Thursday, June 14, 2018

Follow The Leader

Based on the returns from the various primaries around the country on Tuesday, the Republicans seem to be lining up behind Trumpism and setting themselves up for reckoning in November.

“It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told reporters Wednesday morning. “It’s not a good place for any party to end up with a cultlike situation as it relates to a president that happens to be of — purportedly — of the same party.”

Mr. Corker — who is leaving the Senate when his term is up next January — is one of the few Republicans who have stood up to Trump; easy to do when you don’t have to run for re-election.  But the rest of them are all heading for Jonestown.

Not that I’m in the habit of giving advice to people I’d like to see removed from both office and polite society, but when a party re-forms itself to comply with the vagaries and vulgarities of one man — and in doing do blithely abandons its core principles such as fiscal responsibility, family values, freedom (not that they having been breathtakingly hypocritical about all of them before) — they’re setting themselves up for a real turkey shoot.  History — both here and abroad — is littered with the bleached bones of parties and movements that have aligned themselves behind a personality, and there have always been body counts of the innocent to go along with them.  Political parties may unite behind the nominee or a candidate, but they don’t make their platform all about him.  And there has always been a core of loyal, even cordial, opposition within the party to keep a balance and provide a home for the voters who may not have gotten their candidate of choice but still believe in the values that made them join in the first place.  What seems to be the motivating factor behind this cult isn’t a unity of ideas but fear of a tweetstorm from the Dear Leader.

I’m not a great prognosticator of election outcomes, but if the last couple of midterms are any indication, the Republicans are in for a bit of a shock.  Kellyanne Conway, the Wormtongue of this administration, noted the other night that Trump’s approval level rivals that of Barack Obama’s in 2010.  And remember how well the Democrats did in the midterms then?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Camping Out

From McClatchy:

The Trump administration is looking to build tent cities at military posts around Texas to shelter the increasing number of unaccompanied migrant children being held in detention.

The Department of Health and Human Services will visit Fort Bliss, a sprawling Army base near El Paso in the coming weeks to look at a parcel of land where the administration is considering building a tent city to hold between 1,000 and 5,000 children, according to U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the plans.

HHS officials confirmed that they’re looking at the Fort Bliss site along with Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene and Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo for potential use as temporary shelters.

“HHS will make the determination if any of the three sites assessed are suitable,” said an HHS official.

It gets hot in Texas in the summer.  Very hot.  The average high in San Angelo in July is 95 F.  People left out in the sun die from heat exhaustion.  Air conditioning a tent is like trying to cool your house by leaving the freezer open.

But that’s just the practical side of the matter.  What kind of country separates children from their parents, regardless of the legal status, and forces them in to a refugee camp?

That photo is not from Texas… yet.  It’s a Syrian refugee in Jordan in 2017.

Every day when Ali Jibraail wakes up he worries about his falafel shop. Will this be the day the electricity generator fails? Can he continue to ward off an increasing number of competitors? Might his suppliers begin to resent crossing the desert to make deliveries and raise their prices?

This is Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, home to 80,000 Syrians who have fled the devastating war, and – established four years ago – Jibraail’s is its longest serving restaurant.

Each day the Damascus-born chef and his nine staff serve up 7,500 falafel balls, at five Jordanian dinars (€6.66) for three. “The whole camp eat here,” Jibraail says, proudly.

The restaurant is located on Zaatari’s main shopping street – where residents can procure everything from bicycles to wedding dresses to canaries. UN workers cheerfully title it the “Champs Élysées”. “But only the foreigners call it that,” says Ala (25) from Daraa in southwest Syria. “We call it Hamidiyah market – [after] the largest market in [the Syrian capital] Damascus.”

This month the Syrian war enters its seventh year. With no end in sight, life for the displaced trundles on through births, deaths and marriages – milestones muted by the feeling of transience. A sizeable portion of Zaatari’s residents have more significant memories inside the camp than out.

Cradling her newborn son in a ward of the on-site field hospital, 16-year-old Amal Hamoud hasn’t been to school since she left Syria and was forced to abandon 5th grade. “My son looks like his father,” she says.

At least in this camp, in the heart of one of the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II, they’re not separating children from parents.

Of course there’s a difference between the civil war in Syria and immigration across the U.S. southern border.  But how we’re handling it tells us a lot about our country and who’s running it.

Annals of Diplomacy

Joint Communique from Singapore via CNN:

President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018.

Historic summit?  Yeah, just like this one.

Or this one.

Or this one.

But it’s probably closer to this one.

Charlie Pierce:

The two anomalous creatures signed an anomalous document that really doesn’t commit anyone to anything. There is really nothing to comment upon, except for the fact that an American president* met a leader of North Korea for the first time. There’s no reason for them to trust each other, and no reason for the rest of us to trust either of them.

And, besides, no country in the history of the world willingly has given up all its nuclear weapons once it had them. I am skeptical that North Korea under its present leadership is going to be the first one to do so. But, hey, maybe they really want a yacht club and a couple of casinos.

 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Updating Lady Liberty

From the Washington Post:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled Monday that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence generally will not qualify for asylum under federal law, a decision that advocates say will endanger tens of thousands of foreign nationals seeking safety in the United States.

Sessions’s ruling vacated a 2016 decision by the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals that said an abused woman from El Salvador was eligible for asylum. The appeals board is typically the highest government authority on immigration law, but the attorney general has the power to assign cases to himself and set precedents.

Such cases can ultimately end up with the federal appeals courts.

Sessions told immigration judges, whose courts are part of the Justice Department, that his decision “restores sound principles of asylum and long-standing principles of immigration law.” He said it will help reduce the growing backlog of 700,000 court cases, more than triple the number in 2009.

“We have not acted hastily, but carefully,” Sessions said in the statement to the judges. “In my judgment, this is a correct interpretation of the law.”

So it’s no longer “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”  It’s “Clap them in irons, toss them back to the gang rapists, and put their children in cages.”

Got it.

Who’s The Bad Guy Here?

A photo from today’s summit between Kim and Trump”

Meanwhile, Dana Milbank at the Washington Post on how Trump really took out our enemies over the weekend.

O Canada: You had it coming, eh.

They inflicted Nickelback on us. We did nothing.

They sent us Justin Bieber. We turned the other cheek.

They were responsible for one abomination after the other: Poutine. Diphthong vowels. Hawaiian pizza. Instant mashed potatoes. Ted Cruz.

Still, we did not retaliate — until now.

Finally, the United States has a president with the brains and the guts to stand up to the menace of the north. This weekend President Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “meek,” “very dishonest & weak” for protesting U.S. tariffs. Trump’s trade adviser said “there’s a special place in hell” for Trudeau, and Trump’s economic adviser said Trudeau “stabbed us in the back” and is guilty of “betrayal” and “double-crossing.”

How do you feel now, Canada? Or, to put it in a language you understand: How’s she bootin’er?

Trudeau earned his place in the underworld for some truly appalling rhetoric, saying “we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.” Offensive! He also found it “kind of insulting” that the Trump administration said it was imposing tariffs on Canadian goods “for a national security reason” given that Canadians “stood shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in far off lands in conflicts from the First World War onward.”

Canada is not a national security threat to the United States? Au contraire, as they say in (very foreign) Quebec.

Trudeau conveniently omits the invasion of Detroit from Canada in 1812. And there was that ugly dispute in 1844 when soon-to-be President James K. Polk wanted the U.S. border to extend all the way north to Alaska at 54 degrees, 40 minutes latitude (slogan: “Fifty-four forty or fight!”) but was forced to accept the 49th parallel, a humiliation that denied us Vancouver and many great Chinese restaurants.

And let’s not even get started about the softwood lumber dispute. Too painful.

[…]

Inexplicably, these foreigners are not putting America First. That’s why Trump needs to quit the group and make his own G-8 — the Great Eight — with more sympathetic world leaders:

Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who enjoys “a great relationship” with Trump as he deploys extralegal killing squads.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, who is “very open” and “very honorable” in running the most repressive regime on Earth.

Egyptian dictator Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who established himself as a “fantastic guy” with his bloody crackdown on dissidents.

The Saudi regime, which has been “tremendous” as it purges business leaders and critics.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is “getting very high marks” as he jails opponents.

China’s premier, Xi Jinping, who did something “great” in making himself president for life.

And, of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin, “getting an A” for his leadership and receiving a congratulatory call from Trump after his “election.”

There is no room in this G-8 for Britain, France, Germany, Italy or Japan — and certainly not Canada. Canadians say “ Sorry ” for everything. But Trudeau not only failed to apologize to Trump, he won praise from his political opponents for defying Trump. This is a clear and present danger to the United States. Given Canadians’ well-known instability — their currency is called the “ loonie ” — there can be only one solution: We are going to build a wall from Maine to Alaska — and Ottawa is going to pay.

Fifty-four forty or fight! MAGA! Take off, hosers.

Democracy and compromise is a sign of weakness to Trump.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doonesbury — Back to normal.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Allen J. Pfannenstiel 1964-2018

We met at the Spring Dance in Boulder on April 22, 1984, and for the next fifteen years he was my partner, my cohort, my love, my best friend, and an indelible part of my life.  We went from Colorado to Michigan to New Mexico, raising gardens and a puppy, Sam, and sharing the joys and tribulations, good times and sad, tests and the odds that all couples face.  We never married because we couldn’t by law, but we had everything married couples have, and when we parted in June 1999, we stayed friends, even to the point of being better friends apart.

When I moved to Miami in 2001, he moved back to Colorado, and ended up there last year.  He suffered a stroke last Christmas and complications developed two weeks ago.  He slept away last night in the house he grew up in with his family at his side, at peace and the way he wanted to go.

I have so many memories, so many thoughts, so many pictures; after all, fifteen years together can’t be summarized in just words and pictures.  I will just say that my life was better with him in it than without and that he will always be a part of me.  The reminders at home and in my heart are good things of good times and a good life.

Lake Charlevoix, 1986

This is one of my favorite pictures of him, taken in August 1986 when we went on a sailing trip around northern Michigan for my dad’s 60th birthday. Although the biggest piece of water he’d ever seen was the man-made lake behind his house in Longmont, he took to sailing right away.  It was the first of many such adventures we took, and his attitude was always “It’ll be fun!”  And so it was.

I will always call you sweetheart.

Friday, June 8, 2018

“Borne back ceaselessly into the past”

Fifty years ago today Bobby Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery under the glare of floodlights, his coffin carried by his sons and only surviving brother.  As we had less than five years before, the nation watched a family’s very private moment on television.

I have a vivid memory of watching that moment on TV because it was what greeted me that night as I came home, traveling from Newport, Rhode Island, bringing a merciful end to my ignominious tenure as a New England boarding school student.  June 8, 1968 was a long day.

I’ve written about that year at St. George’s here and elsewhere so I won’t go into all the details.  But today, fifty years later, I’m going back, just for a weekend, and in the company of a friend — one of the few — from that year.  We’re going to visit the old haunts and perhaps see and dispatch some ghosts.

The last line of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the greatest bits of insight into the human mind: “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  When I first read that, some fifty years ago, I wasn’t sure what he meant, but as I’ve gotten older I realize, both as a writer and as a human being, that not only is there more of the past, it becomes a beacon, like the light on the end of the dock across the bay, as both a warning and a welcome.

Watercolor by Richard Grosvenor

Thursday, June 7, 2018

School’s Out

Today is the last day of classes here for the public schools here in Miami-Dade County.  I hope all the students have a good summer, and I want to thank all the teachers and staff at the schools of the fourth-largest district in the country for their hard work.  It is paying off.

For those of us in the administration downtown, it’s been good to see the results, not just in test scores, but in high graduation rates and the number of students going on to college or career choices.

We’ll be here all summer getting things ready for 2018-2019.

Trump Diplomacy

Sending out Rudy Giuliani to share diplomatic methods with our allies is like trying to find a gas leak with a box of matches.

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un got “on his hands and knees and begged” for their summit to be held after Mr. Trump canceled it last month….

Speaking at an investment conference in Israel hosted by the “Globes” newspaper, Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Trump canceled the summit last month because senior North Korean officials insulted top Trump administration officials.

“They also said they were going to go to nuclear war with us, they were going to defeat us in a nuclear war,” Mr. Giuliani said. “We said we’re not going to have a summit under those circumstances.”

After Mr. Trump canceled the meeting, Mr. Giuliani said: “Well, Kim Jong Un got back on his hands and knees and begged for it, which is exactly the position you want to put him in.”

Given the touchy nature of Mr. Kim’s personality and his propensity for feeling slighted at the littlest thing — he once had a government official executed for falling asleep in his presence — this statement should go over well in Pyongyang.

This crowd would serve cheeseburgers at a Seder.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018