Saturday, January 23, 2021

Friday, January 22, 2021

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Good Morning

It feels different already.  When I wake up, I turn on the radio next to my bed and listen to the BBC World Service, which is the overnight broadcast from the local NPR station.  For the last four years I’ve been hearing from them with their patented British understatement what’s been happening overnight, often leading with something Trump did or said that made me want to roll over and put the pillow over my ears.  But this morning…

Things are happening.  Good things.  Xenophobic and regressive policies are being rolled back.  Covid-19 is being taken seriously.  A press secretary at the podium in the White House briefing room is actually answering questions instead of making shit up on the fly.  People are smiling; you can see it under their masks.

It’s not just about policy, either.  It’s just a feeling that the confrontations, the bullying, the lying for the sake of one-upping, the brutal glare of petulant score-keeping even on those rare occasions when things go well, is now in the past.  The adolescent tantrums are being replaced by the steady hand of maturity and grace.

My jaw isn’t clenched.  I am still aware of the dangers of the pandemic, of those forces inside and out who are against us, but at least I don’t feel that we are teetering on the edge of a cliff.

I know that the euphoria won’t last, but now we can at least get back to work.  We have too much to do.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Better Angels

According to a poll from NBC, 35% of Americans do not believe Joe Biden won the election fairly.

On the other hand, 80% of Americans believe angels are real.

Make of that what you will.

Just Go Already

The Washington Post has up a puff piece on how Melania Trump is, in contrast to her husband, being the mature one about the end of their time in the White House.

Several people who have been in touch with Melania Trump said she is aware of the intense criticism both she and her husband have gotten since the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, but that unlike her spouse she appears completely unfazed. They said she would have been happy to attend President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, as every outgoing president and first lady have for the past 152 years. But rather than dwell on what could have been, she focuses on what she has control over: choreographing her own exit, trying to cement her legacy as a first lady who devoted much time to renovations of the White House, and making plans to continue her “Be Best” initiative. Quietly, she has also been working with Chief Usher Timothy Harleth to facilitate the move-in of the Bidens.

“She has hours left as first lady, but she is not the type to wander around the rooms of the White House in deep reflection of what happened, of what could have been,” said one person in touch with her. “She is Melania — she keeps the focus on what’s next.”

I have avoided writing about her for the entire time she has been First Lady, figuring that being married to Trump was enough of a burden without some smart-ass blogger piling on. In fact, I’ve pretty much been unaware of her, which is probably what she wants and deserves. But the fact that the press has to write up how she’s doing what normally happens when one presidency ends and another begins at the White House without much notice is a commentary on its own about this horrid time in our nation’s history.

As for the rest of that family, I am left with a quote from the noted author William Price Fox: “Just pack yer damn rags and git.”

Monday, January 18, 2021

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sunday Reading

Tell The Whole Story — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker.

One of the most quoted lines in American nonfiction is Joan Didion’s “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” It’s the first sentence of “The White Album,” an essay in which Didion recounts some facts, some images, and some reporting notes from 1968. Didion felt that she had lost the ability to string the stuff of stories into narratives, and, as a result, life itself seemed to drain away. She was plagued with symptoms that were variously interpreted as neurological or psychiatric—or, after the fact, by Didion herself, as a normal reaction to 1968, which could have given anyone a case of vertigo and nausea. Outwardly, she appeared to function, except when she didn’t, when her mind was besieged by disconnected phrases and an overwhelming sense of existential dread, apparently insurmountable for being well founded.

Nations, in this way, are like people: they cannot survive without a story. A common sense of past and future, a broad agreement on organizational principles, trust that your neighbors near and distant share a general understanding of reality and current events—all of these are necessary for any kind of politics to function. American politics right now are like Didion’s life in 1968: a jumble of fragments, a thin veneer of functionality, and an abyss of well-founded existential fear. At this moment, we are deciding whether we will try to forge a coherent story.

During the first impeachment of Donald Trump, in November, 2019, I wrote that it was impossible to observe the hearings without first choosing between two non-overlapping views of reality, two different stories. In one story, Trump had repeatedly abused power and was finally facing impeachment for a particularly egregious incident of abuse. In the other, Democrats had been trying to get Trump for years and had finally latched on to an inconsequential incident, staging a witch trial to get rid of the President. This week, the Republican Party is still closing ranks around the President, with a mere ten exceptions in the House. Wednesday’s impeachment hearing, like the first, was legible only through one of two frames: either Trump organized an attempted coup and was being impeached for it, or, as Representative Jim Jordan, of Ohio, claimed in his speech on the House floor, “It’s always been about getting the President no matter what. It’s an obsession.”

Although several Republican representatives acknowledged that the violence at the Capitol on January 6th was terrifying, condemnable, and un-American, some of them compared it to Black Lives Matter protests, or what they imagined the Black Lives Matter protests to be. “Make no mistake, the left in America has incited far more political violence than the right,” Representative Matt Gaetz, of Florida, said. “For months, our cities burned, police stations burned, our businesses were shattered, and they said nothing.” By this logic, since no one was impeached for, say, the property damage sustained in Minneapolis last year during the protests of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, no one should be impeached for inciting chaos at the Capitol.

President-elect Joe Biden released a statement several hours after the House voted on the motion to impeach. This timing seemed designed to signal that impeachment is not one of Biden’s top priorities. “I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” the statement read. Over all, Biden has distanced himself from the proceedings, underscoring that he sees his job as getting his Cabinet seated, speeding up vaccine distribution, and passing his economic-relief package. On Thursday, barely more than twenty-four hours after the impeachment vote, Biden gave a speech in which he made no mention of it, or Trump, or January 6th.

Most Democrats in the House have based their calls for impeachment on the claim that Trump is a “clear and present danger” and must be removed from office immediately. Framed this way, the process does seem to lose its urgency after Trump has moved out of the White House. The backers of impeachment will then shift their focus on the imperative to prevent Trump from ever running for office again. As malignant as Trump is, though, can the task of banning him from federal office be as urgent as legislative measures that will have a material impact on the lives and health of millions of Americans?

As long as the proceedings are narrowly focussed on Trump, the case for urgency will grow only harder to make. Instead, the goal of the Senate trial should be defined as finding and telling the truth about the insurrection. My colleague Jill Lepore has taken up the question of what we ought to call the events of January 6th. “Any formulation is a non-starter if it diminishes the culpability of people in positions of power who perpetrated the lie that the election was stolen,” she wrote. The task before the Senate, then, ought to be to produce the first draft of those history books.

Too often, we think that trials, whether in the courts or in the Senate, exist to mete out punishment—that they need to establish the facts only to the extent necessary to decide on the charges brought before them and determine the appropriate penalties. But, as of next week, whether Trump should be removed from office will no longer be an operative question. A Senate trial focussed only on Trump may not hold the attention of the media, the public, or even the lawmakers themselves. And if the trial in the Senate sputters out, the story of January 6th will be told in dozens or even hundreds of separate trials, in federal courts located in different states. Different judges will be deciding whether different defendants were guilty of trespassing, damaging federal property, assaulting officers and journalists, and taking part in an insurrection. It will not be the job of any of these judges to paint a comprehensive picture of what happened on January 6th, what led up to the insurrection, and what made it possible.

In the absence of such a story, the task of preventing future insurrections will fall to the F.B.I. and the uniformed services. Security in the Capitol and the capital will be permanently increased; domestic surveillance will grow in scale. In other words, the U.S. will respond to this crisis the way that it has responded to other crises: with securitization and the curtailment of political rights. The grave term “domestic terrorist,” which has gathered much traction in the past week, paves the way for just such a response. But the insurrectionists were not terrorists. Their primary purpose was not to inspire terror in the general population; their purpose was to prevent the elected President from taking office. Unlike most terrorists, they acted directly upon their target, going to the seat of political power in the United States and attempting to seize power, following what they perceived as orders from the President of the United States.

Reframing the Senate trial of Trump as a truth-finding mission rather than a punitive undertaking requires a voice more authoritative than that of any one senator or even a majority of the Senate. It requires the voice of President-elect Biden. Such a proposition runs against all of Biden’s political instincts: the idea that he should focus on his own Administration and his legislative agenda; the tradition of moving on in the name of healing; the knowledge that getting things done in the Senate is the process of counting votes, negotiating, making concessions; the desire to get results in the most efficient way possible.

An attempt to tell the story of the insurrection—and the story of the Trump Presidency, which made it possible—would not be efficient. It would have to be sprawling, ambitious, grand. It would require the President-elect and senators to use their full political and intellectual muscle. This needs to be done not because it is necessary to punish and banish Trump, but because this country cannot rely only on snatches of stories that float haphazardly through non-overlapping realities. Biden certainly fears that insisting on a deep and broad Senate trial would further alienate Trump’s supporters. But if impeachment is allowed to fizzle, or even to proceed in the most efficient way possible, that will guarantee nearly half of Americans will watch the process without having to challenge the notion that the Democrats are simply out to get Trump. Can they be pulled in by a more detailed, more truthful, and undoubtedly more troubling story? We cannot know—but without telling a story we cannot live.

Joe [hearts] Bernie — Charlie Pierce on Biden’s economics.

On Thursday night, we saw President-Elect Joe Biden bow to the iron constraints of The Blog’s First Law of Economics. To wit:

Fck the deficit. People got no jobs. People got no money.

To which we have added the codicil:

People got the ‘Rona.

For decades, Biden’s been a fiscal liberal, but one who was willing to cut deals that made him look less like a liberal and more like a creature of the mushy center. On Thursday, with a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” he declared himself firmly on the side of Professor Keynes.

I know what I just described does not come cheaply, but we simply can’t afford not to do what I’m proposing. If we invest now boldly, smartly and with unwavering focus on American workers and families, we will strengthen our economy, reduce inequity and put our nation’s long-term finances on the most sustainable course.

No hedging. Not even a head fake toward The Deficit. Nothing about tax cuts. We will spend, and spend big, because that’s what this unprecedented double crisis demands. And there was more.

You won’t see this pain if your score card is how things are going on Wall Street. But you will see it very clearly if you examine what the twin crises of a pandemic and this sinking economy have laid bare. The growing divide between those few people at the very top who are doing quite well in this economy, and the rest of America. Just since this pandemic began, the wealth of the top 1% of the nation has grown roughly $1.5 trillion since the end of last year. Four times the amount for the entire bottom 50% of American wage earners. Some 18 million Americans are still relying on unemployment insurance, some 400,000 small businesses have permanently closed their doors. It’s not hard to see that we’re in the middle of a once in several generations economic crisis with a once in several generations public health crisis.

To hear Joe Biden sounding like Bernie Sanders, and to hear him put economic inequality in the middle of his plan to revive the country’s economy, is to hear for the first time in a long while that the federal government knows what it’s there for. After four miserable years being in thrall to the whims of an incompetent president,* and a Republican Congress that repurposed itself as nothing more than the Human Resources department of the federal judiciary, the federal government is stirring again to act on its own. If nothing else, Joe Biden knows where all the levers are. That, in itself, is a cause for hope.

Doonesbury — What’s left?

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Random Youtubery

Normally on MLK Weekend, I’d be over on Miami Beach at the Art Deco Weekend car show on Ocean Drive.  But this year it’s been cancelled — or postponed until next year — so for the first time since 2002, I get to spend the weekend at home.

But all is not lost.  The Miami Preservation League asked our club to put together a virtual  car show, and our webmaster Bob did a great job of pulling photos from some of our best shows and best cars.  So take a look at what we’ve done before and hope to do in coming years when this plague is behind us.

Here’s a look at one of the cars you might have seen at the show: a 1931 Ford Model A.

Friday, January 15, 2021

A Little Night Music

Forty years ago tonight, “Hill Street Blues” premiered on NBC.  It and “St. Elsewhere” were the reasons I finally broke down and bought a VCR so I could tape episodes while I was in rehearsal.

Thank You, Friend

Yesterday I drove the Pontiac to the supermarket.  As I was crossing the parking lot, a man called out to me and asked if that was my car.  I replied that it was; I’m used to people asking me about it.  But he said he’d seen it on the internet and knew the owner lived in the area, that the owner wrote a blog called Bark Bark Woof Woof, and wanted to someday meet him.  I grinned and said thanks.  He said he’s a reader, never commented, but enjoyed my work.  And then he said that there are a lot more people who agree with what I write.

We talked as we went into the store.  He’s about my age, he works as a carpenter for the school district; we’d met up as he was going in to get his lunch, I think.  He told me his name, but I’m not going to share it because I didn’t tell him I’d write about our meeting.

I know that there are a lot more lurkers here than commenters, but even so, it is very nice to hear from them.  Thank you.