Monday, August 14, 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Reading

From Inside the House — Josh Marshall.

The violence of the day appears to be coming to an end. But not before one woman died in the car attack on anti-racist counter-protestors which left many others wounded – some with injuries that appear life-threatening. The other drama unfolding through the day has been the reaction or lack of reaction from President Trump.

Over the course of the afternoon, President Trump has spoken or tweeted a number of generally bland statements condemning violence and hatred. But he has conspicuously refused to condemn the white supremacists and nazis who most Americans would easily recognize as the bad guys in this drama. In one particularly egregious example he condemned hatred and violence “on many sides” – in other words, explicitly equating the white nationalists and nazis with those who oppose them.

Over the course of the afternoon, a number of Republicans have condemned the marchers. Some actually condemned Trump for failing to do so. Late this afternoon, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee tweeted a generic but clear condemnation of the white supremacist protestors. It made me think, “Even Mike Huckabee, one of the awfullest people in public life, today can manage this.”

But that reminded me of the fact that the white supremacists and nazis have actually long been something of a gift to politicians who are if not racists themselves then entirely indifferent to racism as a political force in American society. By making themselves the public face of ‘racism’, these morons create an easy enemy to pivot off of. Those politicians get to pay lip service to the notional anti-racist public consensus by denouncing racism in its most avowed and buffoonish form. As I said, in political terms, it’s less an obligation than a gift, an out. After all, who can’t denounce jerks running around with swastikas on their arms or chanting “white power”?

Who can’t? Well, Donald Trump can’t.

Through today I’ve heard various politicians, journalists and public people asking Trump some version of, “Why can’t you denounce this?”

We’ve been here for … what? Almost two years? I understand the impulse. But at a certain point, we’re simply being chumps to keep asking. We know. If we don’t, we should. I’m tempted to say we have no excuse. There’s not. But there is some explanation. We have become as a people, or at least our establishment voices, like family members in the home of an abuser, unable to face the obvious reality of our situation because it is in the nature of living with an abuser that it warps your reality. As I wrote last October, “one of the greatest damages is that we’ve all come to see Trump’s chaotic emotions, violence and tirades as perhaps half normal. I had a hard time divining whether his angry bluster and transgressive antics in the debate would have any effect because we’ve all become so used to it. Like family members living in the home of an abuser our sense of what is normal starts to get blunted and deformed under the weight of abuse. The whole country is damaged in a way that won’t soon lift under the best of circumstances.”

Our sense of reality has been warped. People who refuse to condemn nazis and white supremacists even in the most clear-cut cases – again and again, month after month and year after year – do so because they support those people. This may sound extreme but it is obvious. We are like a woman who can’t admit her husband is an abuser. ‘I provoked him.’ ‘He’s got stress at work.’ ‘It was just one time.’ ‘He said he was sorry.’ You want to shake someone like this to open their eyes and see the reality of the situation. But living with someone with a damaged psyche has in turn damaged them. It is hard to emerge from.

Trump refuses to condemn these people because he recognizes them as supporters and he supports them. That’s the truth. Anything else is denial.

How can this even surprise us? His top advisor ran the publication that courted and popularized the beliefs and actions of these same people. It’s all out in the open. Don’t ask why he can’t condemn them. We know.

The calls are coming from inside the house.

The Bigotocracy — Michael Eric Dyson.

The late, great Gore Vidal said that we live in “The United States of Amnesia.” Our fatal forgetfulness flares when white bigots come out of their closets, emboldened by the tacit cover they’re given by our president. We cannot pretend that the ugly bigotry unleashed in the streets of Charlottesville, Va., this weekend has nothing to do with the election of Donald Trump.

In attendance was white separatist David Duke, who declared that the alt-right unity fiasco “fulfills the promises of Donald Trump.” In the meantime, Mr. Trump responded by offering false equivalencies between white bigots and their protesters. His soft denunciations of hate ring hollow when he has white nationalist advisers like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller whispering in his ear.

Such an ungainly assembly of white supremacists rides herd on political memory. Their resentment of the removal of public symbols of the Confederate past — the genesis of this weekend’s rally — is fueled by revisionist history. They fancy themselves the victims of the so-called politically correct assault on American democracy, a false narrative that helped propel Mr. Trump to victory. Each feeds on the same demented lies about race and justice that corrupt true democracy and erode real liberty. Together they constitute the repulsive resurgence of a virulent bigotocracy.

This bigotocracy overlooks fundamental facts about slavery in this country: that blacks were stolen from their African homeland to toil for no wages in American dirt. When black folk and others point that out, white bigots are aggrieved. They are especially offended when it is argued that slavery changed clothes during Reconstruction and got dressed up as freedom, only to keep menacing black folk as it did during Jim Crow. The bigotocracy is angry that slavery is seen as this nation’s original sin. And yet they remain depressingly and purposefully ignorant of what slavery was, how it happened, what it did to us, how it shaped race and the air and space between white and black folk, and the life and arc of white and black cultures.

They cling to a faded Southern aristocracy whose benefits — of alleged white superiority, and moral and intellectual supremacy — trickled down to ordinary whites. If they couldn’t drink from the cup of economic advantage that white elites tasted, at least they could sip what was left of a hateful ideology: at least they weren’t black. The renowned scholar W.E.B. Du Bois called this alleged sense of superiority the psychic wages of whiteness. President Lyndon Baines Johnson once argued, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

We have a bigoted billionaire-cum-president who has done precious little for the white working class whose resentment fueled his rise. They have emptied their ethical and economic pockets in support of him even though he turned his back on them the moment he entered the Oval Office. The only remnant of his leadership they have to hold on to is the folklore of white nationalist sentiment, and xenophobic passion, that offer them psychic comfort if little financial stability.

It is disheartening for black folk to see such a vile and despicable replay of history. Facing this unadorned hate tears open wounds from atrocities that we have confronted throughout our history. It is depressing to explain to our children that what we confronted as children may be the legacy they bequeath to their children as well.

It is more dispiriting still to realize that the government of our land, at least in the present administration, has shown little empathy toward victims of white bigotry, and indeed, has helped to spread the paralyzing virus of hatred, by turning a blind eye to what is done in their name.

Now is the time for every decent white American to prove he or she loves this country by actively speaking out against the scourge this bigotocracy represents. If such heinous behavior is met by white silence, it will only cement the perception that as long as most white folk are not immediately at risk, then all is relatively well. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could more clearly declare the moral bankruptcy of our country.

Who Will Stop the Madness? — John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

In this mad Presidency, there have been many mad days, but Friday may have been the maddest yet. It began in the morning, with Donald Trump issuing yet another war threat on Twitter. “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” Trump wrote. “Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” Later in the day, during a photo op at the President’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, a reporter asked Trump what his tweet meant. “Well, I think it is pretty obvious,” he replied. “We are looking at that very carefully, and I hope they are going to fully understand the gravity of what I said, and what I said is what I mean. Those words are very, very easy to understand.” The reporter asked if any progress was being made on the diplomatic front. Trump wouldn’t be drawn out, but he did say, “We’ll either be very, very successful quickly, or we’re going to be very, very successful in a different way, quickly.”

In the wake of Trump’s declaration, on Tuesday, that North Korea faced “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued to threaten the United States, Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, and James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, having been making efforts to clarify that what matters are North Korea’s actions, not its words. On Friday, Trump undid those efforts. “This man will not get away with what he is doing, believe me,” he said, referring to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. “And if he utters one threat, in the form of an overt threat—which, by the way, he has been uttering for years, and his family has been uttering for years—or if he does anything with respect to Guam, or any place else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast.”

Trump wasn’t done. After a meeting with Tillerson; Nikki Haley, the Ambassador to the United Nations; and H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser, he took more questions from the press. Once again, he stressed the dire consequences that North Korea would suffer if anything happened to Guam. He also insisted that he and Tillerson were “totally on the same page.” Tillerson, standing beside the President and playing the good soldier, nodded in agreement and said it would take “a combined message” to achieve a favorable solution. One reporter asked Trump what he could say to Americans who are on edge after all the threatening talk. “Nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump,” he replied, referring to himself in the third person.

He appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself, and why not? The eyes of the world were upon him, and nobody had asked him about the Russian investigation. To the Narcissist-in-Chief, that is a twofer. Moreover, he had an adversary in his sights, and nothing makes him happier than that. When he was asked about a statement on North Korean state television that referred to the United States as “no more than a lump that we can beat to a jelly anytime,” Trump replied, “Let me hear others saying it, because when you say that I don’t know what you are referring to, and who is making the statement. But let me hear Kim Jong-un say it, O.K.? He’s not saying it. He hasn’t been saying much for the last three days.”

It is now clear that Trump has decided to turn a nuclear-weapons crisis that could conceivably lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of people into a personal feud of the sort he has carried out with Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, John McCain, Megyn Kelly, Hillary Clinton, and countless others. And Trump had some more warmongering left in him. A reporter asked about the U.S. reaction to the situation in Venezuela, where the regime of Nicolás Maduro is cracking down on opponents and redrafting the constitution to give itself more power. Rather than letting Tillerson or Haley, who was also standing alongside him, field this question, Trump said, “We have many options for Venezuela. And by the way, I am not going to rule out a military option. . . . We are all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering, and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”

If you haven’t seen the looks on the faces of Tillerson and Haley, the country’s two top diplomats, as Trump made this statement, you simply have to watch the video. Somehow, they had steeled themselves to look supportive as Trump further ratcheted up his rhetoric toward Kim and North Korea. But nothing, surely, could have prepared them for their boss suggesting that he might be looking for a second military adventure, this one in Latin America.

So what did it all add up to? Some observers said it was just Trump being Trump. “Increasingly I think the equilibrium we’re all headed towards is everyone inside the US gov and outside just ignoring what POTUS says,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweeted.

It would be very comforting if we could all ignore Trump and treat his Presidency the same way he seems to treat it: as a personal odyssey or a reality-television show. Unfortunately, however, he is the Commander-in-Chief of the largest, most deadly military machine that the world has ever seen—it has close to two thousand deployed nuclear warheads—and many of the checks and balances that constrain him in other areas of government don’t apply to starting a war.

Appearing on CNN after Trump’s press conference, Leon Panetta, who has more experience in the top echelons of the U.S. government than practically anybody else in Washington, injected a much-needed dose of reality into the situation. “I understand that this is a President who comes out of the development industry in New York City, comes out of reality TV. I think he kind of prides himself that talking is kind of his business, and talking is the way he appeals to his base, and he’s been able to win election to President because of his ability to talk,” Panetta said. “But when you are President of the United States, and when you are Commander-in-Chief, this is not reality TV. This is a situation where you can’t just talk down to everybody in the world and expect that somehow you can bully them to do what you think is right. These are leaders in these countries. They worry about their countries, they worry about what is going to happen. And they take the President of the United States literally.”

We should never lose sight of the fact that Trump, before he entered the White House, had never held any position of public responsibility. Panetta, who went to Washington in 1977 as a Democratic congressman from California, has served as the Defense Secretary, the head of the C.I.A., the White House chief of staff, and the director of the Office of Management and Budget. “Words count,” he went on. “And I just think that the President needs to understand, and the people around the President need to make clear, that when we are facing the kind of crisis that we are facing now, this is not a time for loose talk. It is a time for serious strategizing as to what steps we have to take in order to make sure we find a peaceful solution, and not wind up in a nuclear war.”

There are some serious and responsible people around Trump. They include McMaster, Tillerson, Mattis, and John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff. But the evidence of this week strongly suggests that Trump is beyond being educated or managed or controlled. He is truly a rogue President.

In a better political world, the senior members of Trump’s Cabinet would be talking to each other and taking legal advice this weekend about the 25th Amendment, which provides for the removal of a President who is unable or unfit to carry out his duties—which in the modern day include the awesome responsibility of deciding whether to use nuclear weapons. “The president alone has the authority to launch nuclear weapons, the only restraint being the advice of senior advisers who might be present at the time of crisis, and Donald Trump has shown repeated contempt for informed and wise counsel,” Gordon Humphrey, a Republican former senator for New Hampshire, wrote this week in a letter to his current congressional representatives. “He is sick of mind, impetuous, arrogant, belligerent and dangerous.”

Since Trump’s Cabinet is highly unlikely to heed Humphrey’s warning, the responsibility to restrain Trump falls on Congress. Under the War Powers Act of 1973, it is Congress, not the President, who holds the power to declare war. If Washington were functioning properly, the House and Senate would have been recalled from their summer recesses this week to discuss and debate Trump’s repeated threats. So far, though, the leaders of both parties have remained ominously quiet as Trump’s rhetoric has intensified. Indeed, about the only reaction has come in the form of a letter signed by sixty-four liberal House Democrats, led by Michigan’s John Conyers, condemning Trump’s “fire and fury” threat.

As many commentators, myself included, have pointed out before, Trump’s Presidency represents an unprecedented challenge to the American system of government. Up until this point, some parts of the system—the courts, the federal civil service, the media, and other institutions of civil society—have withstood the challenge pretty well. But it was always likely that the biggest test would come in the area of national security, where the institutional constraints on the President are less effective. Now, it looks like the moment of truth is upon us, and so far the response has been alarmingly weak. Unless that changes, Trump might well drag the country into a catastrophic war.

Dump Them — Jennifer Wright in Harper’s Bazaar.

With every week, life under the Trump administration becomes more unnerving. The administration is trying to “phase out” the 15,000 trans people in the military, Trump is basically threatening nuclear war with North Korea and Mueller is tapping a Grand Jury to look into the Russia connection.

We live in interesting times, and by interesting, I mean on the very verge of the second dark ages. Or, at least, some people believe that. Other people believe everything is fine, somehow.

Don’t ask me how.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is starting to create a rift, not just between different parts of the country, but between couples. In Florida, a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader and the top prosecutor in Palm Beach County reportedly split, in part because the wife claimed that as “a staunch Republican and supporter of President Donald Trump… she felt increasingly isolated in the marriage.” Deidre Ball, who recently filed for divorce from Trump’s former communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, also reportedly did so in part because she was “not a fan of Trump.”

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of articles with advice on topics like “How To Survive Being Married to A Trump Supporter.”

They offer advice like “We look deeper than the arguments. We look at each other… at the passionate, committed humans that we are and we find gratitude in being married to someone who cares so much. When the fire of the argument subsides and we are left with only the smoldering embers, we kiss.”

What if you find yourself… not wanting to kiss someone who believes that it is cool for the President to think women should be grabbed by the pussy?

The woman who is kissing her husband over the smoldering argument embers also remarks, “How could I explain how vulnerable I felt? I couldn’t. But I tried. And he tried to understand. And we went round and round in circles. Him, unable to see the human element of my arguments.”

God, that sounds exhausting.

I’m going to save you three years of therapy where you and your partner try to “agree to disagree.”

If your partner is a Trump supporter and you are not, just divorce them.

You do not need to try to make it work with someone who thinks of people as “illegals.” Just divorce them. Those divorced couples made the right choice.

This may not always be possible. Some people may not have the financial or practical means available to get a divorce, but if you do have those means? DIVORCE THEM.

Because if one member of a couple believes the President should endorse police brutality and the other member believes that is balls-to-the-wallinsane, that is not a disagreement you’re going to find common ground on. You can use all the measured voices and positive words you want. It’s not a question of disagreement about the most effective way to load the dishwasher, or even whether trickle-down economics works. Those are opinions that might be altered by showing compelling factual evidence.

Supporting Trump at this point does not indicate a difference of opinions. It indicates a difference of values.

Values aren’t like hobbies or interests. They don’t change over time, and they more or less define who you are. Trump’s administration may have been, for some of us, a time when what we value has become much clearer to us.

So, while you may be able to convince your partner that there is a more efficient way to load the dishwasher, you will never be able to convince them that they need to care about people they are fundamentally uninterested in caring about.

Couples don’t need to agree on everything. Disagreement on some issues helps broaden our perspectives. But most successful couples do seem to have moral compasses that point in roughly the same direction. That’s because one of the best things about being in a relationship is having someone who helps you go out and live your values in the world.

If you saddle yourself with someone who fundamentally does not share your values—and at this point, it seems fair to say that people on different ends of the political spectrum have wildly different values—you’re going to be unbelievably, achingly lonely.

So, just skip it. Get a divorce. It’s clearly not ideal—no one goes into a marriage planning to get divorced—but people get divorced for a great many reasons. “My partner’s views are morally repulsive to me” is one of the best reasons I can think of.

And if anyone says that this demeans that sanctity of marriage, well, just remind them the President they love is on wife number three.

He’s Running — Andy Borowitz on Mike Pence’s plans.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Vice-President Mike Pence is seriously considering running for President in 1820, various sources confirmed over the weekend.

According to several prominent Republican donors, Pence is already laying the groundwork for such a campaign, outlining what he believes are the most serious challenges facing 1820 America.

In a conference call with donors last week, Pence reportedly said that, as President, his No. 1 priority would be to repeal and replace the Bill of Rights.

He offered a sneak preview of a potential 1820 stump speech, in which he unleashed a brutal attack on the Bill of Rights’ author, James Madison, and called for the development of the telegraph key.

According to Harland Dorrinson, a donor who was on the conference call, “Mike believes he’s the right man to bring America into the nineteenth century, just like he did for Indiana.”

But minutes after the rumors were reported, the Vice-President pushed back, putting quill to parchment to call the reports “bunkum and balderdash.”

“America already has the perfect man to lead it in 1820, and that man is Donald J. Trump,” Pence wrote.

In Washington, some political insiders also threw cold water on the Pence-in-1820 talk, arguing that the timing was not right. “Pence’s best shot was 1620,” one said.

 Doonesbury — Booking.con.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Back To This Again

The zombie apocalypse returns.

Nine months after the presidential election was decided, a federal judge is ordering the State Department to try again to find emails Hillary Clinton wrote about the Benghazi attack.

U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta ruled that the State Department had not done enough to try to track down messages Clinton may have sent about the assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound on Sept. 11, 2012 — an attack that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

In response to Freedom of Information Act requests, State searched the roughly 30,000 messages Clinton turned over to her former agency at its request in December 2014 after officials searching for Benghazi-related records realized she had used a personal email account during her four-year tenure as secretary.

State later searched tens of thousands of emails handed over to the agency by three former top aides to Clinton: Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills and Jake Sullivan. Finally, State searched a collection of emails the FBI assembled when it was investigating Clinton’s use of the private account and server.

I’m waiting for the subpoena to run a DNA test on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress just one more time.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Target Practice

The NRA got what it wanted: Republicans in control of all three branches of government.  But it’s actually bad for their business.  Without a president who supported gun law reform, they would seem to have no one to rail against and use as their fund raiser.

Oh, but there is one fat target left: the media, of course.

Data from the FBI gives us a hint of why.  Since January 2009, when Obama took office, 46 of the first seven months of the year have seen increases over the prior year’s gun sales, as roughly measured by the number of federal background checks performed. (This isn’t a precise metric, but it’s a decent estimate.) That means that, in 17 of those months, there were fewer background checks relative to that month the year before.

Six of those 17 declines happened over the first seven months of 2017.

Part of this is certainly that the first seven months of 2016 saw a big increase in background checks relative to 2015, itself in part a function of the looming threat of a Hillary Clinton presidency. But even after the big increases in 2013 that followed the Sandy Hook shooting (and Obama’s reelection), sales were up in March of 2014 relative to the prior year.

The goal of the NRA isn’t directly to affect gun sales, but there’s a clearly a correlation between how urgently people want to buy guns and how urgently they feel the need to give to LaPierre’s group.

That means that there needs to be a threat that necessitates both gun sales and NRA memberships. With Obama gone and Clinton back home in Chappaqua, that role is now filled by the “violent left” and the media. Since the violent left is a bit nebulous, it seems that the media will enjoy the majority of the NRA’s focus.

The “violent left” is a dog-whistle; it really means anyone who isn’t white who owns a gun.  And attacking the media is an oldie but a goodie; it worked for Father Coughlin, Joe McCarthy, and Spiro Agnew, and it will always get the pigeons fluttering.

On Being A Flake

Not to sound ungracious and unappreciative of his bravery, but when a Republican gets a front-page story in the Washington Post for sounding normal, it’s pretty sad.

Sen. Jeff Flake has been getting a lot of attention for his attacks on President Trump, Trump the candidate — and the senator’s own Republican Party for abetting both in recent months.

His argument is a wide-ranging conservative manifesto against Trumpism.

Against the president’s “seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians,” as Flake wrote for Politico this week.

And against the White House’s demonization of Muslims and Mexicans, Flake (Ariz.) writes in his new book, “Conscience of a Conservative.”

And “a far-right press that too often deals in unreality,” and right-wing voters’ celebration of anger and a Republican Party that “abandoned its core principles” in the course of a single year in 2016.

And on and on goes this list of conservative betrayals in the past two years.

But Sunday, as he promoted his book on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Flake took his assault on Trumpism back years further — all the way to the pre-dawn of Trump’s political rise, to “when the birtherism thing was going on,” as Flake put it to host Chuck Todd.

“Some people did stand up, but not enough,” the senator said. “That was particularly ugly.”

“Did you do enough?” Todd asked.

Flake smiled. “On that, I think I did.”

Mr. Flake’s objections to rampant birtherism might carry a little more weight and credibility if he had voted against the confirmation of John Bush, author of birther blog posts, to the federal bench.  But of course he did vote for him.

In every other regard, he sticks to the GOP “core principles” — pro-gun, anti-choice, war-mongering yada yada — that go with the label of Barry Goldwater Republican, including appropriating the title of the late senator’s book that hit the streets almost 60 years ago.  (Back then the senator from Arizona was considered to be as much an outlier in the party as Trump is today.)  So the fact that he’s trying to bring the party in from the tin-foil hat brigade — and maybe even mount a primary challenge in 2020 — tells you how far they’ve ridden on the choo-choo to Garbagetown.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

If Only

Steven Pearlstein last Friday in the Washington Post:

Remember this day, July 28, 2017: The day Donald Trump became a lame duck president. More significantly, the day the tea party revolution ended and Washington began the return to “regular order.”

As much as I and a lot of normal Americans — and normal people around the world whose fate is tied to America — would like that to be so, it’s not going to come true.  The defeat of the repeal of Obamacare will energize the hater-base and result in the GOP finding and nominating more Trump-clones out in congressional districts where the last of the moderate GOP representatives reside and primarying them to oblivion.  While that could open the door to some Democratic wins, it won’t be enough to sway the party off its lemming-like run.  So many districts have been gerrymandered into Republican enclaves it would take a seismic shift of Watergate proportions to do in the GOP majority in the House.  So far, that doesn’t appear to be on the radar.

The other element is that the Trump base seems to get their rocks off on having Trump and his minions under siege.  The more the elites in Washington and New York and Miami and San Francisco rail against him, the more sure they are that they voted for the right guy; the one who will piss off the pointy-headed latte-sipping Volvo-driving Russian-loving (oh wait) snobs who mock Trump’s glitz and glamor.  Any move to impeach Trump will be seen as a conspiracy against the God-chosen One, and even if Trump is somehow removed from office, he won’t go quietly, and neither will they.

So we have a bit of a dilemma.  Attempts to remove Trump from office by legal means, be it the impeachment process or Amendment XXV, will only make things worse even if they succeed because there will always be the vocal base who claim it was a coup d’etat and they’ll try for their own.  But the longer he remains in control the worse things get both politically and practically.  As noted below, nothing can be done in Congress as long as they’re forming their own death squads.

One of my favorite movies is Dave, where the president is incapacitated by a stroke and his body double (both roles played by the incomparable Kevin Kline) takes over and starts undoing all the disastrous policies the real president had implemented, and even repairs his marriage.  It’s a fantasy, but if only…

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Reading

Leslie Nielsen and The Meaning of Life — Josh Marshall.

Leslie Nielsen died 6 1/2 years ago at the age of 84, a respectable degree of longevity after a working life as an actor that stretched over 60 years. I started thinking about him today for no particular reason: I was paddling around the Internet, reading one thing and then another and then happened upon Leslie Nielsen. For what it’s worth, my browsing history shows a series of searches and pages tied to the firing of Reince Priebus followed by stuff about Leslie Nielsen. How I got from one to the other I do not know.

Today I poked a bit deeper into something I’ve thought about here and there many times. Nielsen began his career in 1950 during the so-called ‘Television Golden Age’. According to his Wikipedia page he appeared in 46 live TV episodes in 1950 alone. His first big success was in the 1956 sci-fi flick Forbidden Planet. From 1950 to 1980 he worked more or less in this vein as a successful TV and movie actor. But if his career had ended in 1980 he would be indistinguishable from and largely immemorable as one of hundreds or thousands of mid-grade actors and actresses who populated film and television over many years but who few of us today would remember or have any need to remember.

But in 1980 Nielsen appeared as Dr. Rumack, his first ever comedic role, in Airplane!, a wildly successful spoof of the then popular transportation disaster movie genre. (Nielsen had also appeared in one of the classics of the genre, 1972’s Poseidon Adventure.) The Dr. Rumack character was an early iteration of the deadpan/ridiculous Det. Frank Drebin character Nielsen went on to play in the Police Squad!/Naked Gun franchise, the character he is now known for.

If you’re my age or older you’re old enough to have some memory of the pre-Airplane! Nielsen, which I think is at least marginally necessary to fully get the magic of the characters he played for the next 34 years of his life. It wasn’t just that Nielsen wasn’t a comedy actor. Nielsen specialized in a genre of mid-20th century American male screen roles from which all traces of comedy or irony were systematically removed through some chemical process in pre-production or earlier. He was the straightest of straight men. That’s what made his comedic roles – playing against that type or rather playing the same type in a world suddenly revealed as absurd – just magic.

There’s a great life lesson here about hope and the unknown, I’ve always thought, for those willing to see it, whatever our age. When Airplane! premiered, Nielsen was 54 years old, well into mid-life and at a stage when most of us are thinking more about what we have accomplished than what we will. It is certainly not like Nielsen had been any sort of professional failure in life. Far from it. He’d worked successfully as an actor for three decades. And yet not only was the story not over; it was really only beginning.

Years later, after his true calling as a comedic actor was widely recognized, he told an interviewer that rather than playing against type, comedy is what he’d always wanted to do. He just hadn’t had a chance. This makes me think of a gay man who only lets himself come out in the middle or late in life and yet still has a chance – enough time – to live as himself. Hopefully, happily, this seems likely to be less of a type in the future than it was in the past. But it applies as much to anyone who finds their true selves or calling with enough time left in the race.

Two years after Airplane! in 1982, the same team of which created Airplane! cast Nielsen as Det. Frank Drebin in Police Squad! This is the ur-Nielsen comedic character, the straight ahead and no-nonsense character walking through and oblivious to a world that is only nonsense. I watched this show at the time and absolutely loved it. It was in 1982 and I was 13, lonely and deeply damaged without really knowing it, having lost my mother in a car wreck a year earlier. I needed comedy and I found it. I could scarcely believe when I was reading up on Police Squad! earlier this afternoon that not only did the show not make it past one season, it aired only 6 episodes! Six episodes! I remember looking forward to each new episode every week. It’s hard for me to believe it went on for such a short period of time. But memory plays tricks on us.

Let me quote at length from Police Squad’s wikipedia entry on the failure of the show (which of course wasn’t really a failure since it spawned the Naked Gun movies) with particular reference to Matt Groening on how the show was actually far ahead of its time …

ABC announced the cancellation of Police Squad! after four of its six episodes had aired in March 1982. The final two episodes were aired that summer. According to the DVD Commentary of “A Substantial Gift” (episode 1), then-ABC entertainment president Tony Thomopoulos said “Police Squad! was cancelled because “the viewer had to watch it in order to appreciate it.” What Thomopoulos meant was that the viewer had to pay very close attention to the show in order to get much of the humor, while most other TV shows did not demand as much effort from the viewer. In its annual “Cheers and Jeers” issue, TV Guide magazine called the explanation for the cancellation “the most stupid reason a network ever gave for ending a series.”[citation needed]

Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, has said, “If Police Squad! had been made twenty years later, it would have been a smash. It was before its time. In 1982 your average viewer was unable to cope with its pace, its quick-fire jokes. But these days they’d have no problems keeping up, I think we’ve proved that.”

This wasn’t the only way that Nielsen was and remained ahead of his time, even as the Drebin character and various permutations of that ur-Nielsen character became something on the level of pop cultural touchstones. Whoever wrote the lede of Nielsen’s wikipedia entry described his comedic oeuvre like this: “In his comedy roles, Nielsen specialized in portraying characters oblivious to and complicit in their absurd surroundings.”

I can scarcely think of a more concise description. That is also what makes Nielsen the great comedic interpreter of the Trump Era, even though he didn’t live to see it.

Can there be any description of our time, the last two years and especially the last six months, better than “characters oblivious to and complicit in their absurd surroundings.” I do not think so. It captures so much of the comedy, horror, absurdity and moral rot of our times. It is unquestionably why this “nothing to see here” gif of Nielsen as Det. Frank Drebin has become so ubiquitous a signifier during the Trump presidency.

While there’s life, there’s hope, as the aphorism has it. And humor, which Nielsen gave us so much of, is one of the things that makes life both joy (at the high moments) and endurable (at the low). You will never know till your life is over entirely what it meant or fully who you were. And sometimes not even then. There is always possibility.

Taking It To The Streets — Charlie Pierce on how resistance worked.

All week, the South Lawn of the Capitol had been the scene of protests of varying sizes, all of them directed at the U.S. Senate for the purposes of demonstrating how unpopular were that body’s attempts to slice and dice the Affordable Care Act. There were protests in Upper Senate Park, too, across Constitution Avenue, the home of the world’s most off-key carillon. On Wednesday evening, there was a big rally there supporting Planned Parenthood. Both Senator Al Franken and Senator Professor Warren spoke at that one. At odd moments, I’d wander out and talk to the people gathered there.

They were from all over the country. Some of them had been very sick. Some of them still were. All of them were very uneasy about their personal future. On Tuesday night, when it looked like Mitch McConnell had won his gamble against representative democracy, there were 15 people on the South Lawn, at midnight, chanting up at the empty Capitol. They were the stakes in McConnell’s gamble, and they were shouting at a vacant building. This was a scene that seemed suitable, and sadly symbolic, to the moment at hand.

All that changed early Friday morning, when 51 senators raided McConnell’s game. You could hear the cheers from outside in the halls of the Senate. Various senators, including SPW again, went outside and congratulated the people on the South Lawn. The last (for now) attempt to chloroform the ACA formally through legislation had failed. (Watch, however, how the campaign to sabotage it ramps up now, led by the White House, whose petulant occupant will gladly pull your temple down on his head.) As I walked back into the Capitol, what came to mind were all the people I have heard over the years who told me that political activism was a sucker’s game, a rigged wheel, a space for performance art with an audience of rich people. I agreed with a lot of the last part of that, and still do. But there are only two ways to go, even if you accept the latter part of the premise. You can accept that political activism is a sucker’s game and give up, or wrap yourself in the robes of ideological purity as though they were suits of armor. Or, you can accept that political activism is a sucker’s game and then engage in political activism to make it less so. And, as I went back and forth between the Senate chamber and the South Lawn in the dark of the early morning on Friday, I thought a lot about Alaska.

In 2010, the American people elected the worst Congress in the history of the republic. (This distinction held until 2014 when, against all odds, they elected a worse one.) One of the reasons this happened was that the well-financed AstroTurfed Tea Party movement took down a number of Republican incumbents in primary elections in favor of an odd lot of utter whackadoos. (This is how we got Sharron Angle’s running against Harry Reid on a platform of putting America’s currency back on the poultry standard.) Nowhere was this more clear than in Alaska, where incumbent Lisa Murkowski lost her primary to a militia-tinged meathead named Joe Miller. (Among his other deeply held positions, Miller was quite complimentary toward the late East Germany for how effectively its wall worked.) Instead of walking away, Murkowski organized a write-in campaign to run in the general election. Granted, it was better funded than most such efforts, but it was still the first successful write-in campaign for the Senate since 1954.

(And, let’s be fair, “Murkowski” is tough sledding for a write-in candidate. In fact, one of the causes of action in Miller’s subsequent endless litigation of the results was trying to disqualify any ballot on which Murkowski’s name was misspelled.)

And that happened to be how Lisa Murkowski was even in the Senate at all this week to stand firm against the pressure from her caucus and against clumsy threats from down at Camp Runamuck. That happened to be how she was even in the chamber at all to stick to John McCain like his shadow through the long run-up to the climactic vote. That happened to be how she was in the Senate at all—because, in 2010, a lot of people in Alaska went the extra mile to keep her there. That’s how political activism works—one little ripple seven years earlier becomes a kind of wave at the most unexpected time.

And that is the final and lasting lesson of this week in Washington. The primary force driving the events of Thursday night and Friday morning was the energy and (yes) persistence of all those people who swamped town hall meetings, who wrote, or called, or e-mailed various congresscritters to show them what real political pressure felt like. I remember watching town halls in Maine, to which people drove hundreds of miles to tell Susan Collins what they thought. Those people bucked up vulnerable Democratic senators so that Chuck Schumer could count on a united Congress.

They brought pressure on Republican governors, too. People like Brian Sandoval in Nevada and John Kasich in Ohio were handed put-up-or-shut-up choices from their constituents. Perhaps the most significant Republican governor was Doug Ducey of Arizona, whom McCain repeatedly said he would consult before voting. Late on Thursday afternoon, Ducey came out strongly against the bill. But it all begins with the people who put themselves in the streets, and the people in wheelchairs who got roughed up on Capitol Hill, and all those impassioned voices on the phone, just as Lisa Murkowski’s continued political survival depended on all those Alaskans who took the extra time to write in her name on a ballot.

We all decide, ultimately and individually, if the country is worth saving, one heavy lift at a time, knowing that, if the country is worth saving, we never will come to the last of them.

Crazy On Line 1 — Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker got a phone call.  Warning: for those of you who don’t like harsh language, move on.

On Wednesday night, I received a phone call from Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director. He wasn’t happy. Earlier in the night, I’d tweeted, citing a “senior White House official,” that Scaramucci was having dinner at the White House with President Trump, the First Lady, Sean Hannity, and the former Fox News executive Bill Shine. It was an interesting group, and raised some questions. Was Trump getting strategic advice from Hannity? Was he considering hiring Shine? But Scaramucci had his own question—for me.

“Who leaked that to you?” he asked. I said I couldn’t give him that information. He responded by threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff. “What I’m going to do is, I will eliminate everyone in the comms team and we’ll start over,” he said. I laughed, not sure if he really believed that such a threat would convince a journalist to reveal a source. He continued to press me and complain about the staff he’s inherited in his new job. “I ask these guys not to leak anything and they can’t help themselves,” he said. “You’re an American citizen, this is a major catastrophe for the American country. So I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.”

In Scaramucci’s view, the fact that word of the dinner had reached a reporter was evidence that his rivals in the West Wing, particularly Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, were plotting against him. While they have publicly maintained that there is no bad blood between them, Scaramucci and Priebus have been feuding for months. After the election, Trump asked Scaramucci to join his Administration, and Scaramucci sold his company, SkyBridge Capital, in anticipation of taking on a senior role. But Priebus didn’t want him in the White House, and successfully blocked him from being appointed to a job until last week, when Trump offered him the communications job over Priebus’s vehement objections. In response to Scaramucci’s appointment, Sean Spicer, an ally of Priebus’s, resigned his position as press secretary. And in an additional slight to Priebus, the White House’s official announcement of Scaramucci’s hiring noted that he would report directly to the President, rather than to the chief of staff.

Scaramucci’s first public appearance as communications director was a slick and conciliatory performance at the lectern in the White House briefing room last Friday. He suggested it was time for the White House to turn a page. But since then, he has become obsessed with leaks and threatened to fire staffers if he discovers that they have given unauthorized information to reporters. Michael Short, a White House press aide considered close to Priebus, resigned on Tuesday after Scaramucci publicly spoke about firing him. Meanwhile, several damaging stories about Scaramucci have appeared in the press, and he blamed Priebus for most of them. Now, he wanted to know whom I had been talking to about his dinner with the President. Scaramucci, who initiated the call, did not ask for the conversation to be off the record or on background.

“Is it an assistant to the President?” he asked. I again told him I couldn’t say. “O.K., I’m going to fire every one of them, and then you haven’t protected anybody, so the entire place will be fired over the next two weeks.”

I asked him why it was so important for the dinner to be kept a secret. Surely, I said, it would become public at some point. “I’ve asked people not to leak things for a period of time and give me a honeymoon period,” he said. “They won’t do it.” He was getting more and more worked up, and he eventually convinced himself that Priebus was my source.

“They’ll all be fired by me,” he said. “I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I’ll fire tomorrow. I’ll get to the person who leaked that to you. Reince Priebus—if you want to leak something—he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.” The issue, he said, was that he believed Priebus had been worried about the dinner because he hadn’t been invited. “Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” Scaramucci said. He channelled Priebus as he spoke: “ ‘Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’ ” (Priebus did not respond to a request for comment.)

Scaramucci was particularly incensed by a Politico report about his financial-disclosure form, which he viewed as an illegal act of retaliation by Priebus. The reporter said Thursday morning that the document was publicly available and she had obtained it from the Export-Import Bank. Scaramucci didn’t know this at the time, and he insisted to me that Priebus had leaked the document, and that the act was “a felony.”

“I’ve called the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice,” he told me.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“The swamp will not defeat him,” he said, breaking into the third person. “They’re trying to resist me, but it’s not going to work. I’ve done nothing wrong on my financial disclosures, so they’re going to have to go fuck themselves.”

Scaramucci also told me that, unlike other senior officials, he had no interest in media attention. “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” he said, speaking of Trump’s chief strategist. “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.” (Bannon declined to comment.)

He reiterated that Priebus would resign soon, and he noted that he told Trump that he expected Priebus to launch a campaign against him. “He didn’t get the hint that I was reporting directly to the President,” he said. “And I said to the President here are the four or five things that he will do to me.” His list of allegations included leaking the Hannity dinner and the details from his financial-disclosure form.

I got the sense that Scaramucci’s campaign against leakers flows from his intense loyalty to Trump. Unlike other Trump advisers, I’ve never heard him say a bad word about the President. “What I want to do is I want to fucking kill all the leakers and I want to get the President’s agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people,” he told me.

He cryptically suggested that he had more information about White House aides. “O.K., the Mooch showed up a week ago,” he said. “This is going to get cleaned up very shortly, O.K.? Because I nailed these guys. I’ve got digital fingerprints on everything they’ve done through the F.B.I. and the fucking Department of Justice.”

“What?” I interjected.

“Well, the felony, they’re gonna get prosecuted, probably, for the felony.” He added, “The lie detector starts—” but then he changed the subject and returned to what he thought was the illegal leak of his financial-disclosure forms. I asked if the President knew all of this.

“Well, he doesn’t know the extent of all that, he knows about some of that, but he’ll know about the rest of it first thing tomorrow morning when I see him.”

Scaramucci said he had to get going. “Yeah, let me go, though, because I’ve gotta start tweeting some shit to make this guy crazy.”

Minutes later, he tweeted, “In light of the leak of my financial info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #swamp @Reince45.” With the addition of Priebus’s Twitter handle, he was making public what he had just told me: that he believed Priebus was leaking information about him. The tweet quickly went viral.

Scaramucci seemed to have second thoughts. Within two hours he deleted the original tweet and posted a new one denying that he was targeting the chief of staff. “Wrong!” he said, adding a screenshot of an Axios article that said, “Scaramucci appears to want Priebus investigated by FBI.” Scaramucci continued, “Tweet was public notice to leakers that all Sr Adm officials are helping to end illegal leaks. @Reince45.”

A few hours later, I appeared on CNN to discuss the overnight drama. As I was talking about Scaramucci, he called into the show himself and referenced our conversation. He changed his story about Priebus. Instead of saying that he was trying to expose Priebus as a leaker, he said that the reason he mentioned Priebus in his deleted tweet was because he wanted to work together with Priebus to discover the leakers.

“He’s the chief of staff, he’s responsible for understanding and uncovering and helping me do that inside the White House, which is why I put that tweet out last night,” Scaramucci said, after noting that he had talked to me Wednesday night. He then made an argument that journalists were assuming that he was accusing Priebus because they know Priebus leaks to the press.

“When I put out a tweet, and I put Reince’s name in the tweet,” he said, “they’re all making the assumption that it’s him because journalists know who the leakers are. So, if Reince wants to explain that he’s not a leaker, let him do that.”

Scaramucci then made a plea to viewers. “Let me tell you something about myself,” he said. “I am a straight shooter.”

Since this article was published, Reince Priebus was fired as Chief of Staff and Mr. Scarmucci’s wife filed for divorce.

Doonesbury — Those parts are gone.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Oh Look At The Kitty – Part Infinity

Trump bans transgender people from the military:

Trump made the surprise declaration in a series of posts on Twitter, saying he had come to the decision after talking to generals and military experts, whom he did not name.

The sweeping policy decision was met with surprise at the Pentagon, outrage from advocacy groups and praise from social conservatives. It reverses the gradual transformation of the military under President Barack Obama, whose administration announced last year that transgender people could serve openly in the military. Mr. Obama’s defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, also opened all combat roles to women and appointed the first openly gay Army secretary.

The shift was announced with such haste that the White House could not answer basic inquiries about how it would be implemented. Chief among those questions was what would happen to the thousands of openly transgender people currently serving on active duty.

Well, I guess that rules out “Caitlyn Jenner, USMC” as the new hit sitcom this fall on Fox.

Jokes aside, this nasty, brutish, and cruel attack on a segment of the population that has done nothing to engender this hatred and loathing from an alleged man who never served one day in the military serves two purposes: it shores up his creds with the homophobic base in the electorate and the halls of Congress (where a goodly number of them have an unhealthy obsession with other peoples’ bathroom habits and use of gentialia), and it distracts from the fact that his attempts to pull down Obamacare are going down like a turd in a well and the walls are closing in on the Russia investigation.  Quick!  Find something to throw attention elsewhere!

Maybe because I’m getting up there in years and have been openly gay for over forty years, but I was neither shocked nor surprised by this move on the part of Trump.  I fully expect there to be calls for his impeachment for this and it will go nowhere; after all, the number of LGBTQ people who actually supported and voted for him wouldn’t fill the Velvet Spike on a Tuesday night, and the assent from the knuckle-draggers will be enough to carry him through the debacle of the Senate melt-down and budget battles.  Gay-bashing is the default mode for these bigots and he knows the chattering classes on the TV — which he claims to never watch — will cover it wall to wall, but I’m getting a little tired of being the go-to scapegoat for bigotry.  The only saving grace is that if he’s coming after my tribe, he’s not going after the Muslims, the Asians, the Mexicans, or the bicycle riders.

Oh, and speaking of Caitlyn Jenner, she was so disappointed that the man she supported and has turned on him:

There are 15,000 patriotic transgender Americans in the US military fighting for all of us. What happened to your promise to fight for them?

So you’re just now figuring it out that he’s a lying, cheating scumbag?  You really are new to this whole dating-men thing, aren’t you?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Beatings Will Continue

Peter Baker in the New York Times wonders where the outrage is.

After six months in office, Mr. Trump has crossed so many lines, discarded so many conventions, said and done so many things that other presidents would not have, that he has radically shifted the understanding of what is standard in the White House. He has moved the bar for outrage. He has a taste for provocation and relishes challenging Washington taboos. If the propriety police tut tut, he shows no sign of concern.

“His tweet is bizarre and unprecedented,” said James A. Thurber, the founder and former director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington. And yet, “he has made so many outlandish statements, Americans seem to be immune to this latest call for investigating Hillary.”

[…]

By now, it takes more to shock. After all, this is a president who refused to release his tax returns or divest from his private businesses, who put his son-in-law and daughter on the White House staff, who accused his predecessor of illegally tapping his phones without proof, who fired the F.B.I. director leading an investigation into the president’s associates and who has now undercut his “beleaguered” attorney general in public. When he talked politics, jabbed the news media and told stories about Manhattan cocktail parties before tens of thousands of children at the nonpartisan National Scout Jamboree here in West Virginia on Monday, it was hardly surprising.

This kind of behavior will continue as long as there are those who enable, excuse, and treat him as if he and his id-driven antics are normal or acceptable.  It has nothing to do with decorum or manners or protocol; it’s dangerous and has the potential for body counts.

I understand why the Republicans on Capitol Hill are willing to go along; they’re happy to have someone else take the spotlight so they can get out of it whatever is in it for them.  They don’t and won’t care what he does as long as it doesn’t threaten their chances for re-election.  Of course when it does, they’ll blame it on him instead of their own toadyism.

But as long as he is treated as normal or, Dog forbid, “presidential” by the news media, including those who should know better or those who fear for their livelihood (“This is NPR”), it will continue.  Expecting him to change is a lost cause, but at least they can make the effort to try to raise the hue and cry and get him away from the levers of power and a Twitter account.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Horrible Boss

Unlike the TV show he hosted, it looks like Trump doesn’t actually fire people; he just makes them so miserable that they quit.  He’s doing it to Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (talk of his replacement ranges from Rudy Giuliani to Ted Cruz) and now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is making it known he’s not happy with the way Trump is treating Sessions.

My question is, why did they take the job in the first place?  They had to know that Trump was an asshole before he approached them; what made them think he would be any different once he won the election?  And what does it say about you that you took the job knowing full well what he was like?

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Mark Of A True Toady

After all those rotten things Trump said about Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, one could imagine a swift resignation.  But then, you need to take into account the personality and venality of Mr. Sessions.

Nothing is more important to Trump than loyalty — to him.

In business and in politics, he has demanded it from the people closest to him. Some employees who abandoned him were never welcomed back. Politicians who did not defend him after the most politically damaging moments of the 2016 campaign are still suspect in his eyes. And after six months as president, Trump is still known to publicly jab at people who did not support his presidential bid.

But as Attorney General Jeff Sessions learned this week, the loyalty Trump expects isn’t always reciprocated.

He’s a sycophant and an opportunist who apparently doesn’t have a whole lot of self-regard and is willing to be publicly humiliated.  There’s a name for that — and probably a few websites, too, but you need a credit card and proof that you’re over 21.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Real Or Imagined

Via LGM:

PublicPolicyPolling‏Verified account
@ppppolls
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Nugget from our national poll coming out tomorrow- only 45% of Trump voters believe Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with Russians…
1:13 PM – 17 Jul 2017

And yet just as many believed Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor.  Or was it on Mars?  Anyway…

Dead Again, For Now

The current attempt by the GOP to repeal Obamacare appears to be heading to oblivion.  Via the Washington Post:

Two more Senate Republicans have declared their opposition to the latest plan to overhaul the nation’s health-care system, potentially ending a months-long effort to make good on a GOP promise that has defined the party for nearly a decade and been a top priority for President Trump.

Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) issued statements declaring that they would not vote for the revamped measure. The sudden breaks by Lee, a staunch conservative, and Moran, an ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), rocked the GOP leadership and effectively closed what already had been an increasingly narrow path to passage for the bill.

They joined Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Susan Collins (Maine), who also oppose it. With just 52 seats, Republicans can afford to lose only two votes to pass their proposed rewrite of the Affordable Care Act. All 46 Democrats and two independents are expected to vote against it.

Republicans, who have made rallying cries against President Barack Obama’s 2010 health-care law a pillar of the party’s identity, may be forced to grapple with the law’s shift from a perennial GOP target to an accepted, even popular, provider of services and funding in many states, which could make further repeal revivals difficult.

Meanwhile, Trump and other Republicans will confront a Republican base that, despite fervent support for the president, still seeks a smaller federal government and fewer regulations.

I wouldn’t break out the champagne just yet.  We’ve heard this death knell before.  Back in March Speaker Paul Ryan woefully predicted that Obamacare was here to stay “for the foreseeable future” only to have it rise zombie-like in May.  But at least now the majority of Americans who care about such things as insurance that covers pre-existing conditions and being able to live without bankrupting their future have seen what the Republicans want to do: give the rich people an enormous tax break and let the poor fend for themselves.

Three of the four senators who have announced their opposition to the bill said they were against it because it didn’t go far enough in repealing Obamacare; they’d like to get back to the old way of doing healthcare, which was somewhere between the Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens view of the world.  At least Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) brought up the fact that it caused harm to poor people, so I guess she’s the lone voice out there for sanity, sparing the quavering and wavering from “moderates” in the party such as Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who faces both real and imagined threats to his job and future, from having to take a stand this time.

So for now we can enjoy a little schadenfreude over Mitch McConnell’s much-vaunted ability to get things done and wait to see what they come up with next to try, for real this time, to knock millions of Americans off health insurance, close rural hospitals, deny coverage for pregnancy complications because having a baby is preventable (unless, of course, you get treated by Planned Parenthood), and let insurance companies deny claims because anything beyond leeches and chicken bones is experimental.

But keep those phone numbers handy.  It will be back.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Going Down With Him

Trump can take comfort knowing that his base is still with him.

Before the latest revelations surfaced Tuesday regarding Donald Trump Jr.’s emails about his meeting with a Russian lawyer, 50 percent of Americans said the Russia allegations swirling around the Trump administration represented a “serious issue” that should be investigated.

Slightly fewer Americans, 46 percent, called the issue a “distraction” — and the split fell heavily along party lines.

[…]

Of the 9,056 total responses, 50 percent said it was a serious issue and 46 said it was more of a distraction. Partisanship polarized the results: 83 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said the allegations were more of a distraction, while 83 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners called it a serious issue.

Not unlike April 1912 in the North Atlantic: “Get in the lifeboat, please.”  “What, and leave this nice ship, all shiny and new, for some rickety open boat?  Surely you jest, sir.  That iceberg was just a distraction.  Now run along and bring me my absinthe.”

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Monday, July 10, 2017

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Sick Mind

You remember Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA); he’s the former sheriff who went on a Facebook rant about killing all the Muslims a while back.  Well, this time he’s exploiting the Holocaust for the purpose of remaining vigilant against evildoers.

How he’s able to connect the systematic murder of over 1.1 million people in Auschwitz by a government with beefing up Homeland Security while at the same time harboring a wish to “kill all the Muslims” is something only a sick mind can come up with.

Monday, July 3, 2017

This Time For Real, Right?

I admire Martin Longman and read his work with respect and consideration, but even he must get tired of writing an article that once again predicts the imminent downfall of the Trump administration.

It’s not just health care and tax reform that are in peril. If Trump attempts to raise the debt ceiling using nothing but Republican votes, he will fail, too. If he tries to pass appropriations bills without any Democratic support, the government will either shut down or be funded on continuing resolutions that keep Obama’s priorities in place. He will not get an infrastructure bill without significant Democratic input and support.

Not only can he not govern successfully using this strategy, he cannot govern at all. This is why I foresaw that his administration would crack up on the shoals sometime this summer, and certainly no later than September when the fiscal year ends and the debt ceiling becomes critical.

Most concerning was the prospect and likelihood that he had painted himself into a corner and would discover that he had no way of recovering from the mess he’d made. As McConnell’s plan for Obamacare repeal faltered, he began warning his caucus of exactly what I am explaining now. But it was too late and the plan was never going to work anyway. The only thing that McConnell had to use in support of a bill that the people hate was the direness of the consequences of failure. But either he doesn’t understand the severity of the problem or he was unable to communicate it effectively enough. Perhaps it’s just not salvageable on any level, since the only way to delay their fate is to pass a bill that would strip 22 million people of their access to health care.

The consequences will begin to pile up now. Trump will lash out in ever more confusing and bizarre ways. And then the indictments and plea deals will start to flow in from Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s shop. By Thanksgiving, if not before, the nation will be confronted with the urgent need to remove Trump from power and I suspect there will be more consensus about it by then than most people can imagine right now.

But if there’s one thing that Trump has managed to do in defiance of all of this as well as gravity itself, it is to stay afloat.  I would love nothing more than to see him gone.  But as long as there are men and women in the halls of Congress who will support him, at least in front of a TV camera, and as long as there are those in the GOP base who think it’s about damn time we had a president who didn’t stand on fussy old protocol and knows that WWE is real, he will be going nowhere.

As Steve M points out, trying to remove him by invoking Amendment XXV basically lays the groundwork for a coup d’etat anytime a president does something the other people don’t like.  Impeachment is the only way out, and history has taught us that a president can’t be impeached unless the opposition party holds the majority in the House and the Senate.  So until that happens — the earliest would be January 2019 — this disaster will, as we used to say, keep on truckin’.