Thursday, April 27, 2017

Short Takes

Trump’s tax plan is great for business.  Deficit?  What?

National parks endangered by Trump’s plan to reverse course on preservation.

“Freedom Caucus” approves warmed-over healthcare bill.

Which are the highest — and lowest — rated U.S. airlines?

Talk about your native Americans…

R.I.P. Jonathan Demme, 73, director of “Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sunday Reading

What A Week — Charles P. Pierce.

The final dismal act in the perpetually dismal drama through which the late Antonin Scalia was replaced on the Supreme Court by Neil Gorsuch played out in a U.S. Senate in which everybody couldn’t wait for their super-secret afternoon briefing about the big boom-boom in Syria that, in the words of CNN’s eternal sucker, Fareed Zakaria, “made Donald Trump the President of the United States.”

So, with the old Senate rules on such matters having been shitcanned on Thursday afternoon, Gorsuch slid through with 55 votes. For some reason that is both sadly inevitable and completely unfathomable, after all that happened, Democrats Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, and Joe Donnelly all voted in favor of the nominee. And thus does poor, frozen, Alphonse Maddin, who committed the fireable offense of saving his own life, or so determined the latest associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, pass from history as someone who really doesn’t count anymore. He was political grist in a political battle that was foreordained.

“There should be no vacancy on the Supreme Court to fill,” said Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, stating the obvious for the last time in this sorry episode. “President Obama nominated Merrick Garland. Republicans engaged in unprecedented obstructionism that made it possible for this confirmation process to be conducted. It’s always important to remember that the only reason there was a vacancy to fill is the Republicans put in place a process that made it possible to steal this seat from Barack Obama, and they have now successfully delivered it to Donald Trump.”

Simply put, what happened to Merrick Garland has not happened to any other nominee to the Supreme Court, ever. Over the past few weeks, the word “unprecedented” has been thrown around in the debate over Gorsuch in ways that have clouded the meaning of the word. But, yes, presidents have nominated people during their final year in office who were confirmed. Justices have been filibustered for “partisan political reasons.”

(The opposition to Abe Fortas was really about his relatively liberal record on civil rights, not his ethics problems. That’s the reason Richard Russell pulled his support, along with his dissatisfaction with President Lyndon Johnson’s delay at filling a federal judgeship in Russell’s native Georgia, which certainly was political.)

None of those things were “unprecedented” which, if it means anything at all, means that something happens that never happened before. Merrick Garland’s inability to even get a cup of coffee with any Republican senator was truly unprecedented.

And, of course, it worked like a charm. It worked like a charm because there was no way for the strategy to fail. If Hillary Rodham Clinton had been elected, the Republican majority in the Senate would have Garlanded any nominee she put up. (I mean, Garland himself came recommended to President Obama by Orrin Hatch, who then spent the past two years saying what a bad idea his nomination was. This debate really sucked a great amount of pondwater.) But the president* squeaked through, so McConnell could finish the act of stealing the seat quickly.

The only way that McConnell could have been foiled would have been the election of a Democratic Senate majority in either 2014 or 2016. Considering those incoming classes included such stellar additions to the Senate as Deb Fischer of Nebraska and my new pal Joni Ernst from Iowa, McConnell got his way. Once you’ve done away with integrity, J.R. Ewing once cautioned us, the rest is a piece of cake.

Once McConnell committed himself to an unprecedented act of obstruction that actually was unprecedented, and once the great, indolent American electorate gifted him with a continuing, sheeplike Republican majority, it was an easy slide to what happened on Friday. He knew that the likes of John McCain could be relied upon to give him the mournful cover he needed to destroy the rules of the Senate in order to get Gorsuch confirmed. Any Republican who expresses sorrow at what happened to the filibuster in this process is either lying or terrified of a primary. There wasn’t a single defector, either on the vote to change the rules or on the confirmation vote. In fact, the pious murmuring over what “we” had done to the Senate was probably the most gorge-rising element of a fairly nauseating exercise.

So now, there is a full nine-person Supreme Court, and there is a reliably right-wing bloc consisting of Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Chief Justice John Roberts. Once again, Anthony Kennedy gets to be a Very Important Person on every important case. This is what everybody said they wanted—a “balanced Court,” a wish that mysteriously seems to materialize only when a Democratic president seeks to nominate someone. I still come back to Alphonse Maddin, the lost plaintiff, and the fellow whose plight prompted the most memorable moment in Gorsuch’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, says, summing up not only the case of Alphonse Maddin, but of the entire process by which Neil Gorsuch will sit on the Supreme Court until after I’m dead:

When using the Plain Meaning rule would lead to an absurd result. It is absurd to say that this company is within its rights to fire him because he made the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death, or by causing other people to die by driving an unsafe vehicle. That’s absurd. I had a career in identifying absurdity and I know it when I see it.

The plain meaning of “unprecedented” covers what happened to Merrick Garland, who disappears from history as surely as poor Alphonse Maddin. The absurdity exception was rendered null and void in this process long ago.

Don’t Fall For It, Liberals — Joan Walsh on the praise of bombing Syria.

It shouldn’t be surprising, but it is to me nonetheless: Plenty of liberals who’ve long criticized Donald Trump as unfit to be president are praising his strike on Syrian airfields.

On CNN’s New Day Thursday, global analyst Fareed Zakaria declared, “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States” last night. To his credit, Zakaria has previously called Trump a “bullshit artist” and said, “He has gotten the presidency by bullshitting.” But Zakaria apparently thinks firing missiles make one presidential. On MSNBC, Nicholas Kristof, an aggressive Trump critic, said he “did the right thing” by bombing Syria. Anchor Brian Williams, whose 11th Hour has regularly been critical of Trump, repeatedly called the missiles “beautiful,” to a noisy backlash on Twitter.

While The New York Times posted several skeptical, even critical stories, it gave us this piece of propaganda: an article initially titled “On Syria attack, Trump’s heart came first,” buying the president’s line that his opposition to anti-Assad military action was reversed by seeing the heartrending photos of children struggling to breathe after a chemical attack.

“Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack,” Trump declared. “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.” (No word how he felt about ugly babies.) The piece also failed to even mention that Trump is keeping refugees from the Syrian war, even children, out of the United States. Victims of chemical weapons are “beautiful babies”; children trying to flee such violence require “extreme vetting” and an indefinite refugee ban. After a public outcry, the Times changed the headline.

Even some Obama administration veterans praised Trump’s action. “President Donald J. Trump was right to strike at the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using a weapon of mass destruction, the nerve agent sarin, against its own people,” Antony Blinken, a deputy secretary of state under Obama, wrote in The New York Times. Blinken went on to say, correctly in theory, that what must come next is “smart diplomacy.” But he knows that Trump has shown himself incapable of doing anything smart, especially diplomacy.

Remember just last week, phantom Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Turkey: “I think the…longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” The Kremlin-funded Russia Today described that as “a U-turn from Washington’s long-held policy” that Assad must go. Six days later, Tillerson was telling reporters, There is no doubt in our minds, and the information we have supports, that the Syrian regime under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad are responsible for this attack. It is very important that the Russian government consider carefully their support for Bashar al-Assad,” because “steps are underway” to muster international support for a strike. Russia Today seemed disappointed that the United States believes Assad is behind the gassing of his people, arguing that the source is the international rescue group White Helmets, which RT shockingly calls “al-Qaida affiliated.”

Any liberal who praises these missile strikes has to account for what comes next. Obviously, Trump cares little about diplomacy, leaving Tillerson out of key meetings and slashing the State Department’s budget. On Wednesday night, the White House released a photo of his team receiving a briefing on the Syria attack. At the table were Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross; Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin; Goldman Sachs alum Dina Powell, deputy national-security adviser; along with Jared Kushner; Steve Bannon; and Bannon’s sidekick Steven Miller. Why are the Commerce and Treasury secretaries there? What explains why Tillerson, who was in Palm Beach with the president, was not?

The noisiest outrage against the Syrian attack isn’t coming from the left, but the right—particularly the alt-right. Trump’s noninterventionism and his friendliness to Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin were big selling points to white nationalists. Now that he seems to be challenging both men, his former acolytes are enraged. On Twitter, alt-right white supremacist Richard Spencer called it a “total betrayal”; the white nationalists at VDARE blamed it on the “boomercucks” in the administration. Ann Coulter went apoplectic:

It was disappointing to see Hillary Clinton say Wednesday afternoon that she thought air strikes on Syrian airfields were an appropriate response to the chemical-weapon attack. She was always more hawkish than I wished, and that shows it. But it’s wrong to insist she’d have done the “same thing” as Trump. Clinton’s secretary of state wouldn’t likely have told Assad we were no longer concerned about removing him; if she did fire missiles at Syrian airfields, she would have done so with a clearer notion of what comes next. Trump appears to be clueless.

Senator Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, didn’t quite oppose the Syrian strike, calling Assad a “war criminal” and lamenting his murder of civilians with chemical weapons. But noting that “it’s that it’s easier to get into a war than get out of one,” Sanders demanded that Trump “must explain to the American people exactly what this military escalation in Syria is intended to achieve, and how it fits into the broader goal of a political solution, which is the only way Syria’s devastating civil war ends.”Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sounded closer to Sanders than Clinton on the airstrikes, decrying Trump’s “unilateral military action by the US in a Middle East conflict” as well as “the absence of any long-term plan or strategy to address any consequences from such unilateral action.” Like Sanders, she demanded that Trump seek authorization of military force from Congress. By contrast, her New York colleague Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Trump’s move “the right thing to do.” Schumer may find that many constituents think it was the wrong thing.There remains the possibility that some of this is theater. It should be said: Some observers, besides RT, say it’s unproven that the chemical weapons attack came from Assad; rebels could be behind it. There’s also the possibility of a kabuki performance from Trump, Putin, and Assad. We already know the United States warned Putin of the coming missiles, and that Putin warned Assad, whose military moved airplanes and other military equipment away from the intended target. Trump, plummeting in the polls, his domestic health-care and tax plans on the rocks, the investigation into Russian election meddling closing in on his team, really needed a boost; maybe they gave it to him. Trump’s sudden about-face on Syria makes it hard to judge.

However, according to Syrian state media, nine civilians, including four children, were killed in the air strikes. That is not kabuki. Trump has said nothing about those “beautiful babies,” nor will he. Liberals have to sober up and stop being besotted by beautiful missiles and presidential cruelty. Trump is the same Trump he was Tuesday, and that should scare all of us.

Mike Pence’s Other Rules — Ethan Kuperberg in The New Yorker.

In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife. —the Washington Post.

Two women who are not his wife

One woman who is not his wife, and one man who is short

Photographs containing women who are not his wife

Men who have the same name as his wife

Dictionary open to the page containing “wife,” “sex,” or “vagina”

Curvy lampshade

The Temptations’ “Greatest Hits” album

Sofa with more than two pillows

Sofa with one long, buxom pillow

Peanut butter (smooth)

Shag rugs

“Will & Grace” DVDs

Legislation that benefits women other than his wife

Paintings of ripe fruit

Jared Leto

Garlic, a crucifix, direct sunlight, or a vampire hunter other than his wife

Windows with views of hills that, if you squint, look sort of like sideways breasts

Dogs that are not German shepherds

A blank white wall where an image of a woman other than his wife could be projected

Peanut butter (chunky)

An empty tissue box that he could stick his dick in

Poor people

Doonesbury — Evil is as evil does.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Night Martin Luther King Died

Martin Luther KingYou have to be over the age of fifty-five  to remember Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was alive, but age doesn’t matter in order to understand why he was — and still is — an important person in our nation’s history. Growing up on the outskirts of a city with a large black population, I was aware of Dr. King’s work as a part of the daily news coverage in the 1960’s as we watched the march on Selma, the water hoses, the riots in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and Toledo, and heard the pleas for justice, equality, tolerance, and brotherhood during the March on Washington in 1963 and in every city where Dr. King spoke. And I knew that he was an inspiration to a lot of people outside of the black community; anyone who faced injustice based on their skin color or their sexual orientation or any other reason knew what he was talking about. In 1968 I was fifteen years old and wondering whether my attraction to other boys was just me or were there others who faced bullying and discrimination for the same reason. In some small way I knew that Dr. King was speaking to me, too.

I remember very well the night of April 4, 1968, when Dr. King was murdered. I was a freshman at boarding school, just back from spring break, when the dorm master, who was also the school chaplain, called us into the common room and announced with both sadness and anger that “They’ve killed Martin Luther King.” He didn’t explain who the “they” were, but we knew what he meant, and two months later, on the day that Bobby Kennedy was buried at Arlington, James Earl Ray was arrested. Ray pled guilty and went to his grave claiming he was part of a conspiracy, but no one else was ever arrested or came forward to back up his claim. But when the chaplain said “they,” he was talking not just about accessories to a crime but to the attitude of a lot of people in America then — as now — who still believe that Dr. King was a communist, an agitator, a rabble-rouser, and a threat to their way of life. And when Dr. King died, there were a lot of people who thought that at long last those uppity agitators would know what they were in for if they kept up their nonsense.

But of course the dream did not die, and in spite of the tumult and anger that came with the loss there came a sense of purpose borne from the realization that if Dr. King had to die for his cause, it must be a powerful cause that touches more than just the lives of black citizens. What we take for granted today in terms of equality and voting rights is still under threat; human nature does not change that quickly in forty or fifty or a hundred years. Dr. King, like the men who wrote the Constitution, knew that they were starting something that would outlive them and their generations; all they had to do was give it a good start.

If you don’t remember Dr. King when he was alive, you are certainly aware of his life and his legacy, and I don’t just mean because you might get the day off on his birthday in January. Regardless of your race, your religion, your sex, or your occupation, Dr. King’s work has changed it, either during your lifetime or setting the stage for it now. And no matter what history may record of his life as a man, a preacher, a father, a husband, or a scholar, it is hard to imagine what this country — and indeed the world — would be like had he not been with us for all too brief a time.  And now, more than ever before, we must not forget.

Updated from a post originally published on April 4, 2008.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Reading

For The Foreseeable Future — Charles P. Pierce on how Obamacare became a preexisting condition.

You knew things had gone sideways when they locked up the House. The corridors that lead through the heart of the Capitol, from Senate chamber to House chamber, were still an unnavigable mass of tourists and staffers and journalists, all clustered by the walls and in unruly knots below the various graven images in Statuary Hall. The echoes were an impossible gabble of crying children, overmatched tour guides, angry parents, and television stand-ups from many lands. At about 3:30, when the voting was supposed to start, a small, tough-looking woman from the Capitol Police turned out the lights in one of the small foyers leading to the chamber. She swung the big doors shut and slammed the locks down into the floor. And that was pretty much it. Until, of course, Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin, took to a podium in the bowels of the Capitol and said the following.

“Obamacare is the law of the land for the foreseeable future.”

That statement should have come with a sword for Ryan to hand over to Nancy Pelosi who, let it be said, is one legislative badass. She somehow kept her caucus united. There wasn’t even a hint of blue-doggery from her caucus as it sat back and let the Republicans rip each other to shreds, let the president* get exposed as a rookie who should be sent back to A-ball, and let the conservative movement expose itself as graphically as it ever has as the soulless creature of the money power that it’s been for 40 years. Usually, there are some Democrats who either want to make a deal so that Fred Hiatt will send them a Christmas card, or simply because Democrats occasionally can’t help themselves from trying to make the government, you know, actually work. (That nervous tic already is at work concerning the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.)

There was none of that over the past month, while Ryan was trying to formulate what he gamely referred to as a “member-driven” process. That’s precisely what it was. The Freedom Caucus cultist had Ryan by the member and they drove the process over a cliff. Watching in that great Caucus Room In The Sky, Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, and Tip O’Neill poured out another round and hoisted their glasses at what Pelosi and her team accomplished.

“Today is a great day for our country,” Pelosi said during a news conference. “It’s a victory. What happened on the floor is a victory for the American people—for our seniors, for people with disabilities, for our children, for our veterans.”

A strange week came to a bizarre conclusion. The way word first got around that the healthcare bill was dead was that the president* called Robert Costa of The Washington Post, told him “We pulled the bill,” and Costa then tweeted it out into the great maw of the universe, most notably, those precincts of it that had gathered in the halls of the Capitol. It is a remarkable political defeat suffered by a Republican president at the hands of a Congress controlled by his own party. George W. Bush got bipartisan support for his massive tax cut, Ronald Reagan for his radical 1981 budget. For a historical precedent for what happened Friday, you have to go back to the rocky relationship between Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Democratic Speaker O’Neill in the mid-1970s. Carter walked into the White House with a 149-seat majority in the House and an equally massive advantage in the Senate. Then, as essayist Walter Karp pointed out:

The Speaker’s knife has been busy since the Inaugural. Hamilton Jordan sent him, he claims, some inferior back-row seats for an Inaugural celebration, which may or may not be so; Jordan himself adamantly denies it. “I said to Jordan,” the Speaker tells reporters, “‘when a guy is Speaker of the House and gets tickets like this, he figures there’s a reason behind it.’ ” According to the Speaker, the President’s chief political adviser then replied: “‘If you don’t like it I’ll send back the dollars.’ ” To which incredible insult to the most powerful man on Capitol Hill the Speaker tells the press he replied: ” ‘I’ll ream you out, you son-of-a-bitch.'” Such is bonhomous Tip’s story, word for word, as it appears in the New York Times Magazine on July 24, 1977, by which time it is a twice-told tale destined for a not-insignificant place in the history books.

That was a simple institutional, insider-outsider brawl. What happened to the Republicans this week was different by an order of magnitude. They cored themselves out as a party. They allowed the most extreme element in their caucus to set rules that became untenable and would have been even if Paul Ryan was as good a Speaker as Nancy Pelosi once was. By the middle of the week, the bill was caught in an impossible whipsaw of political imperatives. To get the Freedom Caucus cultists on board, the president* and Speaker Ryan had to make the bill even more cruel and punitive—Work requirements for Medicaid? Men asking why they had to pay for some woman’s maternity care?—and, having done so, it scared the daylights over what passes for a moderate faction in the House Republican caucus. The negotiations bounced impotently back and forth for three days, going absolutely nowhere. On Friday, the White House took its ball and went home.

On Friday, the White House took its ball and went home.

“We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do,” Ryan said. “And now, in three months’ time, we’ve tried to go to a governing party, where we have to actually get … people to agree with each other in how we do things.” Of course, since 2010, the House has had a Republican majority and a Republican speaker. There have been two of them—John Boehner and Ryan. The crazy caucus ran Boehner out of office and now, they’ve handed Ryan his head. Pro Tip: it’s not you, boys. It’s your party.

“I always thought the House was going to be the easier part,” said Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania. “I thought they’d run into tremendous difficulties in the Senate but I always assumed, given their pretty big majority in the House, that they’d be able to get this through. I also think all the people who showed up at the town halls, and flooded our congressional offices with phone calls, or in person, made a big difference. These were people who wanted to save their healthcare.”

So, it turns out that Butcher’s Bill Kristol was right, all those years ago, when he wrote his famous strategy memo advising the Republicans in Congress to do everything they could to derail President Bill Clinton’s try at reforming healthcare. Kristol warned that, if Clinton succeeded, then people would find they enjoyed having good health insurance and it would be impossible to dislodge them from it, and the Democrats would have a generational advantage the way they built one with Social Security and Medicare. At least Kristol made more sense than Ryan, who went on the radio and bragged that getting rid of a federal entitlement was a epochal political triumph of the same order as, say, the Louisiana Purchase.

There are still several ways for the Republicans to sabotage further the ACA. They’re still talking like automatons about buying insurance across state lines and about tort reform, as if either of those will expand coverage or bring down costs in such a way as to maintain a decent quality of care. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price is as extreme as anyone in the Freedom Caucus, and he’s in charge of the second and third prongs of the Republican healthcare strategy. Of course, it’s possible that the president* simply will blame Ryan or the Democrats and then move on to something else. The man has the attention span of a flea.

To be fair, the president* took the defeat rather better than I thought he would, which is to say he blamed the Democrats, repeated claim that the Affordable Care Act is gasping its last breath, and was so fulsome in his sympathy for Paul Ryan that, were I Ryan, I’d hire a food taster. Somebody’s going to pay for this. You can be sure of that. Meanwhile, as Paul Ryan said, Obamacare remains the law of the land. The Rotunda was still packed with tourists when the news came down and you wondered how many people there had somehow been helped by the Affordable Care Act. Maybe it’s that elderly gent looking up at the statue of Huey Long, or that kid in the wheelchair paused beneath Norman Borlaug. Obamacare is now a pre-existing condition, and a damned stubborn one at that.

Blameless — David A. Graham in The Atlantic on how it’s never Trump’s fault.

Speaking in the Oval Office Friday afternoon, President Trump surveyed the wreckage of the Obamacare repeal effort and issued a crisp, definitive verdict: I didn’t do it.The president said he didn’t blame Speaker Paul Ryan, though he had plenty of implied criticism for the speaker. “I like Speaker Ryan. He worked very hard,” Trump said, but he added: “I’m not going to speak badly about anybody within the Republican Party. Certainly there’s a big history. I really think Paul worked hard.” He added ruefully that the GOP could have taken up tax-reform first, instead of Obamacare—the reverse of Ryan’s desired sequence. “Now we’re going to go for tax reform, which I’ve always liked,” he said.As for the House Freedom Caucus, the bloc of conservatives from which many of the apparent “no” votes on the Republican plan were to come, Trump said, “I’m not betrayed. They’re friends of mine. I’m disappointed because we could’ve had it. So I’m disappointed. I’m a little surprised, I could tell you.”The greatest blame for the bill’s failure fell on Democrats, Trump said.

“This really would’ve worked out better if we could’ve had Democrat support. Remember we had no Democrat support,” Trump said. Later, he added, “But when you get no votes from the other side, meaning the Democrats, it’s really a difficult situation.”He said Democrats should come up with their own bill. “I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, because they own Obamacare,” he said, referring to the House and Senate Democratic leaders. “They 100 percent own it.”Trump was very clear about who was not to blame: himself. “I worked as a team player,” the president of the United States said, demoting himself to bit-player status. He wanted to do tax reform first, after all, and it was still early. “I’ve been in office, what, 64 days? I’ve never said repeal and replace Obamacare within 64 days. I have a long time. I want to have a great health-care bill and plan and we will.”Strictly speaking, it is true that Trump didn’t promise to repeal Obamacare on day 64 of his administration. What he told voters, over and over during the campaign, was that he’d do it immediately. On some occasions he or top allies even promised to do it on day 1. Now he and his allies are planning to drop the bill for the foreseeable future.

It is surely not wrong that there is lots of blame to go around. Congressional Republicans had years to devise a plan, and couldn’t come up with one that would win a majority in the House, despite a 44-seat advantage. The House bill was an unpopular one, disliked by conservatives and moderates in that chamber; almost certainly dead on arrival in the Senate; and deeply unpopular with voters. Even before the vote was canceled, unnamed White House officials were telling reporters that the plan was to pin the blame on Ryan.

But aside from their role in passing the Affordable Care Act seven years ago, Democrats are perhaps the one faction with the least blame for Friday’s fiasco. As much as they might have wished to claim credit, the opposition party was nearly a non-factor in the wrangling. There was never any intention to design a replacement plan that would attract Democratic votes, in part because of the huge Republican margin in the chamber. The Democrats surely owned Obamacare before, but given GOP control of the House, Senate, and White House, Friday seems to mark the day that Republicans came into ownership.Trump’s quick disavowal of any role in the collapse fits with an emerging pattern: The president never takes the blame for anything that goes wrong. What about his claim that President Obama “wiretapped” him?  “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it,” Trump said during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week. “That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox. And so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”How about his claim, during the presidential campaign, that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination?

“Well, that was in a newspaper,” he told Time’s Michael Scherer this week. (The National Enquirer, to be specific.) “No, no, I like Ted Cruz, he’s a friend of mine. But that was in the newspaper. I wasn’t, I didn’t say that. I was referring to a newspaper.”

The ruling by a federal court in Washington state against Trump’s Muslim travel ban? The work of a “so-called judge,” Trump tweeted, and even he preemptively dumped the blame for any future terror attack on the courts for a decision that “essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country.”

Trump’s approach to the presidency thus far has rejected the mantra of his predecessor Harry S Truman, who famously placed a sign on his desk indicating that he was the final decisionmaker: “The buck stops here.” Trump, by contrast, is quick to pass the buck.

Assuming the public accepts it, this choice has both upsides and downsides. On the one hand, it means that Trump is never to blame for anything. On the other, if he’s so irrelevant, why should anyone pay attention to him or take his proposals and ideas seriously?

The True Meaning of Nostalgia — Michael Chabon in The New Yorker.

I recently had a brief chat with a hundred-year-old Jew. His name is Manuel Bromberg, and he’s a resident of Woodstock, New York. Mr. Bromberg had written me a letter, to tell me that he had read and liked my latest book, and in the letter he mentioned that in a few days he would be hitting the century mark, so I thought I’d call him up and wish him a happy hundredth.

An accomplished artist and professor for most of his very long life, Mr. Bromberg painted murals for the W.P.A. and served as an official war artist for the U.S. Army during the Second World War, accompanying the Allied invasion of Europe with paints, pencils, and sketch pad, his path smoothed and ways opened to him by the presence in his pocket of a pass signed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower himself, just like the Eisenhower pass carried by “my grandfather,” the nameless protagonist of my novel. After the war, this working-class boy from Cleveland rode the G.I. Bill to a distinguished career as a serious painter, sculptor, and university professor.

Mr. Bromberg sounded strong and thoughtful and sharp as a tack on the other end of the line, his voice in my ear a vibrant connection not just to the man himself but to the times he had lived through, to the world he was born into, a world in which the greater part of Jewry lived under the Czar, the Kaiser, and the Hapsburg Emperor, in whose army Adolf Hitler was a corporal. As we chatted, I realized that I was talking to a man almost exactly the same age as my grandfather, were he still alive—I mean my real grandfather, Ernest Cohen, some of whose traits, behaviors, and experiences, along with those of his brothers, brothers-in-law, and other men of their generation in my family, of Mr. Bromberg’s generation, helped me to shape the life and adventures of the hero of that book, as my memories of my grandmothers and their sisters and sisters-in-law helped shape my understanding of that book’s “my grandmother.”

Then Mr. Bromberg mentioned that he had now moved on to another novel of mine, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” and he wanted to tell me about another connection between his life and the world of my books: when he was in junior high, in Cleveland, Ohio, his chief rival for the title of School’s Most Talented Artist was a four-eyed, acne-faced wunderkind named Joe Shuster. One day in the mid-nineteen-thirties, in the school locker room, Mr. Bromberg told me, Joe Shuster came to him looking for his opinion on some new drawings: pencil sketches of a stylized cartoon strongman cavorting in a pair of circus tights, with a big letter-S insignia on his chest. To the young Mr. Bromberg, they seemed to be nothing more than competent figure drawings, but Shuster seemed to be very excited about this “Superman” character that he and a friend had come up with. “I have to be honest with you, Michael,” Mr. Bromberg told me, in a confidential tone. “I was not impressed.”

After we talked, I found myself reflecting on the way that, with his Eisenhower pass and his connection to the golden age of comic books, with his creative aspirations rooted equally in hard work and the highbrow, in blue collar and the avant-garde, Mr. Bromberg had been able to find so much of himself in my writing, as so many Mr. Brombergs, in various guises, can be found in the pages of my books. I think there are a few reasons that the lives of that generation of American Jews have formed my fiction. The first is that I have always been—to a fault, it has at times seemed—a good boy. At family gatherings, at weddings and bar mitzvahs, from the time I was small, among all my siblings and cousins, I always felt a sense of dutifulness about hanging out with the old people, enduring their interrogations, remedying their ignorance of baffling modern phenomena, such as Wacky Packages or David Bowie, and, above all, listening to their reminiscences. As the extent of my sense of obligation about serving this function became apparent, I was routinely left behind with the Aunt Ruths and the Uncle Jacks and the Cousin Tobys, not just by my peers and coevals but by our parents, too. Even to this day, at the weddings and bar mitzvahs of other families, you will often find me sitting alone at a table with an Uncle Jack completely unrelated to me, patiently listening to the story of the plastic-folding-rain-bonnet business he started in Rochester in 1948 with a three-hundred-dollar loan from somebody else’s Aunt Ruth, a story that all of his own relatives tired of hearing years ago, if they ever paid attention at all.

The dutifulness of a good boy is not, of course, the whole explanation. I’m not that good. The thing is, I have always wanted to hear the stories, the memories, the remembrances of vanished Brooklyn, or vanished South Philly, or even, dim and sepia-toned and far away, vanished Elizavetgrad, vanished Vilna. I have always wanted to hear the stories of lost wonders, of how noon was turned dark as night by vast flocks of the now-extinct passenger pigeon, of Ebbets Field and five-cent all-day Saturday matinées and Horn & Hardart automats, and I have always been drawn to those rare surviving things—a gaudy Garcia y Vega cigar box, a lady swimming in a rubber bathing cap covered in big rubber flowers, Mr. Bromberg—that speak, mutely or eloquently, of a time and a place and a generation that will soon be gone from the face of the earth.

My work has at times been criticized for being overly nostalgic, or too much about nostalgia. That is partly my fault, because I actually have written a lot about the theme of nostalgia; and partly the fault of political and economic systems that abuse nostalgia to foment violence and to move units. But it is not nostalgia’s fault, if fault is to be found. Nostalgia is a valid, honorable, ancient human emotion, so nuanced that its sub-variants have names in other languages—German’s sehnsucht, Portuguese’s saudade—that are generally held to be untranslatable. The nostalgia that arouses such scorn and contempt in American culture—predicated on some imagined greatness of the past or inability to accept the present—is the one that interests me least. The nostalgia that I write about, that I study, that I feel, is the ache that arises from the consciousness of lost connection.

More than ten years ago now, my cousin Susan, a daughter of my mother’s Uncle Stanley, forwarded me some reminiscences of Stanley’s childhood that he had set down just as his health was failing. Besides my grandfather, Uncle Stan was always my favorite among the male relatives of that generation: witty, charming, and refined, with a deceptively sweet and gentle way of being sardonic and even, on occasion, sharp-tongued. He was a professor, a scholar of medieval German who for many years was also the dean of humanities at the University of Texas. A Guggenheim fellow and Fulbright scholar, Stan was fluent in a number of languages, not least among them Yiddish; during his tenure as dean he created a Yiddish-studies program at U.T. He had been an intelligence officer in Italy during the Second World War, and was decorated for his service during the fierce battle of Monte Cassino.

His reminiscences—or fragmentary memoir, as I came to think of it—ignored all that. It was a delightful document, all too brief, a shaggy and rambling but vivid account of his early life as the son of typical Jewish-immigrant parents, in Philadelphia and Richmond. It featured memories of the godlike lifeguards and the Million-Dollar Pier, at Atlantic City; of stealing turnips and playing Civil War, in Richmond, with boys who were the grandsons of Confederate soldiers; of neighbors who brewed their own beer during Prohibition; of his father’s numerous unlucky business ventures; of his mother hauling wet laundry up from the basement to hang it out on the line, where, in the wintertime, it froze solid.

But what stood out for me most vividly in Uncle Stanley’s memories was the omnipresence and the warmth of his memories of his many aunts, uncles, and cousins, who seemed to take up as much room in his little memoir as his siblings and parents. In the geographically and emotionally close world they lived in, Stan’s extended family of parents’ siblings, their spouses and their siblings and their spouses, and, apparently, huge numbers of first, second, third, and more distant cousins, was just that—an all but seamless extension of the family he lived in. That’s how it was in those days. Somebody came to Philadelphia from Russia, and then his brother came, and then another brother, and pretty soon there were fifty people living in the same couple of neighborhoods in Philly, a kind of community within the community, connected not merely by blood or ties of affection but also by the everyday commitments, debts, responsibilities, disputes, tensions, and small pleasures that make up the daily life of a family.

When I was growing up, it wasn’t like that anymore. My parents moved seven times before I was seven years old, back and forth across the country. I had a lot of second cousins and great-aunts and great-uncles, and I used to see them—and be abandoned to their company—at weddings, bar mitzvahs, et cetera. Listening to those stories, I always felt a kind of a lack, a wistfulness, a sense of having missed something. Reading Stan’s memoir, looping and wandering as his thoughts were as he lay contending with his illness, seemed to connect me, briefly but powerfully, to all that vanished web of connections.

Nostalgia, to me, is not the emotion that follows a longing for something you lost, or for something you never had to begin with, or that never really existed at all. It’s not even, not really, the feeling that arises when you realize that you missed out on a chance to see something, to know someone, to be a part of some adventure or enterprise or milieu that will never come again. Nostalgia, most truly and most meaningfully, is the emotional experience—always momentary, always fragile—of having what you lost or never had, of seeing what you missed seeing, of meeting the people you missed knowing, of sipping coffee in the storied cafés that are now hot-yoga studios. It’s the feeling that overcomes you when some minor vanished beauty of the world is momentarily restored, whether summoned by art or by the accidental enchantment of a painted advertisement for Sen-Sen, say, or Bromo-Seltzer, hidden for decades, then suddenly revealed on a brick wall when a neighboring building is torn down. In that moment, you are connected; you have placed a phone call directly into the past and heard an answering voice.

“Thank you, Mr. Bromberg,” I said, just before I hung up, not sure what I was thanking him for, exactly, but overcome with gratitude all the same, both of us aware, I suppose, as we made tentative plans to meet sometime soon, or at least to talk again, that the next time I called there might be no one on the other end of the line.

 Doonesbury — Black privilege.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ddyhea buchedda Cymru!

March 1 is St. David’s (Dewi Sant) Day, the patron saint of Wales (“Cymru”). Notable people of Welsh descent include Richard Burton, poet Dylan Thomas, and me on one side of the family.

The title is a literal translation of “Long live Wales!” courtesy of an on-line English to Welsh translation service.

Here’s the national anthem, and a phonetic version of the lyrics so you can sing along:

My hen laid a haddock on top of a tree
Glad farts and centurions throw dogs in the sea
I could stew a hare here, and brandish Don’s flan.
Don’s ruddy bog’s blocked up with sand.
Dad! Dad! Why don’t you oil Aunty Glad?
When whores appear on beer bottle pies,
Oh butter the hens as they fly.
Dad! Dad! Why don’t you oil Aunty Glad?
When whores appear on beer bottle pies,
Oh butter the hens as they fly.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Statesmanlike

I have to say that I’m slightly impressed with former president George W. Bush’s comments on the current president.

“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. That we need the media to hold people like me to account,” Bush told Matt Lauer on “The Today Show” Monday morning. “I mean, power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”

Trump has raised alarm by his recent references to critical media outlets as “fake news” and as “the enemy of the people.”

Bush also expressed concern about the extent of Trump’s relationship with Russia’s ruling class, which has been extensively chronicled and led to the resignations of former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“I think we all need answers,” Bush told Lauer. “I’m not sure the right avenue to take. I am sure, though, that that question needs to be answered.”

I still think his administration basically led us to where we are today and I will never forget going to war based on lies and Dick Cheney’s cavalier outing of a CIA operative for political revenge, but for this comparatively statesmanlike offering, I’ll give him a nod.  But that’s about it.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Whitewash

February is Black History Month.  It has been for decades.  Other presidents — even Ronald Reagan — commemorated it.  So how did Trump honor it?  By talking about how he won the election, his treatment by the media, and the fine crop of black people he has working for him.

I’m not kidding.  Go read the transcript.

Oh, yes, he managed to name-drop a few people just to keep it real:

I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things. Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today. Big impact.

Heckuvajob you’re doing there, Fred.

I have five bucks that says that neither Trump nor press secretary Sean Spicer could name one thing Frederick Douglass did or that they actually care.  Any takers?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther KingToday is the federal holiday set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.

For me, growing up as a white kid in a middle-class suburb in the Midwest in the 1960’s, Dr. King’s legacy would seem to have a minimum impact; after all, what he was fighting for didn’t affect me directly in any way. But my parents always taught me that anyone oppressed in our society was wrong, and that in some way it did affect me. This became much more apparent as I grew up and saw how the nation treated its black citizens; those grainy images on TV and in the paper of water-hoses turned on the Freedom Marchers in Alabama showed me how much hatred could be turned on people who were simply asking for their due in a country that promised it to them. And when I came out as a gay man, I became much more aware of it when I applied the same standards to society in their treatment of gays and lesbians.

Perhaps the greatest impression that Dr. King had on me was his unswerving dedication to non-violence in his pursuit of civil rights. He withstood taunts, provocations, and rank invasions of his privacy and his life at the hands of racists, hate-mongers, and the federal government, yet he never raised a hand in anger against anyone. He deplored the idea of an eye for an eye, and he knew that responding in kind would only set back the cause. I was also impressed that his spirituality and faith were his armor and his shield, not his weapon, and he never tried to force his religion on anyone else. The supreme irony was that he died at the hands of violence, much like his role model, Mahatma Gandhi.

There’s a question in the minds of a lot of people of how to celebrate a federal holiday for a civil rights leader. Isn’t there supposed to be a ritual or a ceremony we’re supposed to perform to mark the occasion? But how do you signify in one day or in one action what Dr. King stood for, lived for, and died for? Last August marked the fifty-third anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. That marked a moment; a milestone.

Today is supposed to honor the man and what he stood for and tried to make us all become: full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; something that is with us all day, every day.

For me, it’s having the memories of what it used to be like and seeing what it has become for all of us that don’t take our civil rights for granted, which should be all of us, and being both grateful that we have come as far as we have and humbled to know how much further we still have to go.

*

Today is also a school holiday, so blogging will be on a holiday schedule.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

One Christmas Eve

Forty-eight years ago tonight — December 24, 1968 — the crew of Apollo 8 saw things that no human being had ever seen before with their own eyes, including the far side of the moon and the earth rising over the lunar horizon. So it’s understandable that the moment called for a little reading of some pleasant poetry from a book called Genesis.

HT to NTodd.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November 22, 1963

JFK 11-22-06Friday, November 22, 1963. I was in the sixth grade in Toledo, Ohio. I had to skip Phys Ed because I was just getting over bronchitis, so I was in a study hall when a classmate came up from the locker room in the school basement to say, “Kennedy’s dead.” We had a boy in our class named Matt Kennedy, and I wondered what had happened – an errant fatal blow with a dodgeball? A few minutes later, though, it was made clear to us at a hastily-summoned assembly, and we were soon put on the buses and sent home. Girls were crying.

There was a newspaper strike at The Blade, so the only papers we could get were either from Detroit or Cleveland. (The union at The Blade, realizing they were missing the story of the century, agreed to immediately resume publication and settle their differences in other ways.) Television, though, was the medium of choice, and I remember the black-and-white images of the arrival of Air Force One at Andrews, the casket being lowered, President Johnson speaking on the tarmac, and the events of the weekend – Oswald, Ruby, the long slow funeral parade, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” – merging into one long black-and-white flicker, finally closing on Monday night with the eternal flame guttering in the cold breeze.

I suspect that John F. Kennedy would be bitterly disappointed that the only thing remembered about his life was how he left it and how it colored everything he did leading up to it. The Bay of Pigs, the steel crisis, the Cuban missile crisis, the Test Ban Treaty, even the space program are dramatized by his death. They became the stuff of legend, not governing, and history should not be preserved as fable.

At the age of eleven, I never thought about being old enough to look back fifty years to that time. According to NPR, more than sixty percent of Americans alive today were not yet born on that day. Today the question is not do you remember JFK, but what did his brief time leave behind. Speculation is rife as to what he did or did not accomplish – would we have gone in deeper in Vietnam? Would he have pushed civil rights? Would the Cold War have lasted? We’ll never know, and frankly, pursuing such questions is a waste of time. Had JFK never been assassinated, chances are he would have been re-elected in 1964, crushing Barry Goldwater, but leading an administration that was more style than substance, battling with his own party as much as with the Republicans, much like Clinton did in the 1990’s. According to medical records, he would have been lucky to live into his sixties, dying from natural causes in the 1980’s, and he would have been remembered fondly for his charm and wit – and his beautiful wife – more than what he accomplished in eight years of an average presidency.

But it was those six seconds in Dealy Plaza that defined him. Each generation has one of those moments. For my parents it was Pearl Harbor in 1941 or the flash from Warm Springs in April 1945. Today it is Challenger in 1986, and of course September 11, 2001. And in all cases, it is what the moment means to us. It is the play, not the players. We see things as they were, contrast to how they are, and measure the differences, and by that, we measure ourselves.

Originally published in 2003.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day

Today is the 98th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that brought an end to the fighting in World War I in 1918. It used to be called Armistice Day. Today it is the official holiday to commemorate Veterans Day.

It’s become my tradition here to mark the day with the poem In Flanders Field by John McCrae.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872-1918)

I honor my father, two uncles, a cousin, a great uncle, many friends and colleagues, and the millions known and unknown who served our country in the armed forces.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Historical Perspective

The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, Theodore Roosevelt was the President of the United States, King Edward VII was on the throne in Great Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm II ruled Germany, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was very much alive as was Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and my maternal grandmother was five years old.

HT to LGM.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Patterns of Behavior

You may have heard that there’s a new biography out on Adolf Hitler by historian Volker Ullrich.  Volume 1 — “Adolf Hitler Ascent 1889-1939” is reviewed by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times.

How did Adolf Hitler — described by one eminent magazine editor in 1930 as a “half-insane rascal,” a “pathetic dunderhead,” a “nowhere fool,” a “big mouth” — rise to power in the land of Goethe and Beethoven? What persuaded millions of ordinary Germans to embrace him and his doctrine of hatred? How did this “most unlikely pretender to high state office” achieve absolute power in a once democratic country and set it on a course of monstrous horror?

A host of earlier biographers (most notably Alan Bullock, Joachim Fest and Ian Kershaw) have advanced theories about Hitler’s rise, and the dynamic between the man and his times. Some have focused on the social and political conditions in post-World War I Germany, which Hitler expertly exploited — bitterness over the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles and a yearning for a return to German greatness; unemployment and economic distress amid the worldwide Depression of the early 1930s; and longstanding ethnic prejudices and fears of “foreignization.”

Other writers — including the dictator’s latest biographer, the historian Volker Ullrich — have focused on Hitler as a politician who rose to power through demagoguery, showmanship and nativist appeals to the masses. In “Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939,” Mr. Ullrich sets out to strip away the mythology that Hitler created around himself in “Mein Kampf,” and he also tries to look at this “mysterious, calamitous figure” not as a monster or madman, but as a human being with “undeniable talents and obviously deep-seated psychological complexes.”

“In a sense,” he says in an introduction, “Hitler will be ‘normalized’ — although this will not make him seem more ‘normal.’ If anything, he will emerge as even more horrific.”

[…]

Mr. Ullrich, like other biographers, provides vivid insight into some factors that helped turn a “Munich rabble-rouser” — regarded by many as a self-obsessed “clown” with a strangely “scattershot, impulsive style” — into “the lord and master of the German Reich.”

• Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who “only loved himself” — a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what Mr. Ullrich calls a “characteristic fondness for superlatives.” His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control, even his sanity. But Mr. Ullrich underscores Hitler’s shrewdness as a politician — with a “keen eye for the strengths and weaknesses of other people” and an ability to “instantaneously analyze and exploit situations.”

• Hitler was known, among colleagues, for a “bottomless mendacity” that would later be magnified by a slick propaganda machine that used the latest technology (radio, gramophone records, film) to spread his message. A former finance minister wrote that Hitler “was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth” and editors of one edition of “Mein Kampf” described it as a “swamp of lies, distortions, innuendoes, half-truths and real facts.”

• Hitler was an effective orator and actor, Mr. Ullrich reminds readers, adept at assuming various masks and feeding off the energy of his audiences. Although he concealed his anti-Semitism beneath a “mask of moderation” when trying to win the support of the socially liberal middle classes, he specialized in big, theatrical rallies staged with spectacular elements borrowed from the circus. Here, “Hitler adapted the content of his speeches to suit the tastes of his lower-middle-class, nationalist-conservative, ethnic-chauvinist and anti-Semitic listeners,” Mr. Ullrich writes. He peppered his speeches with coarse phrases and put-downs of hecklers. Even as he fomented chaos by playing to crowds’ fears and resentments, he offered himself as the visionary leader who could restore law and order.

Sound familiar?

It is always dangerous to compare contemporary politicians to Hitler as the ultimate argument reduced to the absurd, and a lot of people — myself included — think that using the Third Reich as a point of comparison for someone trolling on the internet trivializes what happened in Europe in the 1930’s and the Holocaust.  That said, we can’t just let the obvious parallels that have been seen in the rise of dictatorships to situations in our own country and blithely say “Well, it can’t happen here” and ignore the patterns of behavior that set the stage for the rise of a demagogue and manipulator.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Short Takes

U.S. plans to increase number of refugees allowed into the country next year.

Hacked e-mails from Colin Powell label Trump as a “disgrace.”

Ford to move small car manufacturing to Mexico.

Arrest made in mosque attack in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Carla Hayden sworn in as new Librarian of Congress.

Tropical Update: TS Julia dumps rain on Georgia.

The Tigers beat the Twins 9-6 to move up to be 1 game back in the wild card chase.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sunday Reading

“Politically Incorrect” But True — Ta-Nehisi Coates on Hillary Clinton’s statement on Trump’s supporters.

This week Matt Lauer was subject to withering criticism for his ineffectual interrogation of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In a litany of complaints, one rose above all—Lauer’s failure to challenge Trump’s mendacious claim that he opposed the Iraq War. That Trump was lying is not a matter of opinion, but demonstrable fact. Lauer’s inability to cite the record was a striking journalistic failure—but one related to the larger failures implicit in political reporting today. Political reporting, as it is now practiced, is a not built for a world where outright lying is one candidate’s distinguishing feature.  And the problem is not limited to the lies the candidate tells, but encompasses the lies we tell ourselves about why the candidate exists in the first place.Yesterday, Hillary Clinton claimed that roughly “half of Trump’s supporters” could be characterized as either “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.” Clinton hedged by saying she was being “grossly generalistic” but given that no one appreciates being labeled a bigot, that statement still feels harsh––or if you prefer, “politically incorrect.”

Clinton later said that she was “wrong” to say “half,” but reiterated that “it’s deplorable that Donald Trump has built his campaign largely on prejudice and paranoia.” One way of reporting on Clinton’s statement is to weigh its political cost, ask what it means for her campaign, or attempt to predict how it might affect her performance among certain groups. This path is in line with the current imperatives of political reporting and, at least for the moment, seems to be the direction of coverage. But there is another line of reporting that could be pursued—Was Hillary Clinton being truthful or not? Much like Trump’s alleged opposition to the Iraq War, this not an impossible claim to investigate. We know, for instance, some nearly 60 percent of Trump’s supporters hold “unfavorable views” of Islam, and 76 percent support a ban on Muslims entering the United States. We know that some 40 percent of Trump’s supporters believe blacks are more violent, more criminal, lazier, and ruder than whites. Two-thirds of Trump’s supporters believe the first black president in this country’s history is not American. These claim are not ancillary to Donald Trump’s candidacy, they are a driving force behind it.When Hillary Clinton claims that half of Trump’s supporters qualify as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic,” data is on her side. One could certainly argue that determining the truth of a candidate’s claims is not a political reporter’s role. But this is not a standard that political reporters actually adhere to.

Determining, for instance, whether Hillary Clinton has been truthful about her usage of e-mail while she was secretary of state has certainly been deemed part of the political reporter’s mission. Moreover, Clinton is repeatedly—and sometimes validly—criticized for a lack of candor. But all truths are not equal. And some truths simply break the whole system.Open and acknowledged racism is, today, both seen as a disqualifying and negligible feature in civic life. By challenging the the latter part of this claim, Clinton inadvertently challenged the former. Thus a reporter or an outlet pointing out the evidenced racism of Trump’s supporters in response to a statement made by his rival risks being seen as having taken a side not just against Trump, not just against racism, but against his supporters too. Would it not be better, then, to simply change the subject to one where “both sides” can be rendered as credible? Real and serious questions about intractable problems are thus translated into one uncontroversial question: “Who will win?”It does not have to be this way. Indeed, one need not even dispense with horse-race reporting. One could ask, all at once, if Clinton was being truthful, how it will affect her chances, and what that says about the electorate. But that requires more than the current standard for political media. It means valuing more than just a sheen of objectivity but instead reporting facts in all of their disturbing reality.

Release 9/11 More Records — Bob Graham, former governor and senator from Florida and chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee, says let all the records of the attack be released.

In July, after approval from the Obama administration, Congress released a 28-page chapter of previously classified material from the final report of a joint congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said that the document had ruled out any Saudi involvement in the attack. “The matter is now finished,” he declared.

But it is not finished. Questions about whether the Saudi government assisted the terrorists remain unanswered. Now, as we approach the 15th anniversary of the most heinous attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor, it is time for our government to release more documents from other investigations into Sept. 11 that have remained secret all these years.

The recently released 28 pages were written in the fall of 2002 by a committee of which I was a co-chairman. That chapter focused on three of the 19 hijackers who lived for a time in Los Angeles and San Diego. The pages suggested new trails of inquiry worth following, including why a Qaeda operative had the unlisted phone number for the company that managed the Colorado estate of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then the Saudi ambassador.

Some of those questions might be answered if the government released more of the findings of the Sept. 11 commission, the citizens inquiry that followed our congressional inquest. The commission said that it found no Saudi links to the hijackers. But the government could satisfy lingering doubts by releasing more of the commission’s records. Parallel investigations were also conducted by the F.B.I. and C.I.A. How much did they look into whether Prince Bandar or other Saudis aided the hijackers?

The government also knows more today about the 16 hijackers who lived outside California than when the 28 pages were classified in 2003. Much of that information remains secret but should be made public. For example, the F.B.I. for a time claimed that it had found no ties between three of the hijackers, including their leader, Mohamed Atta, and a prominent Saudi family that lived in Sarasota, Fla., before Sept. 11. The family returned to the kingdom about two weeks before the attack. But in 2013, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by investigative reporters led to the release of about 30 pages from an F.B.I.-led investigation that included an agent’s report asserting “many connections” between the hijackers and this family. The F.B.I. said the agent’s claim was unfounded, and the family said it had no ties to the hijackers. Still, a federal judge in 2014 ordered the bureau to turn over an additional 80,000 pages from its investigation, and he is reviewing those for possible public release.

There is one more thing our government could do to shed light on the attack. For more than a decade, the families of Sept. 11 victims have been litigating against the kingdom and Saudi interests, asserting that they facilitated the murder of their loved ones. With the support of the Justice Department, the Saudis used a 1976 law providing foreign nations some immunity from American lawsuits to block those efforts to secure justice. Now, both the Senate and House of Representatives have unanimously passed a bill, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, that would allow a thorough judicial examination of the Saudi role.

Some might ask, 15 years later, what difference does all this make?

In fact, a lot. It can mean justice for the families that have suffered so grievously. It can also mean improving our national security, which has been compromised by the extreme form of Islam that has been promoted by Saudi Arabia.

But the most important reason is to avoid the corrosive effect that government secrecy can have on a democracy. The nation that denies its people information about what it is doing in their name is a nation slogging down a dark alley of public suspicion toward decline and mediocrity. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it, “Secrecy is for losers.”

The government’s possible suppression of evidence of Saudi support for the 19 hijackers would go beyond passive cover-up. Is the government releasing false information, while continuing to classify documents containing the truth? As the presidential campaign is proving, appearances of government deception have contributed to wary Americans becoming more and more outraged with their elected officials.

In recognition of another anniversary, 45 years since the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Sanford J. Ungar, who teaches seminars on free speech at Georgetown and Harvard, said: “Nothing is more important to the health and sustainability of a modern democracy than its citizens’ awareness of, and confidence in, what their government is doing. Excessive government secrecy — inherent, instinctive, utterly unnecessary and often bureaucratically self-protective — is poison to the well-being of civil society.”

I care deeply about our nation’s future, its tradition of openness and the necessity of honesty in our international relations. President Obama has less than five months remaining in his term. I commend him for his decision to authorize the release of the 28 pages. He should sign the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act and use his authority to direct the release of all the chapters of the book of Sept. 11. And then our country must act based on the truths they may reveal.

Live Long and Prosper — Charlie Pierce pays tribute to the original series.

This week is the 50th anniversary of the launching of a series that once was thought of by its creator as “Wagon Train in space.” (Wagon Train was a television horse opera of the early 1960s. It was no Rawhide, but it was a damn sight better than Sugarfoot.) Needless to say, Star Trek became far more than that, but I always like Gene Roddenberry’s description of his original pitch to Desilu because the great gift of the Trek always was in slipping something important in there between the phaser bursts and photon torpedoes.

(By the way, in The Original Series, the photon torpedoes were bursts of light. In the movies, they were actual torpedoes, albeit torpedoes that looked like coffins, and, in The Wrath of Khan, a torpedo actually functioned as one for the temporarily deceased Mr. Spock. How did Federation technology go so far backwards between the small screen and the large? These are the things I think about.)

However, that trailer bothers me. This is the 50th anniversary of one show, TOS, as it is dismally called in the marketing lingo of franchises. This is not an anniversary for the movies. This is not an anniversary for Picard, and Janeway, and Sisko, and Archer. This is not an anniversary for Data, or Seven Of Nine, or Dr. Phlox. This is not an anniversary for Q, or Cardassians, or the Xindi. I don’t care for the moment if you think Picard could beat Archer at arm-wrestling or that Janeway could fire a blast that would knock Sisko all the way back to Spenser: For Hire. This is not an anniversary for any of that, although I respect the franchise, and I’ve enjoyed all the shows, with the exception of Voyager, which I never could seem to get into.

But this is an anniversary for Kirk and Spock, for McCoy and Scotty, for Chapel and Yeoman Rand, for Uhura, Sulu and Chekov. It’s an anniversary for Romulans and Klingons and Orions, and for Vulcans and Organians. It’s for Tribbles and the Mugatu. It’s for Excalbia and Delta Vega. It’s for Argelius II, Cestus III, Talos IV, Ceti Alpha V, Janus VI, Eminiar VII, Holberg 917-G, and Psi 2000. It’s an anniversary for the show that started it all, a cheesy space opera with a resonance down through the years because, down through the years, human beings are still pretty much the same illogical creatures they’ve always been.

It’s also an anniversary that allows me to post this picture again.

gallery-1473457747-charlienimoy

Let’s all live long and see if we prosper.

 Doonesbury — Let’s be brief.

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