Monday, October 30, 2017

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Flake Out

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) joins a small group of Republicans who are saying that Trump has gone too far and that they are now going to speak out.  He, along with his fellow Arizonan John McCain and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) have taken to the airwaves and the social networks to express their outrage, disappointment, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

That’s all well and good, but chances are that if this was October 24, 2016, it might make a difference.  Instead, all three of them voted for Trump, supported his agenda, voted to put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, voted against everything Obama, and shrugged off Trump’s Russia connection.  But now they’ve had enough?  Where have they been?

Not only that, Flake and Corker are dropping out of their re-election races in 2018, and McCain has a terminal illness.  They may now feel liberated to speak up, but now it doesn’t matter because they won’t be around to pick up the pieces; we’re the ones who have to live with the horror.  Thanks a lot.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I Got Mine…

In the age of Trump, this does not surprise me at all.

Many Trump voters who got hurricane relief in Texas aren’t sure Puerto Ricans should

Some supporters of the president, like Fred Maddox, agree with Trump that Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was frail before the storm; that the crisis was worsened by a lack of leadership there; and that the federal government should limit its involvement in the rebuilding effort, which will likely cost billions of dollars. But others, like Mary Maddox, are appalled by how the president talks about Puerto Rico and say the United States has a moral obligation to take care of its citizens.

A survey released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a majority of Americans believe that the federal government has been too slow to respond in Puerto Rico and that the island still isn’t getting the help it needs. But the results largely broke along party lines: While nearly three-quarters of Democrats said the federal government isn’t doing enough, almost three-quarters of Republicans said it is.

This includes those who think that living in Puerto Rico is a “paradise,” so who needs electricity, and those who think they should be helping “their own country,” ignorant — willfully or otherwise — of the fact that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States and the people who live there are U.S. citizens.

Not surprisingly, there’s an attitude of ghettoization among some people, not unlike what we saw in the 1960’s after the civil rights marches and the riots in the inner cities of Detroit, Newark, and Los Angeles.  “They live there, they didn’t prepare; why should I have to help them?”  I suppose it’s pointless to explain that that is what Americans — or any decent human being, regardless of citizenship — would do.  It’s part of the Golden Rule — “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — and yet it’s forgotten by many who otherwise humbly brag that they’re a bible-believing Christian.  It’s easy to forget when your new idol is a vulgar egomaniac.

Sub For Dom

Some people are really into being humiliated and treated like shit.  It’s a turn-on, I suppose.

Via TPM:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is still putting on a good face when it comes to his relationship with President Donald Trump.

“He gets mad at me at times, he yells at me at times, but he respects me,” Christie told GQ in an interview published Monday.

Christie told GQ that he would yell back at Trump, but does so “less now that he’s President.”

The New Jersey governor, whose approval numbers hit historic lows, appeared to be angling for a job in Trump’s administration, and in March was finally named chairman of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

For that privilege, he appeared behind Trump at a press conference where some described his expression as that of someone being “held hostage,” a charge Christie denied, endured Trump’s jibes about banning him from eating Oreos, weathered a report that Trump used him as a “manservant” to fetch his McDonald’s order, and was forcibly ordered meatloaf at the White House.

Yech.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Doing Homework On The Bus

From the Atlantic:

The Trump administration is scrambling to defend the president’s characterization of his communications with grieving military families, including rush-delivering letters from the president to the families of servicemembers killed months ago. Donald Trump falsely claimed this week that he had called “virtually” all fallen servicemembers’ families since his time in office.

[…]

It was not immediately clear whether White House condolence letters are typically sent via this expedited shipping. But one former official who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations said that it would be unusual for condolence letters to be sent weeks after the fact, because they were seen as “priority correspondence, to get to the family in a week or two if possible.”

The White House declined to address The Atlantic’s specific questions about how Trump has—or has not—comforted grieving military families. “The president and the nation are grateful for the service and sacrifice of our fallen American heroes,” a White House official told The Atlantic.“We have addressed the president’s outreach to the families extensively and out of respect, we are not going to comment further.”

The White House spent the hours after the news conference desperately trying to ascertain if they had the contact information for the families they said they’d already sent letters of condolence to.

This reminds me of a certain student — not saying who — was pretty regular at doing math homework on the school bus.

I’m waiting for them to blame the dog, but they’re going to have to get one first.

It’s Not The Hats

Via the New York Times:

Blame it on these bitter political times.

The feud over President Trump’s call to the widow of a fallen soldier might never have escalated had Mr. Trump done what any of his predecessors almost certainly would have done: quickly apologize for words that failed to bring comfort.

Likewise, the nasty back-and-forth with Frederica S. Wilson, a Democratic congresswoman who is close to the soldier’s family, might have dissipated had she not repeatedly disparaged Mr. Trump’s intentions on national television, failing to extend him the benefit of the doubt that previous presidents had received.

And the public relations disaster that engulfed the White House might have been less intense if John F. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, had not publicly vented his anger at Ms. Wilson, calling her an “empty barrel” and incorrectly asserting that she had boasted about herself during a ceremony for a building named for fallen F.B.I. agents.

But the political guardrails that once could have prevented a soldier’s death from spiraling into a weeklong, made-for-TV spectacle have been wiped out by a mistrust that has deepened on all sides with the rise of Mr. Trump.

In this acid political climate, “argument turns too easily into animosity,” former President George W. Bush observed on Thursday, in a speech that seemed tailor-made for the week in which he delivered it. “Disagreement escalates into dehumanization.”

Indeed, the quarrel between the president and the congresswoman only grew on Saturday, with Mr. Trump again calling Ms. Wilson “wacky” on Twitter and saying she was “killing the Democrat Party.” His comments came just hours before the soldier’s family and friends gathered in Florida for his funeral.

Trump’s defenders have gone after Rep. Wilson for her hats (apparently with an extreme lack of self-awareness).  She has a lot of them and she wears them with pride.  But her style statements are a distraction.  What’s really bugging Trump and the rest of his minions is that she’s a black woman calling him out.

I doubt the Times will point that out, but it’s been the history of this gang that they don’t tolerate challenges well, especially from people they feel superior to, such as women and minorities.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sunday Reading

Speak Up — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker.

Donald Trump’s two immediate predecessors as President, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both gave speeches on Thursday that, if you filled in the blanks, could be heard as criticizing him. Neither one of them mentioned Trump’s name. They both had valuable, even strong things to say. Obama, for example, in a rally in Richmond, Virginia, for Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for governor there, which had been billed as Obama’s return to the campaign trail, talked about wanting someone with “honesty, integrity,” to make decisions, and at one point asked, almost plaintively, “Why are we deliberately trying to misunderstand each other, and be cruel to each other, and put each other down?” Bush, at an event in New York sponsored by the George W. Bush Presidential Center, was less subtle. “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,” he said—though there was no particular conspiracy theory or lie that he named, and no particular liar.

Each man could say, fairly enough, that former Presidents tend to avoid direct criticism of the sitting one, but this rule, in practice, would seem to be a recent one, and not indispensible. (Theodore Roosevelt attacked, belittled, and mounted a primary challenge against a successor whom he had handpicked.) Bush could say that his speech, at a forum on liberty sponsored by the George W. Bush Center, was not the appropriate forum—that it had more reflective goals than narrowly partisan ones. Obama could also have offered a parallel reservation—since the goal was to turn out the vote for Northam without spurring Trump supporters to show up—that his speech had more narrowly partisan goals than reflective ones. But then where and when is the right time and place for something more?

Northam, in his opening remarks, wasn’t shy about saying that his opponent, Ed Gillespie, who has worked as a lobbyist, would be “Donald Trump’s chief lobbyist,” and that he and Trump were “cut from the same cloth.” This is a useful issue, which the Democrats need to practice raising for the midterms next year: Republican leaders have been willing support Trump, whatever they think of him personally or of his tweets. Obama, referring to Gillespie only as “Ralph’s opponent,” said that the ads that Gillespie was running against Northam, who, before going into politics, worked as a doctor at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center while serving in the military, and then as a pediatric neurologist, were “phony and divisive.” One ad is a montage of images of the MS-13 drug cartel, juxtaposing its motto—“Kill, Rape, Control”—with Northam’s support for sanctuary cities. (One shot shows a wall with a mural—a street-style painting of Northam and an MS-13 graffiti tag.) “I don’t think that anybody really thinks that somebody who spent his life performing surgery on soldiers and children suddenly is cozying up to street gangs,” Obama said. “That strains credulity—that sounds like a fib!” True—but maybe it would be helpful to note who else it sounds like? If Obama wants to campaign for his party—and wants his party to present a coherent alternative to Trumpism—he may need to be more than allusive.

This may come at the cost of a certain post-Presidential glow. It is valuable to have someone above the fray, but Obama, whether he likes it or not, is in it. Trump, in his press conference on Monday, portrayed himself as being in an open fight against Obama’s legacy, and he derides and even smears his predecessor at almost every turn. (Obama’s most direct response to this week’s theme, his supposed inattentiveness to military families, came when he mentioned, in relation to Northam’s career, his own frequent visits to Walter Reed.) Obama was so committed, on Thursday, to conveying the message that politics could and should be a sunny place that he cited the aftermath of the violent far-right rallies in Charlottesville as a moment when “the decency and goodwill of the American people came out.” And they did; but President Trump’s affinity for bigotry came out, too.

The elder-statesman stage of life is an appealing one. Bush, in his speech, mentioned his painting hobby. But this is a time when each man’s party needs him, if in different ways: the Democrats to organize their despair and anger, the Republicans to articulate the nature of their doubt and compromises. And others have set the stage for them. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, who is retiring at the end of his current term, recently said that almost everyone in his caucus knows “the volatility we’re dealing with” when it come to Trump, even if they don’t say so. Senator Jeff Flake is one of the few others who have been willing to say so and, in response, he has been subject to attacks from the President, with too few Republicans coming to his defense. John McCain gave a powerful speech in which he talked about “half-baked, spurious nationalism.” That speech didn’t name Trump, either. But McCain, who is gravely ill, has a prerogative to speak beyond the current political moment while he can. McCain has also criticized Trump by name, and put his own name down in a key vote protecting health-care coverage, knowing that the President would lash out at him. Bush echoed McCain’s language, no doubt deliberately, when he said, “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism—forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.” But both Bush and Obama have more room to maneuver; they can take up McCain’s challenge and carry it further, if they want to.

This is particularly urgent because of what the White House has said recently about who does and doesn’t have a right to criticize the President directly. In Trump’s efforts to suppress complaints about the ongoing disaster in Puerto Rico, he has suggested that a Puerto Rican politician who doesn’t appreciate the greatness of the job he is doing is a liar and should be shut out. This view was also on display in the press conference that Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, gave yesterday, in which he lashed out against what he saw as the presumption of a congresswoman who had conveyed a young military widow’s sense that Trump had been callous in a condolence call about the death of her husband. Kelly connected this complaint to the loss of the “sacred” in America, yet he ignored the voice of Johnson’s mother, who also said that she found Trump disrespectful. This suggests that the problem was less protocol than dissent. In Kelly’s litany of lost values, he included this puzzling line: “Gold Star families, I think that left in the Convention over the summer.” In fact, the most notable moment concerning Gold Star families in last year’s conventions came at the Democratic gathering, when Khizr Khan, whose son Humayun was killed in Iraq, spoke out against Trump. The next round of conventions is sooner than one might think. Obama and Bush—if he is invited—might have powerful things to say at them. They’ve at least made a start. But they, more than most, can make their voices heard, and shouldn’t wait until 2020 to use them.

The Darkness Reaching Out — Charles P. Pierce.

This strikes me as a terribly sad moment. Everything and everybody this president* touches goes bad from the inside out. And it doesn’t matter to me whether people volunteered to work for him or not. In Oliver Stone’s Nixon, there’s a great scene on the Key Bridge at night where Ed Harris’s Howard Hunt warns a very tremulous John Dean, played by David Hyde-Pierce. Nixon, Hunt tells Dean, “is the darkness reaching out for the darkness in everyone.” That was true, but this is what we know now: in this, Nixon was a rank amateur. From The New York Times:

Mr. Kelly said that he was stunned to see the criticism, which came from a Democratic congresswoman, Representative Frederica S. Wilson of Florida, after Mr. Trump delivered a similar message to the widow of one of the soldiers killed in Niger. Mr. Kelly said afterward that he had to collect his thoughts by going to Arlington National Cemetery for more than an hour. In a remarkable, somber appearance in the White House briefing room, Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine general whose son Second Lt. Robert Kelly was slain in battle in 2010, said he had told the president what he was told when he got the news.

“He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed,” Mr. Kelly recalled. “He knew what he was getting into by joining that one percent. He knew what the possibilities were, because we were at war.” “I was stunned when I came to work yesterday, and brokenhearted, when I saw what a member of Congress was doing,” he said. “What she was saying, what she was doing on TV. The only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go walk among the finest men or women on this earth.”

That’s how he gets absolved. That’s how he always gets absolved. There’s always somebody willing to step up and push their soul to the middle of the table for him to gamble with and, when he loses, because he always loses at the game of being human, he reneges on the bet because that’s what he always does. Of all the “generals,” Kelly always was the one closest to being a true Trumpian; his tenure at Homeland Security overseeing ICE showed that Kelly at least was sympatico with the president*’s Id-driven hardbar approach to immigration.

And now, by deploying the memory of his son, he’s given his inexcusable boss that boss’s most recent alibi for that boss’s most recent offense against human decency and the dignity of his office. There’s a great sadness in that.

It’s True — Facts from Sarah Hutto.

IN “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD,” the “zombies” were in fact very much alive, as the studio chose not to go through the Zombie Actors Equity. In retaliation, union zombies went on to overtake local drinking establishments, playing fantasy football for hours, dominating the jukebox with college rock and tipping poorly.

STEPHEN KING WAS INSPIRED to write “Pet Sematary” when he found out one of his sons had been sacrificing small animals in the family barn. When Mr. King confronted him, his son transformed into a weird clown who had the power of bringing forth all of Mr. King’s most deeply held insecurities at any given moment, prompting Mr. King to drive off wildly into the Maine woods in his car, which he also believed to be possessed. Soon after, he retired to Florida to write inappropriate children’s books under a different name.

WHILE FILMING “THE NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET,” the director Wes Craven felt that Freddy Kruger’s original costume of just fingernail extensions and a striped sweater wasn’t scary enough, so he decided to permanently melt Robert Englund’s face at the last moment for effect. The actor claims to have been typecast ever since as a result, as well as generally inconvenienced by the whole melted face thing.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK RELEASED “The Birds” in 1963 only to die 17 years later. Though it did not involve birds in any way, his death at age 80 was felt by many to be more than just coincidence.

FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER WAS first cousins with the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.” They shared a congenital defect of stiff joints and were both prescribed an oil can. Only the Tin Man got to use his oil can on set, and as a result was able to go on to star in “The Iron Giant,” “RoboCop” and “Mad Max.” Frankenstein’s monster unfortunately succumbed to his defect as well as the rust caused by his ungalvanized neck bolt.

IMMEDIATELY AFTER FILMING “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” Snoopy was rushed into surgery for a buildup of urethral crystals. He survived the surgery and was put on a low-starch diet, but was never quite the same after.

THE “OCT” PART OF OCTOBER means “eight” in Latin, which is now a dead language because it went skinny dipping at dusk in the lake, unlike French and German, which chose to remain at the bonfire with the rest of the group.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING as ghosts, but there are bugs that crawl into your ear canal while you’re sleeping and emit negative subliminal messages, ever eating away at your sense of well-being.

MOST PEOPLE KNOW more about Jamie Lee Curtis’s bowel issues than they do about Nafta.

THE REAL COSTUMES are the ones we wear the other 364 days of the year.

YOU’RE TURNING into your mother. Or your father. Whichever one is worse, you’re turning into.

CLIMATE CHANGE is real.

PUMPKINS are a fruit.

Doonesbury — Flashback.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Pearl-Clutching Sessions

Watch Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) grill Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III over his four different versions about meeting with the Russians (“The Russian ambassador is a Russian”) and see how he goes all Aunt Pittypat on him.

“I do declare!”

I know it won’t happen, but I would love it if Al Franken ran for president.

Stiffed

Via the Washington Post:

Trump, in a personal phone call to a grieving military father, offered him $25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family, but neither happened, the father said.

Chris Baldridge, the father of Army Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, said that Trump called him at his home in Zebulon, N.C., a few weeks after his 22-year-old son and two fellow soldiers were fatally shot by an Afghan police officer on June 10. Their phone conversation lasted about 15 minutes, Baldridge said, and centered for a time on the father’s struggle with the manner in which his son was killed — shot by someone he was training.

“I said, ‘Me and my wife would rather our son died in trench warfare,’ ” Baldridge said. “I feel like he got murdered over there.”

Trump’s offer of $25,000 adds a dimension to his relationships with Gold Star families, and the disclosure follows questions about how often the president has called or written to the parents or spouses of those killed.

[…]

Trump said this week that he has “called every family of somebody that’s died, and it’s the hardest call to make.” At least 20 Americans have been killed in action since he became commander in chief in January. The Post interviewed the families of 13. About half had received phone calls, they said. The others said they had not heard from the president.

It’s not that he hasn’t called everyone.  It’s that he lied about it and also said that other presidents didn’t call when he did.

This pattern is in keeping with how he did business before he was elected.; he’d refuse to pay bills for services rendered.  He’d make up all sorts of bullshit excuses and wait it out, thinking that the creditors would just give up and he’d get away with it.  He still works that way.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

That’s What He Said

From the New York Post:

Trump told the widow of a Green Beret who died in Niger that the soldier “knew what he signed up for … but when it happens it hurts anyway” during a phone call on Tuesday.

The widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson received the five-minute call from Trump, Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson told The Post, one day after the commander in chief falsely suggested that former President Barack Obama did not phone the families of fallen soldiers.

“They were astonished,” Wilson said about the Florida family’s reaction. “It was almost like saying, ‘You signed up to do this, and if you didn’t want to die, shouldn’t have signed up.’ ”

Wilson said the widow, Myeshia Johnson, spoke to Trump for about five minutes and her only words were “thank you” at the end of the conversation.

“I wanted to curse him out,” Wilson said of Trump. “I asked the family to give me the phone so that I could, but they wouldn’t.”

Sgt. Johnson had been a member of a mentorship program started by the congresswoman.

A White House official later said, “The president’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private.”

Myeshia, who is pregnant with the couple’s third child, collapsed in tears on her husband’s flag-draped coffin at Miami International Airport Tuesday.

What did you honestly expect him to say?  We all know he has the empathy and the sensitivity of a scorpion, so why expect anything different than this?

It would have been better if he hadn’t called at all.

In Keeping With National Character Counts Week

The Senate has confirmed Callista Gingrich as the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

You remember her.  She is the third wife of Newt Gingrich, the woman he was having an affair with while his second wife was in the hospital for cancer treatment.

While that may raise some heat under the collar at the Holy See, she’s a perfect representative of the Trump administration’s character and family values.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

That Was Then

It was just about two years ago when Hillary Clinton spent 11 hours in front of a congressional committee getting grilled about her role in Benghazi! and what about her e-mails and her private accounts and state secrets and ohmigod?

My, how times have changed.

The White House brushed off a bipartisan request from House investigators for details of senior administration officials’ use of private email and encrypted messaging apps for government work, including possible violations of federal record-keeping laws, a letter obtained by POLITICO shows.

In a terse letter to Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — leaders of the House oversight committee — President Donald Trump’s congressional liaison Marc Short declined to indicate whether any administration officials had used personal email accounts or messaging services, despite reports suggesting such communications were common in the West Wing.

“The White House and covered employees endeavor to comply with all relevant laws,” Short wrote in a two-page reply delivered late last week and obtained Monday by POLITICO.

Short’s statement comes despite recent revelations that several senior aides to President Donald Trump routinely used private email addresses and personal devices for government business. Among the current and former aides who POLITICO found at least occasionally relied on private email addresses were Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Gary Cohn and Reince Priebus.

In a similarly brief letter, Short also declined to provide records in response to a separate inquiry by Gowdy and Cummings into the use of costly private air travel by top administration officials.

If this had come from the Obama administration — or any Democrat, for that matter — there would be Tiki torches mounted atop the Rascal scooters of the Tea Party — hey, remember them? — until MSNBC stopped live coverage.

But now it’s *shrug* and “Whatever….”  Like it should have been the first time.

Pathological

From TPM:

The President first told reporters that he had written letters to the families of soldiers who died in the recent attack in Niger and said he would soon call the families as well. He then claimed that his approach was unique, and that not all past presidents made those calls.

“The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls. A lot of them didn’t make calls,” he said. “I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice so generally I would say that I like to call. I’m going to be calling them.”

Former aides to Obama quickly pushed back on Trump’s claim, calling it a “lie.”

[…]

A reporter followed up with Trump later in the press conference, prompting Trump to walk back his claim and say that he “was told” that Obama didn’t call the families of fallen soldiers.

“I don’t know if he did. No, no. I was told that he didn’t often and a lot of presidents don’t. They write letters,” Trump said.

“President Obama I think probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals,” the President continued. “Other presidents did not call. They’d write letters and some presidents didn’t do anything.”

He can’t help lying and blaming other people for his own troubles.  It’s a pattern he’s followed that’s been traceable since he came into public view nearly 50 years ago and still continues, now as automatic and as incontrovertible as closing your eyes when sneezing.

Our system of government has the depth and the flexibility to absorb and recover from terrible shocks.  We made it through the throes of nation-founding and setting out on a new course when the idea of representative democracy founded on a constitution of laws and rights was unheard of.  We survived — barely — a civil war, the scars of which are still visible and not fully healed, and we have made it through misguided and ill-informed leaders and presidents and dealt with them without rancor or retribution.  But this pathological pattern of lying and deliberate deception, of ruling by spite as if each act was to erase the recent past and lay waste to what’s left for no other reason than personal animus, is not something we have had to endure before, and it seems as if our system of governance has little recourse but to let him continue until either madness or nature takes its course.

Simply put, our country was not designed to handle being led by a pathological liar.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Reading

Under The Cloak — Jelani Cobb on how sexual predators keep up appearances.

The great mystery of evil is not that it persists but, rather, that so many of its practitioners wish to do so while being thought of as saints. Consider the fact that such a bizarre, oxymoronic accolade as the International Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples once existed—and that it was created after his plans for agricultural collectivization resulted in the deaths of some four million Ukrainians. Once considered a hallmark of Soviet ineptitude, the starvation now appears, Anne Applebaum writes in her new book, “Red Famine,” to have been the deliberate result of a plan to rid the state of a rebellious peasantry. Or think of Leopold II, the nineteenth-century Belgian king who carefully cultivated a reputation for outsized philanthropy and Christian devotion while overseeing the ruthless subjugation of the population of the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo, and commanding an army that committed massacres and routine disfigurements of locals. These are hypocrisies on the grand brutal scale, but, as the past week has demonstrated once again, there is no shortage of smaller tyrannies and compromised altruism in our times and in our midst.

In a matter of days, Harvey Weinstein went from being heralded as a formidable media titan to being accused as a serial sexual predator. The charges of sexual harassment levelled against him last Thursday in a New York Times report, followed by further allegations in Ronan Farrow’s article published by The New Yorker, five days later, bracketed a period that saw a maelstrom of social-media outrage and Weinstein’s firing from the prestigious film company that he had helped found. There have since been reports that his wife is leaving him, and he has come under investigation by police in New York City and London, and been accused of rape by a fourth woman. Last Saturday, in a statement that appeared to prove that, like Einsteinian space-time, irony is capable of bending to dimensions that we cannot fully grasp, Donald Trump remarked that he had known Weinstein for a long time and “I am not at all surprised.” Game, as the adage says, recognizes game.

What is perhaps more notable than the fact that Weinstein’s alleged transgressions could persist for so long with so little scrutiny is that they coexisted with his reputation as a stalwart of progressive causes. Weinstein’s films generated more than three hundred Oscar nominations and earned Best Actress honors for several women in films that he produced. In any other context, this would be a banner legacy of helping women achieve standing and power in an industry that, as the director Ava DuVernay has said, was “created by men, for men, to tell stories about men.” Last week, it was reported that Weinstein had pledged five million dollars to the University of Southern California film school toward a scholarship fund for female filmmakers. (The school is reportedly rejecting the pledge.) He also championed Hillary Clinton’s bid to be the first female President of the United States, and donated to the campaigns of a number of other women, including Senator Elizabeth Warren. (Both women are now donating the money to charities.)

Weinstein’s palette of giving earned him the standing as a man who was, if not an embodiment of male progressivism, at least someone willing to stand on its periphery. In that way, Weinstein’s public demise recalls Hugh Hefner’s mortal one, last month. Hefner, whose great realization, as my colleague Adam Gopnik has pointed out, was that virtually anything, even pornography, can be mainstreamed in America if it is paired with a measure of upper-class aspiration, contained contradictions similar to Weinstein’s, though they were a great deal more transparent. Critics maintained that Hefner innovated the tradition of female objectification and hijacked the idea of women’s sexual autonomy for his own agenda of furthering male prerogatives. His defenders claimed that he “empowered” women—a vague term that can be deployed to camouflage the fact that one group of people is getting rich while the “empowered” group is getting hustled—and was a strong advocate of women’s reproductive rights and of civil rights. The reality, though, is that it’s possible, maybe even typical, for all these things to be true.

It’s not uncommon for people to tangentially benefit groups that they’re simultaneously exploiting. Note that of the boldface names recently associated with charges of sexual harassment or assault—Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Weinstein—every one of them could, and some did, argue that they’d hired and promoted women in their professional enterprises. None of this obviates the possibility that any of them harassed or assaulted women in those same enterprises.

It’s striking that a former temporary employee at the Weinstein Company reported to Farrow that Weinstein had said that “he’d never had to do anything like Bill Cosby”—apparently a reference to the fact that some of Cosby’s accusers have said that he drugged them prior to assaulting them—though otherwise there are distinct similarities in the accounts of how both men used their positions of power against vulnerable women whose careers they purported to help. Another commonality extends to their relationships with philanthropy.

Bill Cosby was particularly hailed for his largesse in the nineteen-eighties, when he paid college tuition for students in need who wrote to him, created scholarships, and gave broadly to causes connected to African-Americans. The donation that cemented his status as a minor deity among African-Americans came when he and his wife, Camille, donated twenty million dollars to Spelman College, in Atlanta, in 1988. At the time, it was the largest single donation ever given to a historically black college. The fact that Spelman is also a women’s college seemed to certify Cosby as a man whose credentials as a humanitarian were beyond impeachment. (Amid the swirling controversy over Cosby’s behavior, the college terminated a professorship endowed in his name and returned related funds in 2015.)

One view is that philanthropy can operate as a kind of penance mechanism. The individual who recognizes that he has done wrong attempts to make good in equal measure, to place a thumb on the scale of karma. This kind of moral licensing—do-gooding to offset wrongdoing—is not unusual. We just recognized the annual awarding of an international peace prize created by a man who grew rich from the sales of dynamite and the attendant war munitions. Many of the great name-brand foundations were created in honor of individuals whose personal character or wealth was connected to deeply morally compromising actions.

Yet this is not quite what seems to be happening here. Both Weinstein and Cosby gave publicly and visibly, and that inevitably created situations which also left their beneficiaries vulnerable. When Fareed Zakaria interviewed Hillary Clinton earlier this week, she denied any knowledge of Weinstein’s alleged history of predation, which prompted Anthony Bourdain, who is currently in a relationship with one of Weinstein’s accusers, to suggest on Twitter that Clinton’s claim strained credulity. (Clinton seems fated to be in close proximity to men who both assist her career and undermine it through their alleged sexual impropriety.)

A Weinstein Company executive told Farrow that she was particularly disturbed that Weinstein seemed to use female employees as “a honeypot to lure these women in, to make them feel safe.” In that light, the philanthropy can be seen as a sort of honeypot scheme, in which a concern for social issues lulls people into seeing only one side of the giver. In some cases, charity doesn’t contradict monstrosity. It enables it.

Governing By Disruption — Dan Balz in the Washington Post.

Nine months into his first term, President Trump is perfecting a style of leadership commensurate with his campaign promise to disrupt business as usual in Washington. Call it governing by cattle prod.

It is a tactic borne of frustration and dissatisfaction. Its impact has been to overload the circuits of government — from Capitol Hill to the White House to the Pentagon to the State Department and beyond. In the face of his own unhappiness, the president is trying to raise the pain level wherever he can.

The permanent campaign has long been a staple of politics in this country, the idea that running for office never stops and that decisions are shaped by what will help one candidate or another, one party or another, win the next election.

President Trump has raised this to a high and at times destructive art. He cares about ratings, praise and success. Absent demonstrable achievements, he reverts to what worked during the campaign, which is to depend on his own instincts and to touch the hot buttons that roused his voters in 2016. As president, he has never tried seriously to reach beyond that base.

The past week was a perfect example of the Trump school of governing. Start with the end of the week. In rapid succession between late Thursday and midday Friday, he took steps to break the Affordable Care Act and then potentially end the Iran nuclear agreement.

These moves will earn him accolades from the people who supported his candidacy last year, which might be the principal objective. But neither action solved a problem. It will be left to others to do that, if they can. In a few hours, the nation and the world got a double dose of what Trump’s frustrations can mean in terms of their impact on important issues.

Those were only two of the moments that defined the president’s disruptive style of leadership in just one week. It was, after all, only a week ago that the president started a Twitter war with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). The tweets resulted in Corker firing off a snarky tweet in return and then bluntly calling out the president’s character and fitness in a New York Times interview in which he warned that the president’s recklessness could result in World War III.

It was also within that week that the president, with an assist from Vice President Pence, escalated and perhaps seized the advantage in his feud with professional football players who kneel during the national anthem. Amid outrage from his critics, Trump has managed to turn an issue that once was about police violence in minority communities into a cultural battle about patriotism, the flag and pride in the military. His critics are now on the defensive.

The week saw one other example of Trump’s governing by pique. Hours before the steps he took on health care, he lashed out again at critics of his handling of the hurricane cleanup in Puerto Rico, tweeting that he would cut back the federal response. Like many of his tweets, it is no doubt an idle threat, but one nonetheless designed to give a jolt of displeasure to the status quo.

Trump’s Twitter feed is an obsession, both for a president who finds release through 140-character blasts at opponents or enemies and for a media trained to jump at the moment the tweets light up smartphones. But his actions on health care and Iran were reminders that the most consequential steps are those in which he is attempting to reverse course on policies without a clear sense of a path to success.

There’s little doubt that part of the president’s motivation is to undo what former president Barack Obama did. He campaigned against Obamacare, although his prescriptions for what should replace it lacked consistency or, for that matter, clear alternatives. He railed against the Iran nuclear deal and now is trying to undo it despite the fact that all relevant parties say the Iranians are adhering to its terms.

Trump prefers to look past that history. He wants his supporters to believe that he is trying to fulfill his campaign promises in the face of resistance from entrenched powers. If it doesn’t get done, pin the blame on others. It’s still the president vs. the swamp.

The president asks much — of the Congress and of his own team. Congress is flailing, and now the president has added to the burdens on the backs of legislators. Lawmakers still must deal with funding the government and acting on the debt ceiling. Trump also wants a big tax bill, as do Republicans, and the work on that has been going on for months without any major action.

Beyond that, Trump has tossed the issue of the “dreamers” into the laps of lawmakers, with a clock ticking on action. He made a tentative deal with Democrats, but there is disagreement on the terms. So far there’s no sign of an accord. Now he has decided to force Congress to act on whether to fund the insurance subsidies that help lower-income Americans purchase health insurance. That’s another way he’s trying to bring the Democrats to the table, but the potential political costs to his party in 2018 could be significant.

The policy initiative aimed at Iran has some merit. The Obama administration tried to say that the nuclear agreement should be seen as a separate issue from other bad actions by the Iranians and that making the deal to block the Iranian path to nuclear weapons didn’t lessen concerns about the funding of terrorism and other activities.

Trump is trying to ratchet up attention to those problems but by threatening to walk away from the nuclear agreement has created a rift with U.S. partners to that pact that will necessarily complicate prospects for overall success.

But there is another element related to the Iran initiative that should not be overlooked, which is the danger of a nuclear confrontation with North Korea. That is a far more dangerous situation at the moment and one that requires constant attention from the president’s national security team. Foreign policy experts worry that by opening up a new confrontation with Iran, the administration may be stretching its capacity to handle both matters with the patience, skill and delicacy they require. Presidential tweets aimed at Kim Jong Un have not and probably will not resolve the North Korea standoff.

The president has proved himself capable and willing to start controversies and policy confrontations. That’s what being a disrupter is all about. But there is more to the presidency than initiating conflict, and on that measure, Trump has much to prove.

Final Approach — Pilot Mark Vanhoenacker remembers the 747.

How much do I, a Boeing 747 pilot, love the airplane that I fly? It’s tough, and maybe a little embarrassing, to answer. But as the iconic jet’s eventual retirement draws closer, I am surely not the only 747 fan who’s taking some very long flights down memory lane.

To share with you the jumbo dimensions of my 747 obsession, I could describe my wedding cake (hint: it had wings of marzipan, and four chocolate engines). I could share my Twitter moniker, @markv747. Or I could go farther back, to the day when I, an awkward 14-year-old, stood with my mom and dad atop the Pan Am terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and stared in wonder at the towering tail fins of the 747s all around us, as proud and promising to my wide-opened eyes as masts in a harbor.

I could tell you pretty much everything about my first passenger flight on a 747, a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight to Amsterdam, on June 25, 1988 (in 33A — a window seat, of course). And I’d certainly describe the marvelous night of Dec. 12, 2007, when I first piloted a 747, for British Airways, the airline I now fly for, from London to Hong Kong. That night the majesty of the 747 made the experience of takeoff new again, as joyful as it had been on my first flying lesson years earlier, when a steely-eyed instructor and I strapped ourselves into a Cessna, rumbled down the runway of my hometown airport in Pittsfield, Mass., and lifted into an autumn-blue Berkshire sky.

Recent news reports have suggested that the last 747s in passenger service with U.S. airlines will be retired this year. It’s worth noting that other 747s — including refurbished, newer and cargo versions — will fly for years to come. New passenger 747s took flight as recently as this summer, and cargo models continue to roll off the assembly line. Nevertheless, as many 747 pilots start to ponder which aircraft we’ll fly next (personally, I am drawn to the sleek lines and “Star Trek”-caliber cockpit of the Boeing 787), it is a good time to reflect on the outsize importance of the plane known as “Queen of the Skies” — not just to its most passionate and geekiest, pilots, but to billions of passengers and to the world it helped change.

For those who grew up under 747-crossed skies, it can be hard to appreciate how revolutionary the jet’s dimensions were when it first (and improbably, to some observers) got airborne in 1969. The inaugural model, the 747-100, was the world’s first wide-bodied airliner. The jet weighed hundreds of thousands of pounds more than its predecessors (the Boeing 707, for example), and carried more than twice as many passengers. Born in a factory so large that clouds once formed within it, the 747-100 was nearly twice as long as the Wright brothers’ entire first flight.

The aviation historian Martin Bowman has written that during the 747’s first takeoff, from Paine Field, in Everett, Wash., in February 1969, the blast of its engines knocked over a photographer. Indeed, the jet’s elephantine proportions were both a gift and a challenge to the travel industry. Peter Walter, who retired in 2011 after 47 years in ground-based aviation jobs, shared with me his memories of the day the 747 first came to the airport in Freeport, Bahamas. “The aircraft did not look all that big on the runway, but once it was on the ramp it looked enormous,” he wrote. The mobile steps that had serviced a previous generation of airliners were too short, so crews stacked one set of steps atop another in order to reach the lofty doors of the new leviathan.

For pilots, crew members and passengers who love the 747, it’s easy to forget that the airliner was first of all a business proposition, one that aimed to harness economies of scale and a raft of new technologies to cut the seat-per-mile cost of air travel by about 30 percent. Yet on a planet that previously only the richest could cross at will, the 747’s most lasting impact may have been on everyday notions of distance and difference. Having inaugurated the “age of mass intercontinental travel,” wrote the scholar Vaclav Smil, the 747 “became a powerful symbol of global civilization.” The writer J.G. Ballard compared the jet to nothing less than the Parthenon — each the embodiment of “an entire geopolitical world-view.” Juan Trippe, Pan Am’s legendary founder, called the 747 “a great weapon for peace, competing with intercontinental missiles for mankind’s destiny.”

The hopes and fears of the era that gave us the 747 can seem distant. Nor is it easy, in the age of the internet, to feel the same awe at the 747’s ability to shrink and connect the world. Looking back, it’s perhaps enough to marvel at the billions of reunions, migrations, exchanges and collaborations of all manner that were made possible, or at least more affordable, by this aircraft. Today, the equivalent of around half the planet’s population has flown on a 747. The jets have also served in firefighting, military and humanitarian roles. In 1991, as part of Operation Solomon, about 1,100 Ethiopian Jews boarded the 747 that would take them to Israel. Never before had an aircraft carried so many passengers — including, by the time the jet touched down, several babies born midair.

If the 747’s place in history is assured, so too, it seems, is its cultural stature. The jet remains a go-to synonym for aerial enormity, one that a “Game of Thrones” director recently deployed to suggest the dimensions of a dragon. The 747 also endures as a symbol of speed, escape and, frankly, sexiness, one that — along with the pleasingly palindromic rhythm of its number-name — has appealed in particular to singers. A 747 playlist might include Prince (“you are flying aboard the seduction 747”); Earth, Wind and Fire (“just move yourself and glide like a 747”); and Joni Mitchell, who gave perhaps my favorite tribute to 747s (“…over geometric farms.”)

The jet also seems certain to be remembered as an icon of modern design. “This is one of the great ones,” said Charles Lindbergh of the aircraft that many consider to be uniquely good-looking. I am surely not the first to speculate that the jet’s distinctive hump (fashioned to facilitate cargo-loading in a future that many expected to be dominated by supersonic passenger jets) suggests the graceful head of an avian archetype. Frequently, looking up from my cockpit paperwork, I’ll spot several passengers in the terminal photographing the very jet in which I am sitting. I often see even senior 747 pilots disembark the aircraft that they’ve just spent 11 hours flying to Cape Town or Los Angeles, and then pause, turn around and photograph it.

Indeed, the jet may be most esteemed by those who have been lucky enough to fly it. The very first to do so, the test pilot Jack Waddell, described it as “a pilot’s dream” and a “two-finger airplane” — one that can be flown with just the forefinger and thumb on the control wheel; it is hard to imagine higher praise for such an enormous aircraft. Personally, I find the aircraft to be both smooth and maneuverable, a joy to fly and to land.

Like every 747 pilot since, Mr. Waddell also took a keen interest in how the plane looked. Remarkably, he did so even as he was piloting the new jet on that first-ever flight. “What kind of a looking ship is this from out there, Paul?” he said over the radio to Paul Bennett, a pilot in the “chase” aircraft that was following the newborn 747 through the skies of the Pacific Northwest. The reply from Mr. Bennett echoes through aviation history: “It’s very good looking, Jack. Fantastic!”

Many 747 pilots feel the same, and are pleased, but not surprised, to hear that the British architect Norman Foster once named the aircraft his favorite building of the 20th century. Now, well into the 21st century, I asked Mr. Foster for an update. The 747 “still moves me now as it did then,” he told me in an email. “Perhaps with the passage of time, and in an age of ‘look-alikes,’ even more so.”

Mr. Foster has plenty of company. At the start of my first book, a sort of love letter to my job as a pilot, I invited readers to send me their favorite window seat photographs. Many also wrote to share their particular passion for the 747. One reader detailed his first 747 flight, on Alitalia, bound for Rome in 1971. “I have been hooked ever since,” he said. Another, Andrew Flowers, a 42-year-old South African writer who lives in Helsinki, wrote that the 747s he saw as a child in Cape Town stood for what “I wanted most in the world: a way to Europe, to adventure, to freedom.”

When Mr. Foster emailed me, he also attached a transcript of remarks he made about the 747 in a 1991 BBC documentary. “I suppose it’s the grandeur, the scale; it’s heroic, it’s also pure sculpture,” he said then of the jet. “It does not really need to fly, it could sit on the ground, it could be in a museum.”

Today the first 747 is indeed in a museum — the Museum of Flight in Seattle. When I last visited, I couldn’t stay long. (Inevitably, I had a flight to catch.) But if you see me there another time — perhaps in a few decades when I myself am retired, with more time, I hope, to sit on benches and listen to Joni Mitchell — come say hello. I’ll tell you how much I loved this plane, and how sorry I was that my parents did not live to join me on one of my flights. Perhaps you’ll tell me about the first time you ever saw a 747, or flew on one, and together we’ll marvel at how it towers above us even at its lowest altitude, even as it rests on the world.

Doonesbury — Ink now, regret later.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

So Funny I Forgot To Laugh

When a challenge falls flat, the way to recover is to try to suggest it was all a joke, right?

Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried Tuesday to smooth over tensions in their relationship during a White House lunch after the president proposed an “IQ tests” faceoff with his top diplomat, who earlier had privately called Trump a “moron” and disparaged his grasp of foreign policy.

In an interview with Forbes magazine published Tuesday morning, Trump fired a shot at Tillerson over the “moron” revelation, first reported by NBC News and confirmed by several other news organizations, including The Washington Post.

“I think it’s fake news,” Trump said, “but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later insisted that Trump’s comment was “a joke and nothing more than that.”

The problem with Trump is that you can never tell when he’s making a joke.  He has no discernible sense of humor, so what’s the basis of comparison?

This, however, is not a joke.