The Sum of All Fears shows how a movie with a ton of dumb stuff happening in it can also have profound moments

Tonight, for the first time, I watched the 2002 Morgan Freeman / Ben Affleck spy thriller movie, The Sum of All Fears, based on Tom Clancy’s 1991 novel of the same name. Not knowing anything about the plot, I was hoping to be swept up into a smart, twisty espionage movie with plausible crises, fast-paced action, suspense, and some strong characters with good chemistry between them.

But the movie blew up my suspension of disbelief in its opening scene, because the series of events it presented were, just frankly, impossible. It opens on an Israeli military air base on October 9, 1973, during the Yom Kippur War (or October War or Ramadan War depending on which side you supported). The Egyptian and Syrian forces have made strong gains after their surprise coordinated attack, and Israel decides to launch a fighter jet with a single tactical nuke on board. The pilot’s mission is to stay airborne and wait for orders. If the Israeli ground troops were to start to be completely overrun, the order will be given to him to nuke some enemy target.

As these kinds of movies go, so far so good. I’m pretty sure that in real life no Israeli plane actually took off with a nuke on board. It’s possible Clancy was using artistic license to expand on news reports that then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir did elevate the nuclear alert level, but I’ve yet to read any news stories of an Israeli fighter jet zipping around in Syrian or Egyptian airspace with a nuke in its belly. But for a fictional story, I can work with an alternative possible history imagining what might have happened if something important had gone differently than it did in reality.

Story premise: Israel misplaces a nuke in its own backyard but decides to do nothing to find it for 30 years. Whoops.

But the opening scene went off the rails in the first few minutes. You see, the brave Israeli fighter jet pilot – presumably the best pilot in one of the world’s most highly regarded air forces – is flying low over desert terrain that looks a lot like the Sinai, and he does something no pilot would never do. He has a photo of his wife and child perched on the instrument panel. He hits a bit of turbulence, and the photo falls from where he can see it into a hard to reach space near the floor of the cockpit. So what does this world class fighter pilot, who is flying low to the ground to avoid radar and is carrying a live nuke, decide to do? He starts reaching down with one hand and stretching uncomfortably to try to grab the fallen photo, and when he frustratingly can’t get a grip on it, he stops looking out the front windshield, and leans down awkwardly to try to find the photo. When he sits back up straight again, he screams because – forehead slap – he’s about to crash into a hill. Which he does. The plane, the bomb, and the pilot all get hurled into the sand. The pilot is dead and the plane smashed to bits. The nuke is dented here and there but remains intact, unexploded, and half-buried in the desert sand.

Next the screen tells us it’s 29 years later., and we see two Arab men who apparently make some money by looking for discarded military equipment and ordinance from previous wars, collecting a bunch of it, and then selling it to different black market buyers who find some of it useful. They stumble upon the buried Israeli nuke. They don’t know it’s a nuke – but it’s clearly a bomb of some sort. They dig it up, get it on their truck, and end up selling it to some European creep who turns out to be part of a neo-Nazi plot that seeks to acquire a nuke and other WMDs.

So that’s the opening premise. The Israelis secretly put a pilot in the air with a tactical nuke as a last ditch deterrent in case the war on the ground looked like it was about to turn into a total collapse for Israel. Is that much a plausible premise? I mean, okay, why not, you gotta be willing to suspend some disbelief and not get hung up on questions like whether sending up a plane that could crash, be shot down, or even be captured with a single nuke in its hold would be the way that an Israeli head of state would go about making the threat of a nuclear strike known to their enemies.

But we’re supposed to believe the plane crashes because the pilot pulled an Albert Brooks move from Defending Your Life? No way.

And then what happens? The Israeli army has now lost a nuke, somewhere in the desert, possibly still in Israeli controlled territory, or possibly Egyptian or Syrian territory. So what do the Israelis do? They leave it, lost somewhere in the sand. They don’t go get it. They just shrug and go, “welp, heh heh, sorry to all of our allies – especially you, America – but we kind of lost one of our nukes in the desert and we can’t think of any way to organize a mission to retrieve it. Oh, and just to clarify, we aren’t saying we have nuclear weapons. But if we do have them, well, we have them minus one that we are supposed to have. Which we’re not going to bother to try to find and get back. Shalom.”

This is the Israelis, mind you. Not exactly the Keystone Cops of military action. The army that busted into Entebbe airport in Uganda in order to rescue Israeli hostages. They are supposed to be, like, “Yeah, we can’t go looking in a stretch of barely populated desert nearby for a missing nuke.”

Next comes some Hollywood laziness. Because we are told that the two Arab scavengers who found the nuke live in the Golan. Take a look at the landscape of where the Israeli fighter pilot crashes his jet, and where the wreckage of the plane has come to rest:

This is the Golan Heights? It looks like the Sinai desert. Seriously, I’m waiting for some modern day cinematic Moses to walk into the scene of the wreckage and take a close up look at the burning mush that is this shark-jumping movie premise. I’m half-expecting Mark Watney to amble along in his EVA suit. Just in case you’re not familiar with what the Golan looks like, here’s a pic from the Lonely Planet guide to visiting the Golan:

Also, and pay close attention here, if the Israelis lost one of their nukes in 1973 in the Golan, then that means they lost it in territory they controlled and then annexed a few years later. They wouldn’t even need to do a Mission Impossible style nuke retrieval in hostile enemy territory commando op. They would just need to look around for it while they were actively building new Israeli neighborhoods and communities in the Golan.

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There are no shortcuts

Like many of my fellow progressives, my first reaction to Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report is disappointment. The daily grind of enduring the Trumpocalypse is so draining that I hoped that the report would be unequivocally damning, revealing smoking guns that no presidency could survive. Instead, we’re watching Trumpists crow and the mainstream media in a position to potentially flub the story and echo RW talking points. Which narrative will win out in the coming days? The Trumpist narrative that the Mueller Report is totally exonerating? Or a fact-centered narrative, pointing out that Barr’s letter to Congress states that Mueller’s report does not exonerate Trump of Obstruction of Justice charges? Or something else entirely?

Will the whole report be made public? Will the Dems go all in on continuing to investigate what happened? If they do, will the public side with them or decide that Trump has been the victim of a witch hunt? Will the congressional Dems cave? Will the 2020 presidential candidates get stymied and lose their mojo? Will they pivot or build on the issues they’ve championed in a way that enables a Dem to win next year? Who knows?Screenshot 2019-03-24 at 6.49.47 PM.png

2016 taught me that the problem is the make-up of the American voters, and the willingness of white Americans in particular to embrace Trumpism. Mueller’s Report needed to be a public revelation of indisputable conspiracy on the part of Trump and those closest to him in order to override the 45% of the American public that is essentially willing to go along with a white supremacist demagogic regime.

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Visualizing Trump’s 2nd Term

This is the sinking feeling I get when I check my favorite news and politics websites. Talking Points Memo. Daily Kos. My WaPo subscription. Even my favorite folks on Twitter.

So many stories pointing to growing trouble for 45. Mueller’s comin’. People are flippin’. Documents are being filed, with intensifying and worrying accusations for the Donald’s friends and fans.

And yet, there’s one data point that hasn’t budged. That won’t budge. Presidential Job Approval rating over 40 – possibly as high as 44. With a job approval rating in the 40s – anywhere in the 40s – it will take a great Democratic candidate to win. Because all Trump needs to win is a second-tier Democrat to be the nominee. All he needs is 48% of the vote, maybe 49%, and the right combo of states.

All he needs is good economic numbers and a divided center-left coalition (enter Bernie and his followers) to get to that tipping point in our arcane, illogical, electoral system. Enough to tip Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania into his column. Florida? They just went extra-Red in these midterms, so don’t count on a blue wave there. DT can lose by even bigger margins in California, in Illinois, in New York state – he can lose the popular vote by even more the second time around and still win.

He has a floor somewhere in the low 40s. He only needs to get to 48. Unless the Dems find someone with Obama-like skills, they’ll go into the thing in the mid 40s. It’ll come down to how the 5 or 8 percent in the middle break. But the Dem will need to get them to put him/her/them up over 50, maybe well over 50. Trump may only need to get to 48 and run the table electorally in the same upper midwestern states plus PA.

I read a story that featured interviews with GOP bigwigs speaking on condition of anonymity so they could be completely candid. On the one hand, they said that they’re all bracing for the possibility that the stuff that’s gonna come out of Mueller’s reports or some of the other court filings is going to destroy 45 and it’s gonna be a Hindenburg level disaster. On the other hand, they’re also prepping for the possibility that the most serious legal problems that these investigations end up attaching to Trump himself are some violations of campaign finance laws before he even took office. These GOP insiders said that if that’s what happens, they think DT is so effective at bending media narratives to his will, and at ginning up his base, that they actually think he’d be the odds-on favorite to win re-election. And they’re simultaneously preparing for that possibility too.

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The uncertainty drives me nuts.

So what do I do with my little self? With the energy, time, money, words, actions that I can do something with.

I feel like I need to make a list that’s based on preparing for both of these possible political outcomes. I’ll think about it and possibly return with said list.

 

Pogromchik

I’m reading Saul S. Friedman’s Pogromchik: The Assassination of Simon Petlura (Hart Publishing Co., New York, 1976). It’s a non-fiction account whose central drama is an act of public assassination carried out in Paris in 1926 by a Ukrainian Jew, Sholom

petlura

Schwartzbard. Schwartzbard shot and killed Simon Petlura, a former head of the Ukrainian nationalist movement and supreme commander of Ukrainian nationalist forces during the civil war in that country that took place in the aftermath of World War I and the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 in Russia.

Friedman was an historian who wrote extensively about Antisemitism, the Holocaust, and the Middle East. He died in 2013, and from what I can glean on the interwebs he is, much to my dismay, a favorite go-to source for the Jewish and American right wing – particularly of those who passionately believe that Christianity & Judaism are in a global war against Islam, and that naive and ignorant liberals (like yours truly) keep ignoring the depths of the hatred found against Jews within Islam. Given my politics, I could dismiss anything Friedman has written out of hand, but that’s not how I roll. My primary interest in Pogromchik is as a portal into the horrific world of the pogroms that took place from the late 1800s well into the 20th century in the Ukraine, Russia, and other parts of eastern Europe. I could, of course, have just read a bunch of articles about those pogroms, but I guess I’m a sucker for a good story, and this is one.

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Sholom Schwartzbard, 1926

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