Monday, December 2, 2019

In All Fairness

The House Judiciary Committee picks up what Intelligence threw them.

As the impeachment inquiry moves into a critical week, President Trump and his Republican allies are debating the degree to which the president should participate in a process they have spent more than two months attacking.

On Sunday evening, White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone told the House Judiciary Committee in a five-page letter that Trump would not participate in its first impeachment hearing, scheduled for Wednesday. The invitation from Chairman Jerrold Nadler “does not begin to provide the President with any semblance of a fair process,” Cipollone wrote.

Four constitutional scholars — three chosen by Democrats, one by Republicans — are expected to testify on the standards for impeachment. Nadler (D-N.Y.) told Trump he had until 6 p.m. Sunday to notify the committee that he or his attorneys would attend; he has given Trump until Friday to decide whether to participate more broadly in the impeachment process.

It’s been a hallmark of Trump’s tenure that he and his minions are always talking about “fairness,” as if everything that happens to them is or isn’t fair.  Trump whines about how the press or the Democrats or the ice cream dispenser is so unfair to him, which is then followed by a tantrum, and then holding his breath until he shits his pants.  It’s like he’s never taken into account the simple fact that whether or not something or someone is fair or unfair to him and his fe-fe’s doesn’t really count for much, especially when the facts and the truth are what matter.

By definition, the impeachment process in the House is investigative.  Whether or not it’s fair depends on who participates.  If the White House refuses to comply with subpoenas and requests for information, they can’t then complain bitterly that they have been denied the opportunity to provide evidence.  If the Republicans who are in thrall to the White House sit through hours of depositions in closed sessions and then create a stink about the closed sessions being unfair, then they’re just pandering to their minders at Fox News.  In short, they can’t spend all their time trying to screw up the entire process and then pronounce it as unfair because the entire process somehow got screwed up.

As John F. Kennedy noted, life is unfair.  It’s something we should learn and take into account at about the time we learn how to take turns on the swing set on the school playground.  But trying to explain that to someone who has yet to rise to that level of maturity is a hard thing to do.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Sunday Reading

Impeachment as Spectacle — David Masciotra in Salon.

The House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings have been the perfect sweeps-season exhibition of American dysfunction, weirdness and stupidity. Democrats are meticulously proving that President Trump is an inveterate liar who broke the law by transforming international diplomacy into a partisan, tabloid dirt-finding expedition in exactly the buffoonish manner that anyone would expect. Trump is a corrupt con artist unqualified for a junior high student council. Impeachment and removal are beyond debate to anyone of minimal sanity. In other breaking news, the Earth orbits the sun.

More shocking than the extent of Trump’s petty corruption is the obsequiousness of leading Republicans, all of whom have publicly invested in the personality cult surrounding the former host of “Celebrity Apprentice.” Apparently convinced that the country cannot survive without the leadership of the man who had the wisdom to fire Gary Busey in the boardroom, and later defend murderous white supremacists, the GOP have exposed themselves as lacking any of the principles — “family values”; belief in small, honest government; fiscal conservatism, patriotic loyalty to the laws and institutions of the United States — they previously boasted about.

House impeachment, and subsequent Senate removal, in any rational Congress would have taken all of four minutes, allowing the electorate to prepare for the alarming reality of President Mike Pence.

Instead, curious citizens are subjected to the monstrosity of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, whose previous high-water mark was disregarding accusations of sexual abuse in the Ohio State locker room when he was an assistant wrestling coach, doing his best impersonation of a serious human being as he shouts about “process” in his shirtsleeves. Barring any bombshell, it looks as if the entire Trump fiasco will result in a repetition of the Bill Clinton episode — impeachment in the House, acquittal in the Senate.

That is not the only reason that the entire proceeding feels anticlimactic. It is deeply unsatisfying because it is focused on what is likely the least of Trump’s misdeeds.

At least 25 women have accused Trump of sexual assault – most of them alleging that he forcibly grabbed their genitals, which is precisely what he has bragged about doing on an open mic. Sexual predation and harassment are conspicuously absent from the congressional hearings on Trump, along with media dissection of his presidency. Occasionally, a pundit will casually reference the accusations as if they were nothing more than an unfortunate, but pedestrian reality of national politics. Rep. Katie Hill, a freshman Democrat, resigned over a consensual affair with a staffer, yet Trump faces no political consequences for, according to his credible accusers, a lifetime of assaulting women.

Defenders of the government’s inadequacy in the pursuit of justice might protest that none of Trump’s accusers have alleged any criminal behavior during his presidency. It seems odd that chronology would have any relevance — what if there was evidence that Trump murdered 25 women in the 1990s and 2000s? Would Congress have to ignore it? — but operating only within the confines of Trump’s term in office is equally devastating to not only his lack of leadership and character, but also to an impeachment that, while just and necessary, resembles the prosecution of Al Capone for tax evasion.

The last living Nuremberg prosecutor, Ben Ferencz, called Trump’s family separation policy at the border — ripping children out of their parents’ arms, locking them in cages, leaving them vulnerable to abuse — a “crime against humanity.” Explaining that it was “painful” for him to watch the news of the Trump administration’s cruel treatment of families seeking asylum, Ferencz said, “We list crimes against humanity in the Statute of the International Criminal Court. We have ‘other inhumane acts designed to cause great suffering.’ What could cause more great suffering than what they did in the name of immigration law?”

Ferencz’s outrage barely elicited coverage in the American press, and provoked a pathetically meek political response. The United Nations definition of “genocide,” formed in response to the Nazi holocaust of Jews and other minorities, extends far beyond murder. It also includes “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Genocide is not on the impeachment agenda.

What is on the itinerary, apparently, is a commitment to displaying many American failures of policy and cultural imagination without comment. EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony that Trump orchestrated the bribery campaign against Ukraine was damning, but with the exceptions of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, no one appears compelled to discuss why ambassadorial posts are always on sale to the highest donor — a bipartisan tradition that Republicans, as is their wont, elevate to unexplored heights of irresponsibility.

Everyone of conscience should feel grateful to Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for helping to expose Trump as a criminal who wields presidential power for personal gain, but is it necessary and healthy to celebrate militarism while papering over unjust war?

Yes, Vindman is a lieutenant colonel in the Army. The “service” for which everyone is calling him a “hero” was contributing to one of the most reckless and immoral annihilations of human life in modern history — the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks Trump has pardoned three accused war criminals.

If by some miracle, the Senate actually convicts President Trump and removes him from office, Americans should applaud in the morning, but go back to protesting by the afternoon. The words that French journalist Claude Julien wrote following Richard Nixon’s resignation still ring true: “The elimination of Mr. Richard Nixon leaves intact all the mechanisms and all the false values which permitted the Watergate scandal.”

Be Nice — Annie Lowrey in The Atlantic on our epidemic of unkindness.

Take five minutes to meditate. Try to quiet the judgmental voice in your head. Call your mother. Pay for someone else’s coffee. Compliment a colleague’s work.

In an age of polarization, xenophobia, inequality, downward mobility, environmental devastation, and climate apocalypse, these kinds of Chicken Soup for the Soul recommendations can feel not just minor, but obtuse. Since when has self-care been a substitute for a secure standard of living? How often are arguments about interpersonal civility a distraction from arguments about power and justice? Why celebrate generosity or worry about niceness when what we need is systemic change?

Those are the arguments I felt predisposed to make when I read about the newly inaugurated Bedari Kindness Institute at UCLA, a think tank devoted to the study and promulgation of that squishy concept. But it turns out there is a sweeping scientific case for kindness. In some ways, modern life has made us unkind. That unkindness has profound personal effects. And if we can build a kinder society, that would make life better for everyone.

Darnell Hunt, the dean of social sciences at UCLA and a scholar of media and race, told me some of the questions the institute hopes to investigate or answer: “What are the implications of kindness? Where does it come from? How can we promote it? What are the relationships between kindness and the way the brain functions? What are the relationships between kindness and the types of social environment in which we find ourselves? Is there such a thing as a kind economy? What would that look like?”

Not like what we have now. Research proves what is obvious to anyone who has been online in the past decade: For all that the internet and social media have connected the world, they have also driven people into political silos, incited violence against minority groups, eroded confidence in public institutions and scientists, and made conspiracy theorists of us all—while making us more selfish, less self-confident, and more socially isolated.

“The internet is largely a cesspool,” Daniel M. T. Fessler, an evolutionary anthropologist and the new institute’s director, told me. “It is not actually surprising that it is largely a cesspool. Because if there’s one thing that we know, it’s that anonymity invites antisociality.” It is easier to be a jerk when you are hiding behind a Twitter egg or a gaming handle, he explained.

The political situation is not helping matters, either. Americans have become more atomized by education, income, and political leanings. That polarization has meant sharply increased antipathy toward people with different beliefs. “We’re in this hyperpolarized environment where there’s very little conversation across perspectives,” Hunt said. “There’s very little agreement on what the facts are.”

There’s plenty of pressure for people to be unkind to themselves, too. Matthew C. Harris and his wife, Jennifer, seeded the Bedari Kindness Institute with a $20 million gift from their family foundation. For him, the topic is personal. “I wasn’t kind to myself, which has roots in my own childhood experiences. I was judgmental of myself, and therefore others. I was very perfectionistic,” he told me, reflecting on his business career. “I realized: This is not sustainable.”

The antidote seems to lie in media, economic, social, and political change—lower inequality, greater social cohesion, less stress among families, anti-racist government policy. But kindness, meaning “the feelings and beliefs that underlie actions intended to generate a benefit for another,” Fessler said, might figure in too. “Kindness is an end unto itself,” and one with spillover effects.

At a personal level, there’s ample evidence that being aware of your emotions and generous to yourself improves your physical and mental health, as well as your relationships with others. One study found that mindfulness practices aided the caretakers of people with dementia, for instance; another showed that they help little kids improve their executive function.

Kindness and its cousins—altruism, generosity, and so on—has societal effects as well. Fessler’s research has indicated that kindness is contagious. In one major forthcoming study, he and his colleagues showed some people a video of a person helping his neighbors, while others were shown a video of a person doing parkour. All the study participants were then given some money in return for taking part, and told they could put as much as they wanted in an envelope for charity. (The researchers could not see whether the participants put money in or how much they put in.)

People who saw the neighborly video were much more generous. “One of my research assistants said: ‘There’s something wrong with our accounting; something’s going haywire,’” Fessler told me. “She said, ‘Well, some of these envelopes have more than $5 in them.’” People who saw the first video were taking money out of their own wallets to give to charity, they figured. “I said, ‘That’s not something going wrong! That’s the experiment going right!’” It suggests that families or even whole communities could pitch themselves into a kind of virtuous cycle of generosity and do-gooding, and that people could be prompted to do good for their communities even with no expectation of their kind acts redounding to their own benefit.

Interpersonal empathy might translate into political change, Hunt added. “We see this [research] as being civically very important,” he said. “Take homelessness in L.A., for example. How do we get the electorate to become more empathetic and support policies necessary to make a meaningful intervention? That’s not something you can just do by fiat. People have to be brought along.”

This holiday season, there are so many ways to bring yourself and your community along—among them little things like taking five minutes to meditate, calling your mother, and paying for someone else’s coffee. Maybe kindness is not a distraction from or orthogonal to change. Maybe it is a pathway to it.

Doonesbury — Remember the wall.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Snowflakes Down South

Trump is expected to show up at the game between Alabama and LSU on Saturday, so the student government is taking all the necessary precautions to insure that the Dear Leader is met with fawning adoration.  Y’see, it’s perfectly okay to mock liberals and the “politically correct,” but when it comes to expressing your negative feelings about Trump, well, oh my, get the smelling salts and fainting couch, Melanie.

The Student Government Association at the University of Alabama is warning groups that protesting President Trump during the Tide’s Saturday game vs. LSU could result in loss of reserved seating for the remainder of the season.

A letter from Jason Rothfarb, vice president of Student Affairs, said additional security will be in Bryant Denny’s student section during the Saturday afternoon football game. President Trump is expected to be in the audience.

Disruptive protests against the president will have consequences, Rothfarb wrote.

“Any organizations that engage in disruptive behavior during the game will be removed from block seating instantly for the remainder of the season,” he wrote.

After the expected push-back from folks who believe in the First Amendment, a follow-up statement was issued.

Jason Rothfarb, vice president for Student Affairs for University of Alabama SGA, issued a follow-up statement regarding his previous email related to disruptions during the Alabama/LSU football game. The email was published via social media:

“Some have misinterpreted my comment regarding “disruptive behavior.” As with other games this season, Organization’s Block Seating locations will be clearly marked, but at certain times, other students can and should have access to open seats. By disruptive behavior, we are asking students to be respectful to all students and staff and avoid altercations.

My email has nothing do with anyone’s First Amendment rights and I am sorry for any confusion. Please express yourself and especially your pride for the Tide.”

Rothfarb’s comments come after a letter was sent to block seat groups warning that “Any organizations that engage in disruptive behavior during the game will be removed from block seating instantly for the remainder of the season.”

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a college football game, but it wasn’t exactly like watching Wimbledon no matter who was in the stands.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

He’ll Get His

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 5, 2019

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Round One: Justice 1, Trump 0

Via the Washington Post:

Trump on Monday lost an early round of his court fight with Democrats after a federal judge ruled the president’s accounting firm must turn over his financial records to Congress as lawmakers seek to assert their oversight authority.

Trump called the 41-page ruling from U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta of the District of Columbia “crazy” and said he would appeal, adding: “We think it’s totally the wrong decision by, obviously, an Obama-appointed judge.”

Lawyers for the president are fighting document and witness subpoenas on multiple fronts, and Mehta’s ruling came hours after former White House counsel Donald McGahn was directed not to appear before a congressional committee seeking testimony about his conversations with Trump.

Congressional Democrats have vowed to fight for evidence of potential misconduct by Trump and those close to him, and the president’s legal team is broadly resisting those efforts. How those fights play out in court in the months ahead could impact the 2020 presidential race.

In his decision, Mehta flatly rejected arguments from the president’s lawyers that the House Oversight Committee’s demands for the records from Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, were overly broad and served no legitimate legislative function.

“It is simply not fathomable,” the judge wrote, “that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present — even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry.”

Trump has argued those congressional inquiries are politically motivated attacks on the authority of the presidency, while Democrats insist the subpoenas are essential to ensuring no president is above the law.

And for an added dollop of karma, the chief judge on the circuit where all the battles between the White House and Congress will play out is Merrick Garland.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Talk About Presidential Harassment

Aw, poor baby:

Never happened before?  Really?

It was not true in 2011, when Donald J. Trump mischievously began to question President Obama’s birthplace aloud in television interviews. “I’m starting to think that he was not born here,” he said at the time.

It was not true in 2012, when he took to Twitter to declare that “an ‘extremely credible source’” had called his office to inform him that Mr. Obama’s birth certificate was “a fraud.”

It was not true in 2014, when Mr. Trump invited hackers to “please hack Obama’s college records (destroyed?) and check ‘place of birth.’”

It was never true, any of it. Mr. Obama’s citizenship was never in question. No credible evidence ever suggested otherwise.

Yet it took Mr. Trump five years of dodging, winking and joking to surrender to reality, finally, on Friday, after a remarkable campaign of relentless deception that tried to undermine the legitimacy of the nation’s first black president.

Or this?

Donald Trump, who in recent days has accused Bill Clinton of rape and suggested he and Hillary Clinton may have had a role in the death of one of their close friends, plans to focus next on the Whitewater real estate scandal, POLITICO has learned.

Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo on Wednesday morning emailed a researcher at the Republican National Committee asking him to “work up information on HRC/Whitewater as soon as possible. This is for immediate use and for the afternoon talking points process.”

The first one was outright and blatant racism, the second was basically small potatoes compared to the real estate scamming and corruption that Trump has bragged about since he was a kid.  So, like all bullies, he can dish it out but of course can’t take it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Big Parade

One of the first lies told by the Trump folks after he was sworn in was that his inauguration was the biggest and the bestest EVER and that more people watched it, saw it, and were there to make history.  So there.

Well, that may have been bullshit (and it was proven so in minutes), but there were some other things going on that made it unique.

Via ABC News (note: auto-start video):

Prosecutors in New York’s Southern District have subpoenaed documents from President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, sources with direct knowledge told ABC News, indicating that even as the special counsel probe appears to be nearing an end, another investigation that could hamstring the president and his lawyers is widening.

The subpoena from the Southern District, which came from its public corruption section, is the latest activity focusing on Trump’s political fundraising both before and immediately after the 2016 election.

“We have just received a subpoena for documents. While we are still reviewing the subpoena, it is our intention to cooperate with the inquiry,” a spokesperson for the inauguration told ABC News.

Prosecutors are seeking documents and records related to the committee’s donors to the massive inauguration fund, according to sources familiar with the request. Prosecutors also are seeking information on attendees to the events surrounding the inauguration, including benefits to top-level donors such as photo opportunities with Trump, sources said.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, has been interviewed extensively by prosecutors in the Southern District office. Longtime family accountant and Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg has agreed to cooperate, though the extent of his help is unknown.

The Trump family business also has been in contact with prosecutors, but sources familiar with those discussions would not spell out the specific topics covered.

Those involved in discussions surrounding the inaugural fund, a nonprofit tasked with organizing festivities surrounding the president’s swearing-in, declined to detail specific questions from investigators. Trump’s inaugural fund raised $107 million — the most in modern history.

“This is why I’ve been saying for months that the Southern District of New York investigation presents a much more serious threat to the administration, potentially, than what Bob Mueller is doing,” said former federal prosecutor and ABC News contributor Gov. Chris Christie.

A spokesperson for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.

It would be ironic on a Greek tragedy/O. Henry level if the thing that finally brings Trump down is the crime and corruption behind the big event that celebrated his entry into office, and the next parade that we get to watch for him is his cronies being marched into court in those bright orange outfits.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

In Charge

After Tuesday’s meeting in which Nancy Pelosi basically ran the table, why would there be any doubt from anyone — Democrat or Republican — that she has the power and the smarts to be the leader of her party and Speaker of the House?

In contrast to Trump, she knows how to lead, she knows what she’s doing, and most importantly, she knows how to negotiate.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi clinched the votes for a second stint as House speaker on Wednesday after agreeing to serve no more than four years in a deal with a group of Democratic rebels — a significant concession to their demands for generational change.

The group of insurgents wanted new blood in the top Democratic ranks and maneuvered for months to deny Pelosi (D-Calif.) the votes she would need. After weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiating, Pelosi backed off her resistance to setting a date for her departure but avoided becoming an immediate lame duck.

“Over the summer, I made it clear that I see myself as a bridge to the next generation of leaders, a recognition of my continuing responsibility to mentor and advance new members into positions of power and responsibility in the House Democratic Caucus,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Almost immediately, seven Democratic holdouts said they would back Pelosi. Their support would be enough to secure the House majority that she needs for her election to speaker on Jan. 3 — 218 votes if all members are present and voting for an individual.

That’s true leadership and confidence in your abilities and knowing when to leave.

And the way things are going with Trump, by 2022, she might be in the middle of her first term as president.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Today In Karma

Via the Washington Post:

Ivanka Trump sent hundreds of emails last year to White House aides, Cabinet officials and her assistants using a personal account, many of them in violation of federal records rules, according to people familiar with a White House examination of her correspondence.

White House ethics officials learned of Trump’s repeated use of personal email when reviewing emails gathered last fall by five Cabinet agencies to respond to a public records lawsuit. That review revealed that throughout much of 2017, she often discussed or relayed official White House business using a private email account with a domain that she shares with her husband, Jared Kushner.

The discovery alarmed some advisers to President Trump, who feared that his daughter’s prac­tices bore similarities to the personal email use of Hillary Clinton, an issue he made a focus of his 2016 campaign. He attacked his Democratic challenger as untrustworthy and dubbed her “Crooked Hillary” for using a personal email account as secretary of state.

Some aides were startled by the volume of Ivanka Trump’s personal emails — and taken aback by her response when questioned about the practice. She said she was not familiar with some details of the rules, according to people with knowledge of her reaction.

The White House referred requests for comment to Ivanka Trump’s attorney and ethics counsel, Abbe Lowell.

Go ahead and say it.  You know you want to.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Karma In The Person Of Ruth Buffalo

Via the New York Times:

In the end, the Native American tribes of North Dakota could not save their preferred candidate, Senator Heidi Heitkamp, from a double-digit loss.

But galvanized by anger over the state’s voter ID law and aided by the intensive efforts of tribal leaders and advocacy groups, they turned out for last week’s election in numbers unprecedented even for a presidential election, much less a midterm.

In Sioux County, where the Standing Rock Indian Reservation is, turnout was up 105 percent from the last midterm elections in 2014 and 17 percent from the 2016 presidential election, according to data from the North Dakota secretary of state’s office. In Rolette County, home to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, it was up 62 percent from 2014 and 33 percent from 2016. In Benson County, home to the Spirit Lake Nation, it was up 52 percent from 2014 and 10 percent from 2016.

One of the most striking results of the night, though, came far from the reservations: in a normally Republican district in the Fargo area, where Ruth Buffalo became the first Native American Democratic woman elected to the North Dakota Legislature. She did it by unseating State Representative Randy Boehning, the primary sponsor of the very voter ID law Native Americans had feared would disenfranchise them.

For all the symbolic resonance of her victory, Ms. Buffalo, a public health professional with three master’s degrees, campaigned entirely on local issues — and her win underscored how partisan divisions can be scrambled when the national hot buttons are removed from the conversation.

“Ruth ran not as necessarily a Native American woman, but as a woman in Fargo who wanted to talk about issues that were affecting her community,” said Scott McNeil, executive director of the North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party. Mr. Boehning did not respond to a request for comment.

This is how you take over: by beating them at their own game.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

BTYFO, Joe

It’s a little mean to pile on Joe Scarborough when he finally, at long last, gets it.

I never believed what liberals said about us all along. I never believed there was this undercurrent in the Republican party of racism, nativism, anti-semitism. We spent our entire lives telling people it wasn’t true. I’ll be damned, I’m 55 years old. Bingo, they had us exactly right. They had the party exactly right. What are we to do now?

‘Bout time you found out, Joe.  Granted, at the age of 55 you weren’t really around to remember Nixon and Agnew and the Southern Strategy in all it’s George Wallace-emulating glory.  You came of age when it was all bundled up in the cozy and gauzy quilt of Ronald Reagan’s morning in America for white Christians, and so you don’t remember the distinction between the Southern Democrats of Strom Thurmond and the rest of the party when they split in the 1950’s and ’60’s over where a six-year-old black girl should go to school or where her father could go to the bathroom or stay the night while traveling.  Your Republican party happily picked up the torch from the cross-burning and ran with it, and fifty years later passed it on to a maniac.

Where were you, Joe?  You ran for Congress from a district in the Florida panhandle where the only distinction between there and Selma was the color of the license plates and the remnants of the old way of life are still visible in the two sets of bathrooms in the old courthouse in downtown Miami.  But you fell for the smaller government/more freedom line and smugly thought that the folks who bought your tactics of being scared of black people voting and women controlling their bodies could be controlled and mollified every election cycle.  It never occurred to you that they would one day find someone who could actually exploit them beyond the sop of cutting taxes and hating gays?

Yeah, it’s easy to pile on to Joe and any other Republican who is finding out to their horror that their party is just as mean and nasty as a lot more people than just “liberals” have been saying about them since the days of Joe McCarthy and Barry Goldwater.  But it’s about time, and it’s probably too late.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Small Blessings

Sometime scrolling through a news feed can be frustrating.  Trying to find something interesting to read that doesn’t have me reaching for a second dose of BP meds is difficult enough with idiots and racists running the government, but the sheer stupidity and hypocrisy of a lot of what passes for news as we ramp up to the midterm elections makes it even harder to find something to laugh at, which is why I chose that little piece of Chico and Harpo Marx tickling the ivories for ALNM last night.

This morning it wasn’t a whole lot better: Trump would rather do Nuremberg 2.0 in Pennsylvania than stay in D.C. to monitor hurricane relief, even though we know that’s just for optics because there’s not a lot he could do even if he was competent; that’s what FEMA is for.  Hillary Clinton said it’s time for the Democrats to take the gloves off and the right-wing Orcosphere goes nuts, but that’s their setting anyway anytime she says please pass the butter.  A stringer reporter disappears in Turkey at the hands of the Saudis and suddenly the White House doesn’t even know how to get in touch with the perps.  The Supreme Court is already showing their complete disdain for Native American voters in North Dakota; they can’t be real voters if they don’t have a street address like real Americans do in all the cul-de-sacs in Maryland where teens really know how to par-tay (right, Brett?).

So now what?  The mid-terms are in a few weeks, and so now we have to switch to the cable pundits wondering just how the Democrats will blow their lead just like they did in 2016.  It’s enough to make me turn off the TV and start Googling cheap retirement in the Caribbean.  But you have to balance it out.  There’s good stuff to be had, even if it’s small or seems trivial.  The Miami Metro Rail ran on time yesterday.  (Karma alert: the trains were messed up this morning.) My friends up in the panhandle checked in safe after the hurricane passed.  My friend Christopher got a great write-up in the New York Times about his play opening next month on Broadway.  Someone shot a Youtube of the Miami International Auto Show and included nice things to say about Memory Lane and my car.

So while the news may be depressing, aggravating, annoying, and laugh-so-that-we-may-not-weep, sometimes we just have to remember that there are small blessings, too, and it does put it all in perspective.  For a little while, at least.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Monday, July 9, 2018

What Goes Around

Not that I’m in favor of public humiliation of politicians in restaurant parking lots, I would remind those who are aghast at the rudeness and think it demeans the decorum of discourse of two things:

1. The people who are doing it probably took their cue from the raucous protesters at town halls in 2010 against Obamacare and Obama in general, and it worked for them quite well.

2. Karma is a heartless bitch.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Karma Of The Day

Via NBC:

JOHANNESBURG — At least two rhino poachers were eaten by lions on a South African game reserve, the owner of the lodge said on Thursday.

A ranger taking guests at the Sibuya Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape on a safari drive on Tuesday afternoon discovered human remains close to a pride of lions.

“We suspect two were killed, possibly three,” Sibuya owner Nick Fox said.

An ax and three pairs of shoes and gloves were found later when police and an anti-poaching unit arrived. The lions had been heard making a commotion in the early hours of Monday.

Hush, my darling, don’t fear my darling; the lion sleeps tonight…

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Food For Thought

Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker has some thoughts on civility and who we want sitting around our table.

Nothing is more fundamental to human relations than deciding who has a place at the table—and nothing is more essential to our idea of humanism than expanding that table, symbolically and actually, adding extra chairs and places and settings as we can. Jesus—at least as he is reported, or invented, by the author of the Gospel of Mark—was the Kropotkin of commensality, blowing up the long history of Jewish food rules by feasting with publicans and tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners of all kinds. It was nearly the whole point of his ministry. The Homeric Greeks, as any reader of the Odyssey will recall, obsessed about sharing food and offering places at the feast: to fail to offer food to the well-worn traveller is an insult to the gods (one of whom may, after all, have disguised herself as the needy wanderer). The modern restaurant—invented in Paris, after the Revolution—is a little temple of commensality: all you need, as shown in so many early Chaplin shorts, is five cents to enter and then to share.

All of this, of course, leads us to the less spectacular but still potent instance of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, who, over the weekend, was asked to leave a farm-to-table restaurant in Virginia called the Red Hen. It was not some fiery mob that drove her out, by the way, like protesters did to Kirstjen Nielsen at a D.C. Mexican restaurant last week; Sanders was asked to leave by the restaurant’s owner. “I’m not a huge fan of confrontation,” the Red Hen’s Stephanie Wilkinson said afterward. “I have a business, and I want the business to thrive. [But] this feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”

This double act (for Sanders left when she was asked to) has caused a small but very significant ruckus: many have sided with the Red Hen on the grounds that, on this week in particular, a week which featured the Trumpites’ cruellest organized exclusion of others to date, to not exclude one of the organizers, or at least the mouthpiece, of that exclusion would amount to a moral failure. On the other side is an argument, not in every case touched by obvious hypocrisy, that the Red Henites, by denying their own rules of pluralism to Sanders and her party, are engaged in an act of incivility just as wrong as the kinds the Trumpites began, albeit on a smaller scale. Should we not let Sanders and the rest of the Trumpite commissariat eat in peace? Are we not in turn offended when Christian bakers refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings? And when the wheel turns—if it is, God or Washington willing, allowed to keep turning—would the same Red Henites now not look with disgust at a pro-Trump tavernkeeper who excludes, on similar partisan grounds, the gay spokesperson for our first female President or the female spokesperson for our first gay President?

[…]

On the other hand, the Trump Administration is not a normal Presidential Administration. This is the essential and easily fudged fact of our historical moment. The Trump Administration is—in ways that are specific to incipient tyrannies—all about an assault on civility. To the degree that Trump has any ideology at all, it’s a hatred of civility—a belief that the normal decencies painfully evolved over centuries are signs of weakness which occlude the natural order of domination and submission. It’s why Trump admires dictators. Theirs are his values; that’s his feast. And, to end the normal discourse of democracy, the Trump Administration must make lies respectable—lying not tactically but all the time about everything, in a way that does not just degrade but destroys exactly the common table of democratic debate.

That’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s chosen role in life—to further those lies, treat lies as truth, and make lies acceptable. This is not just a question of protesting a particular policy; in the end there are no policies, only the infantile impulses of a man veering from one urge to another. The great threat to American democracy isn’t “policy” but the pretense of normalcy. That’s the danger, for with the lies come the appeasement of tyranny, the admiration of tyranny, and, as now seems increasingly likely, the secret alliance with tyranny. That’s what makes the Trump Administration intolerable, and, inasmuch as it is intolerable, public shaming and shunning of those who take part in it seems just. Never before in American politics has there been so plausible a reason for exclusion from the common meal as the act of working for Donald Trump.

And what about civility? Well, fundamental to, and governing the practice of, civility is the principle of reciprocity: your place at my table implies my place at yours. Conservatives and liberals, right-wingers and left-wingers, Jews and Muslims and Christians and Socialists and round- and flat-Earthers—all should have a place at any table and be welcome to sit where they like. On the other hand, someone who has decided to make it her public role to extend, with a blizzard of falsehoods, the words of a pathological liar, and to support, with pretended piety, the acts of a public person of unparallelled personal cruelty—well, that person has asked us in advance to exclude her from our common meal. You cannot spit in the plates and then demand your dinner. The best way to receive civility at night is to not assault it all day long. It’s the simple wisdom of the table.

There are a lot of other situations in life where we expect civility among the anonymous: in a crowd at a movie theatre, shopping in a supermarket, even in traffic and suppressing road rage.  I deal with it every day riding public transportation.  We expect a certain level of decorum and privacy when we take our place in the crowd and even form acquaintanceships with people whom we know only from riding the same train at the same time every morning.  Those whose behavior and attitudes are offensive are shunned and in extreme cases asked to leave.

This is what happened to Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  She might not have known the people she chose to dine with at that place in Virginia, but she had already set the table, so to speak, for the people whom she expected to accommodate her.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sunday Reading

We Can See Clearly Now — Charles P. Pierce on the waking up of America to what it did to itself.

Optimism may be illusory, but it’s all we have at this point, so, when it stirs, anywhere, it’s worthy of nurture and support. Over the past week, ever since the administration*’s crimes against humanity along the southern border were revealed, there became an edge to the political opposition that has not been there through all the marches and the rhetoric that have attended this government since the president* was inaugurated. Up until now, all of the #Resistance has contained a barely acknowledged undercurrent of futility. It was not that the opposition was empty. It was that it generally broke like a wave on a seawall when it collided with the immutable fact that the president*’s party controlled every lever of political power at the federal level, as well as a great number of them out in the states, too.

The week just passed has changed the calculations. The images from the border, and the White House’s fatheaded trolling of the situation, seems to have shaken up everyone in Washington to the point at which alliances are more fluid than they have been since January of 2017. There seems little doubt that the Republicans in the House of Representatives are riven with ideological chaos, struck numb by the basic conundrum of modern conservatism: When your whole political identity is defined by the proposition that government is not the solution, but, rather, the problem, you don’t know how to operate it when fortune and gerrymandering hand you the wheel.

You can fake it pretty convincingly, doing the bidding of your donor class and knuckling the powerless and making a nice living for yourself, as long as events pursue a fairly predictable course for which there are familiar precedents in your experience. You can even see the setbacks coming from around the corner. Even your defeats are predictable and, thus, explainable—or, at least, spinnable. Can’t repeal Obamacare? RINOs like John McCain!

The problem arises when something unpredictable happens, and the government you control has to be fast on its feet, and you don’t know how that really works. A hurricane and a flood drowns New Orleans, and the luxury horse-show official you put in charge of the country’s emergency management system—because who cares, right?—finds that he’s really not up to the job. Or, suddenly, you find that, no matter how hot the emotions run at your rallies or how brightly your favorite TV network polishes your apple, or how hard you pitch the snake oil that got you elected, the country will not stand for being complicit in the kidnapping and caging of children. The pictures begin to pile up. The mirror in which the country prefers to see itself cracks into a million sharp shards that begin to cut your political life away.

You can feel the difference in the air. The members of the governing party, uneasy about the prospects for this year’s midterms anyway, are fairly trembling at the moment, seeing in their mind’s eyes a hundred 30-second spots of weeping toddlers behind chain-link walls. The president* has gone completely incoherent, standing firm until he doesn’t, looking for help in the Congress that he’ll never get, and reversing himself so swiftly on his one signature issue that he’s probably screwed himself up to the ankles in the floor of the Oval Office. By Friday afternoon, he was back on the electric Twitter machine, yapping about the Democrats and “their phony stories of sadness and grief.” And a hundred Republican candidates dive back behind the couch.

The country’s head is clearing. The country’s vision is coming back into focus and it can see for the first time the length and breadth of the damage it has done to itself. The country is hearing the voices that the cacophony of fear and anger had drowned out for almost three years. The spell, such as it was, and in most places, may be wearing off at last. The hallucinatory effect of a reality-show presidency* is dispersing like a foul, smoky mist over a muddy battlefield.

The migrant crisis is going to go down through history as one of the most destructive series of own-goals in the history of American politics. The establishment of the “zero-tolerance” policy made the child-nabbing inevitable. The president*’s own rhetoric—indeed, the raison d’etre of his entire campaign—trapped him into at first defending the indefensible and then abandoning what was perhaps the only consistent policy idea he ever had—outside of enriching himself and his family, that is. Then the cameras began to roll, and the nation’s gorge began to rise, and the president* couldn’t stand the pressure that was mounting around him. Of course, because he knows nothing about anything, including how to actually be president*, he bungled even his own abject surrender. He’s spent the days since signing his executive order railing against what he felt compelled to do and arguing against himself and losing anyway.

That’s the optimism, and it may, in fact, be illusory, but the power balance in our politics seemed to shift this week. Terrible policies are still coming from the various agencies. Scott Pruitt remains a grifter of nearly inhuman proportions, and a vandal besides. Neil Gorsuch continues to prove himself to be the reliable conservative hack for whom the Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat. But the crisis at the border is a leg-hold trap for all of them. There’s no way for them to keep faith with themselves and get out from under the humanitarian disaster they concocted. One day, maybe, brave Guatemalan mothers and their very brave children may be said to have saved the American Republic from slow-motion and giddy suicide. Some even may be our fellow citizens by then, and we should remember to thank them.

Vamos Á Comer — Helen Rosner in The New Yorker on the absurdity of Kristjen Nielsen dining in a Mexican restaurant.

In September of 2016, in the run-up to the Presidential election, Marco Gutierrez, a founder of the online activist group Latinos for Trump, appeared on MSNBC to discuss what he saw as a looming immigration threat at America’s southern border. “My culture is a very dominant culture,” Gutierrez, who was born in Mexico, said. “And it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” Gutierrez meant this as a warning, a dire vision of what the future would look like were Donald Trump to fail in his Presidential bid. But Hillary Clinton’s supporters quickly reclaimed the idea as a welcome, and appetizing, possibility. At a campaign stop, Clinton said, “I personally think a taco truck on every corner sounds absolutely delicious.”

Last year, C.H.D. Expert, a hospitality-industry analysis firm, identified Mexican restaurants as the second most popular kind of dining establishment in the nation, and estimated that they make up about nine per cent of the half million or so restaurants in the United States—more than the total number of pizzerias. Countless additional restaurants bear signs of Mexico’s culinary influence: you can find fajitas at Chili’s, guacamole and chips at the Cheesecake Factory, churros at Disney World, quesadillas repurposed into burger buns at Applebee’s, margaritas at LongHorn Steakhouse, Baja-style fish tacos at hipster brunch spots, and nachos at every sports arena in America. Even the ubiquitous Caesar salad is Mexican—it was invented at a restaurant in Tijuana. In many respects, you might say, Mexican food is American food.

So it may have been pure statistical inevitability that caused Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security, to eat at a Mexican restaurant this week, in the midst of the nightmarish crisis at the border caused by the Trump Administration’s family-separation policy. On Wednesday evening, Nielsen arrived at MXDC Cocina Mexicana, a restaurant in Washington, D.C., that promises “classic Mexican cuisine with a modern touch.” It seemed almost unbelievable, on the day we heard a wrenching audio recording of migrant children crying out for their parents, that Nielsen, the chief enforcer of the Administration’s immigration policy, could be out in the world having dinner in a neighborhood restaurant like a normal person, let alone enjoying food from the very region the policy targets. As Nielsen and a dining companion sat in the restaurant for what a D.H.S. spokesperson later described as a “work dinner,” she was recognized by a patron at a nearby table, who covertly snapped a photograph, and sent it to friends in the hopes of inspiring a protest.

In short order, a cadre of demonstrators from the D.C. branch of the Democratic Socialists of America filed into the restaurant and stood between the tables adjacent to Nielsen’s. “How can you enjoy a Mexican dinner as you’re deporting and imprisoning tens of thousands of people who come here seeking asylum?” one shouted, before leading the crowd in a rumbling chant of “Shame! Shame!” “In a Mexican restaurant, of all places,” another cried. “The fucking gall!” In the blurry darkness of a video from inside the restaurant, posted to Facebook Live, Nielsen and her dining companion appear to be sharing an order of guacamole. The protest went on for more than twenty minutes, while Nielsen—shielded by two Secret Service agents—kept her head ducked low.

Some observers suggested that Nielsen’s decision to dine at a Mexican restaurant seemed like an intentional provocation, a trollish act consistent with the ethos of spite and petulance that guides much of what happens inside the Trump Administration. (See, too: Melania Trump’s Zara jacket, or Ivanka Trump’s smiling Instagram of her son.) This suspicion was compounded when, the day after Nielsen’s meal, it was revealed that Stephen Miller—the senior White House adviser responsible for the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy—had dined on Sunday night at Espita Mezcaleria, a buzzy Mexican spot in Washington’s hip Shaw neighborhood that, according to The Washingtonian, serves the best chips and salsa in town. (The New York Post reported that a customer at the restaurant, spotting Miller, cried out, “Whoever thought we’d be in a restaurant with a real-life fascist begging [for] money for new cages?”) In the midst of the Presidential campaign, which he kicked off by asserting that Mexican immigrants are rapists, Donald Trump celebrated Cinco de Mayo by tweeting a photo that showed him grinning and giving the thumbs-up in front of a tortilla bowl, with the caption “I love Hispanics!” Perhaps Miller, known for his smug embrace of xenophobic politics, was making a similarly sneering gesture.

MXDC is a slick, anodyne restaurant, one of a half-dozen or so East Coast establishments affiliated with the celebrity chef Todd English, who rose to fame in the nineties making Italian food in Boston. Neither English nor the restaurant’s owner, nor the bulk of its clientele, is Latino, but—as in so many restaurants in America—most of the staff is. Indeed, Nielsen and Miller would have been hard-pressed to find any restaurant, serving any kind of food, that didn’t rely on the labor of the same individuals their immigration policies seek to expel at all costs. Latino workers are the backbone of the restaurant world, at bistros, pizzerias, sushi counters, and rotisseries across the country—many of them are Central American, like the majority of the migrant families being torn apart in recent weeks. (And, it’s worth noting, many of those workers are undocumented: the hospitality sector is one of the largest employers of undocumented labor in the country.)

To many people—the protesters and hecklers, the demonstrators gathered in front of ICE and D.H.S. offices across the country during the past week, the horrified parents watching the news and holding their children close—it seems impossible that Nielsen and Miller could miss the through line that connects this Administration’s cruel, dehumanizing policies toward Latino migrants and the real lives of Latino people who already live and work in this country. It seems as if it would require high-wire moral acrobatics, Jedi-level compartmentalization, to enjoy the fruits of Latin American culture, and labor, at this time. But for many other Americans, including those leading our government, there is a simple, reflexive disconnect between cultural product and cultural producer, between policy and people. “Everyone hates Mexicans, but everyone at the same time loves Mexican food,” the Mexican-American writer Gustavo Arellano told the Huffington Post, in 2016. “When they’re eating it, they’re able to disassociate it from the people who made it, or who picked it or slaughtered those cows.” Shortly after Marco Gutierrez issued his taco-truck warning, a Bay Area online magazine asked him what sort of food establishment he would be happy to see on every American corner. “Uhh . . . Probably taco trucks,” he said. “What?!” the interviewer responded. “Yeah,” he said. “Taco trucks are fine with me.”

Doonesbury — Cruel Shot.

Friday, June 15, 2018

You’ve Got Karma

One of the little tidbits to come out of the FBI Inspector General’s report on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server to conduct official business was this:

James Comey used a personal Gmail account for official government business while FBI director, after leading the investigation into the Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, the Justice Department’s inspector general said Thursday.

Hillary Clinton had a three-word response:

I would have gone with “lock him up.”