Friday, November 17, 2023

Happy Friday

We are barreling toward the holidays, starting next week and going full-tilt until January 2.  Between the week-long Thanksgiving break most schools are on starting Monday, then the various and sundry holiday special events — including December 7, the end of the Medicare enrollment period — the inundation never ends until the last balloon is popped and it’s 2024…and the election campaign takes off.  Can the End Times be far off?  One could only hope.

I have three theatre events coming up: the District 8 Thespians, which is for Miami high school students, on Saturday the 18th.  There hundreds of aspiring actors, directors, designers, and playwrights will gather to share their enthusiasm for the wicked stage.  I’ve already read and adjudicated 31 short plays (up to 30 pages), and the scope is amazing.  Then I will sit in on an evaluation of students applying for scholarships. This will be my first time doing that, so I have some things to learn.  Then a week from now, I’ll be working with my friend and director Jerry on a production of “The Christmas Commercial Conspiracy” for the Miami 1-Acts Festival at the Main Street Players in Miami Lakes. That’s a two-day event; my play is one of eight.  At the same time, theatre students at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey, will produce “Any Second Now,” a short play about characters waiting to be cast in plays by anxious and brooding playwrights.

Speaking of anxious and brooding playwrights, I’ve started yet another play: “You, Me, and the Turkey Baster.”  I hope to have something to show for it by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, we brace ourselves for the crush of holiday consumerism — a good sign that Bidenomics is working — and the end of pumpkin spice everything.  And now that the no-named tropical storm has moved off, it’s time for the wildlife to enjoy the sunshine.

“Iguana see clearly now, the rain is gone…”

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Saving Mike’s Ass

From Charlie Pierce:

Headlines You Will Never See, Part The MCMXLV: Democrats Vote To Keep Government Open; Save Speaker’s Ass. From the Washington Post:

The House passed a short-term funding bill Tuesday that would avert a government shutdown Saturday, a major victory for new Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who faced competing demands from different factions in his party. The bill would fund some government departments until mid-January and the rest through early February. It does not include spending cuts or policy changes that Republican hard-liners sought. A shutdown would leave legions of federal employees without pay just before the Thanksgiving holiday.

As far as I know, there were no outbreaks of Republican-on-Republican crime on Wednesday morning, but that doesn’t mean that Republican-on-Republican scheming has taken a holiday. From Politico:

Many House conservatives are fuming that Johnson — the most ideologically conservative speaker in decades — refused to take a hard line in his first attempt negotiating with Democrats and instead leaned on them for help. In the end, more Democrats voted for the measure than Republicans, in nearly identical numbers to the September stopgap measure that triggered McCarthy’s firing. Some tore into his strategy in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, arguing that his plan, which would allow funding levels set under Nancy Pelosi to persist for months, is tantamount to surrender. They’re not looking to oust Johnson over it. But some conservatives are privately entertaining other ways to retaliate.

Cue the organ music.

One tactic under discussion is the same one they used against McCarthy after he struck a debt deal they hated: holding the House floor hostage by tanking procedural votes. “There is a sentiment that if we can’t fight anything, then let’s just hold up everything,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), one of several frustrated Freedom Caucus members who has huddled with the speaker multiple times this week.

If those divisions worsen — like if conservatives make good on their threat to start blocking bills from coming to the floor — some centrist Republicans pointed out that would just increase their incentive to join forces with Democrats. Republicans openly shifting to that strategy would amount to a historic shift in House power dynamics. “It just forces us to work with Democrats — these guys play checkers, they don’t play chess,” said centrist Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.).

At least, what’s left of their higher functions as the prion disease takes a toll was clear enough that they realized that firing Johnson for cutting the same kind of deal as the one that did Kevin McCarthy in would probably fasten the red rubber nose on the GOP permanently.

There are a few reasons conservatives won’t push a mutiny 20 days into Johnson’s speakership, an effort Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) characterized as “untenable.” But mainly, Johnson doesn’t have the same stubborn trust issues that plagued his predecessor. McCarthy and his allies argue he was ousted not for working with Democrats to pass a spending bill, but largely due to personal animus among the eight GOP members who voted against him, particularly the leader of the rebellion, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).

Nevertheless, the violence is clearly simmering not far below the surface. If the Senate balks at this deal, I expect the opening scene from Gangs of New York to break out in the Speaker’s lobby. We will keep you posted on any further outbreaks.

Spoiler Alert: The Senate passed the bill and it’s on the way to the White House.

Dark And Stormy Night

We had what the National Hurricane Center called a “non-tropical area of low pressure” that dumped about four inches of rain on my part of Palmetto Bay, rattled the windows, and tested my battery back-up on the computer and TV.

Offshore Southeast Coast of United States:

A non-tropical area of low pressure has formed near southern Florida along a frontal boundary. This system is forecast to move quickly northeastward across the Bahamas and offshore of the east coast of the U.S. through the weekend. Although development into a tropical cyclone appears unlikely, this system is expected to continue to produce gusty winds and heavy rains across portions of southern Florida, the Florida Keys, and the Bahamas during the next day or so.

For more information on this system, including gale warnings, see High Seas Forecasts issued by the National Weather Service.
* Formation chance through 48 hours…low…10 percent.
* Formation chance through 7 days…low…10 percent.

This is what it looked like as it moved through yesterday afternoon.

All’s quiet now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Kids’ Party

After elbowing in the hall and fist-fights brewing in the Senate, what have we come down to?  Andy Borowitz finds the awful truth.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (The Borowitz Report)—Millions of Americans are terrified by the dawning realization that Rep. Mike Johnson is the adult in the room, millions of Americans have confirmed.

Across the country, residents of the United States were initially cheered by the possibility that an adult was in the room, but were immediately shattered by the discovery that said adult was Rep. Johnson.

In particular, they wondered what sort of adult would deny the outcome of a legitimate election, believe that the separation of church and state is a myth, and declare that same-sex marriage is a “dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic.”

While a substantial number of Americans conceded that the Speaker of the House appears to be an adult when compared with Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, or Matt Gaetz, they disagreed that such a dubious distinction earns him even a remote claim to adulthood.

All in all, there seems to be a broad consensus that, if Mike Johnson is in fact the adult in the room, the room is totally screwed.

We should amend the Constitution so that one of the requirements for running for Congress include a degree in child psychology.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Ethically Challenged

So, the Supreme Court finally got the hint that they need to have a code of ethics.  Yip yah, right?  Well…

The Supreme Court on Monday adopted its first code of ethics, in the face of sustained criticism over undisclosed trips and gifts from wealthy benefactors to some justices, but the code lacks a means of enforcement.

The policy, agreed to by all nine justices, does not appear to impose any significant new requirements and leaves compliance entirely to each justice.

Indeed, the justices said they have long adhered to ethics standards and suggested that criticism of the court over ethics was the product of misunderstanding, rather than any missteps by the justices.

We’re going to have to take them at their word that they’re complying — pinky swears, I suppose — and even if they’re hoarding cash in the basement or taking free Gulfstream flights at the behest of their rich donors who have cases before them, it won’t matter.  It’s okay because they’re the Supremes and we should just trust them that they’re above reproach.


Monday, November 13, 2023

Don’t Say You Did Nazi That Coming

From the Washington Post:

Former president Donald Trump denigrated his domestic opponents and critics during a Veterans Day speech Saturday, calling those on the other side of the aisle “vermin” and suggesting that they pose a greater threat to the United States than countries such as Russia, China or North Korea. That language is drawing rebuke from historians, who compared it to that of authoritarian leaders.

“We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections,” Trump said toward the end of his speech, repeating his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. “They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American Dream.”

Sound familiar?  Perhaps you need to refresh your memory:

Nature is cruel; therefore we are also entitled to be cruel. When I send the flower of German youth into the steel hail of the next war without feeling the slightest regret over the precious German blood that is being spilled, should I not also have the right to eliminate millions of an inferior race that multiplies like vermin?

That was Adolf Hitler in 1942 while the ovens were running full-blast at Auschwitz and other camps in Europe.

More from the Post article:

“The language is the language that dictators use to instill fear,” said Timothy Naftali, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “When you dehumanize an opponent, you strip them of their constitutional rights to participate securely in a democracy because you’re saying they’re not human. That’s what dictators do.”

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at New York University, said in an email to The Washington Post that “calling people ‘vermin’ was used effectively by Hitler and Mussolini to dehumanize people and encourage their followers to engage in violence.”

And here’s Trump’s campaign mouthpiece doing a great impersonation of Josef Goebbels:

Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesman, told The Post “those who try to make that ridiculous assertion are clearly snowflakes grasping for anything because they are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome and their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”

“Their entire existence will be crushed”?  Lining up the boxcars and dusting off the Arbeit Macht Frei banners are you?

The first question at every Republican news conference, debate, and TV interview with a member of that party should be “Do you think your opponents are vermin?  Yes or no?”  And don’t let them off the hook.  And if they are shocked, shocked to hear that kind of language, remind them that he has been talking like that since the beginning.  Don’t say you didn’t know; you were counting on it.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Sunday Reading

Sorry, Moms — Amanda Marcotte in Salon on the poor showing the ironically-named Moms for Liberty had last week.

“We have more people. That’s a huge part.”

Jane Cramer, a mother from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, explained to Salon earlier this year that she felt good about the ragtag team she’d helped assemble to boot Moms for Liberty, the well-funded conservative parents’ rights group, off of her local school board. “We’re not organized in the best ways necessarily, but it kind of all fell into place,” Cramer told me. “And we’re all obsessed a little bit.”

Last month, I published an investigative report about how Moms for Liberty, a group dedicated to rewiring American education toward the far right, had taken over the board of education in the Pennridge School District, about half an hour outside Philadelphia. Moms for Liberty, a heavily funded astroturf organization linked to GOP leadership, wasn’t especially subtle in its strategies, pinpointing a handful of swing districts in purple states, like Virginia and Pennsylvania, and targeting school board elections, which are usually low turnout and easy to win. Once installed, Moms for Liberty members started banning books and Pride flags, as well as protesting that teachers were “grooming” kids with “smut,” which usually meant either a history book or acclaimed, age-appropriate fiction. The idea was to create moral panics around sex and race that could tip national elections towards Republicans.

Well, it backfired.

As I reported, parents in the Pennridge district eager to fight back against right-wing radicals formed the Ridge Network and got the word out, arguing to voters that the group was degrading the quality of the public schools. This week, those efforts paid off: Democrats won all five of the open school board seats in the district, wresting control away from Moms for Liberty.

By the time this election rolled around, Moms for Liberty seemed to have already realized their brand had become poisonous. As the Daily Beast reported, “In 2021, Moms for Liberty claimed credit for 33 seats in Bucks County,” but in this election cycle, the group “endorsed only a single candidate in the county.” The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that some Republican candidates wanted the group to keep its distance, fearful of the taint. And that was my sense of things in the Pennridge district this fall. School board members who had links to Moms for Liberty tried to downplay it and ended up getting outed by investigators from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The school board election is the latest in an escalating series of victories for the Ridge Network and other resistance efforts in Pennsylvania. Last month, the Democratic-controlled state legislature held hearings about the threat of book banning, allowing parents and educators to speak out. One of those parents, Darren Laustsen, told Salon about his attempts to expose backdoor book banning at Pennridge, which involved books mysteriously being “checked out” so that students couldn’t read them all year. In late October, he won a lawsuit against the school district over what the judge called a “cover-up” of such secretive book bans.

But Laustsen isn’t resting on his laurels. He’s still out there raising awareness of the radicalism of Moms for Liberty. He recently tweeted a story about Moms for Liberty activists demanding the arrests of librarians for letting kids read young adult novels, adding, “I am so tired of these psychos.”

It’s remarkable how swiftly Moms for Liberty became such an albatross organization. As many Pennridge parents complained to Salon, much of the initial media coverage of the group was credulous, buying into the false narrative that it’s a grassroots group of normal parents who are simply “concerned” about liberal “excesses.” In reality, the group was founded in 2021 by the wife of the chair of the Florida Republican Party and was immediately so well-resourced and fully staffed that it could only be they were propped up by secretive, wealthy donors.

The suspicious aura of money around the group was interesting to journalists, but what really damaged Moms for Liberty was that they underestimated the intelligence of the people in the communities they were targeting. The parents of Pennridge were not fooled by attempts to characterize literary fiction as “pornography.” Local residents also feared that rewriting history classes to adhere to right-wing mythologies would ultimately harm the school’s reputation, which could hurt both their property values and the ability of their kids to get into good colleges. Above all, multiple parents expressed a belief that schools should be preparing kids for the real world. They worried that right-wing whitewashing of history, social studies and other courses would leave kids without the basic skills necessary to thrive in a diverse, dynamic society.

Moms for Liberty was started, in a fairly obvious manner, to help boost the national prospects of Republicans. So it’s a delicious irony that, in two short years, the organization is mostly known as a symbol of the MAGA extremism that is driving down the overall popularity of the GOP, leading to yet another election cycle where Democrats overperformed expectations. The group was meant to put a family-friendly gloss on right-wing extremism. Instead, they got parents and teachers, many who barely have time to work and care for their families, to become political organizers. Messing with people’s schools was not, it turned out, a genius political strategy.

Doonesbury — It’s only a game.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Veterans Day

On 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. Today is the official holiday to commemorate Veterans Day.

In Canada, today is called Remembrance Day.  Perhaps that is the proper name for it because as time passes — it’s been 105 years since the armistice — we tend to forget the ones we lost.  Painfully, there have been more recent wars that have given us more names to remember and the living to honor.

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

Friday, November 10, 2023

Happy Friday

Who’s Your Daddy — Humor from Andy Borowitz.

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—Ivanka Trump raised eyebrows during her testimony in a Manhattan courtroom on Wednesday when she appeared unable to remember her father’s name.

Responding to a question from Judge Arthur F. Engoron about Donald J. Trump’s business dealings, Ms. Trump stared blankly and said, “I’m sorry. I’m not familiar with that person.”

Reminded that Donald J. Trump was, in fact, her father, she replied, “Huh. O.K., if you say so. I have to say that the name isn’t ringing a bell for me right now.”

As for the inner workings of her father’s business, Ms. Trump testified that she had been too busy driving her own company into the ground to recall anything about his.

According to one observer at the trial, Ms. Trump’s memory lapses were “concerning,” but “she still seemed sharper than Eric.”

And she’s considered to be the bright one in the family.

Morning orchid for therapy.


Thursday, November 9, 2023

Good News For John McCain

I realize I may be whipping this point beyond your patience, but bear with me.  Here it is: I am getting very tired of hearing that no matter how well the Democrats are doing in off-year elections and the Republicans are a trainwreck with a felonious engineer at the throttle, the Very Serious Pundits are still convinced that Joe Biden is gonna lose.

Almost every Tuesday election since the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has brought good news for Democrats.

Last night was no exception.

Abortion rights and marijuana legalization prevailed in Ohio. Democrats held the governor’s mansion in Kentucky, took full control of the State Legislature in Virginia and won a Supreme Court election in Pennsylvania. They even were competitive in Mississippi.

In one sense, the results were no surprise. The polls showed Democrats and their causes ahead in these races, and the party has excelled in low-turnout special elections over the last year.

But the results were especially elating for Democrats against the backdrop of the latest polls, including the newest New York Times/Siena College poll, which seemed to spell doom for the Democrats. There was no doom Tuesday night.

To many, the contradiction between Democrats’ success at the ballot box and their struggles in surveys seems to suggest the polling can’t be right.

It’s an understandable response — but it’s probably wrong.

There’s no contradiction between the polling and Tuesday’s election results. There’s not even a contradiction between the polling and the last year of special elections.

Put simply: Tuesday’s results don’t change the picture for President Biden heading into 2024.

This is the equivalent to the mantra we heard in 2008 when Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination and the VSP’s agreed that it was good news for John McCain.  When Sarah Palin blew across the stage like a sugared-up eight-year-old and blathering about Obama being a terrorist, that was good news for John McCain.  And when Barack Obama won the election in November 2008, it was — wait for it — good news for John McCain because he could regroup and come back in 2012 without the burden of the nitwit from Wasilla.

Tuesday night’s election results are nothing but great news for the Democrats across the country, and guess what: Joe Biden is a Democrat and he’s the president.  And as I explained the other day, poll numbers a year before the election are meaningless.

What’s even more fucking annoying is that the Democrats are predictably losing their collective fecal matter and publicly wondering if it’s too late to repeal the 22nd Amendment and get Barack Obama out of retirement.

Let this cooler head prevail.  E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post:

Tuesday’s bombshells pointed almost entirely toward Democratic resilience and Republican weakness. Yes, Biden has much work to do in dealing with voters’ worries about his age, high prices and immigration. But imagine what we’d have heard if Republican efforts in Kentucky and, at the end, in Virginia to make the elections about Biden had defeated Democrats. Dodging that bullet gives Biden a chance to regroup and to crow just a little, as he did on X: “Voters vote,” he wrote. “Polls don’t.”

As I said the other day, stop already.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Twenty Years

As I remember it, it was a Saturday.  I was living in an apartment in a part of Miami called Country Walk.  I had been following a number of blogs, including one run called Dohiyi Mir by N Todd Pritsky, who, at the time, lived in Vermont.  He was insightful, funny, and I enjoyed commenting on it.  He and other bloggers such as Josh Marshall and Ezra Klein were making sense of the crazy world of 2003.  So I decided it was my turn, and via Blogger, I came up with a name for the blog and a blog-nym that I had been using when I commented on other blogs: Mustang Bobby, the nickname of Bobby Cramer, a character in one of my novels.  And that Saturday afternoon of November 8, 2003, I signed on with my little Toshiba laptop.

A lot has happened in twenty years. I live in a different place in Miami, I am on my third computer since the Toshiba, and I retired from my job with Miami-Dade County Public Schools four years ago.  I have written fifty-five plays — some even produced — and had seven scripts published by Next Stage Press, and finished the novel Bobby Cramer.  Yet I still have the antique Pontiac station wagon, I’m on my second Mustang since then, and I still go to car shows.  Back then we were all outraged by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and were counting down the days to the next election in a year when at long last sanity would be returned to America.  Barack Obama was still a community organizer in Chicago and Trump was still a huckster ripping off the foolish and the weak.  [Insert the obligatory sigh.]  But there was a lot to write about, and I did my best to keep up.

As far as I can tell, I haven’t missed a day of blogging since then except when I was rudely interrupted by a couple of hurricanes and power outages.  I will be the first to admit that over the last few years I’ve tended toward cutting-and-pasting articles that I find interesting.  I suppose I could be called lazy, but I’d like to think that I’m honoring those whose writing and insight I admire.  I enjoy finding interesting pieces of music for “A Little Night Music,” and I am happy to keep up with the Sunday Doonesbury strip.  I will try to keep up with our fight for democracy here in Florida — Ron DeSantis is term-limited, but I’m not — and I’ll keep you up with my playwriting.  I’ve parted company with the William Inge Theatre Festival, but I’ll take you along to other festivals and theatres, including Valdez, Alaska, assuming I get invited back.

If I started to say thanks to everyone who has been a part of this journey, I’d go on for a very long time.  But I have to say thanks to my brother, CLW, who has been my back-end genius, getting the blog into the current format and guiding me through several server changes.  Without him, I’d still be on Blogger.  And then there are those who turned to me as a contributor, most notably Melissa McEwan of the late and much-missed Shakesville.  I learned so much from her: how to be a better writer, but more importantly, how to be a better human being.  Hugs, my Friend.  And of course N Todd, who I found out several years into this journey that once he was my parents’ paperboy in Perrysburg, Ohio.  We are all one small world.  But most of all, I thank you, Dear Readers.

I’ll end this with two thoughts, the first from F. Scott Fitzgerald:  “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” And the second from Josiah Bartlet: “What’s next?”

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