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May 15, 2014

If you're sick of what has become of America's music, you're not alone. Country music star Collin Raye is speaking out about it on Fox News. Here's an excerpt:

There appears to be not even the slightest attempt to "say" anything other than to repeat the tired, overused mantra of redneck party boy in his truck, partying in said truck, hoping to get lucky in the cab of said truck, and his greatest possible achievement in life is to continue to be physically and emotionally attached to the aforementioned truck as all things in life should and must take place in his, you guessed it... truck.

Like Raye, I'm not inherently opposed to this strain of country music, but it has become dominant and ubiquitous. "I didn't mind the first two or three hundred versions of these gems," said Raye, "but I think we can all agree by now that everything's been said about a redneck and his truck, that can possibly be said."

The beauty of country music is that it is honest and authentic. It tells us stories we can identify with. That doesn't mean it can't sometimes also be fun and silly — and occasionally employ an obvious double entendre, or two. Johnny Cash managed to do it all pretty darn well.

But at some point, modern country became a parody of itself, often reinforcing or overemphasizing country stereotypes. The pendulum has swung too far to the silly "bro" side of things. When it comes to today's country, "They sound tired, but they don't sound Haggard" — or, as my colleague Eric Keefeld lamented, at some point, "modern country became Cheap Trick with trucker hats." Matt K. Lewis

3:11 p.m. ET

The Tennessean's sports columnist, Joe Rexrode, was one of 139 passengers aboard Delta flight 1474 when it lost one of its engines en route to Cleveland from Atlanta on Sunday. In a gripping account of the episode, Rexrode recalls being paralyzed by what to write to his wife and kids in the face of what he believed was certain death (the plane ultimately made an emergency landing in Knoxville, Tennessee).

"[T]he engine on the right side of the plane blew, creating a loud, awful screeching noise and a worse, burning smell in the cabin," Rexrode writes. "The plane wobbled and dipped, not like a typical instance of turbulence. The flight attendants looked as stunned as everyone else — my eyes went directly to them after the jolt — and quickly wheeled the drink cart back to the front of the plane and gathered near the cockpit. They started looking through an emergency manual. I'm no expert, but I'm thinking that's not a great sign."

Rexrode goes on:

It felt like the plane was going down, and below us were mountains. And then it got worse. Another loud, awful noise, followed by silence and the feeling that we had no more engine propulsion in the air. It's the most quiet I've ever heard a plane. At that moment, I thought the other engine was gone. The only sound among 139 people was a couple of them whimpering and a couple of young children babbling.

That's the first time in my life I've been certain I was going to die. [The Tennessean]

Read Rexrode's full account — including what he morbidly decided would have been the subject line in a last email to his wife — at The Tennessean. Jeva Lange

3:05 p.m. ET

Drudge Report's Matt Drudge called for a public questioning of President Trump on Monday in a tweet:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is probing Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 election. As of Friday, Trump claimed "nobody [has] asked me" to be interviewed, although Politico has reported that the president's legal team may choose to offer an interview of Trump's own volition. "There has — there is no collusion I can tell you that," Trump recently told Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo. "Everybody's seen that. You know, you have Senate meetings, you have Senate hearings, and nobody has asked us to do interviews anywhere. They have found no collusion."

Mueller has interviewed a number of officials close to Trump, including former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and ex-Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Of particular interest to investigators is Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower last year, and Trump's alleged involvement in putting together a misleading statement about the substance of the discussion that took place, CNN reports. Read more about the intrigue of Drudge's Twitter feed at The Week. Jeva Lange

2:07 p.m. ET

Jemele Hill returns to SportsCenter on Monday night, her first appearance on The Six, which she co-hosts with Michael Smith, since being suspended for two weeks over a second violation of ESPN's social media guidelines.

Hill was suspended after responding to the news that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told players they would be benched if they kneeled during the national anthem. She tweeted on Oct. 8 and 9 that "change happens when advertisers are impacted" and urged a "boycott."

ESPN had previously deemed Hill's tweets "inappropriate" after she called President Trump a white supremacist in September. The Ringer writes: "Hill's [most recent] suspension brought up a larger question, which Bill Simmons wrote about here: Can ESPN carve out an apolitical space while Trump is president? 'The tension is not that they want to be apolitical,' said one ESPN employee. 'The tension is that they want to be fashionably political. They want to be Oscar-speech political.'"

On Monday, following a meeting with ESPN's president John Skipper, Hill tweeted: "Thank you all for standing with me and by me. Trust me, you did not do so in vain. My heart is full. See you tonight." Jeva Lange

1:19 p.m. ET

President Trump called for the deportation of Guo Wengui, a fugitive Chinese businessman living in New York City, but was talked out of the plot by aides who, amongst other things, noted that Guo is a member of Trump's Mar-a-Lago club, The Wall Street Journal reports. "Some U.S. national security officials view Mr. Guo, who claims to have potentially valuable information on top Chinese officials and business magnates and on North Korea, as a useful bargaining chip to use with Beijing," The Wall Street Journal adds.

Guo has been a thorn in the side of Chinese authorities, publicly alleging the corruption of high-up officials. Because the U.S. and China do not have an extradition agreement, Beijing has gone so far as to send agents on fraudulent visas to put pressure on Guo at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, where he lives.

The Chinese government has tried to reach Guo in other ways, too — by sending Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn to personally deliver a letter denouncing Guo to Trump:

"Where's the letter that Steve brought?' Mr. Trump called to his secretary [in an Oval Office meeting in June]. "We need to get this criminal out of the country," Mr. Trump said, according to the people. Aides assumed the letter, which was brought into the Oval Office, might reference a Chinese national in trouble with U.S. law enforcement, the people said.

The letter, in fact, was from the Chinese government, urging the U.S. to return Mr. Guo to China.

The document had been presented to Mr. Trump at a recent private dinner at the White House, the people said. It was hand-delivered to the president by Mr. Wynn, the Republican National Committee finance chairman, whose Macau casino empire cannot operate without a license from the Chinese territory. [The Wall Street Journal]

Read the full report at The Wall Street Journal. Jeva Lange

11:54 a.m. ET
ALEX BRANDON/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Monday, where he signaled the U.S.'s desire for a peaceful resolution to the 16-year war in the country. Tillerson appealed to "moderate voices among the Taliban" during the unannounced trip, going so far as to hypothetically offer government posts to such individuals.

"There are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever. ... So we are looking to engage with those voices and have them engage in a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and their full involvement and participation in the government," Tillerson said, per The Associated Press. "There's a place for them in the government if they are ready to come, renouncing terrorism, renouncing violence, and being committed to a stable prosperous Afghanistan."

Foreign Policy notes that Tillerson's covert trip is likely a reflection of the Trump administration's larger plans for the country:

Tillerson said the United States wanted to make it clear to the Taliban and other militants that the United States was in Afghanistan for the long haul and the militants would not prevail militarily. [...]

The diplomatic overture signals the Trump administration's eagerness to wrap up the longest war in U.S. history. In August, [President] Trump pledged open-ended support for Afghanistan following fierce internal debates and foot-dragging after having campaigned on ending the costly 16-year war. [Foreign Policy]

Read more about Tillerson's trip at The Associated Press. Kimberly Alters

11:10 a.m. ET

The infrastructure devastation and civilian casualties caused by the U.S.-led coalition siege to retake Raqqa, the Islamic State's de facto capital in Syria, is comparable to the World War II carpet bombing of Dresden, Germany, the Russian defense ministry charged in a statement Monday.

"Raqqa has inherited the fate of Dresden in 1945, wiped off the face of the Earth by Anglo-American bombardments," said Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, alleging that coalition humanitarian aid projects in the aftermath of the fight are motivated at least in part by an effort to conceal the extent of the damage. Moscow's embassy to the United Kingdom tweeted a photo comparison:

An estimated 25,000 people were killed in the Dresden bombardment; the number of coalition-caused deaths in Raqqa is as yet unknown, but estimates are usually in the hundreds rather than thousands.

Russia is not the first to draw attention to the high civilian casualty rate of the anti-ISIS campaign. In June, United Nations war crimes investigators reported that increased coalition airstrikes produced "staggering loss of civilian life" and led to "160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced." U.N. investigators have also accused Russia of committing war crimes in Syria by performing airstrikes that violate international law. Bonnie Kristian

10:44 a.m. ET
Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

Nine months into his administration, President Trump's tweets have fallen into a familiar topical groove: Trump's suffering at the hands of the media, his suffering at the hands of Democrats, his suffering at the hands of Republicans, his suffering at the hands of the basic constitutional structure of governance of the United States — you get it. But one topic on which Trump's feed has been comparatively silent of late is Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling, including whether Mueller should be fired.

Per a Monday report from Politico, that's because White House lawyer Ty Cobb, who joined Trump's team over the summer, has convinced the president of the serious legal risks of public comment while the probe is underway.

"It's one thing to have an adviser to tell you, 'Boy, if you say this it's not good politics, it's not good for us,'" said Solomon Wisenberg, who worked on Kenneth Starr's investigation of former President Bill Clinton. "It's another thing to have your white-collar lawyer say, 'This is extremely harmful to you legally to say this.'"

Cobb himself told Politico that he could not "take credit for the change in the president's tone on Russia," praising Chief of Staff John Kelly and Trump himself for helping to effect the difference. Still, Cobb said, Trump's new tact on this issue has fostered a "good relationship in terms of trust" between Mueller and the White House. Bonnie Kristian

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