Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Worst Is Yet To Come

Even if the Border Patrol and the rest of the agencies kept perfect records of every one of the over 2,000 children that were separated from their parent by those agencies and shipped off to who-knows-where and could reunite them with no delay, there will still be long-term damage to those children.  Ten, fifteen, twenty years from now we’re going to be dealing with the aftershocks.

Long after we’ve forgotten about what jacket Melania Trump wore, where Sara Huckabee Sanders ate dinner, and all the little “oh-look-at-the-kitty” distractions have come and gone, we’re going to be left with the clean-up that comes after a disaster.  No matter where those refugees end up, we will still be confronting not only what was done to them in the real sense, but also the cost to our nation in terms of being able to set an example of morality and democracy for the rest of our civilization.

We’ve had a habit of trying to teach the world how to live, how to bring freedom and justice to people, how to create a society that respects the rule of law and sets a good example.  We have failed on numerous occasions, but in doing so we’ve learned from our mistakes and vowed to do better.  In my relatively short lifetime I’ve seen those failures and seen the attempts to fix them, and the naive optimism that has come along in the aftermath that nothing like that could ever happen again.  I saw it with the McCarthy era where we were supposed to learn that xenophobia incites panic and harm; I saw it with Vietnam where going to war didn’t always mean that we won, especially if it was for the wrong reasons, and I saw it in Watergate where we stopped a corrupt administration from trashing the Constitution to achieve political ends.

We made it through dark times before but with aftershocks that still rattle us today, and in some cases the cautionary tales we told ourselves that were supposed to warn us away from certain behaviors and outcomes have become beacons, not warnings.  Simply put, we’re in a place where each one of those failures has come back to us and our response so far has been “Hold my beer.”

I firmly believe that we will survive this time in our history, but at what cost?  Who’s going to pay for it?

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday Reading

The Enduring Legacy of Bobby Kennedy — Charles P. Pierce.

Because it has been 50 years, his grandson is my congressman now—a young, passionate red-haired fellow with a crooked smile and a fascinating back story of his own to tell. My congressman’s mother was the first person to take a chunk out of the hide of the unspeakable Bernard Cardinal Law long before the clerical sex-abuse scandal broke and won everybody Pulitzers and Oscars. She took on the Roman Catholic Church’s ridiculous annulment process and won. She fought the case for a decade and finally got the Vatican to cry “Avunculus!” in 2007. My congressman was one of the reasons she fought so hard against preposterous odds. Because it has been 50 years, and there is a through-line that leads all the way back to a cold tiled floor in a hotel kitchen, the end of one good fight and the beginning of so many others.

I have no idea whether Robert F. Kennedy actually would have been elected president in 1968 if someone with a gun hadn’t gotten in the way, as people with guns tended to do during that plague-ridden year. He certainly was building momentum toward his party’s nomination. He had won in places like Indiana and Nebraska, and he had bounced back from having lost in Oregon with a high-stakes win in California. It is possible, as so many of the wise guys of the time claim now in retrospect, that he could have pulled the two wings of the Democratic Party close enough together to beat Richard Nixon, who was not as inevitable as events indicated at the time.

(Hell, Hubert Humphrey almost whipped him and, given another week, probably would have.)

But I am far from completely convinced of that. The Chicago convention likely would have been a free-for-all anyway, inside and outside the hall. The honest protestors might have been mollified by his nomination, but the angrier of the species would have caused their trouble anyway. At the very least, it’s possible that fewer heads would have been busted and it would have been less likely that Dan Rather would have been sucker-punched on live TV.

And what of President Lyndon Johnson, already a lame duck and with nothing at all to lose? How would he have reacted to the nomination of his nemesis to replace him? LBJ, as much as I respect much of what he did, was capable of anything at that point. That is a riddle that was rendered unsolvable by those gunshots in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel.

What I do know is that his campaign was like no other—a howling cri de Coeur from a wounded nation in a world gone mad around it. It is remembered fondly because the cri de Coeur seemed to be one of stubborn hope that the country could be pulled back from the abyss into which it was staring. But there were other cries from other coeurs that year, too.

Running on the ur-Trumpian platform of the American Independent Party, George Wallace and Curtis LeMay managed to rack up 46 electoral votes, carrying five states, all of them in the old Confederacy. Nixon saw this, and the Southern Strategy was born. In truth, the cri from the coeur of the Wallace campaign has echoed more loudly through American politics than has anything Robert Kennedy said or did as a candidate in 1968. His cri died away when his coeur stopped beating. There is a profound sadness in that.

Whatever it was that drew people to Robert Kennedy is lost to time, although there was some evidence of its abiding force in the two campaigns that Jesse Jackson ran, and even more in the 2008 election of Barack Obama. But the ferocity that drove the Kennedy campaign in 1968, the outrage burning beneath all the healing rhetoric, has been lost ever since. Politicians, and Democratic politicians in particular, became frightened by passion, by the personal, visceral force that drove RFK into the Indianapolis ghetto and announce to the crowd the news of the murder that night of Dr. King, quoting Aeschylus along the way.

That is still the most astonishing performance I have ever seen from a politician, because it was not a politician speaking that night. It was a bleeding country talking through a man who’d already seen tragedies descend upon himself like dark and predatory birds. It was a human being who’d already lost a sister and two brothers, the last of whom was killed from ambush while he was President of the United States.

One of the most remarkable passages from that Indianapolis appearance, a moment unlike any in American politics before or since, came when RFK talked about the murder of his brother.

For those of you who are black—considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible—you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization—black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love. For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with—be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

That sentiment can be read, in cold pixels, as almost condescending, but the crowd didn’t take it that way. His brother’s murder almost killed him. He knew it, and the people in the streets of Indianapolis knew it and drew a connection unlike any other and believed that he felt the way they felt. No politician since that night ever has spoken so frankly about the power of love and compassion in politics, not even Barack Obama, who often sounded as though he believed love and compassion were always present, even though events have proven that not to be the case. Love and compassion have to be dragged to the surface of our politics, and, even when all the effort is expended to do so, there’s still no guarantee that anyone will buy them.

Ultimately, the great unknowable is whether the country would have taken the turns it took in the 1970s and 1980s, the dangerous detours that have brought us to our present moment, if there had been no guns in the kitchen that night. The reactionary forces against the gains of the Civil Rights Movement already were gathering force, and it’s not unreasonable to conclude that the Republicans would have formed their dark alliance with the remnants of American apartheid even more swiftly had Nixon been defeated by yet another Kennedy.

I would like to think that Robert Kennedy would have been able to stand against the foul gales that were then rising. I prefer to think that he would have, because I prefer to think of this country as perpetually redeemable. So many of our wounds are self-inflicted, and, by and large, through our history, we’ve at least made some good faith effort to heal them and to atone to ourselves for having inflicted them in the first place. That, ultimately, is what Robert Kennedy stood for and, alas, what he died for as well. Wisdom, through the awful grace of God.

A Good Week — John Cassidy in The New Yorker on the Democrats’ results in the primaries.

Donald Trump has had a remarkable impact on American politics. During the 2016 Presidential campaign, he occupied and conquered the Republican Party by mobilizing disaffected, non-college-educated white voters. His accession to the Presidency politicized and mobilized another big segment of the population: liberal, college-educated Americans of all races, particularly women. As the past week has confirmed, this mobilization is just as real as the Make America Great Again phenomenon.

Most coverage of Tuesday’s midterm primaries has concentrated on California, the nation’s most populous state, but I’ll focus here on New Jersey, which may be a bellwether. If there’s anything that analysts from across the political spectrum agree on, it’s that the November general election will be decided in the suburbs and exurbs, where Democrats are targeting Republicans and Independents put off by Trump. New Jersey is perhaps the most suburban of all the states, and, although it has been trending toward the Democrats in recent years, it still has five Republican congressional districts.

The Democrats have their sights set on four of them: the Second, which covers the southernmost portion of the state, from Atlantic City to the Delaware Bay; the Third, which runs across the south-center of the state, from Toms River to close to Philadelphia; the Seventh, which extends from just west of Newark along Route 78 to the Pennsylvania line; and the Eleventh, which includes much of affluent Morris County, and which has for the past twenty-four years been represented by Rodney Frelinghuysen, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who is retiring.

On Tuesday, the Democrats got a strong turnout in all of these districts, except in the Third, where both parties’ primaries were uncontested. In fact, more Democrats voted in these G.O.P. districts than Republicans. (Democrats 112,751; Republicans 100,028.) For a number of reasons, it doesn’t make sense to extrapolate these figures directly to the general election. But at the very least, they point to an enthusiasm gap between the two parties that augurs poorly for Republicans.

So does the fact that the Democrats chose some experienced candidates who won’t be easy for the G.O.P. to defeat this fall. Two of them worked in the Obama Administration: Andy Kim (Third District) and Tom Malinowski (Seventh District). Jeff Van Drew, who won in the Second District, is a veteran state senator who, in the past, has supported lax gun laws and opposed gay marriage. His victory outraged some progressive Democrats, but his conservative views may well help him in a district that is largely blue-collar, and which Trump carried in 2016.

The victory, in the Eleventh District, of Mikie Sherrill, a former federal prosecutor and Navy pilot, demonstrated the key role that people new to politics, and especially women, are playing in the anti-Trump mobilization. She told the Bergen Record’s Charles Stile that she was motivated to run by Trump’s “attacks on women, minorities, Gold Star families, POWs, and the Constitution.” She lives in liberal Montclair, a focal point for anti-Trump activism in the state. In addition to criticizing Trump and supporting Robert Mueller, the special counsel, she has also stressed pocketbook issues, such as health care and the impact on New Jersey homeowners of the Republican tax bill, which limited local property-tax deductions. Her formidable presence in the race was one of the factors that prompted Frelinghuysen, the scion of a New Jersey political dynasty, to retire.

The success of centrists like Sherrill demonstrates that the anti-Trump movement isn’t an ideological phenomenon. It is based on a visceral reaction to the President, the values—or lack of values—he represents, and the way he is running roughshod over Presidential norms. You can see this all across the country, as evidenced by a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which found that, by a margin of twenty-five percentage points, voters are more likely to go for a candidate who promises to provide a check on Trump.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent obtained a breakdown of these figures in districts that the Cook Report classifies as competitive, such as the four districts the Democrats are targeting in New Jersey. It showed the margin of voters wanting a check on the President was even larger in these places: thirty-three percentage points. “It should be noted that the vast, vast majority of these seats are held by Republicans,” Sargent wrote. “And so, in a whole lot of competitive seats mostly held by Republicans, majorities are more likely to vote for the candidate who will act as a check on Trump and will oppose him on most of his policies.”

Now, this was just one survey, and it did provide some encouraging bits of data for Republicans, including the fact that more than six in ten respondents said they were “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the economic situation. As I noted earlier this week, the Republicans are trying to turn the midterms into a referendum on the economy. Over all, though, the findings of this poll and others released in recent days confirm what is evident in New Jersey—Trump’s presence in the White House has created a major backlash against him and his G.O.P. enablers. (The new polls also indicate that the Democrats still hold a big lead in the generic congressional ballot, which political analysts watch closely.)

Going into the campaign season, anti-Trump fervor remains the key factor shaping the political environment. With four months to go until the general election, some things could change. But it’s hard to see public sentiment toward Trump shifting much, and this week confirmed why Democrats have reason to be encouraged about the fall.

Doonesbury — Back to normal.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday Reading

“Mustang Means Freedom”  — James B. Stewart on why Ford decided to keep building the icon.

1965 Ford Mustang*

When Ford Motor all but eliminated passenger cars from its North American lineup earlier this month to concentrate on trucks and S.U.V.s, it turned the page on a long and storied history of now-defunct but once red-hot nameplates: the Model T, the Model A, the Galaxie, the Fairlane, the Thunderbird and the Falcon, to name several.

There was one conspicuous survivor: the Mustang.

“Get rid of the Mustang?” asked James D. Farley Jr., Ford’s president of global markets, when I asked him this week how the Mustang had survived. “The Mustang is like Rocky: It survived the 1970s fuel crisis, the glam 1980s, the move to S.U.V.s. It’s made it through every round of cuts.”

For me, the Mustang’s reprieve came as welcome news: I took my driver’s test in my mother’s 1967 turquoise Mustang notchback. On the rare occasions I was allowed to drive it, it conferred instant status and triggered unabashed envy among my high school classmates.

Wall Street probably would have been just as happy to see the Mustang go the way of the Fusion, Taurus and Fiesta, current models that Ford said it would phase out and which Mr. Farley dismissed as “commodity silhouettes.” (Ford says it will continue to make passenger vehicles, but they just won’t be in the shape of today’s sedan. The Focus, for example, will survive, but as a crossover S.U.V.)

That’s because in its last earnings report, Ford revealed for the first time that a relatively small number of products, including the hugely popular F-150 pickup truck series, accounted for 150 percent of its earnings before interest and taxes, with profit margins in the midteens. Another group was barely profitable. By contrast, Ford said its “low performing” products lost money, with negative margins of more than 10 percent.

Using Ford’s disclosures, Morgan Stanley automotive analyst Adam Jonas extrapolated that the low performing businesses accounted for 40 percent of Ford’s revenue yet sharply reduced the company’s earnings. Ford didn’t say which models fall into the category, but Mr. Jonas included North American passenger cars and Lincoln models. (So far, at least, Ford hasn’t altered its Lincoln lineup, which includes several passenger sedans.)

Mr. Jonas applauded Ford’s decision to drop most of its passenger cars, assuming the company actually follows through on it. “If a disproportionate effort is going into products that don’t make money and consumers don’t want, then what are they doing?” he asked.

Ford doesn’t break out financial results by model, but Mr. Jonas believes the Mustang is modestly profitable. The base hardtop starts at $25,845, but popular options can quickly drive up the cost. The convertible starts at $31,345. The most popular model, the Mustang GT fastback, can easily top $40,000, and the 526-horsepower Shelby GT350 starts at more than $57,000. A racing version of the Mustang Cobra can hit six figures.

“I can’t think of another car where some models sell for four times the base price,“ Mr. Farley said. “We sell a lot of Mustangs that are $70,000.”

The Mustang has continued to sell well. Ford said it sold nearly 126,000 last year in 146 countries and that it was the world’s best-selling sports car. (By contrast, the Toyota Corolla, the world’s best-selling passenger sedan, sold nearly a million cars.)

But the Mustang’s survival isn’t really about numbers. “Five years from now, whether Ford decided to keep the Mustang or not isn’t going to be a material factor,” Mr. Jonas said. “It’s more of an emotional thing. They’re trying to preserve the sexuality of motoring the way it used to be known.”

From the day it was introduced 54 years ago, Mustang was positioned as a stylish, affordable and practical alternative to expensive European sports cars. In various tests, the Mustang GT still compares favorably to the Porsche 911, which starts at over $90,000.

So iconic is the Mustang that it has been commemorated with a Postal Service stamp — twice. The latest one, in 2013, depicts a blue 1967 model bisected by two white stripes.

Mustangs have appeared in countless movies and television shows, becoming an indelible image of American culture. In “Goldfinger,” James Bond ran a white 1965 Mustang convertible with red interior off the road.

Steve McQueen drove a dark green 1968 fastback in “Bullitt,” in which Mustang emerged as a classic “muscle” car. This year Ford is selling a 475-horsepower Bullitt anniversary edition, complete with, in a nod to the original, a cue ball on the stick shift. The Bullitt limited edition sells for $47,495. (The first one off the assembly line sold at a charity auction earlier this year for $300,000.)

A souped-up 1967 Mustang fastback stars in “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” But Mustangs aren’t all about high testosterone. A 1966 convertible is featured in “The Princess Diaries,” and Ford said 27 percent of Mustang buyers are women.

William Clay Ford Jr., Ford’s executive chairman and the great-grandson of founder Henry Ford, is a Mustang fanatic, with 20 versions in his personal collection. Mr. Ford showed up at the company’s annual Mustang birthday party last month in a navy blue 1968 Mustang Shelby 500 convertible with a white top.

“I put it in the same category as the Corvette,” said Eric Minoff, an automotive specialist at Bonhams auction house in New York. The Mustang “is a cultural icon,” he added. “Even people who don’t know anything about cars recognize a Mustang.”

Next week, Bonhams is auctioning several vintage Mustangs previously owned by Carroll Shelby, the racecar driver and automotive entrepreneur who developed high-performance Shelby Mustangs in collaboration with Ford starting in the 1960s. A 1968 Mustang GT 350 and a 1969 GT 500 are each estimated to fetch $80,000 to $100,000 at the June 3 auction.

I found a turquoise 1967 Mustang notchback that looked identical to my mother’s car listed on the Hemmings vintage car site for $37,900.

Those are surprisingly high prices considering how many Mustangs were made. “After the car first came out, there was a saying that hot cakes are selling like Mustangs,” Mr. Minoff said. “They’re not exactly rare. But no matter how common they are, they’re very attractive cars, and with the V-8 engine and rear-wheel drive, they’re very sporty and fun to drive. The fastback editions, especially with all the options, command quite a premium.”

Mr. Farley described the Mustang as a “mind-set” vehicle. “When we ask people around the world what they think of Ford, they say Mustang,” he said. “Mustang means freedom. It means taking a road trip in a convertible down the West Coast. That’s what people all over the world imagine America to be. Why would we ever give that up?”

*I’ve had three: a 1965 2+2 like the one in the photo, a 1995 GT convertible, and my current one, a 2007 convertible.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. on being reasonable with Trumpers.

We’re going to try something different today. Rather than pontificate yet again upon the motives of Donald Trump’s supporters, I’ll let a few of them explain themselves in their own words.

Here, then, is “Robert” with a comparative analysis of the 44th and 45th presidents:

“President Trump has accomplished more positive things for this nation in less than two years than the last three have accomplished in twenty plus years. After the past eight years of a Muslim Marxist in the White House this nation could not survive another demwit in the White House. … Could you please list one thing the demwit party has done for the black people in America other than hand out government freeies for their continued votes?”

And here’s “Gary’s” take on demographic change:

“[America] has a constitution which guarantees equal rights for all and yet people like you hungar for change that puts people like me in the back of the bus. You seem egar to know what it would be like to be in the driver’s seat. You need look no further than Zimbabwe and South Africa. When people like you started driving the bus, the wheels came off. That’s what terrifies people like me.”

This column is presented as a service for those progressive readers who are struggling with something I said in this space. Namely, that I see no point in trying to reason with Trump voters. I first wrote that over a month ago, and I am still hearing how “disappointed” they are at my refusal to reach out. So I thought it might be valuable to hear from the people I’ve failed to reach out to.

I’m sure some of you think those emails were cherry-picked to highlight the intolerance of Trump voters. They weren’t. They are, in fact, a representative sampling from a single day in May, culled by my assistant, Judi.

It’s still an article of faith for many that the Trump phenomenon was born out of fiscal insecurity, the primal scream of working people left behind by a changing economy. But I don’t think I’ve ever, not once, seen an email from a Trump supporter who explained himself in terms of the factory or the coal mine shutting down.

I have, however, heard from hundreds like “Matthew,” who worries about “immigrants” and “Gerald,” who thinks people of color have an “alliance” against him. Such people validate the verdict of a growing body of scholarship that says, in the words of a new study by University of Kansas professors David N. Smith and Eric Hanley, “The decisive reason that white, male, older and less educated voters were disproportionately pro-Trump is that they shared his prejudices and wanted domineering, aggressive leaders …”

Look, I get it. That’s a hard pill for those progressives who have kin or friends among Trump supporters. We love who we love, even when they — or we — are small, unkind or disappointing. That’s what family is about. We love who we love, and let no one make you feel compelled to apologize for that.

But at the same time, let us be clear-eyed and tough-minded in assessing what’s happened to our country — and why. How else can we salvage it from the likes of “A Trumper” who says Trump was needed to “get things back in order” after the “terrible job” done by President Obama?

He wrote: “We’re sick of paying welfare to so many of your brothers who don’t know what work and integrity mean. I hope you keep writing these articles and reminding my White Christian brothers that we did the right thing and we need to re elect Trump.”

I have two words for those progressives who think it’s possible to “reason” with that:

You first.

Doonesbury — One by one.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thursday, April 5, 2018

He Can’t Send In The Marines

Trump promised to send in the military to guard the U.S. border.

Speaking at a lunch with Baltic leaders, Trump said he’s been discussing the idea with his Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis.

“We’re going to be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” he said, calling the measure a “big step.”

Sounds tough, but basically he can’t.  Well, he can, but all the military can do is support the Border Patrol.  The Posse Comitatus Act prevents the military from doing anything that resembles police action.  So all this talk about “doing things militarily” is just more Trump wanking.

(By the way, the history of the Act is a study in political bargaining.  In exchange for getting the federal troops out of the South during Reconstruction, the Electoral College delivered the White House to Rutherford B. Hayes over the popular vote winner Samuel Tilden in the election of 1876.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Night Martin Luther King Died

You have to be over the age of sixty 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 fifty years ago today — 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 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.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Monday, February 12, 2018

Friday, January 26, 2018

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

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-fourth 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.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sunday Reading

December To Remember — Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker on how this next month could make or break Trump’s presidency.

Donald Trump is unique among modern Presidents in that he has no significant legislative accomplishments to show for ten months after taking office. Year one is when Presidents usually make their mark, especially if they came into office with unified control of the government, as Trump and his party did. Presidents in the first year of their first term are often at the peak of their popularity, have the biggest margins in Congress, and are free from the scandals and intense partisanship that start to gather around them later and make governing ever more difficult. By the second year, a President’s legislative agenda becomes complicated by the hesitancy of members of Congress to take risky votes as midterm elections approach, particularly if a President is unpopular. The math is stark: on average, modern Presidents have historically lost thirty House seats and four Senate seats in their first midterm elections.

Trump is governing well below the optimal levels of recent successful first-year Presidents. In 1981, Ronald Reagan’s first year in office, Reagan was so personally popular that he was able to convince a Democratic-controlled Congress to pass a major tax cut. In 1993, Bill Clinton used a Democratic Congress to pass a major economic plan, the Family and Medical Leave Act, gun legislation, and NAFTA, though his signature health-care bill eventually failed. (The political cost was high: in midterm elections the following year, Clinton lost his Democratic Congress for the rest of his Presidency and was later engulfed in scandals that slowed his agenda.) In 2001, George W. Bush, who also started with a Congress controlled by his own party, passed a major tax cut and a significant rewrite of federal education policy, two pieces of legislation that came with significant support from Democrats. Barack Obama came into office, in 2009, with large Democratic majorities, high approval ratings, and a massive economic crisis, all of which he leveraged to pass the most ambitious first-year agenda of any President since Lyndon Johnson, including an enormous economic-stimulus package and major reforms of the financial regulatory system and health care. (The final version of Obamacare, after some drama, was actually signed into law in March of his second year.)

Trump’s first year has been different. He has a record low approval rating. He is mired in scandal. And he, so far, has no major legislative accomplishments. He looks like a President in his eighth year rather than one in his first. All of this makes December crucial for the White House.

From now until the New Year, Congress will be jammed with legislative activity that may make or break Trump’s first year in office. Most of the attention has focussed on Trump’s tax-cut legislation, which is deeply unpopular according to public-opinion polls but which Republicans believe is essential to pass in order for them to have something to show for the year. But there are many other politically consequential bills that must be passed in the weeks ahead. On December 8th, the money to fund the federal government runs out. Staff members for the four top Democratic and Republican leaders have been meeting with the White House for weeks to negotiate a deal. On Tuesday, these leaders—Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Chuck Schumer—will meet with Trump at the White House about the issue.

Schumer and Pelosi have been maneuvering for this moment all year, and they have significant leverage. The Republican Party, despite unified control of Congress, does not have the votes to pass bills to fund the government in either the House, where many conservatives refuse to support annual appropriations bills, or the Senate, where they need sixty votes but have only fifty-two Republicans. For several years, a coalition of mostly Republican defense hawks, who want higher levels of Pentagon spending, and Democrats, who want higher levels of discretionary spending, have joined forces to provide the votes for the annual appropriations bills. Pelosi and Schumer will not deliver those Democratic votes without extracting a price from Trump and Republicans.

There are three major pieces of legislation that Democrats want: a bipartisan fix for Obamacare, a legislative fix for the Obama-era DACA program that Trump recently ended, and the extension of a popular health-care program for children—SCHIP—that recently expired.

Some liberal Democratic senators have said that they won’t vote to fund the government unless the DACA fix is included, though that is not yet a Party-wide position. As for the Obamacare fix, which is known as Alexander-Murray, after the two senators who negotiated it, the current version of the G.O.P. tax-cut bill includes a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate, which would hobble Obamacare rather than fix it. The politics for Trump are tricky. Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, a shaky vote on the tax bill, has hinted that she wants the bipartisan health-care legislation passed as the price for her vote on any tax bill that repeals the mandate. Schumer has said that passing a mandate repeal would blow up the Alexander-Murray Obamacare fix. In other words, Schumer is not going to help pass the health-care fix as a way to grease the skids for McConnell to secure Collins’s vote on tax cuts. Trump is likely going to have to give ground on one or more of these Democratic priorities.

“Any Republican senator who thinks they can pass the individual mandate [repeal] and then turn around and get Murray-Alexander passed is dead wrong,” Schumer said on November 15th, after McConnell added the Obamacare-mandate repeal to the Republican tax bill.

The last time Trump cut a deal with Schumer and Pelosi was in May, when the leftover spending bills from the previous year were negotiated and passed to keep the government operating through the end of the fiscal year. In fact, this was arguably the most significant piece of legislation of Trump’s first year, and it was widely considered to be an enormous success for the Democrats because it included high levels of discretionary spending opposed by Trump and no funding for the border wall that he requested. Trump was so angry about the coverage that he tweeted that perhaps there needed to be a government shutdown the next time the two sides entered spending negotiations. “The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there!” Trump said in a series of tweets. “We either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ .”

Tuesday’s meeting at the White House between Trump and congressional leaders from both parties is meant to avoid a December 8th government shutdown. How much Republicans are willing to give Democrats may depend on the status of the G.O.P. tax bill. There are at least half a dozen G.O.P. senators with serious policy concerns regarding the tax proposal. And there are three Republican senators—John McCain and Jeff Flake, of Arizona, and Bob Corker, of Tennessee—who dislike Trump so much that they may be looking for reasons to oppose any legislation that empowers his Presidency. Republicans already have a ready-made conservative reason: the proposed tax changes will increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion.

If the tax bill is cruising through the Senate—McConnell wants a vote next week—there may be less incentive for Republicans to risk a shutdown. But if it dies next week, or is delayed, Trump will be under intense pressure to avoid ending the year with no major legislative accomplishments—and the chaos of a government shutdown. In order to keep the government running, Trump would have to strike another deal with Pelosi and Schumer and sign a bipartisan spending deal that includes major Democratic priorities.

As a result, Trump would end his first year in office with no Republican legislative accomplishments and two deals with Pelosi and Schumer that boost the Democratic agenda. If that seems likely to happen, it would enrage conservatives and the Republican base. For Trump, December could be the month that makes or breaks his first year in office.

The Dangers Of Losing Net Neutrality — John Nichols in The Nation.

Net neutrality is the First Amendment of the Internet. It guarantees that speech is equal on the network of networks—whether the words come from Walmart, the corporate behemoth that identifies as the largest retailer in the world, or Walmart Watch, the movement that “seeks to hold Walmart fully accountable for its impact on communities, America’s workforce, the retail sector, the environment and the economy.”

Net-neutrality protections assure that the essential democratic discourse on the World Wide Web cannot be bartered off to the highest bidders of a billionaire class that dominates the political debate on so many other media platforms.

Citizens love net neutrality. “The overwhelming majority of people who wrote unique comments to the Federal Communications Commission want the FCC to keep its current net neutrality rules and classification of ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act,” Ars Technica reported in August. How overwhelming? “98.5% of unique net neutrality comments oppose Ajit Pai’s anti–Title II plan,” read the headline.

The media monopolists of the telecommunications industry hate net neutrality. They have worked for years to overturn guarantees of an open Internet because those guarantees get in their way of their profiteering. If net neutrality is eliminated, they will restructure how the Internet works, creating information superhighways for corporate and political elites and digital dirt roads for those who cannot afford the corporate tolls.

No one will be surprised to learn which side Donald Trump’s FCC has chosen.

FCC chair Ajit Pai, who does the bidding of the telecommunications conglomerates with the rigid determination and focus of the former Verizon lawyer that he is, has been racing to eliminate net neutrality. Pai plans to have the FCC vote on December 14 to overturn the safeguards that were put in place during the Obama administration. If Pai and the Trump-aligned majority on the five-member commission succeed in gutting the existing Open Internet Order, they will alter the future of communications in America.

That alteration would “rig the internet,” according to Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, who say, “If [Pai] is successful, Chairman Pai will hand the keys to our open internet to major corporations to charge more for a tiered system where wealthy and powerful websites can pay to have their content delivered faster to consumers. This leaves smaller, independent websites with slower load times and consumers with obstructed access to the internet—a particularly harmful decision for communities of color, students, and online activists. This is an assault on the freedom of speech and therefore our democracy.”

“There can be no truly open internet without net neutrality,” says Copps. “To believe otherwise is to be captive to special interest power brokers or to an old and discredited ideology that thinks monopoly and not government oversight best serves the nation. In this case, I think it’s both. The FCC under Pai is handing over the internet to a few humongous gatekeepers who see the rest of us as products to be delivered to advertisers, not as citizens needing communications that serve democracy’s needs. By empowering ISPs to create fast lanes for the few and squelch alternative points of view, the Trump FCC fecklessly casts aside years of popular consensus that the public needs net neutrality. The tens of thousands of Americans I have talked with, both Republicans and Democrats, fully understand this need.”

Copps says: “This naked corporatism is Washington at its worst.”

It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the worst of the Trump agenda is on display in the attack on net neutrality. The stakes are that high.

It’s Still The Same Old Story — Noah Isenberg in Salon on why “Casablanca” is still revered 75 years later.

When a movie is still talked about three quarters of a century after its debut, revered in the kind of hushed tones normally reserved for discussing a nation’s most precious cultural treasures, people often want to know why. In the case of “Casablanca,” that holy grail of classical Hollywood that turns 75 on Sunday, there is no easy answer.

Sure, there are the iconic performances by Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and company. There’s also the film’s auspicious timing, appearing as it did just weeks after General Patton’s troops deployed in Operation Torch declared victory in the North African city where it’s set. Then, too, there are its endlessly quoted lines (“Round up the usual suspects!”), crafted by screenwriters Julius and Philip Epstein, together with Howard Koch, and the many decades of packed revival screenings at repertory theaters and student film societies, not to mention innumerable television broadcasts and TCM airings.

While we may search in vain for a single reason that accounts for the magic of “Casablanca’s” enduring success, it can’t merely be considered “the happiest of happy accidents,” as critic Andrew Sarris once branded it. Even its theme song, “As Time Goes By,” — a Tin Pan Alley number from the 1930s written by Herman Hupfeld, which composer Max Steiner initially shunned — has in its lyrics a line that almost makes a deliberate claim on a deeper narrative foundation that is at once eternal, an ever-green of sorts: “It’s still the same old story.”

Perhaps this explains why screenwriters, novelists and composers still turn to “Casablanca” for source material. “We drink at the well of ‘Casablanca’ many times,” said television writer and producer Matt Selman, who’s had a hand in creating several of the episodes of “The Simpsons” that offer a satirical wink at the picture, in a phone interview with me in 2016. Today, it’s such an essential part of our cultural lexicon that you don’t even need to have seen the movie to recognize the references.

Last year alone brought us a pair of movies that paid homage to that most quoted of classics. In “La La Land,” a blustery love letter to old Hollywood, writer-director Damien Chazelle made a conscious decision not only to cast Emma Stone as an aspiring actress with an outsize Ingrid Bergman obsession, bedroom poster and all, but to have her work on the Warner Bros. lot at a café directly opposite of the set once used for Bogart and Bergman. There’s even the faint suggestion of a direct quote (“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world”), or perhaps more of a thought bubble, delivered by Ryan Gosling’s character, and a recognizable nod to the famous bittersweet ending.

Similarly, in his deeply personal, and comparatively underrated, “20th Century Women,” writer-director Mike Mills incorporated his own mother’s love of Bogart movies of the 1940s into the script. In the film’s opening scene, as the voice-over narration given by the family matriarch Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) describes the various things that she introduces her son to, when she gets to movies, the camera cuts to an iconic still of Bogart and Bergman on the airport tarmac in their trench coats and snap brim hats. This sort of subtle touch confirms a statement made by Umberto Eco in the 1980s: “Casablanca” is not just one movie, it is “the movies.”

This same tendency to draw on “Casablanca,” and to weave strands of its celebrated story into a new plot, can be found in several highly successful recent novels as well. Adam Johnson’s Pulitzer prize-winning “Orphan Master’s Son,” published in 2012 and set in modern-day North Korea, involves a furtive viewing of the contraband DVD on a laptop in Pyongyang. Its story offers inspiration for a daring escape to America in the absence of letters of transit.

More recently, Amor Towles’ enormously popular novel, “A Gentleman in Moscow,” includes a pivotal late chapter in which the novel’s protagonist, Count Alexander Rostov, watches the movie with a former Red Army colonel. In addition to adding an extra layer of narrative complexity, the episode allows the novel’s protagonist — and, of course, readers along with him — to indulge in the film (“when the smoke from Rick’s cigarette dissolves into a montage of his days in Paris with Ilsa, the Count’s thoughts dissolved into a Parisian montage of his own”).

As Ingrid Bergman once observed of the film late in life: “I feel about ‘Casablanca’ that it has a life of its own. There is something mystical about it. It seems to have filled a need, a need that was there before the film.” Many decades later that need does not yet seem to have left us, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

Doonesbury — “It’s Hedley.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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-four 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.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans Day

Today is the 99th 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.

My father (left) and his twin, 1944

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sunday Reading

The Trolls of St. Petersburg — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker.

“Seen any of these before?” a headline blared on CNN’s Web site this week. “You may have been targeted by Russian ads on Facebook.” One half expected a toll-free number of a law firm to flash across the screen, or perhaps the name of a medicine to take post-exposure to Russian ads. Among other revelations of the past few days: Russian ads may have reached a third of Americans! And some of them were paid for with rubles! The very thought seemed to be enough to make Senator Al Franken cradle his head in distress on Tuesday, during congressional hearings in which representatives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter were questioned about Russian influence in the 2016 Presidential campaign.

In the past few weeks, we have learned a fair amount about the Russian online presence during the election. What matters, though, is not that Russian interference reached a third of Americans—that, in fact, is a significant exaggeration of the testimony by Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, who said that a hundred and twenty-six million people, not necessarily Americans, “may have been served” content associated with Russian accounts sometime between 2015 and 2017, with a majority of impressions landing after the election. He also mentioned that “this equals about four-thousandths of one per cent of content in News Feed, or approximately one out of twenty-three thousand pieces of content.” Nor is it significant that, as a “CNN exclusive” headline announced, “Russian-linked Facebook ads targeted Michigan and Wisconsin.” The story that followed actually said nothing of the sort. The real revelation is this: Russian online interference was a god-awful mess, a cacophony.

The Times published some of the ads that Facebook has traced to Russian accounts. Among them: a superhero figure with a green leg and a fuchsia leg, red trunks, and a head vaguely reminiscent of Bernie Sanders, all of which is apparently meant to read as pro-L.G.B.T.Q.; a Jesus figure arm-wrestling Satan, with a caption indicating that Satan is Hillary; an ad reminding us that “Black Panthers, group formed to protect black people from the KKK, was dismantled by us govt but the KKK exists today”; and an anti-immigrant ad featuring a sign that says “No invaders allowed!,” among others.

Several former staff members of a St. Petersburg company widely known as the Kremlin’s “troll factory” gave interviews to different Russian-language media outlets last month. One told TV Rain, an independent Web-based television channel, that hired trolls were obligated to watch “House of Cards,” presumably to gain an understanding of American politics. At the same time, trolls took English classes and classes on American politics. In the former, they learned the difference between the present-perfect and past-simple tenses (“I have done” versus “I did,” for example); in the latter they learned that if the subject concerned L.G.B.T. rights, then the troll should use religious rhetoric: “You should always write that sodomy is a sin, and that will bring you a couple of dozen ‘likes.’ ”

Another Russian outlet, RBC, published the most detailed investigative report yet on the “troll factory.” RBC found that the company had a budget of roughly $2.2 million and employed between eight hundred and nine hundred people, about ten per cent of whom worked on American politics. The trolls’ job was not so much to aid a particular Presidential candidate as to wreak havoc by posting on controversial subjects. Their success was measured by the number of times a post was shared, retweeted, or liked. RBC calculated that, at most, two dozen of the trolls’ posts scored audiences of a million or more; the vast majority had less than a thousand page views. On at least a couple of occasions, the trolls organized protests in the U.S. simply by strategically posting the dates and times on Facebook. In Charlotte, South Carolina, an entity calling itself BlackMattersUS scheduled a protest and reached out to an actual local activist who ended up organizing it—and a BlackMattersUS contact gave him a bank card to pay for sound equipment.

These reports don’t exactly support the assumption that the Russian effort was designed to get Donald Trump elected President. In fact, as The Hill reported on Tuesday, a Russian account announced plans for an anti-Trump march in New York City four days after the election—and thousands attended.

Why did Russian trolls, funded at least in part by the Kremlin, work to incite protests against Trump and an ersatz Black Lives Matter protest, and, at least in one offline case, work to pit American protesters against one another? “We were just having fun,” one of the troll-factory employees interviewed by RBC explained. They were also making money—not a lot, but more than most college students and recent graduates, who comprised most of the troll-factory staff, would have earned elsewhere. In exchange, they had to show that they could meddle effectively in American politics.

Russians have long been convinced that their own politics are infiltrated by Americans. During the mass protests of 2011 and 2012, Putin famously accused Hillary Clinton personally of inciting the unrest. At the time, I was involved in organizing the protests. In advance of a large protest in February, 2012, I helped a particularly generous donor, who had shown up out of the blue volunteering to provide snacks, to connect with the hot-tea coördinator. A few weeks later, state-controlled television aired a propaganda film that used footage of protesters eating donated cookies and drinking tea, which was intended to expose the U.S. State Department’s sponsorship of the Moscow protests; the voice-over claimed that America had lured protesters out with cookies. A few months later, we learned that the generous donor had been an undercover agent who had used Kremlin rubles to purchase the cookies. In the end, protesters got tea and cookies, and millions of Russians became convinced that the anti-Putin protests were an American conspiracy.

The cookie story is not a perfect analogy, but it is an antecedent of sorts to the narrative of Russian meddling in the American election, and it is instructive. Was the Moscow protest made any less real because a fake donor had brought cookies? Was the protest in New York in November of last year any less real, or any less opposed to Trump, because a Russia-linked account originally called for it? Is Trump any less President because Russians paid for some ads on Facebook? Is there any reason, at this point, to think that a tiny drop in the sea of Facebook ads changed any American votes? The answer to all of these questions is: no, not really.

The most interesting question is: What were the Russians doing? In the weeks leading up to the election, Putin made it clear that he expected Hillary Clinton to become President. There is every indication that Moscow was as surprised as New York when the vote results came in. Indeed, in Russia, where election results are always known ahead of time, the Trump victory might have been even more difficult to absorb. So what, then, was the point of Russian meddling—what was the vision behind the multicolored Bernie superhero and the “No invaders” ad?

All of us, including the trolls of St. Petersburg, want the world to make sense. Given the opportunity, we want to show that it works the way we think it does. Russians generally believe that politics are a cacophonous mess with foreign interference but a fixed outcome, so they invested in affirming that vision. In the aftermath, and following a perfectly symmetrical impulse, a great many Americans want to prove that the Russians elected Trump, and Americans did not.

Rainbows and Unicorns — Charles P. Pierce on the GOP tax plan.

With Sudden Sam Clovis suddenly cleared out, there was room for the House Republicans to uncrate their long-awaited tax plan and it was pretty much as disastrous as you thought it would be.

(And I should point out how stunned I am that the administration would not want a guy already under FBI investigation to go under oath in a completely separate proceeding in which would be examined his credentials to do a job for which he was completely unqualified. ‘Ees a puzzlement.)

One good way to understand what’s going on with this latest exercise in financial misdirection is to notice that this plan will tax the interest payment on one student’s loans, but that it may no longer tax another student’s multibillion-dollar inheritance. Of course, the estate tax will go away entirely in six years, probably when nobody’s watching. It also will cap the mortgage-interest deduction, probably in the interest of eliminating it entirely when nobody’s watching. So that’s what all that “middle-class” bafflegab is really all about.

Brownback’s catastrophic imbibing of straight supply-side Sterno crippled his state, and the Center for American Progress immediately pointed out the similarities between what Brownback did in his state and what the Republican plan proposes to do to the country. Otherwise, the Republican plan is pretty much the same thing as David Stockman long ago said the first Reagan budget was: a Trojan horse to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthiest among us. From The Washington Post:

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and collapse the seven tax brackets paid by families and individuals down to four. It would create giant new benefits for the wealthy by cutting business taxes, eliminating the estate tax, and ending the alternative minimum tax.

The elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes seems to be based in an entirely new riff that’s become popular among congresscritters who are tired of seeing their laissez-faire hellholes called moochers because the hellholes take in more money from the federal government than they send back to it in taxes. Now, believe it or not, and you will believe it because these people will say anything, the argument is being made that the high-tax states are somehow luxuriating on the backs of Good Country People in places like Alabama and, yes, Kansas. In any event, this provision of the bill has put Republicans from places like New York and New Jersey in a considerable bind, so much so that insisting upon it may be enough to sink the bill entirely.

And, finally, of course, we have the most spavined old nag in this entire herd of unicorns.

The bill would add $1.5 trillion to the debt over 10 years, but Republicans believe the changes would trigger a surge in economic growth, higher wages, and job creation.

Clap as hard as you want, America. This is not going to happen because it never has happened in all the years that Republicans have been running this con on the country. It never has happened because it can’t happen. In the immortal words of Rocket J. Squirrel:

“But that trick never works.”

Time Was… Michael S. Rosenwald on the chaotic history of timekeeping in America.

One of the crazier facts about life in America is this: For roughly two decades, nobody had any clue what time it was.

In office buildings, it could be 4 p.m. on one floor and 5 p.m. on another — an important matter for several reasons, including who punched out first to get to happy hour. People would step off airplanes with no idea how to set their watches. Ponder this head-scratcher:

“A short trip from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia became a symbol of the deteriorating situation. A bus ride down this thirty-five-mile stretch of highway took less than an hour. But along that route, the local time changed seven times.”

That “deteriorating situation,” as historian Michael Downing put it in his book “Spring Forward,” is the reason millions of Americans will set their clocks back this weekend for Daylight Saving. (And it is daylight saving, not savings. You’re welcome.) Those who forget are going to be very early for Sunday brunch.

Before 1966, when President Lyndon B. Johnson solved the craziness over America’s clocks two years after passing the Civil Rights Act, time was essentially anything governments or businesses wanted it to be. Though laws mandating daylight saving — to save fuel, to give shoppers extra time in the light — passed in 1918, by the end of World War II the system had become fractured and was ultimately dismantled.

These were nutty times, Downing writes, with some localities observing daylight saving, some not:

Left to their own devices, private enterprise and local governments — which had repeatedly demanded the right not to alter their clocks — took to changing the time as often as they changed their socks, setting off a nationwide frenzy of time tampering …

Especially in Iowa, which had 23 different Daylight Saving dates. “If you wanted to get out of Iowa, you had to time your departure carefully,” Downing writes. “Motorists driving west through the 5 p.m. rush hour in Council Bluffs, Iowa, found themselves tied up in the 5 p.m. rush hour in Omaha, Nebraska, an hour later.”

The historian also offers this truly astonishing fact: “By 1963, no federal agency of commission was even attempting to keep track of timekeeping practices in the United States.”

When the government did finally get involved, a committee was, of course, established.

It was called, “The Committee for Time Uniformity.”

Congressional hearings were held. Legislation was proposed. Editorials were written.

The measure “is a bid for the termination of chaos,” this newspaper opined. To those who would oppose such a sensible idea, the Post editorial page said, “It is better for them to adjust to the will of the majority than to tolerate the Babel of contradictory clocks.”

The Uniform Time Act of 1966 — designed “to promote the observance of a uniform system of time throughout the United States” — was signed into law by Johnson on April 13, 1966.

Six months later it became the law of the land, though one wonders: Did it go into effect at the very same time in New York and Chicago, which is one hour behind?

Actually, never mind.

Doonesbury — Rhyme time.