks, it’s also strange that he never bumped off his romantic rival, either.

White Of The Eye was shot in 1986 but not released in North American theatres until 1988.  I’m amazed it got released at all.  Then again, Cannon Films, pretty much at the end of its financial lifeline, needed whatever dough it could squeeze out of this turdburger.  It didn’t save it from filing for bankruptcy just a couple of years later.

The cast does its best with a highly convoluted screenplay (Rosenberg is easily the best performer despite not actually being a First Nations person) but despite their best efforts they can’t help but be left to flounder in all this impenetrable muck.  The film is all over the map in terms of its overlong story and uneven characters.

First, it’s a horror movie, then, a police procedural.  Then, it’s a soap opera, then it’s back to being a thriller and detective story again.  After returning to all the nonexistent sexual tension it ends with the horror stuff one last time.  The constant shift in tone is annoying and hard to accept and follow.

Not helping is the distractingly inappropriate musical score by Pink Floyd’s Dave Mason and 10cc’s Rick Fenn.  I’ll admit, one or two of their themes are effective but the rest aren’t suitable for a horror film.  So much of a thriller’s tension comes from its soundtrack.  But it sounds like their work was added by mistake.  It feels like it was written and recorded for a completely different film.

The heart of the problem is the strange relationship between Moriarty and Keith.  Even after she finds out who he really is, he’s still able to make her smile by offering to defrost frozen pizza and finally picking up those cooking pans she’s been bugging him to buy.  But then, when she stares at the reflection of her sullen face in one of them, she runs to the bathroom to barf.  That leads to the discovery of the mysterious body parts.

At one point, she locks herself in a closet.  Keith breaks down the door.  They then have consensual sex!  Then the concerned friend, the one who’s supposed to come get her daughter, calls and Keith starts tearing up their bed.

Even in the climactic moment where a tearful Moriarty can end her toxic relationship once and for all, she hesitates and still declares her love for Keith who bizarrely reciprocates.  It’s all for naught because of a fateful lighter flick.

During another flashback, someone gives her an English penny.  He advises her to rub it to prevent her husband from cheating.  God knows rubbing it didn’t result in a better movie.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, October 11, 2018
8:01 p.m.

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Revelations From Bob Woodward’s Donald Trump Book (Part Six)

41. Despite publicly predicting a future victory in Afghanistan, the Trump Administration’s private position is that it’s a lost cause.

From Chapter 31:

A “60-page strategy memo” was put together by the Defense Department in mid-August 2017.

“Buried in the 19-page section on integrated strategy was an admission:  ‘Stalemate likely to persist in Afghanistan’ and ‘Taliban likely to continue to gain ground.’

In the tradition of concealing the real story in a memo, ‘Win is unattainable’ was the conclusion signed by [National Security Advisor H.R.] McMaster.”

Then-CIA-chief Mike Pompeo:

“Are you going to take responsibility for Afghanistan?  Because we’re not going to win.  You understand we’re not going to win!”

From Chapter 27:

“‘Mr. President,’ [General] Dunford [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman] said, very polite, very soft-spoken, ‘there’s not a mandate to win…’ Under Obama, who had pulled out most of the troops–down to 8,400, from a high of 100,000—the strategy was effectively to achieve a stalemate.”

42. The Secretary of State let slip the reality of Afghanistan during a press briefing.

From Chapter 31:

“…Tillerson found another way to declare that a win was not attainable.  He addressed the Taliban at a press briefing:  ‘You will not win a battlefield victory.  We may not win one, but neither will you.’

Stalemate.”

43. Trump didn’t believe the American car industry was doing well or that the US government won most of its trade disputes with the WTO even though Gary Cohn had data evidence.

From Chapter 33:

“Cohn assembled the best statistics that could be compiled.  Trump would not read, so Cohn brought charts to the Oval Office.  The numbers showed that the American auto industry was fine.  One big chart showed Detroit’s Big Three were producing 3.6 million fewer cars and light trucks since 1994, but the rest of the U.S., mostly in the Southeast, was up the same 3.6 millon.

The entire BMW 3 series in the world were made in South Carolina, Cohn said.  The Mercedes SUVs were all made in the United States.  The millions of auto jobs lost in Detroit had moved to South Carolina and North Carolina because of right-to-work laws.”

[snip]

“Cohn had put another document, ‘U.S. Record in WTO Disputes,’ in the daily book that [Staff Secretary Rob] Porter compiled for the president at night.”

Trump “rarely if ever cracked it open.”  He claimed, “The World Trade Organization is the worst organization every created!…We lose more cases than anything.”

According to the aforementioned daily book, “The document showed that the United States won 85.7 percent of its WTO cases, more than average.”

Trump’s response:  “This is bullshit…This is wrong.”

Cohen’s rebuttal:  “This is the factual data.  There’s no one that’s going to disagree with this data.  Data is data.”

44. Lindsey Graham wanted China to assassinate Kim Jong Un.

From Chapter 34:

“Graham made a dramatic proposal to [Chief of Staff John] Kelly and McMaster. ‘China needs to kill him and replace him with a North Korean general they control,’…China had at least enough control so the North would not attack.  ‘I think the Chinese are clearly the key here and they need to take him out.  Not us, them.  And control the nuclear inventory there.  And wind this thing down.  Or control him.”

45. Chief of Staff John Kelly threatened to quit on at least two occasions.

The first involved an argument with ICE union leader Chris Crane.   According to Woodward, they “had an intense dislike for each other” because Kelly “blocked ICE agents from a hard-line crackdown on some immigration violations.”

Trump was livid that Kelly, who developed a controversial internal reputation for keeping certain officials away from the President, would not let Crane visit him in the Oval Office.  Trump watched Crane complain about this on Fox News.

That led to a confrontation after Trump invited Crane over “without informing Kelly.”

“Kelly heard Crane was in the Oval Office and strode in.  Soon Crane and Kelly were cursing each other.

‘I can’t believe you’d let some fucking guy like this into the Oval Office,’ Kelly told Trump.  If this was the way it was going to work, he said, ‘then I quit!’  And he stormed out.

Trump later told others that he thought Kelly and Crane were going to get into a fistfight.”

When Kelly “urged the president to select Kirstjen Nielsen” to be the next Homeland Security Secretary, Trump complained, “She’s a Bushie.  Everybody hates her.”  As Kelly’s defense of her went nowhere, Trump threatened to cancel her nomination.  (She was eventually confirmed.)

“Kelly threw up his hands.  ‘Maybe I’m just going to have to resign.’  And he stormed out.”

The hotheaded Kelly remains Chief of Staff as of this writing.

46. Trump proposed a more honest name for his awful tax bill.

According to Woodward, he wanted to “[c]all it the ‘Cut, Cut, Cut Bill’.”  Congressional Republicans went with “The Tax Cut And Jobs Act”.  But curiously, in the end, “it was finalized as ‘An Act to Provide for Reconciliation Pursuant to Titles II and V of the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2018.'”

Yeah, that’s much better.

47. Bannon understood Trump’s enormous vulnerability as a philandering, rapey misogynist.

From Chapter 36:

“The #TimesUp And #MeToo movements of women and feminists would create an alternative to end the male-dominated patriarchy, Bannon believed.

‘Trump is the perfect foil…He’s the bad father, the terrible first husband, the boyfriend that fucked you over and wasted all those years, and [you] gave up your youth for, and then dumped you.  And the terrible boss that grabbed you by the pussy all the time and demeaned you.”

48. Afghanistan may reach the point of no return sometime early next year.

From Chapter 38:

“The DNI intelligence expert briefed Trump on Afghanistan in early 2018:  No gains by the U.S. in territory.  Nothing clawed back.  No improvement from last year; actually, some areas were getting worse.”

[snip]

“The coalition probably only had until the spring of 2019 to keep the status quo [a stalemate with The Taliban].  The political fabric seemed to be coming apart.  A perfect storm was coming, and a practical problem like weather might be the tipping point…A drought was coming, and with it a crisis of food insecurity…Some two million [Afghani refugees] had lived in Pakistan in decades [after their families fled during the 1979 Soviet invasion], never in their native Afghanistan, but they would be coming.”

49. Despite his constant, incessant ass-kissing, Trump’s new golf buddy Lindsey Graham wasn’t loyal enough in the eyes of the President.

At the end of 2017, the shameless South Carolina Senator played a round of golf with Trump at his International Golf Club in Florida.

After calling Trump’s course “spectacular” and telling Trump, “You’re a very good commander in chief,” Graham continued to brown nose:

“You’re cleaning up the mess that Obama left you.  You’re doing a damn good job of cleaning it up.  You’re rebuilding the military.  You’re taking a wet blanket off the economy.  You’re really unshackling the military and the economy.  God bless you for undoing the damage done in the last eight years.”

But Trump wanted more loyalty:

“You’re a middle-of-the-road guy.  I want you to be 100 percent for Trump.”

“‘Okay, what’s the issue?’ Graham asked, ‘and I’ll tell you whether I’m 100 percent for you or not.'”

“You’re like 82 percent…”

“Well, some days I’m 100 percent.  Some days I may be zero.”

That wasn’t good enough:

“I want you to be a 100 percent guy.”

50. John Dowd quit representing Trump because he knows he’ll be a terrible witness for Mueller.  Once he resigned, Trump informed the press.

After realizing during a test run, a preview of a potential Q&A with Robert Mueller, that Trump would be an awful advocate for himself in the Russia investigation (he blew up, continually insisting he was innocent and the victim of a “hoax”), attorney John Dowd pleaded with his client to remain silent:

“Mr. President, that’s why you can’t testify…When you’re a fact witness, you try to provide facts.  If you don’t know the facts, I’d just prefer you to say, Bob [Mueller], I just don’t remember.  I got too much going on here.  Instead of sort of guessing and making all kinds of wild conclusions.”

In the final chapter of Fear: Trump In The White House, Dowd reached his breaking point:

“I’m not happy, Mr. President.  This is a goddamn heartbreak…I’ve failed as your lawyer.  I’ve been unable to persuade you to take my advice…I wish I could persuade you…Don’t testify.  It’s either that or an orange jump suit.  If it’s decision time, you’re going to go forward, I can’t be with you.”

As soon as Dowd resigned in a morning phone call, the attorney presumed Trump immediately called the press.  Because “[t]wo minutes later”, he got calls from the Washington Post and The New York Times asking for comment.

As Woodward notes, “Trump always liked to be the first to deliver the news.”

51. Another Trump attorney Ty Cobb could be called as a witness, if he hasn’t already.

Dowd deeply regretted pushing Trump to hire the mustachioed attorney who went out on TV insisting that the President “was not afraid to testify.”

“‘He should have declined.  He’s a government employee.  And by the way, they can call him as a witness.  He has no [attorney/client] privilege with you.’

‘Jesus,’ Trump said, sounding worried.  ‘I’ve talked a lot with him.”

52. Dowd doesn’t think Trump will be impeached.

From Chapter 42:

“They’re not going to impeach you.  Are you shitting me?  They’re a bunch of cowards, the whole town. The media, the Congress.  They’re gutless.  What’s the impeachment going to be, for exercising Article II [of the US Constitution]?  Huh?  Hello?  Hello, I want to hear Speaker Ryan take that one up before the Rules Committee and the Judiciary Committee…We ought to tell them to go fuck themselves.

According to Woodward, “Dowd remained convinced that Mueller never had a Russian case or an obstruction case.  He was looking for the perjury trap.”  Which is why Dowd was insistent that Trump not submit to questioning.

53. The newest member of the Supreme Court recommended another abusive misogynist to work in the White House.

In the footnotes for Chapter 17, Woodward reveals that one of the many people who recommended Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who eventually resigned after revelations that he abused women he was romantically involved with, was none other than Brett Kavanaugh, who has faced his own accusations of harassment and assault.

54. A letter sent to Robert Mueller claimed Trump could fire him.  It also claimed he could free his criminalized staffers nabbed by the investigation.

Shortly before he quit, Trump attorney John Dowd convinced Special Counsel Robert Mueller to send him a list of topics he was pursuing to give The President’s legal team a head’s up.  If Trump had to answer any questions at all, Dowd preferred it be done on paper, not in person.

“The subject read ‘Request for Testimony on Alleged Obstruction of Justice.’

A raw assertion of presidential power was printed in boldface:  ‘He could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired.'”

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 7, 2018
8:37 p.m.

Published in: on October 7, 2018 at 8:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Revelations From Bob Woodward’s Donald Trump Book (Part Five)

25. Steve Bannon got into a screaming match with Ivanka Trump about her role in the White House.

From Chapter 18:

“During a meeting in Priebus’s corner office Bannon and Ivanka got into an altercation.”

“‘You’re a goddamn staffer!’ Bannon finally screamed at Ivanka.  ‘You’re nothing but a fucking staffer!’…’You walk around this place and act like you’re in charge, and you’re not.  You’re on staff!’

‘I’m not a staffer!’ she shouted. ‘I’ll never be a staffer.  I’m the first daughter’–she really used the title–‘and I’m never going to be a staffer!'”

26. Bannon and Jared Kushner both believed they leaked negative stories about each other to the press.

Meanwhile, the exasperated white supremacist accused Ivanka’s husband of telling the UK paper the Daily Mail, anonymously of course, “about Trump blowing up at him and Priebus and blocking them from traveling on Air Force One to Florida.  It wasn’t true they had been kicked off the trip.  Both declined to travel that day.  ‘You fucking set me up,’…You trashed Reince in this story.  And I know you did it.’

Kushner vehemently denied it, and seemed offended at the accusation.”

In turn, Ivanka’s husband accused Bannon of being the source for a 2016 New York Times story about Kushner’s “December 2016 meeting with the Russian ambassador, adding fuel to the allegations that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia.”

Curiously, Woodward doesn’t mention a denial on Bannon’s part.

27. Maybe it was Trump’s Commerce Secretary who wrote that anonymous “I’m Part Of The Resistance” NYT op-ed.

From Chapter 19:

“Several days later Wilbur Ross laid out the reasoning on the importance of trade deficits.  Echoing the president, Ross said trade deficits are the lodestar and were a mark of our economic instability and weakness.”

28. Trump showed his appreciation for Ross, who saved his ass nearly 30 years ago, by tearing into him over a new trade deal with China.

“In the spring of 2017, Ross negotiated a deal with China for the U.S. to import Chinese chicken and export beef.  He called it ‘a herculean accomplishment.’  But there was some criticism of the deal.”

“In a meeting at the White House, the president tore into Ross. ‘I can’t believe you made this deal.  Why didn’t you tell anybody?  You didn’t tell me about this.  You just went off and did it on your own.  And it’s a terrible deal.  We got screwed.  Wilbur, maybe you used to have it.’  As an investment banker representing casino bondholders angry at Trump in 1990, Ross had struck a deal with Trump that acknowledged the value of his famous name and allowed him to avoid bankruptcy.”

“‘I thought you were a killer…When you were on Wall Street, you made some of these deals.  But you’re past your prime.  You’re not a good negotiator anymore.  I don’t know what it is, but you’ve lost it.  I don’t trust you.  I don’t want you doing any more negotiations.'”

29. Steve Bannon warned Trump that firing Comey was a mistake and would not end the Russia investigation.

According to Woodward at the start of Chapter 20, Trump wanted then-FBI Director James Comey fired “at the beginning of” his first term.  As he planned to finally terminate him in May 2017, his soon-to-exit advisor Steve Bannon issued this prescient warning about such a move.

“The moment you fire him he’s J. fucking Edgar Hoover.  The day you fire him, he’s the greatest martyr in American history.  A weapon to come and get you.  They’re going to name a special fucking counsel.  You can fire Comey.  You can’t fire the FBI.  The minute you fire him, the FBI as an institution, they have to destroy you and they will destroy you.”

Despite being told that “a special counsel” has “sweeping powers…to investigate everything a president touched,” Trump had already made up his mind:

“Don’t try to talk me out of it…because I’ve made my decision, so don’t even try.”

30. Rod Rosenstein wasn’t a Comey fan, either.

“Rosenstein told Trump that he thought Comey should be fired.  He had no problem writing a memo outlining his reasoning.”  It was a 3-page document entitled “RESTORING PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN THE FBI.”

Rosenstein opposed the way Comey handled the Hillary Clinton private server investigation.  In the memo, “He quoted five former attorneys general or deputy attorneys general agreeing that Comey had violated the rules,” announcing his own conclusions about the case “pre-empting the decision of the prosecutor”.

Trump now had the cover to do what he had already planned to do anyway before Rosenstein even walked into the Oval Office.

31. Bannon thought Trump fired Comey because he was concerned about his son-in-law.

“Bannon believed, ‘100 percent,’ that the reason for firing Comey was because the FBI was seeking financial records from Jared.  It was pure speculation.  Ivanka had complained to her father about the FBI.”

32. Trump lawyer John Dowd had previously investigated Pete Rose and defended John McCain.

“In the 1980s, he was special counsel to the commissioner of baseball.  He ran several investigations, the most prominent leading to the banning of Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds for betting on baseball games.  After that, as a defense attorney, Dowd represented Wall Street and political figures, including Senator John McCain in the Keating Five ethics investigation.”

33. Trump told an unnamed friend his personal philosophy on responding to accusations of philandering, harassment and assault.

From Chapter 21:

“Trump gave some private advice to a friend who had acknowledged some bad behaviour toward women.  Real power is fear.  It’s all about strength.  Never show weakness.  You’ve always got to be strong.  Don’t be bullied.  There is no choice.

‘You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women…If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead.  That was a big mistake you made.  You didn’t come out guns blazing and just challenge them.  You showed weakness.  You’ve got to be strong.  You’ve got to be aggressive.  You’ve got to push back hard.  You’re got to deny anything that’s said about you.  Never admit.”

34. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner played a major role in Steve Bannon’s departure.

From Chapter 23:

“Ivanka and Jared gave a newspaper story to the president with highlighted quotes from an unnamed White House source.  You know who this is?  This is Steve Bannon, they said.  In a West Wing filled with leakers, these tactics slowly but surely planted a distrust of Bannon with the president.”

35. Trump attorney John Dowd pretty much gave Special Counsel Robert Mueller anything he wanted with no objection from the President:

From Chapter 24:

“Mueller received 1.4 million pages of documents from the Trump campaign and 20,000 pages from the White House.  Dowd believed no documents had been destroyed.  In all, 37 witnesses gave interviews to Mueller’s team voluntarily.”

There was also a “six-page White House summary of the entire Flynn matter from contemporaneous recollections.  Dowd considered it the Bible on Flynn…”

36. The 2017 federal budget would not pass unless Trump instituted anti-trans military policies.

“In July, the Freedom Caucus, a bloc of 30 strong conservatives in the House, threatened not to vote for the budget unless President Trump instituted some prohibition on paying for gender reassignment surgeries and hormone treatments for transgender people serving in the military.”

37. Trump made a private transphobic remark.

“During the campaign, Trump had proclaimed himself a supporter of LGBT rights.  Now he told Bannon, ‘What the fuck?  They’re coming in here, they’re getting clipped’–a crude reference to gender reassignment surgery.”

38. Trump studied his own tweets to determine which ones were the most popular.

From Chapter 25:

“He ordered printouts of his recent tweets that had received a high number of likes, 200,000 or more.  He studied them to find the common themes in the most successful.  He seemed to want to become more strategic, find out whether success was tied to the subject, the language or simply the surprise that the president was weighing in.  The most effective tweets were often the most shocking.”

39. Trump is a deep thinker.

“Coming back from the [2017] G20 summit, Trump was editing an upcoming speech with Porter.  Scribbling his thoughts in neat, clean penmanship, the president wrote, “TRADE IS BAD.”

40. Why economic advisor Gary Cohn initially tried to quit before being convinced to stay on until a terrible tax bill was passed.

From Chapter 30:

“On Friday, August 18, [2017,] Gary Cohn flew by helicopter from East Hampton, Long Island, to Morristown, New Jersey, where it was raining heavily.  He had to wait on the tarmac to get clearance to Bedminster.  He was carrying a resignation letter.  This was too much.  Someone had put a swastika on his daughter’s college dorm room.”

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 7, 2018
8:01 p.m.

Published in: on October 7, 2018 at 8:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Revelations From Bob Woodward’s Donald Trump Book (Part Four)

20. Barack Obama seriously contemplated bombing North Korea’s nukes and missiles.

Near the end of his Presidency, Barack Obama wondered whether a “surgical strike” against North Korea’s nuclear capabilities would be successful.  (There were no legal considerations, apparently.)  In September 2016, the Kim Jong Un regime resumed underground testing of its nuclear weapons.  Endlessly worried about the resumption of the still active Korean War (and with good reason), the North Korean leader wasn’t taking any chances even if his threats of striking America (if they attack his country first) with long range supposedly nuke-tipped ICBMs is highly unlikely.  (They would definitely reach the South and Japan, if they struck first, however.)

Obama was hoping to make his successor’s life a lot easier by finally dealing with this issue.

“From the outset President Obama had authorized several Special Access Programs (SAP), the most classified and compartmented operations conducted by the military and intelligence, to deter North Korean missiles.  One program pinpointed cyber attacks on the command, control, telemetry, and guidance systems before or during a North Korean missile test launch.  These high-risk cyber attacks had begun in his first year as president.  Their success rate was mixed.

Another highly secret operation focused on obtaining North Korean missiles.  And a third enabled the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds.  Officials have asked that I not describe the details in order to protect national security operations deemed vital to the United States.”

Obama asked his National Security Council if bombing North Korea’s nukes and missiles was doable.  In short, no.  It wasn’t clear if their ICBM’s were even nuclear.  (“Current intelligence assessments could not answer definitively.”)

“The intelligence assessment also showed that a U.S. attack could not wipe out everything the North had.  There would be lost targets because they did not know about them, and partial destruction of other targets.”  What about the deleterious effect on North Korean civilians?  That curiously goes unmentioned.

There were numerous other problems with the unwarranted attack.  But this was the biggest one:

“A single North Korean nuclear weapon detonated in response could mean tens of thousands of casualties in South Korea.”

The Pentagon noted the obvious.  There would have to be “a ground invasion” on top of the bombing which of course would justify North Korea retaliating “likely with a nuclear weapon”.

“Frustrated and exasperated, he rejected a preemptive strike.  It was folly.”

Too bad Obama didn’t feel the same way about drones.

21. James Clapper warned Obama that North Korea would not go for denuclearization and they want a peace treaty with South Korea.

The then-Director of National Intelligence made a trip to North Korea in late 2014 “to retrieve two U.S. citizens who had been taken prisoner.  From his discussions with North Korean officials he was convinced that North Korea would not give up their nuclear weapons.  Why would they?  In exchange for what?  North Korea had effectively bought a deterrent.  It was real and powerful in its ambiguity.”

Clapper “argued to Obama and the NSC that for the United States to say that denuclearization was a condition for negotiations was not working, and would not work.”

“Also, Clapper said, he understood the North Korean desire for a peace treaty to end the Korean War, which had been formally resolved with an armistice in 1953–a truce between the commanders of the militaries involved, not the nations at war.

The United States needed to understand how North Korea looked at the situation:  The U.S. and South Korea seemed permanently poised, dramatically at times, to attack and to do away with the Kim regime.”

Clapper noted that the North Koreans told him that America “has no permanent enemies” which gave him hope that it would be possible “to set up an interest section in Pyongyang” in order to establish “an informal” diplomatic “channel in which another government with an embassy in the North Korean capital would act as intermediary.”  There “would be less than full diplomatic relations, but it would give the U.S. a base, a place…they could obtain information and also get information into North Korea.”

Clapper’s view was a lonely one on the National Security Council:

“No one agreed.  Obama was hard-line:  North Korea would have to agree to give up its nuclear weapons,” a policy that has been stubbornly maintained by the Trump Administration.

22. Obama also thought about increasing cyber attacks against North Korea.

“Some” in the Obama Administration “viewed cyber [attacks] as the below-the-radar magic wand that might mitigate the North Korean threat.”

But there were two major problems, besides the clearly illegal and unwarranted plan of attack itself.

One:

“To launch broader cyber attacks effectively, the [NSA] would have to go through servers that North Korea had in China.  The Chinese would detect such an attack and could conclude it was directed at them, potentially unleashing a cataclysmic cyber war.”

Two:

“The use of cyber could trigger escalation and set off a round of attacks and counterattacks that could cripple the Internet, financial systems like banking and credit cards, power grids, news and other communications systems, potentially bringing the American or even the world economy to its knees.”

The foolish plan was thankfully abandoned.

23. Lindsey Graham urged Trump to bomb North Korea even if it meant killing a whole lot of South Korean civilians.  He also mended fences with John McCain during a private dinner.

Despite being humiliated by Trump during the 2016 primaries, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham was urged by then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to forge a relationship with the new President.  (“You’re a lot of fun.  He needs fun people around him.”)

They ultimately bonded over North Korea, one of Graham’s pet issues.  At the same time, Trump was trying to make peace with another infamous warmonger John McCain who he derided for being captured in Vietnam (instead of committing war crimes by bombing civilians before that happened).

He invited McCain and his wife Cindy to a private dinner at The White House where he offered a “teared up” Cindy a job being “my ambassador at large for human trafficking”.

Trump than proceeded to kiss up to John who was “visibly touched” by the offer to his wife:

“I just want to get to know you…I admire you.  You’re a very tough man.  You’re a good man.”

“McCain again seemed touched…’We want to help you.'”

That led to a discussion with Graham about North Korea.  When Trump asked McCain’s opinion on what to do, he replied:

“Very complicated…They can kill a million people in Seoul [South Korea] with conventional artillery.  That’s what makes it so hard.”

To which Graham responded:

“If a million people are going to die, they’re going to die over there, not here.”

Even Trump was taken aback:

“That’s pretty cold.”

24. America is deliberating fighting a stalemate in Afghanistan to avoid conceding the rest of the country back to The Taliban.

Throughout Fear: Trump In The White House, the Republican President expresses outrage over the disastrous Afghanistan invasion.  (“We’ve got to figure out how to get the fuck out of there.”)  Launched a month after 9/11 with significant public support, the unpopular occupation has since faded into the background.  Almost 20 years old now, it is America’s longest ever war with no end in sight.

In Chapter 15, Woodward lays out the big problems with the current strategy.  The Taliban remain resilient and continue to rule over “significant” parts of the country.  The thoroughly corrupt puppet regime has no legitimacy.  The opium trade and illegal mining make up much of the otherwise struggling economy.  Having a permanent US military presence won’t solve anything.  There are numerous tribes at war with each other.

“A larger question loomed:  Should the United States be playing to win in Afghanistan, or merely not to lose?”

Despite protests from the soon to be departing Steve Bannon, Trump reluctantly agreed with a request to add more troops (just a few thousand) even though everybody in the government, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, sees the occupation as a failure that needs to draw to a close.

Everybody except the perennially war hungry Lindsey Graham who tried to scaremonger Trump into keeping the ongoing quagmire going:

“Do you want on your resume that you allowed Afghanistan to go back into the darkness and the second 9/11 came from the very same place the first 9/11 did?”  15 of the 9/11 attackers were Saudi Arabian but I digress.

When Trump asked Graham, “Well…how does it end?”

“‘It never ends,’ Graham said. ‘It’s good versus evil.  Good versus evil never ends.  It’s just like the Nazis.  It’s now radical Islam.  It will be something else one day.'”

When Pence urged Graham to tell Trump “how this ends,” Graham would not budge.

“It would never end, Graham repeated.”

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 7, 2018
3:23 a.m.

Published in: on October 7, 2018 at 3:23 am  Leave a Comment  

Revelations From Bob Woodward’s Donald Trump Book (Part Three)

12. Trump thought preparing for a transition would jinx him.

“Money questions ignited Trump.  When he learned that [Chris] Christie, who would be the head of his transition team, was raising money for the operation, he summoned him and Bannon to Trump Tower.”

A paranoid Trump believed he was being robbed.  (“I’m putting money in my campaign, and you’re fucking stealing from me.”)  Christie tried to reassure him that he wasn’t a thief, he was preparing “for the required transition organization in case Trump won,” even though the then-New Jersey Governor thought he had already blown the election.

“Trump said that Mitt Romney had spent too much time on transition meetings as the nominee in 2012, and not enough time on campaign events.  ‘That’s why he lost.  You’re jinxing me,’ he told Christie.  ‘I don’t want a transition.  I’m shutting down the transition…You’re jinxing me.  I’m not going to spend a second on it.”

When Bannon tried to back up Christie who he otherwise despised, Trump was inflexible:

“It’s jinxing me…I can’t have one.”

A compromise would eventually be reached.

“Trump agreed, finally and reluctantly, to a slimmed-down, skeletal version of the transition.  Christie would cease fundraising.

‘He can have his transition,’ Trump said, ‘but I don’t want anything to do with it.'”

13. During a corporate speech, Bob Woodward learned firsthand about the hidden Trump voter.

“Two weeks before the election, October 25, 2016, I was in Fort Worth, Texas, giving a speech to about 400 executives from a firm called KEY2ACT that provides construction and field service management software.  My topic was ‘The Age of the American Presidency.  What Will 2016 Bring?’  The group was mostly white and was from all over the country.

I asked for a show of hands.  How many expected to vote for Hillary?  As best as I could tell there were only about 10.  How many expected to vote for Trump?  Half the room raised their hands–approximately 200.  Wow, I thought, that seemed like a lot of Trump voters.”

Woodward had “no explanation” and neither did the “flabbergasted” CEO of KEY2ACT.

14. The real, petty reason Trump hired those Russian sex workers to piss on his hotel bed.

One of Trump’s biggest ongoing pet peeves is the Steele Dossier, the secretly compiled document that isn’t entirely corroborated and yet still managed to leak into the media.  Originally funded by Democrats but later financially supported by Republicans, British spy Christopher Steele was hired to compile potentially embarrassing information that the Russians, who preferred Trump over Clinton, had supposedly acquired of their favoured candidate.

The most infamous story involved Trump hiring a couple of local sex workers in Russia to urinate on his hotel room bed during a trip in 2013 and that it was surreptitiously captured on tape by the Russians.  When the story came out, comedians had a field day.  Trump denied it ever happened, saying he’s a well-known germophobe.

But in Chapter Eight of Fear:  Trump In The White House, there was a very specific reason why this all happened:

“On the second page it said:  ‘According to Source D, where s/he had been present, TRUMP’s (perverted conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where he knew President and Mrs OBAMA (whom he hated) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him.  The hotel was known to be under FSB control with microphones and concealed cameras in all the main rooms to record anything they wanted to.”

15. Hope Hicks’ description of the press sounds more like President Trump.

During the campaign, Trump had hired Hope Hicks to do PR for him.  During the transition, he hired her to run the communications department which would allow her to avoid directly dealing with the media, her preference.

According to Woodward, Hicks “felt that he had lost some of his leverage with the media by being overexposed during the campaign.”

“Hicks was convinced the media had ‘oppositional defiance syndrome’, which is a term from clinical psychology most often applied to rebellious children.  ‘Oppositional defiance syndrome” is characterized by excessive anger against authority, vindictiveness and temper tantrums.  As far as she was concerned, that described the press.”

She was really describing Trump.

16. Trump worried that the pee tape story would piss off Melania and admitted to one of his lawyers he was a philanderer.

The 45th US President has a long history of womanizing which already cost him two marriages.  Clearly worried about losing a third, especially after his famous private encounter with then-FBI Director James Comey who he later fired:

“Trump later told his attorney that he felt shaken down by Comey with the presentation about the alleged prostitutes in Moscow.  ‘I’ve got enough problems with Melania and girlfriends and all that.  I don’t need any more.  I can’t have Melania hearing about that.”

17. Trump’s Secretary of Defense James Mattis is an Islamophobe.

In Chapter Ten, Woodward recounts a classified meeting on February 25, 2017 regarding the military’s battle plan against ISIS, a plan that essentially remained Obama’s “but with bombing and other authorities granted to the local commanders.”  Conducted by Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, at some point there was a discussion about Iran:

“Mattis was worried about Iranian expansion,” a recurring paranoid unfounded obsession with the Trump Administration.  “At one point he later referred to ‘those idiot raghead mullahs.'”

18. FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe told Priebus a New York Times story was “bullshit” and “grossly overstated”.  But he refused to say so publicly.

On Valentine’s Day 2017, The New York Times published this story about Trump campaign officials contacting the Russians the year before the 2016 campaign.

The FBI’s deputy director Andrew McCabe called Trump’s then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to insist the reporting was wrong:

“‘It’s total bullshit,’ McCabe said. ‘It’s not true, and we want you to know that.  It’s grossly overstated.'”

Woodward doesn’t report any actual inaccuracies, if there were in fact any to be found.

When Priebus pleaded with the FBI’s number two to publicly discredit the story:

“‘Call me in a couple of hours,’ McCabe said.  ‘I will ask around and I’ll let you know.  I’ll see what I can do.'”

After waiting impatiently for two hours, the freaked out Chief of Staff called him again.

“‘I’m sorry, I can’t…There’s nothing I can do about it.  I tried, but if we start issuing comments on individual stories, we’ll be doing statements every three days.’  The FBI could not become a clearinghouse for the accuracy of news stories.  If the FBI tried to debunk certain stories, a failure to comment could be seen as a confirmation.”

McCabe asked for more time (“Give me a couple more hours.”).

“Nothing happened.  No call from the FBI.  Priebus tried to explain to Trump, who was waiting for a recanting.  It was another reason for Trump to distrust and hate the FBI…”

CNN reported this inside wrangling a week later.  (“Priebus was cast as trying to manipulate the FBI for political purposes.”)

“The White House tried and failed to correct the story and show that McCabe had initiated the matter.”

Again, it’s not made clear what was supposedly erroneous about the NYT story.

During his sworn testimony on June 8 that same year, in a moment of bitter irony, the now fired Comey finally did what McCabe wouldn’t do.  He asserted that the Times’ story “in the main was not true.”

19. Steve Bannon prepped soon-to-be National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster on how to deal with Trump during his job interview which didn’t go well.

“Don’t lecture Trump.  He doesn’t like professors.  He doesn’t like intellectuals.”  McMaster wrote a critical book about the botched Vietnam War.  “Trump was a guy who ‘never went to class.  Never got the syllabus.  Never took a note.  Never went to a lecture.  The night before the final, he comes in at midnight from the fraternity house, puts on a pot of coffee, takes your notes, memorizes as much as he can, walks in at 8 in the morning and gets a C.  And that’s good enough…Show up in your uniform.’

McMaster wore a suit.”

The planned two-hour interview was much shorter.  According to Bannon, “McMaster ran his fucking mouth for all of 20 minutes giving his theories of the world.”

Trump said, “He’s dressed like a beer salesman.”  He still gave McMaster the job.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 7, 2018
12:50 a.m.

Published in: on October 7, 2018 at 12:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Revelations From Bob Woodward’s Donald Trump Book (Part Two)

8. Kellyanne Conway attended the Democratic National Convention and knew the Clinton campaign was in trouble.

Trump replaced the doomed Paul Manafort with longtime Republican operative Kellyanne Conway.  In July 2016, she attended the DNC event to see what the Democrats were offering their supporters.  According to Woodward, she came away unimpressed:

“Their message is Donald Trump is bad, and we’re not Donald Trump.  The rest of the message was race, gender, LGBT…She doesn’t seem to have a message.  Now if I’m her, I’m going to find a message.  I’m going to buy a message.  And it’s going to be very positive and uplifting and optimistic.  All I can see from her so far is not optimism.”

An odd assertion to make when Clinton was foolishly arguing that “America was already great” (one of the many dumb things she said during the campaign) and when Trump’s own address during the GOP convention was so relentlessly dark and negative.  (“The American Dream is dead.”)

At any event, Conway would go on to talk about “the hidden Trump voter” which was met with much cynical snickering from the media.  Undeterred, Trump’s new campaign manager observed, “There’s not a single hidden Hillary voter in the entire country.  They’re all out and about.”

Besides her message, Clinton had another big problem.  With regards to pre-election polling, she “had not cracked 50 percent in eight key states that Obama won twice with over 50 percent” in the 2008 election.  The Trump camp, led by Conway and Bannon, realized that as long as they focused on Clinton’s weaknesses, “they would win with those hidden Trump voters.  If the race stayed about Trump, ‘we’ll probably lose.'”

9. After the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, the RNC threatened to pull their funding and demanded Trump drop out of the race. They wanted Mike Pence paired with Condoleezza Rice instead.

Every Presidential candidate fears The October Surprise.  And sure enough, Donald Trump got a doozy in 2016.

On October 7th, an unreleased clip from a 2005 Access Hollywood shoot was released.  Trump was bantering with host Billy Bush on an AH bus headed to the set of Days Of Our Lives.  There was lots of talk about women and how Trump can’t resist them.  Then, the moment of infamy:

“…Trump [was] bragging crudely about his sexual prowess.  He said he could grope and kiss women at will.  ‘When you’re a star, they let you do it,’ Trump said.  ‘You can do anything.  Grab them by the pussy.'”

The very next morning, according to Woodward, there was an emergency meeting in Trump’s Trump Tower penthouse:

“Priebus told Bannon, ‘The donors are all out.  Everybody’s dropped.  Paul Ryan’s going to drop this afternoon.’  The loss of the money people and the Republican house speaker signaled the end.  ‘It’s over,’ Priebus said.

“Everybody’s pulling their endorsements.  I don’t even know if Pence is going to be on this thing.’  The fastidiously loyal Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, was doubting.”

After Trump arrived, Priebus read Trump the riot act:

“You have two choices…You either drop out right now or you’re going to lose in the biggest landslide in American history and be humiliated for life.”

Priebus revealed that “every leader, every congressman, every senator” even members of the RNC were “telling me you’re either going to lose big, in a massive way, or you need to drop out of the race.  I can’t make it any better.”

To salvage what he believed was a sinking ship, Priebus proposed an alternative ticket:

“Pence is prepared to step up, and Condi Rice will come in as his VP.”

Bannon protested.  “That’s never going to happen…That’s ridiculous.  Fucking absurd.”

As Woodward notes of Bannon’s efforts, “In less than two months as campaign CEO they had cut the polling gap in half with endless rallies.”  Dropping out now would’ve been the real disaster.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appealed to Trump’s business sense:

“This is not about the campaign…That’s over. This is about your brand.”

Regarding Donald Trump Jr. and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, “You need to save the brand for them or the brand’s finished.”

Rudy Guiliani claimed Trump “had less than a 50 percent chance of winning. ‘Basically you’ve got 40 percent.'”

Once again, only Steve Bannon was convinced Trump wasn’t going to lose.

“‘One hundred percent, metaphysical certitude you’re going to win’…Your supporters will still be with you. ‘They are worried about saving their country.'”

But Priebus was insistent:

“You guys don’t know what you’re doing.  You’re going to go down.”

According to Woodward, “Prominent Republicans began to call for Trump to step aside for Mike Pence” who had “gone to ground when the news broke about the Access Hollywood tape.”  After putting out a statement condemning Trump’s remarks (“I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them.”):

“Stories circulated that Pence had given Bannon a sealed letter urging Trump to drop off the ticket.”

When the meeting adjourned, Christie started scolding Bannon in private:

“You’re the fucking problem…You’ve been the problem since the beginning…You’re the enabler.  You play to every one of his worst instincts.  This thing’s over and you’re going to be blamed.  Every time he’s got terrible instincts for these things, and all you do is get him all worked up.  This is going to be humiliating.”

“Christie was in Bannon’s face, looming large.  Bannon half-wanted to say, You fat fuck, let’s throw down right here.”

No fists were thrown.  With a trip to the second Presidential debate looming in Missouri the next day, Bannon simply gave the then-New Jersey Governor an ultimatum:

“Governor…the plane leaves tomorrow…If you’re on the plane, you’re on the team.”

Christie was a no-show.

“‘Fuck this guy,’ Bannon said, and the plane took off.”

In the end, Trump refused to quit and proved Bannon right.

10. Trump almost did an ABC interview to do damage control after Melania dismissed the idea of appearing on 60 Minutes with him and Ivanka.

While everybody but Bannon was urging Trump to quit in that emergency Trump Tower meeting, there was also a spontaneous plan to save face.  Kellyanne Conway suggested a joint appearance with daughter Ivanka and wife Melania on the long running CBS News program 60 Minutes which was immediately dismissed by Melania.  (“Not doing that…No, no, no.  No way.”) After Bannon’s proposal to do an impromptu rally with supporters to cut a harsh promo on the media was rejected despite Trump’s enthusiasm for the idea, Conway had another proposal:

“Conway would call ABC and arrange for David Muir, the ABC anchor, to helicopter in.  Guiliani and Christie would write an introduction for Trump and Muir could do a 10-minue interview.

Political suicide, thought Bannon.  This would make the campaign over for sure, and Trump would lose by 20 points.”

When Trump was handed his prepared remarks, he balked:

“‘I can’t do this,’ he said.  ‘This is bullshit.  This is weak.  You guys are weak.'”

A quick revision was made.  It made no difference:

“I’m not doing this.”

Ultimately, Trump ended up not doing the interview.  Instead, the GOP candidate went downstairs and outside Trump Tower to greet a “roaring crowd of Trump supporters in the street”.  When a reporter asked if he was going to continue campaigning, he replied:

“One hundred percent.”

11. Despite being the only campaign official to defend him on all the Sunday political talk shows, Rudy Guiliani was brutally admonished by Trump in front of colleagues for doing a terrible job.

“Everyone on the Trump campaign refused to appear on the Sunday morning talk shows except Rudy Guiliani.  Priebus, Christie, even the reliable, thick-armored, never-say-no Conway had scheduled.  All cancelled.”

“Guiliani gave, or tried to give, the same spiel on each show:  Trump’s words had been ‘reprehensible and terrible and awful,’ and he had apologized.” Trump was “changed” because of his “transformational” campaign.  Let’s talk about Hillary Clinton’s problems instead, her no longer suppressed Goldman Sachs speeches, her “private coziness with Wall Street that clashed with her liberal public positions.”

Surely by accident because he didn’t think Trump would win, Guiliani nonetheless astutely predicted, “The country would view that much more harshly.”

When he arrived on the campaign plane “seeming punch-drunk” because of the exhausting TV apology tour he just completed, Trump wasn’t pleased:

“‘Rudy, you’re a baby!’  Trump said loudly.  ‘I’ve never seen a worse defense of me in my life.  They took your diaper off right there.  You’re like a little baby that needed to be changed.  When are you going to be a man?'”

“He can’t defend me.  I need somebody to defend me.  Where are my people?”

“It was a mistake.  He shouldn’t have gone on.  He’s weak.  You’re weak, Rudy.  You’ve lost it.”

According to Woodward, “Guiliani just looked up, his face blank.”

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, October 6, 2018
10:52 p.m.

Published in: on October 6, 2018 at 10:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Revelations From Bob Woodward’s Donald Trump Book (Part One)

Last month, legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward released his latest insider account of a sitting US President.  Fear: Trump In The White House tells the story of how the fraudulent New York hustler conned the electorate into voting him into the White House.

Those expecting a brilliant account of Trump’s long journey to his highest level of incompetence will be sadly disappointed.  The book feels premature (Trump’s not even halfway through his first term), it leaves out a lot of potentially interesting details (there’s next to nothing about Trump’s embattled communications team or the child separation border policy among other inexcusable omissions) and too much of it is the overly dry “he said this, he said that” pro-imperialist insider access accounting that is often taken as Gospel instead of being routinely scrutinized for the self-serving bullshit it is.

Regardless, there are still some revealing passages worth highlighting:

1. Donald Trump doesn’t think The New York Times is “fake news”.

In Chapter Two, Bob Woodward recounts an encounter in August 2016 between the GOP Presidential candidate and his then-campaign manager Paul Manafort at the Trump National Golf Club. Trump was pissed about this New York Times article which noted the failed collective effort to keep the orange one’s worst public impulses in check:

“Citing the New York Times story about the failure to tame his tongue, Trump asked Manafort how such an article could appear.  It was one of Trump’s paradoxes:  He attacked the mainstream media with relish, especially the Times–but despite the full-takedown language, he considered the Times the paper of record and largely believed its stories.”

When Steve Bannon attempted to discredit the report (“the story had a lot of these unnamed sources, we don’t know the veracity.”), Trump was adamant:

“No, I can tell…They’re leakers.”

As Woodword notes, “He knew the quotes were true.”  And so did Bannon despite his repeated attempts to calm Trump down:

“Bannon continued his full-body, opposition party pitch, though he knew the story was true.”

“Trump wasn’t buying it.  The story was gospel, and the campaign was full of leakers.”

2. Like the left, Steve Bannon knew two of Hillary Clinton’s biggest vulnerabilities: wars and free trade.

In that same meeting, a frustrated Trump, who was on the verge of firing Manafort (“He’s not really running the campaign.  I only brought him in to get me through the convention.”), listened intently to Bannon’s thematic pitch for his struggling campaign:

“Number one…we’re going to stop mass illegal immigration and start to limit legal immigration to get our sovereignty back.  Number two, you are going to bring manufacturing jobs back to the country.  And number three, we’re going to get out of these pointless foreign wars.”

Bannon argued persuasively that the Democratic Presidential nominee was extremely vulnerable on two of these issues (“…she’s part of the thing that cut the bad trade deals…and she’s the neocon….She’s supported every war out there.”).

Indeed, Clinton was a major champion of her husband’s soon-to-be-defunct NAFTA deal and the abandoned TPP which were both vehemently opposed by labour and leftists including her primary opponent Bernie Sanders.  And one of the reasons she didn’t get the Democratic nomination in 2008 was because she voted for the doomed Iraq invasion, a position that cost her big time in five crucial battleground states where numerous anti-war military families live.  She also supported the war against The Taliban in Afghanistan and was one of the chief architects of the Libya debacle.

3. Bannon urged Trump to continue being as off-the-cuff as possible to distinguish himself from Clinton.

At the end of his August 2016 pitch at the Trump National Golf Club, the then-Breitbart head made one last suggestion to the future President:

“Bannon added that Trump had another advantage.  He spoke in a voice that did not sound political. This was what Barack Obama had in 2008 in the primary contest against Clinton, who spoke like the trained politician she was.  Her tempo was overly practiced.  Even when telling the truth, she sounded like she was lying to you.

Politicians like Hillary can’t talk naturally, Bannon said.  It was a mechanical way of speaking, right out of the polling and focus groups, answering the questions in political speak.  It was soothing, not jarring, not from the heart or from deep conviction, but from some highly paid consultant’s talking points–not angry.”

Trump immediately hired Bannon to help run his campaign.

4. Paul Manafort showed Bannon an advanced copy of a New York Times article that marked the beginning of his downfall.

In Chapter Three, shortly after the meeting at the golf club, Trump’s then-campaign manager invited his new advisor to visit him in his Trump Tower apartment:

“‘I need you to look at something for me,’ Manafort said, handing him a copy of a draft story coming in from The New York Times headlined:  ‘Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Donald Trump’s Campaign Chief.’

Bannon read, ‘Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort’ from the pro-Russian political party.”

A startled Bannon wondered if Trump knew this was coming (“Manafort said no.”) and asked how long Manafort himself was aware of the Times’ investigation (“Two months…”).

“Bannon read about 10 paragraphs in.  It was a kill shot.  It was over for Manafort.

‘My lawyer told me not to cooperate,’ Manafort said.  ‘It was just a hit piece.'”

Manafort protested his innocence (“It’s all lies…I had expenses.”) but Bannon wasn’t buying it and knew that Trump would flip his lid once he read the story.  Despite being advised by Bannon to warn the Republican candidate of his coming shitstorm, Manafort never told Trump about what he was up to in Ukraine.  He was later convicted on multiple felonies.

5. Anthony Scaramucci was right about Bannon.

From Chapter Three:

“As Bannon later remarked with his trademark profanity, ‘I reached out and sucked Reince Preibus’ dick on August 15 and told the establishment, we can’t win without you.'”

6. Trump wouldn’t have won without the RNC’s Obama-inspired big data operation.

Also from Chapter Three:

“Priebus had spent the last years overseeing a massive effort to rebuild the RNC into a data-driven operation.  Borrowing from Obama’s winning campaign strategy, the RNC started pouring vast sums–eventually more than $175 million–into analytics and big data, tracking individual primary voters, and using that information in areas divided into neighbourhood ‘turfs’ staffed with armies of volunteers.

All along, the expectation had been that once the Republican nominee was selected, the RNC would hitch this massive shiny new wagon to an already fairly robust and large campaign apparatus.”

Despite candidate Trump’s constant bashing of the RNC during the primaries (“a ‘disgrace'”, “a scam”, “Priebus ‘should be ashamed of himself'”), “the RNC was effectively the Trump campaign staff.”

From there, the RNC targeted the most likely Republican voters.  Top of the list were those who “scored a 90 or above on a scale of 0 to 100 in the national database.”

“In Ohio,” one of the important battleground states, “out of perhaps 6 million voters, approximately 1 million would score 90 or above.  Those 1 million would be targeted for early voting ballots, and the field staff and volunteers would hound each one until the ballot was sent in.”

“Next, the field staff would move to persuade those who scored 60 or 70, trying to convince them to vote for Trump.  The system was designed to reduce the randomness of voter contact, to make sure the volunteers and field staff concentrated their efforts on those most likely to vote for Trump.”

How specific were the details on individual Republican voters in the RNC database?  It gave the GOP “insight into almost everything about every likely voter–what beer they drank, the make and color of the car they drove, the age and school of their kids, their mortgage status, the cigarettes they smoked.  Did they get a hunting license every year?  Did they subscribe to gun magazines, or liberal magazines like The New Republic.”

7. Bannon was the only Trump campaign member that believed he would win.

Throughout Fear: Trump In The White House, Steve Bannon is stubbornly steadfast in his staunch support for the GOP nominee, despite everybody else in the campaign openly espousing significant doubts especially after receiving bad press.  In Chapter Three, after reviewing their campaign strategy:

“Bannon assured Trump, I have ‘metaphysical certitude you will win here if you stick to this script and compare and contrast’ with Hillary Clinton. ‘Every underlying number is with us.'”

“Bannon said he had seen data suggesting that Ohio and Iowa could be winnable.  Also they had to win Florida and North Carolina.  Then Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota could come back to the Republicans.  It all seemed like a giant fantasy.”

For the most part, he was proven right on election day.  Trump carried every one of those states except for Minnesota.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, October 6, 2018
10:33 p.m.

Published in: on October 6, 2018 at 10:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Warlock: The Armageddon

It’s been so long since I’ve seen the original Warlock that not only have I completely forgotten every scene, I also failed to remember it spawned two sequels, only one of which received a theatrical release.

Before they caught a break with Leprechaun, indie studio Trimark Pictures tried to franchise it.  Curiously, Warlock had been shot in 1989 but didn’t even get issued until early 1991.  It didn’t even make that much money.  It barely broke even.  But they were undeterred.  While there have been many numerous additional installments in the Leprechaun series (after two and with the exception of Origins, everything else went straight to video), they eventually gave up on Warlock after number three.

Having now screened Warlock: The Armageddon, the second chapter and the last to play in cinemas, I’m amazed they kept going.  It is not scary at all.  It contains many cheap special effects.  And the plot is ridiculous.

Early on, we learn about druids, guardian angels empowered by God to protect the Earth from evil.  Every thousand years, during a lunar eclipse, the devil attempts to somehow impregnate some poor woman through an immaculate conception in an instant in order to send his son into the world.  (Gotta love the old cloudy contact lenses gag.)  To stop this, the druids activate six unimpressive-looking runestones to keep him in hell.  However, if the devil’s son manages to steal those colourful rocks within six days before another eclipse occurs, another awful special effect wil be unearthed to cause chaos.

How deadly can your villain be if he has to follow this absurd loophole to cause shit instead of just sending his loyal minions up to Earth at any time he wants?  There’s no Dark Tower here to keep the hounds at bay, just a few remaining, mostly senior citizen druids who are basically less inspired Jedi knights.  The ghost of Obi-Wan weeps in protest.

But they have a secret weapon: their children.  Chris Young and Paula Marshall play a teenage couple who keep their unconvincing romance a secret because her seemingly-in-denial-about-the-devil-spawn druid priest daddy don’t approve.  Their plans to go away together while he works and she goes to college falls apart because she feels she’s still needed in this small California town even though she doesn’t want to live here forever.  Neither realize their lame destiny as druid warriors.

And what do you need to do become a druid warrior exactly?  Well, first, you have to be murdered.  Then, you get brought back to life.  And, of course, you have to be trained.  Young and Marshall learn how to move baseballs around, lock and unlock doors and burn things purely with their minds.  They’re not powerful enough to improve the special effects or the plot.

As the lunar eclipse happens over New York City, a young woman preparing for a hot date is chosen by Satan to instead rebirth Julian Sands, the blond, stoic heel burnt to a crisp in the first Warlock.  (The arriving boyfriend unwittingly supplies his black wardrobe.)  There’s a weird moment where after he removes all the goo and guck, he sticks his hand in her scratched-up face like she’s Bob Campbell from Soap.  Using her as a conduit, Daddy Dearest gives him some instructions.  Find the six runestones and call up that cheesy demon effect.  The druids in California have two, the rest are spread out across the country.  He only has six days to accomplish this or the Earth will be spared.

How many times have we seen films like this where the villain has to collect a bunch of powerful junk before finally being able to wreak havoc on their enemies?  What’s the point of being unstoppably evil if you have to go on a time-consuming scavenger hunt first?

As the California druids eventually prepare Young and Marshall for battle, Sands has to get the owners of those four elusive runestones to willingly give them up.  Again, I don’t understand why he can’t just steal them or even buy them.  An owner of a travelling freak show offers him one for just a hundred bucks which he considers an insult knowing its true value.  A smarter person would just pay the dumb asshole and shut up already.

Instead, as he does with all the other owners, he tricks him into giving it up.  (Why is this necessary?  He’s the devil’s son!)  Considering what happens to the gun-toting art dealer, and fashion designer Joanna Pacula, circus boy should consider himself lucky.  The overwrought little person who works for him, however, not so much.

As Warlock: The Armageddon drags on to its worthless finale, its technical deficiencies continue to pile up.  When Sands walks down that imaginary set of stairs, are we really that dazzled?  Do the filmmakers really think we can’t tell that’s not Marshall taking a tumble off her motorbike?  Did they really expect to get away with using all that poorly executed chroma key without anyone noticing?

To further demean itself, the film relies on The Undead Killer cliche three times.  Not once is it ever frightening, mainly because you expect it every single time.

Warlock: The Armageddon is a shameless thief, pulling familiar bits and pieces from more famous movies.  (Star Wars, Carrie, the chanting music and those special knives from The Omen.)  It doesn’t work as a horror film.  It most certainly doesn’t click as an action piece.  (In particular, the opening flashback sequence is too dark and mainly used for pretentious opening credit freeze frames.)  And that romance between Young & Marshall is weak.  I don’t believe they’d ever have a cup of coffee together, let alone have an impromptu romp before war.

The familiar set-up makes it quite difficult to create any credible level of suspense.  It also doesn’t help that unlike Star Wars, there are no memorable, fully developed characters or standout fight scenes to rally around.  It’s formula filmmaking with zero enthusiasm.  No wonder Julian Sands looks and sounds like he’d rather be doing anything else.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, September 27, 2018
9:09 p.m.

Published in: on September 27, 2018 at 9:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

It’s Alive (1974)

She awakens in the middle of the night moaning in pain.  More kicking? he asks.  Nope.  It’s time.  We need to go to the hospital.

Her name is Lenore.  She’s a beautiful redhead married to Frank, a chain-smoking PR executive who looks like Dennis Hopper.  They already have an 11-year-old son.  Frank’s remarkably calm.  So is she.  But after he’s awakened, their boy is worried.  On TV, he learned about a mom dying during childbirth.  That won’t happen to your mom, says Frank.  Everything’s going to be fine.

Because this is how the horror film It’s Alive opens, we know better.  Even Lenore knows something is wrong.  This pregnancy feels different.  Before the child even arrives, the doctor marvels at his weight in utero.  10, maybe even 11 pounds, much bigger than her first.

Lenore is about to give birth to a murderous monster.  It will kill everybody in the delivery room and escape without detection.  There will be more victims.  We have no idea why he’s so pissed off.  Maybe he read the script.

To its credit, It’s Alive is not awful.  Thanks to a number of good, natural performances, it’s better than I expected it to be.  But it’s far from terrifying.  Because the film was first released in 1974, there’s a lot of restraint typical of the era.  Yes, there are bloody aftermaths but much of the violence is suggested or only heard, just not very effectively.  There’s a scene where the baby manages to hide in a milk truck.  When the delivery guy reaches in to grab some bottles from the front seat, he gets pulled into the back.  The only visual evidence of mayhem is the blood blending in with the spilled milk on the street.  Ho-hum.

The filmmakers have to conceal the kid as much as possible for obvious reasons but I don’t think they concealed him well enough.  Even brief glimpses reveal he won’t give you nightmares.  You can tell Warner Bros., the distributor of the film, spared expense.  I highly doubt legendary make-up whiz Rick Baker who created him ranks this as one of his greatest achievements.

When Frank witnesses the bloody crime scene in the delivery room, his expectant joy of having another son immediately turns to deep despair and rage.  He blames the hospital for this mess.  They respond by leaking the family’s identity to the press.  You would never know Frank is a public relations expert as you watch him flip out on nosy reporters.

While the son has been safely spending time with a neighbour and his parents reel from what’s happened, the police embarrass themselves by conducting a foolhardy manhunt for the freak child.  There’s a dumb scene where they pull their weapons out in front of an ordinary baby.

They eventually track down the mini monster at his brother’s school.  But they don’t do a particularly good job of keeping him in their custody.  Inevitably, he adds two more notches to his murder belt as he easily makes his way to his family’s California home.

Like the police, Frank is determined to kill the damn thing.  But Lenore, now kooky and giggly, is aghast.  She actually loves the monster and wants to protect it.  So does his big brother once he runs home and spots it in the family basement.  Frank will have a similiarly tearful bonding moment of his own when he finally sees what his sperm has wrought in the final act of the film but not before he wounds it with his rifle.  It leaves a long trail of blood as it heads towards the Los Angeles River.

How and why did Lenore and Frank conceive of this homicidal mutant?  The movie puts forth some curious theories.  Maybe Lenore has taken too many pills which concerns a drug executive who’s worried about a potential lawsuit.  Maybe radioactive matter damaged the baby during too many X-ray exams which Frank denies.  Maybe it was the smog or pesticides.  Perhaps it’s best there is no concrete answer.  But it would’ve been nice to have had a scarier baby.

As Frank tries to come to terms with his situation, he’s asked to sign away his parental rights to the child so it can be studied by science.  (Doesn’t Lenore get a say in this?)  With so much media interest in the story, even an outrageous nurse presses her luck concealing a tape recorder as she tries to get the recovering Lenore to open up surreptiously on the record.

It’s Alive has had a curious history.  When Warner Bros. executives looked at it in 1974, they were very disappointed.  According to writer/producer/director Larry Cohen, they barely marketed it, dumping it into theatres.  At one point, it was the third movie of a triple bill that included Caged Heat.

But when it was released in Europe and Singapore, it was a hit.  A few years later, when new executives began running the company, they had their own screenings and put forth a very effective reissue campaign that turned it into a sleeper.  In one week, it actually outperformed Rocky.

I wasn’t alive when It’s Alive was first unveiled and while I’ve always known about it, this is my first chance to actually watch it.  While I appreciated the earnest performances from the mostly unknown cast, the movie lacks a menacing tone.  Bernard Herrmann’s score is far below the bar he set with Hitchcock’s Psycho.

There’s one genuine albeit cheap jump scare when Frank goes down the basement to fiddle with that dead light bulb but that was the only time I jolted.  The rest of the time I wondered why I should feel so uneasy.

It’s Alive ends with a cliffhanger.  Another mutant baby has been born in Seattle.  But in It Lives Again, there are three such monsters.  Here’s hoping this time they spare the family cat.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, September 27, 2018
8:09 p.m.

Published in: on September 27, 2018 at 8:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Crawlspace (1986)

The notorious Klaus Kinski was the face of death.  No one understood that better than David Schmoeller.

In 1999, Schmoeller made a bitingly funny, revealing short film called Please Kill Mr. Kinski where he recounts in a perfect deadpan the lengths the legendary Polish-German actor would go to to torment him on set:

Showing up an hour late on more than one occasion.  Constantly complaining about his suggestions. Physically fighting his crew.  And screaming with his hands on his face whenever he would say “Action!” or “Cut!”

Say something else or nothing at all! would come the unwelcome reply.

Very quickly, Schmoeller realized that he couldn’t let Kinski win, especially after the temperamental thespian learned about his plan to have him fired.  Having already read a Playboy interview where the actor noted his “allergy” to directors who would often quit in exasperation at his perennial freak-outs, he was determined to finish shooting his movie no matter how poorly his star behaved.  This determination became even stronger when one of his producers threatened to kill Kinski for the insurance money and when the crew’s insistent demands to “Please kill Mr. Kinski” grew increasingly louder.

All of this is far more interesting than Crawlspace, the highly derivative horror film they made together in Italy.  Kinski plays a mysterious apartment building landlord who only rents to beautiful women (shades of The Toolbox Murders).  He frequently spies on them by literally crawling through the vents and watching their every move (Norman Bates was also a voyeur in Psycho).   Sometimes, he releases rats (he must be a Willard fan) or slaps his pocket knife against his hand so they’ll talk to him about the unexplained disturbances in their rooms.

If any of them happen to have a boyfriend over, that’s bad news for the boyfriend.  He abhors competition.

Kinski likes keeping parts of his victims in jars as trophies:  The eyeballs of one tenant’s paramour.  The ringfinger of another.  And the tongue of a woman he’s been keeping in a cage for god knows how long.  Even his little kitty isn’t safe which is more of an unfortunate accident.

In the movie’s opening scene, a woman meets a grisly end when she enters Kinski’s apartment.  So another woman (Talia Balsam, George Clooney’s ex-wife), a cute journalism student, moves into her old place.  (Unnoticed by Balsam, Kinski burns his hand on her oven until she agrees to move in which is odd.)

Soon, a bespectacled, chain-smoking man (Kenneth Robert Shippy) arrives at Kinski’s door to call him out for killing his brother, something he hasn’t been able to prove.  (Has he heard of a search warrant?)  Kinski’s big secret is that he’s a Nazi doctor responsible for murdering a bunch of patients and tenants.  Shippy’s uninvited presence is so unsettling to Kinski that for the first time he feels vulnerable.  It’s surprising how long he takes to off him, though.

Throughout Crawlspace, Kinski narrates his diary entries with as little energy and enthusiasm as possible.  I get that he’s supposed to be this even-tempered, remorseless sociopath but beyond the occasional smile on his fabulously creepy face, he derives no real visible joy from being the villain.  After every murder, he tries to kill himself by playing Russian roulette, a test to see how powerful (or lucky) he really is.  The problem is you know he’ll survive every time.  Otherwise, this would be another short, not a feature, which defeats the purpose of these scenes.

Kinski’s Nazi is a lot like his Count Orlock in Nosferatu The Vampyre, the delightfully eerie remake of the overrated yet highly influential 1929 silent original.  Both are ancient creatures of an ugly past stuck in a holding pattern with no end in sight.  Both are addicted to unhealthy ideas.  In Orlock’s case, it’s the consumption of human blood, the only thing keeping him alive.  I love the scenes where he wheezes, his breathing so laboured you wonder if he needs an oxygen tank.

Both men clearly prefer death over their violent routines but only Orlock resonates as a character, a lonely, pathetic ghost of a man trapped in an unwanted purgatory unable to end his eternal suffering.  In Crawlspace, the Nazi connection seems unnecessary and confusing.  (Kinski actually seems appalled that the Nazis “euthanized” persecuted Jews.)  At no point does Kinski espouse racist views of his own.

While it’s true that the Aryans conducted horrific human experiments, Kinski is more interested in creating deathtraps for his victims who aren’t extinguished for their non-existent Jewishness but because they’re inconvenient obstacles or reluctant objects of his desire.  In other words, stripped to his core, he’s a vengeful misogynist, an indistinguishable quality from most movie slashers.

The weirdest scene in the film is a blatant rip-off of a similiar moment in Curtains.  A man stalks a woman, a pop singer, in Kinski’s building right outside her window.  He breaks in, brandishes a knife and appears to be on the verge of raping her.  But just before the attack, she makes it clear this is all very consensual (she has already cut her bra to expose her nipples) and not the first time they’ve role-played like this, a welcome departure from Curtains which waits until after the “assault” before unveiling the bizarre, belated twist.  Softening the moment even further, in Crawlspace, the boyfriend goes from worrying about climaxing too quickly to not being able to finish at all.  Regardless, it’s a strange sequence to watch.

The second weirdest scene is near the end when Kinski decides to put on make-up and declare himself a God while watching an old Hitler propaganda film.  He looks like a past-his-prime Mick Jagger trying to lazily imitate Heath Ledger’s Joker.  It’s not scary, it’s weird, which perfectly describes Crawlspace as a whole.

The movie’s lack of originality flows all the way through to the end when Talia Balsam’s journalism student starts discovering all the dead tenants in her building much like Jamie Lee Curtis did in her friend’s house in the original Halloween before her final, obligatory confrontation with Kinski in the vents and his apartment.  At one point, it looks like Kinski has finally succeeded in ending his own rampage.  But a formula slasher film requires a formula ending and so Kinski has one last chance to vanquish the Final Girls, one last round of Russian roulette.  Only this time, he’s not holding the weapon.

In that moment captured on film over 30 years ago, you get the unmistakable feeling that writer/director David Schmoeller wishes he was the one who pulled the trigger.  It would’ve been a better ending.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 21, 2018
7:18 p.m.

Published in: on September 21, 2018 at 7:18 pm  Leave a Comment