Saturday, February 16, 2019
Sunday, December 9, 2018
The Central Issue — Charles P. Pierce on the Democrats’ identity crisis.
I may have mentioned once or twice that the single most dispiriting political event I ever attended—prior to Election Night 2016, that is—was the 1982 Democratic Midterm Convention in Philadelphia. This was the first gathering of the party since the disastrous 1980 general elections and it was prior to the party’s partial legislative comeback in the midterm elections later that year. Mainly, it was an ensemble exercise in performance-art terror at the prospect of dealing with the electoral juggernaut that was Ronald Reagan. Bold strokes were readily dismissed. “We have concluded,” said a great Texas progressive named Billie Carr, in summing up the first day of this fiasco, “that crime is really bad.”
The chairman, a banker buddy of Jimmy Carter’s named Charles Manatt, was ever alert to any signs that the party’s left flank would be tempted to color outside the lines. In that event you could see the sprouting seeds of what became the Democratic Leadership Counsel and every attempt thereafter to restructure the Democratic Party along a more corporate-friendly, less-civil-rights-conscious lines—from the DLC, to the Concord Coalition, to “neoliberalism,” to Pete Peterson’s assaults on Social Security, to No Labels, to the cult of Simpson-Bowles, to the Problem Solvers Caucus and right up to the present day. In 1982, the entire gathering was so deadeningly cautious that I wound up spending most of the first afternoon and evening in the hotel bar with Christopher Hitchens and Alex Cockburn, drinking many funereal toasts to any politician to the left of Scoop Jackson.
So, anyway, I’ve been watching these folks for a long time. And one of the things that consistently drove me around the bend was the refashioning of the word “centrist” to suit the agenda of the DLC and its many descendants. What we had here were conservative Democrats—in truth, some of them were more Eisenhower Republicans—but there suddenly was no such thing as a conservative Democrat. There were liberals and “centrists.” For decades, the dialogue shifted inexorably that direction. (One of the side effects was that, as the Republicans slid steadily off the right edge of the political world, some Reaganauts found themselves referred to as “moderates,” which did not help matters, either.) Now, though, “centrist” has taken on a whole new meaning and a whole new purpose within the Democratic Party. It is now a club to beat people with.
In the long view of history, a lot of people who are being accused of being “centrist”—or, more often, “centrist corporate Democrats”—hold positions well off the port beam of the 1972 McGovern campaign, and almost over the horizon from the left side of most Democratic presidential candidates of the past 20-odd years. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 platform was the most progressive Democratic platform since McGovern’s. That’s not deniable. Neither is the fact that the most conservative member of the prospective Democratic field in 2020 is Joe Biden. But if, as a lot of people seem to believe, anyone who is not full-tilt behind the Green New Deal and/or Medicare For All is unacceptably “centrist,” then the word has lost all meaning and the Democratic Party is in danger of losing its way.
Bernie Sanders had a moment with Stephen Colbert on Thursday night that is worth studying in this regard. They were talking about Medicare For All, and Sanders said it is no longer a fringe idea, which is true. Colbert asked, logically, what the political path to achieving this laudable goal might be, particularly through a Republican-controlled Senate. Sanders replied:
If the Democrats in the House move us in the direction of Medicare For All, and Mitch McConnell chooses not to do anything, there will be enormous pressure all over this country on Republican senators to do the right thing, do what the House did.
Now, it is not being “centrist,” or “corporate,” or in any way “neoliberal” to point out that Sanders here is being almost preternaturally optimistic, to the point of being unacceptably glib, about the difficulty of getting McConnell and the Republicans to do anything of the sort. And swinging those words around like a baseball bat to any Democratic politician who points out that’s a short route to chaos and a return to general minority status.
The fact is that there is a natural center in American politics that is not neoliberal, or corporate, or “centrist,” in the ever-changing meaning of that word. My politics don’t happen to reside there, but that doesn’t make it any less real. It’s been obscured by decades of dishonest politics, personal agendas, and rhetorical sleight-of-hand. It happens to be the solid place whence can be launched real progress. Political patience is the most lost art of all.
Teachable Moments — Humor from Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Pushing back against criticism of her lack of diplomatic experience, Donald J. Trump’s choice to be the next United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Heather Nauert, said on Friday that a memorable visit to the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney World made her eminently qualified for the U.N. post.
“When people look at me, they think Heather Nauert, former Fox News anchor,” Nauert told reporters at the State Department. “What they don’t realize is I’m also Heather Nauert, who went on ‘It’s a Small World’ three times when she was nine.”
Nauert said that, while career diplomats might spend twenty to thirty years learning about only one country, “I learned about twenty-five countries in fifteen minutes.”
Laying out her objectives for her tenure at the United Nations, the prospective Ambassador said, “Right now I’m just looking forward to seeing all of the other Ambassadors wearing their festive costumes and doing their dances. That’s going to be amazing, I think.”
Nauert bristled when a reporter asked about her controversial comment that D Day was evidence of the long-standing bond between Germany and the United States. “At the end of the day, there is just one moon and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship to everyone,” she said.
Saturday, December 8, 2018
It was either this or gay Portuguese soap opera…
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Via the Washington Post:
Trump has long argued that the United States has been taken advantage of by other nations — a “laughing stock to the entire World,” he said on Twitter in 2014 — and his political rise was based on the premise that he had the strength and resolve to change that.
But at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump got a comeuppance on the world’s biggest stage. Delivering a speech that aimed to establish U.S. “sovereignty” over the whims and needs of other nations, the president’s triumphant moment was marred in the first minute when he was met by laughter — at his expense.
The embarrassing exchange came when Trump boasted that his administration had accomplished more over two years than “almost any administration” in American history, eliciting audible guffaws in the cavernous chamber hall.
The president appeared startled. “Didn’t expect that reaction,” he said, “but that’s okay.”
Members of the audience chuckled again — perhaps this time in sympathy.
“The world just laughed @realDonaldTrump,” comedian Wanda Sykes tweeted. Referring to the famed theater in Harlem in which the audience boos and heckles bad performers offstage, she added, “Stay tuned, they might go full ‘Showtime at the Apollo’ on him.”
By the afternoon, Trump was projecting an air of nonchalance, telling reporters that his boast in the speech “was meant to get some laughter.” But most observers weren’t buying it from a president who seldom laughs at himself and whose default expression is an unsparing glare.
I’ve said it many, many times: the only way to bring this clown down is to drown him out with mockery and laughter. It’s been a proven method all the way from the Greeks through Shakespeare to Mel Brooks.
Bonus: the real “Hail to the Chief.”
Sunday, September 16, 2018
It’s my birthday, so let’s lighten things up a little.
Are They Back? — Charles P. Pierce reports on strange goings-on out in New Mexico.
The Sunspot Observatory is temporarily closed due to a security issue at the facility that’s located 17 miles south of Cloudcroft in the Sacramento Mountains Friday, an Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) spokeswoman Shari Lifson said.“The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy who manages the facility is addressing a security issue at this time,” Lifson said. “We have decided to vacate the facility at this time as precautionary measure. It was our decision to evacuate the facility.”
(Aside: how great is it that there are places in New Mexico called Sunspot and Cloudcroft? Rivendell must have been booked.)
The facility is the National Solar Observatory facility at Sacramento Peak that’s managed by AURA. Apache Point Observatory (APO) is currently in operation. APO was not evacuated. APO is about a mile away from Sunspot observatory. She said AURA does not have a comment about the type of security issue at this time. “I am actually not sure (when the facility was vacated) but it will stay vacated until further notice,” Lifson said. “It’s the people that vacated. At this time, it’s the facility that’s closed.”
She said she cannot comment on whether the FBI was involved in the situation. Otero County Sheriff Benny House said the Otero County Sheriff’s Office was asked to standby.
“The FBI is refusing to tell us what’s going on,” House said. “We’ve got people up there (at Sunspot) that requested us to standby while they evacuate it. Nobody would really elaborate on any of the circumstances as to why. The FBI were up there. What their purpose was nobody will say.” He said he has a lot of unanswered question about what occurred at Sunspot. “But for the FBI to get involved that quick and be so secretive about it, there was a lot of stuff going on up there,” House said. “There was a Blackhawk helicopter, a bunch of people around antennas and work crews on towers but nobody would tell us anything.”
Sunspot, I would point out is only 134 miles from Roswell, as the alien gravity-powered spacecraft flies.
Love Me Tinder — Irving Ruan imagines legendary lovers meeting via social networking.
Romeo and Juliet
ROMEO: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand to smooth with a tender kiss . . .
JULIET: Um, I shalt not wanteth sexual congress.
ROMEO: Thus with a text I die!
Two days elapse.
ROMEO: Heyyy, I think I killed your cousin.
Gatsby and Daisy
GATSBY: I’m glad we finally matched. I’ve been stalking you from West Egg for five years.
DAISY: Jesus Christ.
GATSBY: I’ve missed you! And by the way, I’m very rich and look like Leonardo DiCaprio.
DAISY: James, I’m married.
GATSBY: Then why are you on Tinder?
DAISY: I’m bored. LOL.
Lancelot and Guinevere
GUINEVERE: Nice sword 😉
LANCELOT: Thanks! We probably shouldn’t be chatting—feels like betraying Arthur.
GUINEVERE: It’ll be our little secret 😉 Meet me for a drink tonight in Camelot’s dungeon?
LANCELOT: Can’t. I’m teaching a seminar on sword-juggling. Can you do Friday?
GUINEVERE: I’ll be out of town for my niece’s birthday.
LANCELOT: Scheduling in 512 A.D. suuucks.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
LADY MACBETH: Wanna Murder King Duncan and chill?
Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy
MR. DARCY: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Hi 😉
ELIZABETH: What the fuck.
MR. DARCY: Well, this is the first time that opening line didn’t work.
ELIZABETH: I could easily forgive your pride, if you had not mortified mine.
MR. DARCY: So . . . no sexual congress?
Dante and Beatrice
BEATRICE: Your profile says that you’re a writer who was exiled from Florence for twenty years—so, basically a travel blogger!
DANTE: Not really. I’m writing an allegorical comedy starring myself, Satan, and a tiny boat.
BEATRICE: So you’re a comedian!
DANTE: Not really.“The Divine Comedy” is just a working title. On a separate note, would you like a nude drawing I made of myself on papyrus?
Two days elapse.
DANTE: So this is Purgatory.
Catherine and Heathcliff
HEATHCLIFF: Less than a mile away, huh? 😉
CATHERINE: Hehe 😉 What’re you up to tonight?
HEATHCLIFF: Being emo. You?
Doonesbury — Getting the message out.
Saturday, August 18, 2018
When Elvis Presley died in August 1977, it was the lead story on the evening news. Three days later when Groucho Marx died, it barely got a mention. But I’ll never forget him.
Friday, August 17, 2018
My brother sent me a link to Cracked’s blog post about conservative comedy, and it’s both funny and revealing.
A lot of people aren’t very familiar with conservative comedy. That’s because it’s usually indistinguishable from ordinary racism or belligerence, but there are conservatives out there trying to be funny. This is an article about how and why it never works. Conservative politics are fine for squeezing a couple extra years of activity out of an incurious elderly brain, but they’re not a great inspiration for art.
You don’t have to be a liberal to understand how comedy works, and there actually are some conservatives who are funny, but on the whole the idea of “conservative comedy” is an oxymoron. That’s because to be truly funny you have to be able to laugh at yourself and your own faults, but more importantly, you have to grasp the fundamental concept that a lot of humor — especially stand-up — is based on punching up: mocking the powerful and doing it in a way that imparts some insight to human nature. Based on the examples in this article, the stars of conservative comedy are incapable of grasping those two concepts.
In order to be truly funny, you have to be able to connect with your audience in a way that elicits empathy: they can identify with your situation. That’s not too hard; a lot of righties feel a common bond. However, they do it based on victimhood and without any sense of self-awareness. They are looking for pity, not insight, or a reassurance that their grievances against the world (i.e. liberals) are valid and should be taken seriously. But if you can’t laugh at yourself — or at least be self-deprecating — no one else is going to find you funny. That’s how comics like Rodney Dangerfield and Lewis Black made their mark. I have yet to hear a conservative comedian make a living out of laughing at himself or his fellow righties because they would take offense. The biggest barrier to conservative comedy is their inability not just to make a joke, but to take one.
Punching up — attacking the powerful or those who take themselves too seriously — is classic comedy going all the way back to the Greeks, and it still works all the way from the Borscht Belt to urban slam. It crosses all socio-economic barriers from the button-down white stiffness of Bob Newhart to the edginess of Chris Rock. And of course the king of both punching up and mocking the unmockable is Mel Brooks.
Need I say more?
Sunday, August 12, 2018
This Is A Test — Elaina Plott in The Atlantic on gauging the GOP response to this weekend’s Nazi rallies.
This weekend, an untold number of white nationalists and their sympathizers will gather in Washington, D.C., to rally against, in their words, the “civil-rights abuses” they endured in Charlottesville, Virginia, exactly one year ago. The “Unite the Right” gathering will take place in Lafayette Park, just across from the White House. It will mark the anniversary of not only the group’s march through Charlottesville, tiki torches ablaze, but also the horrors that resulted from it, including the murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
It also potentially marks a paradigmatic shift for the Republican Party. President Donald Trump responded in the dark aftermath of last year’s march not by emphatically denouncing the bigotry that sparked it, but by reminding Americans of the “very fine people on both sides.” Chief of Staff John Kelly may have hung his head as Trump delivered those remarks, but, like most officials in this administration, he never spoke out against them.
It is this fact and its consequences that bear considering throughout the demonstrations this weekend: whether, in today’s GOP, racism has been relegated to gaffe-like status—a political pitfall to navigate against, rather than a moral failing to wholly condemn.
I happened to be with an administration official this time last year, interviewing him for a story unrelated to Charlottesville. But the violent march naturally crept into our discussion, as both of our phones trilled with news of Trump’s press conference. I remember the official sighing deeply, shaking his head as he scanned the reports. Yet I’d learn moments later that this was not in opposition to the president’s comments themselves; rather, it was anxiety about how to contain the fallout. “Great, yet another distraction,” the official said. “The media will never let this one go.”
It was as though Trump had mistakenly defined his proposed corporate tax rate—not equivocated on the actions of white nationalists.
Republican leaders were careful to denounce the demonstrations in no uncertain terms. But they were also careful to avoid any mention of Trump, or avoid criticizing him directly. “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive,” House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted. “This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.” Echoed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: “Saturday’s violence and tragic loss of life was a direct consequence of the hateful rhetoric & action from white supremacists demonstrating.”
“We have to unequivocally say that the KKK and the white supremacists were wrong,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel told ABC’s David Muir at the time. She tried to spin Trump’s words: “The president was saying that people brought violence from both sides.”
My conversation with the administration official, and the response from GOP leaders, brought Trump’s immunity from reproach into sharp relief. There’s been a lot of talk about “red lines” in the last two years, which is to say musings about what, if anything, could cause the GOP to turn on Trump. This weekend’s Unite the Right rally offers occasion to consider many things, about where this country is and where it is going. But crucially, it offers a potent reminder of Trump’s seeming infallibility in all corners of his party.
Depending on Trump’s reaction to the rally this weekend, should he have one at all, Republican leaders may have a chance to rewrite the script. At the very least, perhaps they will take issue with the group’s namesake, and make clear that white supremacy does not, in fact, fit into their definition of “the Right.” Or perhaps they will stay silent, and take comfort in the fact that, in the Trump era, political consequences seem to only last for so long.
What Really Happened — Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) has the straight poop on the meeting at Trump Tower.
Everybody wants to know what was said in that Trump Tower meeting with the Russians in June 2016. Well, other than the people in the room, I, Steven Yablonsky, alone know exactly what was said because I worked as a janitor in the building and was hiding in the closet recording all of it on my phone. As it happens, I was fired yesterday for not putting up the “wet floor” sign in the lobby, and a few people took a tumble, including Tiffany, so now I can finally reveal all.
Through a crack in the closet door, four Russians enter. They are Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, Irakly Kaveladze and Anatoli Samochornov. Already present are Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Rob Goldstone. They all say hello and introductions are made.
Rinat: Where shall we sit?
Don Jr.: Anywhere you’d like.
Rinat: You want big chair?
Don Jr.: You can have the big chair.
Rinat: Ah, I feel a little funny.
Natalia: Take big chair. Don Jr. say O.K.
Rinat: (sits) I like this. It sinks in. Might fall asleep.
Irakly: (pointing) Look at nice spread.
Jared: Help yourself to anything on the table.
Irakly: Is that tuna fish or chicken salad? Very hard to tell difference.
Rob: And they taste the same. That I don’t get.
(They all mutter in agreement. Why is that? One’s chicken, one’s fish.)
Manafort: O.K., shall we begin?
Natalia: We have very good dirt, as you say, on Clinton. You win election with this.
Manafort: Hold it, hold it. Wait a second. First off, that would be illegal. That would be conspiring with an enemy to commit election fraud.
Rinat: I thought that was what meeting about.
Natalia: Me too.
Don Jr.: What? Who told you that?
Rinat: What did you think it was about?
Don Jr.: I thought it was about adoption!
Manafort: Yes, adoption. We want you to rescind the ban. It’s taking a tremendous toll.
The Russians: (in unison) Ohh … well, this is big misunderstanding …
Jared: I’ll say.
Don Jr.: Can I have a word with my colleagues?
(The four Americans huddle up right in front of the closet door.)
Don Jr.: I think we should call the F.B.I.
Goldstone: Right now?
Don Jr.: Right now!
Jared: No, that’s crazy.
Don Jr.: We’re breaking the law, Jared!
Jared: No, we’re not. … What’s that word that starts with a “c”?
Don Jr.: Conspiracy?
Jared: No … collusion! That’s legal! Is that a beauty? We’re not calling the F.B.I.!
Don Jr.: O.K., but my dad still might get in a lot of trouble for this.
Goldstone: I’m getting an Arnold Palmer.
Don Jr.: I don’t think there’s any lemonade.
(They return to their seats.)
Manafort: Sorry about the misunderstanding, but you see, there are thousands of families in America who are suffering because they’re unable to have children of their own. One of my dearest friends has no children. It’s been heartbreaking to watch them trying to adopt and come up empty.
Don Jr.: Do you have kids, Anatoli?
Anatoli: Yes, two beautiful daughters. The government take them for gymnastics.
Don Jr.: So you know how empty life is without them. I know relations between our great countries have been frayed. But that shouldn’t be what this is about. This should be about hardworking families who want to experience the joys of parenthood. Can’t you put yourself in their shoes? Can’t you … (begins to break down)
Manafort: Does anyone have a tissue?
Anatoli: Natalia, you have tissue in purse?
Natalia: Here, yes, of course. Don’t cry, Don Jr. Don’t cry.
Don Jr.: (bawling) Thank you. … I wanted to adopt a child from Cambodia, but Vanessa said no. It broke us up. … I’m sorry.
Natalia: I see how much this means to you. I will call President Putin to discuss. I am on your side.
Rinat: Me too.
Don Jr.: Thank you. This means the world to me. And you know who will be really happy about this? Dad. In fact, this whole meeting was his idea.
Rinat: And you’re sure you don’t want our information on Clinton? Election in bag.
Manafort: Oh, God, no. Please don’t bring that up again. You see, Rinat, this is America. We’re a democracy. Our elections are sacred. And when it comes right down to it, I’d rather lose than win by cheating.
Natalia: Understood. Our apologies. We will be in touch.
(They say their goodbyes and head out. As the door closes …)
Don Jr: I still think we should call the F.B.I.
Doonesbury — Show some backbone.
Sunday, July 1, 2018
Marching In Miami — Via the Miami Herald, thousands of people took to the streets in the heat and humidity to protest Trump’s immigration concentration camps.
Several hours after protesters led by Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda marched from the White House to the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C., the exasperated chants and flailing picket signs reached downtown Miami Saturday evening as critics of the Trump administration’s immigration policies took to the streets in solidarity with more than 700 affiliated protests across the country.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus at around 5 p.m. — and marched down Northeast Fourth Street to the Freedom Tower — in protest of the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting as many immigrants caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border as possible, which in turn led to more than 2,300 children being separated from their parents and guardians and taken to migrant shelters across the country — including three in Miami-Dade County. One of the shelters, located in Homestead, was the site of a large protest last week.
Marching under the banner “Families Belong Together,” the Miami protesters called for President Trump to reunify fractured immigrant families as quickly as possible and criticized the administration’s new plan to indefinitely detain parents with their children as the adults undergo immigration proceedings. Many of them called for the elimination of ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but most appeared centrally focused on the trauma they say children as young as toddlers have had to endure due to family separations at the border.
Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Family Action Network Movement, led much of Saturday’s protest, her voice growing hoarse as she bellowed into a megaphone about the need to reunify families in a quick and transparent manner.
“There are children as young as 18 months old that have been ripped out from their moms, from their dads, and caged like animals,” Bastien said. “This is not acceptable. This is unspeakable.”
“This is not the America we want, this is not the America we fought for, this is not the America we will accept,” she said. “We deserve better.”
The coast-to-coast protests were organized by four main groups — The Leadership Conference, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Move On and the American Civil Liberties Union — but local groups handled logistics for their sister marches.
The Miami march was one of 31 demonstrations planned in Florida, according to the Families Belong Together website. A smaller gathering took place in Palmetto Bay earlier Saturday, the only other affiliated sister protest in Miami-Dade County. Events were held as far north as Jacksonville and as far south as Key Largo.
Protesters flooded public streets in major cities across the country, including New York and Los Angeles. In Miami, police cruisers blocked off traffic as a swarm of chanting protestors showed the public “what Democracy looks like.”
“ICE, hey! How many kids did you take today,” they chanted.
Some viewed Trump’s June 20 executive order ceasing family separations as a clear sign their activism had been effective thus far. Pro-immigrant demonstrators have staged many demonstrations outside immigrant shelters and detention facilities in recent weeks, and the administration’s zero-tolerance policy — which was officially announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April — had been subject to biting criticism from Republicans and Democrats in the nearly two months of its existence.
In a memorandum to federal prosecutors issued April 11, Sessions urged a “renewed commitment to criminal immigration enforcement” that would deter further illegal entries. The Department of Justice at the time said the policy came as the Department of Homeland Security documented a 203 percent increase in illegal border crossings from March 2017 to March 2018.
“I don’t understand how anyone can stand by it at this point,” said Marie Caceres, the principal of Aspira Arts Deco Charter. Caceres, among the first protesters to arrive Saturday, held a sign that said “This is America. Do you know where your children are?”
Caceres said some of her students have suffered through the trauma of living without a parent because they were deported or still remain in their native countries.
“It makes me want to fight,” she said.
Felipe Reis, a 20-year-old Brazilian immigrant and recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), addressed the crowd prior to the march. He said he was “proud to stand here today as an undocumented immigrant and unafraid.”
Reis, who led an “Abolish ICE” chant, said he has lived much of his life under “constant fear” of deportation and did not want the immigrant community in South Florida to fear any longer.
“No child, no father and no mother deserves to be threatened or taken away and abused because of their status — because they’re seeking refuge for their families,” he said.
Standing in front of the Freedom Tower, nicknamed the “Ellis Island of the South” for its role in providing relief to Cuban refugees fleeing the regime of Fidel Castro, protestors drew honks of support as they rallied.
Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigration Coalition, delivered an impassioned speech about fighting back against Trump’s immigration policies through activism.
“You can tell your grandchildren that you stood up,” she said to roaring applause and cheers. “You stood up for the children. You stood up for the families.”
If You See Something, Say Something Stupid — From The New Yorker, some of the calls that came in about brown people doing ordinary things.
“Hello, ICE? The person sitting on the park bench across from me just got tan.”
“Can you believe that these Puerto Ricans think they can enter America whenever they want, simply because they all have American passports?”
“Just saw a black person buy five pounds of crack at the grocery store in a sack labeled ‘flour.’ ”
“Those brown people keep walking down the street like they’re allowed to be on public sidewalks!”
“That Mexican-Arab-Native person is chewing an egg-salad sandwich like a terrorist.”
“Black people are barbecuing over there. Isn’t it illegal for black people to cook meat outside? And inside?”
“As we all know, it’s illegal for minorities to buy art.”
“Yeah, he does look exactly like that baby he’s pushing in that pram, but black people kidnap babies who look just like them every day.”
“They’re speaking Spanish. O.K., fine, maybe it’s Chinese.”
“I am one hundred per cent sure that this black person is tying her shoes in a suspicious way.”
“I just saw a brown person illegally cross the border from Vermont into New Hampshire.”
“Help! A minority glared at my dog.”
“Yes, I called five minutes ago, but that black person is still breathing.”
“There’s a black woman in my yoga class who’s stealing my moves.”
Doonesbury — Faking it.
Sunday, May 20, 2018
Clean Up Job — Charles P. Pierce on how to pick up after Trump.
On Monday, at the Center For American Progress’s annual Ideas hootenanny, Sally Yates made a point that has stayed with me all week as the deep, underground web of corruption in this administration* expanded to almost every point of the political compass. It is almost impossible to keep track these days. It’s almost impossible to keep from tangling the various strands of it: Michael Cohen’s alleged dealings with the Qataris, Jared Kushner’s alleged dealings with the Qataris, Michael Cohen’s alleged dealings with Stormy Daniels, Paul Manafort’s alleged dealings with various Volga Bagmen, and who knows what all else is under there.
Anyway, Yates asked the assembled: What is going to happen when this administration is finally, blessedly over? It is a very good question and there is no very good answer to it. Nobody knows how many people, if any, are going to be convicted when all this shakes out, let alone how many of them actually might go to jail. Can we recover from the common high-end venality while simultaneously putting the political norms back in place? Can we reform the global damage done to American credibility while simultaneously getting back to sensible financial and environmental regulations? Is it possible to get the country back to normal on 10 levels at once?
I am not as optimistic as I once was.
First, a lot of the damage has been done through the enactment of policies that conservative Republicans have been slavering for over the past 50 years. They are one aging heartbeat away from finally having a solid majority on the Supreme Court, and the president* has been salting young Federalist Society bots throughout the federal judicial system. Further, before there ever was a President* Trump, Mitch McConnell demonstrated that Democratic presidents were not entitled to fill Supreme Court vacancies that occur on their watch. Under the glare of all the nonsense, conservative Republicans have achieved a lot of what they’ve been trying to do since Ronald Reagan stepped onto the Capitol rostrum in 1981.
Second, and as important, if this president* leaves office at any point prior to the end of his second term, I fear that the reaction among his supporters is liable to be loud and violent. They’re already primed, by the president* and by his pet media, to believe almost anything as long as it demonstrated that They, The Deep State are conducting a slow-motion coup. (The latest fever dream is that the Obama administration planted an FBI mole in the Trump campaign so as to throw the election to Hillary Rodham Clinton. That’s only been flying around for a couple weeks and I guarantee you that it’s already set in concrete out there.) The president* is not likely to sprout a conscience any time soon. There is no way that this can end well.
This is serious business, and the time to start thinking about it is now. It’s possible that this administration* will collapse all at once. It is also possible that we’ll be reading early morning tweets well into 2024. The elevation of Donald Trump caught the institutions of government by surprise. That’s bad enough. It’s important that the end of him does not do the same thing.
Fake Nobel — Andy Borowitz.
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Donald J. Trump has ordered a replica of the Nobel Peace Prize and is displaying it prominently on his desk in the Oval Office, the White House confirmed on Wednesday.
The replica of the Nobel medallion is mounted on what the White House described as a “tasteful black-velvet background” with an engraved plaque reading, “Donald J. Trump, 2018 Winner.”
At the daily White House briefing, the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that Trump “took the initiative” to award himself the Peace Prize rather than “waiting around” for the Nobel committee, in Oslo, to bestow it on him.
“What with his successes in Syria, Iran, North Korea, and whatnot, the President already knows he’s a lock for the Nobel,” she said. “It’s just a formality at this point.”
The fake Nobel was first spotted by Henry Klugian, a student who was on a White House tour with his seventh-grade class from Bethesda, Maryland.
“I thought it was kind of weird that he’d have something like that made up for himself, but whatever,” he said.
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
I watched the C-SPAN tape of Michelle Wolf’s comments at the White House Correspondents dinner last weekend to see what all the fuss was about.
Really? This has the news media and the cable pundits worked up? I’ve read cruder and crueler comments in Facebook threads about old head shots, and aside from a couple of gratuitous F-bombs, it was no worse than a late-night talk show opening monologue on network TV. Leave in the F-bombs, and it’s Bill Maher’s shtick. And given that the Trump people and Trump himself have said far worse things and worn t-shirts with more graphic comments about Hillary Clinton and her anatomy, this was a one-news-cycle story.
Oh, yes, of course there are those pearl-clutchers who tut-tut and say that we shouldn’t get down in the gutter with the Trumpistas and two wrongs don’t make a right and when they go low, we go high. But in the long history of political humor and attempts at it, this was nothing new or even original. The only indication that it was effective in the least was that it got Trump tweeting angrily, but then again, so does a misplaced pickle on his cheeseburger.
All this does is prove once again that both Trump and his defenders do not understand the basic points of comedy. They never have, and given the vein of their attempts at it, they never will. Michelle Wolf’s routine was a classic case of punching up and self-deprecation, which has been the root of comedy since Aristophanes and passed on through the ages by the likes of Mark Twain, the Marx Brothers, Phyllis Diller, Mel Brooks, and every stand-up at a nightclub from here to Bora Bora.
The more Trump and friends rail about the meanness of Michelle Wolf or Kathy Griffin or the opening act at the Laughing Academy, the more they make themselves the target of comedic attacks. And I think they realize that the more people laugh at them, the more impotent they become.
Sunday, April 1, 2018
Lest We Forget — Michael Eric Dyson on how we have forgotten what Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in.
In June 1966, less than two years before he was killed, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached from his Atlanta pulpit of the dynamic dance between Good Friday and Easter, between death and resurrection, between despair and hope.
“The church must tell men that Good Friday is as much a fact of life as Easter; failure is as much a fact of life as success; disappointment is as much a fact of life as fulfillment,” he said. Dr. King added that God didn’t promise us that we would avoid “trials and tribulations” but that “if you have faith in God, that God has the power to give you a kind of inner equilibrium through your pain.”
From nearly the moment he emerged on the national scene in the mid-1950s until his tragic end in 1968, 10 days before Easter, Dr. King was hounded by death. It was his deep faith that saw him through his many trials and tribulations until the time he was fatally shot on that motel balcony at 6:01 p.m. on April 4 in Memphis.
Faith summoned Dr. King, an ordained Baptist preacher, to the ministry. It made him a troublemaker for Jesus and it led him to criticize the church, criticize the world around him and, in turn, be criticized for those things. In honoring his legacy today, we must not let complacency or narrow faith blind us to what needs to trouble us too.
Dr. King passionately believed that a commitment to God is a commitment to bettering humanity, that the spiritual practices of prayer and worship must be translated into concern for the poor and vulnerable. Dr. King would want us to live his specific faith: work to defeat racism, speak out in principled opposition to war and combat poverty with enlightened and compassionate public policy.
In his lifetime, he was disappointed in the complacency of both black and white churches. He would be as disappointed today. The white church largely remains a bastion of indifference to the plight of black people. White evangelicals continue to focus on personal piety as the measure of true Christianity, while neglecting the Social Gospel that enlivens Jesus’ words for the masses. Dr. King saw faith as an urgent call to service, a selfless ethic of concern that, he said, quoting the Hebrew prophet Amos, made “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Today, in the midst of resurgent bigotry and deep divisions in this country, faith is too often viewed as an oasis of retreat, a paradise of political disengagement. On this Easter Sunday, as we mark 50 years since Dr. King’s death, it is a perfect and necessary time to remember his faith — and rekindle its urgency.
Dr. King often declared his preacher’s vocation by citing something like a biblical genealogy of black sacred rhetoric that traced through his family: “I grew up in the church. My father is a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher. My daddy’s brother is a preacher. So I didn’t have much choice.”
But Dr. King’s faith underwent significant change. At first, he was discouraged from the ministry by a strain of black preaching that was long on emotion and short on reason. Then, at Morehouse College, his encounter with preachers like the school’s president Benjamin Mays convinced him that the ministry was intellectually respectable.
A midnight kitchen experience over a cup of coffee after he received phone calls threatening to blow out his brains and blow up his house during the Montgomery bus boycott gave the fear-stricken Dr. King a sense of God’s unshakable presence. He said that instead of inherited faith, he had to forge the terms of his own relationship to the Almighty.
“I had to know God for myself,” he explained. “I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’”
For the rest of his life Dr. King did just that. His faith propelled him to fight Jim Crow, the ugly hatred it bred in the white soul and the haunting inferiority it left in black minds. It led him to speak valiantly against the lynching, bombing and shooting of black people who merely wanted what white people took for granted: a cup of coffee at any lunch counter, a room at any hotel they could afford, a drink at any water fountain they passed, a seat on a bus wherever they pleased and a desk in the nearest schoolhouse.
Dr. King’s faith put him at odds with white Christians who believed it was their mission to keep separate the races — the same people whose forebears believed it was their duty to enslave Africans and punish blacks who sought to escape their hardship. Dr. King realized that he wasn’t simply in battle against a society built on legal apartheid, but that he also had to fight against a racist culture that derived theological support from white Christianity.
White evangelicals were opposed to Dr. King because they conveniently divided body and soul: Race was a social issue that should be determined by rules in society and laws generated by government. Such a view meant that the racist status quo was sacred. The point of religion was to save the souls of black folk by preaching a gospel of repentance for personal sin, even as segregation often found a white biblical mandate. After Dr. King spoke at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1961, the most prominent institution of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, many white churches in the South withheld financial contributions to the school.
If rabid racists were a clear threat to black well-being, it was the white moderates who claimed to support civil rights but who urged caution in the pursuit of justice who proved to be a special plague. In 1963, eight white Alabama clergymen issued a statement pleading for black leaders to slow their aggressive campaign against segregation in Birmingham, Ala. The clergymen cited “outsiders” who had come to Birmingham to lead demonstrations that were “unwise and untimely.”
The white clergymen blamed the black protests for inciting hatred and violence through their “extreme measures,” arguing that their cause “should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets.”
Showing The Way — Sophia Steinberg, a high school student, reports in The Nation how the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High are leading the way for her generation.
Minu smiled as she saw my homemade sign, finished in a rush to get to the march. We boarded the subway, surrounded by people who were clearly traveling to the same place we were. On our way to demonstrate against gun violence in America, we discussed our SAT scores and her upcoming trip to Japan. While we talked about the minor dramas of our junior year, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were preparing to speak in front of an international audience about the trauma they experienced during a school shooting.
Until late February, no major news source was giving a platform to Generation Z. Now, images of Emma González and her fellow survivors are ubiquitous. A classmate of mine at Beacon High School, Etta Gold, thinks “most kids are scared of the bureaucracy because they don’t believe they can actually change the law,” but the teenagers from Parkland are “inspiring when it comes to enforcing change.” I was impressed by their capacity to organize a national march, amid their own trauma and despite their age. Beacon junior Sam Sheridan echoed Etta’s sentiments: “Seeing people your own age [speak] makes a difference.” I wasn’t shocked to see that some of the few public figures who shared my views on privilege, gun control, and the president were high-school victims of gun violence.
During the march, I held my sign high as I listened to the solemn, empowering words of survivors and activists. Parkland student Meghan Bohner spoke about her firsthand experience with the shooter when I noticed tears streaming down my face. Around noon, we began our march around Central Park, booing President Trump’s New York properties along the way. My eyes were fixed on the crowd as protesters raised their fists and demanded change.
Watching Emma González’s speech later that day, I understood her power. She captivated the nation with silence. Etta agreed: “Something about González compelled [her] to keep watching.” Her bravery, so unwavering, makes change viable. If she could face the world with her questions, so could I. Her extraordinary speech rejected the mundane thoughts and prayers of so many politicians. Her very presence has created a path for teenagers to follow. Those of us who chose to walk that path have a chance at ending gun violence in black communities, preventing the sale of assault rifles, and most of all—saving lives. In González’s gut-wrenching silence, audiences could search for the solution and perhaps find it within themselves.
Soon after the march, Minu, who is a year older than me, found out she was eligible to become a registered voter. It will “feel good to really participate, she told me.” Before the March for Our Lives, I felt as though America could make its teens feel invisible. As I watched Minu join the thousands of newly registered voters, I realized that our teen spirit can no longer be ignored.
Laura’s “Vacation” — Brian Schatz in Mother Jones on Laura Ingraham’s sudden decision to take some time off.
Laura Ingraham, the Fox News host of The Ingraham Angle, announced late Friday that she is going on vacation for a week as advertisers continue to abandon her show.
Ingraham is leaving amidst ongoing controversy and boycotts. Earlier in the week, she took to Twitter to mock Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg—the 18-year-old senior who has become prominent in the student movement for gun control—for not getting into some of the colleges he had applied to, saying that he whined about the rejections.
In response, Hogg called on his followers to contact her top advertisers. After two advertisers pulled their support, Ingraham, claiming to be moved by “the spirit of Holy Week,” apologized. Hogg didn’t buy it:
As Ingraham leaves for vacation, more than a dozen advertisers have now dropped her show. We’ve seen this kind of vacation before.
Bill O’Reilly took a “pre-planned vacation” last April amid advertiser cancellations after the New York Times detailed his settlements following harassment allegations from five women, totaling at least $13 million. He was fired soon after.
“Fear not,” Ingraham told her viewers on Friday. “We’ve got a great lineup of guest hosts to fill in for me.”
At Home With The Cohens — Calvin Trillin on the domestic side of Trump’s lawyer.
As the breakfast dishes were cleared away, both Cohens remained at the table with their coffees. Mrs. C, who had been gathering material for the family’s tax return, was looking through a pile of financial documents. Michael Cohen was studying his daily list of people to threaten.
“I see here that the electric bill is up a bit this year,” Mrs. C said.
“Mmmm,” Mr. C murmured. He was trying to decide whether the first person on his list would be frightened more by “I will take you for all the money you still don’t have” or “What I’m going to do to you is so fucking disgusting”—both of which phrases he’d used to threaten a Daily Beast reporter (to no avail) in 2015.
“The bill from that gardener who replaced the rose bushes seems pretty reasonable,” Mrs. C said.
“Mmmm,” Mr. C murmured again. He was considering using another phrase from that same Daily Beast encounter—“I’m going to mess your life up for as long as you’re on this fuckin’ planet.” That threat, he thought, had a nice mob-enforcer ring to it, particularly if he used what he sometimes referred to as his “Corleone voice.”
“Michael,” Mrs. C continued. “Here, stuck to the receipt from those people who repaired the washing machine, is a payment of a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to Essential Consultants. What is that all about?”
“That was hush money to a porn star,” Mr. C said.
“Michael,” Mrs. C said, in a weary voice, “I’ve told you before: people with no humor should not try to tell jokes.”
“That wasn’t a joke,” Mr. C said. “A porn star claimed to have had an affair with D.J.T., and, just before the election, I gave her a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to keep her mouth shut.”
“An affair with who?”
“With Mr. Trump. You might have seen Don, Jr., on television referring to his father as ‘D.J.T.’ We thought that would make him sound right up there on the level of Presidents like F.D.R. and J.F.K.”
“Donald Trump had an affair with a porn star?” Mrs. C asked.
“Definitely not,” Mr. C said. “D.J.T. is a happily married family man. He is a man of honor and integrity and one of our great Presidents. In fact, I’ve retained a fellow in South Dakota to do a title search on what seems to be some unused space on Mount Rushmore, just to Lincoln’s left. We could buy it secretly through a shell corporation—I know how to do that—and hire our own sculptor.”
“Let me get this straight,” Mrs. C said. “You paid a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to a porn star so that she’d remain quiet about something that didn’t happen? “
“Well, not directly. I paid the hundred and thirty thousand dollars through a shell corporation so it would stay secret.”
“Then how come we have here a Certificate of Formation for Essential Consultants, issued by the Delaware Secretary of State’s Corporation Division, and signed by you?” Mrs. C said, holding up a document.
“Well, it turned out to be not quite as secret as it might have been,” Mr. C said. “I made up really neat alliterative pseudonyms for D.J.T. and the porn star, but I couldn’t think of a really neat alliterative pseudonym for myself.”
“How about Danny Dumbass?” Mrs. C said.
“I don’t want you to be upset about this,” Mr. C said. “I’m sure we’ll be reimbursed.”
“You believe that Donald Trump, known to every subcontractor, supplier, and banker in New York as the King of the Deadbeats, is going to pay you back?”
“As I was saying,” Mr. C replied, “We prefer to refer to him as D.J.T. It sounds more Presidential.”
Doonesbury — Everything new is old again.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
Josh Marshall on Republicans and deficits.
It’s remarkable the degree to which television commentators are embracing interpretations of Republican fiscal profligacy which are either oblivious, unschooled or simply dishonest. One line has it that Republicans are shedding their former obsession with spending and deficits. Another had it that Republicans are realizing that their ‘base’ doesn’t really care as much about deficits as they thought. They really agree with Trump, who doesn’t care about deficits. All of this is nonsense – not based on a theory or interpretation but simple history and experience. In a word, facts. Deficits go up, often dramatically, under Republican governance and usually go down under Democrats. This isn’t an interpretation. It’s a simple fact. Nor is it an artifact of history or coincidence. It is because Republicans don’t care about deficits.
Modern American deficit spending began under Reagan. It was brought under some control under the first President Bush. This was largely because of pressure from congressional Democrats. But in his defense, Bush made major and highly difficult decisions to make this possible. It was largely by doing so that he started a war in his own party that played at least a large contributing role in his reelection defeat. The deficit went down dramatically under Bill Clinton and then exploded under George W. Bush. The deficit went up dramatically in the first year of President Obama’s presidency but almost entirely because of the financial crisis. It went down consistently over the course of his presidency. From 2008 to 2009, the deficit close to tripled to $1.413 trillion. It fell in each subsequent year both in dollar terms and in the more important measure of the percentage of GDP. Now we have it going up again. (Historical numbers here. Again, deficit as a percentage of GDP is the best measure.)
There’s an interesting and not implausible argument that it is divided government that is the best for the deficit. Let’s take the Clinton example. The argument here would be that what was critical were three things: First there’s the 1990 Bush/Dems budget deal. Then there’s the 1993 Clinton tax hike. Then it gets more complicated. Some would argue that it was the combination of Clinton’s tax increase followed by Republicans coming into power in 1995 and putting a brake on more Democratic spending. There’s some plausibility to this. And it may have played some role in enforcing spending restraint in the late 90s. The problem is that deficits have gone up most under unified Republican control. The early Bush years are the key example (as is today). President Bush came into office and pushed through a big tax cut which promptly pushed the country back into deficits. Spending also went up dramatically, both on the military (which at least in theory was driven by 9/11) but also on domestic spending.
After Bush left office and Republicans had seen their congressional majorities wiped away, they began to talk about Bush as some sort of outlier or heretic from Republican orthodoxy, embracing something called ‘big government conservatism’. But this was entirely retrospective and basically bunk.
The argument also doesn’t hold up on the Democratic side of the ledger. There’s a large faction of Democrats who do think Democrats should spend substantially more and not feel so bound by budget balancing. But in practice, this is not how Democrats govern, even when they have total control of the government.
Obamacare is a case in point. Democrats went to great lengths to make sure that the Affordable Care Act was deficit neutral, even marginally reducing the deficit. The same pattern applied generally under Clinton. Why do they do this? Partly this is because they feel cowed by decades of ‘tax and spend’ criticism. More importantly, the kind of people who believe in fiscal restraint and budgetary probity on principle are now mainly Democrats. You can see this in policy terms. But more interesting historically is that you can see it in geographical terms. That wasn’t always the case. Many or even most of those people were once Republicans. But this isn’t something that changed four or five years ago. You have to go back forty and even fifty years to find that. This is a decades-old change – almost as old as the segregationist Dixiecrat exodus from the Democratic party to the GOP. Indeed, they are all part of the same transformation.
The simple reality is that Republicans don’t like taxes. Full stop.
Deficits are a stalking horse Republicans use as a political cudgel when they are out of power. Again. Full stop. You simply cannot argue with the fact that deficits have risen dramatically under Reagan and Bush and now under Trump. Republicans do not care about deficits. They care about keeping taxes as low as possible. What has changed slightly over the last forty years is a marginal difference in attitudes toward spending. Since the late 70s, the guiding star of Republican politics is getting taxes as low as possible. Spending was basically an afterthought, except for the degree to which spending might create upward pressure on taxes.
But beginning in the Bush years, accelerating in the Obama years and now coming into its own in the Trump years spending has become more of a positive as long as it is being spent on Republican stakeholders, as long as it is being spent on the right people. Largely this means the military but also border walls and a bunch of other things. That is an interesting change and transformation which has tracked the GOP’s transformation from anti-government to ethno-nationalist orientations. But the one thing that has never changed in almost fifty years is that Republican do not care about deficits. Deficits will rise under Republican rule, especially under unified Republican rule, as surely as night follows day.
John Nichols on the need to get rid of John Kelly.
No one who was paying attention ever thought that John Kelly was going to make things better in the Trump administration when he abandoned his miserable tenure as Homeland Security secretary to take over as White House chief of staff. Kelly had already proven to be an enabler of Trump’s worst instincts on immigration, global relationships, and privacy rights, and there was no reason to assume that closer proximity to the president would make Kelly any less of a “yes man” for Trumpism at its worst.
But Kelly really has outdone himself.
With his scorchingly dishonest and demeaning attacks on one of the most honorable members of the House, Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, to his deliberately ignorant claim that a “lack of appreciation of history” inspired efforts to remove monuments honoring the Confederacy, to his ahistorical suggestion that “the lack of an ability to compromise” led to the Civil War, to his efforts (with alt-right favorite Stephen Miller) to derail negotiations on immigration reform, to his recent claim that many Dreamers were “too lazy” to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Kelly has accomplished something remarkable. He has established that, as wrongheaded as Donald Trump may be, the president is being advised by people who are more wrongheaded.
As Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, the Illinois Democrat who serves as head of the immigration task force for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, says, the retired general who many thought would “[steer] a steady course and bring some balance to the White House, Mr. Kelly, is not that person, and he is clearly part of the xenophobic right that is entrenched in this White House.”
Kelly is not merely xenophobic, however. He has proven to be an atrocious player on multiple fronts.
This week, as reports of White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter’s physical abuse of women became public, CNN notes that “Kelly, who encouraged Porter to remain in his post despite the allegations, did not alter his effusive statement.” The “effusive statement” from Kelly read: “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
Only after Porter resigned was it announced that the chief of staff was “shocked” by the “new allegations” about his top aide. When pressed about reports that Kelly knew as early as last fall that both of Porter’s ex-wives had accused him of abusing them, CNN said, “The White House declined to comment on Wednesday when asked about Kelly’s knowledge of the allegations against Porter.”
Democratic members of the House, led by California Congressman Ted Lieu have sent a letter to Kelly asking him to explain when he had knowledge of the allegations of domestic abuse by Porter and what actions he took given that knowledge.
The letter to Kelly, which was signed by Lieu and Representatives Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, noted that:
As White House Chief of Staff, you are intimately involved in the hiring and subsequent management of senior level presidential personnel. As such, we respectfully request responses to the following questions:
• When did you learn of the allegations that Mr. Porter had abused one or both of his ex-wives?
• After you learned of these allegations, did you take any steps to remove or suspend Mr. Porter from the White House staff?
• At any point after you learned of these allegations, did you encourage Mr. Porter to remain on staff?
• At any point after you learned of these allegations, did you offer Mr. Porter a promotion or expand his responsibilities?
• Were you aware that Mr. Porter was unable to obtain a permanent security clearance, or was not in possession of a permanent clearance during his time at the White House?
• Why was Mr. Porter allowed to handle and view our nation’s most sensitive materials without a permanent security clearance?
Senator Jon Tester, D-Montana, responded to reports on the Porter affair by saying, “If John Kelly is covering this up, he needs to be held accountable. He better have a really good reason. Otherwise, he’s gone, too.”
The Senate cannot remove Kelly, as the chief of staff is a direct presidential appointee who is not required to go through the confirmation process that is required for cabinet members and agency heads. So the issue of removal goes to Trump.
Or Kelly could resign.
“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly must resign. His pathetic defense of staff secretary Rob Porter reveals his true nature—an enabler of sexual abusers, a betrayer of trust and an avoider of responsibility,” says Van Pelt, who asks: “Why did John Kelly continue to support Rob Porter after he was told about Porter’s history of abuse? Why did he allow a man who was denied a security clearance because of his history of violence against women to continue in a high ranking position of trust? Why did he talk Rob Porter out of resigning, telling him he could ‘weather the storm,’ according to press accounts?”
Van Pelt concludes that
General Kelly should know better. As a military commander, he took pride in protecting his troops. As chief of staff, it is his duty to protect the people who serve in the White House. Women who work for John Kelly are asking themselves today if they can trust General Kelly to protect them from sexual predators.
Clearly, they can’t. John Kelly has shown his true colors. He’s on Team ‘Grab Them By The Pussy,’ leaving women who are victimized by sexual violence to fend for themselves.
John Kelly must go. Today.
I Am The Very Model — Matthew Dessem in Slate.
I am the very model of a New York Times contrarian,
My intellect is polished but my soul’s authoritarian,
From Allen down to Exxon, bullies’ water I am carrying,
Except for Donald Trump’s, because I find him a vulgarian.
I’m very well acquainted, too, with arguments political,
I love to mount defenses for the vile and hypocritical,
I filigree each sentence till its meaning I am burying,
My job is to distract you from the rising smell of carrion.
My eagerness to stand up for the powerful is frightening,
I’m always showing up when a sepulcher needs some whitening,
In short, with polished intellect and soul authoritarian,
I am the very model of a New York Times contrarian!
There’s nothing I like more than the chance to play Devil’s advocate,
My beat is moral virtue comma complete, total lack of it,
I’ll only call you “victim” if it’s clear that you’re a predator,
I’m lucky to have landed with a sympathetic editor.
Hate-reading makes my columns all go viral like canarypox,
Present me with the truth and I will turn it to a paradox,
I’ll spew undoubted bullshit till you’ll swear that it’s veracity,
Sometimes vocabulary gets confused for perspicacity.
I’ll never have to worry about financial adversity,
My sinecure’s secured by “intellectual diversity,”
In short, with polished sentences and soul authoritarian,
I am the very model of a New York Times contrarian!
I introduce myself in verse based on a comic opera,
Even though tragedy might strike my critics as more proper-a,
But cheerful, frantic forms can help obscure a darkness visible,
And keep people from noticing my arguments are risible.
I’m confident that confidence is all I need to dominate,
I’ll gladly share my theories with your business or conglomerate,
For money I will tell you money’s good for the environment,
Or argue that a safety net is nothing but entitlement!
The best people all know me and my pedigree’s immaculate,
That’s good, because my takes are generally quite inaccurate,
But still, with polished intellect and soul authoritarian,
I am the very model of a New York Times contrarian!
Doonesbury — Dreams dying on the vine.
Saturday, December 16, 2017
A classic from W.C. Fields.
Sunday, October 1, 2017
Sweet Home Alabama — Ryan Lizza on how Trump lost in Alabama but is still winning the GOP civil war.
To understand the political tsunami set off by the Alabama Senate primary on Tuesday, when Roy Moore, an anti-gay Christian fundamentalist who believes that Biblical law should supersede the Constitution, won the Republican nomination* for a Senate seat in a runoff election, consider the case of Senator Bob Corker.
Corker is a two-term Republican from Tennessee. He is up for reëlection next year, and has already raised six and a half million dollars. He’s only sixty-five years old, which is young in the geriatric U.S. Senate. He has one of the most coveted committee assignments in Congress: chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, which, aside from making him one of the most influential voices on foreign policy, is also a perch that makes raising campaign funds enormously easy. Corker won his 2012 campaign by thirty-five points. Trump won the state last year by twenty-six points. In short, Corker is a senator at his professional peak.
And yet on Tuesday, the day that Moore defeated Luther Strange, the incumbent senator who was appointed to the job when Jeff Sessions left to become Attorney General, Corker announced that he was retiring. “When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms,” he said in a statement. “Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me.”
Nobody really believed him. Corker, after Strange, seems to have been the second Senate casualty of this latest phase of the G.O.P. civil war. Even though there was no heavyweight Republican lined up to challenge him in a primary, Corker decided that the environment was too toxic. “That guy did not want to go through the house of pain,” a Republican who worked on the Moore race said. “He did not want to go through what Luther Strange went through.”
Expect a lot more Republican casualties, especially in the Senate.
While it’s dicey to read too much into one state’s special-election primary, there are a number of lessons from Alabama. The first is about Trump, who endorsed Strange even though his most solid supporters in the state rallied around Moore, a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court who was twice booted off the court for disobeying the law—once, in 2003, for refusing to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments, and again, in 2016, for directing the state’s judges to maintain a ban on same-sex marriage. The idea of having Roy Moore in the United States Senate was terrifying to Washington Republicans, and Mitch McConnell and others convinced Trump to back his opponents, first in an open primary and then in this week’s runoff.
Naturally, the race was billed as a test of Trump’s ability to persuade his own base. It didn’t work. The Republican consulting firm Firehouse Strategies, in a memo to clients, noted that there was no correlation between knowledge of Trump’s endorsement and support for Strange. In mid-May, sixty-four per cent of Alabama Republicans knew about Trump favoring Strange. By primary day, this week, eighty per cent knew about it. Over the same period, G.O.P. voter support for Strange didn’t budge. The firm’s takeaway for its Republican clients is that, “while Trump may be good at translating his supporters’ sentiments, he is unable to persuade them.”
Another memo, obtained by the Times, puts the lessons for the Republican Party over all in starker terms. Since 2010, the year that the Tea Party insurgency began rocking the G.O.P. establishment, the ability of incumbents in Washington to tame its right wing has ebbed and flowed. In 2010 and 2012, several subpar candidates making outlandish statements won Senate primaries, and probably cost the Republican Party control of the Senate. The Party regrouped and snuffed out similar unelectable challengers in 2014, when it won control of the Senate, and in 2016. But the post-2016 period has ushered in a new wave of insurrection.
“This year’s Alabama Senate special election shows that the 2014-16 playbook for winning Republican primaries needs to be recalibrated and improved” was the conclusion of the memo’s author, Steve Law, the head of the Senate Leadership Fund, which is essentially Mitch McConnell’s funding vehicle to protect his mainstream Republican Senate majority from being overtaken by the Trumpist right. Law argued that Republican voters were “still angry,” and that McConnell’s inability to get much done, especially the repeal of Obamacare, was “political poison” in the race.
Most interesting, the lesson for the G.O.P. establishment is that it has lost control of the Republican Party. Law writes that, in the minds of Republican voters, Obama, previously the face of the opposition, has been replaced by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. “Opposition to Obama used to be a mainstay of Republican messaging,” he wrote. “In Alabama, Strange’s litigation against Obama’s executive actions would have been political gold a year ago. But with Obama out of the picture, our polling found the issue to be a middling vote-getter. Now the answer to what is wrong in Washington is the Republican Congress.”
Law, contrary to some others, sees Trump’s inability to translate his support to Strange as inconsequential, arguing that the Party’s base is now defined by its reverence for Trump. “No other person, group or issue has the gravitational pull on Republican primary voters that Donald Trump commands,” he notes, adding that “support for President Trump directly correlates with likelihood to vote.” Republicans, he says, are more likely to see themselves as Trump supporters than as Republican Party supporters. The single most fatal line of attack in a Republican primary, he suggests, is evidence that a candidate has been critical of Trump. It’s worth noting that, last month, Corker told local reporters in Tennessee, “The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful”—remarks that Trump then attacked on Twitter.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former political strategist, who backed Moore, is now plotting an expansive campaign to recruit challengers to Republican Senate incumbents, and is targeting some dozen races next year. Despite carrying the banner of nationalism and populism, Bannon is ideologically flexible. His first criterion for candidates is authenticity. (He obviously cared little about Moore’s anti-gay views.) But Bannon’s most important priority is the current G.O.P. leadership. When he was in the White House, Bannon believed that McConnell stymied Trump’s agenda and that, especially in the Senate, there was no constituency for the nationalist cause. So Bannon and his allies have made a decision about next year’s midterms: they will not back any candidate who agrees to support McConnell as Majority Leader.
The Next Challenge for Puerto Rico — Gillian B. White in The Atlantic.
The depth of the crisis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria is apparent from the island’s obliterated roads, downed power lines, tainted water, and nonexistent cell service. Grief and dismay over the widespread destruction has led to calls for aid and assistance for the ravaged island, but long after the shock fades, the staggering task of rebuilding the island will remain.
That’s a challenge made markedly more difficult by the poverty of the island’s people and its government—it’s not clear where the necessary money will come from. The crisis makes clear the uncomfortable tension inherent in the island’s status as a commonwealth; Puerto Rican officials have no Congressional power when it comes to making decisions about their own survival during such a dangerous time, and the U.S. government has repeatedly declined to do anything that would change that. So, once the U.S. citizens who populate the island are given relief for their most immediate problems—as they very likely will be—the biggest worry is that the territory will be left to flounder, given enough money to restore basic necessities but not enough to set the island on course in the long run.
Managing the immediate humanitarian crisis is the first large recovery expense. In the aftermath of the storm, all of the island’s 3.4 million residents were left without power, communication on the island was severely hampered after the storm destroyed cell towers, and many were left without clean drinking water. Addressing those critical problems is made more difficult and more expensive by geography, says Steven Kyle, a professor at Cornell who studies economic development. One example, Kyle says, is that many of the workers who will help to repair and rebuild the electrical grid can’t just drive down to the disaster site with their equipment, the way they might be able to in Texas. Instead, they will need to be flown in, with some equipment shipped—which will bring up the cost of even the most basic repairs. “All those things could be dealt with if [the government] wanted to,” Kyle adds. “But I don’t think Puerto Rico’s at the top of their list in Washington.”The economic lift of managing Puerto Rico’s recovery is hard to overstate. For context, the cost of making repairs in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which inflicted most of its damage on Texas and Louisiana, is estimated to be somewhere between $70 billion and $180 billion. IHS, a research and analytics firm, estimates the cost of rebuilding from Maria to be between $40 billion and $80 billion in Puerto Rico. But that’s a very early estimate, and damage to the island continues to unfold. And while Harvey’s damage might amount to more in dollars, the devastation of Hurricane Maria was concentrated in Puerto Rico, which had already sustained at least $1 billion worth of damage during Hurricane Irma. That means that Maria likely inflicted far more damage per capita. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello has said that he’s asking the Treasury Department and the federal government for loans to help in the cleanup and rebuilding efforts. He emphasized that he expects “equal treatment” and “reasonable rates” when it comes to those loans. And whether or not those terms are met will be a critical factor in the island’s future.The federal government has taken measures to meet some of Puerto Rico’s most immediate financial necessities. The president has declared the island a “major disaster” area, which makes it eligible for much-needed FEMA funds. On Thursday, after appeals by politicians, the government moved to suspend the Jones Act—a requirement that goods shipped between U.S. ports are carried by U.S.-flagged and -staffed ships—which critics said was making relief slower and more costly (but proponents said helps keep American sailors safe). And then there’s the possibility of a disaster-relief bill, such as the one that followed Hurricane Harvey, though it’s not clear yet about how large that relief package might be.
Still, the Trump administration continues to draw criticism for its response to Hurricane Maria, which many have said has been slow and inadequate. The president has yet to visit Puerto Rico, though he recently planned a trip for next Tuesday. And his tweets about the success of relief efforts stand in contrast to photos and reports of devastation and desperation on the island, where many have been without power, water, and necessities for upwards of a week. More than that, many of the efforts made by the administration have come only after activists, politicians, and concerned families have spent days imploring the federal government to provide more help.
In the longer term, there are numerous difficulties when it comes to rebuilding an island that was already struggling economically before the storm. How the federal government and the creditors Puerto Rico was already indebted to choose to deal with that rebuilding effort will determine whether the island will have a good chance of improving its economy going forward.Even before Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island’s critical infrastructure, Puerto Rico was facing $70 billion of municipal debt that it was unable to repay. And despite Congress’s passage of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) in July of last year, the island’s economic future remained fragile and uncertain. As recently as this summer, the territory’s electric utility, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), filed for bankruptcy to escape billions of dollars of debt it said it couldn’t repay. Now, months later, PREPA, the island’s only marginally functional utility, has essentially been destroyed, and is still deeply in debt.
While PROMESA helped to stave off Puerto Rico’s most immediate fiscal crises, it installed a board of mostly outsiders who get to determine the best course of action for the island. And the act does little in the way of making plans to fundamentally fix the commonwealth’s broken economy or to prevent the current economic crisis from repeating itself in the future.
Indeed, some of the most promising long-term solutions for how to fix critical infrastructure in Puerto Rico require a significant initial investment. Anamitra Pal, an engineering professor at Arizona State University who specializes in power and energy systems says that, though devastating, a destroyed power grid is an opportunity to rebuild a system that’s more dependable. Pal says that in rebuilding, Puerto Rico should look at the microgrid system used by Hawaii, which uses renewable sources and stores excess energy to be deployed when needed. Plus, such a system is cheaper in the long run. “Eventually, the return of investment is fairly quick—we’re talking about a period of the next 10 to 20 years,” Pal says. But that means that an initial investment would be required in order to install solar panels or establish wind farms. And without political or private-sector will, it’s unlikely that the island could pay for it.Investments like that are something Puerto Rico’s government can’t produce on its own, the federal government isn’t offering, and private creditors would want a return on. This leaves an opening for the island’s existing creditors—collectively owed some $70 billion—to try to cut deals of their own. The opportunity they see is to loan them cash now—adding to Puerto Rico’s debt—in the hopes that doing so will improve their chances of seeing their original investments, from well before the storm, get repaid. On Thursday, for instance, Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority received an offer from the creditors of PREPA for a $1 billion loan and a discount on a very small portion of the utility’s existing debt—from $8.1 billion to $7.95 billion. While PREPA unquestionably needs cash now, this type of small-scale relief, coupled with the addition of more debt, will not increase the likelihood that the utility unwinds its debts any sooner—something the fiscal authority was well aware of. In a statement about the rejection of the deal, the board said, “Such offers only distract from the government’s stated focus and create the unfortunate appearance that such offers are being made for the purpose of favorably impacting the trading price of existing debt.” The statement goes on to request that creditors “refrain from making unsolicited financing offers at the expense of the people of Puerto Rico.”After the hurricane, it’s vital that people currently suffering get the help they need. Once they do, the biggest worry becomes that Puerto Rico is given support for its short-term needs, and nothing more—that the relief provided by creditors and the federal government will ultimately maintain the economic status quo that left millions of residents impoverished and fleeing to the mainland in the first place. Undoing that will require a much more ambitious plan for investment and infrastructure than currently exists—and the political will to pursue it.
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In an experience that he called “traumatic” and “horrifying,” the departing Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price, was seated between two screaming babies Friday night on his first-ever commercial flight.
Price, who was flying from Washington, D.C., to his home in Georgia just hours after resigning from his Cabinet position, reacted with alarm after discovering that the airline had assigned him a middle seat between two passengers holding inconsolably shrieking babies on their laps.
Moments after making his terrible discovery, Price urgently called for a flight attendant and reportedly told her, “There are babies on this aircraft. That can’t possibly be allowed.”
After informing Price that babies were, in fact, permitted on commercial flights, the attendant instructed the former Cabinet secretary to fasten his seatbelt and ignored his request to be served a free glass of Dom Perignon champagne and beluga caviar with toast points.
According to witnesses on board, the two babies flanking Price screamed non-stop for the entire duration of the flight, except for a brief period during which one of the babies vomited on Price’s Armani suit.
Doonesbury — Resigned to the job.
Saturday, September 23, 2017
I just starting reading his book.
Saturday, August 19, 2017
Forty years ago today, Captain Spaulding went off on his own adventure to the great beyond. We miss you, Groucho.
Sunday, August 13, 2017
From Inside the House — Josh Marshall.
The violence of the day appears to be coming to an end. But not before one woman died in the car attack on anti-racist counter-protestors which left many others wounded – some with injuries that appear life-threatening. The other drama unfolding through the day has been the reaction or lack of reaction from President Trump.
Over the course of the afternoon, President Trump has spoken or tweeted a number of generally bland statements condemning violence and hatred. But he has conspicuously refused to condemn the white supremacists and nazis who most Americans would easily recognize as the bad guys in this drama. In one particularly egregious example he condemned hatred and violence “on many sides” – in other words, explicitly equating the white nationalists and nazis with those who oppose them.
Over the course of the afternoon, a number of Republicans have condemned the marchers. Some actually condemned Trump for failing to do so. Late this afternoon, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee tweeted a generic but clear condemnation of the white supremacist protestors. It made me think, “Even Mike Huckabee, one of the awfullest people in public life, today can manage this.”
But that reminded me of the fact that the white supremacists and nazis have actually long been something of a gift to politicians who are if not racists themselves then entirely indifferent to racism as a political force in American society. By making themselves the public face of ‘racism’, these morons create an easy enemy to pivot off of. Those politicians get to pay lip service to the notional anti-racist public consensus by denouncing racism in its most avowed and buffoonish form. As I said, in political terms, it’s less an obligation than a gift, an out. After all, who can’t denounce jerks running around with swastikas on their arms or chanting “white power”?
Who can’t? Well, Donald Trump can’t.
Through today I’ve heard various politicians, journalists and public people asking Trump some version of, “Why can’t you denounce this?”
We’ve been here for … what? Almost two years? I understand the impulse. But at a certain point, we’re simply being chumps to keep asking. We know. If we don’t, we should. I’m tempted to say we have no excuse. There’s not. But there is some explanation. We have become as a people, or at least our establishment voices, like family members in the home of an abuser, unable to face the obvious reality of our situation because it is in the nature of living with an abuser that it warps your reality. As I wrote last October, “one of the greatest damages is that we’ve all come to see Trump’s chaotic emotions, violence and tirades as perhaps half normal. I had a hard time divining whether his angry bluster and transgressive antics in the debate would have any effect because we’ve all become so used to it. Like family members living in the home of an abuser our sense of what is normal starts to get blunted and deformed under the weight of abuse. The whole country is damaged in a way that won’t soon lift under the best of circumstances.”
Our sense of reality has been warped. People who refuse to condemn nazis and white supremacists even in the most clear-cut cases – again and again, month after month and year after year – do so because they support those people. This may sound extreme but it is obvious. We are like a woman who can’t admit her husband is an abuser. ‘I provoked him.’ ‘He’s got stress at work.’ ‘It was just one time.’ ‘He said he was sorry.’ You want to shake someone like this to open their eyes and see the reality of the situation. But living with someone with a damaged psyche has in turn damaged them. It is hard to emerge from.
Trump refuses to condemn these people because he recognizes them as supporters and he supports them. That’s the truth. Anything else is denial.
How can this even surprise us? His top advisor ran the publication that courted and popularized the beliefs and actions of these same people. It’s all out in the open. Don’t ask why he can’t condemn them. We know.
The calls are coming from inside the house.
The Bigotocracy — Michael Eric Dyson.
The late, great Gore Vidal said that we live in “The United States of Amnesia.” Our fatal forgetfulness flares when white bigots come out of their closets, emboldened by the tacit cover they’re given by our president. We cannot pretend that the ugly bigotry unleashed in the streets of Charlottesville, Va., this weekend has nothing to do with the election of Donald Trump.
In attendance was white separatist David Duke, who declared that the alt-right unity fiasco “fulfills the promises of Donald Trump.” In the meantime, Mr. Trump responded by offering false equivalencies between white bigots and their protesters. His soft denunciations of hate ring hollow when he has white nationalist advisers like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller whispering in his ear.
Such an ungainly assembly of white supremacists rides herd on political memory. Their resentment of the removal of public symbols of the Confederate past — the genesis of this weekend’s rally — is fueled by revisionist history. They fancy themselves the victims of the so-called politically correct assault on American democracy, a false narrative that helped propel Mr. Trump to victory. Each feeds on the same demented lies about race and justice that corrupt true democracy and erode real liberty. Together they constitute the repulsive resurgence of a virulent bigotocracy.
This bigotocracy overlooks fundamental facts about slavery in this country: that blacks were stolen from their African homeland to toil for no wages in American dirt. When black folk and others point that out, white bigots are aggrieved. They are especially offended when it is argued that slavery changed clothes during Reconstruction and got dressed up as freedom, only to keep menacing black folk as it did during Jim Crow. The bigotocracy is angry that slavery is seen as this nation’s original sin. And yet they remain depressingly and purposefully ignorant of what slavery was, how it happened, what it did to us, how it shaped race and the air and space between white and black folk, and the life and arc of white and black cultures.
They cling to a faded Southern aristocracy whose benefits — of alleged white superiority, and moral and intellectual supremacy — trickled down to ordinary whites. If they couldn’t drink from the cup of economic advantage that white elites tasted, at least they could sip what was left of a hateful ideology: at least they weren’t black. The renowned scholar W.E.B. Du Bois called this alleged sense of superiority the psychic wages of whiteness. President Lyndon Baines Johnson once argued, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
We have a bigoted billionaire-cum-president who has done precious little for the white working class whose resentment fueled his rise. They have emptied their ethical and economic pockets in support of him even though he turned his back on them the moment he entered the Oval Office. The only remnant of his leadership they have to hold on to is the folklore of white nationalist sentiment, and xenophobic passion, that offer them psychic comfort if little financial stability.
It is disheartening for black folk to see such a vile and despicable replay of history. Facing this unadorned hate tears open wounds from atrocities that we have confronted throughout our history. It is depressing to explain to our children that what we confronted as children may be the legacy they bequeath to their children as well.
It is more dispiriting still to realize that the government of our land, at least in the present administration, has shown little empathy toward victims of white bigotry, and indeed, has helped to spread the paralyzing virus of hatred, by turning a blind eye to what is done in their name.
Now is the time for every decent white American to prove he or she loves this country by actively speaking out against the scourge this bigotocracy represents. If such heinous behavior is met by white silence, it will only cement the perception that as long as most white folk are not immediately at risk, then all is relatively well. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could more clearly declare the moral bankruptcy of our country.
Who Will Stop the Madness? — John Cassidy in The New Yorker.
In this mad Presidency, there have been many mad days, but Friday may have been the maddest yet. It began in the morning, with Donald Trump issuing yet another war threat on Twitter. “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” Trump wrote. “Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” Later in the day, during a photo op at the President’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, a reporter asked Trump what his tweet meant. “Well, I think it is pretty obvious,” he replied. “We are looking at that very carefully, and I hope they are going to fully understand the gravity of what I said, and what I said is what I mean. Those words are very, very easy to understand.” The reporter asked if any progress was being made on the diplomatic front. Trump wouldn’t be drawn out, but he did say, “We’ll either be very, very successful quickly, or we’re going to be very, very successful in a different way, quickly.”
In the wake of Trump’s declaration, on Tuesday, that North Korea faced “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued to threaten the United States, Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, and James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, having been making efforts to clarify that what matters are North Korea’s actions, not its words. On Friday, Trump undid those efforts. “This man will not get away with what he is doing, believe me,” he said, referring to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. “And if he utters one threat, in the form of an overt threat—which, by the way, he has been uttering for years, and his family has been uttering for years—or if he does anything with respect to Guam, or any place else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast.”
Trump wasn’t done. After a meeting with Tillerson; Nikki Haley, the Ambassador to the United Nations; and H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser, he took more questions from the press. Once again, he stressed the dire consequences that North Korea would suffer if anything happened to Guam. He also insisted that he and Tillerson were “totally on the same page.” Tillerson, standing beside the President and playing the good soldier, nodded in agreement and said it would take “a combined message” to achieve a favorable solution. One reporter asked Trump what he could say to Americans who are on edge after all the threatening talk. “Nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump,” he replied, referring to himself in the third person.
He appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself, and why not? The eyes of the world were upon him, and nobody had asked him about the Russian investigation. To the Narcissist-in-Chief, that is a twofer. Moreover, he had an adversary in his sights, and nothing makes him happier than that. When he was asked about a statement on North Korean state television that referred to the United States as “no more than a lump that we can beat to a jelly anytime,” Trump replied, “Let me hear others saying it, because when you say that I don’t know what you are referring to, and who is making the statement. But let me hear Kim Jong-un say it, O.K.? He’s not saying it. He hasn’t been saying much for the last three days.”
It is now clear that Trump has decided to turn a nuclear-weapons crisis that could conceivably lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of people into a personal feud of the sort he has carried out with Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, John McCain, Megyn Kelly, Hillary Clinton, and countless others. And Trump had some more warmongering left in him. A reporter asked about the U.S. reaction to the situation in Venezuela, where the regime of Nicolás Maduro is cracking down on opponents and redrafting the constitution to give itself more power. Rather than letting Tillerson or Haley, who was also standing alongside him, field this question, Trump said, “We have many options for Venezuela. And by the way, I am not going to rule out a military option. . . . We are all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering, and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”
If you haven’t seen the looks on the faces of Tillerson and Haley, the country’s two top diplomats, as Trump made this statement, you simply have to watch the video. Somehow, they had steeled themselves to look supportive as Trump further ratcheted up his rhetoric toward Kim and North Korea. But nothing, surely, could have prepared them for their boss suggesting that he might be looking for a second military adventure, this one in Latin America.
So what did it all add up to? Some observers said it was just Trump being Trump. “Increasingly I think the equilibrium we’re all headed towards is everyone inside the US gov and outside just ignoring what POTUS says,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweeted.
It would be very comforting if we could all ignore Trump and treat his Presidency the same way he seems to treat it: as a personal odyssey or a reality-television show. Unfortunately, however, he is the Commander-in-Chief of the largest, most deadly military machine that the world has ever seen—it has close to two thousand deployed nuclear warheads—and many of the checks and balances that constrain him in other areas of government don’t apply to starting a war.
Appearing on CNN after Trump’s press conference, Leon Panetta, who has more experience in the top echelons of the U.S. government than practically anybody else in Washington, injected a much-needed dose of reality into the situation. “I understand that this is a President who comes out of the development industry in New York City, comes out of reality TV. I think he kind of prides himself that talking is kind of his business, and talking is the way he appeals to his base, and he’s been able to win election to President because of his ability to talk,” Panetta said. “But when you are President of the United States, and when you are Commander-in-Chief, this is not reality TV. This is a situation where you can’t just talk down to everybody in the world and expect that somehow you can bully them to do what you think is right. These are leaders in these countries. They worry about their countries, they worry about what is going to happen. And they take the President of the United States literally.”
We should never lose sight of the fact that Trump, before he entered the White House, had never held any position of public responsibility. Panetta, who went to Washington in 1977 as a Democratic congressman from California, has served as the Defense Secretary, the head of the C.I.A., the White House chief of staff, and the director of the Office of Management and Budget. “Words count,” he went on. “And I just think that the President needs to understand, and the people around the President need to make clear, that when we are facing the kind of crisis that we are facing now, this is not a time for loose talk. It is a time for serious strategizing as to what steps we have to take in order to make sure we find a peaceful solution, and not wind up in a nuclear war.”
There are some serious and responsible people around Trump. They include McMaster, Tillerson, Mattis, and John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff. But the evidence of this week strongly suggests that Trump is beyond being educated or managed or controlled. He is truly a rogue President.
In a better political world, the senior members of Trump’s Cabinet would be talking to each other and taking legal advice this weekend about the 25th Amendment, which provides for the removal of a President who is unable or unfit to carry out his duties—which in the modern day include the awesome responsibility of deciding whether to use nuclear weapons. “The president alone has the authority to launch nuclear weapons, the only restraint being the advice of senior advisers who might be present at the time of crisis, and Donald Trump has shown repeated contempt for informed and wise counsel,” Gordon Humphrey, a Republican former senator for New Hampshire, wrote this week in a letter to his current congressional representatives. “He is sick of mind, impetuous, arrogant, belligerent and dangerous.”
Since Trump’s Cabinet is highly unlikely to heed Humphrey’s warning, the responsibility to restrain Trump falls on Congress. Under the War Powers Act of 1973, it is Congress, not the President, who holds the power to declare war. If Washington were functioning properly, the House and Senate would have been recalled from their summer recesses this week to discuss and debate Trump’s repeated threats. So far, though, the leaders of both parties have remained ominously quiet as Trump’s rhetoric has intensified. Indeed, about the only reaction has come in the form of a letter signed by sixty-four liberal House Democrats, led by Michigan’s John Conyers, condemning Trump’s “fire and fury” threat.
As many commentators, myself included, have pointed out before, Trump’s Presidency represents an unprecedented challenge to the American system of government. Up until this point, some parts of the system—the courts, the federal civil service, the media, and other institutions of civil society—have withstood the challenge pretty well. But it was always likely that the biggest test would come in the area of national security, where the institutional constraints on the President are less effective. Now, it looks like the moment of truth is upon us, and so far the response has been alarmingly weak. Unless that changes, Trump might well drag the country into a catastrophic war.
Dump Them — Jennifer Wright in Harper’s Bazaar.
With every week, life under the Trump administration becomes more unnerving. The administration is trying to “phase out” the 15,000 trans people in the military, Trump is basically threatening nuclear war with North Korea and Mueller is tapping a Grand Jury to look into the Russia connection.
We live in interesting times, and by interesting, I mean on the very verge of the second dark ages. Or, at least, some people believe that. Other people believe everything is fine, somehow.
Don’t ask me how.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is starting to create a rift, not just between different parts of the country, but between couples. In Florida, a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader and the top prosecutor in Palm Beach County reportedly split, in part because the wife claimed that as “a staunch Republican and supporter of President Donald Trump… she felt increasingly isolated in the marriage.” Deidre Ball, who recently filed for divorce from Trump’s former communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, also reportedly did so in part because she was “not a fan of Trump.”
Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of articles with advice on topics like “How To Survive Being Married to A Trump Supporter.”
They offer advice like “We look deeper than the arguments. We look at each other… at the passionate, committed humans that we are and we find gratitude in being married to someone who cares so much. When the fire of the argument subsides and we are left with only the smoldering embers, we kiss.”
What if you find yourself… not wanting to kiss someone who believes that it is cool for the President to think women should be grabbed by the pussy?
The woman who is kissing her husband over the smoldering argument embers also remarks, “How could I explain how vulnerable I felt? I couldn’t. But I tried. And he tried to understand. And we went round and round in circles. Him, unable to see the human element of my arguments.”
God, that sounds exhausting.
I’m going to save you three years of therapy where you and your partner try to “agree to disagree.”
If your partner is a Trump supporter and you are not, just divorce them.You do not need to try to make it work with someone who thinks of people as “illegals.” Just divorce them. Those divorced couples made the right choice.
This may not always be possible. Some people may not have the financial or practical means available to get a divorce, but if you do have those means? DIVORCE THEM.
Because if one member of a couple believes the President should endorse police brutality and the other member believes that is balls-to-the-wallinsane, that is not a disagreement you’re going to find common ground on. You can use all the measured voices and positive words you want. It’s not a question of disagreement about the most effective way to load the dishwasher, or even whether trickle-down economics works. Those are opinions that might be altered by showing compelling factual evidence.
Supporting Trump at this point does not indicate a difference of opinions. It indicates a difference of values.
Values aren’t like hobbies or interests. They don’t change over time, and they more or less define who you are. Trump’s administration may have been, for some of us, a time when what we value has become much clearer to us.
So, while you may be able to convince your partner that there is a more efficient way to load the dishwasher, you will never be able to convince them that they need to care about people they are fundamentally uninterested in caring about.
Couples don’t need to agree on everything. Disagreement on some issues helps broaden our perspectives. But most successful couples do seem to have moral compasses that point in roughly the same direction. That’s because one of the best things about being in a relationship is having someone who helps you go out and live your values in the world.
If you saddle yourself with someone who fundamentally does not share your values—and at this point, it seems fair to say that people on different ends of the political spectrum have wildly different values—you’re going to be unbelievably, achingly lonely.
So, just skip it. Get a divorce. It’s clearly not ideal—no one goes into a marriage planning to get divorced—but people get divorced for a great many reasons. “My partner’s views are morally repulsive to me” is one of the best reasons I can think of.
And if anyone says that this demeans that sanctity of marriage, well, just remind them the President they love is on wife number three.
He’s Running — Andy Borowitz on Mike Pence’s plans.
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Vice-President Mike Pence is seriously considering running for President in 1820, various sources confirmed over the weekend.
According to several prominent Republican donors, Pence is already laying the groundwork for such a campaign, outlining what he believes are the most serious challenges facing 1820 America.
In a conference call with donors last week, Pence reportedly said that, as President, his No. 1 priority would be to repeal and replace the Bill of Rights.
He offered a sneak preview of a potential 1820 stump speech, in which he unleashed a brutal attack on the Bill of Rights’ author, James Madison, and called for the development of the telegraph key.
According to Harland Dorrinson, a donor who was on the conference call, “Mike believes he’s the right man to bring America into the nineteenth century, just like he did for Indiana.”
But minutes after the rumors were reported, the Vice-President pushed back, putting quill to parchment to call the reports “bunkum and balderdash.”
“America already has the perfect man to lead it in 1820, and that man is Donald J. Trump,” Pence wrote.
In Washington, some political insiders also threw cold water on the Pence-in-1820 talk, arguing that the timing was not right. “Pence’s best shot was 1620,” one said.
Doonesbury — Booking.con.
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Why struggle with convfefe when we have the real crackercrocker?
Sunday, May 28, 2017
On The Horizon — Kai Wright in The Nation on how Trumpism will be defeated.
In the summer of 2013, about a month after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, I sat in a small church in Baker County, Georgia. The county elections board had proposed closing four of its five polling places, and I listened as a couple dozen residents of the sprawling, rural county figured out how to stop the plan.
The board said its proposal was driven by a cost-benefit analysis; shutting the polling places would save money, a whopping $7,800. The residents of Baker also recognized the debate as one over value—the worth of black life. The county is nearly half black, and more than a third of its residents live in poverty; the board is majority white. This is a familiar dynamic in Baker County.
“You won’t find a railroad track going through the county, because they didn’t want it,” civil-rights icon Shirley Sherrod, who grew up in Baker, told me just before that church meeting. “They just didn’t want anything to be any different than the way it was. And when I say ‘they,’ I mean white people who were in power.”
Sherrod could have said the same about great swaths of southwest Georgia, and she could have spoken in the present tense.
Which is one reason Stacey Abrams’s expected entry in the Democratic primary for next year’s governor’s race is so notable. If elected, Abrams would be not just the only black woman to occupy the governor’s mansion in Georgia, she’d be the only in any US state. Ever. More than that, what’s notable for people like the black residents of Baker County is her strategy as the current House minority leader.
In recent elections, Abrams has made the sadly novel contention that rural, largely black districts like those in southwest Georgia—which Democrats long ago wrote off as dominated by old power structures that can’t be upturned—are, in fact, worth the fight. She says a driving question for her is, “How do you build a state that thinks about everyone and not just those who happen to live in the right place?” It ought to be a driving question for progressive politics everywhere.
Donald Trump’s presidency will end—likely hastened by the corruption that is gradually coming into full view. But Trumpism will not simply dissipate with his departure. The white suburbanites who gambled on his candidacy were driven by a real, if toxic, brew of fears and anxieties that will remain, perhaps even intensify as he implodes. So it’s one thing to resist Trump; it’s another, longer project to build a just and truly plural America out of the divisions he’s exploited. Abrams’s campaign offers insight for that work.
It necessarily begins with a useful assertion: We must not build our politics solely around the fears and anxieties of those suburban whites. As Steve Phillips noted in The Nation last week, some Democrats are already whispering that the Georgia party needs a white candidate who can appeal to white voters. Phillips to whispering Dems: Tell that to the 47 percent of Georgia voters who came out for Barack Obama in 2008. For her part, Abrams says she enters the race with “a very intentional awareness that you have to have everyone at the table—including people of color, who make up nearly half of your society.”
Abrams and Phillips are doing the math. But there’s a deeper point here. To counter Trumpism by centering his followers would be to chase shadows. Liberals have waited with indignation for the president’s supporters to realize they got a bum deal, that he’s not really a populist and doesn’t posses a time machine that can whisk them back to a manufacturing economy. But who actually voted for these fictions?
Trump was overwhelmingly a white-identity candidate. Coupled with flipping districts that had previously gone to Obama, Trump helped drive up his own white turnout to higher levels than many poll watchers thought was achievable. These were white people who had made it into the middle and upper middle classes without the trouble and cost of higher education, thanks to the racially exclusive social contract of the postwar 20th century. And they chose to believe the lie that they can reclaim the security that is slipping away by rejecting the realities that the 21st century forces upon them.
But refusing to center white suburbanites doesn’t mean ignoring them. Whatever else is true about Trump voters, the core complaint I’ve heard over and over as I’ve spoken with them is actually one many of us share: There exists a monstrous gap between the reality so many Americans face every day, and the political priorities of those who have power over us.
This gap divides both the Democratic and Republican parties from their bases. It exists in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street. We encounter it when we shop for homes, apply for jobs, and try to go vote. We’re even reminded of it when we try to book a flight and get dragged down the aisle because the airline wants its seat back. The impunity of the powerful is what binds the rest of us.
Abrams is an elected official and speaks the language of her work when pointing to the shared values she’s heard in talking to both white and black suburban moms—a desire for economic security, personal safety, a reasonable retirement. “Too often, our conversations are grounded in binary and reductive debates—that my success means your failure, or your success means my failure,” she argues. Agreed. But I’d say the widely shared value today is more Twisted Sister than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: We’re not gonna take it, anymore. That’s true in Baker County, it’s true in the white suburbia, and it’s a starting point for taking on Trumpism.
Raus — Klaus Brinkbäumer in Der Spiegel on the need to oust Trump. (The Germans know something about dealing with a megalomaniacal leader.)
Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. He does not possess the requisite intellect and does not understand the significance of the office he holds nor the tasks associated with it. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees.He is a man free of morals. As has been demonstrated hundreds of times, he is a liar, a racist and a cheat. I feel ashamed to use these words, as sharp and loud as they are. But if they apply to anyone, they apply to Trump. And one of the media’s tasks is to continue telling things as they are: Trump has to be removed from the White House. Quickly. He is a danger to the world.
Trump is a miserable politician. He fired the FBI director simply because he could. James Comey had gotten under his skin with his investigation into Trump’s confidants. Comey had also refused to swear loyalty and fealty to Trump and to abandon the investigation. He had to go.
Witnessing an American Tragedy
Trump is also a miserable boss. His people invent excuses for him and lie on his behalf because they have to, but then Trump wakes up and posts tweets that contradict what they have said. He doesn’t care that his spokesman, his secretary of state and his national security adviser had just denied that the president had handed Russia (of all countries) sensitive intelligence gleaned from Israel (of all countries). Trump tweeted: Yes, yes, I did, because I can. I’m president after all.
Nothing is as it should be in this White House. Everyone working there has been compromised multiple times and now they all despise each other – and everyone except for Trump despises Trump. Because of all that, after just 120 days of the Trump administration, we are witness to an American tragedy for which there are five theoretical solutions.The first is Trump’s resignation, which won’t happen. The second is that Republicans in the House and Senate support impeachment, which would be justified by the president’s proven obstruction of justice, but won’t happen because of the Republicans’ thirst for power, which they won’t willingly give up. The third possible solution is the invocation of the 25th Amendment, which would require the cabinet to declare Trump unfit to discharge the powers of the presidency. That isn’t particularly likely either. Fourth: The Democrats get ready to fight and win back majorities in the House and Senate in midterm elections, which are 18 months away, before they then pursue option two, impeachment. Fifth: the international community wakes up and finds a way to circumvent the White House and free itself of its dependence on the U.S. Unlike the preceding four options, the fifth doesn’t directly solve the Trump problem, but it is nevertheless necessary – and possible.
No Goals and No Strategy
Not quite two weeks ago, a number of experts and politicians focused on foreign policy met in Washington at the invitation of the Munich Security Conference. It wasn’t difficult to sense the atmosphere of chaos and agony that has descended upon the city.
The U.S. elected a laughing stock to the presidency and has now made itself dependent on a joke of a man. The country is, as David Brooks wrote recently in the New York Times, dependent on a child. The Trump administration has no foreign policy because Trump has consistently promised American withdrawal while invoking America’s strength. He has promised both no wars and more wars. He makes decisions according to his mood, with no strategic coherence or tactical logic. Moscow and Beijing are laughing at America. Elsewhere, people are worried.In the Pacific, warships – American and Chinese – circle each other in close proximity. The conflict with North Korea is escalating. Who can be certain that Donald Trump won’t risk nuclear war simply to save his own skin? Efforts to stop climate change are in trouble and many expect the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris Agreement because Trump is wary of legally binding measures. Crises, including those in Syria and Libya, are escalating, but no longer being discussed. And who should they be discussed with? Phone calls and emails to the U.S. State Department go unanswered. Nothing is regulated, nothing is stable and the trans-Atlantic relationship hardly exists anymore. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Norbert Röttgen fly back and forth, but Germany and the U.S. no longer understand each other. Hardly any real communication takes place, there are no joint foreign policy goals and there is no strategy.
In “Game of Thrones,” the Mad King was murdered (and the child that later took his place was no better). In real life, an immature boy sits on the throne of the most important country in the world. He could, at any time, issue a catastrophic order that would immediately be carried out. That is why the parents cannot afford to take their eyes off him even for a second. They cannot succumb to exhaustion because he is so taxing. They ultimately have to send him to his room – and return power to the grownups.
Eulogy For America — Megan Amram bids farewell.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to say our goodbyes to our dear friend America, who died recently after a brief, intense battle with fascism and a long, slow battle with carbs. Thank you all for coming out to help say farewell. It’s not easy. But at least America died doing what it loved most: deep-frying Halloween candy while white men tried to explain to women what jazz is.
America was sick for a really long time. In the early stages, I think we were all in denial. You could tell that America was unwell—public displays of brutality, deeply internalized prejudice, “Entourage”—but it seemed curable. Just a case of plain old electile dysfunction. We thought that we’d caught the fascism early, but, as we now know, it had metastasized. America was more Florida than country by the end.
America was born right here, in America, and lived here its entire life. America was always about family. It is survived by its similarly ill father, Britain, and its large brood of children: baseball, Google, fireworks, losing your fingers to fireworks, giving your Uber driver only four stars because he talked to you, thinking granola is healthy, Chicago (the place), “Chicago” (the musical), “Chicago” (the movie adaptation of the musical), Chicago (the band), “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med,” “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Justice,” “Chicago ‘Chicago’ ” (a show about the Chicago production of the musical “Chicago,” coming to NBC this fall), and a bunch of wars.
I’d personally be nowhere without America. America was there when I was born, when I got married, when I saw Janet Jackson’s nipple at the Super Bowl. Remember that? After that happened, none of us slept for days, because we had never seen the pointy part of a boob on our TVs before, and it really upset us. America was really cool that way. It would always get mad when you’d see the pointy part of a boob on a TV. I’m gonna miss that.
However, we should not dwell on the loss of our dear country, friend, and place where all the Cheesecake Factories and Lids stores are. Today, let’s celebrate America’s life, and remember all of the remarkable things it accomplished and how many actors playing Spider-Man who keep getting cuter and younger were inside of it. America gave us so much. And, boy, did it look good for its age. America was two hundred and forty-one years old when it died, but it didn’t look a day over a hundred and sixty-four! It looked so young, it could’ve been the very same America that put its own citizens in internment camps!
America got a bunch of things really right. Mostly how to put food inside other food. Anyone can just eat a chicken. But in a duck?! In a turkey?! In a gun?! No one is going to forget the Turduckenun any time soon. America was so inventive that way. And, I mean, everyone does silly stuff when they’re young. America was beautiful, too. Sure, it was a little lumpy, and you could always see its Florida through its pants, but it just got hotter with age. So hot. It was so, so hot by the time it died. Almost too hot to live in.
If there’s anything we should take away from this tragedy, it’s that you should always check yourself for fascism, especially around your midsection. It’s easy enough to do in the shower. If you catch it early, it can be cleared up with a rigorous regimen of local elections and books and yoga. But America was cocky. Nothing bad had ever happened to it before! It assumed this fascism would pass, just like the Second World War and “Entourage” had.
What a shame. America was just the best damn country in the whole U.S.A. I’m sorry that I’m getting choked up. I get really emotional when I think of America, and also I took too big of a bite of Turduckenun and it got lodged in my windpipe. We will all miss America greatly. Every time I see an American flag or a gun, I’ll think of America. But we can all rest easy knowing America is in a better place now: Russia.
Doonesbury — To-Do List.