Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Monday, June 12, 2017

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Previews Of Comey Attractions

Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution took a long look at former FBI Director James Comey’s prepared opening statement for today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing and posted his thoughts on Lawfare.  Here’s his summation.

First, Comey is describing here conduct that a society committed to the rule of law simply cannot accept in a president. We have spent a lot of time on this site over seven years now debating the marginal exertions of presidential power and their capacity for abuse. Should the president have the authority to detain people at Guantanamo? Incinerate suspected terrorists with flying robots? Use robust intelligence authorities directed at overseas non-citizens? These questions are all important, but this document is about a far more important question to the preservation of liberty in a society based on legal norms and rules: the abuse of the core functions of the presidency. It’s about whether we can trust the President—not the President in the abstract, but the particular embodiment of the presidency in the person of Donald J. Trump—to supervise the law enforcement apparatus of the United States in fashion consistent with his oath of office. I challenge anyone to read this document and come away with a confidently affirmative answer to that question.

Second, we are about to see a full-court press against Comey. I don’t know what it will look like. But the attack instinct always kicks in when a presidency is under siege. And Trump has the attack instinct in spades even when he’s not under siege. It is important to remember what the stakes are here. They are not about whether Comey was treated fairly. They are not about whether you like him. They are not about whether he handled the Clinton email investigation in the highest traditions of the FBI or the Justice Department. They are not about leaks. The stakes here are about whether what Comey is reporting in this document are true facts and, if so, what we need as a political society to do about the reality that we have a president who behaves this way and seeks to use the FBI in this fashion. It is critical, in other words, that people not change the subject or get distracted when others try to do so.

Finally, it is also critical—though probably fruitless to say—that we eschew partisanship in the conversation. Tomorrow, this document will be the discussion text when Comey faces a committee that, warts and all, has handled the Russia matter to date in a respectable and honorably bipartisan fashion. It is not too much to ask that members put aside party and respond as patriots to the fact that the former FBI director will swear an oath that these facts are true—and was fired after these interactions allegedly took place by a man who then told Lester Holt that “when I decided to just do it [fire Comey], I said to myself … this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story,” and boasted to the Russians the day after dismissing Comey that “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

The question they—and we—all face is simple: Do we care?

Forty-four years ago — June 1973 — another fired attorney, John Dean, testified before another Senate committee about private conversations he had with the president, revealing alleged criminal activity on the president’s and other White House officials behalf in pursuit of an election victory and the cover-up of that criminal activity.

Mr. Dean’s testimony, broadcast live on national TV and radio networks, broke open the Watergate scandal and took it from dirty tricks to the end of a presidency.  Whether or not the same thing will happen with Mr. Comey’s testimony today is open to speculation and hope, but at the least the parallels between what John Dean said in that committee hearing and what Mr. Comey will say today do have a certain rhyming quality.

The question Benjamin Wittes asks at the end of his summation is a good one: Do we care?  Have we come so far and become so jaded that meddling by a foreign power — one whose very mention of the name had us ducking and covering — in a presidential election gets a shrug and a rejoinder of “but her e-mails” from 32% of the voters.  Or did Watergate and the subsequent real or imagined -gates that followed immunize us against the expectation that elected officials would hold themselves to a higher standard since they were elected by the people and therefore had to represent our better angels, not the common denominator.

For my part, having arrived at advanced middle age and able to testify about living through one-quarter of the history of this nation, I can say that if we don’t care about what happened to elect this president and allow the legacy of the nation to be turned into a comment thread on an unmoderated blog, then perhaps we have invited the meddling by the Russians and the kleptocrats.  It wasn’t because they want to rule what’s left of our democracy and make it their own, but because they were bored with their own toys and found another shiny one.

So my question to you is simple: Do you care, and what are you going to do about it?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Reading

On The Horizon — Kai Wright in The Nation on how Trumpism will be defeated.

In the summer of 2013, about a month after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, I sat in a small church in Baker County, Georgia. The county elections board had proposed closing four of its five polling places, and I listened as a couple dozen residents of the sprawling, rural county figured out how to stop the plan.

The board said its proposal was driven by a cost-benefit analysis; shutting the polling places would save money, a whopping $7,800. The residents of Baker also recognized the debate as one over value—the worth of black life. The county is nearly half black, and more than a third of its residents live in poverty; the board is majority white. This is a familiar dynamic in Baker County.

“You won’t find a railroad track going through the county, because they didn’t want it,” civil-rights icon Shirley Sherrod, who grew up in Baker, told me just before that church meeting. “They just didn’t want anything to be any different than the way it was. And when I say ‘they,’ I mean white people who were in power.”

Sherrod could have said the same about great swaths of southwest Georgia, and she could have spoken in the present tense.

Which is one reason Stacey Abrams’s expected entry in the Democratic primary for next year’s governor’s race is so notable. If elected, Abrams would be not just the only black woman to occupy the governor’s mansion in Georgia, she’d be the only in any US state. Ever. More than that, what’s notable for people like the black residents of Baker County is her strategy as the current House minority leader.

In recent elections, Abrams has made the sadly novel contention that rural, largely black districts like those in southwest Georgia—which Democrats long ago wrote off as dominated by old power structures that can’t be upturned—are, in fact, worth the fight. She says a driving question for her is, “How do you build a state that thinks about everyone and not just those who happen to live in the right place?” It ought to be a driving question for progressive politics everywhere.

Donald Trump’s presidency will end—likely hastened by the corruption that is gradually coming into full view. But Trumpism will not simply dissipate with his departure. The white suburbanites who gambled on his candidacy were driven by a real, if toxic, brew of fears and anxieties that will remain, perhaps even intensify as he implodes. So it’s one thing to resist Trump; it’s another, longer project to build a just and truly plural America out of the divisions he’s exploited. Abrams’s campaign offers insight for that work.

It necessarily begins with a useful assertion: We must not build our politics solely around the fears and anxieties of those suburban whites. As Steve Phillips noted in The Nation last week, some Democrats are already whispering that the Georgia party needs a white candidate who can appeal to white voters. Phillips to whispering Dems: Tell that to the 47 percent of Georgia voters who came out for Barack Obama in 2008. For her part, Abrams says she enters the race with “a very intentional awareness that you have to have everyone at the table—including people of color, who make up nearly half of your society.”

Abrams and Phillips are doing the math. But there’s a deeper point here. To counter Trumpism by centering his followers would be to chase shadows. Liberals have waited with indignation for the president’s supporters to realize they got a bum deal, that he’s not really a populist and doesn’t posses a time machine that can whisk them back to a manufacturing economy. But who actually voted for these fictions?

Trump was overwhelmingly a white-identity candidate. Coupled with flipping districts that had previously gone to Obama, Trump helped drive up his own white turnout to higher levels than many poll watchers thought was achievable. These were white people who had made it into the middle and upper middle classes without the trouble and cost of higher education, thanks to the racially exclusive social contract of the postwar 20th century. And they chose to believe the lie that they can reclaim the security that is slipping away by rejecting the realities that the 21st century forces upon them.

But refusing to center white suburbanites doesn’t mean ignoring them. Whatever else is true about Trump voters, the core complaint I’ve heard over and over as I’ve spoken with them is actually one many of us share: There exists a monstrous gap between the reality so many Americans face every day, and the political priorities of those who have power over us.

This gap divides both the Democratic and Republican parties from their bases. It exists in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street. We encounter it when we shop for homes, apply for jobs, and try to go vote. We’re even reminded of it when we try to book a flight and get dragged down the aisle because the airline wants its seat back. The impunity of the powerful is what binds the rest of us.

Abrams is an elected official and speaks the language of her work when pointing to the shared values she’s heard in talking to both white and black suburban moms—a desire for economic security, personal safety, a reasonable retirement. “Too often, our conversations are grounded in binary and reductive debates—that my success means your failure, or your success means my failure,” she argues. Agreed. But I’d say the widely shared value today is more Twisted Sister than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: We’re not gonna take it, anymore. That’s true in Baker County, it’s true in the white suburbia, and it’s a starting point for taking on Trumpism.

Raus — Klaus Brinkbäumer in Der Spiegel on the need to oust Trump.  (The Germans know something about dealing with a megalomaniacal leader.)

Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. He does not possess the requisite intellect and does not understand the significance of the office he holds nor the tasks associated with it. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees.

He is a man free of morals. As has been demonstrated hundreds of times, he is a liar, a racist and a cheat. I feel ashamed to use these words, as sharp and loud as they are. But if they apply to anyone, they apply to Trump. And one of the media’s tasks is to continue telling things as they are: Trump has to be removed from the White House. Quickly. He is a danger to the world.

Trump is a miserable politician. He fired the FBI director simply because he could. James Comey had gotten under his skin with his investigation into Trump’s confidants. Comey had also refused to swear loyalty and fealty to Trump and to abandon the investigation. He had to go.

Witnessing an American Tragedy

Trump is also a miserable boss. His people invent excuses for him and lie on his behalf because they have to, but then Trump wakes up and posts tweets that contradict what they have said. He doesn’t care that his spokesman, his secretary of state and his national security adviser had just denied that the president had handed Russia (of all countries) sensitive intelligence gleaned from Israel (of all countries). Trump tweeted: Yes, yes, I did, because I can. I’m president after all.

Nothing is as it should be in this White House. Everyone working there has been compromised multiple times and now they all despise each other – and everyone except for Trump despises Trump. Because of all that, after just 120 days of the Trump administration, we are witness to an American tragedy for which there are five theoretical solutions.The first is Trump’s resignation, which won’t happen. The second is that Republicans in the House and Senate support impeachment, which would be justified by the president’s proven obstruction of justice, but won’t happen because of the Republicans’ thirst for power, which they won’t willingly give up. The third possible solution is the invocation of the 25th Amendment, which would require the cabinet to declare Trump unfit to discharge the powers of the presidency. That isn’t particularly likely either. Fourth: The Democrats get ready to fight and win back majorities in the House and Senate in midterm elections, which are 18 months away, before they then pursue option two, impeachment. Fifth: the international community wakes up and finds a way to circumvent the White House and free itself of its dependence on the U.S. Unlike the preceding four options, the fifth doesn’t directly solve the Trump problem, but it is nevertheless necessary – and possible.

No Goals and No Strategy

Not quite two weeks ago, a number of experts and politicians focused on foreign policy met in Washington at the invitation of the Munich Security Conference. It wasn’t difficult to sense the atmosphere of chaos and agony that has descended upon the city.

The U.S. elected a laughing stock to the presidency and has now made itself dependent on a joke of a man. The country is, as David Brooks wrote recently in the New York Times, dependent on a child. The Trump administration has no foreign policy because Trump has consistently promised American withdrawal while invoking America’s strength. He has promised both no wars and more wars. He makes decisions according to his mood, with no strategic coherence or tactical logic. Moscow and Beijing are laughing at America. Elsewhere, people are worried.

In the Pacific, warships – American and Chinese – circle each other in close proximity. The conflict with North Korea is escalating. Who can be certain that Donald Trump won’t risk nuclear war simply to save his own skin? Efforts to stop climate change are in trouble and many expect the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris Agreement because Trump is wary of legally binding measures. Crises, including those in Syria and Libya, are escalating, but no longer being discussed. And who should they be discussed with? Phone calls and emails to the U.S. State Department go unanswered. Nothing is regulated, nothing is stable and the trans-Atlantic relationship hardly exists anymore. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Norbert Röttgen fly back and forth, but Germany and the U.S. no longer understand each other. Hardly any real communication takes place, there are no joint foreign policy goals and there is no strategy.

In “Game of Thrones,” the Mad King was murdered (and the child that later took his place was no better). In real life, an immature boy sits on the throne of the most important country in the world. He could, at any time, issue a catastrophic order that would immediately be carried out. That is why the parents cannot afford to take their eyes off him even for a second. They cannot succumb to exhaustion because he is so taxing. They ultimately have to send him to his room – and return power to the grownups.

Eulogy For America — Megan Amram bids farewell.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to say our goodbyes to our dear friend America, who died recently after a brief, intense battle with fascism and a long, slow battle with carbs. Thank you all for coming out to help say farewell. It’s not easy. But at least America died doing what it loved most: deep-frying Halloween candy while white men tried to explain to women what jazz is.

America was sick for a really long time. In the early stages, I think we were all in denial. You could tell that America was unwell—public displays of brutality, deeply internalized prejudice, “Entourage”—but it seemed curable. Just a case of plain old electile dysfunction. We thought that we’d caught the fascism early, but, as we now know, it had metastasized. America was more Florida than country by the end.

America was born right here, in America, and lived here its entire life. America was always about family. It is survived by its similarly ill father, Britain, and its large brood of children: baseball, Google, fireworks, losing your fingers to fireworks, giving your Uber driver only four stars because he talked to you, thinking granola is healthy, Chicago (the place), “Chicago” (the musical), “Chicago” (the movie adaptation of the musical), Chicago (the band), “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med,” “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Justice,” “Chicago ‘Chicago’ ” (a show about the Chicago production of the musical “Chicago,” coming to NBC this fall), and a bunch of wars.

I’d personally be nowhere without America. America was there when I was born, when I got married, when I saw Janet Jackson’s nipple at the Super Bowl. Remember that? After that happened, none of us slept for days, because we had never seen the pointy part of a boob on our TVs before, and it really upset us. America was really cool that way. It would always get mad when you’d see the pointy part of a boob on a TV. I’m gonna miss that.

However, we should not dwell on the loss of our dear country, friend, and place where all the Cheesecake Factories and Lids stores are. Today, let’s celebrate America’s life, and remember all of the remarkable things it accomplished and how many actors playing Spider-Man who keep getting cuter and younger were inside of it. America gave us so much. And, boy, did it look good for its age. America was two hundred and forty-one years old when it died, but it didn’t look a day over a hundred and sixty-four! It looked so young, it could’ve been the very same America that put its own citizens in internment camps!

America got a bunch of things really right. Mostly how to put food inside other food. Anyone can just eat a chicken. But in a duck?! In a turkey?! In a gun?! No one is going to forget the Turduckenun any time soon. America was so inventive that way. And, I mean, everyone does silly stuff when they’re young. America was beautiful, too. Sure, it was a little lumpy, and you could always see its Florida through its pants, but it just got hotter with age. So hot. It was so, so hot by the time it died. Almost too hot to live in.

If there’s anything we should take away from this tragedy, it’s that you should always check yourself for fascism, especially around your midsection. It’s easy enough to do in the shower. If you catch it early, it can be cleared up with a rigorous regimen of local elections and books and yoga. But America was cocky. Nothing bad had ever happened to it before! It assumed this fascism would pass, just like the Second World War and “Entourage” had.

What a shame. America was just the best damn country in the whole U.S.A. I’m sorry that I’m getting choked up. I get really emotional when I think of America, and also I took too big of a bite of Turduckenun and it got lodged in my windpipe. We will all miss America greatly. Every time I see an American flag or a gun, I’ll think of America. But we can all rest easy knowing America is in a better place now: Russia.

 Doonesbury — To-Do List.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Reading

Millennials vs. Trump — Doug Bock Clark in Mother Jones on Jon Ossoff’s run for Congress in Georgia.

Jon Ossoff doesn’t like to talk about his age. His reticence is understandable. Since the media and liberal voters foisted the 30-year-old political neophyte from the Atlanta suburbs into the national spotlight, he’s been celebrated by Democrats as a wunderkind who might lead the resistance against Trump and simultaneously ridiculed by Republicans, who fear the same thing, as a “spoiled frat boy.” As the front-runner in the heated special election race to replace Tom Price, whom Trump elevated to be his secretary of health and human services, in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District—a seat not held by a Democrat since the 1970s—he has endured numerous attacks targeting his relative youth. One ad spliced authentic clips of Ossoff costumed as Han Solo from a college spoof video with stock footage of frat boys doing keg stands. “I don’t want to marginalize youth,” recently mused Bruce LeVell, 53, former head of Trump’s national diversity coalition and one of 11 Republican, five Democratic, and two independent candidates who will face off against Ossoff on April 18. “But I think that a wealth of life experiences can be a tremendous asset for a congressional seat.”

Speaking last week in Alpharetta, Georgia, at a mansion overlooking a lake, Ossoff had attracted so many supporters that the property’s owner nervously joked his deck might not be able to support the crowd. In the previous three hours, we’d visited four separate rallies where hordes of Democrats lined roads with signs reading “Vote Your Ossoff.” “I’m trying to make the case to voters across the political spectrum,” Ossoff told the assembly, “that someone who brings a younger perspective”—then he corrected himself—”a fresher perspective… can change the culture in Washington more effectively than someone who has run for office nine or ten times.”

With his campaign promise to “Make Trump Furious,” Ossoff is riding a wave of disaffection among all Democrats, but millennials are an especially important part of his coalition. Consistently polling in the mid-to-low-40s, Ossoff needs only a handful more percentage points to break the 50% threshold on April 18 and claim outright victory. If he fails to obtain a majority he’ll face a much tougher runoff vote on June 20 versus the second-place finisher, in support of whom a critical mass of Republican voters might unite. The Sixth District is deeply Republican, with a white, elderly, and affluent voter base, which may be hard to sway from their traditional voting habits. But the district includes 146,000 people aged 18 to 34—about 27% of all eligible voters in the district—and Ossoff is relying, in part, on these young voters to turn out in unprecedented numbers and nudge him to victory. The race is so close that one of the only ways for Ossoff to win, in other words, is for large numbers of millennials to do for him what they didn’t do for Hillary Clinton: vote.

“My generation has gotten complacent about our rights,” Alison Curnie, 31, said on the deck overlooking the lake, as she endorsed Ossoff to the cheering crowd. “We thought they would be there in perpetuity. But if anything good has come out of this last election, it’s that we’re no longer complacent.”

During the two days I spent on the campaign trail, young people were an inescapable presence. Most staffers and volunteers I encountered were of the millennial generation, though there were plenty of older people as well. Ossoff’s supporters believe his youth is a positive quality, a way to bring a new mindset to Washington. As Matt Tompkins, 26, told me, “Ossoff is the first time we’ve had someone who represents our socially conscious values. Someone who’s 60 doesn’t have the worldview of being raised in modern reality with technology, the internet, diversity, and everything else.”

So far, millennials have been a dormant power in politics. As John Della Volpe, the Director of Polling at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, told me: “There are more millennials than any other generation on earth, but they don’t vote in the same proportion that other generations do. The main reason they don’t vote is they don’t see a tangible impact from it, so the degree to which Ossoff can convince them that this election matters is going to be key.”

And so while a flurry of punditry in recent days has interpreted Ossoff’s campaign as a predictor of whether or not anti-Trump sentiment will be enough to buoy Dems to congressional victories over the next two years, his race also raises another and perhaps more pressing question: Can this 30-year-old, and the anti-Trump resistance of which he’s been anointed figurehead and bellwether, re-energize young voters’ enthusiasm for democracy in general and Democrats in particular?

“Previously, I’d been a registered Republican, even Libertarian leaning,” Curnie told me on the deck. “I used to have the luxury of being a Republican because I didn’t think anyone was coming for my birth control and civil rights. But this election has made me realize we’ve got to stick up for our civil rights before we worry about tax brackets.”

Ossoff’s success owes a great deal to his becoming an internet phenomenon. When he launched his campaign in early January with an email telling voters to “Make Trump Furious,” it caught the attention of liberal bloggers anxiously following the third Congressional contest of the Trump era. Daily Kos, the left-leaning website, began promoting him. Donations poured in, with each fundraising success spurring more coverage. Today he has amassed more than $8.3 million in about three months, much of it from out-of-state voters—a record for a candidate who is not self-financed. His campaign says he has received nearly 200,000 separate donations from all over the nation, at an average size of $43.

Just as Ossoff has seized national attention in a particularly social media-savvy way, his life before the race shows how a generation of millennials may be preparing for politics. Raised in the suburb of Northlake, Ossoff always dreamt of becoming a politician. He planted yard placards with his parents in support of local Democrats as a boy. By 2003, his childhood friend Karl Langberg, 30, remembers that he was running a blog devoted to politics and debating online with older readers, who didn’t know they were arguing with a teenager behind the screen. At Paideia, a pricy private high school, he started an alternative publication to the school newspaper, which he named the Great Speckled Pi in homage to a liberal underground Atlanta newspaper of the sixties and seventies. By then, his friends knew he wanted to one day run for office. “There was an understanding among our group,” says Dustin Chambers, another childhood friend, “that he wanted to run someday and he was equipping himself to do so.”

Ossoff’s focus on government continued while studying at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, during which he also worked part-time for Representative Hank Johnson. Facebook went global when he was a freshmen, forever transforming politics by recording every embarrassing moment of one’s youth. “But,” Chambers said, “Jon immediately became aware of how that altered the political landscape. It made clear to him that he needed to be a squeaky-clean guy.”  After graduating, he managed Johnson’s 2010 reelection campaign and then worked for him fulltime on the Hill, specializing in national security issues.

Ossoff’s work for Johnson has been the substance of the one attack that has dinged his reputation. He carefully claims: “I’ve got five years of experience as a national security staffer in the U.S. Congress. I held top secret security clearance.” All of which is true—though two of those years he was working part-time and he only held top-level clearance for five months at the end of his time on the Hill. “Technically, Ossoff walks a very careful line,” a Washington Post fact-checker wrote. “But the overall impression is misleading.”

In 2013, he earned a master’s degree at the London School of Economics, and then became CEO of Insight TWI, a VICE-like new media company, whose films have documented corruption among judges in Africa and the front-line battle against ISIS. As he traversed the globe with a camera, he still thought about seeking office, but assumed it would be far in the future.

On the night of November 8, he was filming a right-wing militia in rural Georgia as men sat around a campfire and watched the election results roll in on their cellphones. Distraught, he drove an hour-and-a-half to Manuel’s, a famous Atlanta watering hole for politicos, where he met his childhood friend Chambers and watched Trump claim victory. “I had never seen him so scared, so unsure,” Chambers, who is now a volunteer on Ossoff’s campaign, recalls. “He is one of those people who always has the answers. That night, I could see him calculating a lot of different disturbing outcomes for the next four years.”

The day after his appearance at the lake house, Ossoff sat onstage in the Dunwoody High School auditorium along with 17 other candidates—the full spectrum of American political opinion, from the Tea Party to moderate Republicans, including Karen Handel, his nearest competitor, with 15% of the vote in polls. The majority of voters were white-haired or bald, and paged through programs as each candidate spoke, making notes. But most millennials in attendance already had their minds made up: they wore Ossoff blue and loudly cheered him.

While he waited for his turn to speak, Ossoff kept his gaze fixed on each speechifying opponent, as a Republican tracker in jean shorts and hiking boots aimed a mini-cam at his face. A tracker has been video-taping Ossoff’s every move for about two months, sometimes shouting questions at him, trying to force a reaction that can be turned into an attack ad or negative news story.

When Ossoff took the microphone, he said, “I worked on Capitol Hill for five years, and I saw how things work and how they do not. I saw the partisanship, the gridlock, the pettiness, and the corruption. I think it’s time for fresh leadership in Washington.” Speaking, he kept his hands clasped in front of him, his fingers carefully interlaced, never flourishing his arms or stabbing a finger to emphasize a point. The rest of his speech sketched plans to grow the district’s burgeoning technology sector and to fight government corruption, though it presented few details and lacked the shots at Trump that initially fired up the base. If there’s one signature issue that Ossoff has promised to tackle in Congress, it’s bringing his investigative documentary chops to bear on Washington—but the specifics of what muck he’d rake are hazy.

Ultimately, this is probably part of his strategy. Acknowledging the Republican tilt of the district, Ossoff has kept his recent statements just a few inches left of the center and vague. He has appealed to progressive Berniecrats primarily by positioning himself against Trump, but without pushing their core platform positions like single-payer healthcare, free tuition, or steep taxes on the rich.

Ossoff also has to appeal to the nearly 317,000 minorities in the district, especially in DeKalb County, where many are concentrated. However, the worst early voting turnout has been in the heavily Democratic DeKalb County, though this may partially be due to the fact that it has the worst voting access in the district.

It’s in regard to Ossoff’s fuzzy policies that this race circles back to larger questions about the fight against Trump. Can a classic liberal, whose positions seem more in line with the pre-Trump-era Democratic party establishment, spark millennials to vote in significant numbers? If Ossoff ducks leading youthful progressives, is anti-Trump fervor and the implicit promise of shared life-experience going to be enough for them to identity with him?

It’s a question the party is wrestling with on a national scale. Many liberals are angered that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn’t invest in the race for the seat vacated when Trump picked Mike Pompeo to become Director of the CIA, believing they didn’t have a shot to win in the deeply red Wichita, Kansas, district—only to find that the Republican candidate barely triumphed. Ossoff’s surprise front-runner status is a testament to the power of the anti-Trump movement, but the flaws in his coalition also speak to fractures in the larger Democratic party alliance that may sabotage his chances of electoral success.

Ossoff’s reticence to deeply engage with policy questions, and his statuesque self-control on the campaign trail, has led some observers to criticize him as stiff and lacking depth, including a recent New York magazine profiler. When I asked Ossoff for his response to the article, he said: “I’m trying to win a congressional race, not give spellbinding magazine interviews.”

But many of his millennial fans interpret his self-possession differently: as the result of growing up in an era when every stray bit of speech can end up broadcast across the world. “He knows that he’s being recorded every second,” Alexandra Brosovich, 24, whom I met at a rally, later told me on the phone. “Someone who grew up in the 1960s before cellphone videos and social media just doesn’t understand how careful you’ve got to be when everything’s recorded. He made an instant connection with me and my friends.”

Political reporters often want to call the same back-slapping, Big Mac-chomping extroversion authenticity. But maybe at heart Ossoff is simply an even-tempered, conscientious, and deliberate man. He’s the kind of guy who used the word “duplicative” in casual conversation, and at rallies tried to substitute ten-dollar words for ones like “folks.” According to his childhood friend Chambers, Ossoff even studied Barack Obama as a public persona to emulate. Ossoff summed up his own character to me by saying, “I think, for me, it’s important never to get too high and never to get too low. I just try to remain in a grounded, balanced place.”

One day, we visited a baseball field just a few minutes walk from the redbrick house where Ossoff grew up (which still had a fallen Clinton-Kaine yard sign lying by its driveway).

As Ossoff and I slung a grass-stained baseball back and forth, even after he shucked his suit jacket, his speech remained precise. When I asked about his strongest memory of that field, he answered: “Just playing catch with my dad, man, in the crisp autumn air, just as the leaves are starting to turn, when you can taste the first bite of winter, coming down here for that last time before it gets too dark, before it gets too cold.”

Those close to Ossoff acknowledge he is meticulous, but also point out that his exactingness is subordinate to his adventurousness—whether running for Congress or producing documentaries about a female battalion in Iraq. Ossoff has had a pilot license since he was a teenager. Today, in rare interludes of free time, he will gather a small group of friends before dawn, rent a Cessna, and then fly them to remote airstrips in the Appalachian Mountains, where they will hike all day before returning to Atlanta by dusk. “I love the challenge of mountains,” he told me, “the accomplishment of the summit, the vantage point, and the solitude.”

Despite Ossoff’s discipline, spend enough time with him and you’ll find his intensity palpable. The unspooling way he pitched the baseball at me looked effortless—he didn’t even break a sweat despite his button-up and tie—but as he pounded my palm with pinpoint accuracy, my hand numbed. Walking off the field, I asked, “What’s the event that made you who you are today?”

He looked around at the backstop and the basketball courts of the nearby elementary school. Twenty-four seconds slid by. He was new enough to this that he didn’t have an answer immediately at hand.

Then he said, with a bit of a snarl curling his voice for the first time, “I remember kids getting bullied on the playground. It really pissed me off. And right now, there are a lot of people being bullied in this country.”

Take A Deep Breath — Robert Bateman says that North Korea’s nukes are not worth freaking out about.

I was not all that concerned when the news first broke last week. The Strike Group based around the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was diverting from a visit and exercises with the Australians and instead heading north from Singapore towards the Western Pacific (and, possibly, the Sea of Japan). The move was seen as saber rattling by many on cable news and in various op-eds, and a positive invitation for chaotic hand-wringing by those of a more anxious nature. But my own assessment was more along the lines of a giant yawn. This has not changed, a whit, since the talking heads here and there have lost their collective minds, worrying about an American strike on North Korea.

People, it ain’t happening.

Were something like that in the plans, you would see a whole lot of other moving military parts: Other carrier groups heading west from California, Marines being mobilized on Okinawa, amphibious ships being sent out, and Air Force and Army units being sent to staging bases.

None of that has happened, so let’s all relax.

North Korea, of course, responded with their normal bluster. As reported by The New York Daily News they issued this warning:

“This goes to prove that the U.S. reckless moves for invading the DPRK have reached a serious phase of its scenario,” the spokesman said in a statement, using an acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “If the U.S. dares opt for a military action, crying out for ‘preemptive attack’ and ‘removal of the headquarters,’ the DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”

They react this way every single time, to every single item, so this press release went in the “so what” file immediately.

The bottom line is that, beyond all this hyperbole, the reality of the situation is much less about any American strike on North Korea. Here is why: We do not have the assets in that group to really do much, and in this case, conducting a strike against their homeland would be utter idiocy.

The US Navy battle group is assigned to the 3rd Fleet and it consists, officially, of just four major warships, the Aircraft Carrier Carl Vinson, the Aegis Destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer and USS Michael Murphy, and the Ticonderoga class Cruiser USS Lake Champlain. We do not know, but it can be assumed with some degree of confidence that the group may also be operating in concert with one or more submarines, either regularly or temporarily as the situation dictates.

In conventional terms, a group like that does have the potential to pack a pretty good wallop. That close to Japan they would not be overly worried about using a larger percentage of their missile load such as the TLAMs I wrote about last week. But you might as well leave aside the carrier and its air wing, because that is moderately useless for offensive options in any North Korean scenario. (Except, perhaps, as a deception or distraction.) Each of the destroyers, however, has some 96 vertical-launch tubes that can carry both TLAMs and “Standard” air-defense missiles (the SM-2 to be specific), among others. The cruiser Lake Champlain carries an even bigger load, with 122 launching tubes. But as explained last week, those TLAMs would not necessarily be all that useful, given their fairly limited munitions options. The TLAMs carry either pure High Explosives, or a scatterable sub-munition option. Neither of which is much good for punching into things like hardened runways or caves dug into the sides of mountains.

So why send that naval package up north? Well, there is one system that has not gotten a ton of media attention, though I am not sure why. That system really could be a useful tool, and one that might be used to send a message while at the same time not leave us open to blame for conducting an offensive strike. It is a combination of the very sophisticated “Aegis” radar system carried by both the destroyers and the cruiser, and the upgraded “Standard” missile known as the SM-3.

The SM-3 missile (technically the RIM-161, Standard Missile -3) can shoot down other missiles, even ballistic ones. Even satellites in outer space for that matter. And although we do not know if those type of missiles are loaded aboard the Lake Champlain at this instant (information like that would be classified), if I was a betting man, I would probably lay some money that they are.

Why does this matter? Because in addition to being pretty loud lately, you might have noticed that North Korea has been testing a lot of missiles. On top of that, the North Koreans just hosted another one of their big self-congratulatory military parades. Sometimes they like to fire off hardware around the time of these events, international treaties and sanctions be damned. Usually those missiles are fired to the east, into the Sea of Japan, and sometimes into Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone. According to preliminary reports, this hasn’t happened yet. But if it did?

Let’s get back to our battlegroup, equipped with the SM-3s aboard an Aegis cruiser, operating in international waters well away from North Korea itself. What would international opinion be if we shot an illegally fired missile out of the sky when it was headed towards Japan? It would mean demonstrating at one stroke both North Korea’s inability to actually use those missiles they are trying so hard to develop, and enforcing the sanctions against those same launches that are already in place from the international community.

For now? Let’s all take a deep breath.

Fly The Arrogant Skies — Kaveh Waddell in The Atlantic.

A security guard stops a customer as she tries to enter a well-stocked aisle in a large department store. “Sorry, ma’am,” the guard says. “This sale is for our silver, gold, and platinum shoppers only.” He points her toward the meager discount corner at the back of the store, where bronze-status shoppers are allowed. She passes attendants who smile only at the elite shoppers, offering them refreshments and guiding them toward the best deals. When she stops for gas on the way home, she gets in a long line for the basic pump, while the priority pump sits empty and unused. At the grocery store, she doesn’t have enough points to approach the organic produce.

This beleaguered consumer lives in an alternate reality where businesses can discriminate between their high-value and low-value clientele at will, enticing the biggest spenders to stay while marginalizing bargain hunters and coupon cutters. Most companies couldn’t get away with triaging their customers this way. But some already do: airlines.

This inequality is enshrined in frequent-flyer programs. They’re not like typical rewards systems, which simply encourage loyalty with discounts. Instead, they create elaborate hierarchies, discriminating between platinum flyers and coach passengers in nearly every step of the air-travel experience, from booking to baggage claim.

These programs also help airlines gather data on their passengers. They track details like customers’ favorite routes, the fares they pay, and extra services they buy, says John Strong, an aviation expert who teaches at William and Mary’s business school.

David Dao, the doctor who was dragged from his seat on a United flight last weekend, was a victim of the airline’s algorithm (and, of course, of security officers in Chicago, who left him with a concussion, a broken nose, and two missing teeth). United’s contract of carriage, which lays out how the airline will treat its passengers, outlines how passengers might be “denied boarding involuntarily”:

The priority of all other confirmed passengers may be determined based on a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent-flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment.

Dao was more likely to be chosen than others because he wasn’t connecting to another flight, and based on the fact that the algorithm selected him, he probably didn’t rank very highly in United’s rewards program. Strong says a passenger’s itinerary and his or her value as a customer are the main criteria an airline considers when picking who to bump from a flight. “While airlines have the information to create a more detailed pecking order, they don’t go much beyond that in practice,” Strong said.

Airlines can game out just how much each customer is worth, and treat them accordingly, said Joseph Turow, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania. “Irrespective of any individual fare, they have this overarching notion of who their valued customers are, and what their lifetime value is,” he said. “And because of the structure of the system, they can take advantage of it to the point of being mean to people.”

Business travelers, who are less likely than leisure travelers to comparison-shop for airfare, reap the rewards of pricey, company-sponsored travel in the form of miles. They’re pampered, while passengers in the back, who are more likely to have simply searched for the best deal, are left without many frills.

Giving priority to some isn’t a practice unique to the airline industry, says Strong. “More valuable customers at brokerage houses get dedicated access communications and cheaper trades; hotels offer free wi-fi and other complimentary benefits to their best customers,” he said. “Almost anyone who has a loyalty program differentiates benefits by the value of different groups of customers.”

But the gap between coach and business class is particularly wide. That might partly stem from a lack of competition in the industry, which gives airlines a relatively large amount of control over their customers. Because of the disparity between premium and economy fares—and companies’ willingness to buy expensive seats for their employees, sometimes at the last minute—airlines are mostly interested in luring business passengers. But as they attract those travelers with fancy perks, they provide the economy cabin with only the bare minimum.

One reason this is the status quo is that there’s little budget passengers can do to avoid an airline they don’t like. The big U.S. carriers have near-monopolies over air travel from many (though not all) major American airports, leaving price-sensitive travelers little choice when they fly. That makes boycotting a major airline nearly impossible, as Christopher Ingraham wrote in The Washington Post this week. And so carriers can get away with a lot more than, say, retailers or gas stations: If Nordstrom’s starts treating its low-margin customers poorly, they’ll just walk on over to Neiman Marcus, or Bloomingdale’s, or Saks.

Those retailers can, however, discriminate between their high- and low-value customers more subtly. They might dole out coupons and discounts to encourage their “best” shoppers to keep coming back—and withhold them from the “bad” ones, like those who have a habit of returning items, or who buy things that don’t make the company very much money. Online stores can do this more surreptitiously, by showing different shoppers different prices and ads, and nudging them toward—or away from—certain products and services.

One thing that might be warding off the platinum-sale alternate reality in these other industries is antitrust law. These regulations help keep retailers from forming huge, inescapable monopolies—the kind that United, Delta, American, and Southwest enjoy in parts of the country, thanks to lax regulation of the industry in recent years—and prevent them from deploying these airline-perfected tactics.

For now, Turow says, other industries “don’t have nearly the ability to be as arrogant as the airlines are.” They have to be quieter about their discriminatory tactics, and maintain a pleasant enough atmosphere that won’t drive away their customers. “Whether this will ever change so they can get such a grip on people,” Turow says, “I don’t know.” But as antitrust policies weaken—as they have over the past few decades—and monopolies grow in power and number, the distance between airlines and the rest of the business world might be in danger of shrinking.

 Doonesbury — I got your facts right here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Pulled Out By The Grassroots

Over the past few weeks I’ve been inundated on social media and e-mail by lots of groups asking me to call my local representative in Congress to vote against the Trump attempt to repeal Obamacare.  I did my bit; I had a very nice albeit brief chat with whom I assume was an intern who recorded my concerns (and noted my ZIP code).  I also responded to various requests for letters and e-mails with my usual pithiness, and of course there was this effort in the blogosphere.  Throughout it all I was pretty sure that while we’d make a strong effort, it would be for naught.  I was, like everyone, stunned when the bill failed to even get a vote in the GOP-controlled House.

So how did we do it?  Dave Weigel at the Washington Post looks at what killed it.

On Friday afternoon, as congressional Democrats learned that the GOP had essentially given up on repealing the Affordable Care Act, none of them took the credit. They had never really cohered around an anti-AHCA message. (As recently as Wednesday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was still using the phrase “make America sick again,” which most Democrats had abandoned.) They’d been sidelined legislatively, as Republicans tried to pass a bill on party lines. They’d never called supporters to the Capitol for a show of force, as Republicans had done, several times, during the 2009-2010 fight to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, Democrats watched as a roiling, well-organized “resistance” bombarded Republicans with calls and filled their town hall meetings with skeptics. The Indivisible coalition, founded after the 2016 election by former congressional aides who knew how to lobby their old bosses, was the newest and flashiest. But it was joined by MoveOn, which reported 40,000 calls to congressional offices from its members; by Planned Parenthood, directly under the AHCA’s gun; by the Democratic National Committee, fresh off a divisive leadership race; and by the AARP, which branded the bill as an “age tax” before Democrats had come up with a counterattack.

Congressional Democrats did prime the pump. After their surprise 2016 defeat, they made Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) the outreach director of the Senate caucus. Sanders’s first project was “Our First Stand,” a series of rallies around the country, organized by local Democrats and following a simple format. Elected officials would speak; they would then pass the microphone to constituents who had positive stories to tell about the ACA.

[…]

The turnout for the rallies exceeded expectations, though their aggregate total, over 70-odd cities, would be dwarfed by the Women’s March one week later. More importantly, they proved that there was a previously untapped well of goodwill for the ACA — which had polled negatively for seven years — and it smoothed over divisions inside the party. Days after Barack Obama had blamed “Bernie Sanders supporters” for undermining support for the ACA, Sanders was using his campaign mailing list to save the law.

“It was the town halls, and the stories, that convinced me that people might actually stop this bill,” said Tom Perriello, a former Democratic congressman now running an insurgent campaign for governor of Virginia, with his career-ending vote for the ACA front and center.

My surprise comes not from the fact that it worked — we saw what that misshapen band of misspellers that made up the Tea Party could do — but that the Democrats actually pulled it off in a way that prior to this has not been all that effective.  Yes, of course we’ve seen Facebook and Twitter and e-mail blasts urging support for this or that cause, but they have always come up short on substance because, frankly, a lot of people pay lip service to the effort but when it comes to getting out the vote or the voice, it was always more Astroturf than the real thing.  But this time the real stuff showed up.

Beltway groups were helping organize the opposition, and did not pretend otherwise. But they were effective because they had actual grass-roots buy-in. Elizabeth Juviler co-founded an Indivisible group in the district of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.). “He’d never taken a position against the party,” Juviler said in an interview. “By all accounts, he’s an affable person, but he wasn’t accessible.”

The group, NJ11th for Change, birddogged the Republican congressman with two tactics. First, it held mock town hall events in all four of the counties he represented. “Thousands” of people showed, according to Juviler; all were informed of how to call his office. When the health-care bill was dropped, Frelinghuysen was besieged with calls. And on Friday, he announced that he would oppose AHCA. According to Joe Dinkin, a spokesman for the Working Families Party, there were dozens of stories like that.

“For the first time in a long time, a pretty sizable number of Republicans were more scared of grass-roots energy of the left than of primaries on the right,” said Dinkin.

It also didn’t hurt that a number of Republicans were against the bill not because they loved Obamacare but because they didn’t think the Trump/Ryan bill went far enough; there wasn’t a provision in it for pushing Granny off the end of the dock to reduce the cost of healthcare.  Be that as it may; the bill died and now Trump has moved on to some other squirrel to chase.

The only downside is that we’re all going to be getting tons of e-mails from the DCCC and the state parties to send in money before midnight tonight to keep on fighting.  It’s a small annoyance to pay for a very big win.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Short Takes

Snow pummels Northeast.

Dutch vote puts populist support to the test.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used an e-mail alias when he was head of ExxonMobil.

Female senators fiercely question Marine commandant over nude photos scandal.

Canadian Girl Guides cancel trips to U.S. because of Muslim ban.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Short Takes

Gunmen attack mosque in Quebec City, killing several people.

Trump stands firm over travel ban.

Protests erupt again nationwide over travel ban.

U.S. service member killed in Yemen commando raid on al-Qaeda.

Canada says refugees are welcome.

WTF: Propagandist Steve Bannon made full member of NSC.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sunday Reading

The Women’s March on Washington as reported by Megan Garber in The Atlantic.

In the middle of the National Mall, on the same spot that had, the day before, hosted the revelers who had come out for the inauguration of Donald Trump, a crowd of people protesting the new presidency spontaneously formed themselves into a circle. They grasped hands. They invited others in. “Join our circle!” one woman shouted, merrily, to a small group of passersby. They obliged. The expanse—a small spot of emptiness in a space otherwise teeming with people—got steadily larger, until it spanned nearly 100 feet across. If you happened to be flying directly above the Mall during the early afternoon of January 21, as the Women’s March on Washington was in full swing, you would have seen a throng of people—about half a million of them, according to the most recent estimates—punctuated, in the middle, by an ad-hoc little bullseye.

“What is this circle about?” a woman asked one of the circle-standers.

“Nobody knows!” the circle-stander replied, cheerfully.

The space stayed empty for a moment, as people clasped hands and looked around at each other with grins and “what-now?” expressions. And then: A woman ran through the circle, dancing, waving a sign that read “FREE MELANIA.” The crowd nodded approvingly. Another woman did the same with her sign. A group of three teenage boys danced with their “BAD HOMBRE” placards. The crowd whooped. Soon, several people were using the space as a stage. A woman dressed as a plush vulva shimmied around the circle’s perimeter. The circle-standers laughed and clapped and cheered. They held their phones in their air, taking pictures and videos. They cheered some more.

The Women’s March on Washington began in a similarly ad-hoc manner. The protest sprang to life as an errant idea posted to Facebook, right after Trump won the presidency. The notion weathered controversy to evolve into something that, on Saturday, was funereal in purpose but decidedly celebratory in tone. The march, in pretty much every way including the most literal, opposed the inaugural ceremony that had taken place the day before. On the one hand, it protested President Trump. Its participants wore not designer clothes, but jeans and sneakers and—the unofficial uniform of the event—pink knit caps with ears meant to evoke, and synonymize, cats. It had, in place of somber ritual, a festival-like atmosphere. It featured, instead of pomp and circumstance, people spontaneously breaking into dance on a spontaneously formed dance floor.

And yet in many ways, the march was also extremely similar to the inauguration whose infrastructure it had co-opted, symbolically and otherwise, for its own purposes. The Women’s March on Washington shared a setting—the Capitol, the Mall, the erstwhile inaugural parade route—with the ceremonies of January 20. And, following an election in which the victor lost the popular vote, the protest seems to have bested the inauguration itself in terms of (physical) public turnout. During a time of extreme partisanship and division—a time in which the One America the now-former president once spoke of can seem an ever-more-distant possibility—the Women’s March played out as a kind of alternate-reality inauguration: not necessarily of Hillary Clinton, but of the ideas and ideals her candidacy represented. The Women’s March was an installation ceremony of a sort—not of a new president, but of the political resistance to him.

“I DO NOT ACCEPT THIS FILTHY ROTTEN SYSTEM,” read one sign, carried by Lauren Grace, 35, of Philadelphia. She got the quote from Dorothy Day. And she intended it, Grace explained to me, to protest “a system that sort of left me out.”

“We’re told that voting is a sacred right in this country,” Grace said. “But even though Hillary won the popular vote, she still lost. I feel pretty conflicted about a country where that could happen.”

The Women’s March was, to be sure, also a protest march in an extremely traditional vein: It featured leaders—celebrities, activists, celebrity activists—who gave speeches and offered performances on a stage with the Capitol in its background; its participants held signs, and chanted (“This-is-what-a-feminist-looks-like!,” “No-person-is-illegal!”), and commiserated. It was also traditional in that its participants were marching not for one specific thing, but for many related aspirations. Women’s reproductive rights. LGBTQ rights. Immigration rights. Feminism in general (“FEMALES ARE STRONG AS HELL,” one sign went, riffing off a famous feminist’s Netflix show). The environment (“CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL,” “MAKE THE PLANET GREAT AGAIN”). Science (“Y’ALL NEED SCIENCE”). Facts (“MAKE AMERICA FACT-CHECK AGAIN”). Some signs argued for socialism. Some argued against plutocracy. Some argued for Kindness. Some pled for Peace. Some simply argued that America is Already Great.

This was a big-tent protest, in other words—a messy, joyful coalescence of many different movements. The Women’s March deftly employed, in its rhetoric, the biggest of the big-tent tautologies: The point of this protest wasn’t so much the specific things being protested as it was the very bigness of the crowds who were doing the protesting. This was another way the protest alternate-realitied the presidential inauguration: Just as the official ceremony is meant to celebrate not only the person occupying the presidency, but the presidency itself, the Women’s March was a protest that celebrated protest.

In doing that, it took direct aim at the things the new president has a record of valuing so highly—crowd sizes, ratings, large-scale approval—and countered them. Trump, after all, since the beginning of his presidential candidacy, has made a point of emphasizing the size of the crowds he has been able to attract by way of celebrity’s gravitational pull. He has boasted about the throngs attending his rallies. He has taunted his opponents about the relatively few people who turned out for their events. And Trump’s ascendance to the presidency seems to have done nothing to assuage that impulse: On Friday evening, at the Armed Services Ball, Trump again talked about the large size of the crowd that had come to witness his inauguration. And on Saturday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer used his first official White House briefing to blast the media who had mentioned the size of Trump’s inauguration crowds as compared to those of past presidents, dismissing their assessment as attempts to “minimize the enormous support” that had gotten Trump elected. (Though crowd sizes are notoriously difficult to determine with precision, Trump’s crowds were in fact decidedly smaller than the ones that came out for Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.)

The new president, in his rhetoric, has emphasized the “pop” in “populism.” And so—counterpunch—the Women’s March has emphasized its own crowd size. The throngs on Saturday spilled over from the march’s stage, where celebrities (America Ferrera, Gloria Steinem, Janelle Monáe, Katy Perry, Ashley Judd, Alicia Keys, Madonna) and activists (Rise’s Amanda Nguyen, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Rhea Suh, Our Revolution’s Erika Andiola, and many others) spoke to the people watching them both in person and on TV; they marched down Independence Avenue, and milled down Pennsylvania Avenue; they piled onto the steps of the National Gallery of Art; they filled the Mall to capacity. They showed up to sister rallies around the country and the world—in Chicago, in Boston, in New York, in Los Angeles, in Barcelona, in Nairobi, in New Delhi. And according to the march’s organizers, CNN reported, “the crowds were exponentially larger than expected.”

According to organizers, too: That matters. If the Women’s March was trying to inaugurate a movement on January 21, 2017, the first thing it had to do was to prove that there was a movement to be inaugurated. As one sign read: “TRUMP, DO YOU REALLY WANT TO PISS OFF THIS MANY WOMEN?”

Or, as Raquel Willis, of the Transgender Law Center, told the audience before she began the rest of her speech on the march’s main stage: “I want us to take a second and look around. Look at all these people who are gathered here to take a stand. These are your partners in resistance and liberation.”

Monáe made a similar argument. “This is about all of us,” the actor and singer said, “fighting back against the abuse of power.”

“All of us.” “Us” is a tricky word in the America of 2017, the America that is coming off of an acrimonious campaign season—with all its offenses, on all sides, still fresh. But the Women’s March insisted that the “us” and the “we” are two other things to be reclaimed in the years ahead—two other things that will be at stake in every peaceful transition of power. As Ferrera told the crowd at the beginning of the protest, “The president is not America. His cabinet is not America. Congress is not America. We are America. And we are here to stay.”

Charles P. Pierce on the sales gimmick of the inauguration.

It was the very bizarre translation of the Beatitudes that threw me off for good. In the two-hole of the Inauguration Preachers batting order, a fellow named the Reverend Dr. Samuel Rodriguez went to the familiar and iconic fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, but the text he read sounded like an Aramaic-English Google Translation read by Yoda.

For example, here’s the majesty of the King James version:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

And here’s the Reverend Doctor Rodriguez’s version:

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble for they will inherit the earth. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, the difference between the two renditions is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. The former is poetry, the latter is prose—and clumsy prose at that. The first resounds like a prayer; the second is something you’d see on a poster in somebody’s cubicle under the picture of a sunset, or a kitten hanging by its forepaws.

What was lacking from the second is what has brought the first version down through the years: majesty. And on the west front of the Capitol on Friday morning, during what we were relentlessly sold as the miracle of the Peaceful Transfer of Power—as though anyone really expected a storming of the barricades—there was no room for majesty. And while the Mormon Tabernacle Choir still has game, and the Marine Band can seriously play, majesty surrendered rather meekly to salesmanship, and branding, and the gilt-edged palaver of the midnight infomercial.

This was a sales gimmick, not an inauguration.

In theory, there’s something admirably American in taking the piss out of the system’s pretensions. When Jimmy Carter walked in his inauguration parade, it represented for the moment the final collapse of the imperial executive within which Richard Nixon had hidden his crimes for so long. Barack Obama’s embrace of popular culture let some of the stuffing out of the office as well. But this was different.

This was somebody selling something precious and important at a reduced rate of sloganeering. A pitchman’s ceremony, the inauguration of President* Donald Trump was a device for selling American democracy a hair-restoral nostrum, a cure for erectile dysfunction, and a full scholarship to his Potemkin University. This was an event in which even Scripture itself was sent through the gang down in marketing so as not to sound too “elitist” for its intended audience of marks and suckers.

This was somebody selling something precious and important at a reduced rate of sloganeering

The speech itself was as dark and forbidding. It was Huey Long translated by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. (And, as Gizmodo‘s Gabrielle Bluestone pointed out, a famous Batman villain.) This is to say, it was Huey Long drained of his classical references, his summons to Scripture, and whatever was left of his authentic American economic populism. In 1934, for example, Long delivered his most famous speech. In it, he said:

It is necessary to save the government of the country, but is much more necessary to save the people of America. We love this country. We love this Government. It is a religion, I say. It is a kind of religion people have read of when women, in the name of religion, would take their infant babes and throw them into the burning flame, where they would be instantly devoured by the all-consuming fire, in days gone by; and there probably are some people of the world even today, who, in the name of religion, throw their own babes to destruction; but in the name of our good government, people today are seeing their own children hungry, tired, half-naked, lifting their tear-dimmed eyes into the sad faces of their fathers and mothers, who cannot give them food and clothing they both need, and which is necessary to sustain them, and that goes on day after day, and night after night, when day gets into darkness and blackness, knowing those children would arise in the morning without being fed, and probably go to bed at night without being fed.

If you take that passage and run it through the Trump Rosetta Stone program, you get:

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

There was a terrifying solipsism to Trump’s address, as there likely will be to his presidency. For all his protestations that he is merely the instrument of a great movement, he holds himself above that movement in the way he imagines all great leaders do. In every real sense, from his podium at the Capitol, he talked down to his audience sprawled over a good portion of the National Mall.

He talked to them about the blighted hellscape of a country that he inherited, the blighted hellscape that already existed in their own truncated imaginations. He coined their actual anxieties and displacement into one of the hoariest demagogue’s tropes: America First. And despite its dingy antecedents, Trump’s use of America First doesn’t necessarily mean what the anti-Semites of the 1930s meant when they said it. It’s more like one of those foam rubber fingers that fans wear at football games with “AMERICA” written in red across it.

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished—but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered—but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes—starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.

That is what had them buzzing on the way out of the event Friday. He really told them, did our Donald Trump. He’s got balls, doesn’t he? “You see ’em up there? They had to listen to him,” said the guy in front of me, waiting to cross Constitution Avenue. “Yeah, there’s a new sheriff in town.”

As he said it, we were passing a big tree under which I had sat in January of 1981 to listen to Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address. It was a barrel of banality, too. (“Government isn’t the solution. Government is the problem.” Thirty-five years of political mischief have flowed from that one line.) But there was a brightness to what Reagan said, and he seemed at least to have some sense of the moment, which proves that there is a great distance between even a mediocre actor and a great con-man.

On the eve of our struggle for independence a man who might have been one of the greatest among the Founding Fathers, Dr. Joseph Warren, president of the Massachusetts Congress, said to his fellow Americans, “Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of . . . . On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important questions upon which rests the happiness and the liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.” Well, I believe we, the Americans of today, are ready to act worthy of ourselves, ready to do what must be done to ensure happiness and liberty for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children. And as we renew ourselves here in our own land, we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world. We will again be the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.

Act worthy of me, Trump’s speech said. Act worthy of what you bought from me.

In his speech, and in draining the event of his inauguration of its majesty, the president* managed to turn the west front of the Capitol into a college auditorium in Iowa, or an airplane hangar in New Hampshire, or a stage in Cleveland, Ohio. Already, this is being praised by the dim and the craven as admirable—that Trump deserves credit for declaring that he will be the same person as president as he was in the campaign. I would remind those people, and the new president*, of Henry Gondorff warning to Johnny Hooker: “You gotta keep his con even after you take his money. He can’t know you took him.”

There is a reckoning out there in the distant wind for everything and everybody who brought us to this day, when not even the Marine Corps Band and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir could neither elevate the inauguration of a president out of the language of mere commerce nor make of the event anything more than a banal transaction—a day on which even Jesus Christ on the Mount was warned to keep it simple, stupid.

Welcome to Trump U — Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

In an astonishing comeback for the scandal-scarred educational institution, Trump University enrolled more than three hundred million new students at noon on Friday.

“Congratulations,” the President of Trump University told the new students. “For the next four years, you are all in Trump University.”

Some Americans who supported the President of Trump University in his long-shot bid to reopen the school made the journey to Washington, D.C., to hear his welcome address.

“He said we’re all going to be rich!” Harland Dorrinson, a new Trump University student, said. “I just know that this is going to end really well.”

But even as students like Dorrinson celebrated, there were complaints from other students, millions of whom said they had been enrolled in Trump University against their will.

“I never signed up for Trump University,” Carol Foyler, who is one of those students, said. “The President of this school is some kind of a con man. And why are so many members of the faculty Russian? The whole thing seems fishy.”

“Not my University,” she said.

While the original program offered by Trump University had a price tag as high as thirty-five thousand dollars, the next four years are expected to be far more costly, experts say.

Doonesbury — Feed that ego.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Back/Looking Forward

It’s time for my annual re-cap and prognostication for the past year and the year coming up.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

  • Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States.  I have no idea who she will beat; I don’t think the Republicans know, either, but she will win, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it will be a decisive win.  The GOP will blame everybody else and become even more cranky, self-injuring, and irresponsible.
  • The Democrats down-ticket will do better than expected by taking back the Senate and narrowing their gap in the House.  This will be achieved by the number of voters who will turn out to vote for them in order to hold off the GOP’s attempt to turn the country back over to the control of white Christian males.

Both of those were spot-on until sometime in the late evening of November 8.  And I’m not the only one who blew that one.

  • The economy will continue to improve; maybe this is the year the Dow will hit 19,000.  The limiting factor will be how the rest of the world, mainly China, deals with their economic bubble.  I think a lot of the economic news will be based on the outcome of the U.S. election and the reaction to it.  If by some horrifying chance Donald Trump wins, all bets are off.  Economists and world markets like stability and sanity, and turning the U.S. over to a guy who acts like a used car hustler crossed with a casino pit boss will not instill confidence.

I covered my ass on that one but I think it’s still true.  By the way, the Dow did hit 19,000 in 2016.

  • ISIS, which barely registered on the radar as an existential threat to the U.S. and the west a year ago, will be contained.  There will not be a large American troop presence in Syria and Iraq thanks in part to the response by the countries that themselves are being invaded by ISIS.  Finally.
  • Refugees will still be pouring out of the Middle East, putting the strain on countries that have taken them in.  It will be a test of both infrastructure and moral obligation, and some, such as Canada, will set the example of how to be humane.

I’ll give myself a gentleman’s C on the first one because ISIS is still in play and Syria is looking like the horror that war brings and we’re no closer to an end to it.  As for the refugees, I underestimated the venality and xenophobia of some of the countries — including our own — in taking in the refugees.

  • Maybe this will be the year that Fidel Castro finally takes a dirt nap.

Got that one right, finally.

  • The Supreme Court will narrowly uphold affirmative action but leave room for gutting it later on.  They will also narrowly rule against further restrictions on reproductive rights.  And I am going out on a limb by predicting that President Obama will get to choose at least one more new justice for the Court, an appointment that will languish in the Senate until after the election.

I got that one right, including my out-on-a-limb one about President Obama having to pick a new justice for the court and the GOP sitting on it.  I hate it when I’m right about something like that.

  • Violence against our fellow citizens such as mass shootings will continue.  The difference now is that we have become numb to them and in an election year expecting any meaningful change to the gun laws or the mindset is right up there with flying pigs over downtown Miami.
  • Marriage equality will gain acceptance as it fades from the headlines, but the LGBTQ community’s next front will be anti-discrimination battles for jobs and housing.  It’s not over yet, honey.
  • We’re going to see more wild weather patterns but none of it will convince the hard-core deniers that it’s either really happening or that there’s anything we can do about it.

I’m sorry that those were right.

  • The Tigers will not win the division in 2016.  (Caution: reverse psychology at play.)

But the Cubs won the World Series so that makes up for it.

  • On a personal level, this could be a break-out year for my writing and play production.  I don’t say that every year.

One of my plays won a playwriting contest and I actually got a cash prize for it.  It has been submitted for a full production at a theatre in Boca Raton in their 2017-2018 season.  So that worked out.

Okay, predictions for 2017.

  • I have no earthly idea what will happen with Trump in the White House.  But I can say that for the first time in my life — and I will hit 65 this year — I am frightened both for myself and my country.
  • At some point in 2017 elements of the electorate will realize that they got conned into voting for Trump and that they were played for fools.  The backlash will begin when they find out he can’t follow through on his bullshit promises, and reach a peak when they find out that repealing Obamacare and deporting 11 million people effects them personally.  When it happens, it will not be pretty.
  • There will be a downturn in the economy thanks to the cyclical nature of economics and the instability in the market by the Twitter-In-Chief.  He will, of course, blame it on Barack Obama.
  • A year from now the Syrian civil war will still be dragging on.  ISIS will still be a factor, and if Trump does what he says he will do with the Iran nuclear deal, expect to see them re-start their nuclear program.  “Dr. Strangelove” will be seen by historians as a documentary.
  • The refugee crisis will continue and fester once nativists and right-wing elements win majorities in western European countries.
  • Our diplomatic thaw with Cuba will freeze as the attempts to end the blockade will not get through Congress.  Only until Trump gets permission to open a casino in Varadero Beach will there be any progress.
  • Violence against our fellow citizens will continue and take on a more xenophobic tone as the white supremacists think they are now in control.  The attorney general will do nothing to put an end to it because, in his words, “they had it coming.”
  • We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. 2016 was an especially painful year.  As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.
  • The Tigers will finish second in their division.
  • A year from today I will write this same post and review what I got right and what I didn’t.  But stick around and see how I do on a daily basis.

Okay, your turn.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sunday Reading

Conscientious Objector — Charles M. Blow in the New York Times.

Donald Trump schlepped across town on Tuesday to meet with the publisher of The New York Times and some editors, columnists and reporters at the paper.

As The Times reported, Trump actually seemed to soften some of his positions:

He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t seek to prosecute Hillary Clinton. But he should never have said that he was going to do that in the first place.

He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t encourage the military to use torture. But he should never have said that he would do that in the first place.

He said that he would have an “open mind” on climate change. But that should always have been his position.

You don’t get a pat on the back for ratcheting down from rabid after exploiting that very radicalism to your advantage. Unrepentant opportunism belies a staggering lack of character and caring that can’t simply be vanquished from memory. You did real harm to this country and many of its citizens, and I will never — never — forget that.

As I read the transcript and then listened to the audio, the slime factor was overwhelming.

After a campaign of bashing The Times relentlessly, in the face of the actual journalists, he tempered his whining with flattery.

At one point he said:

“I just appreciate the meeting and I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.”

He ended the meeting by saying:

“I will say, The Times is, it’s a great, great American jewel. A world jewel. And I hope we can all get along well.”

I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: Never.

You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.

I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity.

I also believe that much of your campaign was an act of psychological projection, as we are now learning that many of the things you slammed Clinton for are things of which you may actually be guilty.

You slammed Clinton for destroying emails, then Newsweek reported last month that your companies “destroyed emails in defiance of court orders.” You slammed Clinton and the Clinton Foundation for paid speeches and conflicts of interest, then it turned out that, as BuzzFeed reported, the Trump Foundation received a $150,000 donation in exchange for your giving a 2015 speech made by video to a conference in Ukraine. You slammed Clinton about conflicts of interest while she was secretary of state, and now your possible conflicts of interest are popping up like mushrooms in a marsh.

You are a fraud and a charlatan. Yes, you will be president, but you will not get any breaks just because one branch of your forked tongue is silver.

I am not easily duped by dopes.

I have not only an ethical and professional duty to call out how obscene your very existence is at the top of American government; I have a moral obligation to do so.

I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, but rather to speak up for truth and honor and inclusion. This isn’t just about you, but also about the moral compass of those who see you for who and what you are, and know the darkness you herald is only held at bay by the lights of truth.

It’s not that I don’t believe that people can change and grow. They can. But real growth comes from the accepting of responsibility and repenting of culpability. Expedient reversal isn’t growth; it’s gross.

So let me say this on Thanksgiving: I’m thankful to have this platform because as long as there are ink and pixels, you will be the focus of my withering gaze.

I’m thankful that I have the endurance and can assume a posture that will never allow what you represent to ever be seen as everyday and ordinary.

No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.

I know this in my bones, and for that I am thankful.

“Tu día llegó” — Jennine Capó Crucet on Miami’s reaction to the death of Fidel Castro.

The first time Fidel Castro died was around my birthday in 2006. I was in Miami when the announcement went out that Castro had had an operation and was temporarily ceding power to his brother. This being the first time Castro had voluntarily stepped away from his dictatorship, speculation ran wild. Miami Cubans took to the streets to celebrate the death of a tyrant, a symbol of death and loss for Cubans of all races and faiths.

This morning, my sister texted, “Fidel is dead… again,” one of 26 messages from friends and relatives sharing the news.

I’d already heard: around midnight, Cubans of every age again poured into the streets of Miami to celebrate the death of a dictator who’d had a profound effect on our lives — who was, in many ways, the reason we were all here in the first place. I was in Westchester, a south Miami neighborhood that’s arguably the heart of Miami’s Cuban community (and as a Hialeah native, I’d be the first one to argue).

On Bird Road, where the lane closest to the sidewalk had been blocked off to allow for overflowing crowds, police lights bathed people in swirls of blue and red light. A father had his arm around his adolescent daughter, who was draped in a Cuban flag, the two of them watching the celebration around them. A woman about my age, there with her girlfriend, wore a T-shirt she seemed to be saving for this day: it read, Tu dia llego (meaning, “your day has come,” though the accents were missing from both día and llegó). A crew of fraternity brothers, none of them Cuban, said they’d “come down from Broward to see this.” “Hialeah must be on fire right now,” one of them said.

I am always somehow back in Miami when something monumental happens in our community. Celia Cruz’s death. Obama’s 2015 visit to Cuba. Even the Elian Gonzalez chaos in 1999 and 2000 coincided with my college breaks. I turned that saga into a novel in order to write through the media’s inaccurate and incomplete portrayal of frenzied Cubans throwing themselves at the feet of a young boy-turned-symbol.

The news out of Miami today will show you loud Cubans parading through the streets. It will show us hitting pots and pans and making much noise and yelling and crying and honking horns. It will give you familiar, rehashed images of old men sipping café out of tiny cups outside Versailles, the famous Cuban restaurant in Miami. That’s all part of it, yes.

But what is more important, yet difficult to show, are other prevalent scenes: People just outside the camera frame, leaning against a restaurant wall, silent and stunned and worried about those still on the island; the tearful conversations happening this morning between generations, families sitting around café con leche and remembering those who Castro’s regime executed.

At a dinner with Miami-based Latino writers a couple nights after the Miami Book Fair last week, we joked that Castro would never die because he is protected by powerful santería — the joke being that the news would take such a statement from us as fact because of our heritage. We are already anticipating the inevitable question: Now that Castro is dead, will we visit Cuba? As if those visits would legitimize something about our identities as American-born Cubans, as if the choice to visit the island would be worth bragging about — as if our answer to that question is anyone’s business but our own.

Those conversations are more nuanced and don’t have the same dramatic effect as banging on pots and pans. They are complex and harder to fit into whatever you write within hours of learning that the dictator who has literally and symbolically represented oppression your entire life is finally gone: Tu día llegó – your day has come – and yes, the shirt fits, but each of us knows there is so much more behind those words that is impossible to distill.

Many of us out on the streets last night and this morning are here as witnesses, as bearers of memory, as symbols ourselves. Many of us are out because we have family that can’t be here — mothers, abuelos, cousins who died at the hands of the Castro regime. We are here to comfort each other and to honor the sacrifices these family members made. This morning in Miami, in the house in Westchester, we were calling each other around the city and the country and saying, “I am thinking of you.”

In one call, ten minutes into the play-by-play of where we all were when we heard the news, my partner’s grandfather, who was born in Cuba but now lives in Puerto Rico, asked us over speaker phone, “Now are you gonna get married?” I lifted a mug to my mouth and began chugging coffee with sudden intensity, and in the laughter around the moment, someone chimed in that we’d stick to the day’s plan of getting a Christmas tree. But his response is proof that there is hope and optimism and excitement at the base of many of these new conversations.

Today I awoke to stories we’d heard a thousand times, stories about the family left behind in Cuba, about survival and exile, about first weeks in the United States, stories honoring those who did not live to see this moment — all being told with more verve and energy than they’ve been told for a long time. I cannot speak for every Cuban and have never embraced the chance to do so. This was my immediate reaction to hearing about Fidel Castro’s death: That’s impossible, he will never die. Turns out even I’d fallen for the hype.

Broadway Recommendations for Mike Pence — Michael Schulman at The New Yorker has his picks.

Dear Vice-President-elect Pence,

Congratulations on scoring tickets for “Hamilton”! Not an easy task. Hopefully you enjoyed the title performance by Javier Muñoz, a gay, H.I.V.-positive Puerto Rican.

Here are some suggestions for other Broadway shows to check out—or avoid, for your own safety. As you know, the theatre is a “safe place,” except if you’re a virulent homophobe or texting in the presence of Patti LuPone.

So get on that TKTS line and remember: if you’re molested by a Times Square Elmo, you have Rudy Giuliani to thank.

“Aladdin”

A stage version of the Disney classic about an Arab street criminal who infiltrates the government under a false identity and employs black magic to bring down the wise Royal Vizir. Skip.

“The Book of Mormon”

An inspirational drama about two white Christians spreading God’s word to deepest, darkest Africa. The showstopper is about young men using religion to repress their homosexual thoughts. No wonder audiences are smiling!

“The Phantom of the Opera”

A psychopathic troll terrorizes the cosmopolitan élite. Donald Trump called it “great”!

“Wicked”

A well-intentioned and intelligent woman is smeared with false accusations until the public is convinced that she’s a malevolent witch. A+

“Falsettos”

A musical about gay Jewish New Yorkers who have lesbian neighbors and sing songs like “Four Jews in a Room Bitching.” At the end, one of them gets AIDS and dies. AVOID.

“Chicago”

An eye-opening portrait of crime and corruption in Barack Obama’s home city. The hero is the brilliant defense attorney Billy Flynn, who bamboozles the public with sensationalist lies and sings, “How can they hear the truth above the roar?” Bonus: jailed women.

“Holiday Inn”

A throwback to when America was truly great, 1942. Men were men, women were women, and barns were red. Includes the greatest song ever written by a Jew, “White Christmas.”

“Fiddler on the Roof”

A musical about members of a despised minority who are forced to leave their homes after being targeted by violent hate groups under a repressive czar. A heart-warmer!

“The Color Purple”

A wistful portrait of being a poor black woman in the Jim Crow South, a.k.a. the good old days.

“The Front Page”

An exposé of the corrupt mainstream media as it distorts the truth and undermines law and order. Needless to say, Nathan Lane is a hoot!

“Waitress”

This portrait of working-class women in America’s heartland starts off O.K., when the title character chooses to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. But she winds up committing adultery and taking control of her own life choices. Recommendation: leave at intermission.

“Kinky Boots”

A black drag queen helps the white working class bring back manufacturing jobs by producing bedazzled red footwear. This musical must be stopped.

“Cats”

The Donald Trump of musicals: it’s tacky, it’s nonsensical, and it’s from the eighties. The cats live in the streets without a social safety net. And, since they’re competing for a chance at reincarnation, all the characters are potentially unborn. Go!

Doonesbury — It’s an honor.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Theatre Is Not A Safe Place

Quoth Donald Trump: “The Theater must always be a safe and special place,” he continued. “The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”

To quote Mr. Trump again: “Wrong.”

Theatre, in its long history and purpose, has never been a “safe place.” It has always been, since the days of Socrates and Aeschylus and William Shakespeare and Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Aphra Behn and Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg and Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw and Sean O’Casey and Elmer L. Rice and Clifford Odets and Bertolt Brecht and Arthur Miller and William Inge and Maria Irene Fornes and Lorraine Hansberry and Robert Anderson and Lanford Wilson and Edward Albee and Sam Shepard and Robert Patrick and August Wilson and Terrance McNalley and Marsha Norman and Paula Vogel and every playwright in the Official Playwrights of Facebook page, its duty to challenge, frighten, discomfort, tweak, bullyrag, provoke, infuriate, piss off; to make uncomfortable, to squirm and cringe, and at the same time force everyone inside the theatre and outside of it to think. We may do it with laughter and music and lights and sets and costumes, but a play that does not change the audience, that does not make it see the world and themselves in a different way when the lights come up and the curtain comes down, has fallen short.

That is the solemn promise we in theatre make when we take up the profession and the art, and while we may do it in as many different ways as there are plays, stages, playwrights, and places to hear and see our work, we will never accede, concede, or give up our obligation to challenge the status quo and make a difference. What other power have we? We are not politicians, we just pillory them. We cannot make laws, we just decry the bad ones. We cannot erase bigotry with the wave of our hand but we can make us aware of it and torture it into submission.

Theatre is a powerful weapon against tyranny and bullshit. It has always been a threat to the intolerant, which is why it is always the first to be suppressed by the dictators. Many writers and playwrights have been imprisoned, banished and executed because they proved the pen is more a threat to a tyrant than armed rebels in the streets. Nothing wounds more than mockery and ridicule. This is a lesson that must not be forgotten.

So no, Mr. Trump, the theatre must never be a safe place. That is what makes it special.

(PS: It’s a tad ironic that someone from the “Party of Lincoln” would think that being booed is the worst thing that could happen to a politician in a theatre.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Monday, November 14, 2016

What’s Next

Well, I’m back.  I needed some time to gather my thoughts about the election and what it means for us as a people, as a country, and for the world.

To say I was disappointed would be stating the obvious; disappointed on levels beyond a political loss.  I’m disappointed that this country chose to take the path that it did, and chose it not out of considered long-term consequences but out of a knee-jerk, lizard-brain reaction to fear and loathing.  I’m disappointed that more people that I agree with politically and morally chose to see their opponents in stark contrast to themselves rather than people frightened by fables and fear of the unknown that we could reach out to.  We missed a lot of opportunities to bring comfort and security to them even if they didn’t act like they wanted it.  We said we wanted to listen, but we only heard the outbursts, not the insecurities that makes people vulnerable to predators promising easy answers and nostrums in ten words or less.  And despite the fact that our economy is improving, crime rates are falling, our children are learning, even our defenses are stronger, we allowed them to tell us the opposite and they believed it because for all the optimism that we say is part of human nature — if not, we’d eat our young — it is easier to believe in the bad things and demand simple solutions than it is to acknowledge the good and build upon it.

So, what’s next?  What do we do now?  I’ll get to that, but I can assure you of some things I won’t do.

I won’t deny the results of the election and go around with banners flying proclaiming #NotMyPresident or signing a petition demanding the Electoral College elect Hillary Clinton anyway.  I will not join in the current anti-Trump protests on the street.  That doesn’t preclude other protests in the future; just those fits of rage, especially the ones with property damage.  Those actions are tantrums, not progress, and when people who objected to the election of Barack Obama said the same thing, we rightfully scorned them.  I won’t even argue that just because Hillary Clinton won more popular votes than Mr. Trump she was somehow cheated out of the election.  This is not the first time in our history that it has happened and it won’t be the last.  It does not advance our cause by grasping at straws.  We are supposed to be the grown-ups.

I will not call Mr. Trump by silly and insulting names.  I didn’t do it with George W. Bush or any other president since I’ve had this blog, and all it does is perpetuate the perception that we’re juvenile and cannot be trusted to act like adults.  All it does is prove that you have lost the argument and are lashing out.

Here’s what we will do: we stand up and fight back.  We work at every level to elect people who are progressives and get our policies enacted into law starting at the city council and school board and work our way up.  That’s how the right wing and the evangelicals did it starting forty years ago and look where it’s got them: a lock on state legislatures from coast to coast and a majority of governors.  They’re the ones who control the districts for Congress and the next redistricting will come about after the next census in 2020.  We have to have our people in place by then.

We stand up to bullying and bullshit and push back.  If the Republicans could govern by refusing to consider anything proposed by a Democratic president, then it’s time to bring out the gander sauce and let them have a taste.  Yes, they’re in the majority, but at least we will be heard and our principles are not defeated by being outvoted.  That does not mean that we will not consider compromising on policies where there is common ground, but it will not be capitulation.  If we go down, we go down with our principles intact.

We will use every legal means we can to bear witness to our beliefs and we will not be moved, intimidated, or oppressed for fighting back.  We will remind everyone at every turn that there are those who not only oppose what may come, but we will offer better answers.  We can’t just complain and snivel about what’s wrong; we have to have solutions.

It’s been a tough week.  It’s going to be a tough four years, and we should do everything we can to make sure it is only four years.  Not by hoping Donald Trump fails, but by making our country realize that his policies and views of America are dark, dangerous, and that there’s more to running a country than running for office.  We have been down for the count before: 1972, 1984, 1988, but we’ve always come back.  And we will again… assuming there’s a country to come back for.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016