Thursday, January 11, 2024

Florida Grift Part Infinity

From the Miami Herald:

Former Miami-Dade School Board member Lubby Navarro was arrested Thursday morning for allegedly using her district-issued credit car[d] to rack up personal expenses of $100,000 over several years, according to several sources with knowledge of the arrest.

Navarro, who resigned in late December 2022, a day before a new Florida law prohibiting elected officials from working as lobbyists went into effect. Navarro is a registered lobbyist for the South Broward Hospital District, which includes Memorial Healthcare System hospitals in Hollywood, Pembroke Pines, Miramar and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Rundle is expected to offer more details at a 2:30 p.m. press conference at her downtown office.

Navarro earned upwards of $220,000 working for Memorial in 2022. School Board members earn $46,773, according to the Miami-Dade Elections Department.

Back in 2014, I helped Ms. Navarro edit and revise her letters to then-Gov. Rick Scott to get her appointed to the M-DCPS board to replace Carlos Curbelo, who had won a seat in Congress.  Once on the board, she turned hard-right, dissing LGBTQ rights, and otherwise becoming a wormtongue for Ron DeSantis before she was forced to resign due to her lobbying.  (She was known by some as Lobbyin’ Lubby.)

In a way I am sorry I got her on the board and for screwing over the students, but if she hadn’t been there, she wouldn’t have done what got her arrested, so karma did its stuff.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Job Evaluation

A former student in the Sarasota school district hands in his evaluation of “Moms for Liberty” banshee Bridget Ziegler’s performance as a member of the school board.  It is, as others have noted, a thing of beauty.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Law & Order(s)

It was kind of a busy day yesterday in courts around the country.

A New York judge ruled on Tuesday that Donald J. Trump persistently committed fraud by inflating the value of his assets, and stripped the former president of control over some of his signature New York properties.

The decision by Justice Arthur F. Engoron is a major victory for Attorney General Letitia James in her lawsuit against Mr. Trump, effectively deciding that no trial was needed to determine that he had fraudulently secured favorable terms on loans and insurance deals.

Ms. James has argued that Mr. Trump inflated the value of his properties by as much as $2.2 billion and is seeking a penalty of about $250 million in a trial scheduled to begin as early as Monday.

Justice Engoron wrote that the annual financial statements that Mr. Trump submitted to banks and insurance companies “clearly contain fraudulent valuations that defendants used in business.”

Ms. James, in a brief statement, said, “We look forward to presenting the rest of our case at trial.”

Followed by…

The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused Alabama’s request to reinstate a congressional map drawn by Republican lawmakers that had only one majority-Black district, paving the way for a new map to be put in place before the 2024 election.

Alabama’s request to keep its map was the second time in under a year that it had asked the Supreme Court to affirm a limited role of race in establishing voting districts for federal elections, in what amounted to a defiant repudiation of lower-court rulings. In the latest twist in the case, the lower court had found that the state had brazenly flouted its directive to create a second majority-Black district or something “close to it.”

The court’s order gave no reasons, which is often the case when the justices decide on emergency applications. There were no public dissents. The ruling clears the way for a special master and court-appointed cartographer to create a new map.

And then there’s this:

In the New York fraud case against Trump, the court also ordered that 130 business certificates held by Trump are to be cancelled, basically putting him out of business in the state.  That includes the Trump Organization.  Of course he could reestablish them somewhere else…  like the Caymans.  Or Elba.

HT WaterGirl at Balloon Juice.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Happy Friday

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opened a can on Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH).

ATLANTA — The Atlanta-area prosecutor who has brought criminal charges against former president Donald Trump issued a scathing letter Thursday to the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, accusing him of trying to obstruct her office’s criminal racketeering case against Trump and 18 allies.

In the letter, Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis accused Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) of “an unjustified and illegal intrusion into an open state criminal prosecution” with his own recent letter demanding records related to the investigation and indictment of Trump and his allies on charges, alleging that they illegally plotted to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia.

“Your attempt to invoke congressional authority to intrude upon and interfere with an active criminal case in Georgia is flagrantly at odds with the Constitution,” Willis wrote in the nine-page letter, which accuses Jordan of lacking a “basic understanding of the law,” including the law regarding state sovereignty.

“Your public statements and your letter itself make clear that you lack any legitimate legislative purpose for that inquiry,” Willis added. “Your job description as a legislator does not include criminal law enforcement, nor does it include supervising a specific criminal trial because you believe that doing so will promote your partisan political objectives.”


In her response, Willis called Jordan’s letter “unconstitutional” and “offensive.”

“Its obvious purpose is to obstruct a Georgia criminal proceeding and to advance outrageous partisan misrepresentations,” Willis wrote. “There is no justification in the Constitution for Congress to interfere with a state criminal matter, as you attempt to do.

“The defendants in this case have been charged under state law with committing state crimes. There is absolutely no support for Congress purporting to second guess or somehow supervise an ongoing Georgia criminal investigation and prosecution,” Willis added.

Willis suggested that Jordan’s questions about how she had prosecuted the case “shows a total ignorance of Georgia’s racketeering statute and the basics of criminal conspiracy law.”

“I encourage you to read ‘RICO State-by-State,’ Willis wrote, referring to a book by John Floyd, a special prosecutor on the 2020 election case. “As a non-member of the bar, you can purchase a copy for two hundred forty-nine dollars [$249].”

Get a napkin, Jim; you just got served.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Hello, Karma, My Old Friend

This couldn’t have been scripted better, even without the WGA strike.

MIAMI — Ron DeSantis and his allies worked to build momentum ahead of a long-expected presidential campaign launch on Wednesday — rolling out endorsements, sleek videos and the image of an alligator lurking just beneath the water on his campaign website.

But the novel “Twitter Spaces” announcement with Elon Musk that the Florida governor’s team had hyped as the culmination of his big day was plagued by glitches in the evening. The live chat came to a halt after roughly 20 minutes of mostly silence; by the time it restarted and DeSantis began his remarks, hundreds of thousands of listeners had peeled off.

It was an awkward start to a campaign that had already hit numerous roadblocks this spring, even as many Republicans still view DeSantis as the most formidable primary challenger to Donald Trump. The rollout that was plagued by technical problems drew ridicule from DeSantis critics in both parties.

Great start, Ron.  You’ve really got it under contr

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Settling Down

As any lawyer will tell you, a settlement in a case means that neither side really wins, but they don’t lose either.  So the outcome of the Dominion Voting vs. Fox News doesn’t let either side claim victory or vindication.

Charlie Pierce:

There is no real point any more in expecting most American corporations, large and small, to act as though patriotism is their most important corporate allegiance. There isn’t a corporation in this country that wouldn’t look at 787 million simoleons on the table and think, “Gee, does that cover the damages to the republic? Sure hope it has outside insurance.” From The New York Times:

It was a last-minute end to a case that began two years ago and after the disclosure of hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that peeled back the curtain on a media company that has long resisted outside scrutiny. The settlement included a $787.5 million payment from Fox, according to Justin Nelson, a lawyer for Dominion. Dominion had originally sought $1.6 billion in damages. Fox Corporation said in a statement that “we acknowledge the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.” It added: “We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”

The statement from Fox was so laughable that CNN’s Jake Tapper literally burst out laughing while trying to read it.

“We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. We acknowledge the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”

“Dispute” is nice. “Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards” is a test to see if it is possible to laugh and vomit at the same time. And what “issues,” precisely, are we “moving forward from”? The issue of a major propaganda network masquerading as a news channel and dishing out lies to its gullible viewers that make them pick up that old can of bear spray and head to Statuary Hall? Can’t blame pigs for wallowing I guess. And $787.5 million is a good piece of change for a company the size of Dominion. It may even enable Dominion to repair some of the damage that Fox did to its business.

If, instead of George Soros, I ruled the universe, here’s what I would make happen: 1) Major cable providers would drop FNC like a hot rock, especially if it raises its rates to help pay off its settlement; 2) Fox would immediately lose its credentials to cover any institution of the federal government on the grounds that it is manifestly dishonest; 3) my colleagues in this business would treat Fox and its employees as leprous outcasts and not as “colleagues” in the business of informing the public, and 4) rescind the memberships of any Fox employee in any professional organization.

Here’s what I think will happen. The cable providers will cave and we’ll all end up indirectly making Fox’s settlement good. Peter Doocy will continue to park his legacy keister in the White House press room. We will be treated to at least a few “Changes In Fox News” puff pieces in major outlets, all of which will be lies and will eventually embarrass the poor sap who wrote them. And the liars and poisoners of the Fox News Channel will dance the night away at the next White House Correspondents Dinner. SmartMatic will find a nice check waiting for it on the courthouse steps, too.

All of these things will likely come to pass because American corporations, even the ones that own large media outlets, have the dedication to democracy of a sea urchin when it might impinge on the bottom line. Dominion Voting System was just doing what modern American corporations do. And, when it comes right down to it, it’s not Dominion’s job to make whole our commitment to our republic. That’s our fcking job, and we’ve shirked it long enough.

It’s not over yet for Fox.  Smartmatic, another voting machine company slandered by the noise machine, goes to trial later this year, as do individuals who have filed personal suits for damages.  Keep your checkbook open, Rupert.

Friday, March 31, 2023

Happy Friday

Ron DeSantis is learning something a lot of people, including theatre producers, directors, and kiddie birthday party-throwers have known since time out of mind: You don’t mess with The Mouse.

The Disney World oversight board installed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) accused its predecessor of using an 11th-hour agreement to sharply curtail the new board’s powers and bolster the entertainment giant’s control over the Florida-based amusement park.

In one of its last acts before DeSantis’s appointees took over, the board for the area that includes Walt Disney Co.’s Florida theme park agreed to a deal in February that grants the company broad veto powers over any improvements or changes to properties in the park, according to a copy of the agreement published by the Orlando Sentinel. Under the measure, any changes are “subject to [Disney’s] prior review and comment,” so as to “ensure consistency with the overall design and theming” of the park, effectively stripping much of the board’s power to regulate Disney.

The board is also prohibited from using Disney’s name or characters — “such as Mickey Mouse” — or distributing or selling Disney-related merchandise. It also gives the company the right to prior review and comment when the board changes building exteriors, among other strictures.

The new agreement invokes a “royal lives” clause: It is valid in perpetuity, or if forever is deemed to be too long, until the “death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England living as of the date of this Declaration.” Such clauses have been employed for centuries as a workaround for restrictions on agreements in perpetuity.

The contract also contains stipulations allowing Disney to seek damages if the board violates any provisions.

Anyone who has ever engaged in business with the Disney operation, be it putting on one of their musicals or just putting up a picture of any of their characters without permission, has been on the receiving end of their very protective legal team. They have been known to send out a cease-and-desist letter to a family hosting a Disney-themed child’s birthday party, and they mean it.  And they are good; invoking the “royal lives” clause is a stroke of genius.

Long live the King.  And Mickey Mouse.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Good News

A win for sanity in Georgia and a jury verdict in New York.

ATLANTA — Democrat Raphael G. Warnock on Tuesday was projected to win reelection to represent Georgia in the Senate, defeating Republican Herschel Walker in a tight runoff and expanding his party’s slim majority in the chamber.

It was a hard-fought victory for Democrats in an increasingly purple state that was central to the party’s gains last election cycle and is expected to be a key battleground in 2024. Rural turnout for Walker, 60, a former Georgia football star, was not enough to offset a strong Atlanta-area performance by Warnock, 53, a pastor at a historic church in the city.

Warnock’s win gave Democrats their 51st Senate seat — handing them more leverage in a chamber that for two years has been evenly split, with Vice President Harris empowered to break ties and two swing-vote Democrats able to make or break their party’s plans.

The result also capped a disappointing midterm cycle for Republicans, who expected a red wave but fell short of retaking the Senate and reclaimed the House majority by a margin of just a few seats. Walker, a first-time candidate ridiculed for gaffes, accused of serious misconduct and elevated by former president Donald Trump, exemplified broader Republican concerns that their nominees — and Trump — undermined their chances. His loss spurred more calls to rethink the party’s direction and strategy.

Mr. Walker conceded, which is something most Republicans don’t do without a fight. Good for him.

And in New York:

NEW YORK — Former president Donald Trump’s namesake company was convicted Tuesday of tax crimes committed by two of its longtime executives after a Manhattan trial that gave jurors a peek at some of the inner workings of the Trump Organization’s finances.

The real estate, hospitality and golf resort operation headquartered at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue faces the possibility of a $1.6 million fine at a sentencing scheduled Jan. 13. New York Supreme Court jurors began deliberations Monday.

The company was charged with scheme to defraud, conspiracy, criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records. Trump has not been charged with wrongdoing.

He may not have been charged, but his name is all over it and he’s always said he’s in charge.

Charlie Pierce:

At the very least—and perhaps at the very most—for the first time since he came down the escalator in 2015, the words “Trump,” “convicted,” and “fraud” appear in the same headline. Possibly this is the icebreaker that gets people to realize the former president* is not only a wannabe dictator and a threat to the republic, but also a cheap crook who ran a cheaply crooked business in cheaply crooked ways. That should shake loose some of his Big Scary Monster cred (not that any prominent Republicans will notice). I’m no expert, but with the New York DA’s probe “jump-started” and the implacable Fani Willis still on the case in Georgia, and the January 6 committee talking about criminal referrals, and the ongoing Pool Shed Papers scandal, I’d say the stage is pretty well set. Bring in the juries—all of them.

The wheels of justice grind slowly, but they work, as does karma.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Happy Friday

We started out the week with Rosh Hashanah, a religious celebration with hope for a new year and good things to come, but ended it with the horrible aftermath of nature’s ways.  All we can hope for is that the people who need the help can get it without hindrance and all the compassion we as a civilization and society can muster.

Monday, May 2, 2022

“Vladimir, I’m calling about your car’s warranty.”

This is worthy of a cosmic karma chuckle.

For more than a decade, U.S. cybersecurity experts have warned about Russian hacking that increasingly uses the labor power of financially motivated criminal gangs to achieve political goals, such as strategically leaking campaign emails.

Prolific ransomware groups in the last year and a half have shut down pandemic-battered hospitals, the key fuel conduit Colonial Pipeline and schools; published sensitive documents from corporate victims; and, in one case, pledged to step up attacks on American infrastructure if Russian technology was hobbled in retribution for the invasion of Ukraine.

Yet the third month of war finds Russia, not the United States, struggling under an unprecedented hacking wave that entwines government activity, political voluntarism and criminal action.

Digital assailants have plundered the country’s personal financial data, defaced websites and handed decades of government emails to anti-secrecy activists abroad. One recent survey showed more passwords and other sensitive data from Russia were dumped onto the open Web in March than information from any other country.


The broadcasting cache and some of the other notable spoils were obtained by a small hacktivist group formed as the war began looking inevitable, called Network Battalion 65.

“Federation government: your lack of honor and blatant war crimes have earned you a special prize,” read one note left on a victim’s network. “This bank is hacked, ransomed and soon to have sensitive data dumped on the Internet.”

In its first in-depth interview, the group told The Washington Post via encrypted chat that it gets no direction or assistance from government officials in Ukraine or elsewhere.

“We pay for our own infrastructure and dedicate our time outside of jobs and familial obligations to this,” an unnamed spokesperson said in English. “We ask nothing in return. It’s just the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, the Kremlin is trying to figure out why the garage door keeps opening and closing all by itself.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Annals Of Karma, Part Infinity

Well, she was asking for it.  From the Washington Post:

It was one of the harshest penalties imposed to date on a participant in events at the Capitol who was found guilty only of a petty offense.

“For better or worse, you’ve become one of the faces of January 6,” U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper of D.C. told Jenna Ryan, 50. She gained national attention by defending her conduct at the Capitol in media interviews and on Twitter. Because of that notoriety, Cooper said, people would look to her sentence as evidence of “how our country responded to what happened.”

He continued, “I think the sentence should tell them that we take it seriously, that it was an assault on our democracy . . . and that it should never happen again.”

In sentencing Ryan to 60 days in custody, he cited her apparent lack of remorse for her conduct, as well as her decision to join the mob, not directly from President Donald Trump’s rally that morning but after going back to her hotel and seeing television footage of a mob besieging the Capitol.

Ryan pleaded guilty in August to one count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol.

“You’ve been very upfront that you feel no sense of shame or guilt,” Cooper said. “You suggested antifa was somehow involved. And perhaps most famously, you said that because you had blonde hair and white skin, you wouldn’t be going to jail.”

He was referring to a tweet Ryan posted in March saying, “Sorry I have blonde hair white skin a great job a great future and I’m not going to jail. . . . I did nothing wrong.”

The poster child for white privilege just got a big kick in the karma.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Don’t Even Try

I’ve had to answer to a few friends about the school here in Miami where the people that run it not only refuse to get vaccinated for Covid-19, they are telling their teachers who have gotten the shots not to come to work because they’re afraid they will spread it: the vaccine, that is; not the virus.

I can’t explain it any more than I can explain any other careless, dangerous, and potentially life-threatening behavior, like the guy driving down the Palmetto Expressway at 65 with not just a flat tire but the rim riding on the pavement leaving a comet-like trail of sparks.  Or the people who get a snootful and drive drunk.  They do it in spite of the danger to themselves and others.

If the Centners want to go without vaccination, that’s their choice.  There is no federal mandate.  But when they run a private school and willfully expose children and staff to a disease that has killed over 580,000 Americans and is raging through other lands, they have an obligation, not just as educators, but just plain human beings, to protect if not themselves, than others.  That’s the whole point behind mask mandates, social distancing, and getting vaccinated.  You want to wallow in your freedoms?  Go ahead.  Just don’t take others unwillingly or unknowingly along with you.

There’s something uniquely narcissistic about the America Fuck Yeah freedom mindset that declares that just because I’m free to expose myself to death, disease, and stupid reality shows on cable TV, everyone else must abide by that or you’re a commie pinko libtard.  The fact that that way of thinking is the exact opposite of what this country stands for doesn’t sink in.  The first words of the Constitution are “We the People,” not “It’s All About Me.”

I’ve tried to explain that to some of the people I encounter who refuse to go along with the way life is now.  But now I don’t bother because while it may be cynical and cruel, life itself has a way of taking care of those who flagrantly and ignorantly snap their fingers under the nose of karma.  All I ask is that they do it far enough away from me and those I love so we’re not taken along with them.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Sunday Reading

The Most Infuriating Thing — Charles P. Pierce on the article in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg.

The two men were set to visit Section 60, the 14-acre area of the cemetery that is the burial ground for those killed in America’s most recent wars. Kelly’s son Robert is buried in Section 60. A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan. He was 29. Trump was meant, on this visit, to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son’s grave, and to comfort the families of other fallen service members. But according to sources with knowledge of this visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.

“He can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself,” one of Kelly’s friends, a retired four-star general, told me. “He just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation.” Kelly’s friend went on to say, “Trump can’t imagine anyone else’s pain. That’s why he would say this to the father of a fallen marine on Memorial Day in the cemetery where he’s buried.”

That is the single most poignant moment in Jeffrey Goldberg’s soon-to-be-legendary piece in The Atlantic. Except for the likely instant intervention of the Secret Service, I don’t know how John Kelly didn’t flatten the vulgar talking yam right there at Arlington. But John Kelly didn’t do that. In fact he stayed with the administration*, eventually taking a promotion from Secretary of Homeland Security to White House chief-of-staff. Kelly became the face of cruel and stupid immigration policies at the country’s southern border, defended the president* when the latter made similarly insensitive remarks to a Gold Star widow in Florida and then called Rep. Fredrica Wilson “an empty barrel” when she called the president* out for it, spoke warmly of Robert E. Lee and the armies of the Confederate States of America, and ultimately left the administration* to take a job with a firm that runs the largest detention facility in which “unaccompanied” migrant minor children are held. And John Kelly did all of this after the president* made those graceless remarks about Kelly’s son while standing aside the young man’s grave. Frankly, I don’t know how Kelly could even look at the man without vomiting after that.

That is the part of Goldberg’s piece that is the most infuriating. Yes, the president*’s remarks about all the “losers” and “suckers” who died in Belleau Wood are grotesque—although, to be fair, he isn’t entirely wrong about World War I. Yes, the idea that El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago avoided a trip to a military cemetery in France because rain might have damaged his coiffure is both sad and hilarious. Yes, his obsession with John McCain, which continues to this day, apparently, is the product of a bent and twisted mind. And yes, his apparent revulsion at the sight of wounded veterans is unbecoming in a president of the United States. All of these things are true. But all of these things were true at the time. Kelly and the president* went to Arlington five months into the president*’s term. Kelly worked for the president* for another year and, since then, until just now, he has maintained his silence as the president*’s assault on the rule of law and the Constitution only intensified. All of them—Kelly, H.R. McMaster, James Mattis—have been Good Soldiers rather than patriots. (Mattis did call the president* a threat to the Constitution in another Goldberg piece that ran in June. Of this year. Barn. Lock. Missing horse.) This is also the case for all the anonymous people behind Goldberg’s opus. Personally, I have more respect for the average kid marching in the streets than I do for all of them combined.

I don’t want to hear about “duty” and “service,” either. They took an oath to defend the Constitution, not to hold their tongues until they could get a book deal as a reckless vandal takes the Republic down, brick by brick. Of all the people whom history will account as being complicit in the attempted demolition of constitutional government, I rank them ahead even of the invertebrate Republicans in the United States Senate. I do not expect political courage from the likes of Mitch McConnell or Ben Sasse. I expect it of men who have demonstrated physical courage under extreme circumstances, but never has the difference between battlefield courage and political courage been more clearly drawn. I am glad that Goldberg has written this piece. I’m glad it’s out in the world. I’m glad that people are outraged about it, and I’m glad for whatever role it may ultimately play in lifting this scourge from the land. But I am sorry, and angry, that it has come to this, in 2020, when the vandals are still on a rampage that seems as though it can only end in annihilation.

Acting Out — Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Donald Trump should take an improv class to make the stories that he creates out of thin air richer in detail, a leading improv expert advised.

Harland Dorrinson, a founding member of Yes/And TheatreWorks, the legendary improv group in St. Louis, said that a grounding in improv would help Trump craft stories that “at least sound like they could be true.”

Dorrinson said that he recently watched a scene performed by Trump and Laura Ingraham, of Fox News, that demonstrated just how much the President could benefit from taking a beginners’ improv workshop.

“Laura Ingraham was giving him great prompts, but he didn’t build on them,” he said. “She asked him to describe the thugs on planes, and he had nothing.”

“He said that they were wearing ‘dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear and this and that,’ ” Dorrinson said. “Then he said that they came from ‘a certain city’ and that he heard all of this from ‘a person.’ If you did an improv that lazy on our stage, the audience would demand its money back.”

Despite his criticism, Dorrinson believes that Trump “has what it takes” to be a solid improv performer.

“He has a wild imagination and a truly demented stage presence, but he needs to get serious and put in the work,” he said.

Doonesbury — Color me furious.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Sunday Reading

A Lesson on Decency — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

One could be forgiven for thinking that rhetorical dynamism long ago vanished from the hallways and chambers of the United States Congress. It has been a hundred and sixty-four years, for example, since Charles Sumner, the anti-slavery Republican from Massachusetts, rose in the humid air of the Old Senate Chamber to unleash a five-hour, fully memorized onslaught against the idea of Kansas joining the Union as a slave state. Along the way, Sumner paused to lash two of his Senate colleagues, calling Stephen Douglas, of Illinois, a “noisome, squat, and nameless animal,” and accusing Andrew Butler, of South Carolina, of taking up with a “polluted” mistress—“I mean the harlot, Slavery.” You can still hear such acidic flourishes in other legislatures around the globe, but the language of the U.S. Congress is rarely so vivid. Generally, it is as flavorless as day-old gum.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a first-term Democrat from New York, provided a rare exception Thursday as she stepped to the microphone in the House chamber to make a hash of Ted Yoho, a veterinarian, Tea Party member, and veteran Republican from Florida.

The story began earlier this week, when Yoho reportedly approached Ocasio-Cortez on the Capitol steps to inform her that she was, among other things, “disgusting” and “out of your freaking mind.” His analysis was directed at her (hardly novel) public statements that poverty and unemployment are root causes of the recent spike in crime rates in New York. On matters of criminal-justice reform, Yoho is of a decidedly conservative bent. Not long ago, he voted against making lynching a federal hate crime, saying that such a law would be a regrettable instance of federal “overreach.”

According to a reporter for The Hill, Yoho did not cease in his expressive disdain for Ocasio-Cortez even as she walked away. Once he believed her to be out of hearing range, Yoho reportedly described his colleague as a “fucking bitch.”

On Wednesday, once the news of the encounter had circulated, Yoho delivered a statement that could best be described as the sort of non-apology apology that begins, “I am sorry if you understood me to be saying. . . .” Yoho began by explaining that he wanted “to apologize for the abrupt manner of the conversation I had with my colleague from New York.”

But his remorse was, at best, confined. “No one was accosted, bullied, or attacked,” he went on. “This was a brief policy discussion, plain and simple, and we have our differences. . . . The fact still remains, I am not going to apologize for something I didn’t say.” With confused logic, Yoho invoked his wife and daughters and said that he objected to Ocasio-Cortez’s views because he had experienced poverty when he was young. “I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family, and my country,” he said. It was unclear who had asked him to apologize for his religious faith, his patriotism, or his love of family, but he was ardent all the same.

In all, Yoho’s was at best a deflective, jittery performance that was in no wise enhanced by his spokesman, Brian Kaveney, who e-mailed the Washington Post to say that Yoho “did not call Rep. Ocasio-Cortez what has been reported in the Hill or any name for that matter. . . . Instead, he made a brief comment to himself as he walked away summarizing what he believes her policies to be: bulls—.”

As a first-termer, Ocasio-Cortez has been a star, even if she has had her stumbles, including an initially troubled relationship with the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Ocasio-Cortez has been at the forefront of major issues, including climate change, immigration, campaign-finance reform, and income inequality. Her ability to skewer a balky witness in committee hearings has proved as uncanny as it is entertaining. She came to the House floor Thursday to rebut Yoho, insisting that, after delivering a short retort via Twitter, she might have kept her counsel had he not delivered such a lame non-apology. Her speech, which was then echoed by other colleagues from the Democratic caucus, was not in the Charles Sumner category in either length or style—she favored righteous sincerity where Sumner employed florid invective—but the devastation was of a similar scale. The sporting equivalent might be Billie Jean King’s measured yet unmistakable destruction of Bobby Riggs. The video of Ocasio-Cortez’s speech is available online, of course; it should be studied for its measured cadence, its artful construction, and its refusal of ugliness.

She began with narrative, setting the scene: “I was minding my own business, walking up the steps, and Representative Yoho put his finger in my face. He called me ‘disgusting.’ He called me ‘crazy.’ He called me ‘out of my mind.’ And he called me ‘dangerous.’ ” Then she broadened her scope: “This issue is not about one incident. It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting violence and violent language against women and an entire structure of power that supports that.” Ocasio-Cortez made it clear that she was not going to fall down and faint. She had heard it all before, on the subway and as a bartender. But she wasn’t going to let this pass, not from a fellow-member of Congress: “I could not allow my nieces, I could not allow the little girls that I go home to, I could not allow victims of verbal abuse, and worse, to see that. To see that excuse, and see our Congress accept it as legitimate and accept it as an apology and to accept silence as a form of acceptance. I could not allow that to stand.” What’s more, she was not going to allow Yoho, in his clumsy way, to use his family as a “shield” for his barrage.

“Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize,” she said. “I am someone’s daughter, too.”

The politics of our moment are dominated by a bully of miserable character, a President who has failed to contain a pandemic through sheer indifference, who has fabricated a reëlection campaign based on bigotry and the deliberate inflammation of division. His language is abusive, his attitude toward women disdainful. Trump is all about himself: his needs, his ego, his self-preservation. Along the way he has created a Republican Party in his own image. Imitators like Ted Yoho slavishly follow his lead. On the House floor Thursday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exemplified a different sort of character. She defended not only herself; she defended principle and countless women. And all in just a few short minutes on the floor of the House of Representatives.

As Good A Time As Any — Charles P. Pierce on the possibility that we’ve been visited from afar.

OK, 2020, why the hell not?

Pentagon officials will not discuss the program, which is not classified but deals with classified matters. Yet it appeared last month in a Senate committee report outlining spending on the nation’s intelligence agencies for the coming year. The report said the program, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force, was “to standardize collection and reporting” on sightings of unexplained aerial vehicles, and was to report at least some of its findings to the public every six months…Eric W. Davis, an astrophysicist who worked as a subcontractor and then a consultant for the Pentagon U.F.O. program since 2007, said that, in some cases, examination of the materials had so far failed to determine their source and led him to conclude, “We couldn’t make it ourselves.” The constraints on discussing classified programs — and the ambiguity of information cited in unclassified slides from the briefings — have put officials who have studied U.F.O.s in the position of stating their views without presenting any hard evidence. Mr. Davis, who now works for Aerospace Corporation, a defense contractor, said he gave a classified briefing to a Defense Department agency as recently as March about retrievals from “off-world vehicles not made on this earth.”

Excuse me?

Mr. Reid, the former Democratic senator from Nevada who pushed for funding the earlier U.F.O. program when he was the majority leader, said he believed that crashes of vehicles from other worlds had occurred and that retrieved materials had been studied secretly for decades, often by aerospace companies under government contracts. “After looking into this, I came to the conclusion that there were reports — some were substantive, some not so substantive — that there were actual materials that the government and the private sector had in their possession,” Mr. Reid said in an interview.

We are overdue in this weird, disastrous year for some unalloyed Good Weirdness. Let it all out. If there ever was a time in history to learn we’re not alone, this is it.

Doonesbury — Nice work if you can get it.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sunday Reading

He Should Have Seen It Coming — Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker.

There, yet again, were the flames. Before the furious conflagrations erupted in Minneapolis, the final weeks of May had already seemed like the answer to a grim math problem: What is the product of a crisis multiplied by a crisis? The official mortality count of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States swept toward a hundred thousand, while the economic toll had left forty million people out of work. It was difficult to countenance how so much misery could come about so quickly. But on Memorial Day we became video witnesses to the horrific death of George Floyd, at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. By Friday, the looted shops, the charred buildings and cars, the smoldering Third Precinct—these were evidence of what the world looks like when a crisis is cubed.

These seemingly disparate American trials are not unrelated; they’re bound by their predictability and by the ways in which the Trump Administration has exacerbated them since they began. In March, the President claimed that “nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion,” and he has echoed that sentiment throughout the course of the emergency. But virtually everyone paying attention to public health saw something like the novel coronavirus coming. In less than two decades, we have seen epidemics of the SARS, MERS, Ebola, and H1N1 viruses. The Obama Administration created a National Security Council Directorate to mitigate the impact of such events; the Trump Administration largely disbanded it.

On Friday, Trump tweeted that the protesters in Minneapolis were “thugs”—a term with deep-rooted racist connotations—and later noted that the military was present in the city. “When the looting starts,” he warned, “the shooting starts.” This situation, too, is part of a long-building problem whose warning signs have gone unheeded by the current Administration. Progressives have widely criticized the 1994 Crime Bill, which was spearheaded by Joe Biden, but an element of that legislation has been underappreciated. The 1992 Los Angeles riots broke out after the acquittal of four police officers who had violently assaulted Rodney King (an incident that was also captured on video). As has often been the case with riots, the chaotic fury in Los Angeles was not simply a response to one incident but an accretion of anger at innumerable issues with a police department which had gone unaddressed for years. The Crime Bill authorized the civil-rights division of the Department of Justice to intervene in the instance of chronically troubled departments, by negotiating consent decrees that laid out specific reforms to be followed, and provided for monitors to oversee their implementation. Like the precursors to the coronavirus, Los Angeles—and later Ferguson and Baltimore—was an indicator of how such problems could play out without intervention. But, in this area as well, the Trump Administration has functioned like a building contractor who can’t recognize a load-bearing wall.

In July, 2017, in an address to law-enforcement officers in Suffolk County, New York, Trump told them to use more force when taking suspects into custody. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting the head,” he said. “You can take the hand away, O.K.?” The following May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a speech to the National Association of Police Organizations, said that the Justice Department “will not malign entire police departments. We will not try to micromanage their daily work.” That November, as one of his last acts on the job, Sessions issued a memorandum that severely curtailed the civil-rights division’s ability to pursue decrees with police departments. This meant that, in communities plagued with bad policing, resentments could accrue unchecked by any higher authority until they reached their detonation points. Those detonations tend to resemble the streets of Minneapolis this week.

On Thursday, in a press conference that was short on developments or new information, Erica MacDonald, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, said, “To be clear, President Trump as well as Attorney General William Barr are directly and actively monitoring the investigation in this case.” But what, precisely, does that mean? Barr presides over a civil-rights division that has been stripped of its chief mechanism for creating compliance among police officers. In the past five years, the Twin Cities area has seen three other controversial police shootings: of Jamar Clark, in 2015; of Philando Castile, in 2016; and of Justine Damond, in 2017. Each of these fatal incidents featured a victim of a different racial background from the officers involved, and each was highlighted as an example of police misconduct. Like the COVID cases that emerged in Seattle at the beginning of the year, Minneapolis is a study in the importance of foresight and planning, and an example of what happens when neither of those things occurs.

The President posted his “the shooting starts” tweet early on Friday morning, just hours before Officer Derek Chauvin, who had knelt on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes, was taken into custody and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Twitter, in an unprecedented move, labelled Trump’s tweet a violation of company policy against “glorifying violence.” A Presidential threat to have the United States military shoot civilians is the opposite of leadership, the antithesis of wisdom—a comment as ill-advised and as detrimental to the public well-being as recommending injecting disinfectant or self-prescribing hydroxychloroquine.

Our problems generally do not stem from treacherous unknowns; they’re the result of a failure to make good use of what is known already. In July, 1967, after a brutal police raid at an after-hours bar in Detroit, that city exploded in retaliatory violence. A month later, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a speech to the American Psychological Association, in which he described riots as “durable social phenomena” that arise in conjunction with discernible conditions—acts of lawlessness that mirror the excesses of those charged with upholding the law. Leaders cannot predict the future, but they can be cognizant of the immediate past, and the possible dangers it suggests. They cannot be clairvoyant. They need only be intelligent.

Doonesbury — Instant Karma

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Karma Virus

It’s not nice and certainly unfeeling to make light of a disease that spreads rapidly and can kill a lot of people.  That seems to be the lesson here.  Not only is it rude and boorish, it paints a huge bullseye of karma on your ass.

Days after Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) wore an enormous gas mask during a House floor vote on an emergency funding package for the coronavirus response, the congressman announced that he would self-quarantine for 14 days after coming into contact with a Conservative Political Action Conference participant who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Gaetz said on Twitter that he has not experienced any symptoms but was tested Monday and expects results soon.

“Under doctor’s usual precautionary recommendations, he’ll remain self-quarantined until the 14-day period expires this week,” his Twitter account announced, hours after Gaetz traveled on Air Force One with President Trump.

Gaetz accompanied Trump from Florida to Washington, according to the White House pool report.

Gaetz attended the conservative conference last month. Other Republican congressmen, Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), who attended the same conference have announced they would self-quarantine even though they weren’t feeling symptoms.

Collins’s announcement comes on the heels of Trump’s visit to Georgia, where the congressman greeted the president with a handshake.

So I’m not going to laugh sardonically and point at them, and obvious out-of-the-park comments about self-quarantining are set aside.  But even if I did, I doubt that it will sink in to the people who so desperately need to hear them.

By the way, if you’re keeping track of the virus and news about it, the good folks at Balloon Juice are doing a better job than the CDC of keeping people informed.

Meanwhile, wash your hands.  Greet people with a nod, a bow, or, if you’re a total nerd, use the Vulcan salute.  Live long and prosper.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Predicting Panic

The one thing that will make Trump and his minions freak out about coronavirus COVID-19 isn’t that a lot of people in the United States will get sick and a number of them will die.  It’s that the stock markets will see what’s coming and do what stock markets do: crater.

Wall Street looked poised for a sharp drop on Monday morning after the outbreak worsened in Europe and the U.S. Oil prices and bond yields tumbled.

Financial markets don’t care whether or not people actually get sick; they can handle that.  What they can’t handle is instability and how governments and populations respond to a crisis.  Right now Trump & Co. have no idea how to deal with the disease or what to say about it.  They’re putting out contrary and contradictory messages, all backed up by the fact that Trump himself has no clue as to what the disease really is, what tools he has to deal with it, and what to do with the flood of information and scientific insight that is out there.  He’s spent most of his term denigrating science and scientists who aren’t sufficiently sycophantic to his political point of view, and he’s playing to his audience at Fox and telling them — mostly old people who have the greatest chance of dying from the disease — that there’s nothing to worry about.  The only sure thing that he and his cronies will do is to find some way to blame this all on Obama, then go off and play golf in Florida.

I’m not a financial guru, but I can see that the worldwide financial markets don’t give a shit about whether or not Trump is dealing with the crisis to his advantage or not.  They see China closing schools and factories and know that will impact whether or not a charter school in Miami will get the delivery of their computers in time to pay for them from a grant before it ends.  They see schools in Italy teaching their students via Skype and know that those kids won’t be shopping in downtown Florence, and they see authorities closing the borders in provinces and know that the tourists won’t be going to Milan to see opera or buy clothes.  They see cruise ships lying idle in the ports in Florida or languishing a hundred miles off the coast of California and know that the people who come off the ships will not be replaced by eager passengers looking forward to being locked in their cabin for two weeks, and they know that places like South Padre and Fort Lauderdale and Naples and Punta Gorda and Key West will see empty streets, beaches, and bars when spring break starts in a week while snowbirds and college kids stay home.

In a number of ways the financial markets are lagging indicators; they catch up with trends rather than lead them.  But when it comes to bad news and uncontrollable things like natural disasters such as hurricanes or epidemics, they are often out in front, often over-reacting but predicting where the money will land somewhere way down the road.  Smart investors have been predicting an economic reckoning for Trump’s financial maladroitness for years, saying it was just a matter of time before the unsustainable tax policies and literally staggering handling of the U.S. economy would end up teetering on the edge of disaster.  They just couldn’t say for certain what would or could cause it.  Now we know.  It’s not just some microscopic life form that makes people sick and spreads easily.  It’s that the people who have been warned for years that something like this would come along were ignored, then mocked, then vilified, and finally proven right.

And karma will exact her price: the idiot Rep. Matt Gaetz, who mocked the coronavirus by wearing a gas mask on the House floor, represents the district in Florida where the first fatality from the disease occurred.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Doing A Shitty Job

I love this.

The Customs and Border Protection agency is currently dealing with a pretty unfortunate bird problem.

CBP put out an official notice last week calling for potential vendors to help the agency devise a “vulture deterrence system” for one of its radio towers a couple of hours away from the U.S.-Mexico border in Kingsville, Texas.

“A population of approximately 300 vultures have built up and are roosting and nesting on the tower structure on the railings, catwalks, supports, and on rails and conduit throughout,” according to the notice, which was first obtained by Quartz. “Droppings mixed with urine are on all of these surfaces and throughout the interior of the tower where workers are in contact with it, as well as on areas below.”

Thus the border agency seeks a “viable netting deterrent” against the vulture brigade.

A CBP spokesperson told TPM in an emailed statement that the lawless birds “create a safety hazard.”

“They will often defecate and vomit from their roost onto buildings below that house employees and equipment,” the spokesperson said. “There are anecdotes about birds dropping prey from a height of three-hundred feet, creating a terrifying and dangerous situation for those concerned.”

Who says birds are stupid?

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.