Jane Mayer's "The Danger of President Pence" in last week's New Yorker brings the conclusion that we are doomed. Donald Trump opponents believe that Vice President Mike Pence would make for a saner president if Trump's removed from office. Mayer's ...


New Yorker's Jane Mayer shows Pence power over Trump administration and more...

New Yorker's Jane Mayer shows Pence power over Trump administration

Jane Mayer's "The Danger of President Pence" in last week's New Yorker brings the conclusion that we are doomed.

Donald Trump opponents believe that Vice President Mike Pence would make for a saner president if Trump's removed from office. 

Mayer's article reveals that we we're already under a Pence presidency, and that it's a disaster. 

The author of "Dark Money," which unveiled the efforts to control American politics by the Koch brothers and other billionaires, Mayer builds a strong case of how the Kochs, shunned by Trump during his presidential campaign, now control his administration through Pence.

Tracing Pence's political ascent, the article details Pence's extreme conservative positions on social issues, and how he rose from failed Indiana governor to Machiavellian vice president. Despite his limited intellectual ability and retrograde religious beliefs, Pence has assumed immense power for a vice president, with all of  his fawning praise of Trump. 

Trump before taking office named New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to lead his transition team. Christie made a conscientious effort to find well-qualified people for Cabinet posts and to head governmental agencies. But first son-in-law Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump persuaded Donald to scuttle Christie, who as a U.S. attorney put Kushner's father in jail. Instead, Pence was placed in charge of the transition.

Taking his orders from the Koch brothers, who during the presidential campaign never contributed to Trump, Pence tossed out all of Christie's work and influenced Trump to name cabinet members such as Betsy Devos at education and Scott Pruitt at the EPA, both of whom seek to destroy the agencies they lead. 

I still need to read about how Pence was involved in Russia's attempts to control the election. I'm sure that will add to my fears from Mayer's article that Pence is the scariest Halloween ghoul.


Bearing gifts to Amazon

Like medieval princes seeking to marry the wealthy king's daughter, cities large and small have submitted their pitches to make Jeff Bezos even richer.

From Newark to LaGrange, Ga., the towns touted their benefits to land the second headquarters for Bezos' retail juggernaut Amazon. The company claims that the new headquarters will bring the lucky city 50,000 new jobs. Economists say that such high-tech endeavors as the Amazon effort generate even more startups. 

Atlanta, which made a glitzy video in cooperation with state economic touters, is favored to at least make the finals, according to the AJC. Unable to find money to expand Medicaid or give teachers good raises, Georgia said it would offer the billionaire Bezos billions in tax breaks.

Georgia and Atlanta's bid presumably didn't mention that the Cobb County sheriff can dictate academic policy to Kennesaw State, a state-funded university. The state's Board of Regents is investigating new Kennesaw President Sam Olens' apparent capitulation to the fine sheriff in not letting protesting cheerleaders come out for the National Anthem at KSU football games. Hope the sheriff doesn't get mad about a literature course. 

Olens, who as Georgia's unaccomplished attorney general participated in a couple of nuisance suits against the Obama administration, took over as KSU's president without any apparent claims to academic distinction.

Outgoing Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, whose main news lately came from meddling in the race to replace him, touted Atlanta's bid to Amazon.Hope it goes better than Reed's negotiations with the Braves. We also suppose Atlanta's bid to Amazon didn't mention the scandal involving kickbacks from contractors to city officials. 

The hoopla over the Amazon headquarters received no attention from the Trump administration, which seeks to boost the coal industry rather than new economy companies like Amazon. Trump placed Bezos on his ever growing enemies list because Bezos' Washington Post keeps uncovering Trump Administration outrages. 

The Amazon bid did bring glimpses of that increasingly rare thing "bipartisanship." In New Jersey, liberal Sen. Cory Booker and former Trump patsy Chris Christie joined in Newark's bid. Tony Soprano would be glowing.

When will King Jeff issue his finals list? Will a small city Cinderella get the glass slipper, or will a showy dame like New York or Boston get the prize? As Trump and the GOP Congress wrecks the American economy, will it really matter? 




"Baby Driver" needed some training wheels

Like other longtime Atlantans, I enjoyed seeing the Atlanta landmarks in "Baby Driver."

However, the film hardly does for Atlanta what "Bullitt" did for San Francisco. Or "The French Connection" for New York City.

Burt Reynolds' "Sharkey's Machine" gave Atlanta a more menacing big city vibe. "Smokey and the Bandit" had more exciting car chases.

While I liked Ansel Elgort as Baby, he didn't appear that competent a get-away driver. He kept getting bogged down on the interstates. Michael Pollard in "Bonnie and Clyde" seemed more adept at leaving the cops behind. Well, in Baby's defense, Atlanta's traffic can be tough. 

I was amused to see the Healey Building's starring role.In my years toiling at the AJC, I must have passed the grand old Healey a million times. But headquarters for a bank robbery ring?  I knew downtown Atlanta was desperate to rent office space, but that's going a bit far. I did always wonder if something suspicious were going on at the Healey Building. 

Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx barely tried in their performances, but Jon Hamm came close to being scary in his bad-guy portrayal. Foxx and Spacey just seemed silly. Elza Gonzales was OK as the gun moll, but see above. Bonnie Barrow. Faye Dunaway. 

Lily James, whom I loved as Lady Rose in "Downton Abbey," showed warmth and humor as Baby's down-to-earth girlfriend. The movie should have made more out of her chemistry with Elgort.

Really, post office money orders? 

Don't get me wrong.  I found "Baby Driver" entertaining, despite its implausible script, bad acting and Edgar Wright's clumsy directing.

The movie was right about one thing. Downtown Atlanta's parking decks can be spooky. 




Remembering A.J. Liebling, on his birthday

LieblingI've wondered what New Yorker writer A.J. Liebling would make of  the Trump era and its fogs of fake news, Internet sensationalism and social media alarms.

No doubt, Liebling would chronicle old-line print publications like The New York Times, Washington Post and his own New Yorker as they uncover the Trump administration's assaults on American democracy while seeking to survive in the online world of Google, Twitter and Facebook.

Today marks Liebling's 113th birthday, as Garrison Keillor noted in his Writer's Almanac. Born in 1904 in New York City, Liebling died on Dec. 28, 1963, a little over a month after the John F. Kennedy assassination and the beginning of wrenching changes in American society. 

Liebling, who pioneered media criticism beginning in the 1940s with his Wayward Press columns in the New Yorker, focused on newspapers, which dominated the news landscape. New York City had seven or more newspapers, and television had not yet become the main source of information. In analyzing New York City's newspapers, Liebling exposed sensationalism, inaccurate and politically slanted reporting and corporate censorship.

Part of the second generation of writers who defined the New Yorker, Liebling had a varied career that seems unimaginable today. Besides his press criticism, Liebling wrote authoritatively about boxing, food and politics. He also rivaled New Yorker colleague Joseph Mitchell with his features on New York City characters.

Despite his girth, Liebling covered the Normandy invasion in World War II and the allies' liberation of Europe. The French government honored his work as a war correspondent.

Connoisseurs of Louisiana politics like me revere Liebling's portrait of Gov. Earl K. Long in a series of New Yorker articles.  Collected in the book "The Earl of Louisiana," the articles vividly portray "Uncle Earl's" heroic political battle in 1959 against Louisiana segregationists, which led to an emotional collapse and Long's death in 1960. Published in 1961, the political classic is a brilliant finale to both men's careers. 

Out of many memorable quotes, Liebling's statement "I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better" endures as a credo for old-time newspaper reporters. 

Liebling is among writers whose work has been entombed by the Library of America. The New Yorker anthology "Just Enough Liebling" reflects his diversity. 

Some of his writing is dated, heavy-handed and overly ornate. At his best, Liebling fashioned sentences that flow like a rushing stream and glitter like a sun-lit mountain pool. His words cast light in the darkness.



Poets Wilbur, Ashbery and Howard excel with French translations

RichardRichard Wilbur, who died Saturday at age 96, forged a brilliant career translating French literature, a calling he shared with fellow poets John Ashbery and Richard Howard. 

The three have not only achieved long and distinguished careers as American poets and critics. They've also given American audiences a varied collection of French literature, expanding the understanding of French culture.

Beginning in the 1950s, Wilbur gained renown as the leading translator of classical French theater, including plays by Moliere, Jean Racine and Pierre Corneille.

As poet/critic Dana Gioia noted in an essay on Wilbur's career, the Pulitizer Prize-winning poet began translating Moliere in an effort to improve his craft after an unsuccessful effort to write English verse plays for the Poets' Theater in Cambridge, Mass. Instead of an original Wilbur work, the theater produced Wilbur's translation of Moliere's "The Misanthrope," which gained popularity in theaters across the country, leading to a Moliere revival.

Wilbur also finished the lyrics for Lillian Hellman and Leonard Bernstein's "Candide," a long-troubled Broadway production that Wilbur is credited with saving. While not initially popular, the work's music has gained increasing critical recognition.

Gioia also notes that Wilbur's poetry collections include a significant selection of poetry translations from Italian, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Latin, Hungarian and Anglo-Saxon. 

John1Ashbery, who died about a month before Wilbur at age 90, translated a variety of French poetry and prose, collected in two volumes late in his career. Ashbery received critical acclaim several years ago for a new translation of Rimbaud's "Illuminations," the first in decades. His rendering of Rimbaud's key work revealed new undercurrents of meaning.

Howard, still active at age 88, has also received praise for his translations of French works, his most famous a new edition of Baudelaire's "Fleurs du Mal." His extensive French translations range from the work of 1960s theorists to classic novels. Howard's translation of Stendhal's "The Charterhouse of Parma" stands out as one of my favorite books.

Wilbur's work has given American theater lovers an appreciation of Moliere and other French playwrights as masters comparable with Shakespeare and Marlowe. Ashbery and Howard have shown the depth and power of French writers.

HowardA  Wilbur, Ashbery and Howard have shown new American audiences why French literature is essential to our culture. 

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