Monday, November 12, 2018

Day Off

Today is the federal and public school holiday to mark Veterans Day, but since all of the ceremonies and the commemoration took place yesterday on the actual day, today is mostly a day when the banks are closed, school is out, and therefore I’m taking today to catch up on the chores I didn’t do when I was otherwise occupied on Saturday and Sunday.

If you missed my annual Veterans Day tribute, scroll down to yesterday.

Anyway, enjoy the day off if you have it.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Veterans Day

One hundred years ago today — November 11, 1918 — the guns fell silent across Europe, marking the armistice that brought an end to the fighting in World War I. It used to be called Armistice Day. Because it falls on a Sunday, tomorrow will be the official holiday to commemorate Veterans Day.

It’s become my tradition here to mark the day with the poem In Flanders Field by John McCrae.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872-1918)

I honor my father, two uncles, a cousin, a great uncle, many friends and colleagues, and the millions known and unknown who served our country in the armed forces.

My father (left) and his twin, 1944

Sunday Reading

Invasive Pythons — Charlie Pierce on the GOP shenanigans in Florida’s recount.

Before we descend into the madness that is Florida and the way it conducts itself during elections, we should get a bit of a look at what’s at stake so we can understand a) why the Republicans are fighting so hard; b) why the Democrats should match their ferocity, and c) why Marco Rubio is peddling his self respect one Tweet at a time on the electric Twitter machine. As part of the latter effort, Rubio tweeted out a video from a guy who was a Seth Rich Truther. But we are concerned at the moment withother swamps and other critters therein. From the Miami Herald:

In a series of morning tweets, Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg claimed “the public deception is underway” as a South Florida Water Management District government board meeting started in Miami. Eikenberg accused officials of trying to derail the project by tying up the land for two more years and failing to give adequate notice for the decision. U.S. Rep. Brian Mast echoed those concerns during public comment, saying Ron DeSantis, the Republican who has railed against the sugar industry and maintains a narrow lead in a state governor race facing a recount, asked him to deliver a message: Postpone the vote. “The governor-elect as well as federal legislators would like to be briefed,” said Mast, a fellow Republican whose district includes coastal communities along the St. Lucie River repeatedly slammed by blue-green algae blooms ignited by polluted water from Lake Okeechobee.

DiSantis [sic], who is headed for Recount City with Andrew Gillum, and Rick Scott,who is presently tied up pretending to be Juan Peron in his battle against Senator Bill Nelson, both have opposed extending the leases on the land held by the literal sugar daddies. Everybody—including Senators Nelson and Rubio—have argued for the necessity of letting the leases run and then establishing the reservoir on that land. The state has been an environmental catastrophe this year, so much so that even Scott, who would sell his grandmother for parts if he thought the old girl would bring a price, got concerned.

This past summer, that outrage was compounded by a saltwater red tide, also fed by coastal pollution, that littered beaches with dead marine life and became a central issue in a heated election. DeSantis, who claimed to be the “only candidate who fought Big Sugar and lived to tell about it,” and voted against sugar subsidies while in Congress, has been embraced by some environmentalists. His opposition to the industry helped him win an endorsement from the Everglades Trust and a hearty congratulations from the Everglades Foundation, which does not endorse candidates but has lent support, including a press conference with outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the closing days of his race against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. The tight Nelson-Scott race is also going to a recount. District officials said they complied with meeting laws and would have listed Thursday’s vote in the meeting agenda sooner but only reached a deal with Florida Crystals late Wednesday. Board chairman Federico Fernandez, who seemed genuinely surprised by the negative reaction, said he was assured the decision met requirements.

This is part of the reason why the fight in Florida has gone to knives as swiftly as it has. Along with the climate crisis, quick-buck development scams and environmental predation have been devouring Florida for decades and the political establishment there never has been able to unite against these threats to the ordinary citizens.This time, apparently, it has. So the reservoir now becomes something that may be at stake in whatever backroom maneuvering is undertaken in the pursuit of the two contested political offices. And, my lord, is that becoming a tangled disaster. Once again, Broward County is haunting the nation’s dreams and, once again, we find ourselves in the preposterous position of having one of the candidates controlling the process of settling an election in which he is involved. The count in the Senate race has closed to within the state’s requirement for a statewide hand recount, and Scott went into a frenzy trying to stop it. From the Tampa Bay Times:

Rick Scott filed suit against Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes over the county’s delay in completing its count of the votes from the midterm election. Scott sued as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, not in his capacity as governor of Florida. Scott followed up by lashing out at Snipes in an extraordinary press conference at the Governor’s Mansion on Thursday night. Broward County lags the rest of the state in completing the first, crucial phases of counting ballots from Tuesday’s midterm election. As of 8 p.m. Thursday, the same time the governor summoned reporters to the mansion, Broward County was the only one of the state’s 67 counties that had not reported to the state that it had completed its tabulation of early votes. Early voting ended Sunday in Broward.

Scott, acting in his capacity as governor in furtherance of his attempt to become senator, sicc’ed the state police on the election officials in Broward. Armed police officers were headed to the counting houses. In a late-night press conference, Scott wentall the way up the wall.

“I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida,” Scott told reporters on the front steps of the stately Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee. The targets of Scott’s wrath were Brenda Snipes, the Broward County elections supervisor, and Palm Beach supervisor Susan Bucher. Both officials are Democrats; Scott is a Republican. Scott unleashed the attack as his slim lead over Democrat Bill Nelson in the Senate race continued to evaporate. It stood at 15,092 votes, or .18 percent, on Thursday night. President Trump chimed in on Twitter, describing, without any evidence, a “big corruption scandal” involving election fraud in South Florida. Scott took the unusual step of delivering a partisan political attack from his taxpayer-funded residence, which is reserved for official state events.

A reminder: what we are talking about here is the counting of votes, which is the basic fundamental process for every election. We are not talking about recounts and chads and all that other nonsense that is surely coming down the pike because this is Florida, man. We are talking about counting the votes. And Scott is using his authority as governor to ratfck that process with armed law-enforcement personnel. Somebody get this guy a white suit with some braid, and a balcony on which to stand. And he’s doing so with the entire Republican political apparatus up to and including the White House supporting him by enabling and weaponizing what are so far baseless charges. There is a great deal at stake here. We should wait and see what gets traded away and what gets held hostage and which firmly held political positions are used as currency. The gators and cranes and invasive pythons in the Everglades should be watching, too.

The Queer Coming-of-Age Film Comes of Age — Spencer Kornhaber in The Atlantic.

“My God, are we gonna be like our parents?” That’s the fear voiced by one of the five motley high-school students locked in detention in John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club—and that’s the crucial question underlying most movies about adolescents coming of age. The onscreen antics of teenagers might take the form of giddy flirtations (Grease), drunken ramblings (Dazed and Confused), or feisty self-renaming (Lady Bird), but the kids’ objectives are usually the same: to fashion an identity by rebelling against the authorities—and expectations—that raised them. This quest is, however, circular. The losing of virginities and conquering of cliques may require transgressions in the moment, but by the time the credits roll, the teens have generally started prepping for a productive adulthood against which their own children might someday revolt.

For some kids, though, rule-breaking is less a route toward self-definition than a requirement built into existence. That’s the reality recognized by a recent crop of popular films centered on the queer teen, a figure who until now has been cinematically marginal: casually stigmatized in crass banter, relegated to playing sidekick in someone else’s rites of passage, or claiming the foreground only for small art-house audiences. The first major-studio movie about adolescent gay romance, Greg Berlanti’s spring hit, Love, Simon, uses teen-comedy tropes to portray homosexuality as no big deal in a well-off, relatively woke slice of America. But other recent films, set in less tolerant places and eras, hint that integrating queerness into a schema that has been overwhelmingly straight isn’t so simple.
Two prominent depictions of Christian gay-to-straight “conversion therapy,” the star-studded Boy Erased and the Sundance winner The Miseducation of Cameron Post, forgo the notion of puberty as a full-circle journey. So, in more oblique ways, did Moonlight, the Best Picture winner at the 2017 Oscars, and the 2018 Best Picture contender Call Me by Your Name. Whether persecuted or nurtured by their surroundings, queer teens fundamentally flip the Breakfast Club script: Their fear is not that they’ll become their parents, but that they face a future in which that isn’t a possibility. If that sounds potentially freeing, it is also, in these movies at least, a special kind of terrifying.

In literature and elsewhere, the go-to queer narrative is the coming-out story, which might seem well suited to the on-screen LGBTQ teenager on the brink of autonomy. After all, high-school movies are always, on some level, about outing: The protagonist struggles—nervously or defiantly or both—to announce who she really is to the world. But the queer teens now taking center stage are understandably gun-shy about this rite. Almost in passing, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird highlights the difference in what’s at stake. For Saoirse Ronan in the title role, bucking the dutiful-teen image is a performative thrill; her boyfriend (Lucas Hedges), who she discovers is gay, isn’t ready to upend parental expectations in what feels like a more irrevocable way.

Putting that apprehension in the foreground, this year’s gay-teen movies summon external forces to yank identity struggles into the open. In Love, Simon, Simon (Nick Robinson) is blackmailed by a classmate who discovers the secret Simon had hoped to keep through high school—and the kid eventually outs him anyway. Family members, peers, and school staff rally in support of an almost caricatured romantic-comedy finale for Simon: Young lovers ride a Ferris wheel, happily ever after. Simon never dreamed he’d remain in the closet; he just wanted to time his emergence to his arrival at college. That the mortifying disruption of this plan turns out to be kismet is not unlike what happens to the straight teens of Sixteen Candles and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, who have their private crushes revealed against their will.

The recent conversion-therapy movies redraw the blueprint more radically with the simple recognition that for a lot of queer youths, exposure really can spell catastrophe. In Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, set in the 1990s, the title character (Chloë Grace Moretz) is furtively hooking up with another girl at prom when the car door is flung open by Cameron’s male date. In Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased, Jared (Hedges again), the Arkansas son of a hard-line preacher (Russell Crowe), diligently resists acting on his same-sex attractions—but is still outed, in extremely traumatic circumstances, when he goes to college in the early 2000s. The unmasking of these characters doesn’t represent a capstone of self-actualization; it kicks off a communal effort to constrain who they might become—to stop same-sex attraction before it “gets worse,” as one Boy Erased church elder puts it.

Change, usually the liberating mantra of coming-of-age movies, represents oppression and conformity in these films: It’s what the Christian brainwashing camps insist is possible for gay teens, something very near the opposite of the discovery of a true self. The comic pop-culture trope of the regimented high school morphs into a grimmer setting of hapless yet powerful adults and trapped kids. Even the homework is a perverse twist. For The Breakfast Club’s crew, being forced to write an essay about “who you think you are” offers each teen a pretext to break out of a stereotyped public image. But mandatory self-analysis, when truly futile, begins to resemble torture: Jared must annotate his family tree with the sins of his forebears (alcoholism, gambling, gang affiliation), and Cameron draws an iceberg showing all the supposedly malign influences below her surface (enjoyment of sports, lack of positive female role models). “How is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?” Cameron asks.Seeing through the quacks in charge and confirming the truth of their own desires—which both of them ultimately do (Jared with the eventual support of his mother)—isn’t a prelude to fruitful rebellion or an upbeat transition away from home. Jared the earnest church kid frets about his parents’ love more than anything else. Cameron takes on light punk airs, joining ranks with the pot-smoking skeptics in the program she’s sent to, but she’s not fighting the system to achieve acceptance. Though both characters end up as runaways of sorts, they don’t seem to be running toward any particular adulthood they may be dreaming of. Survival has to come first.

Set further in the past, the breakout queer-teen movies of the previous two years each consider—from opposite perspectives—how a person’s initial environs might follow them forever. In Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, the black youth Chiron (played in turn by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) suffers bullying and parental abuse as he grows up amid Miami drug dealers and addicts in the 1980s. Moments of grace and fellowship are precious, and he’s shown acting on his same-sex desires in only one fleeting teenage encounter. In his high-school years, he does rebel—but by savagely beating a classmate, making a display of masculinity that brings him in line with the heterosexual status quo. Years later, he hasn’t diverged from the script that shaped his youth—he’s become a drug dealer—and whether he may belatedly be ready to pursue his desires is left open. Life itself may have erased this boy.

A contrast to Chiron in so many ways, the white and wealthy Elio (Timothée Chalamet) of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name avails himself of a few different scripts over one blissful ’80s summer in the Italian countryside. Like a stereotypical 17-year-old, he sneaks around in pursuit of sex behind his worldly parents’ backs, at first with girls and soon with Oliver (Armie Hammer), the handsome graduate student spending the summer at his family’s villa. Yet what looks like brave same-sex exploration on his own terms is suddenly cast in a very different light at the film’s close: Elio’s father indicates that he’s been aware of the affair all along. In fact, he’s been jealous of it, having yearned in vain for similar experiences.

Can Elio be who his father wishes he’d been? The film holds out, for a moment, the utopian possibility that a queer kid could be propelled forward by the possibility of fulfilling unmet parental dreams, rather than disappointing deeply entrenched ones. Yet a shadow flits across that uplifting prospect. Elio is soon heartbroken to learn that Oliver, who has returned to his grad-student life, is marrying a woman. “You’re so lucky,” the older man tells the younger one over the phone while reflecting on their tryst. “My father would have carted me off to a correctional facility.” In the film’s pointedly open-ended final scene, Elio just sits and cries. Presumably he’s contemplating the mystery of his future, one in which the men who might have been his role models appear to have surrendered some part of themselves. Even in Elio’s liberation, there’s no clear path for him to walk.

Most teen stories, of course, are open-ended on some level. Puberty breaks everyone’s life in two, and what comes after graduation is necessarily unwritten. But for gay kids, a ready synthesis between the old order and the new sexual self doesn’t obviously await. Willingly or not, they’re swept into an unfolding historical saga. These characters thus come to inhabit their misfit status—a dislocation that’s permanent and deep, rather than fleeting and cosmetic—reluctantly, quietly, and often with gestures toward external conformity.

In look and feel, these movies mimic their muted heroes. Mostly gone are the hijinks and raunch of typical teen comedy, eclipsed by struggles to belong that tend toward stately, notably pretty melodrama. A sensitive camera eye helps capture teens’ interiority, a social vista, and the chasm between them. Yet the critic D. A. Miller has convincingly argued that mainstream gay movies’ “mandatory aesthetic laminate, which can never shine brightly enough with dappled light,” is also a sop: meant to make homosexuality palatable for a broad audience.

Certainly it’s curious that in an age of unprecedented visibility for LGBTQ communities, the queer teens chosen for the cinematic spotlight appear so allergic to, well, seeming gay. Simon is self-mocking as he at one point indulges in a daydream of being accompanied by a rainbow-clad cheering squad when he leaves the closet, and he keeps the only out kid at school—sardonic, femme, and black—at arm’s length. Elio pokes fun at the flamboyant older gay couple who visit his parents, and Jared’s arrival into a life of writing New York Times op-eds and attending Brooklyn dinner parties is shown glancingly, in an epiloguelike time jump. Whether the implied assimilationist impulse reflects the filmmakers’ or the characters’ caution is up for debate. Either way, the caution serves as a reminder: There’s a reason slogans like “It gets better” have tried to give queer kids the kind of optimistic narrative arc that pop culture has offered straight teens for so long.

And even in their mannered quietude and their relegation of politics to subtext, these films carry a disruptive message. Boy Erased ends with Jared telling his dad that he, not Jared, is the one who needs to change. When Simon’s father repents for all the gay jokes he’s told over the years, the gesture is warm but wan. The parental apology suggests why coming of age feels so heavy in these movies: It’s the world, not just the teen, that’s struggling to mature.
Doonesbury — Veterans Day.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Good Fit

Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, seems like a perfect fit for the Trump administration.

Before Whitaker joined the Trump administration as a political appointee, the Republican lawyer and legal commentator complained that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the election and of the Trump campaign was dangerously close to overreaching. He suggested ways it could be stopped or curtailed and urged his followers on Twitter to read a story that dubbed the investigators “Mueller’s lynch mob.”

Now — at least on an interim basis — Whitaker will assume authority over that investigation, an arrangement that has triggered calls by Democrats for him to recuse himself.

He also harbors interesting views on the role of the Supreme Court in the scheme of things, arguing that the landmark 1803 Marbury v. Madison case that affirmed the court’s role as the final arbiter of interpreting the Constitution was one of the worst decisions the court has rendered.

“There are so many,” he replied. “I would start with the idea of Marbury v. Madison. That’s probably a good place to start and the way it’s looked at the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of constitutional issues. We’ll move forward from there. All New Deal cases that were expansive of the federal government. Those would be bad. Then all the way up to the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate.”

He also seems to think that our laws descend from a higher power.

During a 2014 Senate debate sponsored by a conservative Christian organization, he said that in helping confirm judges, “I’d like to see things like their worldview, what informs them. Are they people of faith? Do they have a biblical view of justice? — which I think is very important.”

At that point, the moderator interjected: “Levitical or New Testament?”

“New Testament,” Whitaker affirmed. “And what I know is as long as they have that worldview, that they’ll be a good judge. And if they have a secular worldview, then I’m going to be very concerned about how they judge.”

Religious tests for judges are barred by the Constitution, but I think we already know where he stands on interpreting it.

To round out the rest of the portfolio, as an attorney he’s been accused of defrauding clients.

When federal investigators were digging into an invention-promotion company accused of fraud by customers, they sought information in 2017 from a prominent member of the company’s advisory board, according to two people familiar with the probe: Matthew G. Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa.

It is unclear how Whitaker — who was appointed acting attorney general by President Trump on Wednesday — responded to a Federal Trade Commission subpoena to his law firm.

In the end, the FTC filed a complaint against Miami-based World Patent Marketing, accusing it of misleading investors and falsely promising that it would help them patent and profit from their inventions, according to court filings.

In May of this year, a federal court in Florida ordered the company to pay a settlement of more than $25 million and close up shop, records show. The company did not admit or deny wrongdoing.

Whitaker’s sudden elevation this week to replace fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions has put new scrutiny on his involvement with the shuttered company, whose advisory board he joined in 2014, shortly after making a failed run for U.S. Senate in Iowa.

At the time, he was also running a conservative watchdog group with ties to other powerful nonprofits on the right and was beginning to develop a career as a Trump-friendly cable television commentator.

So, he’s got authoritarian-executive views of the basic laws of the country, he wants religious tests for judges, and he’s provided legal counsel to a fraudulent get-rich-quick scheme here in Florida.

My only question is why wasn’t he the first pick for Trump’s attorney general before Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III?

Bonus Track: According to two highly-respected legal scholars, Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III, Trump’s appointment of Mr. Whitaker as acting attorney general is unconstitutional.

What now seems an eternity ago, the conservative law professor Steven Calabresi published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May arguing that Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was unconstitutional. His article got a lot of attention, and it wasn’t long before President Trump picked up the argument, tweeting that “the Appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”

Professor Calabresi’s article was based on the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2. Under that provision, so-called principal officers of the United States must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate under its “Advice and Consent” powers.

He argued that Mr. Mueller was a principal officer because he is exercising significant law enforcement authority and that since he has not been confirmed by the Senate, his appointment was unconstitutional. As one of us argued at the time, he was wrong. What makes an officer a principal officer is that he or she reports only to the president. No one else in government is that person’s boss. But Mr. Mueller reports to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. So, Mr. Mueller is what is known as an inferior officer, not a principal one, and his appointment without Senate approval was valid.

But Professor Calabresi and Mr. Trump were right about the core principle. A principal officer must be confirmed by the Senate. And that has a very significant consequence today.

It means that Mr. Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid.

I heard one conservative commentator suggest that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 allows such appointments in the case of a vacancy or incapacity, but it is for a relatively short period, and besides, the Constitution has supremacy.  So if Mr. Whitaker tries to fire Robert Mueller, he may face a legal challenge.

PS: Karma strikes again: George T. Conway III, the co-author of the op-ed, is married to Kellyanne Conway.

In Florida, It Ain’t Over

Here we go again.  Via the Tampa Bay Times:

A visibly frustrated Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday accused “unethical liberals” of trying to steal a U.S. Senate seat from him, as his campaign filed a lawsuit against election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties for allegedly refusing to release voting tabulations.

“I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida,” Scott told reporters on the front steps of the stately  Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee.

The targets of Scott’s wrath were Brenda Snipes, the Broward County elections supervisor, and Palm Beach supervisor Susan Bucher. Both officials are Democrats; Scott is a Republican.

Scott unleashed the attack as his slim lead over Democrat Bill Nelson in the Senate race continued to evaporate. It stood at 15,092 votes, or .18 percent, on Thursday night.

“And I would have pulled it off if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!” said every villain in a Scooby Doo cartoon.  Nature and barbering choices are what made Mr. Scott look the part, but it goes along with the axiom that Republicans believe that counting every vote is tantamount to fraud

Meanwhile, Andrew Gillum, who had conceded the governors race to Republican Ron DeSantis, is having second thoughts as the count narrows down to the range of an automatic recount.

As of 9 a.m. [Thursday], DeSantis’ lead was just 42,948 votes out of 8,189,305 ballots cast — equal to 0.52 percent of the vote. Concession speech or no, Florida law requires an automatic machine recount in any race where the margin of victory is within one half of one percentage point.

By 2 p.m., Gillum gained on DeSantis by another 4,441 votes, and now trails by only 0.47 percent.

Thousands of ballots still remain uncounted, so it’s too soon to say whether a recount will indeed happen in the race for governor. Florida’s 67 elections supervisors must send their unofficial numbers to the state by 1 p.m. Saturday, and campaign volunteers were scrambled around the state Thursday as supervisors prepared to examine provisional ballots cast by voters with unresolved issues at their polling places.

The Gillum campaign sent out an email to supporters Thursday afternoon urging those with provisional ballots to call their supervisor of elections offices before 5 p.m. to make sure their ballot was counted, and campaign spokeswoman Johanna Cervone said the campaign was prepared for a recount effort.

“It has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported,” she said in a statement. “Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount.”

There’s good reason for both Scott and DeSantis to be worried.  All of the votes haven’t been counted in Broward County, which is Fort Lauderdale, and that’s the most Democratic county in the state.  If there’s going to be a change in the resumed result of Tuesday night, it’s going to come from those votes.

Might as well get comfortable; we’re going to be here for a while.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Fifteen Years

Today marks fifteen years since November 8, 2003, when I sat down to set up this blog on Blogger and wrote the first post of Bark Bark Woof Woof.  Back then I was living in a little apartment in unincorporated Miami-Dade County, I was a little over a year into my job with the public schools, and I was in my early fifties, single, and had visions of becoming part of the burgeoning blogosphere and a famous writer.  We were a year away from the 2004 election and outraged at the excesses of the Bush administration and vowing to take our country back from the warmongering and arrogant GOP.  I drove a Mustang convertible and had a Pontiac station wagon in the parking lot awaiting restoration, knowing it would be another ten years before it would be considered old enough to enter in antique car shows.

Well, fifteen years later, I’ve moved twice, changed servers twice, updated the blog from Blogger to WordPress with the invaluable guidance and expertise of my brother, and, according to the stats counter, written over 28,000 posts.  With a few exceptions due to weather and internet access, I’ve written every post and written something (or at least put up something) every day, be it a simple observation — How about those Tigers? — or a long essay on something that strikes me as important and worth sharing, be it marriage equality or nostalgia about leaving my old home town.  Much water has gone under the bridge, but some things have not changed: I still work for the public schools, I still have a Mustang convertible (though not the same one), and I still have the Pontiac, now restored and going to car shows.  And I’m still finding things to wax long or short about, and I’m still getting up at 3 a.m. to look at the world and try to find some way to make sense of it all.

This is the place where I say thank you to you, the reader, for coming here whenever you do and seeing what I’ve put up, and for those of you who comment, a sincere thanks for your support, your guidance, your corrections, and your indulgence.  I’ve gotten to know many of you in real life and I truly appreciate your friendship and support.

By the way, when I started this blog I made a somewhat diligent effort to keep my real name off the pages because I was pretty sure that writing an opinion blog while working for the public schools could cause issues.  Well, I’m less than a year away from retirement, I’ve rarely if ever written about anything to do with my work (and when I have it’s been supportive), and it doesn’t take a crack team of cyberanalysts to figure out who I am.  So I’ll tell you: my real name is Philip Middleton Williams, and if you want to know about my playwriting, you can look me up on the New Play Exchange.  I will still blog under the name Mustang Bobby and credit my alter-ego Bobby Cramer with all the work because he’s still a large part of my creative writing.  He will get his turn on stage next March when “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton.

Anyway, fifteen years down and many more to come.  What’s next?

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Reasons For Hope

It wasn’t a wave, but it was enough to win the House, and that was as good a result as we could have reasonably hoped for in these contentious and tense times.

Here in Florida, Andrew Gillum gave it as good a run as possible and came very close to winning against a Trump puppet who undoubtedly counted on the inner racism of the GOP base here in places where old times there are not forgotten and the idea of a non-white person in the governors mansion in any capacity other than a servant is still cause for pearl-clutching.  In the Senate, a lot of voters probably forgot that Bill Nelson was still in office; he is not a dynamic campaigner.  But he did get things done, and he tempered the state’s image against that of the weathervane that is Marco Rubio.  The only saving grace of having Rick Scott in the Senate is that he will be spending more time out of the state, and with Congress now split between the Democrats in the House and the Republicans in the Senate, nothing will be passed and certain things will be saved, such as Obamacare and Medicaid expansion.  I’d rather have him retired and commenting on Fox than in elected office, but at least he won’t be able to do any harm.

Much to Florida’s credit, the voters passed Amendment 4 which restores the voting rights to convicted felons who have served their sentences, adding about 1.4 million voters back to the rolls.  That could have a deep impact in the 2020 election if they vote the way the demographics indicate they could.  Locally, the voters of Miami-Dade County passed a property tax increase to fund pay raises for public school teachers and support personnel, including school police.  Seeing as how teachers here can barely afford to live in the county, it’s a good step forward.

On the national scene, there’s reasons to be encouraged even if some of the hopes for a turnover in the Senate went aglimmering.  Beto O’Rourke gave Ted Cruz a very strong run and I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts getting the national attention in 2020.  Scott Walker lost the governorship in Wisconsin, Democrats won theirs in Michigan and Minnesota, and in Colorado, voters elected Jared Polis, the first openly gay governor in the nation.  They also flipped a House seat in a district that has been reliably Republican since I lived there in the 1980’s.  Nevada also went Democratic in both the Senate and the governorship, taking that state back.  Most importantly and a result that will have an impact long after this election and the one after it is over, the number of women who ran and won is stunning.  Finally, nearly a hundred years after they got the vote, there’s hope that the majority of people in the country will at last have equal representation in the halls of power.

Yes, there was some disappointment.  A lot of people — myself included — were hoping for a wave of the scale that would not just beat the Republicans to a pulp but humiliate them and Trump as well.  Given his propensity for lying, taking credit where none is due, and skirting blame when he was the cause, he’ll take yesterday’s votes as an endorsement of his campaign style.  Starting today — Campaign 2020 began when the last poll closed last night — we’re in for two years of making the last two years look like an episode of Mister Rogers.  But at least he won’t be able to pass any legislation.

So there is reason to hope.  A lot of it.  And temper your disappointment with resolve.  Like any movie about competition, the hero always loses the first round but comes back to win.  And we’re halfway there already.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

This Is It

You know what to do.

I arrived at the polling place at 7:10 a.m., ten minutes after the polls opened.  I had to drive around the large parking lot to find a place to park.  I drove the Pontiac with the Ontario plates in full display just to freak out any right-wing nutter poll-watcher (Imagined confrontation: “Hey, are you Canadian?” “No, but the car is, and it’s old enough to vote, too!”)  By the time I got to the entrance to the church parish hall, there was a line of sixteen people out the door.

When I finally got in and waited to check in, I stood behind a young guy, and I overheard him tell the clerk his birthday.  He was born in 2000, and I found out later that this was his first election.  I told him, “Welcome to the fight.”  I don’t care who he voted for; if he voted the opposite of me, we cancelled each other out, and if he vote with me, then so much the better.  At least he voted.

The ballot was four pages with two sides to page.  In addition to the state and local races, there were constitutional amendments and county referendums, and a question to increase the local millage to give teachers and instructional support staff a raise.  Not a tough choice on that one.

I finished in about fifteen minutes and the line had shrunk to where everyone was inside the hall, but there was still a line.  As I left I was stopped by a local reporter who asked if I vote in every election.  Yes, I replied, starting in 1972 at the Oak Avenue fire station in Coconut Grove, about ten miles from here, and it won’t be my last.

If you don’t vote, you don’t count.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Peak Freak

So we’re down to the last 24 hours before the polls open for the mid-terms and everyone is in the full-press mode to the end.  My e-mail box is stuffed with pleas from candidates all over the country (that’s because of posting the blog’s e-mail address), the cable channels are filled with warring ads from both parties and PAC’s, and even my phone is getting in on the act with texts urging me to vote early.  I only hope the enthusiasm and urgency was reciprocated by the early voters and will be tomorrow when the polls open.

Meanwhile, Trump is running around the country like his hair was on fire (okay, skip the cheap shot about flammable materials and accelerants) doing his best (or worst) to scare the crap out of the foolish and the weak, going only to places where he knows he’ll get a fawning reception, lying his ass off about what the Democrats will do when they get back in power; lying to the point that reporters aren’t couching their terms in quasi-objective modes but calling him a flat-out liar.

Trump has never been hemmed in by fact, fairness or even logic. The 45th president proudly refuses to apologize and routinely violates the norms of decorum that guided his predecessors. But at one mega-rally after another in the run-up to Tuesday’s midterm elections, Trump has taken his no-boundaries political ethos to a new level — demagoguing the Democrats in a whirl of distortion and using the power of the federal government to amplify his fantastical arguments.

In Columbia, Mo., the president suggested that Democrats “run around like antifa” demonstrators in black uniforms and black helmets, but underneath, they have “this weak little face” and “go back home into mommy’s basement.”

In Huntington, W.Va., Trump called predatory immigrants “the worst scum in the world” but alleged that Democrats welcome them by saying, “Fly right in, folks. Come on in. We don’t care who the hell you are, come on in!”

And in Macon, Ga., he charged that if Democrat Stacey Abrams is elected governor, she would take away the Second Amendment right to bear arms — though as a state official, she would not have the power to change the Constitution.

Unmoored from reality, Trump has at times become a false prophet, too. He has been promising a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class, though no such legislation exists. And he has sounded alarms over an imminent “invasion” of dangerous “illegal aliens,” referring to a caravan of Central American migrants that includes many women and children, is traveling by foot and is not expected to reach the U.S.-Mexico border for several weeks, if at all.

This kind of desperation usually presages a humiliation.  Those of us of a certain age remember the mid-terms of 1970 when the Nixon administration unleashed a barrage of lies and fear that backfired spectacularly to the point that when Nixon formed his reelection committee he instituted a mindset that amplified his inborn paranoia to the point that led to felonies and articles of impeachment.

To their credit, most of the Democrats have ignored the outrageous bullshit and focused on the things that matter to the voters such as the assault on healthcare and the grossly unfair tax cuts that left them holding the bag on the deficit.  They know — and hopefully the voters will too — that schoolyard taunts and conspiracy theory fantasies are distractions that work great in the MAGA mindset but are not solutions to the problems that they see everyday: sure, the economy is doing great (thanks, Obama!) but we still have lead in our water, red tide on the beach, crushing tariffs on steel and soybeans, and a promise to repeal the healthcare provisions that everybody needs.

We will know in 48 hours which way worked.  Being the optimist that I am, I think the voters of this country will deliver a resounding defeat to the voices of fear and loathing.  I believe the Democrats will take control of the House, they will win a number of governorships, and, most importantly, make deep inroads in state and local elections to begin to turn back the sea change, both literally and figuratively, that got us to this stage.  If not, we’re witnessing the unraveling of the promise of democracy and this could be one of the last elections where we really had a choice.

Good Question

A friend on Facebook:

You know what just struck me out of the blue? How New Orleans was abandoned for 5 days and it took a year to begin restoring electricity to Puerto Rico, but we can get 10,000 troops to the Texas border in a matter of days to protect us from a group of unarmed asylum seekers who are still 2 months travel away from our border. I am perplexed.

Yeah, how about that?