Thursday, November 15, 2018

Still Rolling In

The results keep coming in.

Republican Jeff Denham has conceded to Democrat Josh Harder in California’s 10th District.

[…]

Blue America candidate Katie Porter pulled ahead of Mimi Walters in California’s 45th district by 3,797 votes as of the latest update. Dave Wasserman projects her the winner after this latest update.

In California’s 39th district, Gil Cisneros is nipping at Republican Young Kim’s heels, with just 122 votes separating the two. Kim is still leading, but that will probably change tomorrow.

In New Jersey, Democrat Andy Kim has been declared the winner over Tom MacArthur, architect of the Trumpcare efforts in 2017.

Meanwhile, over in Utah, Mia Love is not happy with the way results are coming in for her, so she is doing what Republicans do best: Trying to cheat.. TPM reports:

Republican U.S. Rep. Mia Love sued Wednesday to halt vote counting in the Utah race where she is narrowly trailing her Democratic challenger.

Love’s campaign said in a lawsuit Salt Lake County clerk isn’t allowing poll-watchers to challenge findings during the verification process for mail-in ballots. Voting is done primarily by mail in Utah.

Note that Love is only suing in Salt Lake County, where there are still many outstanding votes and where her challenger, Ben McAdams, is leading by a narrow margin.

Here in Florida, well, things were getting a little overheated.  Literally.

Palm Beach County has managed to recount about 175,000 early votes affected by a machine malfunction, but the county is still far behind schedule to finish recounts in the races for U.S. Senate, governor and commissioner of agriculture and consumer services.

On Wednesday, Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said her staff had worked through the night to recount early votes after ballot-counting machines overheated Tuesday and gave incorrect vote totals. The county brought in mechanics to repair the machines on Tuesday, and Bucher said the equipment had worked well overnight.

But Bucher said she wasn’t sure whether elections staff would be able to finish recounting votes cast in the Senate race between Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson by the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline set by the state.

Gov. Scott has recused himself from the final voting results, but it didn’t stop him from going to Washington to participate in freshman orientation.  Counting those chickens, eh, Rick?

Ah, democracy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Slow Going

The recount in Broward County is going to take a while.

Two days after state officials ordered a statewide recount in three key races that ended within razor-thin margins, Broward County elections officials said Monday they have not yet started their recount of more than 700,000 ballots it must tally before Thursday’s deadline.

Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes said she was not concerned that her office would not meet its deadline, even if the start of the recount is delayed until Tuesday morning.

“No, there is not” any concern, said Snipes, whose headquarters in Lauderhill were once again surrounded Monday by a small crowd of protesters critical of the elections chief and her competence to serve.

Broward will conduct three statewide recounts and additional recounts on four municipal races, all of which are on the first page of Broward’s ballots. The machines have to first separate that page from the rest of each ballot before they can then be refed and recounted. (Ballots in Broward county can range from four to seven pages, depending on the city.)

Elections workers had begun that process on 10 machines late Sunday morning, after technical glitches delayed the start for a few hours. Two new machines were delivered to the supervisor’s office on Monday morning, and workers were still separating ballots as of Monday afternoon. About 10 representatives from both parties are overseeing the recount, along with monitors from the state’s Division of Elections.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are in a huge hurry to get it done, the implication being that if it not done RIGHT NOW they will somehow lose, or it will give fraud a chance.

Despite mounting pressure from top Republicans to investigate unfounded claims of voter fraud in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, the top official for Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement remained mum on whether  his agency would start a probe.

A day after Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi publicly rebuked FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen for not investigating claims of voter fraud in the state’s midterm election, the two agencies issued a joint press release assuring the public they were watching for “criminal activity.”

But they stopped short of saying whether they’d found any fraud.

Gov. Rick Scott has repeatedly gone on TV to complain of “rampant fraud” in Tuesday’s election after witnessing his lead in the U.S. Senate race against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson dwindle as votes continued to be counted after election night.

Like Bondi, he’s offered no evidence of fraud in his call for an investigation. So far, FDLE officials have said they’ve had no evidence to warrant an investigation.

Jim York, who was FDLE commissioner under Gov. Bob Graham in the 1980s, said he was outraged that Scott and Bondi were pressuring Swearingen.

“It’s extraordinary. I don’t know where the attorney general feels she has any jurisdiction here,” York said. “I just appreciate Swearingen, and I hope he continues to stand up to this kind of crap.”

In normal times, it would be the people who are behind in the race who are screaming fraud and carrying on about that kind of crap, but Scott has an apparent lead and it’s very rare for a recount to overturn an election.  But Scott and Biondi and the rest of the banshee delegation are taking their cue from Trump, who’s injecting himself and his nutsery into the recount here.  Andrew Gillum, the candidate for governor who trails Ron DeSantis by less than 0.5%, dealt with Trump’s frothing with the perfect response.

He should win just on that alone.

Stay tuned, folks.  This ain’t over by a long shot.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sunday Reading

Invasive Pythons — Charlie Pierce on the GOP shenanigans in Florida’s recount.

Before we descend into the madness that is Florida and the way it conducts itself during elections, we should get a bit of a look at what’s at stake so we can understand a) why the Republicans are fighting so hard; b) why the Democrats should match their ferocity, and c) why Marco Rubio is peddling his self respect one Tweet at a time on the electric Twitter machine. As part of the latter effort, Rubio tweeted out a video from a guy who was a Seth Rich Truther. But we are concerned at the moment withother swamps and other critters therein. From the Miami Herald:

In a series of morning tweets, Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg claimed “the public deception is underway” as a South Florida Water Management District government board meeting started in Miami. Eikenberg accused officials of trying to derail the project by tying up the land for two more years and failing to give adequate notice for the decision. U.S. Rep. Brian Mast echoed those concerns during public comment, saying Ron DeSantis, the Republican who has railed against the sugar industry and maintains a narrow lead in a state governor race facing a recount, asked him to deliver a message: Postpone the vote. “The governor-elect as well as federal legislators would like to be briefed,” said Mast, a fellow Republican whose district includes coastal communities along the St. Lucie River repeatedly slammed by blue-green algae blooms ignited by polluted water from Lake Okeechobee.

DiSantis [sic], who is headed for Recount City with Andrew Gillum, and Rick Scott,who is presently tied up pretending to be Juan Peron in his battle against Senator Bill Nelson, both have opposed extending the leases on the land held by the literal sugar daddies. Everybody—including Senators Nelson and Rubio—have argued for the necessity of letting the leases run and then establishing the reservoir on that land. The state has been an environmental catastrophe this year, so much so that even Scott, who would sell his grandmother for parts if he thought the old girl would bring a price, got concerned.

This past summer, that outrage was compounded by a saltwater red tide, also fed by coastal pollution, that littered beaches with dead marine life and became a central issue in a heated election. DeSantis, who claimed to be the “only candidate who fought Big Sugar and lived to tell about it,” and voted against sugar subsidies while in Congress, has been embraced by some environmentalists. His opposition to the industry helped him win an endorsement from the Everglades Trust and a hearty congratulations from the Everglades Foundation, which does not endorse candidates but has lent support, including a press conference with outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the closing days of his race against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. The tight Nelson-Scott race is also going to a recount. District officials said they complied with meeting laws and would have listed Thursday’s vote in the meeting agenda sooner but only reached a deal with Florida Crystals late Wednesday. Board chairman Federico Fernandez, who seemed genuinely surprised by the negative reaction, said he was assured the decision met requirements.

This is part of the reason why the fight in Florida has gone to knives as swiftly as it has. Along with the climate crisis, quick-buck development scams and environmental predation have been devouring Florida for decades and the political establishment there never has been able to unite against these threats to the ordinary citizens.This time, apparently, it has. So the reservoir now becomes something that may be at stake in whatever backroom maneuvering is undertaken in the pursuit of the two contested political offices. And, my lord, is that becoming a tangled disaster. Once again, Broward County is haunting the nation’s dreams and, once again, we find ourselves in the preposterous position of having one of the candidates controlling the process of settling an election in which he is involved. The count in the Senate race has closed to within the state’s requirement for a statewide hand recount, and Scott went into a frenzy trying to stop it. From the Tampa Bay Times:

Rick Scott filed suit against Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes over the county’s delay in completing its count of the votes from the midterm election. Scott sued as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, not in his capacity as governor of Florida. Scott followed up by lashing out at Snipes in an extraordinary press conference at the Governor’s Mansion on Thursday night. Broward County lags the rest of the state in completing the first, crucial phases of counting ballots from Tuesday’s midterm election. As of 8 p.m. Thursday, the same time the governor summoned reporters to the mansion, Broward County was the only one of the state’s 67 counties that had not reported to the state that it had completed its tabulation of early votes. Early voting ended Sunday in Broward.

Scott, acting in his capacity as governor in furtherance of his attempt to become senator, sicc’ed the state police on the election officials in Broward. Armed police officers were headed to the counting houses. In a late-night press conference, Scott wentall the way up the wall.

“I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida,” Scott told reporters on the front steps of the stately Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee. The targets of Scott’s wrath were Brenda Snipes, the Broward County elections supervisor, and Palm Beach supervisor Susan Bucher. Both officials are Democrats; Scott is a Republican. Scott unleashed the attack as his slim lead over Democrat Bill Nelson in the Senate race continued to evaporate. It stood at 15,092 votes, or .18 percent, on Thursday night. President Trump chimed in on Twitter, describing, without any evidence, a “big corruption scandal” involving election fraud in South Florida. Scott took the unusual step of delivering a partisan political attack from his taxpayer-funded residence, which is reserved for official state events.

A reminder: what we are talking about here is the counting of votes, which is the basic fundamental process for every election. We are not talking about recounts and chads and all that other nonsense that is surely coming down the pike because this is Florida, man. We are talking about counting the votes. And Scott is using his authority as governor to ratfck that process with armed law-enforcement personnel. Somebody get this guy a white suit with some braid, and a balcony on which to stand. And he’s doing so with the entire Republican political apparatus up to and including the White House supporting him by enabling and weaponizing what are so far baseless charges. There is a great deal at stake here. We should wait and see what gets traded away and what gets held hostage and which firmly held political positions are used as currency. The gators and cranes and invasive pythons in the Everglades should be watching, too.

The Queer Coming-of-Age Film Comes of Age — Spencer Kornhaber in The Atlantic.

“My God, are we gonna be like our parents?” That’s the fear voiced by one of the five motley high-school students locked in detention in John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club—and that’s the crucial question underlying most movies about adolescents coming of age. The onscreen antics of teenagers might take the form of giddy flirtations (Grease), drunken ramblings (Dazed and Confused), or feisty self-renaming (Lady Bird), but the kids’ objectives are usually the same: to fashion an identity by rebelling against the authorities—and expectations—that raised them. This quest is, however, circular. The losing of virginities and conquering of cliques may require transgressions in the moment, but by the time the credits roll, the teens have generally started prepping for a productive adulthood against which their own children might someday revolt.

For some kids, though, rule-breaking is less a route toward self-definition than a requirement built into existence. That’s the reality recognized by a recent crop of popular films centered on the queer teen, a figure who until now has been cinematically marginal: casually stigmatized in crass banter, relegated to playing sidekick in someone else’s rites of passage, or claiming the foreground only for small art-house audiences. The first major-studio movie about adolescent gay romance, Greg Berlanti’s spring hit, Love, Simon, uses teen-comedy tropes to portray homosexuality as no big deal in a well-off, relatively woke slice of America. But other recent films, set in less tolerant places and eras, hint that integrating queerness into a schema that has been overwhelmingly straight isn’t so simple.
Two prominent depictions of Christian gay-to-straight “conversion therapy,” the star-studded Boy Erased and the Sundance winner The Miseducation of Cameron Post, forgo the notion of puberty as a full-circle journey. So, in more oblique ways, did Moonlight, the Best Picture winner at the 2017 Oscars, and the 2018 Best Picture contender Call Me by Your Name. Whether persecuted or nurtured by their surroundings, queer teens fundamentally flip the Breakfast Club script: Their fear is not that they’ll become their parents, but that they face a future in which that isn’t a possibility. If that sounds potentially freeing, it is also, in these movies at least, a special kind of terrifying.

In literature and elsewhere, the go-to queer narrative is the coming-out story, which might seem well suited to the on-screen LGBTQ teenager on the brink of autonomy. After all, high-school movies are always, on some level, about outing: The protagonist struggles—nervously or defiantly or both—to announce who she really is to the world. But the queer teens now taking center stage are understandably gun-shy about this rite. Almost in passing, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird highlights the difference in what’s at stake. For Saoirse Ronan in the title role, bucking the dutiful-teen image is a performative thrill; her boyfriend (Lucas Hedges), who she discovers is gay, isn’t ready to upend parental expectations in what feels like a more irrevocable way.

Putting that apprehension in the foreground, this year’s gay-teen movies summon external forces to yank identity struggles into the open. In Love, Simon, Simon (Nick Robinson) is blackmailed by a classmate who discovers the secret Simon had hoped to keep through high school—and the kid eventually outs him anyway. Family members, peers, and school staff rally in support of an almost caricatured romantic-comedy finale for Simon: Young lovers ride a Ferris wheel, happily ever after. Simon never dreamed he’d remain in the closet; he just wanted to time his emergence to his arrival at college. That the mortifying disruption of this plan turns out to be kismet is not unlike what happens to the straight teens of Sixteen Candles and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, who have their private crushes revealed against their will.

The recent conversion-therapy movies redraw the blueprint more radically with the simple recognition that for a lot of queer youths, exposure really can spell catastrophe. In Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, set in the 1990s, the title character (Chloë Grace Moretz) is furtively hooking up with another girl at prom when the car door is flung open by Cameron’s male date. In Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased, Jared (Hedges again), the Arkansas son of a hard-line preacher (Russell Crowe), diligently resists acting on his same-sex attractions—but is still outed, in extremely traumatic circumstances, when he goes to college in the early 2000s. The unmasking of these characters doesn’t represent a capstone of self-actualization; it kicks off a communal effort to constrain who they might become—to stop same-sex attraction before it “gets worse,” as one Boy Erased church elder puts it.

Change, usually the liberating mantra of coming-of-age movies, represents oppression and conformity in these films: It’s what the Christian brainwashing camps insist is possible for gay teens, something very near the opposite of the discovery of a true self. The comic pop-culture trope of the regimented high school morphs into a grimmer setting of hapless yet powerful adults and trapped kids. Even the homework is a perverse twist. For The Breakfast Club’s crew, being forced to write an essay about “who you think you are” offers each teen a pretext to break out of a stereotyped public image. But mandatory self-analysis, when truly futile, begins to resemble torture: Jared must annotate his family tree with the sins of his forebears (alcoholism, gambling, gang affiliation), and Cameron draws an iceberg showing all the supposedly malign influences below her surface (enjoyment of sports, lack of positive female role models). “How is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?” Cameron asks.Seeing through the quacks in charge and confirming the truth of their own desires—which both of them ultimately do (Jared with the eventual support of his mother)—isn’t a prelude to fruitful rebellion or an upbeat transition away from home. Jared the earnest church kid frets about his parents’ love more than anything else. Cameron takes on light punk airs, joining ranks with the pot-smoking skeptics in the program she’s sent to, but she’s not fighting the system to achieve acceptance. Though both characters end up as runaways of sorts, they don’t seem to be running toward any particular adulthood they may be dreaming of. Survival has to come first.

Set further in the past, the breakout queer-teen movies of the previous two years each consider—from opposite perspectives—how a person’s initial environs might follow them forever. In Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, the black youth Chiron (played in turn by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) suffers bullying and parental abuse as he grows up amid Miami drug dealers and addicts in the 1980s. Moments of grace and fellowship are precious, and he’s shown acting on his same-sex desires in only one fleeting teenage encounter. In his high-school years, he does rebel—but by savagely beating a classmate, making a display of masculinity that brings him in line with the heterosexual status quo. Years later, he hasn’t diverged from the script that shaped his youth—he’s become a drug dealer—and whether he may belatedly be ready to pursue his desires is left open. Life itself may have erased this boy.

A contrast to Chiron in so many ways, the white and wealthy Elio (Timothée Chalamet) of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name avails himself of a few different scripts over one blissful ’80s summer in the Italian countryside. Like a stereotypical 17-year-old, he sneaks around in pursuit of sex behind his worldly parents’ backs, at first with girls and soon with Oliver (Armie Hammer), the handsome graduate student spending the summer at his family’s villa. Yet what looks like brave same-sex exploration on his own terms is suddenly cast in a very different light at the film’s close: Elio’s father indicates that he’s been aware of the affair all along. In fact, he’s been jealous of it, having yearned in vain for similar experiences.

Can Elio be who his father wishes he’d been? The film holds out, for a moment, the utopian possibility that a queer kid could be propelled forward by the possibility of fulfilling unmet parental dreams, rather than disappointing deeply entrenched ones. Yet a shadow flits across that uplifting prospect. Elio is soon heartbroken to learn that Oliver, who has returned to his grad-student life, is marrying a woman. “You’re so lucky,” the older man tells the younger one over the phone while reflecting on their tryst. “My father would have carted me off to a correctional facility.” In the film’s pointedly open-ended final scene, Elio just sits and cries. Presumably he’s contemplating the mystery of his future, one in which the men who might have been his role models appear to have surrendered some part of themselves. Even in Elio’s liberation, there’s no clear path for him to walk.

Most teen stories, of course, are open-ended on some level. Puberty breaks everyone’s life in two, and what comes after graduation is necessarily unwritten. But for gay kids, a ready synthesis between the old order and the new sexual self doesn’t obviously await. Willingly or not, they’re swept into an unfolding historical saga. These characters thus come to inhabit their misfit status—a dislocation that’s permanent and deep, rather than fleeting and cosmetic—reluctantly, quietly, and often with gestures toward external conformity.

In look and feel, these movies mimic their muted heroes. Mostly gone are the hijinks and raunch of typical teen comedy, eclipsed by struggles to belong that tend toward stately, notably pretty melodrama. A sensitive camera eye helps capture teens’ interiority, a social vista, and the chasm between them. Yet the critic D. A. Miller has convincingly argued that mainstream gay movies’ “mandatory aesthetic laminate, which can never shine brightly enough with dappled light,” is also a sop: meant to make homosexuality palatable for a broad audience.

Certainly it’s curious that in an age of unprecedented visibility for LGBTQ communities, the queer teens chosen for the cinematic spotlight appear so allergic to, well, seeming gay. Simon is self-mocking as he at one point indulges in a daydream of being accompanied by a rainbow-clad cheering squad when he leaves the closet, and he keeps the only out kid at school—sardonic, femme, and black—at arm’s length. Elio pokes fun at the flamboyant older gay couple who visit his parents, and Jared’s arrival into a life of writing New York Times op-eds and attending Brooklyn dinner parties is shown glancingly, in an epiloguelike time jump. Whether the implied assimilationist impulse reflects the filmmakers’ or the characters’ caution is up for debate. Either way, the caution serves as a reminder: There’s a reason slogans like “It gets better” have tried to give queer kids the kind of optimistic narrative arc that pop culture has offered straight teens for so long.

And even in their mannered quietude and their relegation of politics to subtext, these films carry a disruptive message. Boy Erased ends with Jared telling his dad that he, not Jared, is the one who needs to change. When Simon’s father repents for all the gay jokes he’s told over the years, the gesture is warm but wan. The parental apology suggests why coming of age feels so heavy in these movies: It’s the world, not just the teen, that’s struggling to mature.
Doonesbury — Veterans Day.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Good Fit

Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, seems like a perfect fit for the Trump administration.

Before Whitaker joined the Trump administration as a political appointee, the Republican lawyer and legal commentator complained that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the election and of the Trump campaign was dangerously close to overreaching. He suggested ways it could be stopped or curtailed and urged his followers on Twitter to read a story that dubbed the investigators “Mueller’s lynch mob.”

Now — at least on an interim basis — Whitaker will assume authority over that investigation, an arrangement that has triggered calls by Democrats for him to recuse himself.

He also harbors interesting views on the role of the Supreme Court in the scheme of things, arguing that the landmark 1803 Marbury v. Madison case that affirmed the court’s role as the final arbiter of interpreting the Constitution was one of the worst decisions the court has rendered.

“There are so many,” he replied. “I would start with the idea of Marbury v. Madison. That’s probably a good place to start and the way it’s looked at the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of constitutional issues. We’ll move forward from there. All New Deal cases that were expansive of the federal government. Those would be bad. Then all the way up to the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate.”

He also seems to think that our laws descend from a higher power.

During a 2014 Senate debate sponsored by a conservative Christian organization, he said that in helping confirm judges, “I’d like to see things like their worldview, what informs them. Are they people of faith? Do they have a biblical view of justice? — which I think is very important.”

At that point, the moderator interjected: “Levitical or New Testament?”

“New Testament,” Whitaker affirmed. “And what I know is as long as they have that worldview, that they’ll be a good judge. And if they have a secular worldview, then I’m going to be very concerned about how they judge.”

Religious tests for judges are barred by the Constitution, but I think we already know where he stands on interpreting it.

To round out the rest of the portfolio, as an attorney he’s been accused of defrauding clients.

When federal investigators were digging into an invention-promotion company accused of fraud by customers, they sought information in 2017 from a prominent member of the company’s advisory board, according to two people familiar with the probe: Matthew G. Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa.

It is unclear how Whitaker — who was appointed acting attorney general by President Trump on Wednesday — responded to a Federal Trade Commission subpoena to his law firm.

In the end, the FTC filed a complaint against Miami-based World Patent Marketing, accusing it of misleading investors and falsely promising that it would help them patent and profit from their inventions, according to court filings.

In May of this year, a federal court in Florida ordered the company to pay a settlement of more than $25 million and close up shop, records show. The company did not admit or deny wrongdoing.

Whitaker’s sudden elevation this week to replace fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions has put new scrutiny on his involvement with the shuttered company, whose advisory board he joined in 2014, shortly after making a failed run for U.S. Senate in Iowa.

At the time, he was also running a conservative watchdog group with ties to other powerful nonprofits on the right and was beginning to develop a career as a Trump-friendly cable television commentator.

So, he’s got authoritarian-executive views of the basic laws of the country, he wants religious tests for judges, and he’s provided legal counsel to a fraudulent get-rich-quick scheme here in Florida.

My only question is why wasn’t he the first pick for Trump’s attorney general before Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III?

Bonus Track: According to two highly-respected legal scholars, Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III, Trump’s appointment of Mr. Whitaker as acting attorney general is unconstitutional.

What now seems an eternity ago, the conservative law professor Steven Calabresi published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May arguing that Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was unconstitutional. His article got a lot of attention, and it wasn’t long before President Trump picked up the argument, tweeting that “the Appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”

Professor Calabresi’s article was based on the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2. Under that provision, so-called principal officers of the United States must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate under its “Advice and Consent” powers.

He argued that Mr. Mueller was a principal officer because he is exercising significant law enforcement authority and that since he has not been confirmed by the Senate, his appointment was unconstitutional. As one of us argued at the time, he was wrong. What makes an officer a principal officer is that he or she reports only to the president. No one else in government is that person’s boss. But Mr. Mueller reports to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. So, Mr. Mueller is what is known as an inferior officer, not a principal one, and his appointment without Senate approval was valid.

But Professor Calabresi and Mr. Trump were right about the core principle. A principal officer must be confirmed by the Senate. And that has a very significant consequence today.

It means that Mr. Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid.

I heard one conservative commentator suggest that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 allows such appointments in the case of a vacancy or incapacity, but it is for a relatively short period, and besides, the Constitution has supremacy.  So if Mr. Whitaker tries to fire Robert Mueller, he may face a legal challenge.

PS: Karma strikes again: George T. Conway III, the co-author of the op-ed, is married to Kellyanne Conway.

In Florida, It Ain’t Over

Here we go again.  Via the Tampa Bay Times:

A visibly frustrated Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday accused “unethical liberals” of trying to steal a U.S. Senate seat from him, as his campaign filed a lawsuit against election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties for allegedly refusing to release voting tabulations.

“I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida,” Scott told reporters on the front steps of the stately  Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee.

The targets of Scott’s wrath were Brenda Snipes, the Broward County elections supervisor, and Palm Beach supervisor Susan Bucher. Both officials are Democrats; Scott is a Republican.

Scott unleashed the attack as his slim lead over Democrat Bill Nelson in the Senate race continued to evaporate. It stood at 15,092 votes, or .18 percent, on Thursday night.

“And I would have pulled it off if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!” said every villain in a Scooby Doo cartoon.  Nature and barbering choices are what made Mr. Scott look the part, but it goes along with the axiom that Republicans believe that counting every vote is tantamount to fraud

Meanwhile, Andrew Gillum, who had conceded the governors race to Republican Ron DeSantis, is having second thoughts as the count narrows down to the range of an automatic recount.

As of 9 a.m. [Thursday], DeSantis’ lead was just 42,948 votes out of 8,189,305 ballots cast — equal to 0.52 percent of the vote. Concession speech or no, Florida law requires an automatic machine recount in any race where the margin of victory is within one half of one percentage point.

By 2 p.m., Gillum gained on DeSantis by another 4,441 votes, and now trails by only 0.47 percent.

Thousands of ballots still remain uncounted, so it’s too soon to say whether a recount will indeed happen in the race for governor. Florida’s 67 elections supervisors must send their unofficial numbers to the state by 1 p.m. Saturday, and campaign volunteers were scrambled around the state Thursday as supervisors prepared to examine provisional ballots cast by voters with unresolved issues at their polling places.

The Gillum campaign sent out an email to supporters Thursday afternoon urging those with provisional ballots to call their supervisor of elections offices before 5 p.m. to make sure their ballot was counted, and campaign spokeswoman Johanna Cervone said the campaign was prepared for a recount effort.

“It has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported,” she said in a statement. “Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount.”

There’s good reason for both Scott and DeSantis to be worried.  All of the votes haven’t been counted in Broward County, which is Fort Lauderdale, and that’s the most Democratic county in the state.  If there’s going to be a change in the resumed result of Tuesday night, it’s going to come from those votes.

Might as well get comfortable; we’re going to be here for a while.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Monday, April 2, 2018

The (More) Sunshine State — Update

Following up on this story from January, Gov. Rick Scott signed the “Sunshine Protection Act” into law, moving Florida to permanent Daylight Savings Time, but only if Congress and the Department of Transportation approve it.

If that happens, Florida would join Hawaii and most of Arizona. Both are exempt from the Uniform Time Act of 1966.

Floridians would no longer have to turn the clock back one hour in the fall. It would mean darker mornings and brighter evenings between November and March.

[…]

Reactions have been mixed.

Critics say Florida would be out of sync with the rest of the country.

Yeah, like that’s ever stopped us before.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Friday, March 2, 2018

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The (More) Sunshine State

Via the Tampa Bay Times:

Florida lawmakers in the Sunshine State want to legislate more working, learning and playing time in the sunshine.

Two bills, called the “Sunshine Protection Act,” would ask Congress to give the state permission to make Daylight Saving Time permanent year-round. The proposals, SB 858 and HB 1013, each passed their first Senate and House committees unanimously this week.

If Congress agrees, Florida would join two other states that have exempted themselves from the 1966 law that set a uniform time for all time zones across the country. Hawaii and most of Arizona are on Standard Time year-round.

Under federal law, the U.S. Department of Transportation is charged with setting time zones but allows states to exempt themselves from Daylight Saving Times, if Congress approves. Daylight Saving Time (when you set your clocks ahead one hour) runs from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.

The practical impact of that change would mean that on the Winter Solstice — that’s the day in the Northern Hemisphere with the least amount of daylight — sunrise in Florida would be at about 8 a.m. and sunset would be at about 6:30 p.m. instead of 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. like it is now.

The Senate version of the bill also moves the western part of the state, which is in Central Time, into the Eastern Time zone, if Congress approves.

That would mean that during the winter, Florida would be on Atlantic Standard Time along with Puerto Rico and a lot of the Lesser Antilles.  But it would also have the practical effect of saving many people from the confusion of how to change their clocks twice a year.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Iguana Get Warm

Time for the annual Florida cold-snap post on reptiles, metabolism, and gravity.

Beware the falling iguanas in South Florida.

When temperatures dip into the 30s and 40s, people from West Palm Beach to Miami know to be on the lookout for reptiles stunned — but not necessarily killed — by the cold. They can come back to life again when it warms up.

In Boca Raton, Frank Cerabino, a Palm Beach Post columnist familiar with the critters, stepped outside and saw a bright green specimen by his pool on Thursday morning, feet up.

“It’s one of those ethical things: What do you do?” he said in an interview.

Iguanas, which can be as long as six feet, are not native to South Florida. They have proliferated in the subtropical heat, causing headaches for wildlife managers — and occasionally popping up in toilets. It took a prolonged cold spell to significantly reduce their population in 2010. (The same cold snap also resulted in the deaths of many invasive Burmese pythons.)

Iguanas climb up trees to roost at night, said Ron Magill, communications director for Zoo Miami.

“When the temperature goes down, they literally shut down, and they can no longer hold on to the trees,” he said. “Which is why you get this phenomenon in South Florida that it’s raining iguanas.” (Including on windshields.)

The larger the iguana, the greater its chance of survival, Mr. Magill added.

“Even if they look dead as a doornail — they’re gray and stiff — as soon as it starts to heat up and they get hit by the sun rays, it’s this rejuvenation,” he said. “The ones that survive that cold streak are basically passing on that gene.”

He suspects that, within a couple of decades, iguanas will creep north because they will be able to withstand colder climates.

On Thursday, Mr. Cerabino poked at the animal with his pool skimmer, hoping to wake it up. In a previous backyard encounter with a paralyzed iguana, he said, picking it up with a shovel did the trick.

But no luck this time.

“He didn’t move,” Mr. Cerabino said. “But he’s probably still alive. My experience is that they take a while to die.”

So he opted for leaving the iguana where it was, “and dealing with it when I come home.”

“He’ll either get enough sun where he’ll revive himself and get himself up the tree, or he’ll continue to freeze and turn dark brown — almost black — and I’ll know he’s dead,” Mr. Cerabino said.

The iguana lived.

Now if only the same thing would happen with peacocks: Scoop ’em up and ship ’em out.

Photo by Frank Cerabino/Palm Beach Post, via Associated Press.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday Reading

Trump Family Values — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

In the September 11, 1989, issue of The New Yorker, a twenty-eight-year-old writer named Bill McKibben published a lengthy article titled “The End of Nature.” The previous year had been especially hot––the country suffered one of the worst droughts since the Dust Bowl, Yellowstone was ablaze for weeks––and some Americans, including McKibben, had taken note of the ominous testimony that James Hansen, a NASA climatologist, gave before a Senate committee, warning that, owing to greenhouse gases, the planet was heating up inexorably. McKibben responded with a deeply researched jeremiad, in which he set out to popularize the alarming and still largely unfamiliar facts about climate change and to sharpen awareness of what they implied for the future of the planet and humankind:

Changes in our world which can affect us can happen in our lifetime—not just changes like wars but bigger and more sweeping events. Without recognizing it, we have already stepped over the threshold of such a change. I believe that we are at the end of nature.

By this I do not mean the end of the world. The rain will still fall, and the sun will still shine. When I say “nature,” I mean a certain set of human ideas about the world and our place in it. But the death of these ideas begins with concrete changes in the reality around us, changes that scientists can measure. More and more frequently these changes will clash with our perceptions, until our sense of nature as eternal and separate is finally washed away and we see all too clearly what we have done.

Last week, a hunk of Antarctica the size of Delaware, weighing a trillion metric tons, hived off from the Larsen C ice shelf and into the warming seas. Such events now seem almost ordinary—and harbingers of far worse. It is quite possible, the environmental writer Fen Montaigne wrote recently, in the Times, that, should the much larger West Antarctic Ice Sheet thaw and slip into the ocean, sea levels across the globe could rise as much as seventeen feet. This would have devastating implications for hundreds of millions of people, disrupting food chains, swamping coastal cities, spawning illnesses, sparking mass migrations, and undermining national economies in ways that are impossible to anticipate fully.

Around the time that this event was taking place, Donald Trump, who has lately detached the United States from the Paris climate accord and gone about neutering the Environmental Protection Agency, was prowling the West Wing of the White House, raging Lear-like not about the fate of the Earth, or about the fate of the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was dying in captivity, but about the fate of the Trump family enterprise. In particular, he decried the awful injustice visited upon him and his son Donald, Jr., who had, in a series of e-mails last June, giddily advertised his willingness to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected lawyer, to receive kompromat intended to undermine the reputation and the campaign of Hillary Clinton. He did not mention another participant in the meeting: Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born lobbyist, who admitted to the A.P. that he had served in the Soviet Army, but denied reports that he was ever a trained spy.

The President argued that his son, “a high-quality person,” had been “open, transparent, and innocent.” This was a statement as true as many, if not most, of the President’s statements. It was false. Donald, Jr., had concealed the meeting until he could do so no longer. Social-media wags delighted in reviving the Trump-as-Corleone family meme and compared Donald, Jr., to Fredo, the most hapless of the Corleone progeny. This was unfair to Fredo. On Twitter, Donald, Jr., had spoken in support of cockeyed conspiracy theories and once posted a photograph of a bowl of Skittles, writing, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem. . . . Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first.”

Still, the President, loyal to nothing and no one but his family, argued that “a lot of people” would have taken that meeting. Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community did not whistle their agreement. They were quick to say that such a meeting was, at best, phenomenally stupid and, at worst, showed a willingness to collude with Moscow to tilt the election. Michael Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., told the Cipher Brief, a Web site that covers national-security issues, that Trump, Jr.,’s e-mails are “huge” and indicate that the President’s inner circle knew as early as last June that “the Russians were working on behalf of Trump.” In the same article, James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, said that the e-mails were probably “only one anecdote in a much larger story,” adding, “I can’t believe that this one exchange represents all there is, either involving the President’s son or others associated with the campaign.” Intelligence officials speculated that the tradecraft employed in setting up such a meeting was possibly a way to gauge how receptive the Trump campaign was to even deeper forms of coöperation. In any case, the proper thing to have done would have been to call the F.B.I. Now the country is headed toward a “constitutional crisis,” Clapper said, and the question has to be asked: “When will the Republicans collectively say ‘enough’?”

Good question. Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, business leaders such as Stephen Schwarzman and Carl Icahn, and a raft of White House advisers, including the bulk of the National Security Council, cannot fail to see the chaos, the incompetence, and the potential illegality in their midst, and yet they go on supporting, excusing, and deflecting attention from the President’s behavior in order to protect their own ambitions and fortunes. They realize that Trump’s base is still the core of the G.O.P. electorate, and they dare not antagonize it. The Republicans, the self-proclaimed party of family values, remain squarely behind a family and a Presidency whose most salient features are amorality, greed, demagoguery, deception, vulgarity, race-baiting, misogyny, and, potentially—only time and further investigation will tell—a murky relationship with a hostile foreign government.

In the near term, if any wrongdoing is found, the Trump family member who stands to lose the most is the son-in-law and consigliere, Jared Kushner, who accompanied Donald, Jr., to the meeting with Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin. Kushner seems to see himself and his wife, Ivanka, as lonely voices of probity and moderation in an otherwise unhinged West Wing. Why they would believe this when their conflicts of interest are on an epic scale is a mystery. But such is their self-regard. It is said by those close to Kushner that, if he fears anything, it is to repeat the experience of his father, Charles, who, in 2005, pleaded guilty to charges of making illegal campaign contributions and hiring a prostitute to entrap his brother-in-law, and spent fourteen months in an Alabama penitentiary.

Preserving Religious Freedom — John Nichols in The Nation on how Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) turned the “religious liberty” argument on its head.

Can Democrats defend the most basic premises of the Bill of Rights in a Republican-controlled House that is run by hyper-partisan Speaker Paul Ryan and that, at Ryan’s direction, so frequently dances to the authoritarian tune of a Trump administration that disrespects and disregards the Constitution?

Yes, they can. Congressman Keith Ellison just prevailed in a high-stakes struggle to defend freedom of religion as it is outlined in the First Amendment, and as it has been understood since Thomas Jefferson explained it in his final letter to the Danbury, Connecticut, Baptists: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

One of the most right-wing members of the House, Arizona Republican Trent Franks, proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would, in fact, have made a law respecting an establishment of religion. Franks, a staunch defender of President Trump’s executive orders restricting travel by Muslims, sought to require Secretary of Defense James Mattis to “conduct two concurrent strategic assessments of the use of violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist messaging and justification.”

The amendment targeted only Islam and was so vague in its referencing of “unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine” that it invited abuse. The amendment also mandated that one of the two reviews be conducted by “non-governmental experts from academia, industry, or other entities not currently a part of the United States Government”—opening up the process to further abuse.

Ellison responded with a stinging rebuke. “This amendment stigmatizes people simply because they practice a specific religion,” the Minnesota Democrat told his colleagues. “The idea that Congress is seriously considering an amendment that legislates stigmatization and hate in direct contradiction of the Constitution is outrageous.”

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the House, recalled historic instances of racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination. and warned that “when we single out a group of people and treat them differently, shameful and regrettable abuses and mistreatment follow.”

“If we haven’t already learned from our tattered past, when will we?” asked the congressman.

Ellison also raised concerns about the message that adoption of the amendment would could send at a time when American Muslims already face violence and discrimination:

Rep. Franks’ NDAA amendment ordering a ‘strategic assessment’ on Islam goes against everything we strive to be. By ordering the Department of Defense to scrutinize a single religion, identify leaders for some unknown purpose, and determine an acceptable way to practice, Congress is “abridging the free exercise of religion,” which is constitutionally impermissible.

The FBI reported a 67 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2015—the same year Asma Jama’s face was slashed with a beer mug while she was eating dinner at an Applebee’s in Minnesota. Her attacker admitted in court that she attacked Asma simply because she was Muslim and not speaking English.

This rise in hate crimes isn’t a surprise. Our president began his campaign spouting hate, said Islam hates America, and promised to ban Muslims. His rhetoric has contributed to the growing movement of hate in our country, and I have no doubt that some of the most notorious racist, anti-Muslim voices will be a part of the non-government assessment demanded by this amendment.

With support from Muslim groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, and his congressional Progressive Caucus colleagues, Ellison struck a chord in the House, convincing 27 Republicans to join 190 Democrats in opposing the amendment.

That meant that 217 House members embraced their oaths to defend the Constitution, while 208 Republicans rejected the dictates of First Amendment. It is, of course, unsettling that so many members of the House cast votes that were in conflict with the Bill of Rights. It is equally unsettling that victories of this sort come in the context of continued assaults on individual rights and civil society. But it is encouraging, in these times, that bipartisan support for freedom of religion prevailed.

“We should study what drives people to terrorism. But this amendment didn’t do that. Not equally,” Ellison tweeted after Friday morning’s vote. “Glad so many of my colleagues agree.”

Florida Mythology — Adam Weinstein in the Washington Post dispels the tall tales about the Sunshine State.

Ordinarily at this point in the slow, hot summer, American journalists would be out of stories and looking to Florida — my allegedly strange longtime home — for “weird news” inspiration. We don’t have that problem this year, because America elected a part-time Florida Man as president. But Floridians still have to deal with an unearned reputation as a nexus of the bizarre and the tragic. “Sometimes I think I’ve figured out some order in the universe,” Susan Orlean famously wrote, “but then I find myself in Florida, swamped by incongruity and paradox, and I have to start all over again.” Here are five common myths about America’s sun-soaked southerly proboscis.

Myth No. 1
Florida is a cultural wasteland.

Per Gawker, “The middle of the state is a cultureless void from which crystal meth (or, like, moving away) is the only escape.” One can find defenses of individual cities (for example, Jacksonville) or particular coastal hot spots, but one of the most-Googled questions related to Florida is nonetheless “Why is Florida so trashy?,” and that seems to reflect the nation’s general sentiment.

Sure, we’re the land of Disney World and Universal Studios and stucco and strip malls. We have that weird double existence that characterizes a lot of frontier or colonial destinations: We’ve been stereotyped as the exotic “other,” then we capitalized on the stereotype’s allure to drive the local economy, then we lost track of what was real and what was just a reductive stereotype. Now, it all blends together. As they said in our old tourism ad from the “Miami Vice” days, “The rules are different here.”

But Florida’s proud, contrived role as a lazy, breezy, escapist state of nature yields something nobody could have predicted: lots of cultural heroes, large and small. Consider these icons: Southern-rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd, Doors frontman Jim Morrison, Flo Rida, Johnny Depp, Tom Petty, Norman Reedus, Zora Neale Hurston, Tao Lin and Kate DiCamillo. Don’t say we never did anything for you.

Myth No. 2
Florida is separate from the Deep South.

According to the Sun Sentinel, “Florida is not the South.” If you wanted graphic evidence, the Miami New Times supplied 19 maps in 2015 “That Prove South Florida Is Not Really the South.”

It’s possible that we have more Mets fans than Queens, and it’s certain that we have more Mets fans than Marlins fans. But if you’ve ever traveled down the Panhandle’s Redneck Riviera to eat oysters in Apalachicola or made a pilgrimage to watch college football in Doak and the Swamp, you know there’s a lot of twang to go with the Tang. There really is a place called the Flora-Bama, situated exactly where you’d expect, and it really does host an annual mullet toss (the fish, not the hairdo, but you always see some of both).

The cliche about the differences between northern Florida (red-state rednecks) and South Florida (pasty invaders and “Latins”) aren’t right, either. Drive a few miles west of Fort Lauderdale, and your car will have to yield for horses. Remember Bob Graham , the soft-lilted cowpoke who served for decades as a left-center governor and senator? He’s a Miami native. Yes, you can grow up sounding like that in Miami. Even South Florida’s deep-blue urbanites can see social and cultural remnants of the South — for instance, the state park that used to be a blacks-only beach , and neighborhood divisions that persist years after Jim Crow.

That’s all of Florida, in its beauty, ugliness and guilt. We are completely Southern. We are also completely Yankee, completely Latin American and completely committed to believing in mathematical impossibilities.

Myth No. 3
Florida is ready for the next big hurricane.

Cutler Bay Florida is hurricane ready!” declares one municipal ad; last year, Florida’s “top finance and insurance regulators” confirmed to the Miami Herald that the state was indeed prepared for another hurricane season. Oops.

Named storms are a seasonal fixture, but until Hurricane Matthew gave us all a serious scare last year, Floridians hadn’t had a real blow since 2004 and 2005, when they got blitzed by six hurricanes. Since then, the state’s population has grown by 15 percent — meaning at least 2.5 million new residents have probably never lived through a storm of significant size, much less a Wilma or an Andrew. And complacency abounds, even among old-timers. “That is a very scary thought from an emergency manager’s perspective,” Orlando’s emergency manager said, back in the middle of our mostly storm-free decade.

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is light on real storm experience, too. Scott appointed an out-of-state Walmart executive as his emergency preparedness director in 2011 amid a push to privatize some of the state’s disaster response programs. (Little of that privatization has materialized.) Scott’s administration is also accused of barring state-employed scientists from discussing climate change or sea-level rise. It’s not easy preparing 20 million people for one disaster when you’re busy pretending another disaster doesn’t exist.

Myth No. 4
Floridians are impossibly divided along political lines.

In 2015, southern Floridians threatened to secede from the rest of the state, citing political differences with northern Floridians. And prior to last year’s presidential election, pundits observed that the contest could be decided by Florida, “the Divided Sunshine State.” It has been conventional wisdom since the 2000 recount that Florida is hopelessly split along political lines. Apparently, we’re a purplish state with a reddish government and bluish social tendencies.

But both sides are united by a love of the market. Indeed, the pro-business tendency is no less powerful among liberals, from South Florida — where many a real estate developer, D or R, has had a historically easy path to a mayorship — to Tallahassee, where even deep-blue Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls are known to boast about the size of their business tax repeals . One party wants pro-business decisions made by bureaucrats, and the other party wants pro-business decisions made by transnational consortiums owned by shell corporations. Accordingly, Florida has been rapidly rising on lists of business-friendly states in recent years, even making the top 10 in a recent CNBC ranking.

We got there through a long, two-party effort.

Myth No. 5
The Florida housing market has learned its lesson.

That the Orlando Business Journal wants to let you in on “4 lessons learned” from Central Florida’s real estate bubble, and Florida Today is already advising caution for home buyers based on the last big real estate bust, might make you think Florida has learned its lesson when it comes to inflated markets. But it doesn’t look that way.

Between 2003 and 2007 was a hell of a time to be a Floridian: It seemed like everyone was a mortgage originator or a house-flipper. Obviously, that all ended, and a lot of people lost their butts on a “correction” in property values. Problem solved: Many Floridians don’t even have enough money to place another bad bet.

But once again, the Florida real estate market is doing great. There’s a boom in sales and prices, and buyers have a lot of options — if they have half a million bucks or more to spend. In South Florida, even modest, fixer-upper apartments in sad neighborhoods are getting plucked up by cash buyers looking for rental income. Big-money and foreign investors are bidding up prices, perhaps precipitously so, on luxury and high-rise properties. (Zdravstvuyte, Russian friends!)

What happens when the dollar strengthens, the Trump real estate name fizzles and those investors look to dump their stock? Oh, probably another implosion, and three and even four generations of working family members living under one roof.

Doonesbury — Talk of the town.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Making America Great Again…

Via the Miami Herald:

A young African-American man is stopped for jaywalking. A white law enforcement officer sternly orders him to the police car, threatens to put him in jail, and tells him he needs to have identification on him at all times — and tickets him for not carrying his ID.

Miami Beach, 1962? No, Jacksonville, 2017.

Such was the encounter between Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Officer J.S. Bolen and Devonte Shipman last week.

A video posted on Facebook details the incident wherein the officer threatened Mr. Shipman with arrest for not carrying his drivers license even though he wasn’t driving.  Officer Bolen ended up citing him for two violations.

But hey, he didn’t shoot him.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sunday Reading

Another Episode — Charles P. Pierce on the latest from Mar-A-Lago.

At some point, I guess, you just have to walk away. Not forever, and not for long. But, sooner or later, you have to arrange one morning where you wake up and deliberately decide not to find out how the country has lost its mind overnight. I’m getting to that point, I have to tell you.

Around 5:30—in the freaking A.M. morning!— the president*, or someone like him, got on the official Donald Trump electric Twitter account and threw the ongoing controversy over Russian influence on his campaign and on the 2016 presidential election deep into the red zone. In short, he is now accusing his predecessor of using the powers of the intelligence community and of the national law-enforcement apparatus to spy on his campaign. Kudos to The Washington Post for the “citing no evidence” disclaimer.

Trump offered no citations nor did he point to any credible news report to back up his accusation, but he may have been referring to commentary on Breitbart and conservative talk radio suggesting that Obama and his administration used “police state” tactics last fall to monitor the Trump team. The Breitbart story, published Friday, has been circulating among Trump’s senior staff, according to a White House official who described it as a useful catalogue of the Obama administration’s activities.

Gee, I wonder if the “White House official” possibly could be the guy who used to run that particular information SuperFund site and, anyway, it’s nice to know that the president* of the United States goes dumpster diving for his political news.

I think the whole thing started percolating to draw attention away from Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s unfortunate collision with his own confirmation testimony this week. But I think the real match tossed into the powder magazine was an interview that Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, gave to Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC Friday afternoon.

In that interview, Coons as much as said that he believes that transcripts of conversations between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials exist. In my opinion, if those transcripts exist, and the Trump people know it, and know what’s in them, it is in the interest of the administration to flip the script pre-emptively to how the transcripts were obtained as opposed to what they might contain. If administration officials are in contact with the Breitbart people—which isn’t exactly a leap in the dark—then they slip the possibility of wiretaps to those people and then the president* reacts to news that some of his own people may have planted. (Think Dick Cheney, Judy Miller, and the aluminum tubes.) In any case, the stakes in this matter just became mortal.

“It’s highly unlikely there was a wiretap,” said one former senior intelligence official familiar with surveillance law who spoke candidly on the condition of anonymity. The former official continued: “It seems unthinkable. If that were the case by some chance, that means that a federal judge would have found that there was either probable cause that he had committed a crime or was an agent of a foreign power.”

“Unthinkable” is one of those Washington CYA words that does a lot of work until a lot of people start thinking about something seriously. (The president ordered a cover-up of a burglary? The president signed off on sending missiles to Iran? The president was doing the help? Unthinkable!) Let us assume for the moment that, if there’s a shred of truth to what the president* is saying, then the previous occupant of the White House didn’t do it without availing himself of the legal requirements.

If he requested a FISA warrant and got it, then there’s something out there that troubled not only the previous administration, but also some federal judges on a secret court. If that happened, then what President Obama did was not in any way “illegal.” You can argue that it might be improperly political during an presidential election season, but then you get hung up on why Lyndon Johnson didn’t blow the whistle on how Richard Nixon jacked around with the Paris Peace Talks. It’s impossible to conclude in retrospect that the country was well-served by LBJ’s uncharacteristic delicacy in that matter. If this keeps up, the demand for complete transparency is going to become overwhelming.

A spokesman for Barack Obama issued a statement early Saturday afternoon refuting President Trump’s claims:

A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of the practice neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.

There is a critical mass building quickly concerning the connections between the president*, his administration, his aides, and the Putin regime. There’s just too much of it right now for the administration to contain. Given that, it probably would have been helpful if the president* hadn’t had another episode on Saturday morning. Of course, once the episode passed, he was back to serious business again – tweeting about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance on Celebrity Apprentice. I guess the time for trivial fights really is over.

The Next Step — Kristina Rizga in Mother Jones on the Trump-DeVos plan to send money to religious schools.  Florida is the model.

During his address before a joint session of Congress earlier this week, President Donald Trump paused to introduce Denisha Merriweather, a graduate student from Florida sitting with first lady Melania Trump. Merriweather “failed third grade twice” in Florida’s public schools, Trump said. “But then she was able to enroll in a private center for learning, great learning center, with the help of a tax credit,” he continued, referring to Florida’s tax credit scholarship program that allows students attend private schools. Because of this opportunity, Denisha became the first member of her family to graduate from high school and college.

Trump used Denisha’s story to call for his favorite education policy, school choice, asking lawmakers to “pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has also been pointing to Denisha and Florida in the past two weeks as a way to promote school choice. “Florida is a good and growing example of what can happen when you have a robust array of choices,” DeVos told a conservative radio host on February 15. DeVos brought up the state’s school choice model again during her speech to the leaders of historically black colleges earlier this week.

So what is it about Florida? For starters, the state offers many different types of school choice, including charter schools, vouchers for low-income students and those with disabilities, and tax credit scholarships. Charter schools, found in 43 states and Washington, DC, represent the most common type of school choice. Vouchers are a little more complicated: They essentially operate like a state-issued coupon that parents can use to send their child to private or religious schools. The amount is typically what the state would use to send a kid to a public school. But vouchers are difficult to implement, because many state constitutions, like those in Michigan and Florida, have what are called Blaine Amendments, which prohibit spending public dollars on religious schools. And notably, only 31 percent of Americans support vouchers.

Tax credit scholarships provide a crafty mechanism to get around these obstacles. Tax credits are given to individuals and corporations that donate money to scholarship-granting institutions; if parents end up using those scholarships to send their kids to religious schools—and 79 percent of students in private schools are taught by institutions affiliated with churches—the government technically is not transferring taxpayer money directly to religious organizations.

While DeVos is best known as an advocate of vouchers, most veteran Beltway insiders told me that a federal voucher program is very unlikely. “Democrats don’t like vouchers. Republicans don’t like federal programs, and would rather leave major school reform decisions up to states and local communities,” Rick Hess, a veteran education policy expert with the conservative American Enterprise Institute said. “Realistically, nobody thinks they’ve got the votes to do a federal school choice law, especially in the Senate.”

This political reality is perhaps why Trump and DeVos are singling out Florida’s tax credit programs as a way to expand private schooling options. While Trump and DeVos have not specified what shape this policy might take at the federal level, most of these changes will come from the state legislators. Republicans have full control of the executive and legislative branches in 25 states, and control the governor’s house or the state legislature in 44 states. At least 14 states have already proposed bills in this legislative session that would expand some form of vouchers or tax credit scholarships, according to a Center for American Progress analysis. (And 17 states already provide some form of tax credit scholarships, according to EdChoice.)

This perfect storm for pushing through various voucher schemes comes at a time when the results on the outcomes of these programs “are the worst in the history of the field,” according to New America researcher Kevin Carey, who analyzed the results in a recent New York Timesarticle. Until about two years ago, most studies on vouchers produced mixed results, with some showing slight increases in test scores or graduation rates for students using them. But the most recent research has not been good, according to Carey: A 2016 study, funded by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation and conducted by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, found that students who used vouchers in a large Ohio program “have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”

Then there is the issue of state oversight and transparency. Many states, including Florida, have little to no jurisdiction over private schools and don’t make student achievement data public, save for attendance. A 2011 award-winning investigation by Gus Garcia-Roberts of the Miami New Times described the resulting system as a “cottage industry of fraud and chaos.” Schools could qualify to educate voucher and tax credit scholarship students even though they had no accreditation or curriculum. Some staffers in these schools were convicted criminals for drug dealing, kidnapping, and burglary. “In one school’s ‘business management’ class, students shook cans for coins on the streets,” Garcia-Roberts found.

Florida’s Department of Education investigated 38 schools suspected of fraud and in 25 cases, the allegations were substantiated. “It’s like a perverse science experiment, using disabled school kids as lab rats and funded by nine figures in taxpayer cash,” Garcia-Roberts wrote. “Dole out millions to anybody calling himself as educator. Don’t regulate curriculum or even visit campuses to see where the money is going.”

But these on-the-ground realities in Florida won’t tame the enthusiasm of a voucher booster like DeVos. As I showed in my recent investigation, her philanthropic giving shows an overwhelming preference for promoting private, Christian schools, and conservative, free-market think tanks that work to shrink the public sector in every sphere, including education. These past choices suggest that the data—or the fact that there are many stories like Denisha Merriweather’s in America’s public schools—doesn’t matter.

Spring Hopes Eternal — Justin Verlander and the Tigers are back for more.

LAKELAND, Fla. — Justin Verlander gave up two home runs here on Thursday. One was hit well, and the other was carried away by a steady wind to center field.

“It got out,” Verlander said with a shrug by his locker in the Detroit Tigers’ clubhouse. “One of those days here in Lakeland.”

Verlander’s status in baseball has been so thoroughly restored that a rocky day in spring training means nothing. Last season, he was 16-9 with a 3.04 earned run average, leading the American League in strikeouts (254) and walks plus hits per inning (1.001). He had the most first-place votes for the Cy Young Award, but finished second over all to Boston’s Rick Porcello, a onetime teammate.

Verlander telegraphed his turnaround in late 2015, when he finally felt strong again after torn abdominal and adductor muscles — and the resulting physical weakness and compromised mechanics — had sapped his dominance. The Tigers were out of the race then, but his comeback may have saved their immediate future.

“That opened our eyes,” General Manager Al Avila said. “I even told him: ‘What you just did the last month and a half of the season has given our group, from ownership to us, new life. Maybe we do have another run in us.’ It was that kind of revival. That was him.”

A different A.L. Central team, the Cleveland Indians, rose to the World Series last year. But the Tigers hung in the playoff race until the final day of the regular season and kept their roster intact this winter. They would like to get younger, but Avila found no deals worth breaking up a group still striving to win a title.

Verlander has the longest tenure with the same team of any active major league pitcher. He joined the Tigers in July 2005 and has helped lead them to A.L. pennants in 2006 and 2012. They nearly won another, in 2013, with Verlander gritting through pain in October.

“Dying,” he said. “Everything hurt.”

For most observers, it was hard to tell: Verlander gave up one run in 23 postseason innings. But he tore the muscles while lifting weights after the 2013 season, the result of the wear and tear of an eight-season stretch in which only C. C. Sabathia pitched more innings.

Verlander had core-muscle surgery in Philadelphia in January 2014. His surgeon, Dr. Bill Meyers, called the area — from midthigh to midchest — the engine of the body.

“That’s really the harness for your power,” Meyers said. “It’s like if you’re riding a horse and you lose your bridle. It’s not only that you lose power, but you can’t really control it.”

Verlander, who was one year into a seven-year, $180 million contract extension, made it back for opening day. He made 32 starts and helped the Tigers back to the playoffs — but he also led the league in earned runs allowed and contemplated his career mortality.

“For the first time, I saw the end of the line,” said Verlander, who turned 34 last month. “I mean, I want to play ’til I’m 40 or 45. I’ve always wanted to play ’til the wheels fall off. I kind of saw that then: ‘If this is the way it’s going to feel, I can’t pitch like this.’”

Because he came back so soon, without proper rehabilitation, Verlander’s mechanics were a mess. Everything was off, he said, from his feet to his head. He could still direct the ball, generally, to its intended location. But a fastball that once crackled with life was often dead on arrival.

In August 2014, he lasted just one inning in Pittsburgh, hammered for five runs with a fastball hovering around 85 miles per hour. Verlander has always been a student of pitching, highly attuned to his body and how it moves. He knew he was risking his future by pitching with bad mechanics, and he expected to pay a steep price.

“I’m very fortunate that I didn’t get hurt,” he said. “I remember after I came out of that game in Pittsburgh, they said I was going to go get an M.R.I. on my shoulder — and I thought I was done. I thought I was going to need shoulder surgery. That’s how bad it felt.”

It was just tendinitis, although Verlander still knocks on the wooden frame of his locker when telling the story. He worked intensely with a physical therapist before the 2015 season, hurt his latisimuss dorsi muscle that spring, but returned to make 20 starts with a 3.38 E.R.A.

He was ready to break out again in 2016, but not because he suddenly learned how to win with lesser stuff. Even at his very best, Verlander baffled hitters with a devastating pitch mix.

“He was always like that,” said Sabathia, the Yankees left-hander. “He was always a power pitcher, but he always knew how to pitch. I don’t think it’s going to be hard to transition from when he does lose the velocity on his fastball, because he came in with all the pitches.”

Verlander’s average fastball was 93.5 m.p.h. last season, according to Fangraphs, up a tick or two from 2014 and not far removed from his Most Valuable Player season of 2011. Then, his fastball averaged 95 m.p.h., a speed he hit consistently on Thursday.

“He throws his fastball a lot,” the Tigers’ Michael Fulmer said. “And to see him work both sides of the plate, up and down, it really works as eight different pitches — two-seam and four-seam to each quadrant — and he commands it. I’m trying to get to the point where I can at least think I’m doing that.”

Fulmer won the A.L. Rookie of the Year award last season, and he said Verlander encouraged him to pitch for weak contact early in counts and save his wipeout stuff for two strikes. It was counterintuitive advice from the league’s strikeout king, but it underscored Verlander’s intuition about the craft.

After a start in Cleveland last May 3, Verlander noticed that nothing good was happening with his slider: Hitters took it if he threw it for a ball, and crushed it if he threw it for a strike. He needed more deception, and he asked the pitching coach, Rich Dubee, about holding the ball a different way.

Verlander created the new slider by offsetting the grip on his four-seam fastball, moving his index and middle fingers to the right side of the ball. This is a common cutter grip, but Verlander’s pitch retained the slash of a slider with increased velocity.

Some pitchers take weeks, or even years, to master a new grip. Verlander tried it on flat ground, then in a bullpen session, then used it in his next start.

“It was instantaneously a go-to pitch,” Manager Brad Ausmus said. “It was a big factor. It wasn’t the factor, but it was a big factor.”

Verlander made 28 starts with the new slider, and opponents hit .193 against him. In his dream season of 2011, when he went 24-5, they batted .192.

Baseball is better when Verlander is good. The sport needs more crossover stars, and Verlander’s fiancée, the supermodel Kate Upton, is more famous than he is. He is back in a leading role and could stay there a while; Meyers said the recurrence rate of a core injury after proper repair was 1 percent.

With his body intact and his arm alive, Verlander is unafraid to say where he hopes this all leads: Cooperstown, N.Y.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about that,” he said. “Of course I want to be in the Hall of Fame when I’m done playing. That’s kind of the end goal: win a World Series and be in the Hall of Fame. I think that’s what every kid wants growing up and I’ve never wavered on that. I will say, Baseball’s fun again.”

Doonesbury — Tweeting along with the twit.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Short Takes

Haiti is facing a surge in cholera after Hurricane Matthew laid waste.

North Carolina is undergoing record flooding after Hurricane Matthew.

Ratings for the second debate fell from 84 million to 66 million.

Federal judge orders Florida to extend voter registration one more day.

Samsung halts sales of Galaxy 7 replacement phones.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016