Wednesday, September 18, 2019

He’ll Get His

I watched some of Corey Lewandowski’s sideshow yesterday on Capitol Hill.  My first thought was that he’s mastered the art of being a smug douche and was performing for an audience of one.  That point was proved by glowing praise tweets from Trump.  He’s got a great career coming as a pundit on some cable show running on Sinclair channels after he gets his ass handed to him in his run for the Senate.

But my second thought was that I’ve seen his kind of snotty behavior and disrespect for what he perceives as enemy interrogation before; specifically when John Ehrlichman testified before the Senate Watergate Committee in July 1973 and his combative, sneering attitude.  Watching him joust with Senate Majority Counsel Sam Dash made my blood boil back then, and I remember thinking that somehow, some way, the universe and karma will get their due.

They did.  Ehrlichman was convicted of conspiracy and other Watergate related crimes, went to jail, and spent his post-jail time and the rest of his life trying to make a buck off his experience and parlay his bitterness about not being pardoned by Reagan into a living until he died in 1999.  He wrote a lot of books and sold a made-for-TV movie.  That seems to be the way this sort of career ends up.

As for Mr. Lewandowski, he will exploit his Trumpian period by punditry and grifting, making appearances at the alt-right versions of Comic Con, signing books and autographing old MAGA hats, later to be sold on E-bay for $5.99.  Maybe, like Ehrlichman, he’ll grow a beard, become contemplative in his old age, and live in a hogan outside of Santa Fe.  Whatever.  He’ll get his.  Karma always delivers.

Gathering Nuts

Via the Miami New Times:

A veritable who’s who of right-wing con artists, alt-right media hounds, and outright racists apparently plan to hold some sort of Art Basel for Grifters conference in Miami this month. An avalanche of some of the worst pundits online — including at least one fascist — say they’ll hold a “Demand Free Speech” rally Saturday, September 28, on an undisclosed yacht somewhere in the Magic City.

The event’s top billing? Serial con artist Jacob Wohl, who is charged in California with a felony for unlawfully selling investments in a company called Montgomery Assets, will apparently debate Nick Fuentes, a self-described “American nationalist” who has appeared on white-nationalist programs and at one point was recorded going on an anti-Semitic rant about a fellow conservative blogger by calling him a “race traitor” and saying he “worked for Jews.” It’s unclear what Wohl and Fuentes might actually debate, but the event seems designed more to generate protests and controversy than to conduct intellectual discussions.

The grifters have yet to announce a location for the event, likely to avoid protests before the so-called debate occurs. So far, the event pages simply states it will happen “on a four-decker yacht in the legendary Miami Harbor” and will include “heated debates, a stimulating panel, based and red pilled entertainment, food, drinks and much, much more.”

But tickets are being sold on the website 1776.shop, which is run by Enrique Tarrio, a Miami native who leads the neofascist Proud Boys group. “Early-bird” VIP tickets cost $150 for whatever reason. Among the other guests, the group says Zoe Sozo, an ambassador for the campus conservative group Turning Point USA, will also attend. This would be far from the first time TPUSA operatives have brushed elbows with far-right nationalists such as Fuentes: In 2018, New Times caught students in the Florida International University TPUSA chapter making rape jokes, sharing racist Pepe the Frog memes about Syrian refugees, and referencing “Jew hating” and neo-Nazi Richard Spencer in leaked WhatsApp chats.

The event’s webpage also appears to include artwork seemingly stolen from Elizabeth Kolbert’s 2015 New Yorker article “Miami Is Flooding.” Spokespeople for the New Yorker did not immediately respond to a message from New Times today.

And I’m going to miss all the fun; I’m gonna be out of town that weekend.  Oh darn.

This is the first time I recall hearing about such a gathering here in South Florida.  This part of the state isn’t really known for harboring a whole lot of white nationalists; that’s the Panhandle’s shtick.  It sounds like one of those scams that someone like Trump would gin up to sell more crap with his name on it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Cokie Roberts

Rest in peace.

Cokie Roberts, a journalist and political commentator who became one of the most prominent Washington broadcasters of her era and championed young women in media during a long career with NPR and ABC News, died Sept. 17 in Washington. She was 75.

The cause was complications from breast cancer, according to a family statement provided by ABC.

Ms. Roberts earned three Emmy Awards, was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame in 2000 and was named a “living legend” by the Library of Congress in 2008.

From a young age, she was intimately familiar with the trappings of power in Washington. She wandered the halls of Congress, where her father, Rep. Thomas Hale Boggs Sr. of Louisiana, rose to become Democratic majority leader. Her mother, Lindy Boggs, launched her own congressional career after her husband died in a 1972 plane crash.

She used to annoy me with her card-carrying both-sides-do-it attitude in her commentary, but I strongly and firmly admired her for her fearless strides into broadcast journalism where men ruled as a matter of course.  For that alone she was a remarkable force.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Save Your Pixels

No, Justice Brett Kavanaugh is not going to be impeached despite the reporting in the New York Times that brings forward more evidence and corroboration that he was a drunken horn-dog in college.

Josh Marshall is pushing the idea that the Democrats could nail him on perjury when he testified last year before the Senate.

Removing someone from the Supreme Court is extremely difficult. You need the same 2/3rds majority as you do to remove a president. But it’s crystal clear that Kavanaugh repeatedly perjured himself to get on the court. The incidents may have happened decades ago but the perjury was only last year.

I know that several Democratic candidates are calling for his removal, but if they couldn’t get rid of him during the original hearings after the testimony of Christine Ford and others, then it’s not going to happen.

And please, Democrats, stop e-mailing me for money to support your campaign along with this quixotic goal, which seems to be the only reason you’re calling for it in the first place.

Buyback Backlash

Via Digby, the circular mindless drivel of the Very Serious People continues to twirl.

CHUCK TODD: I tell you, this is tricky. Claire, I want to show you some poll numbers here. Among Democrats, the mandatory buyback program is extraordinarily popular, mandatory. This has surprised a lot of people. It’s got 74% support. Now look at it among Independents, and you start to see a declining support for it. But it’s basically one to one, among independents. Now, look at it among Republicans, two to one, essentially, against it, which gives you an overall support number of 52%/44%.

This, to me, seems to be the trap for Democrats, if you will. This is extraordinarily popular. And it’s growing in popularity. And it may be a case where the public’s ahead of the politicians. But you’ve been in that Senate. Are Chris Coons and Pat Toomey right about this?

[…]

SENATOR CLAIRE McCASKILL: Well, this is really what you started with. There’s two things here. Do we want to get things done and reassure the American people that their democracy works? Or do we want to continue to be inspirational only, with policies that, frankly, are not realistic, in terms of the way our government’s set up? They’re not going to get done…

Well, of course they’re not going to get it done.  We knew that from the start.  But what makes me crazy about this and all the other pundit idiocy is their amazement that something so popular with the electorate would hit a brick wall when it arrives in Congress.  Don’t they know about lobbyists, campaign contributions, and threats of retribution for voting against the NRA or any other group that has any kind of clout in their district?

Or, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it’s so popular no one will vote for it.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sunday Reading

Trust Exercise — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker on the Democrats’ debate.

Resilience in the face of a personal setback was the subject of the final question in last Thursday night’s Democratic debate, in Houston. When it was the turn of Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, to answer, he spoke about the years in which he lived with the fear that, as a military officer and an elected official in a socially conservative community, revealing that he was gay would end his career. But he reached a point, he said, where he was “not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love any longer,” and he came out during the final months of a campaign. “When I trusted voters to judge me based on the job that I did for them,” he said, “they decided to trust me, and reëlected me with eighty per cent of the vote. And what I learned was that trust can be reciprocated.”

Buttigieg’s story was moving on its own terms, but it also threw into relief a fundamental question of the Democratic primary race: What vision of themselves—and of voters—are the candidates willing to trust? At a basic level, that question has to do with being able to convince voters that they’re being spoken to without deceit. Former Representative Beto O’Rourke, of El Paso, has that ability, and it was on display in one of his stronger moments on Thursday. Asked whether he was serious when he said that he would require the owners of military-style weapons to sell them to the government, he replied, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” Politicians are often anxious to offer assurances that no one is coming for anyone’s guns, but O’Rourke said he believed that these gun owners, too, were sick of seeing children dying in mass shootings. When he visited a gun show recently, he added, some people told him that they would be willing to give up their guns, because “I don’t need this weapon to hunt, to defend myself.” Doing the right thing, O’Rourke said, was not a separate task from bringing all Americans, including conservative Republicans, “into the conversation.”

The health-care segment of the debate also hinged on questions of trust. The Medicare for All bill, which Senator Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, wrote, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, signed on to, includes a provision—“on page eight,” as Senator Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, helpfully pointed out—that would effectively ban most forms of private insurance. In this respect, the bill is far more restrictive than not only the “public option” but also the European universal-health-care systems that Sanders admires. Both Buttigieg, who favors “Medicare for All Who Want It,” and Senator Kamala Harris, of California, who introduced a plan in July that includes a longer transition and a larger role for private insurers, maintained that people should be trusted to choose their own option. (Harris has zigzagged on the issue—she originally signed on to Sanders’s bill—raising a different question of trust. Senator Cory Booker, of New Jersey, who co-sponsored the bill, has also backed away from elements of it.) When Sanders said that workers whose unions had agreed to wage cuts in return for private health-care coverage would be able to recover that money from their employers, Vice-President Joe Biden told him, “For a socialist, you’ve got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do.”

That exchange, like several others on Thursday, was largely about how radical, or just how ambitious, the Party is prepared to be. Is sweeping, structural reform the best way to effect change, or is Obamacare worth building on? (Some factions in the Party have been busy rejecting parts of Barack Obama’s legacy—in the area of immigration, for example.) Pervasive doubt about existing institutions could make it easier to persuade people to commit to entirely new ways of doing things; it could also lead them to give up on a political system that they think is irredeemable, or just mean. Julián Castro, the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, did not help matters when, during a discussion of public-option insurance enrollment, he seemed gleeful at a chance to portray Biden as doddery—“Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?” he asked. Castro later said that his approach was the way the primaries are supposed to play out. But his gibe seemed a crude bit of gaslighting, since Biden hadn’t quite said what Castro claimed he had. As Klobuchar put it in an interview following the debate, the remark was “not cool.”

Castro barely qualified for the debate; he is averaging about one per cent in the polls. Of the ten candidates on-stage, only three—Biden, Warren, and Sanders—are polling in the double digits. For some of the others, to continue competing seems to call for either an extraordinary amount of confidence in themselves or, especially in the case of Andrew Yang, in the resonance of their message. Yang, a businessman, presents a notable example of the twinned qualities of pessimism and hope. He believes that, in the face of automation, traditional responses to unemployment, such as retraining programs, are hopeless, but that, with a universal basic income of a thousand dollars a month and the “boot off of people’s throats,” Americans will not sink into inertia but remake their lives and their country. He undercut his own message on Thursday, however, by announcing, game-show style, that his campaign would give that money to ten American families so that they could try the plan. At its most developed, the strength of the case for basic income lies in how it would change the entire economic climate, not just the prospects of a few lucky winners.

There is also the reciprocal aspect of the trust equation: having faith in voters. The Democratic Party seems split on the question of how much of its resources should be directed toward certain voters, particularly white working-class men struggling with deindustrialization. The willingness of so many voters to cast their ballots for Donald Trump has been disorienting. But the case remains that some of those same people previously voted for Obama. The categories are rarely neat. As Buttigieg noted, “Where I come from, a lot of times that displaced autoworker is a single black mother of three.”

None of this is easy. Even Buttigieg’s decision to come out publicly, which he did in 2015, would likely have turned out very differently twenty years ago. But it is true that the victories surrounding L.G.B.T.Q. rights have been brought about by a combination of activism, litigation, and people telling their stories within their communities—through conversation, as O’Rourke put it, as well as confrontation. This is how primaries ought to play out. Every election is an exercise in trust.

Of Course It Is — John Nichols in The Nation on the House moving to open an impeachment inquiry.

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan has been saying for months that “Congress must now do its job” and open a formal impeachment inquiry. It’s been a frustrating fight for the Wisconsin Democrat in the face of resistance from House Democratic Caucus leaders.

He’s not alone in his call. Most members of the caucus now support formal action that might lead to the impeachment in the House and a trial by the Senate. They know Mitch McConnell’s amen corner for this presidency might reject its duty to remove an errant executive whose presidency has turned into a daily assault on the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

But Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has it right: “I want to see every Republican go on the record and knowingly vote against impeachment of this president knowing his corruption, having it on the record.” Instead of worrying about holding the president to account, Democrats should be forcing the issue—if only to identify the Republican senators who are willing to “protect the amount of lawlessness.”

But even as the Democrats who matter—the members of the House Judiciary Committee—are acting on the issue, leaders of the party keep sending mixed signals. And the media, obsessed as it always is with the meanderings of the powerful rather than the actual news of the day, tends to go along with the charade. So there is still some confusion about whether the Judiciary Committee has launched an actual impeachment inquiry.

Let’s clear things up: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that she’s “not answering any more questions about a possible inquiry, investigation, and the rest” because “there is nothing different from one day to the next.”

But something new did happen on Thursday. The Judiciary Committee’s Democratic majority voted to open an “investigation to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment with regard to President Donald J. Trump.” In so doing, they established guidelines for pursuing an inquiry—with committee chair Jerry Nadler noting, correctly, that “Some call this process an impeachment inquiry. Some call it an impeachment investigation. There is no legal difference between these terms.”

The “resolution for investigative procedures” that was approved by the committee allows its members to accept sensitive evidence in closed executive sessions. It clears the way for subcommittees to schedule hearings and question witnesses on impeachment-related issues. And it permits legally and technically experienced staffers to join in the questioning of witnesses during committee hearings.

This is how an impeachment inquiry works—no matter what Speaker Pelosi says or refuses to say about it.

Doonesbury — In the future.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Friday, September 13, 2019

A Little Night Music

My local cable company, Xfinity, has a commercial in heavy rotation wherein a horny teenage boy is trying to sneak into his girlfriend’s room via the trellis and window only to be met by her dad, whose phone tips him off that the erstwhile Romeo’s phone has connected to the home network.  Busted.

Whoever came up with the spot had the great sense to use this classic doo-wop song by the Strollers from 1957.

Debate Aftermath

I still listen to my record player, you young whippersnappers.

My take is that Julian Castro’s fifteen minutes are up, and Andrew Yang can now hang out with all his doctor friends or explore a career as the next host of “The Price is Right.” Mayor Pete got in some great points, and Bernie’s somewhat bug-eyed rants took on the stuff of caricature.  I thought Elizabeth Warren had a good night; so did Cory Booker, and I think Beto O’Rourke at least got the attention of the NRA.

Other than that, what did you think of Dems 3.0?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Art Of Ventriloquism

Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker look at what it takes to work as an adviser to Trump.

“You’re there more as an annoyance to him because he has to fill some of these jobs, but you’re not there to do anything other than be backlighting,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a former White House communications director who is now critical of Trump. “He wants, like, a catatonic loyalty, and he wants you to be behind the backlights. There’s one spotlight on the stage, it’s shining on Trump, and you’re a prop in the back with dim lights.”

I think it’s more like being a ventriloquist: you’re there to make the dummy look good.