Monday, October 21, 2019

Below The Fold

Three years ago, Hillary Clinton’s e-mails were banner headlines and the investigations, speculations, and wild-eyed coverage probably contributed to her loss.  Now, after all that, we have this.

A yearslong State Department investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server found that while the use of the system for official business increased the risk of compromising classified information, there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information.

The inquiry, started more than three years ago, found that 38 current or former State Department officials were “culpable” of violating security procedures in a review of about 33,000 individual emails sent to or from the server that Mrs. Clinton turned over to investigators.

As the New York Times put in a footnote:

A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 16 of the New York edition with the headline: Quiet Ending For Inquiry Into Emails And Server.

Page A16, right next to the news about the potluck at the VFW and the bowling scores.

That says more about the state of American journalism than anything else.

 

Catching Up

It was a long weekend in Lakeland.  The fuel system on the Pontiac had some issues to the point that we got about 85 miles from Miami and had to turn around and come home.  We left the Pontiac at Bob’s house and took his car.  Tropical Storm Nestor moved across Florida and brought heavy rains Friday night and Saturday morning so the show was moved lock, stock, and barrel into three covered public garages.  By 11:00 a.m. the weather cleared and the rest of the day was beautiful.  The photo was from later in the day when the clouds had cleared to the east but some more rain showers were moving in.

We left early Sunday morning (and a shorting-out fire alarm system at 4:30 a.m. didn’t help with a good night’s sleep, neither did walking down nine flights of stairs carrying our luggage because the elevators were locked out) and got home around 11:00 a.m.

I’m taking the Pontiac into the shop this morning, then catching up on some work once I get to school.  So I’ll be back a little later to catch up on what’s been going on.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Sunday Reading

Learning To Speak Evangelical — Eliza Griswold in The New Yorker on teaching Democrats how to win back faith-based voters.

On a Tuesday afternoon this past summer, Doug Pagitt, a fifty-three-year-old pastor in a blue straw hat and glasses, stood in a conference room at the Democratic Congressional Committee’s office in Washington, D.C., laying out sandwiches. Pagitt was preparing to lead a training session for Democratic members of Congress on how to speak to evangelicals. A table was littered with blue-and-orange lapel pins reading “Vote Common Good,” the name of an organization that Pagitt launched last year to make the religious left more visible. “We want people to know that it exists, and they can join it,” he said. Last year, the group’s members spent a month travelling the country in a tour bus, campaigning for roughly forty progressive candidates on their religious message, but this was their first time speaking to politicians in Washington. Five members of the group took seats around the conference table, some wearing blazers and sensible sandals. Pagitt generally projects an air of ease, but this afternoon he was anxious. “Today is pretty much a beta test,” he told me.

A few minutes later, Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Ohio who, at seventy-three, is the longest-serving woman in the House of Representatives, arrived wearing a sea-foam jacket. Soon after, Representative Katherine Clark, from Massachusetts, and Ted Lieu, from California, walked in, followed by a half-dozen staff members. Robb Ryerse, a self-described former fundamentalist pastor and the political director of Vote Common Good, opened the meeting with a tip. “Trying to memorize John 3:16 in the car on your way to the event and then quote that is probably not the best way to connect with faith-based voters,” he said. He had seen a candidate try this trick on the way to a rally in Kansas and then struggle to remember the phrase onstage.

The exodus of religious voters from the Democratic Party over the past several decades is typically explained by the culture wars, most notably over abortion. As the historian of religion Randall Balmer notes in his book “Thy Kingdom Come,” in the sixties and seventies, the Democratic Party had a large Catholic contingent and mostly opposed abortion. By contrast, many prominent Republicans—including Nelson Rockefeller; Ronald Reagan, during his time as the governor of California; and Harry Blackmun, the Supreme Court Justice who wrote the opinion in Roe v. Wade—affirmed and expanded abortion rights. But, beginning in the early seventies, evangelical preachers such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson worked with Republican strategists to press the Party to more vigorously oppose abortion. At the same time, the second-wave feminist movement pushed the Democratic Party to defend women’s reproductive rights. As a result, pro-life Democrats, most notably religious voters, began defecting from the Party.

Pagitt believes that this history is overly simplistic. He points out that a large percentage of Democratic voters—sixty-seven per cent, according to a Pew poll from 2018—still claim a religious affiliation. He believes that many moderate evangelicals would be happy to vote for Democrats, but that the Party often overlooks them during campaigns. In 2008, Barack Obama courted evangelicals, along with Catholics, mainstream Protestants, and Jewish voters, by asking religious leaders to appear as campaign surrogates and to take part in a regular conference call. Pagitt worked on behalf of the campaign, approaching conservative leaders and calling evangelicals who had voted for George W. Bush in 2004. “It wasn’t just me; they kept calling hundreds of leaders and asking if we could spare one more weekend,” Pagitt said. Obama succeeded in taking a large number of white evangelical and Catholic Bush voters.

But, in 2016, Hillary Clinton failed to woo these voters: between 2008 and 2016, the percentage of people who voted for the Democratic Presidential candidate declined among voters in every religious affiliation, and the dropoff was especially sharp among evangelicals. Pagitt pointed out that, though Clinton is a devout Methodist and received daily devotional readings during the campaign, she almost never spoke about her faith in public. “I don’t even know what her favorite Bible passage was,” he said. “I thought, Well, her polling numbers must tell her she doesn’t need religious voters.”

Pagitt describes himself as an evangelical, though he thinks of this as more of a sociological term than a strict theological one. “It’s like saying I’m Midwestern,” he told me. “It locates me.” He grew up near Minneapolis, in a non-religious family, and converted as a teen-ager. He spent eleven years as a pastor at Wooddale, an evangelical megachurch in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. In 1999, he planted a progressive, nondenominational church in Minneapolis called Solomon’s Porch. But, in 2018, feeling disappointed by Clinton’s loss, he founded Vote Common Good to target the voters that Clinton had overlooked. In the leadup to the midterm elections, he and fourteen other members held religious revivals in support of candidates across the country. The events featured beer on tap and thumping music from dirty-gospel acts, including Reverend Vince Anderson and Meah Pace. The family-friendly party atmosphere was modelled on revivals that the conservative evangelist Franklin Graham was holding for Donald Trump and other Republicans. “The larger goals were loving your neighbor and creating a check on power,” Diana Butler Bass, a prominent progressive theologian who joined Pagitt’s tour, told me.

Pagitt felt hopeful after the votes were cast. In 2016, eighty-one per cent of white evangelicals voted for Trump; last year, in the midterm elections, seventy-five per cent of white evangelicals voted Republican. Pagitt and the other members of Vote Common Good saw this small decline as a sign of progress: in ones and twos, evangelicals were becoming disenchanted with Trump—especially with his overt racism and misogyny, which some saw as against their values. “I don’t think it’s a silent majority,” Ryerse, Vote Common Good’s political director, told me, “but I think there’s a significant silent percentage.”

In the conference room, Katie Paris, a media trainer with Vote Common Good, discussed campaign tactics with the representatives. She noted that, during the midterms, Republicans had contacted religious leaders district by district to shore up their support, and often remained in close touch with them between election seasons. “You need to make it more difficult for the right to organize against you,” she said. She suggested that the representatives also reach out to religious leaders to introduce themselves. They didn’t have to fake piety, she said, but they should acknowledge that these communities were important to their constituencies. She also felt that Democrats had become afraid to mention religion at campaign events, which ceded faith to the right. She urged the representatives to discuss spirituality “wherever your values come from”—whether or not they were believers. The important thing was to make it clear that they took religion seriously and didn’t look down on the devout.

Pagitt thinks that, among the Democratic Presidential candidates, for example, Elizabeth Warren is doing a good job of integrating faith seamlessly into her message, beginning sentences with phrases like “As a Sunday-school teacher . . .” and by singing the hymns from her conservative childhood church in a defense of same-sex marriage. Bernie Sanders seems to avoid speaking of religion—his own, Judaism, or that of others—at all costs. Cory Booker often speaks about God in generalizations that can feel bland. Some candidates seem willing to openly antagonize religious voters; last week, at a town-hall discussion on L.G.B.T.Q. issues, Beto O’Rourke said that he would revoke the tax-exempt status of religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage—the first time a major Presidential candidate has stated such a position.

Paris encouraged the representatives to think of people they knew who were motivated by their faith, whom they could mention on the trail. After a minute, she asked Kaptur brightly, “You got one?”

“I got thousands,” Kaptur replied, slightly irritated.

“My mom is one,” Clark offered. Her mother had been a committed Episcopalian and an ardent feminist who was also an early advocate for women to be priests. (The Episcopal Church officially began ordaining women in 1976.) “I do talk about her frequently,” Clark said. “But I can’t recall talking about her faith.”

“You should,” Paris said.

As the event wound to a close, Pagitt called for questions. “How do you talk about abortion?” Lieu asked. He comes from a progressive district, but he felt that the issue would be central to other races around the country. Pagitt noted that there is a divide between pro-life voters who want to reverse Roe v. Wade and criminalize abortions, and those who are primarily focussed on reducing their number. There wasn’t much to say to the former, he said, but when speaking to the latter, candidates should emphasize that making abortion illegal had historically proved ineffective at reducing the number. In the past, Democrats had backed measures aimed at reducing abortions. Barack Obama tasked a joint White House initiative between the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Council on Women and Girls with “reducing the need for abortion.” Bill Clinton had made a motto of making abortions “safe, legal, and rare.” But, in 2016, Hillary Clinton had dropped the “rare” from her platform, bringing the Party further to the left on the issue. Pagitt felt that a more moderate approach to abortion could help attract religious voters.

This may have its own pitfalls. There are many voters within the Party who don’t want to see it give up ground on progressive issues like reproductive rights. There are also many who believe that religion is a private matter that should be separated from politics, and that publicly discussing it alienates religious minorities and non-religious voters. “We get pushback all the time from people within the political industry saying that the Democratic Party shouldn’t court these evangelical people,” he said. But he felt that evangelicals represented a large enough segment of the electorate that the Party had to take them into consideration. “What we want you to do is like religious people enough that you can ask for their votes,” he said. “There are seventy million evangelicals. Moving fifteen per cent of seventy million is a large number.”

After the meeting in Washington, Pagitt decided that the group would do more good advising candidates in the field and decided to take it back on the road. Since then, Vote Common Good has run several training seminars in New York City and around the country for Democratic congressional candidates. “In all five boroughs, there are evangelicals and other religiously motivated candidates,” he told me recently, while in New York. “We give candidates a breakdown by religious affiliation in their districts, and it’s shocking how many religious voters there are.” Last week, they launched a love-in-politics pledge, which is based on I Corinthians 13:4-7 (“Love is patient, love is kind . . .”) and calls on politicians to hold others to a standard of decency and compassion. “We’re skeptical of Mike Pence’s willingness to be swayed,” he said, of the Vice-President. “But we’re helping religiously motivated voters to have the rationale and support to change their votes.” The group is also planning a forum in Iowa, in January, where Democratic Presidential candidates could reflect on their vision of faith. Pagitt says that the major campaigns have indicated interest, though none has committed. “I think they should take religiously motivated voters seriously,” he told me. “If they don’t, it’s at their own peril.”

Winter Soldier — Charles P. Pierce pays tribute to Elijah Cummings.

Upon hearing the news of Rep. Elijah Cummings’ passing Thursday morning, the first thing I thought of was the beginning of the eulogy that the late Robin Williams delivered for rock promoter Bill Graham: “Bill’s dead and Strom Thurmond doesn’t even have a cold?”

The first time I met Elijah Cummings was at a campaign event at Morgan State University in his beloved Baltimore. It was 1999 and Cummings was campaigning for Bill Bradley’s primary challenge to then-Vice President Al Gore. I was on assignment for this magazine to write about it. The Bradley campaign—and the candidate, as well—were beginning to show the early symptoms of the creeping petrification that eventually would doom it and him. Outside the hall, I stopped to chat with Cummings, and Bradley’s incomprehensible stiffness came up in the conversation. Cummings smiled that canny politician’s smile that I’ve seen on everyone from Tip O’Neill to AOC.

“We’re working on that,” he said, twinkling. “We’re working on loosening the man up.”

I liked him a great deal that day, so I was happy over the past decade when he became an eloquent and ferocious legislative warrior against a Republican Party that had lost so much of its mind that it couldn’t stop itself from electing a vulgar talking yam in 2016. In the minority, he fought hard against the phony Benghazi, BENGHAZI, BENGHAZI! farce, and against the depthless fraud that was perpetrated against Hillary Rodham Clinton over Her Emails. In the majority, as chair of the House Oversight Committee, nobody did more to call to account the renegade incompetence and bone-deep corruption that is the only perceivable characteristic of the current administration*.

Elijah Cummings—and nobody ever has been more worthy of his first name than he was—never wavered, never faltered, and never took one step backwards in his defense of the Constitution and the rule of law. To borrow a turn of phrase from the late Rep. Barbara Jordan, as she was contemplating the impeachment of another criminal president: Elijah Cummings’ faith in the Constitution was whole, it was complete, and he didn’t plan to sit there and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of it. He was, as Thomas Paine wrote, a winter soldier of the first rank.

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.

Paine fought for a golden ideal. Elijah Cummings fought to keep it alive against all the forces that would coin it into cheap brass. They would like each other a great deal, I’m thinking today.

Doonesbury — aging gracefully?

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Friday, October 18, 2019

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Get The Hook

John Lithgow reviews Trump’s performance.

As bad a president as Mr. Trump has been, he’s an even worse entertainer. He reads scripted lines like a panic-stricken schoolboy at a middle school assembly. He mangles every attempt at irony, self-mockery or, God forbid, an actual joke. He cravenly fills the hall for every rally with a hopped-up claque drawn from his hard-core base. And he can be grotesquely inappropriate at his public appearances, as when he babbled inanely about crowd size and margins of victory on recent condolence visits to Ohio and Texas after mass shootings in those states.

Pause for a moment and recall No-Drama Barack Obama. Remember when we would whine about how aloof and deliberative he was? Maybe there was some truth to that complaint but, wow, did that man know how to choose his moments.

Think about the time when, during his eulogy for the pastor Clementa Pinckney, slain in his Charleston, S.C., church in 2015, Mr. Obama began to softly sing “Amazing Grace.” Can you imagine a greater contrast or a sterner rebuke to the broad grin and upturned thumb of our current president after the Walmart shooting this past summer in El Paso?

It is dispiriting to watch the wretched excesses of Mr. ­­­Trump’s slapstick presidency and the rabid audience he commands. But there may be an upside to his crude performance art. His relentless lies, impulsive acts and gassy pronouncements have emboldened American journalists and quickened their senses.

And just as heartening, the Trump phenomenon has sharpened the wits of a whole new breed of entertainers. These are the daring TV comics who gleefully turn Mr. Trump’s outrages against him every night of the week: Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Seth Meyers and others.

As entertainers, they are everything Mr. Trump is not. They’re smart, informed, disciplined, self-aware and genuinely funny. Not a single item in the day’s news goes unexamined by these warrior satirists, and unlike the late-night comfort food of days past, their comedy is heightened by the bright fire of their anger.

Entertainment, it turns out, ain’t beanbag.

And this show should have closed out of town.

For All To See

Everybody loses their shit every now and then.  If you’re in a very high-profile job with urgent matters coming at you in every direction and everyone expects you to make very tough decisions, you’re going to let off steam.  But you don’t do it in front of people who will walk outside and tell a gaggle of reporters that they just saw someone turn into a six-year-old brat in front of them.  You keep it together until the doors are closed and there’s no one who can hear you.

Not this guy.

Trump faced off against both parties in Congress on Wednesday in an extraordinary confrontation over his decision to abandon America’s Kurdish allies as the vast majority of House Republicans joined Democrats to condemn his policy in an overwhelming vote.

Mr. Trump found himself increasingly isolated after withdrawing troops from Syria and clearing the way for a Turkish offensive against Kurds who had fought alongside the United States. The president all but washed his hands of the conflict, saying that it “has nothing to do with us,” generating withering criticism from Republicans and leading to a stormy clash with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Bereft of supporters and under pressure from an impeachment inquiry, Mr. Trump spent much of the day defending his decision and lashing out against rivals. He dismissed the Kurds, who until last week shared outposts with American soldiers, saying they were “no angels” and fought for money. And he berated Ms. Pelosi as a “third-grade politician” or “third-rate politician,” depending on the version, prompting Democrats to walk out of a White House meeting.

“I think now we have to pray for his health,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters afterward. “This was a very serious meltdown on the part of the president.” She said Mr. Trump seemed “very shaken up” by the cascade of criticism.

Mr. Trump said it was the other way around. “Nancy Pelosi needs help fast!” he wrote on Twitter. “She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch. Pray for her, she is a very sick person!”

Yeah, that last little bit of projection shows that he’s got all the tantrum moves down pat.

This will either be another bit of evidence at his impeachment trial or the invocation of the 25th Amendment.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Probably Not A Good Idea

I’m guessing that John Bolton is not someone you want as an enemy.

At a critical juncture in his presidency, facing a rapidly unfolding impeachment inquiry by House Democrats, Donald Trump is feeling besieged by snitches.

In recent weeks, numerous leaks have appeared in the pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other major papers and news outlets detailing the president’s attempts to enlist foreign leaders to help dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and also aid Trump’s quest to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s concluded investigation. And as is his MO, the media-obsessed president has been fixated on not just the identity of the whistleblower behind the internal complaint that brought this scandal to the fore, but also on who, exactly, has been namelessly feeding intel to the press.

In the course of casual conversations with advisers and friends, President Trump has privately raised suspicions that a spiteful John Bolton, his notoriously hawkish former national security adviser, could be one of the sources behind the flood of leaks against him, three people familiar with the comments said. At one point, one of those sources recalled, Trump guessed that Bolton was behind one of the anonymous accounts that listed the former national security adviser as one of the top officials most disturbed by the Ukraine-related efforts of Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who remains at the center of activities that spurred the impeachment inquiry.

As it is, Trump doesn’t have any friends.  He doesn’t even have a dog, which is what Harry Truman advised if you wanted a friend in Washington.  So when the going gets tough and subpoenas start arriving, the people who know what went on in the White House will talk and they’ll tell purely out of self-preservation.  And based on Mr. Bolton’s history as one who does not suffer anyone, much less fools, gladly, he could be a powerful enemy.  So it’s probably not a good idea to suggest he’s the leaker.

Debate Rap

I made it through the first hour and a half of last night’s Democratic candidates’ debate, which was more like an antic version of the lightning round of “Wait… Wait… Don’t Tell Me” without the bell and the final gong.  Whoever dreamed up this format was counting on a high Red Bull consumption quotient on the part of the candidates.

As I noted on Facebook, Bernie Sanders killed it with his impersonation of Larry David of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but I will give him credit for being back in full cranky mode two weeks after having a heart attack.  Mayor Pete Buttigieg was calm and on point, Sen. Elizabeth Warren withstood being attacked for being the current front runner as well as she could, and Joe Biden, after weeks of being hammered by Trump as the current target of misdirection for his own crimes, didn’t seem a whole lot different than the previous debates, which is to say, stumbling over his answers as he tried to be the adult in the room.

I went to bed before it was over so I missed the final question that asked the candidates how they felt about Ellen DeGeneres being friends with George W. Bush.  Good thing, because I would have thrown something at the TV and scared the cat.  At a time with a White House being turned into the headquarters of the most corrupt enterprise since the end of Prohibition, with sea levels lapping at the foundations of Miami Beach, with mass killings turning shopping malls and schools into armed camps, the finale on this debate was something out of a truth-or-dare session from summer camp?  Who needs SNL when you have inanities like that?

We still have another year of this.  Giant meteor, anyone?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Annals Of Irony — Part Infinity

Hey, remember how when there was a mass shooting — yes, there have been so many — the gun nuts blamed violent videos for causing people to grab their AR-15’s and commit slaughter?  Something should be done about that.

Via the New York Times:

The creator of a gruesome video that showed a fake President Trump killing journalists and political opponents and that was played at a meeting of a pro-Trump group over the weekend is part of a loose network of right-wing provocateurs with a direct line to the White House.

The unidentified creator of the video operates under the name “The GeekzTeam” and has proclaimed on Twitter to be a “red blooded American with ZERO tolerance for the liberal agenda.” Like many such amateur agitators, the GeekzTeam specializes in creating pro-Trump internet content, often by remixing the president’s image into clips from popular movies and television shows.

Another of the provocateurs, Logan Cook, who often has posted videos on MemeWorld, his website, participated in a social media summit at the White House in July and took his children to meet the president in the Oval Office, accompanied by Dan Scavino, the White House social media director.

But background checks and banning certain weapons would be an assault on our liberties.

As If To Prove The Point

Yesterday’s post about the inability of conservatives and Trumpers to use humor was made glaringly clear by the Trump campaign’s tweet to Elizabeth Warren.

Unless you think this is their idea of punching up and admitting that Sen. Warren is superior than they are. Otherwise, as Digby notes, let’s all freak out about how mean she was to the God-fearing Jesus-shouters who have an unnatural obsession with other people’s private lives and how it might ruin her chances for winning over the MAGAnauts.

Monday, October 14, 2019