Some Things Work Out

Life is full of disappointments. There are moments of triumph. Some things work out. Some things just don’t work out:

Mike Hughes, a California man who is most known for his belief that the Earth is shaped like a Frisbee, finally blasted off into the sky in a steam-powered rocket he had built himself.

The 61-year-old limo driver and daredevil-turned-rocket-maker soared about 1,875 feet above the Mojave Desert on Saturday afternoon, the Associated Press reported. Hughes’s white-and-green rocket, bearing the words “FLAT EARTH,” propelled vertically about 3 p.m. Pacific time and reached a speed of about 350 mph, Waldo Stakes, who has been helping Hughes, told the AP. Hughes deployed two parachutes while landing, the second one just moments before he plopped down not far from his launching point.

All of that was about this:

Hughes had been on a mission to prove that the Earth is flat and that NASA astronauts such as John Glenn and Neil Armstrong were merely paid actors performing in front of a computer-generated image of a round globe. His previous failed attempts, as well as the successful one on Saturday, are all part of his ultimate goal to propel himself at least 52 miles above Earth by the end of the year – and to prove once and for all that the planet is flat.

That may have to wait:

According to the AP, Hughes’s hard landing on Saturday left him injured, though it is unclear what type of injuries he suffered. Photos show paramedics carrying Hughes on a stretcher and into an ambulance.

Also among Hughes’s plans – aside from trying to get to space – is to run for governor.

That’s not so farfetched. California once elected an Austrian bodybuilder turned second-rate actor, who had married into the Kennedy family but was a sort of Republican, as governor. Mike Hughes, the “flat earth” guy, is no more unlikely than Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Mike Hughes has passion:

While of no scientific value to either classical or flat-Earth physics, the Mojave stunt was intended to publicize Hughes’s mission and raise the $2 million necessary for his final mission later this year: to ride a hot-air balloon many miles into the sky, then use a rocket-pack to fly even higher and assess the shape of the horizon.

“It’ll shut the door on this ball Earth,” as Hughes put it in one of his pitches… He was also trying to claim the legal right to Charles Manson’s guitar.

All of this is unlikely. Mike Hughes is about to learn that life is full of disappointments. Some things just don’t work out, but everyone knows that. The next day, everyone was waiting to hear from Stormy Daniels. Donald Trump is being sued by both that porn star and a Playboy model, and by a third woman suing him for defamation. He wants all three of them to keep quiet about what he once did. His attorneys are threatening to destroy all three of them – if they talk – about what he says, and they say, that he never did in the first place. None of them will back down, and the nation watches, aghast or at least puzzled. Evangelicals are saying none of this really matters – and Stormy Daniels was about to talk. There would be salacious details – dirty deeds – perverse stuff – good stuff. Donald Trump was going down. This would be the end for him, but life is full of disappointments. The interview, with the openly gay and thus unbiased and neutral Anderson Cooper, was rather tame:

Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who alleges that she had an affair with Donald Trump in 2006, says that she was threatened for attempting to tell her story publicly and accepted money through a Trump attorney to remain silent because she was scared for her family.

In a much-anticipated “60 Minutes” interview, Daniels said she believed she was doing the right thing when she accepted $130,000 from a company linked to Trump attorney Michael Cohen to stay quiet.

The hush agreement allowed her to protect her career and her family, she said, according to a transcript of the show. And she was concerned about her family’s safety after what she described as a scary episode in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011, shortly after she first tried to sell her story to a tabloid magazine.

This wasn’t a porn movie playing out in real life. This was a fairly standard gangster movie:

Daniels said she was taking her infant daughter out of the car to go to a fitness class when someone approached her.

“A guy walked up on me and said to me, ‘Leave Trump alone. Forget the story,'” Daniels told journalist Anderson Cooper. “And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.’ And then he was gone.”

That’s all that Team Trump could come up with, that old cliché from every gangster movie, but it did work:

She said she remained fearful over the years. After the Wall Street Journal reported on the $130,000 payment, Daniels signed what she now describes as a false statement denying the affair. The transcript of the “60 Minutes” interview says Daniels felt pressured to sign the statements.

“They made it sound like I had no choice,” she said. While there was not any threat of physical violence at the time, she said, she was worried about other repercussions. “The exact sentence used was, ‘They can make your life hell in many different ways,’ ” Daniels told Cooper.

“They being…” Cooper asked.

“I’m not exactly sure who they were. I believe it to be Michael Cohen,” Daniels replied.

Cohen has denied threatening Daniels.

Michael Cohen has been Trump’s personal attorney, and some say his fixer, for decades. He wasn’t going to say anything else, but that may not fly:

The “60 Minutes” broadcast comes just 72 hours after former Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal spoke to CNN about her own alleged affair with Trump before he was elected president. McDougal has sued to break free of a confidentiality agreement that was struck in the months before the 2016 election, for which she was paid $150,000. McDougal says she signed her contract with the parent company of the National Enquirer, which is helmed by a friend of Trump’s and which bought her story not to publish it, but to bury it.

Daniels also has filed a lawsuit to break free of her hush agreement, naming Trump and the company linked to Cohen as defendants. She told “60 Minutes” that she decided to speak out “because it was very important to me to be able to defend myself.”

That’s what this was about, and the sex was minimal:

On the program, Daniels described meeting Trump at his Lake Tahoe hotel room during a celebrity golf tournament weekend. When she asked about Melania – to whom he had been married less than two years and with whom he had an infant son – he did not want to talk about it, Daniels said.

“He brushed it aside, said, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, you know, don’t worry about that. We don’t even – we have separate rooms and stuff.'”

All married men say that kind of stuff in these circumstances, assuming all married men eventually find themselves in these circumstances, and in this case that might have actually been true, but Daniels knew the drill:

They spent several hours together over dinner, and he told her that he wanted to get her onto “The Apprentice,” his reality television show. Then Daniels went to the bathroom, and when she returned, he was sitting on the bed.

“I realized exactly what I’d gotten myself into. And I was like, ‘Ugh, here we go.'”

And that was that:

Though she didn’t want to have sex with Trump, she considered the sex consensual. “I was not a victim. I’ve never said I was a victim,” she said.

Trump called her frequently over the next year, and she saw him a few times, but they never again had sex, she said.

That’s it? Life is full of disappointments, but Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post’s media columnist, flags this from the transcript:

Stephanie Clifford: And so I was like, “Does this – does this normally work for you?” And he looked very taken – taken back, like he didn’t really understand what I was saying. Like, I was – does, just, you know, talking about yourself normally work?” And I was like, “Someone should take that magazine and spank you with it.” [Laugh] And I’ll never forget the look on his face. He was like –

Anderson Cooper: What – what was his look?

Clifford: Just, I don’t think anyone’s ever spoken to him like that, especially, you know, a young woman who looked like me. And I said, you know, “Give me that,” and I just remember him going, “You wouldn’t.” “Hand it over.” And – so he did, and I was like, turn around, drop ’em.”

Cooper: You – you told Donald Trump to turn around and take off his pants.

Clifford: Yes.

Cooper: And did he?

Clifford: Yes. So he turned around and pulled his pants down a little – you know had underwear on and stuff and I just gave him a couple swats.

At that point Anderson Cooper was probably wondering about all these odd straight people. Donald Trump likes to be spanked, at least by a porn star, but Sullivan merely reports this:

“Viewers probably came to this with an expectation that it would be all about ‘the president and the porn star,’ ” American University journalism professor Jane Hall told me by phone after the program’s conclusion.

But, after the tawdriness of the spanking story, “it fairly quickly turned to the legal and political aspects.” The $130,000 in hush money Daniels allegedly received from a company linked to one of Trump’s lawyers, Michael Cohen, has become the subject of complaints to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission.

The program explored the money issue but turned up nothing definitive. The Stormy Daniels story is certainly about sex but it’s also – and more importantly – about financial and emotional intimidation. Spanking notwithstanding, that may be what it’s remembered for.

That’s it? Life is full of disappointments, but Matthew Yglesias sees more here:

Stormy Daniels’ 60 Minutes interview was, in its way, fascinating. But it ultimately failed to shed light on the two most interesting questions posed by this entire imbroglio, presumably because Daniels herself doesn’t know the answer. How many other sexual partners has Trump paid hush money to? How many foreign intelligence services know about one or more of those women?

That may matter more:

Now obviously nobody seriously believed that Trump was chaste and pure as the driven snow before we heard from Daniels. He’s never really tried to sell himself as a family man in the traditional sense, and wears the hypocrisy of his political commitment to abortion restrictions and abstinence only sex education very lightly. All that said, for one reason or another Trump is clearly quite committed to trying to prevent his former partners from discussing their dalliances in public. He and his associates are willing to put cash on the line for this, threaten massive legal consequences, and perhaps even engage in acts of physical intimidation.

Trump has secrets that Trump regards as worth keeping. And while that put Daniels under pressure, it means that entities with more power and sophistication than an adult film actress can use those secrets to put pressure on Trump.

Yglesias adds this:

While that put Daniels under pressure, it means that entities with more power and sophistication than an adult film actress can use those secrets to put pressure on Trump. The president has successfully cultivated an image as so flaky and incompetent, that his many baffling decisions on the world stage – from leaking Israeli intelligence to the Russian foreign minister to undercutting his own administration’s policy on Qatar to mysteriously leaving Japan off a list of allies exempted from steel tariffs – generally get written off as evidence that Trump is flaky and incompetent, rather than being actively manipulated by foreign actors.

Maybe that’s all it is. Maybe Daniels and McDougal are the only women he’s ever paid off. Or maybe there are others out there but nobody from Russia or the United Arab Emirates or the Mossad or whoever hates the Japanese steel industry found out about it. Anything’s possible. But I have my doubts.

It’s currently fashionable to dismiss interest in the Daniels story as fundamentally reflecting nothing more than a prurient interest in Trump’s sex life. But the possibility of bribery and blackmail here make it impossible to fully separate out highbrow and lowbrow aspects of the scandal.

The possibility of bribery and blackmail does make things more interesting, but that’s only a possibility. Americans were probably disappointed by this interview. It was about money and intimidation, with implications in regard to campaign finance law, not dirty sex – except for that spanking-thing. Let the evangelicals explain that. They will, somehow. And there may be more wild Trump Tweets about all this – unless someone talks some sense into him. (He should let this pass.)  As the definitive “Trump moment” things didn’t work out.

But some things do work out. Just about the time that Mike Hughes, the “flat earth” guy, was blasting off in his tiny steam-powered rocket, in his latest attempt to shut the door on this “Ball Earth” nonsense, the kids were marching, millions of kids, and adults, everywhere, and E. J. Dionne sees things working out:

For several hours on Saturday, cynicism was banned from the streets of what on many days seems to be the most cynical city in the world. Throngs estimated to number up to 800,000 gathered because a group of determined, organized, eloquent and extremely shrewd high school students asked them to come, and because too many Americans have been killed by guns.

Suddenly, hope-mongers were stalking the nation’s capital. They believed, against so much past evidence, that the National Rifle Association could be routed.

That might work out, because they have a plan:

The crowd seemed to expect it would require an election to usher in the reforms they seek. “Vote them out!” was one of the day’s dominant chants. All along the march’s route, clipboard-wielding volunteers sought to entice the faithful to register so they could cast ballots to achieve that end.

Cameron Kasky, one of the heroes of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mobilization, drew raucous cheers with the words “Welcome to the revolution.” He was not imagining the storming of the Bastille or the revolt in Petrograd. His promise was peaceable and refreshingly practical.

“The voters are coming,” he declared.

And yes, there were cynics:

Complaints were hauled out to discount the March for Our Lives visionaries who hit the pavements in locales across red and blue America on Saturday. Big demonstrations were nice but meant little. The NRA had crushed opponents before and would do so again. Teens and 20-somethings lacked the discipline to stay with what would inevitably be a long fight. Republican politicians wouldn’t break an alliance with the gun lobby that has served them so well.

Sure, but Dione senses that things may work out this time:

To begin with, Saturday’s marches achieved something that had never been accomplished before. Guns have long been a voting issue for those who insist that any and every restriction on firearms is a danger to freedom. These marches finally established guns as a voting issue for those who (as the signs carried by demonstrators declared in various ways) place the desire to save innocent lives ahead of preserving unlimited access to weapons.

Something was up:

The Stoneman Douglas activists, including their able debaters and theater students, understood that their task was to alter the terms of the nation’s quarrel over guns and to take on the NRA’s shibboleths, right down to the basics. “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” So goes the old NRA slogan. “Actually, guns do kill people,” read a placard at the D.C. march.

And the new revolutionaries have been making the essential argument: that our current approach to firearms undercuts the rights of the unarmed far more than any restriction would ever impinge on the rights of gun owners. The NRA imagines a nation of universal gun-toting, an idea brilliantly mocked by Alex Wind, a student speaker who asked: “Are they going to arm the person wearing the Mickey Mouse costume at Disney?”

And Dionne sees more:

The unmistakably political character of this movement is another change. No phony bipartisanship. No pretending that everyone approaches this issue with goodwill. Thus the importance of “Vote them out” – thus the imperative of casting the NRA as the adversary and all who welcome its money and support as complicit.

And the short-term agenda is very clear, as is the price of resisting it. Here is Kasky: “The people demand a law banning the sale of assault weapons, the people demand we prohibit the sale of high-capacity magazines, the people demand universal background checks. Stand for us or beware.”

Finally, this march established the gun safety alliance as multiracial and intersectional, reaching far beyond its traditional base among suburban white liberals. Few voices echoing from the platform were more powerful than 11-year-old Naomi Wadler’s. She declared that young African American women who were victims of gun violence would no longer be seen as “simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.”

It seems that what happened before is happening again:

In 1960, the nation’s attention was captured by young civil rights activists who sat in to integrate lunch counters in Greensboro, N.C. It is not romanticizing the young to say that, at times in our history, only those not beaten down by the defeats of the past could find the courage and the strategic initiative to win old fights in new ways.

Something may work out after all, and Francis Wilkinson provides context:

The NRA seized its advantage under GOP legislatures and a GOP Congress to promote a no-compromise agenda of guns everywhere for anyone. It went for all the marbles – guns in bars, churches, schools, colleges, parking lots, playgrounds – hoping to make them so pervasive that the cultural pendulum could never swing back. And it fought, even after massacres of children, to make sure that the most damaged and dangerous among us maintained convenient access to military-grade firepower.

Instead of seeking to accommodate a changing world, it vastly overreached. Payback is unlikely to be pleasant.

In fact, dinosaurs die:

The gun-safety movement put youth at the vanguard, and countless youth filled in the ranks behind them. Some registered to vote. The kids knew what they were marching for – there’s a list. And they knew who they were marching against. One sign captured it succinctly: “Teens vs Old people (NRA).”

That’s what’s deadly here:

If you’re looking for long-term power and relevance in the U.S., getting on the wrong side of kids, women and racial minorities is probably not the best idea. The NRA understands this. The group has been making left-footed attempts in recent days to show it’s hipper than you think, even featuring NRA spokesman Colion Noir, who is black, taking offense at the white privilege of the kids who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and have become leaders in the gun-safety cause. Black lives (suddenly) matter; just don’t expect support from the NRA if your black son gets shot by a thug or a cop.

The NRA remains a powerful organization. But it’s less powerful today than it was yesterday. It’s less powerful in 2018 – which has already seen a spate of gun regulations passed, even in gun-crazed Florida – than it was in 2017. Blue states across the nation have been enacting aggressive gun regulations without the slightest fear of the gun lobby. California and Hawaii, two states that look more like the American future than the American past, are among the leaders.

Wilkinson notes that things changed because these kids simply reversed the terms of the argument:

Anxiety, it turns out, is not the exclusive purview of old white men uneasy about the empowerment of women and the racial composition of the nation. People afraid of being shot, or losing their children, willy-nilly, because any fool can get a gun, are also anxious. The marches helped ease their symptoms but with a side effect: It caused trembling in the gun lobby.

And there was trembling:

To hear the National Rifle Association tell it, Saturday’s March for Our Lives was orchestrated by billionaires and Hollywood to push an anti-gun agenda.

On Facebook Saturday morning, the NRA posted a short membership-drive video along with a brief message.

“Stand and Fight for our Kids’ Safety by Joining NRA,” it said. “Today’s protests aren’t spontaneous. Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to DESTROY the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.”

It’s those damned gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites again, and there was this:

On Thursday evening, NRA TV posted a clip on its YouTube channel entitled “A march for their lies” where the host addressed the Parkland students and said that if their friends hadn’t died, “no one would know your names.”

Insulting the kids seems like a bad idea, and there was this:

CNN commentator and former Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Rick Santorum on Sunday suggested students protesting for gun control legislation would be better served by taking CPR classes and preparing for active shooter scenarios.

“How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve THEIR problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that,” Santorum said on CNN’s State of the Union.

That didn’t go well:

Van Jones, a liberal CNN commentator, interjected and mentioned his own child was about to start high school.

“I want him focused on algebra and other stuff,” Jones said. “If his main way to survive high school is learning CPR so when his friends get shot… that to me, we’ve gone too far. I’m proud of these kids. I know you’re proud of these kids too.”

Santorum responded by continuing to knock gun control efforts.

“I’m proud of them,” he said. “But I think everyone should be responsible and deal with the problems that we have to confront in our lives. And ignoring those problems and saying they’re not going to come to me and saying some phony gun law is gonna solve it. Phony gun laws don’t solve these problems.”

Santorum is the dinosaur here, and there was this:

After 202 years in business, America’s oldest gun manufacturer, Remington, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The filing by Remington Arms Company and its parent, Remington Outdoors, was disclosed late Sunday night on the website of the United States Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. Details of the filing were not immediately available, but in a note to investors on Friday, the company reported negative operating cash flow as of March 25 of $7.4 million.

Remington Outdoors, which also owns gun manufacturers including Marlin and Bushmaster, says sales in 2017 were just over $600 million, down more than 30 percent from 2016.

Like other gun manufacturers, Remington saw sharp sales declines following the 2016 presidential election, as customers apparently saw less urgency to stockpile firearms under President Donald Trump.

It seems that everyone miscalculated:

Remington is owned by private equity giant Cerberus, which began buying up gun companies a decade ago… After the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Cerberus announced plans to exit the gun business, but could not find a buyer.

The world changed. Dinosaurs die. Life is full of all sorts of disappointments. Mike Hughes, if he lives, will discover that the Earth is not shaped like a Frisbee after all. Americans didn’t get the salacious down and dirty details about Donald Trump from Stormy Daniels, except for that spanking stuff. Things didn’t work out – but some things work out. The kids are okay. That’ll do.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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