Monday, May 13, 2019

He’s Arrived

Trump compared Pete Buttigieg to the MAD magazine mascot Alfred E. Neumann, so I guess that means he’s showed up on his radar as a possible opponent.

Asked specifically about South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Trump was dismissive.

“Alfred E. Neuman cannot become president of the United States,” he said, comparing Buttigieg to the iconic boyish Mad Magazine cartoon character.

Asked by POLITICO in San Francisco on Friday night to respond to Trump’s new nickname, Buttigieg said: “I’ll be honest. I had to Google that. I guess it’s just a generational thing. I didn’t get the reference. It’s kind of funny, I guess. But he’s also the president of the United States and I’m surprised he’s not spending more time trying to salvage this China deal.”

That doesn’t mean that Mayor Pete has any better a chance of winning either the nomination or the presidency, but if Trump — or whoever is whispering in his ear — can come up with a schoolyard taunt for him, he’s at least getting traction.

To a degree, Mayor Pete is right.  Fifty years ago the Neumann comparison might have landed better with the voters, but today Trump is going to have to be a little more hip to cultural icons that resonate with the voters who matter, not just his old white guys.

And if Mayor Pete wanted to hit back, he could have said “Bye, Felicia” and let Trump Google that.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Winning The White House Won’t Matter

Excellent point by Tom Sullivan at Hullabaloo:

Keeping track of how many Democrats are running for president in 2020 is futile. The candidate count stands somewhere above 20, making the chances of actually winning the primary contest a long shot for most, if not simply an expensive vanity project. Democrats have a wealth of riches, goes the popular narrative. What they lack are candidates for U.S. Senate. Thirty-four seats are on 2020 ballots.

Salon Deputy Politics Editor Sophia Tesfaye worries talented Democrats itching to take down Donald Trump may leave the Senate and approval of federal judges in Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s control. Red-state Democrats who need more control in their state legislatures could use some local races to boost voter turnout and may not get it.

“Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Steve Bullock in Montana, and John Hickenlooper in Colorado all gave up opportunities to challenge potentially vulnerable Republicans for Senate seats” to run for president, Tesfaye writes. With rumors that Joe Manchin may leave his West Virginia Senate seat to run for governor, a Democrat in the White House could face an even more hostile Senate in 2021 if Democrats loose ground there. Democrat Doug Jones could lose his Alabama U.S. Senate seat in 2020.

[…]

The sitting president may be drawing all the fire to himself, but Democrats need more attention to their flanks. There is little to suggest a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 will pay much attention to red states, especially to red states with no competitive contests for U.S. Senate. The longer the Senate goes under-contested, the worse it will go both for Democrats and American democracy.

The Democrats could come up with the perfect presidential candidate who could win the election in a landslide and give Trump the humiliation he so richly deserves.  But it won’t mean anything and nothing will change if the Senate remains in Republican majority and Mitch McConnell is still the majority leader.  And all those folks who are passing up Senate races in fanciful hopes of being the next president are only making it more likely.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Going After Mayor Pete

I was wondering when this sort of shit would start.  Via the Daily Beast.

A pair of right-wing provocateurs are being accused of attempting to recruit young Republican men to level false allegations of sexual assault against Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

The details of the operatives’ attempt emerged as one man suddenly surfaced with a vague and uncorroborated allegation that Buttigieg had assaulted him. The claim was retracted hours later on a Facebook page appearing to belong to the man.

A Republican source told The Daily Beast that lobbyist Jack Burkman and internet troll Jacob Wohl approached him last week to try to convince him to falsely accuse Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, of engaging him sexually while he was too drunk to consent.

The source who spoke to The Daily Beast said Burkman and Wohl made clear that their goal was to kneecap Buttigieg’s momentum in the 2020 presidential race. The man asked to remain anonymous out of a concern that the resulting publicity might imperil his employment, and because he said Wohl and Burkman have a reputation for vindictiveness.

But the source provided The Daily Beast with a surreptitious audio recording of the meeting, which corroborates his account. In it, Wohl appears to refer to Buttigieg as a “terminal threat” to President Donald Trump’s reelection next year.

Neither Burkman nor Wohl responded to repeated requests for comment on this story. But after The Daily Beast contacted them last week, traces of the scheme disappeared from the web and social media.

This must be a good sign for Mayor Pete in that he’s not at the top of the polls but already getting the trolls and the Orcosphere energizing against him.  They can’t come up with any policy counterattack so they go for the gutter because he’s gay and, well, you know how they are.

This isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last of the attacks against him — we’ve already seen the phony religious grifters going after him — and you can always count on rating points if you bring up sex.

HT to Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sunday Reading

The Stakes Are Mortal — Charles P. Pierce on Joe Biden’s run for the White House.

It is a troubled time in America. Institutions are tottering. Widespread discontent is evident in the streets. There is a profound lack of faith in our ability to govern ourselves and in the ability of our leaders to solve the crises that seem to be growing by the hour. The president is embattled. He is besieged. His re-election seems uncertain. In these desperate hours, a veteran leader, a former vice-president, steps forward and offers himself in service to his country. He assures us we are strong enough to meet all these challenges, and that we are a better people than we have demonstrated ourselves to be. He says:

“…your responsibility is greater than ever. The nation is in grave difficulties, around the world and here at home. The choices we face are larger than any differences among Republicans or among Democrats, larger even than the differences between the parties. They are beyond politics. Peace and freedom in the world, and peace and progress here at home, will depend on the decisions of the next President of the United States. For these critical years, America needs new leadership. During [my] years in Washington, I learned the awesome nature of the great decisions a President faces…I have had a chance to reflect on the lessons of public office, to measure the nation’s tasks and its problems from a fresh perspective. I have sought to apply those lessons to the needs of the present, and to the entire sweep of this…century.

And thus did Joe Biden announce his candidac…no, wait. That’s Richard Nixon from 1968.

Here’s a better one.

Did we come all this way for this? Did American boys die in Normandy and Korea and in Valley Forge for this? Listen to the answers to those questions. It is another voice, it is a quiet voice in the tumult of the shouting. It is the voice of the great majority of Americans, the forgotten Americans, the non shouters, the non demonstrators. They’re not racists or sick; they’re not guilty of the crime that plagues the land; they are black, they are white; they’re native born and foreign born; they’re young and they’re old. They work in American factories, they run American businesses. They serve in government; they provide most of the soldiers who die to keep it free. They give drive to the spirit of America. They give lift to the American dream. They give steel to the backbone of America. They’re good people. They’re decent people; they work and they save and they pay their taxes and they care.Like Theodore Roosevelt, they know that this country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless it’s a good place for all of us to live in.

And thus did Joe Biden announce his candidac…no, wait. That’s Richard Nixon again, accepting the Republican nomination for president in 1968, after having failed to be elected president in 1960, and after having failed to be elected governor of California in 1962.

Joe Biden is not Richard Nixon. (Although, to be fair to the historical record, they once held the same position on busing.) He is not history’s yard waste. He does not teem with angry angst and delusions of persecution and self-esteem that can be measured in a teaspoon. He enters the 2020 presidential campaign with a lifetime in politics to defend, and with eight years of being Barack Obama’s vice-president that served to take much of the edge off that lifetime of politics. In his campaign announcement video, he makes clear that he learned about the politics of this perilous moment from those eight years as Obama’s wingman.

I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are, and I cannot stand by and watch that happen. The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America America is at stake.

That’s why today I’m announcing my candidacy for president of the United States. Folks, America’s an idea—an idea that’s stronger than any army, bigger than any ocean, more powerful than any dictator or tyrant. It gives hope to the most desperate people on earth. It guarantees that everyone is treated with dignity. It gives hate no safe harbor. It instills in every person in this country the belief that no matter where you start in life, there’s nothing you can’t achieve if you work at it.

This is Biden channelling the spirit of Obama’s famous breakthrough speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, a speech that subsequent history—and Mitch McConnell—have fed into the shredder, and a speech that the election of this president* proved to be woefully naive and, quite honestly, as full of shit as the Christmas goose. The fact is that many of us are not better than the politics we see today, that this moment in time is not as aberrant as Biden says it is. In 1968, Richard Nixon subtly stirred the same politics of resentment while simultaneously saying he would bring us together.

The current president* just doesn’t bother with the second part, is all. We indeed are in a battle for the soul of this nation and one of the major fronts in that battle is just what the soul of this nation truly looks like. That question remains wide open.

Does Biden recognize this? Does his vaunted appeal to regular Joes and Janes blind him (and us) to the fact that a lot of those people have been digesting the ideological crud spooned out to them for so long that they’ve developed a taste for it, that a lot of the salt of the earth hath lost its savor? The arc of Joe Biden’s long career almost perfectly traces the rise of conservative politics that culminated inevitably in the election of the current president. It tracks precisely the end of the Roosevelt coalition and the powerful salience among those same voters of appeals to racial and cultural hatred. It follows in close harmony the endless attempts by the Democratic Party to backtrack on its most profound principles in order to bring back people who have been taught to hate it day after day on their radios and television sets, and by the politicians who have convinced them that their lowest impulses are their highest triumphs, and that the better angels of their nature wear brass knuckles and carry a sap under their robes. To argue that we are better than the politics of the Trump Era requires a whopping offer of proof. Is Biden able to provide it?

Standing in this same place a third of a century ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a Nation ravaged by depression and gripped in fear. He could say in surveying the Nation’s troubles: “They concern, thank God, only material things.” Our crisis today is the reverse. We have found ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but falling into raucous discord on earth. We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity. We see around us empty lives, wanting fulfillment. We see tasks that need doing, waiting for hands to do them. To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit. To find that answer, we need only look within ourselves. When we listen to “the better angels of our nature,” we find that they celebrate the simple things, the basic things–such as goodness, decency, love, kindness. Greatness comes in simple trappings. The simple things are the ones most needed today if we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us.

Richard Nixon said that on a cold day in January of 1969, seven months before Americans landed on the moon and a year before he first approved a plan devised by an ambitious young fascist named Tom Charles Huston to use the intelligence apparatus of this country to spy on political activists and political opponents. Eventually, he rescinded that plan, formally, but several elements stayed active within the government. In 1972, he was re-elected in an unprecedented landslide.

Joe Biden is not Richard Nixon. Neither is he Donald Trump nor Barack Obama. He is joyful where Nixon was paranoid and where Obama was cool and considered. He is not grossly cynical, nor is he imperturbably rational. He is as he always has been—an incurable optimist whose burbling good will occasionally run ahead of his syntax and his ideas. He believes we are better than we keep proving ourselves to be. He’d better be right, because the stakes are mortal this time around.

The Mueller Report and “Game of Thrones” — Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker.

Among the many oddities in the second episode of the new (and final) season of “Game of Thrones,” none was odder than the disproportion of time spent combating a desperate existential threat versus time spent arguing over the demands of dynastic primacy. After spending approximately thirty seconds on an actual plan to defeat the Night King and his icy undead army (and a terrible plan it was: Bran, you hang out around the old tree and try to catch the king in some kind of mind-meld, and we’ll have the P.T.S.D. victim Theon Greyjoy mind you as you do), far more time was spent on whether a single, and single-handed, knight, Jaime Lannister, might be an acceptable ally to the Stark-Targaryen clans. Accused by Daenerys of having been the kingslayer of her father, and therefore the guy against whom she had sworn vengeance, Lannister gave a strange response. One expected him to say, “Look, your dad was called the Mad King for a reason. He burned people alive and was a threat to existence and decency, no matter what his last name, or what house he belonged to. One thing I’ll never feel ashamed about is helping to expel that lunatic.” Instead, he spoke the language of dynastic squabbling—insisting that he had acted only on behalf of his house and his family—and (in a horrible bit of anachronistic dialogue) got the imposing Brienne of Tarth to say that she would “vouch” for him.

The eloquent relevance of this scene to our current real-world predicament is obvious: too much of the discussion of what to do about an unhinged monarch turns on a modern version of dynastic squabbles—on party politics, on who will do well or badly, on how it will play out for Democrats in the 2020 election, on what it will do to the Republican base, and so on. This squabbling seems, in light of the release of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, irrelevant and even kind of frivolous. What the report reveals is what we sensed but could not entirely know: that Donald Trump has contempt not just for the rule of law but for the idea of law. He is a man who rose to power knowing only loyalty and subservience as acceptable institutional attitudes; a man who, according to the report, asked the White House counsel to “do crazy shit” and then asked him to lie about it; a man who repeatedly tried to obstruct not just an investigation into what he or his campaign might have done but the whole idea of an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Those who predicted that Trump was not just another right-wing politician but an opponent of liberal democracy grow chill watching him assert the position—one that was not long ago as unacceptable to Americans as the idea of commending a foreign autocrat’s attempts to subvert our elections—that the Department of Justice should now pursue his political opponents for nonexistent crimes.

That the scale of the danger Trump poses is becoming clearer to more and more people is due to the paradoxical truth that, despite Trump’s endless claims to the contrary, the Mueller report is the least witch-hunt-like witch hunt in the history of witch hunts. Painfully, dutifully, at times in ways almost unduly dainty, the report works its way through the intricacies of its charge, of Department of Justice standards and practices, of what it can fairly conclude, and of what can’t be legitimately pursued. It does so with a sober judiciousness that would be wonderful to read if one were not a little haunted by the fact that not all special prosecutors or independent counsels have previously shown so much delicacy of mind. One recalls that hit of yesteryear, the Starr Report, written, as seemed evident at the time and still more so now, with the sole political purpose of humiliating President Bill Clinton into resigning, even though its own initial charge—to investigate the Whitewater land deal—left it with insufficient evidence to indict.

The finding of the Mueller report, ably occluded by Attorney General William Barr, isn’t that there was no collusion and no obstruction—it’s that there isn’t enough evidence to rise to the legal level of conspiracy, and that obstruction was not a charge that the office was permitted to pursue, in any case, because Trump is a sitting President. And then that—a rather convoluted piece of reasoning—the accusation cannot be unambiguously stated even if it is true, since it is also against the rules to accuse of a crime someone who can’t defend himself in court. The actual point of view of the authors, though, is made clear in their repeated, and rather ornate, return to an otherwise bafflingly opaque formula: if we could conclude that the President was exonerated of the charge of obstruction we would say so, but we can’t. In cash-value, or real-world, terms, they are saying that they can’t properly say that they found obstruction, but they did find a lot of evidence and are passing it along to those who might be allowed to act on it. It’s a heavy hint in the form of a labyrinthine legal argument.

It may be that, in retrospect, the Mueller investigation will be seen to have been unduly cautious. The failure to subpoena Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr., is puzzling. So, too, is the larger failure to compel the President to be interviewed in person, given the almost aggressive absence of responsiveness in his written answers. This seems particularly evident considering that the independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s team had no compunctions about subpoenaing Bill Clinton to testify, despite the more trivial nature of its initial charge. (They withdrew it after Clinton agreed to testify.)

But, on the whole, and taken on its own terms, the Mueller report is a powerful and positive document, because it is written testimony to the liberal faith in the power of rules and systems to bring order and justice. Mueller and his team were trying on every page of the report and in every instance to follow the rules, even if the rules they were following forced them into contorted prose and easily misrepresented positions. The rules are worth following, the underlying premise of the report insists, because only in accepting the rules can we insure justice. This is why the language of “norms” and their violation is misapplied to Trump and his conduct. What is at stake here are not “norms,” in the sense of ornamental ritual regularities in the conduct of office. What is at stake are rules—rules meant to insure objective judgment and fair dealing no matter who the subject may be or how you may feel about his or her conduct. These are fair-minded rules put in place by the painfully slow accession of power to procedure, equitable rules put in place over time and that, historically, remain vanishingly rare. As “Game of Thrones” reminds us—it may be the chief reason for the show’s current appeal—the rule of pure power asserting itself exactly as it likes whenever it likes is what most often happens among human beings.

This is why the idea that Mueller cleverly engineered his report to force Congress to act misses the point. Mueller didn’t intend it. The rules did. This is why impeachment—at least attempting to remove from power someone obviously unfit to hold it, whatever the outcome may be—has, within a week, passed from a distant speculative possibility to what seems to many like a primary moral duty. It is being miscast as a prudential act, or even as an act of overdue partisan aggression. Right now, it seems more like collective self-defense against a common danger.

Doonesbury — Outsourcing.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Good Old Joe

I’d vote for Joe Biden if he was the Democratic nominee in 2020. That said, I’d vote for Teddy the Wonder Lizard if he was the one who could beat Trump.

I concur with Josh Marshall and a lot of other smart people who have concerns that the former vice president and senator from Delaware is the perfect candidate but only if it was 1988.

But it’s not, and while there’s no one out there in the field that has as much experience as he has and who has spent enough time in the West Wing already to know how to make it run, he also brings a busload of baggage that will make him vulnerable to the hypocritical attacks from Trump and others about his business connections and touching women.  (Like they’re going to sue for trademark infringement.)

I’m glad to hear that his primary goal is to beat Trump.  We all want that.  Then what?  Let’s hear something from him that goes beyond November 2020 and how he’ll reverse the damage wrought by four years of corruption and hatred.

Like I said, I’d vote for him.  But I’d rather it be for him than just to be against someone else.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Up To 19

Now we have Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) running for president, too.

“I’m running because I’m a patriot, because I believe in this country and because I’ve never wanted to sit on the sidelines when it comes to serving us,” Moulton said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” hours after posting an announcement video on his website that highlighted his military service.

The Massachusetts congressman, 40, a former Marine Corps captain who served in the Iraq War, was first elected in 2014 after ousting a scandal-plagued Democratic incumbent. He is the sixth current or recent member of the House to enter the Democratic contest and one of three veterans seeking the nomination.

Like Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, he has touted that experience as a reason he can defeat President Trump.

During his interview on ABC, he called Trump “the most divisive president in American history” and said he would stand apart from others in the Democratic field because he is “going to talk about patriotism, about security, about service.”

“These are issues that for too long Democrats have ceded to Republicans, and we’ve got to stop that,” Moulton said.

That’s all very well and good and I think it’s great that there’s such a large number of Democrats who think they can all beat Trump, but at some point there’s got to be a saturation point.  We’re at 19 candidates, at least declared so far, and by the end of the week we may well be at 20 with Joe Biden tossing his fedora into the ring.

It’s like cable TV: there’s so many that you can’t watch it all so you narrow it down to the few that you remember.  They may have said something you like or they may be more familiar because they’re local or who knows why, but with all the noise, at some point they all sound the same and, frankly, look the same.  I’ll bet if you ran a picture spread of all the candidates, you couldn’t name half of them just by their photo, much less tell us where they’re from or what their particular calling is.

Let the winnowing begin.  Please.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Mayor Pete Makes It Official

It’s pronounced BOOT-edge-edge.

Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of this northern Indiana city who in just weeks has vaulted from being a near-unknown to a breakout star in the Democratic Party, officially started his presidential bid here on Sunday, presenting himself as a transformational figure who is well positioned to beat President Trump, despite being young and facing off against many seasoned rivals.

“I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern, millennial mayor, but we live in a moment that compels us each to act,” Buttigieg said in front of thousands of supporters, jacket-free with his sleeves rolled up. “It calls for a new generation of leadership.”

Buttigieg added, “It’s time to walk away from the politics of the past and toward something totally different.”

The scene for Buttigieg’s rally was a hulking former Studebaker assembly plant, whose closure decades ago rocked this region’s economy. The site has since become a data and education hub pushed by his administration — and central to his technocratic, hopeful pitch that he is ready to help communities still struggling with the effects of globalization.

“Change is coming, ready or not,” Buttigieg told the crowd. “There is a myth being sold to industrial and rural communities: the myth that we can stop the clock and turn it back,” and he touted his attempts in the city to assist the workforce with training and skills programs.

Some attendees drove from around the country after being inspired by Buttigieg’s message and the historic nature of his campaign as a gay presidential candidate.

For Buttigieg, Sunday’s upbeat gathering on a dreary, snowy mid-April afternoon was an important political juncture: a reintroduction to a party that has only begun to pay attention to this mayor with a hard-to-pronounce name, but is now certainly listening closely as it searches for a standard-bearer.

It’s worth noting that within my adult lifetime, the idea of an openly gay person running for president, much less being taken seriously for doing it, has gone from Are You Kidding Me to It Could Happen.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots is coming up in June.  That we have come so far so fast says that human nature — and our attitudes about it — can be changed practically overnight, at least compared to how we have changed in attitudes about race and gender.

Whether or not Mayor Pete will still be in the race as a serious contender a year from now is another matter, but just the idea that he could be in the race at all is a major leap not just for the LGBTQ community but for all of us.

Friday, April 5, 2019

It’s Progress

Via Eugene Scott at the Washington Post:

The LGBT community has seen public opinion shift in recent years on a range of issues, including same-sex marriage and equal rights. A recent poll shows one more issue illustrative of this trend: Voters have become much more accepting of gay Americans seeking the highest office in the land.

There was a time when South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s sexuality — he is gay — would have made him unelectable in many parts of the country.

As recently as 2006, when Buttigieg was 24, most Americans said they would be “very uncomfortable” or have “reservations” about a gay person running for president.

That has changed dramatically.

According to a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans said they would be either enthusiastic about or comfortable with a candidate who is gay or lesbian. To put that in perspective, 85 percent said they were enthusiastic about or comfortable with a female candidate.

That doesn’t mean that Mayor Pete is a shoo-in for the nomination or the White House, but at least it’s not a big deal that he’s gay.

And yes, it’s only a poll and when asked in the abstract, I’m pretty sure the respondents are pretty much shrugging it off; “yeah, sure, what the heck.”  It won’t be until he’s actually in contention, as in the nominee, that the knives and the hatred will avail itself via the usual suspects.

The other consideration is that as a nation we’ve lowered the bar for acceptable traits for a president.  If having a narcissistic racist sexual predator who dodged the draft five times, married three women and screwed around on all of them and still has an approval of over 80% of his party in the White House, how hard can it be for a successful mayor, veteran, and happily married man to win over the hearts and minds of a nation?

We may find out.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sunday Reading

Mayor Pete Week — Eric Lach at The New Yorker on the current boomlet for Pete Buttigieg.

It’s already boomlet season in the 2020 Democratic Presidential race. “The Mayor Pete boomlet is real,” the CNN analyst and polling maven Harry Enten tweeted, on Thursday, referring to Pete Buttigieg, the young, can’t-we-all-be-reasonable mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Enten pegged this boomlet in part to a new Quinnipiac poll of the 2020 Democratic field, which showed Buttigieg jumping all the way up to four-per-cent support, good for a fifth-place tie with Senator Elizabeth Warren. Boomletissimo?

It’s true that Buttigieg, who technically is still in the “exploratory” stage of his campaign, has recently been everywhere, which in American Presidential politics is defined as television and the early-voting states. After an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last month, Buttigieg was praised for his poise. During an interview on the New York City morning radio show “The Breakfast Club,” the host Charlamagne Tha God declared, in amazement, “This guy seems like he’s telling the truth!” “The Daily Show” did a segment on how to properly pronounce his many-lettered last name. (“Buddha-jedge.” Say it fast.) The Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda followed the candidate’s husband on Twitter.

Part of Buttigieg’s appeal is that he offers a kind of political refuge: he’s a candidate that lets you forget about the baggage and conflicts of the race’s front-runners, if only for a little while. He sounds comfortable discussing complex issues, smiles warmly, and has no visible political enemies. Putting himself forward as an alternative choice has been part of Buttigieg’s brand for as long as he’s been on the national political stage. Two years ago, during his unsuccessful effort to become chair of the Democratic National Committee, he held himself out less as the millennial candidate—a mantle he’s fully embraced more recently—than as the compromise candidate. He was the third man in a contest that featured a lefty, Keith Ellison, and an establishment figure, Tom Perez, who both seemed like avatars of the Party factions that had done battle during the 2016 primaries. “I don’t know why we’d want to live through it a second time,” Buttigieg said at the time. Put that on a bumper sticker.

As a Presidential candidate, Buttigieg isn’t triangulating so explicitly—it would be tough to do that in field this crowded—but he’s still working to synthesize the disparate forces animating the Democratic Party and its voters in this moment. “Sometimes pragmatism points you in a comparatively radical direction,” he told my colleague Benjamin Wallace-Wells, earlier this year. For someone getting so much credit as an intellectual—news stories about him mention the fact that he’s a Rhodes Scholar just about as often as they mention that he would be the country’s first openly gay President—Buttigieg’s policy ideas are more gestural than prescriptive. He’s for eliminating the Electoral College and packing the Supreme Court, and he speaks often about how, as the millennial in the race (he’s thirty-seven), he has the right perspective to tackle issues such as climate change, health care, and the legacy of the country’s recent wars. He has a name for the approach this perspective leads him to: intergenerational justice.

In lieu of an armful of specific policy and legislative proposals, like Elizabeth Warren has, or a signature idea, like Cory Booker and his “baby bonds,” Buttigieg touts his time as a governing executive in South Bend. Like Ronald Reagan, who while running for reëlection, at age seventy-three, famously promised not to hold his Democratic opponent Walter Mondale’s “youth and inexperience” against him, Buttigieg takes questions about his age and reframes them as ones of record. “I think local leaders, where the rubber meets the road, where you’re dealing with everything, from filling potholes to economic development to public safety—that’s the kind of background that I think would serve us best at a time when Washington can’t get anything done for them,” he said on “The Breakfast Club.” It’s at least an argument—one that Buttigieg likes to back up by reminding people that South Bend is a diverse city and that unemployment has fallen under his watch.

Buttigieg is going bigger in one notable way. Like most of the rest of the 2020 field, Buttigieg resists being simply an anti–Donald Trump figure. But lately, it seems like he might be O.K. with becoming an anti–Mike Pence. “He’s been consistently horrible, and holds beliefs that are sincerely awful when it comes to L.G.B.T. equality and a lot of other issues,” Buttigieg said of Pence this week, on the Buzzfeed morning show “AM to DM.” “I’m sure he does not consider himself to be a racist. But I think the moment you come on board with a project like the Trump campaign or the Trump-Pence Administration you are at best complicit in the process that has given cover for a flourishing and resurgence of white nationalism.” This wasn’t how Buttigieg always talked about Pence. In “Shortest Way Home,” a book he published just a few weeks ago, Buttigieg wrote of getting to know Pence, despite his views on L.G.B.T. rights, as personally “gracious and decent.” Here might be evidence of the political newcomer’s evolution: he appears to have picked an enemy. What might next week hold for Mayor Pete?

From Writer’s Block To Stage — J.W. Arnold in South Florida Gay News on a certain playwright’s journey.

Anthony Wolff and Robert Ayala star in the South Florida premiere of Philip Middleton Williams’ “Can’t Live Without You” in Boca Raton.

Miami writer and playwright Philip Middleton Williams is still trying to finish his novel, “Bobby Cramer.” It’s been more than two decades.

“Sometimes an old dream, like an old friend, can show up when you need it the most,” Williams explained.

That’s exactly what happened with “Bobby Cramer.” In 2001, while visiting the Florida keys with his parents over Christmas vacation, the title character of the novel inspired a new play.

“As I was driving, it occurred to me, what would happen if Bobby Cramer walked into the room?” he recalled.

By the time, Williams and his parents reached their motel room, he had sketched out the first scene in his head and by the end of the vacation, he would have the story finished. Now, that play is getting a new production by the Playgroup at the Willow Theatre at Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton.

The play centers around Donny Hollenbeck (Anthony Wolff), who thinks he has created the perfect life for himself. He has a lucrative career writing romance novels (under a female nom de plume), a nice girlfriend (Leslie Zivin Kandel), a go-getter realtor with ambitions beyond the next closing, and a beautiful home in Florida. But, when Bobby Cramer (Robert Ayala), a character from a novel he abandoned years ago, pays Donny a visit, he starts to realize his dreams took a wrong turn somewhere.

“The story is really about Donny’s struggle with his alter ego. His girlfriend wants him to settle down and start a family and his agent wants him to keep cranking out books,” said Williams, whose last play, “All Together Now,” was produced last season by the Playgroup. “I do that a lot—borrow characters from my other projects.”

While Donny is probably not gay, there are some twists.

“He’s attracted to this good-looking guy, Bobby, the yin to his yang. Bobby could be gay, but he’s questioning. Donny had experiences and it’s certainly a convenience to have a girlfriend,” said.

After pausing, the writer continued, “I’m still writing the novel. I may never finish it and it may certainly never be published, but that doesn’t matter, the novel is my Bobby Cramer. I may be writing a play or other stories, but I’m always coming back to that novel.”

Even though Williams created his characters before the more recent era of pansexuality or omnisexuality, the play also seems to predict many of the attitudes that are predominant with young people today.

“In many ways, it’s tough for people to admit they’re gay or straight and this fluidity that people are experiencing is because they’re being labeled, wrapped up in a package,” he said. “We have gay and straight actors and they all bring a sensibility to the study. I have not been to any rehearsals and I stay away because the playwright just sitting there gets in the way. I let (director) Jerry Jensen do his magic. My part is done and now it’s Jerry’s turn.”

Doonesbury — Dating himself.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

That’s A Lot

It is way too early to pay much attention to the Democratic candidates as they tune up and take warm-up laps, but seeing Beto O’Rourke bring in over $6 million in his first 24 hours of “official” campaigning is impressive.

As of now there are fourteen other candidates vying for attention, and if my e-mail inbox is any indication, they’re all after me for money.  That’s how it works.  (Sorry, folks, you’re not getting any until after the Iowa caucuses, and even then.)  And Joe Biden is still playing peek-a-boo with his (possible) candidacy as if the race needs to fill out every demographic that checks off the D box: women, POC, gay, young, old, ethnic, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, single-issue (climate, health care, take your pick); mash them all together into one in some transporter malfunction and you’ve got the perfect candidate to run against Trump, or at least fill out the application at the HR office of the DNC.

I don’t know if Beto O’Rourke is it, or the $6.1 million is just an indicator of a lot of people ready to cast their lot, if not their PayPal account, with someone who seems to be the antithesis of everything that Trump and the Republicans have stood for in the last thirty years: greed, xenophobia, nationalism, ignorance, bullying, hypocrisy, and self-loathing.  And while the base is solidly with Trump, just as there were those who objected to Nixon resigning, the GOP numbers, both polling and actual people who identify as Republican, are shrinking.  Having 93% of support in a party that represents less than 40% of the voters isn’t exactly a strong place to plant your burning cross flag.

It’s going to be at least a year before we really know who the Democratic candidate will be, and a lot can change in a year.  My estimation is by then we’ll be down to four or five contenders (any bets on who will be the first to drop out?  My money’s on John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado).  But after seeing how he ran against Ted Cruz in Texas, I would not be surprised to see Mr. O’Rourke still at it, still going, and that first $6 million is just the beginning.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Simply Lousy

I think Steve M is on to something.

Many Democrats who want to win back the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are focused on whether the party should nominate a moderate, a male, a white person. They’re concerned with rebuking Ilhan Omar and shushing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Maybe they should try pointing out — to the white heartlanders who tell pollsters they “somewhat support” Trump rather than “strongly support him,” or the ones who warily voted for him in 2016 and are now on the fence — that Trump is not doing what they were rooting for him to do if elected. He’s breaking promise after promise. We keep saying that Trump is a larger-than-life grotesque monster. Maybe we should be saying he’s simply a lousy president.

Our portrayal of Trump as an outsize villain elevates him. Saying he just plain sucks at his job would bring him down to size.

It’s one thing to go after him for his crimes and corruption, but it’s a lot easier to point out that he’s accomplished exactly the opposite of what he said he would do. The budget and trade deficits that he promised to wipe out are soaring thanks to the tax bill and tariffs; his promised health care proposals made even the Republicans defend Obamacare; it’s a joke to say he’s going to do something about the infrastructure, and his cabinet secretaries — those that are still in place — are doing nothing but making noise and dodging subpoenas or internal auditors.  He’s trashed our foreign policy by alienating our allies and sucking up to rich dictators, emboldened North Korea and their nuclear weapons, done nothing about the opioid crisis, and other than scream about building a wall, done nothing substantive about immigration.  Basically, the 2016 campaign has never ended — he’s still obsessed with Hillary Clinton — and he’s never actually taken on the day-to-day hard work of being president.  He sits on his ass in his bathrobe and watches TV.

Run against that and win.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

No Debates For You

The DNC finally gets it.

The Democratic National Committee has decided to exclude Fox News Channel from televising any of its candidate debates during the 2019-2020 cycle as a result of published revelations detailing the cable network’s close ties to the Trump administration.

In a statement Wednesday, DNC Chairman Tom Perez cited a story in the New Yorker magazine this week that detailed how Fox has promoted President Trump’s agenda. The article, titled “The Making of the Fox News White House,” suggested that the news network had become a “propaganda” vehicle for Trump.

Ya think?

I’ve never really understood why the Democrats even want to be seen on Fox, much less try to win over their audience.  The purpose of Fox News has been to tear down the Democrats and attack liberals, so why go ask them to keep doing it?

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Sunday Reading

It’s About The Climate — Benjamin Wallace-Wells interviews Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) who wants to be the climate change president.

Last week, Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington, was in Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the National Governors Association, but he had additional business to conduct. Inslee, who is sixty-eight, was widely understood to be on the verge of announcing a campaign for the Democratic nomination for President. Earlier in the day, he told me, once we’d settled into a conference room at the downtown Embassy Suites, he had met with Barack Obama. The timing created a slightly ridiculous situation, in which Inslee would not formally acknowledge his candidacy but kept hinting at it heavily—mentioning, for example, that he might be in Iowa soon and raising his eyebrows meaningfully. A week later, on Friday morning, he announced that he was running.

Inslee, who is tall and athletic, has an eager and direct manner: his thoughts emerge in lists (“No. 4 is . . .”) and his mind moves toward details. And though he has not been a single-issue governor, the case for his Presidential candidacy rests on his decades-long interest in political solutions to climate change. The thought of Iowa made Inslee turn not to county dinners but to wind turbines. Had I heard there was a new generation of turbines coming? “They’re humongous,” he said, with appreciation. “Three hundred feet long.” He mentioned an alternative-energy entrepreneur he had recently met, a man named Wayne Rogers, who had made a fortune by turning decommissioned dams into hydropower stations. Now, Inslee said, he was working on a high-speed-train venture.

For all the obvious majesty of the subject, environmental politics has always had a slightly airless quality. Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” which, for years, was the central document of climate-change activism, is essentially a PowerPoint presentation. For a while, the public discussion of climate change seemed defined, in part, by Gore’s personality—his tendency toward abstraction but also his assurance with his own expertise. Such emphasis was placed on the distinction between Democrats, who were said to be on the side of the scientists, and Republicans, who were said to be opposed, that it came as a surprise when, last October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report indicating that the scientists had somewhat underestimated just how bad the consequences of global warming would be. The discussion, Inslee said, focussed so much on the consequences of two degrees Celsius of warming that “it shut off discussion of ‘What if we get to four or five?’ ” Now scientists believe that we are on track, without further action, for four degrees of warming by century’s end.

Inslee has been in politics for a quarter century but has never become a national figure. As one of his aides, reached on the West Coast, put it, “he’s not a show horse,” and it took a moment to conceive of the unpretentious governor as a Presidential candidate. On the other hand, there are credible public-opinion polls in which Democratic voters in the early-primary states of New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina say that they care more about climate change and health care than any other issues. Inslee’s approach to climate policy, he told me, is “can-do, optimistic—it’s in my nature.” But in Washington, D.C., that approach, reminiscent of Gore, has, for the moment at least, been displaced by the millennial left’s, which is bleaker in tone and more transformative in program. For many years environmentalism has been shaped by technocratic liberalism’s trust in scientific expertise, and faith in the possibility of a global consensus. Now there is an unexpected situation. The climate is in crisis and liberalism is under pressure, at the same time.

Inslee grew up in the Seattle area, where his mother was a Sears-Roebuck clerk and his father was a high-school basketball coach who became the athletic director of the city’s public schools. After Inslee graduated from the Willamette University College of Law, he and his wife, Trudi, moved to the small town of Selah, near Yakima, where he practiced law and worked as a prosecutor, and they raised, as he often says, “three feral boys.” Inslee won a seat in the state legislature, in 1988, and Congress, in 1992—just in time to vote for the assault-weapons ban and lose his seat in the Gingrich revolution of 1994. Inslee and his family moved to the more progressive suburbs of Seattle, and soon he returned to Congress, where he served from 1999 to 2012, co-writing a book, “Apollo’s Fire,” about the potential of green energy.

Inslee, who became governor in 2013, tends toward the pragmatic, the longtime aide told me: “His instinct is to take the win when it is there.” He oversaw an increase in the minimum wage, extensions of family- and sick-leave policy, and the strengthening of environmental regulation and green investment, making Washington State more progressive by increments. Twice in the past three years, he has tried to persuade the state to adopt a relatively modest tax on carbon, once through the legislature and once by referendum; both efforts failed. In 2017, Inslee joined Andrew Cuomo, of New York, and Jerry Brown, of California, to create the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of states that have pledged to adhere to the provisions of the Paris climate accord, even if the Trump Administration did not. Inslee argued that this was important, pointing out that the twenty-one states now in the Climate Alliance would form the third-largest economy in the world, were they to secede from the United States. “Which I am not advocating,” he said, grinning. “Yet.”

Inslee’s view is that the new urgency about climate policy was created by the “visual drama” of real events in people’s lives and on local news. “The reason is Paradise, California, burned down,” he said. “And Houston flooded with unprecedented rain and Miami is underwater and Iowa farmers can’t get their crops in because of precipitation events and Oprah’s house has been swamped by mudslides.” This past November, Inslee drove through Paradise, where the Camp Fire had killed at least eighty-five people. It was dark and silent. “We drove for an hour through a town that wasn’t there anymore, that had burned right to the foundations,” he said. You could look at the town and see the elements of a chemical equation: power lines were kindling; trees were incinerated; houses were reduced to ash. It had been a year of historic fires across the West, in hot and dry conditions intensified by the changing climate, and the Camp Fire was the worst in California’s history. “This is basically a race,” Inslee said. “That’s all it is. Who’s going to win, us or climate change?”

I asked Inslee whether Democrats might have adopted a more urgent tone earlier. After all, humans have done more to warm the planet since his first election to Congress than in all the years before. Inslee said that they had. He and Trudi, his wife, had recently discovered a brochure from his first congressional campaign, in a conservative part of Washington State, in 1992, that emphasized reducing carbon pollution. The crisis had turned out to be deeper than scientists realized even a decade ago, he said, but that’s “hardly our fault.” He thought a bit more. “I think we could have taken Ralph Nader out on a ship before he could file for President. And set the ship adrift. And allowed him to be fed and healthy before the filing deadline. That would have been the most significant thing where we missed our opportunity. I mean, really! You think about how different the world could have been for three hundred and fifty votes that Ralph Nader took out of Al Gore’s pocket. Every time I think about that it just drives me nuts.”

The momentous Presidential election of 2000 had other consequences, too, among them an era of extreme partisan polarization that has transformed most of American politics but especially the pragmatic center-left. By the end of the Bush era, Democrats were pushing cap-and-trade as a policy solution to carbon emissions, in part because it had support from moderate Republicans. But after John McCain backed away from the program, in the 2008 Presidential race, it lost its bipartisan veneer, and the next year, having already expended their political capital on the economic stimulus and the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s Democrats could not muster the support to pass a cap-and-trade bill on their own. The liberals had worked to make their policies pragmatic, but, when they lost the possibility of Republican coöperation, this approach seemed not mature but naïve. In the course of Inslee’s career, the defining Democratic tone has grown more prophetic: Bill Clinton, and then Gore, and then Obama, and then Elizabeth Warren, and then (after a brief return to Clintonism) Bernie Sanders, and then Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Inslee praised the young climate activists who have coalesced around the Green New Deal for their energy and their emphasis on communities, often poor and of color, that are on the front lines of climate change. It was true, Inslee said, and it also might broaden the coalition. But he still seemed to envision that the movement would soon be turned over to the adults. “They’ve raised the ambition level. They’ve married this to environmental justice. Now it’s my job and others’ to put policy behind it.” He was sounding more pugilistic. On Monday, a few days after we met in Washington, D.C., Inslee announced that he supported abolishing the Senate filibuster. “I believe that the world is now moving at a pace that does not accommodate sort of antebellum traditions,” he said. It was also a signal, though he did not explicitly say it, that he was no longer sure that on the deepest issues consensus was possible.

Back in January, Inslee told NBC News that he is no longer pushing carbon pricing. “To actually get carbon savings, you have to jack the price up so high that it becomes politically untenable,” he said. Fair enough. (An especially clumsy effort to impose carbon taxes, last year, sparked the gilets jaunes protests still consuming French politics.) If not carbon pricing, I asked Inslee, then what?

“I’m not running for President yet,” he said, which was technically true, but he went on to describe the plan he envisioned laying out shortly. It would be ambitious “to the scale of what we need to achieve.” It would create jobs; it would also emphasize the experience of front-line communities. There was no silver bullet, he explained; it was more like “silver buckshot.” Carbon pricing, through cap-and-trade or a tax, might be a theoretically elegant mechanism, but, Inslee said, the money to invest in green industries and technologies could come from anywhere, including a reversal of the Trump tax cuts. “It’s just money,” he said. He mentioned new forms of topsoil that could capture carbon, Swiss and German sequestration innovations, and the progress already made in electric cars and trucks. “I could give you twenty-four policies right now,” he said, which made me notice, fleetingly, the exactness of that number.

Republicans have lately taken to deriding the Green New Deal as gassy and fantastical. They have forgotten about the liberals, who will soon be arriving with their tax offsets and their staggered phase-in calendars and their twenty-four-point plans. “The scale of this is appropriate to think about,” Inslee said, with relish. “We do have to build an economy that is not based in fossil fuels. It has to be the organizing principle of the federal government. We don’t like to use conflict or war as a metaphor, but it requires the mobilization of our system like we’ve experienced in times of war.” It made no sense, he said, for Democratic Presidential candidates to insist that we were in an existential crisis and then make addressing it their fourth priority. “A President needs to say, ‘We will create a mandate through the campaign, and I will invest my political capital to get this done,’ ” Inslee said. “This is not an easy lift.” Perhaps he envisioned the Presidential-primary debate stage as the place where he might make that case to voters; it seems, equally, the place where he might impress that urgency onto his fellow-candidates.

Inslee, sitting across a conference table from me at the Embassy Suites, was now fully in campaign mode. He mentioned the transcontinental railroad, and the mission to the moon, with an intensity that suggested that he really meant to rescue the conviction that Americans are an especially brave and competent people. “This is my grand theory of climate change,” Inslee said. “It is not about scientific literacy. It is about optimism versus pessimism, confidence versus fear. Climate denialism is based on fear that we can’t solve the problem, so just ignore it. Fear that we’re not smart enough to develop a new technology. And we’re promoting the opposite view, which is yes, we can solve this.”

Steps To Treating Dementia — Paula Span in The New York Times.

Donna Kaye Hill realized that her 80-year-old mother was faltering cognitively when her phone suddenly stopped working. When Ms. Hill called the phone company, “they told me she hadn’t paid her bill in three months.”

Finding other alarming evidence of memory gaps, she took her mother, Katie, to a memory clinic. A geriatrician there diagnosed dementia and recommended two prescription drugs and a dietary supplement, a form of vitamin E.

Katie Hill dutifully took vitamin E capsules, along with a host of other medications, until she died four years later. As she declined, her daughter didn’t think the vitamin, or the two prescription medications, was making much difference.

“But if it doesn’t hurt, if there’s a chance it helps even a tiny bit, why not?” she reasoned. Ms. Hill, 62, a retired public employee in Danville, Va., takes fish oil capsules daily herself, hoping they’ll help ward off the disease that killed her mother.

The elder Ms. Hill was unusual only in that a doctor had recommended the supplement; most older Americans are taking them without medical guidance. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that 80 percent of older adults rely on dietary supplements, many purporting to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Last month, the F.D.A. cracked down on this burgeoning market, sending warning letters or advisories to 17 companies selling about 60 supplements with names like Cogni-Flex and Mind Ignite.

The warnings pointed out that the companies had touted these products as working like Alzheimer’s drugs, “but naturally and without side effects.” Or as “clinically shown to help diseases of the brain, such as Alzheimer’s.” The pills, oils and capsules were said to treat other diseases, too, from stroke to erectile dysfunction.

Claiming that these products were intended for “the cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease” meant that they were drugs, the agency’s letters said.

And since they were drugs the F.D.A. had never reviewed or approved for safety and effectiveness, the companies now must submit applications for approval or stop making such claims. Over the past five years, the agency has taken action against 40 other products making Alzheimer’s claims.

The supplements’ appeal is understandable. A growing older population with longer life spans means more people with dementia, though in population-based studies in this and other Western countries, its prevalence has fallen.

More of us have seen the devastation up close and would do almost anything to evade it. But so far, the news about drugs and supplements has been discouraging.

Although scientists have learned much more about dementia, the research literature and large pharmaceutical trials have mostly served to tell worried Americans about the many substances that don’t appear to prevent, treat or slow dementia.

Vitamins, various antioxidants, concoctions derived from animals and plants — “we see plenty of ads on TV, but we have no evidence that any of these things are preventive,” said Dr. Steven DeKosky, a neurologist and deputy director of the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida.

Dr. DeKosky led a federally supported study of Ginkgo biloba extract, for instance, following more than 3,000 people for seven years to see if it reduced dementia. It didn’t.

“No effects at all,” he said. “But look on the shelves. Many companies still sell ginkgo — if there’s really any in there, because supplements don’t always have the contents they say they have.”

Moreover, “some of these supplements are biologically active and can cause toxicity when you take other drugs,” said Dr. DeKosky. Supplements can be costly, too.

But there are other ways people can reduce their risk of dementia. Two prestigious panels, reviewing many prevention studies, recently came up with several recommendations.

The more conservative report, from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in 2017, relied primarily on large randomized clinical trials.

There aren’t many of those, so the panel endorsed just three interventions “supported by encouraging but inconclusive evidence,” to prevent, delay or slow cognitive decline.

The three:

  • Increased physical activity;

  • Blood pressure management for people with hypertension, particularly in midlife;

  • And cognitive training.

That last recommendation doesn’t necessarily refer to commercial online brain games, said Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a neuropsychiatrist and epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who served on the panel.

“It’s really the concept of being mentally active,” she said. “Find something you enjoy where you’re learning something new, challenging and stimulating your brain.”

Though the evidence to date doesn’t establish which mental workouts have the greatest impact or how often people should engage in them, “they’re not expensive and they don’t cause side effects,” Dr. Yaffe pointed out.

The blood pressure recommendation got a boost in January with the latest findings from the Sprint trial, a multisite study stopped early in 2015 when intensive treatment of hypertension (a systolic blood pressure goal of less than 120, compared to the standard 140) was shown to reduce cardiovascular events and deaths.

The investigators continued the trial, however, with 9,361 participants who had hypertension (average age: 68) and completed follow-up cognitive assessments.

Their results, published in JAMA, showed the intensive treatment group less likely to develop dementia than those in standard treatment, though not by a statistically significant margin. Intensive treatment did, however, significantly reduce participants’ risk of mild cognitive impairment, a frequent precursor to dementia.

“To me, it was one of the most exciting findings to come along in years,” said Dr. Yaffe, who noted in an accompanying editorial that this was the first large trial to demonstrate an effective strategy for preventing age-related cognitive impairment.

“The same things we recommend for heart health turn out to be important for cognition,” she told me. “It’s a blossoming field.”

The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care also recommended hypertension treatment for the middle-aged, along with exercise, social engagement and smoking cessation, as well as management of obesity, diabetes, hearing loss and depression. Such steps could prevent or delay a third of dementia cases, the commission estimated.

When Dr. Yaffe gives talks on dementia prevention, she also mentions good sleep hygiene and urges listeners to protect themselves against brain injuries.

It’s important advice, but disappointingly undramatic. Where’s the magic bullet? Don’t we already know to stay physically and mentally active, maintain a normal weight, treat high blood pressure and so on?

Moreover, “it’s not foolproof,” Dr. Yaffe acknowledged. In the lottery of dementia, “there’s a role for genetics. There’s a role for bad luck.”

Still, she added, “The concept is important. You can do something about this. You can lower your risk.”

That’s why the most helpful approach Donna Kaye Hill uses to protect herself from dementia probably isn’t taking fish oil.

It includes using medication to control her blood pressure. And reading biographies and mysteries and joining a book group with friends. And taking a four- or five-mile walk, five days a week, with a yellow Labrador named Annie.

Doonesbury — Speak up!

Monday, February 11, 2019

What More Proof Do You Need?

If you had any doubt that Trump was an out-and-proud racist, this weekend’s response to Elizabeth Warren’s announcement of her run for the presidency should put that to rest.

I don’t think it’s an overreach to say that if Trump was running against a candidate with a Jewish heritage, he’d slip in something along the lines of “See you at CAMP!”

And his base would eat it up.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sunday Reading

Meet Pete Buttigieg — Benjamin Wallace-Wells profiles the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who wants to be president.

Last week, Pete Buttigieg, the young mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who recently announced that he is exploring a Presidential candidacy, arrived in New York to meet the press. First up, on Thursday, was an interview on “CBS This Morning,” where the show’s hosts seemed slightly impatient, like college-admissions officers who had been asked to interview a benefactor’s son. Norah O’Donnell positioned her eyebrows skeptically. “You’re thirty-seven, you represent a town of a hundred and two thousand people—did I get that right? What qualifies you to be President of the United States?” Buttigieg, who has pale skin, thick brown hair, and a formal manner, gave a self-deprecating laugh. “I know that I’m the youngest person in this conversation, but I think that the experience of leading a city through a transformation is really relevant right now,” he said. “Things are changing tectonically in our country, and we can’t just keep doing what we’ve been doing. We can’t nibble around the edges of a system that no longer works.” John Dickerson pointed out that other Democratic candidates were proposing very big ideas—Medicare for All, the abolition of private health insurance—and asked, “What is your idea that is so big that nobody would mistake it for nibbling around the edges?” Buttigieg answered, “Well, first of all, we’ve got to repair our democracy. The Electoral College needs to go, because it’s made our society less and less democratic.” He went on in this vein, suggesting that electoral reform was essential, and promising that other policies, on security and health care, would follow. Viewers were left with the image of an impressive and fluent young politician, whose presence in the Presidential race, and on their screens, had never really been explained.

A few hours later, I met Buttigieg in a busy restaurant in the basement of Rockefeller Center, where the windows looked out at the ice-skating rink. He had taken off his sports coat for an appearance on “The View,” but put it back on for lunch, and he arrived carrying an enormous backpack over his left shoulder. “The View” had gone much better. The hosts were intrigued by the idea that Buttigieg, who came out three and a half years ago, could be the first gay President, and by his campaign’s main theme, which he calls intergenerational justice—he believes that millennials are suffering from their elders’ short-term thinking on climate change, economics, and other issues. Whoopi Goldberg wondered whether such a case could be made without alienating older Americans, and Buttigieg watched her intently, absorbing the criticism. “I think we really hit on something with this idea of intergenerational justice,” Buttigieg told me. “I think the trick for us—and this was a big part of what Whoopi Goldberg was asking about—is there should be a way to make a generational case without this all being about generational conflict. And I think there’s a way to do it.”

Buttigieg, who attended Harvard, studied philosophy, politics, and economics (P.P.E.) at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, and did a tour in Afghanistan as a naval reservist, can seem like an “old person’s idea of a young person,” as Michael Kinsley once said of Al Gore. Certainly, against the image of the millennial left, and of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Buttigieg appears to be a more prosaic political character—he has a habit of giving answers in numbered sequence, and he uses phrases like “pathway to peace.” But, in his own understated way, he is suggesting a sharp break with the past. If you thought in terms of the effects of public policy on millennials, he said, you began to see generational imbalances everywhere. The victims of school shootings suffered because of the gun liberties given to older Americans. Cutting taxes for the richest Americans meant that young people, inevitably, would have to pay the bill. Climate policy, he said, was the deepest example of the imbalance, but the Iraq War was perhaps the most tangible. “There’s this romantic idea that’s built up around war,” he said. “But the pragmatic view is there are tons of people of my generation who have lost their lives, lost their marriages, or lost their health as a consequence of being sent to wars which could have been avoided.” Then he quoted, happily, from “Lawrence of Arabia”: “The virtues of war are the virtues of young men—courage and hope for the future. The vices of peace are the vices of old men—mistrust and caution.”

For much of his life, Buttigieg has been giving those around him the impression of extreme promise. Both of his parents were professors at Notre Dame, and he grew up in South Bend, near the campus. His father, Joe, was a translator of the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci and a scholar of James Joyce. His mother, Anne Montgomery, is a linguist. At Harvard, Buttigieg was the student president of the Institute of Politics, a role sought by the most ambitious of the exceptionally ambitious, but he could also suggest a more inquisitive nature. His close friend Nathaniel Myers recalled that Buttigieg had become entranced by the Norwegian novel “Naïve. Super,” by Erlend Loe, taught himself the language to translate another work by the author, and then started periodically attending a Norwegian church in Chicago to keep up. He plays piano, and has sat in with the South Bend Symphony Orchestra and Ben Folds. He was elected mayor of South Bend, in 2011, when he was twenty-nine, and only came out in advance of his reëlection campaign, when he was thirty-three. His wedding, to Chasten Glezman, who was a Montessori middle-school teacher, was broadcast live online.

In 2015, Buttigieg gave a speech at Harvard, and David Axelrod, President Obama’s longtime chief strategist, was in the audience. The speech, Axelrod told me this week, was moving and thoughtful, and he noticed that, though Buttigieg had notes, he rarely consulted them. What struck him was a familiar kind of talent. “His story is an incredible story,” Axelrod said, “but more impressive than the story is the guy. At a time when people are aching for hope and a path forward that we can all walk, he is a relentlessly positive person.”

The following year, Frank Bruni wrote a column proposing Buttigieg as “the first gay President.” In an interview with David Remnick, Obama included Buttigieg on a short list of gifted rising Democrats. “If I told you he was anything other than a long shot, you’d hang up the phone,” Axelrod said, of the Presidential race, but he emphasized the possibility that, as he put it, lightning could strike. “The practical political point is it’s hard to see where he’s going in Indiana. If it doesn’t work out, if there’s a Democratic President looking for talent, I know Pete well enough to know he’s going to be high on the list, and higher for having run.” At the very least, Axelrod said, Buttigieg was likely to emerge from this as “an interesting voice from his generation.”

Part of the paradox of Buttigieg’s candidacy is that he has placed himself in a performative role, without the benefit of a performative personality. “He is reserved, and maybe that’s a hindrance,” Axelrod told me. Chasten Glezman, his husband, told a reporter that Buttigieg is “still coming out of some shells.” In our conversation, he seemed most practiced when talking about policy but most alive when discussing James Joyce. When I asked how he had made the decision to run for President, he brightened, and said that, though he wasn’t a Catholic, he made use of the “Ignatian process of discernment.” He pictured a world in which he became President—perhaps shy of using the word, he referred to it only as “the end state”—and then considered whether it gave him a feeling of “fulfillment or desolation.” Fulfillment, it turned out.

I had noticed that, in his interview on “CBS This Morning,” no one mentioned that Buttigieg could be the first gay President. I asked him whether he saw that as a measure of how quickly gay identity has become accepted. “Depends where you are,” he said, thoughtfully. “You quickly get plunged into this world where you’re supposed to represent your community,” but at that point he had little experience of the gay community. “Like, I will fight for the trans woman of color, but do I really know anything about her experience because I’m married to a dude?”

Coming out while he was mayor also helped emphasize to him the political importance of meeting people where they were. He mentioned an older woman in South Bend who had greeted him after a public event by saying how impressed she was with his “friend.” This could have been a moment to discuss the difference between a friend and a partner, or how important it is not to be euphemistic about love, but Buttigieg decided against it, because the woman obviously felt so good about recognizing his “friend”—for her, this was progress. “So much of politics is about people’s relationships with themselves,” Buttigieg said. “You do better if you make people feel secure in who they are.”

One reason that there are so many candidates for the Democratic nomination for President is that there is no longer much certainty about what qualifies a person for the role. The two Democratic phenomenons of 2018, Ocasio-Cortez and Beto O’Rourke, were a twentysomething activist and a congressman who emphasized his dissolute youth. The President is a former reality-show star. That Buttigieg can plausibly run for the Democratic nomination, as the thirty-seven-year-old mayor of a city that is roughly half the size of Yonkers, depends on this new uncertainty. But it also owes something, paradoxically, to his conventional political style and résumé, which can help persuade the Party’s elders that they are looking not at a revolution but at talent.

Buttigieg described it a little bit differently: part of the gift of being a young politician was what you simply could not remember. In South Bend, which Newsweek had listed among ten dying American cities as he announced his first campaign for mayor, his efforts had been focussed on converting a factory economy to a post-industrial one, and during his tenure the city’s unemployment rate halved. Buttigieg said the break with the past had been easier for him because he could not remember a time when the Studebaker factories that once dominated South Bend were open—they had always just been abandoned urban “furniture” to him.

The element of his generation that most people miss, Buttigieg said, is that it is essentially pragmatic. “Actually, sometimes pragmatism points you in a comparatively radical direction,” he added. “So take universal health care,” he went on. “It is very pragmatic to look around and say, well, the countries that do this tend to be better than the countries that don’t. The system we have isn’t working very well, we ought to try this other system. Politically, it’s never been possible, because it’s been considered socialism, and socialism was a kill switch. Our generation did not live through the Cold War in the same way.”

As I got deeper into lunch with Buttigieg, I began to see him not as a counterweight to the radicalization of his Party but as an expression of it. If the cautious, studious, improbably ambitious Rhodes Scholar in the race, who emphasized the necessity of meeting middle America where it was, was himself supporting the abolition of the Electoral College, then that suggested that the generational transformation of the Party had been completed. Looks deceive. “I am among the most surprised that, as a thirty-seven-year-old mayor, I am being taken at least a little seriously as a candidate for President,” Buttigieg said. “But that very fact reflects that there is something in this moment that calls for newness.”

John Dingell’s Farewell — The longest-serving congressman saved the best for last.

John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.

One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.

In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.

And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.

Think about it:

Impoverishment of the elderly because of medical expenses was a common and often accepted occurrence. Opponents of the Medicare program that saved the elderly from that cruel fate called it “socialized medicine.” Remember that slander if there’s a sustained revival of silly red-baiting today.

Not five decades ago, much of the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth — our own Great Lakes — were closed to swimming and fishing and other recreational pursuits because of chemical and bacteriological contamination from untreated industrial and wastewater disposal. Today, the Great Lakes are so hospitable to marine life that one of our biggest challenges is controlling the invasive species that have made them their new home.

We regularly used and consumed foods, drugs, chemicals and other things (cigarettes) that were legal, promoted and actively harmful. Hazardous wastes were dumped on empty plots in the dead of night. There were few if any restrictions on industrial emissions. We had only the barest scientific knowledge of the long-term consequences of any of this.

And there was a great stain on America, in the form of our legacy of racial discrimination. There were good people of all colors who banded together, risking and even losing their lives to erase the legal and other barriers that held Americans down. In their time, they were often demonized and targeted, much like other vulnerable men and women today.

Please note: All of these challenges were addressed by Congress. Maybe not as fast as we wanted, or as perfectly as hoped. The work is certainly not finished. But we’ve made progress — and in every case, from the passage of Medicare through the passage of civil rights, we did it with the support of Democrats and Republicans who considered themselves first and foremost to be Americans.

I’m immensely proud, and eternally grateful, for having had the opportunity to play a part in all of these efforts during my service in Congress. And it’s simply not possible for me to adequately repay the love that my friends, neighbors and family have given me and shown me during my public service and retirement.

But I would be remiss in not acknowledging the forgiveness and sweetness of the woman who has essentially supported me for almost 40 years: my wife, Deborah. And it is a source of great satisfaction to know that she is among the largest group of women to have ever served in the Congress (as she busily recruits more).

In my life and career, I have often heard it said that so-and-so has real power — as in, “the powerful Wile E. Coyote, chairman of the Capture the Road Runner Committee.”

It’s an expression that has always grated on me. In democratic government, elected officials do not have power. They hold power — in trust for the people who elected them. If they misuse or abuse that public trust, it is quite properly revoked (the quicker the better).

I never forgot the people who gave me the privilege of representing them. It was a lesson learned at home from my father and mother, and one I have tried to impart to the people I’ve served with and employed over the years.

As I prepare to leave this all behind, I now leave you in control of the greatest nation of mankind and pray God gives you the wisdom to understand the responsibility you hold in your hands.

May God bless you all, and may God bless America.

Doonesbury — Who said that?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sunday Reading

Meet Sherrod Brown — John Nichols in The Nation.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is exploring a presidential bid that would frame his progressive-populist politics around a “Dignity of Work” message that seeks to unite working-class voters of all backgrounds in the sort of coalition that he had maintained in Republican-leaning Ohio. There’s appeal in the Midwestern Democrat’s overt challenge to President Trump’s claim to the mantle of populism, especially when Brown complains that

Trump has used his phony populism to divide Americans demonize immigrants. He uses his phony populism to distract from the fact that he has used the White House to enrich billionaires like himself. Real populism is not racist. Real populism is not anti-Semitic. Real populists don’t engage in hate speech and don’t rip babies from families at the border. Real populists don’t insult people’s intelligence by lying.

There’s skepticism about whether Brown has the name recognition and the base, outside of his native Ohio and perhaps a few other states, to compete in a Democratic race that is likely to be packed with higher-profile contenders, including Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. There’s also at least some skepticism about whether provoking a wrestling match between progressive populism and right-wing populism makes sense as a 2020 strategy. Brown will explore these questions in visits to caucus and primary states in coming weeks, and pundits will ponder his potential bid.

There is more to Sherrod Brown than the shorthand profile of a Democratic senator who swept to reelection in 2018 in a state that voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

As a member of the House in the 1990s and 2000s, he was an essential opponent of the North American Trade Agreement and a host of other trade deals that he argued would be disastrous for American manufacturing and the communities it has sustained. With Elizabeth Warren, Brown has for many years been at the forefront of legislative and popular crusades to address the abuses of the big banks and Wall Street. Brown was an early and energetic foe of the Iraq War, and for decades has been an outspoken advocate for diplomacy and enlightened internationalism. He voted in the fall of 2001 against the USA Patriot Act, joining Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, Sanders, and a handful of others in courageous defense of civil liberties. And he was the first member of the Senate to announce opposition to Donald Trump’s nomination of Jeff Sessions to serve as attorney general—speaking up because, Brown said, “The U.S. Attorney General’s job is to enforce laws that protect the rights of every American. I have serious concerns that Senator Sessions’ record on civil rights is at direct odds with the task of promoting justice and equality for all, and I cannot support his nomination.”

The Ohioan focused his objection on concerns that Sessions, who had a record of threatening voting rights in Alabama, could not be counted on to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This was not a new issue for Brown.

The senator has been one of the country’s most consistent champions of voting rights since he served as Ohio’s elected secretary of state from 1983 to 1991. In that position he earned national headlines for his aggressive efforts to promote high-turnout elections. Still in his late 20s when he was elected, Brown crisscrossed the state as an evangelist for voter registration. He and his team set up voter-registration sites in high schools, food banks, and Bureau of Motor Vehicles facilities.

Brown even convinced McDonald’s to print voter registration forms on the liners of the trays Ohioans used to carry their food from the counter to the table, so that “you could order a Big Mac and fill out a voter registration form.”

“You could see voter registration cards with ketchup and mustard on them,” Brown recalled years later, “and we accepted them.”

As a member of the US House and now as a senator, Brown has regularly used his elections expertise to shred Republican lies about rampant “voter fraud.” When Trump started making claims about “millions of people who voted illegally” in the 2016 election, Brown demanded that the president-elect “retract your false statements.”

In a November, 2016, letter to Trump, Brown wrote:

As Secretary of State of Ohio for eight years, I know there are few things more important than the integrity of our electoral system. Your choice to spread false conspiracy theories and to claim millions of fraudulent votes is not only unbecoming of a gracious winner, it is downright dangerous to our democracy.

There is no evidence—zero—of any large-scale voter fraud in the United States. Not in this election and not in any presidential election in recent memory.

Peddling this nonsense and stoking these fears undermine our system of government—and your own election, damaging the public’s faith in our democracy. You won the Electoral College. That is a fact, and you are the President-elect. It is also a fact, however, that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes.

Hillary Clinton’s popular vote victory margin is larger than John Kennedy’s over Richard Nixon, it’s larger than Richard Nixon’s over Hubert Humphrey, and it’s larger than Jimmy Carter’s over Gerald Ford. This was far from a landslide victory, and the only way to bring the country together and move forward is to reach across the aisle and work together.

Two years later, as Georgia’s mangled 2018 election stirred a national outcry, the senator pointed to problems with the counting of votes in the closely contested gubernatorial race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and the Republican who oversaw the election (as Georgia’s secretary of state) and eventually prevailed, Brian Kemp. “If Stacey Abrams doesn’t win in Georgia,” Brown declared, “they stole it.”

Speaking of Republican efforts to restrict voting rights, Brown employs the confident language of a former top election official in one of the key battleground states in the country. “They can’t win elections fairly; they win elections by redistricting and reapportionment and voter suppression,” he told a recent National Action Network meeting, where he complained about “all the ways that they try to scare people, particularly people of color, how they make it hard for people on college campuses [to vote], especially community colleges where there are more low-income people and more people of color.”

“We know those despicable laws are often aimed that way,” he concluded.

Brown brings a populist commitment to the fight for voting rights. He is not cautious about speaking up, or about stirring things up. The senator’s “bottom line,” which he has stated for a very long time, speaks to that commitment: “We should be making it easier—not harder—to vote.”

I Like Sports — Ethan Kuperberg in The New Yorker.

I like sports! I like the sport where the ball goes in the big hole and the sport where the ball goes in the little hole. My favorite sport is the one where the two groups push each other on the grass—I like to eat snacks while watching that sport.

When I watch sports, I usually make a secret wish for one group to be better at sports than the other group. And I prefer that my friends have the same secret wish as me. If you have a different wish, well, get ready for an argument. It might be a fun argument, and it might not be!

My favorite thing about sports is that they give me an acceptable way to express my feelings in a patriarchal culture that views expressions of male emotion as weak. For example, if my favorite sports group doesn’t put the ball in the hole enough, I’m allowed to be sad in front of my friends. Nobody knows that I’m really thinking about Sarah or my dad.

And if my favorite group puts the ball in the hole a lot, I’m allowed to hug my friends and tell them that I love them! Since I usually feel scared to outwardly display affection toward the people who make me feel safe, it’s sort of a win-win.

I also like the costumes that the sports players wear. Sometimes, when I am watching sports with my friends, we dress up in the same costumes! It’s fun to act like we are the people playing the sports, even though we’re just using our imaginations.

Another thing I like about sports? The people are real. It’s not like when you watch a movie, and the person you’re watching is actually pretending to be someone else. That’s fake. How about you try being yourself for a change, Sarah?

I like talking about sports. It’s fun to decide which players are the best at putting the ball in the hole. I like it when my friends agree with me (“This sports player is the best”). But every once in a while a friend will disagree (“No, that sports player is best!”). It sounds silly, but we get into real fights.

One of my favorite sports players is LeBron James. I like LeBron James because he takes good care of his team—it’s almost like his team is his family. And a dad should never leave his family. That’s just not right.

Did you know that the ancient Greeks also had sports? They called it the Olympics. I wonder what they made the balls out of back then and what their commercials were for. Probably olives.

The last thing I like about sports is that they never end. Sports can’t end, because when the players stop being good, they are replaced by other players who are still good. A lot of other things end, like movies, or regular communication with family members.

So give me a ball, of any size, and a target or a hole, and a group of sports players, and a second group, and a stadium, and cameras, and referees, and broadcast it straight into my living-room television, because I’m a sports guy through and through! But I don’t love sports. Sports aren’t my dad.

[Photo by Getty]

Doonesbury — Celebrity shout-out.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Pay No Attention

The Hindenburg is crashing but the GOP wants you to look at the fender-bender in the parking lot.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris is raising the possibility of eliminating private health insurance. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other prominent Democrats are floating new and far-reaching plans to tax the wealthy. In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam voiced support for state legislation that would reduce restrictions on late-term abortions.

Democrats, after two years largely spent simply opposing everything President Trump advocated, are defining themselves lately in ways Republicans are seizing on to portray them as far outside the American mainstream.

Casting Democrats as a scary and radical force is giving a fractured Republican Party a common thrust at a time when Trump’s standing even within his own party has started to dip. And it is giving Democrats a bit of the heartburn that Republicans have been grappling with for more than two years.

“There is legitimate concern among Democrats about policy and rhetoric that comes out of the very far left,” said Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “Yes, they hurt. It gives Republicans fodder to continue this train of thought that Democrats have become a socialist party. . . . They pounce on anything someone in our party says and make it seem like it represents the whole party.”

Oh for Dog’s sake, Ed.  Stop helping the Republicans.  (He’s famous for that, by the way.  It’s what gets him on cable TV as a Very Serious Commentator.  Plus they pick up his airfare.)

The reality is that after two years of Trump and generations of right-wing nutsery, the progressive movement is gaining real ground not just among Democrats but among the rest of the country as well.  (If you think either Barack Obama or Bill Clinton were card-carrying progressives, you need to recalibrate your Liberal meter.)  Ideas such as Medicare for all, higher taxes on the wealthy, and asylum for immigrants are about as radical as the 1956 Republican platform.  But then, we all knew Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were radical liberals.

It’s also worth noting that the GOP is going after two of the women who have announced for the 2020 presidential race, and their newest fund-raising piñata is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) who has the crazy idea of raising the top marginal income tax rate to 70% (which is 21% less than what the Republicans were content with in 1956.  If anything, she’s going too easy on the rich).  But it’s those crazy womenfolk that are going to ruin this country, by gum.  Remember the last time those Dems ran a woman for president?  Look what happened!

This is first in a series of many, many “Democrats in Disarray” articles we’re going to see from the hand-wringers, egged on by the folks in the GOP who are looking for anything to distract our attention away from the disaster in their own laps, and it’s only going to get more strident as the race heats up.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Distressing Numbers

The national polls are showing that Trump and the Republicans took it in the nuts as far as approval ratings go after the shutdown and looking off to 2020.

The fact that the Democrats are having a wide-open race and is attracting just about anyone who can be seen as left of William Weld onto the field shouldn’t really matter at this point.  No nominee who races to the front a year before the Iowa caucuses stays there for long, and when there’s an incumbent president up for a second term, it has to be about him and what he’s doing, not the flavor of the month from the Democrats.

But what really bothers me is that after two years of criminal corruption, serial lying, institutionalized bigotry, and basically turning every core belief that we’ve established as a country and society on its head, there are still 28% of the electorate who would vote to re-elect Trump.  What the hell is wrong with these people?

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

No Thanks, Howard

Eugene Robinson speaks my mind:

Just what we need, another ego-crazed billionaire with zero experience in government who thinks he is destined to be president. What could go wrong?

Howard Schultz, the man who put a Starbucks on every corner, said in a “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday that he is mulling a run for the White House as an independent. Schultz admits he’s “not the smartest person in the room,” but he must be smart enough to know he can’t possibly win.

He is quite capable of reelecting President Trump, though.

[…]

I have to wonder if he, like Trump, might be using the threat of an independent candidacy as leverage. The Democratic Party has moved leftward. Schultz has views that he describes as “centrist” — he’s more pro-business than the major Democratic contenders, worries vocally about the mounting national debt, claims that “Democrats are proposing . . . free health care for all, which the country cannot afford,” and blames “extremes on both sides” for bringing the nation to its parlous state.

The inference is that Schultz might be more likely to run, and persist in running, if it looks as if an ideological progressive such as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont or Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is likely to win the Democratic nomination. Schultz may be hoping to get the attention of Democratic donors and influencers, and shift the intraparty debate in a more moderate direction.

Or — and I fear this is more likely — he may just be surfing a great big wave of pure ego.

I think anyone who can sell burned coffee grounds at $4 a pop may be a marketing genius, but it doesn’t make him presidential.  And while I have no idea who the nominee will be any more than the next guy, this little ego trip has shitstorm written all over it.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next.  Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.

I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly.  No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.

  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)

I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there.  But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?

  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.

I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.

  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.

A+ Duh.

  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.

Another A+, but what did anyone expect?  Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis.  If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.

  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.

I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.

  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.

I get an A on this because it has and they are.

  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.

Sadly, a very predictable A on that.

  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)

I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.

  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.

This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).

  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.

Yep.  I’ve already blocked them out.

Okay, on to the predictions.

  • Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019.  There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.
  • The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing.  Despite that, see above.
  • There will be no wall.  There never will be.  Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.
  • There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke.  There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.
  • Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.
  • Roe vs. Wade will still stand.
  • With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.
  • We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes?  That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.
  • The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations.  The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space.  But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.
  • There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening.  Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.
  • I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.
  • Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.
  • I will do this again next year.  I hope.  As Bobby says, “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Okay, your turn.  Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.