Saturday, October 20, 2018

Friday, October 19, 2018

Showtime

I’m heading out with some friends this morning for Lakeland, Florida, for the MIDFLORIDA Auto Show and Lake Mirror Concours, so this is it for blogging this morning.  I’ll report in later today and tomorrow with photos and stories about our trip.

If you’re in the Lakeland area, the show starts Saturday at 10. I’ll be in the American Production section on Tennessee Avenue between Lemon and Main.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Murder On Fifth Avenue

The New York Times has a very chilling account of how the hit squad from Saudi Arabia tortured, killed, and them disposed of the body of Jamal Khashoggi.  Warning: the following content is graphic.

His killers were waiting when Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago. They severed his fingers and later beheaded and dismembered him, according to details from audio recordings described by a senior Turkish official on Wednesday.

Mr. Khashoggi was dead within minutes, and within two hours the killers were gone, the recordings suggested…

…A team of 15 Saudi agents, some with ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was waiting for Mr. Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate the moment he arrived, at about 1:15 p.m. on Oct. 2.

After he was shown into the office of the Saudi consul, Mohammad al-Otaibi, the agents seized Mr. Khashoggi almost immediately and began to beat and torture him, eventually cutting off his fingers, the senior Turkish official said.

“Do this outside. You will put me in trouble,” Mr. al-Otaibi, the consul, told them, according to the Turkish official and a report in the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, both citing audio recordings said to have been obtained by Turkish intelligence.

“If you want to live when you come back to Arabia, shut up,” one of the agents replied, according to both the official and the newspaper.

As they cut off Mr. Khashoggi’s head and dismembered his body, a doctor of forensics who had been brought along for the dissection and disposal had some advice for the others, according to the senior Turkish official.

Listen to music, he told them, as he put on headphones himself. That was what he did to ease the tension when doing such work, the official said, describing the contents of the audio recording.

And yet, the White House and Trump are giving the Saudis all the cover they need, and it’s a murder.

So far the reaction from both the base and the Republican leadership has been a shrug: yeah, we know they did it, but they’re Arabs and that’s what they do, and besides, it’s not like he was an American, and even if he was a permanent resident of the U.S., he was a journalist and aren’t they the enemy of the people, anyway?

Trump was pretty much right when he said he could shoot a guy on Fifth Avenue and get away with it; swap in a hit squad in Istanbul and it barely registers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What Have They Got On Him?

The Washington Post:

Trump offered embattled Saudi Arabia a suggestion of support Tuesday amid mounting pressure over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying the kingdom is being judged “guilty until proven innocent.”

The remarks, in an interview with the Associated Press, put Trump widely out of step with many world leaders amid Turkish assertions that Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit team this month after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

They also could complicate talks planned Wednesday between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish leaders on the Khashoggi case.

“Here we go again with you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Trump told the AP, comparing the situation to allegations of sexual assault leveled against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing.

He’s basically said the same thing about Russia in similar situations: Hey, don’t judge before all the facts are in.

A noble sentiment indeed were it not for the fact that A) neither Saudi Arabia nor Russia work from the idea of a presumption of innocence, and B) Trump himself has been known to jump to the “guilty until proven innocent” side — “Lock Her Up!” sound familiar?

Trump has also noted that both Saudi Arabia and Russia will be buying “billions of dollars” worth of stuff from us — it’s all about the jobs, right? — and we can’t risk losing all that money.  There’s a name for that, but it usually involves a pimp and a hotel with hourly rates.

For all that, it makes you wonder just what kind of hold Saudi Arabia and Russia have on Trump beyond the lure of money.  What do they have on him that is so devastating that he’d sell out his own country to keep dictators and autocrats both happy and silent?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

This Is A Test

From the Washington Post:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) had said she would not “sit quietly” as President Trump made claims about her ancestry that she called racist. On Monday morning, she released a DNA test that suggested she did have a distant Native American ancestor, and by the evening, she was using the ensuing dust-up to attack Trump.

The release of the test results Monday morning called Trump’s months-long bluff, which arose at a July 5 rally in Montana when the president questioned the senator’s heritage claims.

Even then, Warren was rumored to be a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. Trump, with glee, told the rally crowd he looked forward to making Warren “prove” her Native American heritage on the debate stage if the two were to square off.

“I’m going to get one of those little [DNA testing] kits and in the middle of the debate, when she proclaims she’s of Indian heritage … ‚” Trump said. “And we will say, ‘I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian.’ “

The crowd cheered.

“And let’s see what she does,” Trump continued. “I have a feeling she will say no, but we’ll hold that for the debates. Do me a favor. Keep it within this room?”

So the question really isn’t whether or not Sen. Warren has Native American ancestry or whether or not Trump really did say he’d give a million dollars to her favorite charity.  The question is have we gotten to the point in American politics that the future of the country and its leadership comes down to what is literally a spitting contest: Elizabeth Warren spits in a test tube to prove her point, and Trump spits in the eye of the American people who want more than just a schoolyard bully as their president.

We’ve been told over and over again that these are not normal times, and while American politics has always had this kind of freak show quality to it — a glance back at presidential races shows that it’s never really been normal — getting back to questioning the racial heritage of a candidate or even a potential candidate has a nasty, brutish quality that shows we really haven’t gotten past the point where E pluribus unum is just Latin for “Are they one of us?”

It didn’t start with Barack Obama’s birth certificate or John McCain’s adopted daughter, and it won’t end with DNA results for Sen. Warren and her Oklahoma roots.  There will always be fringers who will come up with the wildest claims about someone just to see if it will fly, and there will always be those otherwise serious people who take a moment to say, “Well, what about that?” and waste our time indulging in nutsery.  It’s supposed to reflect their dedication to objectivity, but all it does is give weight to the lunacy.  At some point we have to call it what it is: bullshit and distraction.  But as long as Trump can go full-tilt racist and get a cheer, it’s going to be a part of his shtick.

This isn’t the end of this by any means, and if Sen. Warren is really going to run in 2020, this is just the first ptui.  The true test will come when the American electorate says “Enough!” and demands more from our leaders than “Am Not!” and “Are Too!”

Footnote: FWIW, this video is pretty impressive hitting-back.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Oh, Mitt, You’re A Hoot

I’m very glad Mitt Romney didn’t win the election in 2012 for all the possible reasons you can think of, but I do miss his wacky sense of humor.

Mitt Romney, running as the Republican candidate for Senate in Utah, doesn’t think it makes sense to talk about impeaching President Donald Trump — because Trump is a “sitting president.”

“I don’t think it makes sense to be talking about impeachment, not for a sitting president,” Romney said at a debate with Democratic Senate candidate Jenny Wilson, a former US congressional aide who is on the Salt Lake County Council, this week.

Get it?  You’re only supposed to impeach a former president — or maybe one that hasn’t won yet — but not a sitting president because it would be unconstitutional, right?

Think of how much fun we would have had if he’d been elected.

Tax Free

According to the New York Times, Jared Kushner hasn’t paid federal income taxes for years.

That may outrage normal people, but to the Trump base, the MAGA crowd, and the rich-beyond-sanity club, they see that as a feature and want to get in on it.

Of course when the deficit shoots through the stratosphere and there are cuts to programs that might affect them, such as infrastructure (states rely on getting funds from the federal government to rebuild bridges and schools), they’ll complain about red tape and waste and fraud and abuse by bureaucrats.

And of course they say everyone should pay their fair share.  Just not them.  Or anyone like them.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday Reading

Still Silencing Women — Jia Tolentino in The New Yorker on what one year of #MeToo has done, and hasn’t, for women speaking up.

During the past year, I have grown increasingly uneasy with a fairly common bit of semantic slippage: in headlines, in think pieces, and on social media, many people use the phrases “#MeToo movement” and “#MeToo moment” interchangeably, without acknowledging the gulf between them. Is #MeToo—this jagged, brutal, contentious, and profound collective reckoning with the extent to which men have been allowed to abuse their power—an epochal shift toward a better and more equal society? Or is it fleeting—a piece of time that we can record and later revisit, but that we could never, in this country, under a twenty-times-accused-of-sexual-misconduct President, make last?

In recent weeks, as we neared the first anniversary of this moment or movement breaking into the mainstream, signs of a new narrative—or perhaps a very old one imbued with a new reactionary fervor—began to emerge, offering one possible answer to that question. Louis C.K., who has admitted to cornering multiple women who worked in the comedy industry and masturbating in front of them, started performing again, to the delight of supporters who seemed to believe that C.K. has been victimized by the Zeitgeist. Harper’s and The New York Review of Books published lengthy first-person essays by disgraced men who painted themselves as martyrs. The Republican Party pushed Brett Kavanaugh into a seat on the Supreme Court, despite multiple credible allegations of sexual misconduct made against him and his string of lies under oath about matters related to that alleged sexual misconduct. (Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.) At a rally in Mississippi, Donald Trump mocked the public testimony of Kavanaugh’s first public accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, who claims that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her while they were in high school. Trump’s supporters, who had earlier chanted “We want Kavanaugh,” roared and laughed and cheered. “A man’s life is shattered,” Trump said, suddenly faking solemnity. He added, “They destroy people. They want to destroy people. These are really evil people.”

The underlying principle here is that the men who have been accused are the heroes, and that those who accuse them, and listen to the accusations, are the villains. This revanchism is not a sign of #MeToo’s overcorrection, or even of its success—it is merely evidence of its existence. This sort of backlash, as Susan Faludi wrote nearly thirty years ago, is “set off not by women’s achievement of full equality but by the increased possibility that they might win it. It is a preemptive strike that stops women long before they reach the finish line.”

When Ford spoke publicly, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in late September, she was unfailingly polite and deferential while being interrogated at length about a traumatic experience. She spoke like a woman who had understood since childhood that survival requires anticipating and accepting the displeasure of men. Kavanaugh, in contrast, who spoke after her, yelled and wept, behaving like a man whose entitlement had never before been challenged, and who believed that male power outweighs women’s personhood as naturally as a boulder outweighs a pearl. The hearing was a vivid illustration of the precise problem that #MeToo has helped to expose, and of the fact that many men consider the exposure of the problem to be the problem itself. At one point, Kavanaugh traded lines with an equally furious Senator Lindsey Graham about how the delay in his confirmation had put him “through hell.”

The anger crackling through Kavanaugh and Graham—and the thrum of vindictive satisfaction that I could feel passing through the base they were playing to—shut me down for the evening. I grasped, for the first time, the extent to which the past year has made some men crave the poisonous high of feeling wrongfully endangered. I also grasped the scale of the consequences that women and other sexual-assault victims will face as a result. Like the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, these men are borrowing the rhetoric of the structurally oppressed and delivering it with a rage that is denied to all but the most powerful. “I’m a single white male from South Carolina,” Graham said, at a meeting the morning after the hearing, “and I’m told that I should just shut up, but I will not shut up.”

The past year has been full of sweeping pronouncements. “Time’s up for these men.” “The silence is breaking.” The inflexible triumphalism of this language, like the cheerful pink emoji attached to the #MeToo hashtag, has always left me cold. It is often assumed that women like me, feminists who have argued for a redistribution of power, have been steadily rejoicing—that we’ve blown trumpets after every ouster—when in fact many of us have been exhausted and heartbroken and continually reminded of situations in which our ability to consent had been compromised or nullified in any one of a thousand ways. I don’t know a single woman who has permitted herself to be as openly furious about being sexually assaulted as Kavanaugh allowed himself to be, in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, when speaking about being accused of sexual assault. Like Ford, we have had to be painfully careful about how we speak.

Women’s speech is sometimes wielded, in this #MeToo era, as if it were Excalibur—as if the shining, terrible truth about the lives of women will, by itself, vanquish the men who have exploited and controlled them; as if speech were a weapon that protects those who wield it from hurt. Supporters of #MeToo have, on occasion, adhered to this idea in a sort of delusive optimism. Opponents have brandished it, too, in bad faith, acting as though women’s speech has far more social and political and legal power than it has actually been granted. Until the nineteen-eighties, many jurisdictions required an alleged rape victim’s testimony to be corroborated before a conviction could be issued—even though, for nonsexual crimes, guilt could be established on the basis of a victim’s testimony alone. We saw a replay of this in the Kavanaugh hearing. Although the burden of proof should not have been as high as it would have been for a criminal trial—and though Ford’s testimony was widely regarded, even by many of Kavanaugh’s most powerful supporters, as credible—that testimony was described, again and again, as not enough.

It will be said that Kavanaugh was confirmed despite the #MeToo movement. It would be at least as accurate to say that he was confirmed because of it. Women’s speech—and the fact that we are now listening to it—has enraged men in a way that makes them determined to reëstablish the longstanding hierarchy of power in America. By imagining that they are threatened, men like Kavanaugh have found the motivation to demonstrate, at great cost to the rest of us, that they are still the ones who have the ability to threaten others.

And yet this awful truth will not stop women from speaking, and I do not think that it will turn a movement into a moment. It has become clear that there is not nearly enough left to lose.

Doonesbury — More twittering from the twit.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Friday, October 12, 2018

Rest In Peace At Last, Matthew Shepard

From the New York Times:

For 20 years, the ashes of Matthew Shepard have not been laid to rest.

Mr. Shepard’s killing in 1998, when he was a 21-year-old college student, led to national outrage and, almost overnight, turned him into a symbol of deadly violence against gay people.

Mourners flocked to his funeral that year in Casper, Wyo., but there were also some protesters, carrying derogatory signs. Mr. Shepard’s parents worried that if they chose a final resting place for their son, it would be at risk of desecration.

Now they have found a safe place. On Oct. 26, Mr. Shepard will be interred at the Washington National Cathedral, the neo-Gothic, Episcopal house of worship that is a fixture of American politics and religion.

“I think it’s the perfect, appropriate place,” Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s father, said in an interview on Thursday. “We are, as a family, happy and relieved that we now have a final home for Matthew, a place that he himself would love.”

Peace be with you, Matthew.

A Murder In Istanbul

The Turks have the tapes that lead to the conclusion that the Saudis did it.  From the Washington Post:

The Turkish government has told U.S. officials that it has audio and video recordings that prove Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul this month, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.

The recordings show that a Saudi security team detained Khashoggi in the consulate after he walked in Oct. 2 to obtain an official document before his upcoming wedding, then killed him and dismembered his body, the officials said.

The audio recording in particular provides some of the most persuasive and gruesome evidence that the Saudi team is responsible for Khashoggi’s death, the officials said.

“The voice recording from inside the embassy lays out what happened to Jamal after he entered,” said one person with knowledge of the recording who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss highly sensitive intelligence.

“You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,” this person said. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”

A second person briefed on the recording said men could be heard beating Khashoggi.

So far the response from the Trump administration has been a shrug and pre-recorded concern:

During a bill signing Thursday in the Oval Office, President Trump called Khashoggi’s suspected killing “a terrible thing,” but stopped short of assigning blame.

“We’re looking at it very strongly,” Trump said. “We’ll be having a report out soon. We’re working with Turkey, we’re working with Saudi Arabia. What happened is a terrible thing, assuming that happened. I mean, maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised, but somehow I tend to doubt it.”

That’s because oil and power trump everything.

Thursday, October 11, 2018