Weingrad rates the movies of 2017

You didn’t think I would forget to do this, would you? Enjoy the Oscars!

For reference:









12. Coco:


It’s always an internal struggle to decide the final movie to crack the prestigious Top 12, and ultimately my decision came down to what film will stay with me the longest. And Coco is just so damn heartwarming that watching it to its conclusion is like receiving an injection of feel-good chemicals to the brain. It’s a fantasy film taking place in Mexico on the Day of the Dead – very similar to the 2016 film The Book of Life, which its fans certainly noticed – where a young musician, Miguel, accidentally crosses into the Afterlife and can only return by receiving a reprieve from an ancestor. Plot twists ensue in which Miguel meets family members who he can and cannot trust. There’s good music, beautiful animation and a plenty of sentiment, adding Coco to the pantheon of Pixar films that can be enjoyed by both adults and children, and in my case, 30-year-olds who watch alone in their bedroom on their laptop. It’s a shoo-in for Best Animated Picture.

11. Mudbound:


At times slow-paced and plodding, but ultimately highly moving and poignant, Mudbound tells the stories of two families in the antebellum South in the immediate post-WWII era, each of which contain a young man (Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell) who have just returned from combat. Mudbound pulls no punches in showing the severe racial disparities of the era, with each of the men experiencing vastly different treatment from their neighbors. However, the two men meet and find kindred spirits in one another, forming an unlikely friendship and creating the impetus that sets the film’s plot in motion. Mary J. Blige in a supporting role was the lone acting Oscar representative in this vastly underrated and important film, and director Dee Rees deserves more attention not only for this film, but her previous work. Something tells me her best is yet to come.

10. Wind River:


Another criminally underrated film from 2017. Wind River centers around a federal wildlife worker (Jeremy Renner) who gets recruited into a homicide investigation on a Wyoming Indian preservation. Braving fierce environmental conditions alongside a neophyte, fish-out-of-water FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen), the pair untangle a series of clues that eventually lead them toward the perpetrator(s). The story never relents in its suspense and intrigue, showcasing the desolate landscape the and proud lives of Native Americans who live on it, culminating in a breathtaking climax. Most importantly, the movie delivers a powerful message about the indomitable spirit of humankind. A must-see.

9. Lady Bird:


I’ll admit, I was waiting for the movie to “hook me” while I was initially watching it … and then it ended. There is no doubt that the film comprises some fantastic performances from its leads, Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf and Lucas Hedges, as well as some highly enjoyable dialogue, penned by Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut. As the film centers on a mother-daughter relationship, it’s likely the film will resonate more with female viewers. But I still view the film in extremely high regard because I think it will age well over and time and be worth watching again.

8. The Big Sick:


Who didn’t love this movie? The Big Sick is based on the true life romance of Pakistani comedian and immigrant Kumail Nanijani and his white girlfriend Emily (Zoe Kazan), a relationship that his orthodox parents strongly disapprove of. Their budding romance has its typical ups and downs, but then takes a significant turn when Kate contracts a mysterious illness and lapses into a coma. The movie, while heavy at times, has the perfect amount of comedic brevity while also treading carefully around racial tension so prevalent in America. It’s definitely a film that even the most ignorant of people can find empathy in. If they choose to watch it, that is. (#MAGA?) It also features great performances by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents.

7. Phantom Thread:


Sometimes a movie just pulls the viewer so far into a world that you forget that what you’re watching isn’t real life. The scenery, setting and overall attention-to-detail created by Paul Thomas Anderson in this period piece is entirely engrossing. Daniel Day Lewis brilliantly portrays an immensely accomplished and talented, yet fiercely stubborn dressmaker who is unnerved by even the slightest alteration to his routine lifestyle. But he meets his match when he meets and falls in love with Alma (Vicky Krieps). It’s worth watching for Daniel Day Lewis’s performance alone.

6. The Shape of Water:


It’s always a welcome sign to the movie industry when Guillermo Del Toro is on top form. Pan’s Labyrinth remains, to this day, among the best films of the 21st century. The Shape of Water does not reach that level, but it bares many similarities and is right in Del Toro’s wheelhouse – Cold War era, nonhuman creatures, and a vulnerable protagonist that’s easy to root for. In a way, the Shape of Water deals with many of the issues that are brewing in today’s America – empathy for “The Other.” Phenomenal acting across the board by Oscar-nominated Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer, as well as Michael Shannon as the bad guy, and a compelling story make this a supernatural thriller that many will enjoy.

5. Get Out:


It takes a special type of movie to be released in late February, a time period typically shelved by studios for non-award contenders, and carry enough popularity and acclaim into the following year to land Best Picture, Best Director and Best Leading Actor nominations at the Academy Awards. And Get Out was that special type of movie. Anyone who watched Key & Peele on Comedy Central knew it was not just another sketch show. This was a creation of two brilliant comics who’d become masters of their craft, and who were astute observers of cinema. The production quality of their skits was top notch. And if only we knew that their show was a breeding ground for what’s to come. Get Out is a masterpiece in several regards: in acting, score, plot, theme, all the while playing with the subtleties of racial tension that exist in today’s America. Everything about it is brilliant. Daniel Kaluuya won’t win, but scoring an acting nomination is a huge accomplishment and should help boost what promises to be a successful career. Get Out isn’t just one of the biggest surprises of the year – it’s one of the biggest surprises ever.

4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri:


The front-runner for Best Picture at Saturday’s Academy Awards. What I personally enjoyed most about the film was that not only is it a compelling story, but that it involves several well-developed characters. Rather than following the simple formula of introducing a protagonist and having every other character revolve around him or her, Three Billboards gives you a handful of well-rounded characters who actually earn our emotional attention and response. And while many people will be dissatisfied by the ending, I had no problem with it. To me, the real message of the movie is that though we may each have our own problems, but regardless of how valid they may be, everyone else has problems too. Look for Frances McNormand and Sam Rockwell to bring home some bling tonight.

3. Call Me by Your Name:


Just a beautiful, beautiful film. Beautiful landscapes. Beautiful acting by breakout star Timothee Chamalet, as well as Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg. It’s a gay love story in 1980s Italy between a professor’s (Stuhlbarg) visiting graduate student (Hammer), and the professor’s son (Chalamet). What makes the film so wonderful is the authenticity and the raw emotion that is prevalent throughout. It’s also easy for the viewer to fall in love with the film’s setting, the northern Italian countryside in summertime. But the heartbreaking romance between the two men is what will stay with you. What did Lin Manuel Miranda say? Love is love is love is … you get it.

2. The Post:


As a former journalist, I’m a sucker for movies about the newspaper industry that are done right. I picked Spotlight as my #1 film in 2015, and now The Post received the penultimate rank three years later. It’s a highly fascinating story in history that not enough people are aware of, involving the Vietnam War and the most prominent act of whistle-blowing in American history, all on the eve of the Watergate Scandal. At the center of the story is the Washington Post, a paper struggling to regain its national stature when it receives highly classified government material that sets it on a collision course with President Nixon and his administration. It’s up to the Post’s first female publisher (Meryl Streep) to decide if they publish it. It’s taking place in the early ’70s, but it might as well have happened today, with relevant issues such as freedom of the press, an overreaching president, and a women’s struggle in the male-dominated workplace taking center stage. Steven Spielberg takes us right into the bustling newsroom as these decisions are made in real time, and we’re treated to wonderful performances by Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk and Streep. A dark horse for Best Picture.

1. Dunkirk:


When the backdrop is World War II, it’s easy for a filmmaker to try to do too much. But in this case Christopher Nolan keeps it simple. We’re on the beaches of Dunkirk, in that history-changing pocket of time when the French and British armies were surrounded by German troops, and on the verge of surrender. But Nolan takes us right onto the shore, immersing us with the urgency and tension of the situation, with German bomber planes constantly raining fire on the suffocated troops. But we hardly see any Germans, aside from a brief opening scene and a few airborne shots. Instead, we are one of these hopeless soldiers, awaiting a miraculous rescue that would change the course of history. You already know the outcome, but the film is so thrilling that you will think that you’re experiencing it in real time and unsure how it will end. A long shot for Best Picture, but not an impossibility. An outstanding cinematic achievement, this film will age very well over time, with its #1 ranking indelibly marked at the Weinblog.

On the outside looking in:

I, Tonya: Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding is a slam dunk across the board. Just in time for the Winter Olympics, I, Tonya reminded America of one of one of the craziest and scandalous pop culture stories ever. Tonya Harding’s “hit” on Nancy Kerrigan was one of the most talked about events of the ‘90s, and I, Tonya delivered the story in a unique and self-deprecating way that most viewers will find entertaining. Alison Janney will likely reap the rewards from the fim’s success with a Best Supporting Actress win, but a dressed down Margot Robbie is who steals the show.

mother!: This movie may confuse a lot of people at first, since its events become increasingly outlandish and unrealistic, but further thought will help you realize that film is one giant religious allegory. I personally was captivated from start to finish, and while Javier Bardem and a supporting cast of Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris and Domhnall Gleeson are good, the movie is carried by the phenomenon that is Jennifer Lawrence. Even though what’s happening may seem crazy, her human reactions to what’s unfolding actually makes it all believable.

The Darkest Hour: The Darkest hour had the unfortunate timing of being released in the shadow of another WWII drama, Dunkirk. But it still holds its own, thanks almost entirely to the outstanding performance of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. We watch as English leadership struggles to navigate its way through an increasingly bleak war. In steps Churchill to save the day. History buffs will be very satisfied.

The Disaster Artist: On the surface, a story about one of the worst films in modern history doesn’t sound too appealing, but James Franco and his pals managed to make it both highly intriguing and hysterically entertaining. Franco, who became engulfed in controversy amid the #MeToo movement, is spot on as the mysterious, cult icon Tommy Wiseau, managing to capture the man’s severe eccentricities, and at the same time, his unwavering determination.

Split: Just when you thought M. Night Shyamalan was completely washed up, he comes back with a vengeance and gives us Split. Sure, it may set back the public perception of people with split personality disorders for years, but nobody can deny that this movie is genuinely thrilling and entertaining, thanks in large part to a tour de force performance by James McAvoy. The film probably doesn’t succeed without him. That being said, it also wouldn’t have been quite as good without breakout star Anya Taylor Joy, who plays one of the girls who is kidnapped by McAvoy’s eerie character.

Other 2017 films worth watching:

The Florida Project: From the writer/director of 2015’s Tangerine, The Florida Project gives us a version of America from a much maligned group: the destitute. But we see it mostly through the eyes of young kids, experiencing briefly what it’s like to live to of a grimy motel. For the adults, it’s paycheck-to-paycheck uncertainty and misery. For children, it’s a playground. It’s really an astonishing film that a lot of people probably won’t want to see. Williem DaFoe gives arguably his best performance ever, and it’s a shame he’ll lose Best Supporting Actor to Sam Rockwell.

Goodbye Christopher Robin: This film should have gotten a lot more love. It’s somewhat of a coming of age story under quite unique circumstances, with Domhnall Gleeson portraying A.A. Milne, as we see the inspiration for beloved children’s story Winnie the Pooh. While one may anticipate this being a happy movie, we learn that the events actually ruined the life and childhood of his son, who was the inspiration for Christopher Robin. It’s an excellent story full of wonder, but the somberness may have been the reason this film never caught on.

The Greatest Showman: This is just a fun and entertaining movie from start to finish. Hush Jackman plays P.T. Barnum, and the musical tells the story how he came to create and popularize the P.T. Barnum circus, which sadly shut down for good a year ago. The Original music — by the acclaimed songwriters behind La La Land’s and Dear Evan Hansen’s respective scores — is the reason to see this movie. It’s all super catchy and performed well by its musicians. Look for the performance of “This is Me” by Keala Settle to steal the show at the Oscars tonight.

Molly’s Game: Written by Aaron Sorkin and starring Jessica Chastain? How can this not  be good? Molly’s Game is full of highly entertaining and fast paced dialogue, a Sorkin specialty, but also provides us with just a very interesting story: a high end New York City poker game whose hostess gets up in federal racketeering charges. I enjoyed it.

Brigsby Bear: Easily one of the best indie films of the year. Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney plays, well… basically himself. Brigsby Bear is about a 30-something manchild who gets rescued after he spent his entire life in the custody of kidnappers, who, while they didn’t necessarily mistreat him, awkwardly raised him by showing him a made-up TV show called Brigsby Bear. Now rescued, our heroic manchild sets out to create his own Brigsby movie with the help of a dissatisfied police officer, his sister and her friends. it’s out there … but worth seeing.

Baby Driver: Definitely the flashiest movie of the year. A high powered cast of Ansel Elgort, John Hamm, Jamie Foxx, the now-disgraced Kevin Spacey and Lily James deliver us a fun film involving good-looking people, car chases and plenty of action. Look for it to win some technical Oscars tonight.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer: For any students of non-mainstream films, anything by Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos is mandatory viewing. This compelling, borderline disturbing film involves an accomplished surgeon (a good Colin Ferrell) whose family becomes ensnared in a puzzling, supernatural hex derived by a young man of questionable sanity, who is outstandingly played by Barry Keoghan. Challenge yourself one day and give it a whirl.

The Lost City of Z: Based on the excellent book by investigative reporter and author David Grann, The Lost City of Z almost takes an ethereal, mystical look at the life of explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the early 20th century trying to discover a lost civilization — “Z” — in the Amazon Jungle.

Stronger: Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, the well-known survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing who lost both of his legs in the explosion. The film is far from perfect, but Gyllenhaal is really good in this movie that provides an uplifting look at someone whose life took a major turn for the worst.

Detroit: The movie that zero conservatives will see. The film focuses on the notorious 1967 Detroit riots at the peak of racial tensions amid the Civil Rights movement. The story centers on a highly controversial occurrence that took place in a motel regarding a group of young people — mostly black — who were allegedly terrorized by police. I say allegedly because the true events are still unclear, and director Kathryn Bigelow uses creative liberties in telling it. Still, it’s a highly suspenseful, captivating and important film, and a highly relevant one, at that.

A Ghost Story: Casey Affleck, who wears a white bed sheet over his body for 90 percent of the film, gives his best performance to date. Just kidding. But not really. A Ghost Story goes heavy on the themes of death, time and space, and may leave some viewers frustrated and scratching their head. But it tries to be artistic, and I think it deserves the benefit of the doubt. it’ll certainly spark some type of emotion, at the very least. And after all, isn’t that the true purpose of art?

Beach Rats: An absolute breakout performance by English actor Harris Dickinson drives this film, which is about a teenager growing up in Brooklyn while dealing with his own sexuality. The whole film is very well done, but Dickinson is the draw here. His New York accent sounds so authentic that I never would have guessed he’s not from this country. If you skip this film because you’re uncomfortable watching gay scenes, then you’re not only ignorant but depriving yourself of a great film.

Last Flag Flying: I added a bonus film because Last Flag Flying, while ultimately forgettable, is a nice watch that carries a lot of emotion. It’s about three old Vietnam war buddies, well played by Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne, after one of their sons is killed in action. They take a road trip together to bury him.

And now you’re caught up. Enjoy the show! And maybe I’ll blog again sometime this year.

Meanwhile, in Peru…

Peruvians have taken to the streets in recent days to voice their opposition to a pardon issued by president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to former President Alberto Fujimori, the 79-year-old disgraced former leader who was 10 years into a 25-year-prison sentence for human rights abuses committed while in office.

Among other things, military death squads believed to be mandated by Fujimori during his ten-rear reign from 1990 to 2000 are responsible for at least two dozen killings, including the slaying of nine college students in Lima in 1992 in an incident now known as the La Cantuta massacre.

Kuczynski categorically ruled out pardoning Fujimori when he ran for the presidency in 2016, a race he narrowly won, defeating Fujimori’s daughter Keiko Fujimori.

Though Kuczynski said he pardoned Fujimori for medical reasons – the former leader suffers from arrhythmia and tongue cancer – many, however, view it as a favor by Kuczynski towards Fujimori’s son, Kenji, another political leader who urged his party to abstain from a vote to impeach the current president one week ago over a graft scandal. The vote ultimately fell short of the supermajority needed, thanks in large part to those who abstained because of Kenji’s urgings.

Hence, Peruvians view the pardon as a backroom deal, motivating them to protest.

In a dramatic video posted to his Facebook page on Tuesday, Fujimori asked for forgiveness, acknowledging that he disappointed many of his countrymen.

Sympathy aside, human rights experts have rebuked the pardon, citing it as one of the few instances where a Latin American strongman was held accountable in a judicial proceeding for his grave actions.

And we think things are pretty screwed up here in America.

I always find it fascinating to read about the chaos that often envelops non-world powers, especially ones with nascent democracies, because it shows us how difficult it is to create a stable balance of power akin to the United States. It also underscored the importance of maintaining longstanding institutions to prevent a democratic backslide.

 It may be overdramatic to say that something like this would never happen in the United States (though many will argue that similar things are happening before our very eyes), but it is still extremely insightful to study them so that we can read the warning signs in case it ever happens in our own backyard.

And this concludes our discussion of Peruvian politics.

How the tax bill affects an already struggling Puerto Rico

By now I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of polarizing analysis about who the winners and losers of the partisan tax bill will be among the American people.

You’ve heard words like “corporations,” “middle class,” “healthcare,” and “CHIP.”

One side is declaring it the biggest tax cut in generations, while the other is hailing it as the worst bill in congressional history.

Welcome to politics in 2017.

The fact of the matter is that the bill is deeply unpopular. But the other truth is that the long-term impact of the bill is merely speculation at this point. Republican-favored “trickle down economics” rely on the notion that tax cuts to big businesses – coupled with a smaller and more hands-off federal government – will ultimately lead to more jobs, greater wages for workers, and thus more money circulating for everybody.

Keynesian principles favored by Democrats say that greater government spending funded by taxing the rich will better stimulate the economy.

So we’ll see what happens. It will be debated for a while and economists will argue for years to come.

But one thing that’s been overlooked in the bill is the impact it will have on Puerto Rico. Prior to this bill, businesses on the island were able to qualify for both foreign and domestic status in terms of manufacturing and tax rules.

Those stipulations resulted in pharmaceutical manufacturers to incorporate there to gain foreign subsidiaries but still promote their product as made in the U.S.A.

The new tax plan makes it so businesses in Puerto Rico will be treated the same as those operating outside the U.S. Meaning we are basically just treating Puerto Rico like it’s a foreign country.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, Puerto Rico produces more pharmaceutical drugs for the U.S. than any state or foreign country. The FDA estimates that pharmaceutical and medical-device manufacturing accounts for approximately 30 percent of the island’s GDP.

In other words, crippling this industry will devastate Puerto Rico’s economy, which is already in shambles. Basically, we’re kicking the island while it’s down.

As a result, Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello is now attempting to mobilize Puerto Ricans across the mainland U.S. to vote Republicans out of office in the 2018 election.

As person of half-Puerto Rican descent, I approve of this message.

Again, this is just one aspect of the tax bill that people probably will not hear about. So while we may not know the full ramifications of how this bill will affect the American economy in the long run, we can safely say it will deeply damage our friends across the pond.

Which, in turn, may bode poorly for Republicans in 2018.

Stay tuned.

For like … 11 months.

Why politics is the worst arena to adjudicate sexual harassers

There’s an odd paradox going on in America right now regarding the handing of sexual misconduct accusations. On one hand, dozens of notable celebrities, television personalities and executives are losing their jobs.

Correspondingly, the #MeToo movement has not lost an ounce of steam. By virtue of this, it certainly gives the impression that all those who have exhibited a pervasive pattern of sexual misbehavior are being held accountable.

Except … when they run for elected office.

Yes, we have seen some prominent elected representatives pledge to resign in recent days: civil rights icon John Conyers and once 2020 presidential contender Al Franken, both Democrats, as well as Republican Trent Franks, who apparently asked a colleague if he could carry his and his wife’s child.

(There’s sexual harassment, and then there’s that)

But then you have Roy Moore.

All eyes are on the Alabama special election tonight, as Moore, the Republican candidate who has faced more than a dozen accusations of sexual misconduct – some of which involved minors – may very well win tonight. Polling leading up to the race showed a dead heat.

Moore was a highly unfit candidate well before the accusations. He has been suspended from the federal judiciary twice, and he’s showed deep bigotry for homosexuals.

His Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, appears qualified, with lengthy experience as a federal prosecutor.

The only problem is he’s running in a deep red state.

If Roy Moore wins, which is extremely possible, what does that say about us? If he’s popularly elected, does it mean that we, as a society, don’t seriously care about sexual misconduct? That this movement is a fleeting one that will one day be lost in the annals of history?

How can we honestly say that this is a meaningful issue, and then go ahead and elect a man who has a history of sexual predation?

Even if Roy Moore loses, he’s still going to receive hundreds of thousands of votes, no?

So how do we rationalize this?

Personally, I think it exposes the problems with the two-party system. A minority of the electorate in this country are down-the-line, issue-by-issue Democrats or Republicans. We’re all independent in our own way, but happen to lean left or right in certain respects.

But with parties becoming extremely polarized, we are seeing candidates run on platforms that are edging closer and closer to the farthest ends of the spectrum.

And with Democrats and Republicans being the only candidates that matter in political races, it gives us no choice but to support one or the other. And then it makes us rationalize. We tell ourselves, “OK, I don’t care for this candidate’s view on X and Y, but he or she supports so and so. So I’ll vote for them.”

And this is why, in the Alabama senate race, concerns about sexual misconduct became entangled with every other political issue. So, as outsiders, we simply can’t look at this vote as a referendum on Roy Moore’s character. It’s still politics, at the end of the day.

but that begs the next question: how far will we take it? How much are we willing to overlook to support a single issue that’s super important to us?

One specific race last November gave us one indication. In a post-Harvey Weinstein era, however, we’re about to get an even bigger indication.

If Roy Moore wins, it certainly doesn’t end the #MeToo movement that has sent waves across America. But it certainly won’t help it.

Have times truly changed? Or, like everything else, are we still experiencing a slow, steady march towards progress that will not happen overnight?

Alabama, the ball is in your court.

In a post-Weinstein era, where do we go from here?

It was said almost immediately in early October, when dual articles in the New York Times and the New Yorker exposed an alarming pattern of inappropriate and abusive sexual behavior by film mogul Harvey Weinstein, that this was a watershed moment.

But it’s hard to tell if something truly is a watershed moment while it is happening. It’s the events and reactions that occur after that determine that.

Three months later, there’s no doubt it was a watershed moment, indeed.

Women have been racking their memories of all the times they have inappropriately harassed and kept their silence, the victims of an existing punitive culture that deterred women from speaking out against powerful men.

Men, conversely, have reflected on all the times that their behavior towards women may have crossed the line and if they, too, are guilty of sexual impropriety.

What’s different now is we’ve finally entered a new age where we, as a society at large, are ready to listen to women and accept their stories.

And my how the floodgates have opened. Kevin Spacey. Louis CK. Charlie Rose. Matt Lauer. The list goes on of men who have been publicly accused and subsequently lost their jobs, or faced punishment and public shaming.

My worry is that people will get lost in this cloud of constant accusations. I worry that the discussions will devolve to “Who’s next?” followed by, “Will he lose their job?”

Because if that is the case, then we lose the question that truly matters: Where do we go from here?

Moving forward, will we now live and work in an environment where men, knowing that they will be held accountable for their actions, will think twice before they act? Will we begin educating youths of the improper nature of sexual misconduct, even before they know what sex is – like we do with drugs?

What’s happening now will not matter if we don’t learn anything moving forward, and that is where conversations need to be directed.

Exposing people for their past behavior is a good start, but more important is making sure that this behavior doesn’t persist.

As far as how to deal with the accused, well, that’s another discussion. What we’ve obviously learned is that this issue is not black and white. When hearing about alleged misconduct, we need to decipher if the accused has exhibited a lifelong pattern of pervasive sexual misconduct, or if they made a mistake.

Will they vehemently deny the allegations and demean their accusers, or will they accept responsibility and strive to become a better person? Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves, and judge accordingly.

There’s a lot of ugliness being reported now. I’m sure there will be more accusations coming. But often, the brightest times emerge after the darkest storms.

Let’s hope there is brightness ahead.

A world without Trump

While Americans differ wildly in political ideology, I think one thing that most Americans can agree on is that we would be a less divisive country right now if someone other than Donald Trump was in charge.

It’s impossible to process news without hearing his name spoken every 10 seconds, and it detracts from our ability to register what is important and what isn’t.

And that’s one of the ultimate tragedies of this administration. It’s disenchanted our concept of a true democracy.

Yes, people are motivated, and the midterms elections will tell us the official temperature of the electorate. But that’s 11 months away. And most people are just fed up with the arguing.

If you want a telling sign that the institutions of American democracy are collapsing before our eyes, then read the analysis from scholars and journalists who have spent years of their lives studying governments of third world countries that have collapsed.

The signs are the same. People take for granted that our country is so far advanced that we would never be in danger of a democratic backslide. But what you must realize is that it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens slowly and in plain sight.

Delegitimizing the media. Undermining elected representatives and judges. Scapegoating minorities. Venerating the idea of national security and a strong military.

These are the basic ingredients of an administration that is aiming to destabilize the institutional norms of a sturdy democracy. And everyone should be alarmed.

But that will play out as it may. One of the reasons I stopped blogging this summer is because I became tired of being yet another voice screaming into an endless abyss about Donald Trump. At some point, the voices drown each other out. And it just makes you feel powerless.

So here’s what we’re going to do. From now on, I want to chime in on important things happening in the world. But from this day forward, I will never mention Donald Trump’s name again. Not until Tuesday, Nov. 3rd, 2020, when he is hopefully voted out of office.

The Weinblog is back – though almost certainly not on a daily basis – and it will be totally devoid of Trump. If I discuss a news item that has ties to him, then I will find a way to circumvent his influence on the subject, and certainly refrain from using his name directly.

And it will be a breath of fresh air.

From now on, you get current events. Trump-free.

A world without Donald Trump.

That’s the Weinblog’s motto from now on.

The truth about sanctuary cities

There is not much disagreement among Americans that there should be a standardized process for non-citizens to enter America, and those who fail to meet those requirements should be subject to punishment and/or deportation.

The means to get there is the sticky point.

Of course, there was once a point in our nation’s history when the lone requirement was simply to make it to Ellis Island. A doctor would take a look at you to make sure you’re relatively healthy , and voila, you were allowed to live here, although the path towards citizenship still remained murky, at best.

Indeed, if you’re reading this, you almost certainly descend from somebody who had that very experience. Of course, times have changed, and the criteria to become American is understandably — and appropriately — more stringent.

There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. If you ask some conservative thinkers, their solution would be to round them all up and toss them out tomorrow. That’s just not realistic for an abundance of reasons.

For one, it would put our economy in a tailspin. Undocumented workers contribute billions of dollars in taxes each year. In some cases, they contribute more than those in the top 1% tax bracket who get numerous tax exemptions.

Secondly, it’s simply impossible to identify who is illegal and who is not without discriminating and infringing on people’s rights. Strict and forceful deportation policies create an environment of fear among all immigrants, legal or not.

And this is what brings us to sanctuary cities.

The term derives from a religious movement in the 1980s, when churches felt a moral obligation to shelter Central American refugees from countries fleeing war and persecution. By taking them in, they were subverting the law, but offering sanctuary to innocent victims escaping the horrors of their home nation.

The term has since become more heavily politicized, and was taken to a whole new level during the 2016 election as the central platform focus of Donald Trump.

In 2017, the term “sanctuary city” conjures up images in people’s minds of a lawless city where illegal immigrants can do whatever they want without being criminalized.

But the truth is, according to many published accounts, that local police departments support sanctuary cities.

What qualifies a location a sanctuary city is their refusal to cooperate with the federal immigration agency, ICE, which essentially has a mandate to use any means to identify illegal immigrants and give them the boot. Cities that cooperate with ICE are requested to keep inmates in jail even when they’ve been cleared for release so it can be determined if they should be deported or not.

Not only does this open cities up to potential lawsuits when a detainee is, in fact, legal — which has precedent — but it exacerbates that sentiment of fear between immigrants and police. It eliminates any incentive for immigrants to cooperate with police, thus taking away what could have been a valuable source towards tracking down actual illegal immigrants who are continuously breaking the law.

So while sanctuary cities do exist as a symbol of America’s growing diversity, their primary function is to create a safer environment within cities between residents and police.

Now this isn’t meant to be a total defense of illegal immigrants. They should migrate to America legally. Though it should be noted that while there are plenty of real life incidents of undocumented persons committing violent crimes — sometimes even murder — against innocent Americans, statistically, it doesn’t make it any more likely that an illegal immigrant will commit murder more often than someone who was born here.

Immigration is a very complicated issue. Sanctuary cities are just a part of it.

Next time you hear someone complain about a sanctuary city, maybe you can inform them that they don’t exist as a safe haven for murderous gangs from Latin America, but rather, as a place where local police departments can act in partnership with residents to enforce the law and track down those who truly abuse their privilege of living in America.

When Donald met Vladimir

If you’re tired of hearing about Trump and the Russians, skip to the bottom where you’ll find a video of a golden retriever saving a fawn from drowning.

OK, so Trump met with Putin. For an hour. In the same day the two had met for a highly-anticipated two hour closed door meeting in which both nations expressed entirely different readouts on how it went.

Consistent with the way the whole #KremlinGate scandal has gone thus far, I presume people on the left will label this as another element to the biggest scandal in political history; people on the right will shrug and wonder why we’re so consumed with this topic; while Trump and his team will condemn the news media as “fake” and “sick.”

All three are wrong. At least, so far they are.

As I have expressed before, anyone who doesn’t fully comprehend why even the semblance of collusion between the U.S. and Russia is newsworthy is clearly ignorant or indifferent towards history.

You know the phrase the “Evil Empire?” A Mets fan might respond and say, “Yeah, the New York Yankees.” Well, no. The Evil Empire is the Soviet Union. A country whose name, when spoken aloud, would force high school students to retreat under their desks 60 years ago.

A country that once threatened our annihilation by pointing missiles at us from less than 500 miles away.

Since World War II, there has been practically nothing to gain from cooperation with Russia. Nothing. They have been a hostile actor not only to the U.S., but to our global allies. Their goal, even today, is to disrupt the world order to better align with their own interests.

Russia ceased to be the Soviet Union in the late ‘80s. Thus, millennials grew up without a fear for Russia. And even though Russia is no longer a communist state, they have reverted back to being an authoritarian state since Putin’s ascent to the presidency at the turn of the century.

In short, Russia is not our friend. President Trump is right in that it is not a bad thing to engage with countries who we have long been feuding with. Diplomacy always trumps hostility (no pun intended). But Russia is a special exception. For years, their country has been in decline. International sanctions have left them economically crippled. Unpopular invasions (in Crimea, Ukraine) have left them geopolitically alienated.

Russia is a declining state. But they are compensating for this downturn by asserting their influence on global order by intervening in other country’s elections in support of candidates who they believe would be more lenient towards them. And it’s working.

So given all of this history, both historically and currently, and given the hysteria surrounding the investigation into possible collusion leading up to the election, it is nothing short of mind-blowing that Donald Trump, in a room full of 19 leaders from our nation’s most powerful countries, some of which are our staunchest allies, would bypass them and head straight to Vladimir Putin for a one-hour, private chat. With only a Russian translator.

Never mind the security issue of not knowing what exactly the Russian government translator literally said to Trump and Putin — considering where his national interests lie – but the fact that Trump didn’t realize that this would be a significant event in light of all that’s already going on shows just how obtuse this man really is.

#KremlineGate is probably the most avoidable scandal in political history. First you have Fredo, I mean Donald Trump Jr. accepting a Russian meeting last summer under the context of it being part of Russia’s support for Donald Trump, and now Trump sitting down and yapping with Putin like they’re old buddies — all in plain sight of other world leaders who have every right to wonder what the heck is going on between these two guys.

Any collusion between Russia and the U.S. is a big deal. Will it ultimately be impeachable? Who knows. But this isn’t a left/right issue. It’s a new chapter in what has been a very complicated and unfriendly history between the U.S. and Russia.

OK, I’m done. Here’s the dog video I promised.

My supreme return

As perhaps one or two of you may have noticed, I have not posted in a while. The first week I had a good reason: I was in Orlando for a work trip. The last couple of weeks, however, I just decided I needed a break.

Think of it as my summer blogging vacation (even though summer only started five days ago).

But there were a few reasons why I wished to take a break. One was just to give myself a mental vacation. When I get home from work from a long day, it’s nice to not have to worry about any other obligations.

Secondly, I was getting exhausted from complaining about Donald Trump every day.

Last, I really wanted to use the time to brainstorm how I could channel my creative energy towards a project that can be more productive towards my future. I have no aspirations to become a professional blogger. But I do feel like one day I will come up with an idea that will be worth pursuing – whether it’s a book idea, a screenplay, or any other writing project. Something that can one day be published and enjoyed by the world.

I still haven’t gotten there. And until I do, I figure the most productive answer is to keep writing as much as I can on a regular basis. So, blogging can certainly fulfill that for now.

But it likely won’t be daily. And more importantly, if I am going to discuss politics and current events, I want to talk about things that matter. Not Trump’s tweets. Not the latest outrage on social media. But things that affect the way we live.

Today, for instance, the Supreme Court made two important announcements: It will make a decision in October on Trump’s travel ban, and it will also hear a case involving a Colorado baker’s refusal to serve a gay couple, citing a violation of religious freedom included in the First Amendment.

The travel ban decision is important. Not because it will dictate whether certain immigrants can or cannot come to the U.S. for a short-term period, but because it will set a precedent on the president’s ability to unilaterally enforce immigration restrictions, and therefore set boundaries on presidential powers overall while either strengthening or weakening our government’s longstanding system of checks and balances.

And any one hoping that Neil Gorsuch might become a bit more moderate once he hit the bench is probably disappointed by now. In agreeing to hear the case on the travel ban, the court granted the administration’s request to stay the injunctions put in place by lower courts, thereby putting portions of the ban into effect. Gorsuch (along with justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito) wrote dissenting opinions stating that they would’ve allowed the full ban, without limitations, to take effect right now.

The case on a worker’s ability to deny service to gay couples based on religious grounds is important for obvious reasons. If they side with the businesses, then it has the potential to derail progress this nation has made advancing gay rights, two years after the Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

One does not need to ask which side Gorsuch will take on this one.

Finally, Monday marks 20 years to the day when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the U.K) was published.

Now if you could look back on any development in the last two decades that strongly benefited humankind, it was the introduction of the Harry Potter books, which encouraged a generation of children to fall in love with reading.

In the Potterverse, good ultimately defeated evil as Harry got the better of Lord Voldemort.

Let’s hope real life reflects that.

We’ll always have Paris

It’s basically gotten to the point where we are living in a cartoon world where the Trump administration is playing the role of the archetypal bad guys.

Like, if you were to write a kids’ movie or a dystopian novel, and you envisioned an adversarial government as the story’s antagonist, but exaggerated it so much that the reader or viewer would find it implausible that such evil would exist in real life– that’s what we are dealing with.

Our president is boorish and immature. The chief strategist whispering in his ear is a present day Joseph Goebbels. Our Attorney general embodies the appearance of a generic southern racist.

They’ve scaled back on civil rights, LGBT protections, healthcare protections, and now, they are doing all they can to repeal environmental protections.

The latest being Thursday’s announcement to rescind our involvement in the Paris climate accords – a pact signed by 195 countries to limit carbon emissions with the hope of saving the planet, an agreement that was spearheaded by Barack Obama two years ago.

I feel like I say this every week, but … how is this real?!

Trump climate

The one silver lining I tell myself is that just because Trump states something aloud or signs an executive order doesn’t mean things change with the drop of a hat. There’s still checks and balances that limits his abilities and other mechanisms that act as a bulwark against his tyranny.

In this instance, the climate accords state that there is about a 4-year removal process, meaning that full removal from the agreement may be determined by who elect in the 2020 presidential election.

Hate is building for Donald Trump. It’s been happening since day one. But it’s only a matter of time until there is an unprecedented, large-scale rally in Washington, D.C. calling for his ouster.

And if that occurs, I don’t think I’d be able to live the rest of my life with dignity if I don’t go.

Not only is Trump enraging so many with his mind-boggling decisions, but he’s also corrupting our intelligence by making up words.

Either you know about “covfefe” or you don’t. In short, Trump tweeted a made-up word, didn’t delete it for five hours, and the world scratched their heads until then trying to figure out what he meant.

When the media asked Press Secretary Sean Spicer what the president meant — fully expecting him to say it was a typo — Spicer answered seriously, “The president and a small group of people know what he meant.”

I’d say the inmates are running the asylum, but I think we’re well past that.

All I know is that if things don’t change quickly, I think we’ll all be drinking at Tiger Woods levels really soon.

Tomorrow is Friday. after all. The perfect time to start.

Happy covfefe everyone.