Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Job Security

Jeff Daniels was on MSNBC yesterday, according to C&L:

Warming up, he went off on the GOP. “That’s why you look at the cowardice of the 15 or so Republicans in the Senate who are quiet. I’m not talking about Jeff Flake or Bob Corker. That’s not courage, that’s making sure you have a job somewhere after politics.”

“Courage is standing up and being a true patriot like we had back in 1776. Who are the heroes going to be?” he asked.

“Is it going to be the Pentagon Papers guy? Who’s the guy going, ‘Here, Washington Post, here’s the unredacted Mueller report.’ I’m waiting for that guy.”

“We’re all waiting for that guy,” Wallace affirmed. Boy howdy, aren’t we all. Are there no patriots out there willing to take the risk?

“We need people like that,” Daniels agreed. “To look at Congress with their politics, if I do this, I can’t do that. You are all worthless to me right now. I need people to stand up and be heroic because democracy is at stake.” [Emphasis in the original]

As others have also noted, there are a number of elected politicians who are, apparently, afraid to take a stand when a crime is being committed by the leader of their party because they want to be re-elected.  They defend themselves by saying that they can’t do a whole lot of good if they’re voted out of office, and to some degree that’s true.  But if enough of them stood up for the basic principle that the rule of law is more important than anything else, the message will get through.  Or to put the more practical spin on it, as soon as the GOP realizes, as they did in the summer of 1974 when Nixon was in extremis, that it was safe (not to mention saving their chances in the mid-terms) to run him over, they did it in short order.

Oh, and yes, someone, somewhere has a copy of the whole Mueller report and I wonder what would happen if an unredacted copy just happened to land at the Washington Post.  Or the Palmetto Bay Shoppers Guide.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Preacher, The Pool Boy, and The Photos

Josh Marshall sums up the interesting story about Jerry Falwell Jr that involves a Miami Beach pool boy, a hotel, and some racy “personal” photographs with a Trump angle thrown in.

Let’s talk about this eye-popping story from Reuters which claims that back in 2015 Michael Cohen helped early Trump endorser and now-consummate supporter Jerry Falwell, Jr. make some embarrassing photos disappear. This is at least the third story Aram Roston has written on this saga (this one at Reuters, the earlier two when he was at Buzzfeed). Each has reported a series eye-popping or bizarre facts. But each has also read with the clear sense that Roston either knows more than he can write or believes there’s much more to the story than he can prove.

The news story begins in 2017 with a Politico Magazine story about the odd fact that Falwell and his family – royals of a vast Fundamentalist empire and head of Liberty University – were the owners of a tumble down, flea bag hostel in one of the seedier parts of Miami that Politico not inaptly termed a “den of vice” and later “Falwell’s gay-friendly flophouse with an on-site liquor store.” It’s a great piece, plenty of color and general WTF about how exactly the Falwell family owns this dive combined with various stuff about the financing, tax status and the legal and financial structure of Liberty University.

[…]

The gist is this.

In 2012 the Falwells travel to the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. There they strike up a “friendly relationship” with a 21 year old pool boy on staff named Giancarlo Granda. The couple is apparently very taken with Giancarlo and soon they’re flying him on private jets up to Virginia, providing him with financial assistance and eventually deciding to set him as a business partner in the new Alton Hostel business venture. Falwell, or technically his wife and son, put up a million dollars for a down payment on the property and then almost a million more on renovations. This was all because they “wanted to help Granda establish a new career and build a business.” They gave him an equity stake in the business in exchange for him managing the property even though he had no experience managing anything.

In other words, their staunch conservatism notwithstanding, the Falwells put together a kind of bespoke one-man social democracy on before of Miami millennial Giancarlo Granda for reasons that are less than clear.

Now, this all sent tongues a’wagging: morally censorious Liberty University chief poobah and his wife suddenly strike up a friendship with a pool boy on a trip to Miami and decide they like him so much that they were flying him on private jets and investing almost $2 million in giving him a start at life.

Now, the other thing Roston got into was Michael Cohen’s role. It turns out he’s the one who engineered Falwell’s endorsement of Trump in January 2016. The relationship goes all the way back to 2012, the same year Jerry and his wife met Giancarlo. In fact, not too long after the three of them meet in Miami, Trump was invited to deliver the 2012 convocation speech at Liberty University. Trump was there. Cohen was there. And Giancarlo was flown up for the event from Florida on the private jet. Giancarlo was actually introduced to Trump. Falwell and Cohen apparently stayed in touch going forward, usually checking in with Michael at Trump Tower when he was in New York.

Clearly there was a lot here already to get people wondering what was going on. But it was only in this new piece today where we got some critical new information, the first direct reference to possible extortion. In a call surreptitiously recorded by Tom Arnold, Cohen admitted that he’d helped the Falwells deal with an extortion scam. Someone was threatening to release compromising photos and Cohen made the problem go away.

There’s a lot more at the link, but suffice it to say that if you’re wanting to write a trashy steamy novel for poolside reading on your winter vacation, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more colorful story.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Trap Of Weakness

James Comey’s op-ed in the New York Times.

People have been asking me hard questions. What happened to the leaders in the Trump administration, especially the attorney general, Bill Barr, who I have said was due the benefit of the doubt?

How could Mr. Barr, a bright and accomplished lawyer, start channeling the president in using words like “no collusion” and F.B.I. “spying”? And downplaying acts of obstruction of justice as products of the president’s being “frustrated and angry,” something he would never say to justify the thousands of crimes prosecuted every day that are the product of frustration and anger?

How could he write and say things about the report by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, that were apparently so misleading that they prompted written protest from the special counsel himself?

How could Mr. Barr go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and downplay President Trump’s attempt to fire Mr. Mueller before he completed his work?

And how could Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, after the release of Mr. Mueller’s report that detailed Mr. Trump’s determined efforts to obstruct justice, give a speech quoting the president on the importance of the rule of law? Or on resigning, thank a president who relentlessly attacked both him and the Department of Justice he led for “the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations”?

What happened to these people?

I don’t know for sure. People are complicated, so the answer is most likely complicated. But I have some idea from four months of working close to Mr. Trump and many more months of watching him shape others.

Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. Sometimes what they reveal is inspiring. For example, James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, resigned over principle, a concept so alien to Mr. Trump that it took days for the president to realize what had happened, before he could start lying about the man.

But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.

It starts with your sitting silent while he lies, both in public and private, making you complicit by your silence. In meetings with him, his assertions about what “everyone thinks” and what is “obviously true” wash over you, unchallenged, as they did at our private dinner on Jan. 27, 2017, because he’s the president and he rarely stops talking. As a result, Mr. Trump pulls all of those present into a silent circle of assent.

Speaking rapid-fire with no spot for others to jump into the conversation, Mr. Trump makes everyone a co-conspirator to his preferred set of facts, or delusions. I have felt it — this president building with his words a web of alternative reality and busily wrapping it around all of us in the room.

I must have agreed that he had the largest inauguration crowd in history because I didn’t challenge that. Everyone must agree that he has been treated very unfairly. The web building never stops.

From the private circle of assent, it moves to public displays of personal fealty at places like cabinet meetings. While the entire world is watching, you do what everyone else around the table does — you talk about how amazing the leader is and what an honor it is to be associated with him.

Sure, you notice that Mr. Mattis never actually praises the president, always speaking instead of the honor of representing the men and women of our military. But he’s a special case, right? Former Marine general and all. No way the rest of us could get away with that. So you praise, while the world watches, and the web gets tighter.

Next comes Mr. Trump attacking institutions and values you hold dear — things you have always said must be protected and which you criticized past leaders for not supporting strongly enough. Yet you are silent. Because, after all, what are you supposed to say? He’s the president of the United States.

You feel this happening. It bothers you, at least to some extent. But his outrageous conduct convinces you that you simply must stay, to preserve and protect the people and institutions and values you hold dear. Along with Republican members of Congress, you tell yourself you are too important for this nation to lose, especially now.

You can’t say this out loud — maybe not even to your family — but in a time of emergency, with the nation led by a deeply unethical person, this will be your contribution, your personal sacrifice for America. You are smarter than Donald Trump, and you are playing a long game for your country, so you can pull it off where lesser leaders have failed and gotten fired by tweet.

Of course, to stay, you must be seen as on his team, so you make further compromises. You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values.

And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.

It’s a sweet trap; there are assurances that you’re doing something good for the country, and besides, you’re just one person, so what difference will it make if you give in to just one little borderline indiscretion.  Or two.  Who’s gonna know?

But it’s like saying to an alcoholic, “Aw, c’mon, what’s one little drink?”  The problem is that it’s not just one.  It leads to another.  And another.  And rationalization; “Hey, I’m fine.  I’m still sober.  I can drive.”  It’s easy for us on the outside to think that someone on the inside can just walk away.  But it’s like saying to someone in an abusive relationship, “Just leave,” or to a drunk, “Stop drinking.”

Mr. Comey knows he fell off the wagon, and this piece is part of his trying to make amends or make it right.  But it’s going to take a lot more than just one fired FBI director who’s finding his conscience to fix this.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Unsurprisingly Reprehensible

Of course he did.

Trump on Tuesday sharply mocked the woman whose allegation of sexual assault has upended his effort to install a second justice on the Supreme Court, escalating a battle that has already polarized Washington and the country.

At a campaign rally, Mr. Trump went further than ever before in directly assailing Christine Blasey Ford, the university professor who accused Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, his nominee, of pinning her to a bed and trying to take her clothes off at a high school party in the early 1980s.

Playing to the crowd of thousands gathered to cheer him on, the president pretended to be Dr. Blasey testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday. “Thirty-six years ago this happened. I had one beer, right? I had one beer,” said Mr. Trump, channeling his version of Dr. Blasey. His voice dripping with derision, he then imitated her being questioned at the hearing, followed by her responses about what she could not recall about the alleged attack.

I expected nothing less from this alleged human being.

Monday, June 4, 2018

It’s Not Good To Be The King

When the Constitution was written, the folks who wrote it did everything they possibly could to get away from a monarchic form of government.  They made all the people with power subject to election and to the rule of law, and they split the powers of the government between three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.  That seemed like a good way to do it; no one branch could overtake the other, and there was accountability so that if one got out of hand, the others could deal with them until order was restored.  The few executive powers that resembled those held by a monarch were limited to benign or even restorative abilities, such as the power of the pardon.  The Founders probably thought this would be sufficient; they had the optimistic yet cautionary view that we were inherently good but that firm control via common sense and the ballot box would be enough.

They didn’t take into account the possibility that we would get Trump.

The 20-page memo from Trump’s lawyers to Robert Mueller, written in January and leaked by the New York Times on Saturday asserts that the president has the power to do whatever he wants in terms of controlling the Department of Justice; fire the director of the FBI, terminate an investigation, pardon himself for anything he might have done while in office, and basically assume the powers of an authoritarian without worrying that anyone in the executive branch can stop him.

Indeed, the President not only has unfettered statutory and Constitutional authority to terminate the FBI Director, he also has Constitutional authority to direct the Justice Department to open or close an investigation, and, of course, the power to pardon any person before, during, or after an investigation and/or conviction. Put simply, the Constitution leaves no question that the President has exclusive authority over the ultimate conduct and disposition of all criminal investigations and over those executive branch officials responsible for conducting those investigations.

People who have been to law school and have read this memo say that it is deeply flawed in both legal and logical terms.  The attorneys cite outdated statutes and take positions that stretch reason beyond the absurd.  But it is an insight into the defense strategy that will be mounted on behalf of Trump and sold to the GOP base at rallies as black-letter law: Trump is above the law and it’s good to be the Trump.

The only people who can bring an action against the president for violating the law or the Constitution is Congress.  They have done so twice in living memory: the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon and the actual impeachment of Bill Clinton.  At those times — 1974 and 1998 — the Congress was held by the opposition party to the president, which means that their desire to prosecute the president was inherently a political one.  This time it’s different.  Trump is nominally a Republican, as is the House and Senate.  So the question then becomes do the people who have the power over the term of the current president believe more in the rule of law than they do in the integrity of their own party, their re-election, and their conscience that speaks to them when they’re outside of the glare of TV cameras and soundbites.

We decided over 200 years ago that we didn’t want a monarch any more (even if we do watch their royal weddings on TV) and gave ourselves and our elected representatives the power to control those who assume they have powers beyond those granted by law.  Whether or not Congress decides to do anything about that tells us more about the future of this country and our path forward as a constitutional democracy than the results of an election.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sunday Reading

Corruption, Thy Name Is Trump — Jonathan Chait in New York magazine.

“My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy,” declared Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. “I’ve grabbed all the money I could get. I’m so greedy. But now I want to be greedy for the United States.” To the extent that Trump’s candidacy offered any positive appeal, as opposed to simple loathing for his opponent, this was it. He was a brilliant businessman, or at least starred in a television show as one, and he would set aside his lifelong pursuit of wealth to selflessly serve the greater good. This was the promise that pried just enough Obama voters away from Hillary Clinton in just enough upper-Midwest states to clinch the Electoral College.

Since Trump took office, his pledge to ignore his own interests has been almost forgotten, lost in a disorienting hurricane of endless news. It is not just a morbid joke but a legitimate problem for the opposition that all the bad news about Trump keeps getting obscured by other bad news about Trump. Perhaps the extraordinary civic unrest his presidency has provoked will be enough to give Democrats a historic win in the midterms this fall, but it is easy to be worried. Trump’s approval rating hovers in the low 40s: lower than the average of any other president, yes, but seemingly impervious to an onslaught of scandals that would have sunk any other president, and within spitting range of reelectability.

As the races pick up in earnest, some kind of narrative focus is going to be necessary to frame the case against Trump. Here, what appears to be an embarrassment of riches for Democrats may in fact be a collection of distractions. It is depressingly likely that several of Trump’s most outrageous characteristics will fail to move the needle in the states and districts where the needle needs moving. His racism and misogyny motivate the Democratic base, but both were perfectly apparent in 2016 and did not dissuade enough voters to abandon him.
The Russia scandal is substantively important, but it is also convoluted and abstract and removed from any immediate impact on voters’ lived experience. The reports of Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels, even the possibility of hired goons to keep her quiet, is not exactly a disillusioning experience for voters who harbored few illusions to begin with.

But they did harbor one. Trump’s core proposition to the public was a business deal: If he became president, he would work to make them rich. Of course, the fact that Trump was able to reduce the presidency to such a crass exchange, forsaking such niceties as simple decency and respect for the rule of law, exposed terrifying weaknesses in the fabric of American democracy. But the shortest path to resolving this crisis is first to remove Trump’s party — and it is Trump’s party — from full control of the government in 2018, and then to remove Trump from the White House in 2020. The clearest way to do that is to demonstrate that Trump is failing to uphold his end of the deal. After all, the students at Trump University once constituted some of the biggest Trump fans in America. Until they realized Trump had conned them. Then they sued to get their money back.

Historically, corruption — specifically, the use of power for personal gain — has played a central and even dominant role in American political discourse. In the 1870s, revelations that public officials were caught lining their pockets with millions of dollars from alcohol taxes (the Whiskey Ring) and inflated railroad costs (Crédit Mobilier) exploded into spectacular scandals. One of the triumphs of the Progressive Era was establishing rules and norms of professionalism in government so that public officials would not be tempted to sell their favors. The far more petty corruption cases of the 20th century still roused public rage. Harry Truman was famously scorned in his time, owing to penny-ante scandals, one of which involved an aide’s acceptance of some freezers. Dwight Eisenhower’s chief of staff had to resign after he accepted a vicuña coat; George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff, John Sununu, resigned in disgrace after using military aircraft for personal and political trips. There is a reason Trump labeled his opponent “Crooked Hillary,” and it stems from a law of American politics Democrats would be wise to remember: To be out for yourself is probably the single most disqualifying flaw a politician can have.

“Why shouldn’t the president surround himself with successful people?” argued Larry Kudlow, now Trump’s primary economic adviser, in 2016. “Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption.” The administration seems to have set out to refute this generous assumption. The sheer breadth of direct self-enrichment Trump has unleashed in office defies the most cynical predictions. It may not be a surprise that he continues to hold on to his business empire and uses his power in office to direct profits its way, from overseas building deals down to printing the presidential seal on golf markers at the course near Mar-a-Lago. It is certainly not a surprise that Trump has refused to disclose his tax returns. What’s truly shocking is how much petty graft has sprung up across his administration. Trump’s Cabinet members and other senior officials have been living in style at taxpayer expense, indulging in lavish travel for personal reasons (including a trip to Fort Knox to witness the solar eclipse) and designing their offices with $31,000 dining sets and $139,000 doors. Not since the Harding administration, and probably the Gilded Age, has the presidency conducted itself in so venal a fashion.

It is hardly a coincidence that so many greedy people have filled the administration’s ranks. Trump’s ostentatious crudeness and misogyny are a kind of human-resources strategy. Radiating personal and professional sleaze lets him quickly and easily identify individuals who have any kind of public ethics and to sort them out. (James Comey’s accounts of his interactions with the president depict Trump probing for some vein of corruptibility in the FBI director; when he came up empty, he fired him.) Trump is legitimately excellent at cultivating an inner circle unburdened by legal or moral scruples. These are the only kind of people who want to work for Trump, and the only kind Trump wants to work for him.

It should take very little work — and be a very big priority — for Democratic candidates to stitch all the administration’s misdeeds together into a tale of unchecked greed. For all the mystery still surrounding the Russia investigation, for instance, it is already clear that the narrative revolves around a lust (and desperation) for money. Having burned enough American banks throughout his career that he could not obtain capital through conventional, legitimate channels, Trump turned to Russian sources, who typically have an ulterior political motive. Just what these various sources got in return for their investment in Trump is a matter for Robert Mueller’s investigators to determine. But Trump’s interest in them is perfectly obvious.

Trump’s campaign followed his patented human-resources strategy, filling its ranks with other rapacious and financially precarious men. Paul Manafort was deeply in debt to a Russian oligarch when he popped up on Trump’s doorstep. Michael Flynn was selling his credentials to Russian and Turkish dictators while advising Trump. Jared Kushner was flailing about in an effort to make good on a massive loan he took out on a white-elephant Manhattan building and seems to have used his access to Trump to leverage potential investors who might bail him out. Even as he has wielded enormous influence, Kushner has been unable to obtain a top-secret security clearance, because he may be vulnerable to foreign influence.

The virtue of bribery is a subject of genuine conviction for Trump, whose entrée to politics came via transactional relationships with New York politicians as well as Mafia figures. Trump once called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars American corporations from engaging in bribery, a “ridiculous” and “horrible” law. Enforcement of this law has plummeted under his administration.

Trump’s vision of an economy run by tight circles of politically connected oligarchs has reshaped America’s standing in the world. The same effect that applies at the personal level with Trump has appeared at the level of the nation-state. Small-d democratic leaders have recoiled from the Trump administration, while autocrats have embraced him. Similarly, the president and his inner circle feel most comfortable in the company of the wealthy and corrupt. They have built closer ties to Russia, the Gulf States, and China, all of which are ruled by oligarchs who recognize in Trump a like-minded soul. They share the belief that — to revise a favorite Trump saying — if you don’t steal, you don’t have a country.

An easy fatalism about all this corruption has gained wide circulation. It was known about Trump all along and his voters signed up for it anyway, so nothing matters, right? In fact, Trump’s behavior runs directly contrary to his most important promises. “Draining the swamp” was not supposed to mean simply kicking out Democrats and competent public officials. He made speeches promising good-government reforms: a ban on lobbying by former members of Congress and stricter rules on what lobbying meant; campaign-finance reform to prevent foreign companies from raising money for American candidates; a ban on lobbying by former senior government officials on behalf of foreign governments.

Not only has Trump made no effort to raise ethical standards but he and his administration have flamboyantly violated the existing guidelines. Lobbyists are seeded in every agency, “regulating” their former employers and designing rules that favor bosses over employees and business owners over consumers. The problem of former government officials’ being paid by foreign governments has been superseded by the far larger problem of current government officials’ being paid by foreign governments.

Small episodes of corruption can play an outsize role in American politics, since the human scale of petty self-dealing is often easy to understand. And in Trump’s case, the smaller and larger scandals reinforce each other. Why is Trump giving rich people and corporations a huge tax cut? Why has he been threatening to take away your health insurance? Why is he letting Wall Street and Big Oil write their own rules? Above all, if Trump supposedly believed that “if I become president, I couldn’t care less about my company — it’s peanuts,” why are his children still running it? For the same reason he has let his Cabinet secretaries run up large travel expenses, and why his son-in-law met with oligarchs in China and the Gulf States whose money he was trying to get his hands on.

Even the strong economy does not mean Democrats have no way to attack Trump’s economic management. After all, the reason public opinion about the economy improved almost immediately after his election is that the Republican message machine stopped bad-mouthing the recovery and instead rebranded the same conditions as a fabulous new era of prosperity. Rather than sit back and allow Trump to take credit for a recovery he inherited, Democrats can press the point that he and his allies are doing little more than skimming off the top of it.

Somebody persuaded corporations, fattened by a trillion-dollar tax windfall, to publicize the same raises and bonuses they had been handing out for years as a special dividend of the Trump tax cuts. If Democrats win control of a chamber of Congress and thus the ability to hold hearings, they should investigate whatever coordination yielded this nexus of self-interest. A Democratic House or Senate could also compel disclosure of Trump’s tax returns, and both the documents themselves and any drama surrounding them would attract more attention to the administration’s commitment to self-enrichment.

But that can happen only if the Democrats win the midterms, and the best way to do that is to tell a very simple story. Trump represented himself as a rich man feared by the business elite. He had spent much of his life buying off politicians and exploiting the system, so he knew how the system worked and could exploit that knowledge on behalf of the people. In fact, his experiences with bribery opened his eyes to what further extortion might be possible. Trump was never looking to blow up the system. He was simply casing the joint.

Mr. Popularity — John Nichols in The Nation on Trump’s delusions.

Trump is so out of touch with reality that he thinks he is popular.

He’s not. And Americans, no matter what their partisanship, no matter what their ideology, should be worried that their president is lying not just to them but to himself.

Trump has been obsessed in recent days by a Rasmussen Reports daily presidential tracking poll that was published April 4. It put his approval rating at 51 percent. “Still Rising: Rasmussen Poll Shows Donald Trump Approval Ratings Now at 51 Percent,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday, as part of a pattern of tweets claiming that he’s experiencing a popularity surge.

Appearing Friday morning on the Trump-approving Bernie & Sid Show on New York’s WABC radio show—”we both think you’re doing a terrific job…”—the president claimed he was on a roll. “A poll just came out now, Rasmussen, it’s now 51,” chirped the president. “And they say that it’s 51, but add another 7 or 8 points to it. That’s somewhat embarrassing for me to tell you because they don’t want to talk about it, but when they get into the [voting] booth they’re going to vote for Trump.”

Rasmussen, a polling firm that has consistently found higher numbers for Trump than other survey research operations, did put the president at 51 on Wednesday. But Thursday’s Rasmussen daily tracking poll had the president’s approval rating falling to 47 percent, with 51 percent of those polled expressing disapproval. On Friday, when Trump was saying “it’s now 51,” his Rasmussen approval rating was actually 47 percent, while his disapproval number had risen to 52 percent.

In other words, the survey firm that the president has been busy thanking for doing “honest polling” is telling us that his approval rating has gone down in a week that saw talk of a “trade war” with China and mounting calls for the removal of scandal-plagued Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.

But it’s actually much worse than that for Trump. Rasmussen is just one pollster. All the rest of the recent polls from major survey research groups show Trump with a double-digit polling deficit. Some have his approval rating falling into the 30s. The Real Clear Politics average of recent polls provides the clearest picture: As of Friday morning, Trump’s approval rating was at 41.5 percent. His disapproval rating was at 54.6 percent. That’s a 13.1 percent deficit.

That’s also well below the level of support Trump got when he lost—let’s reemphasize: lost—the popular vote in 2016. In that year’s presidential race, Trump secured 46.1 percent of the vote to 48.2 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Clinton received almost 3 million more votes than Trump, and that was after she faced an onslaught of criticism and attacks during the 2016 campaign.

Trump could never accept those numbers. He has made wild claims about voter fraud and promoted other electoral fantasies in attempts to explain his failure to appeal to the vast majority of voters. And he never acknowledges—no matter how his numbers compared with Clinton’s in the popular vote—that the overall portion of the 2016 American electorate that chose someone other than Trump for the presidency was 54 percent.

Why should Americans worry that their president keeps deceiving himself—and his fellow Republicans, in Congress and in the states where GOP-backed candidates are being rejected with growing frequency—about these approval ratings?

Because this is a president who, we are told, trusts his instincts. If Trump really believes his approach to governing is popular, if he really imagines that his popularity is “still rising,” he is more likely to keep doing what he is doing.

The fact is that Trump’s instincts are wrong, as are his policies. They are not making him more popular. He may experience temporary fluctuations in his approval ratings, but they are never great—or even all that good. In fact, when it comes to approval ratings, it certainly looks like Trump’s best days were back in November of 2016, when he was on the losing end of a 54-46 measure of popular sentiment.

The Smells of Home — Sofija Stefanovic in The New York Times about sense memory recall.

When I was 5, the night before we left Yugoslavia and a few years before that country embarked on the Balkan wars and eventually dissolved, my mother put me to bed. Before starting on the hour of lullabies I demanded, out of nowhere she said, “The smells of your childhood will always stay with you and will make you remember home.”

“But what if you were born in a garbage bin?” I said.

“Then the smell of garbage will always remind you of home,” she said, and her eyes filled with tears, making me (incorrectly) assume that she’d been born in a garbage bin herself and was getting emotional about it.

Though I didn’t think much of it at the time, my mother was right about the smells. It is well documented that our senses can cause an involuntary flooding of memory. Some call it the “Proust phenomenon,” after the scene in “In Search of Lost Time” when a character’s childhood comes back to him simply from tasting a madeleine biscuit soaked in tea.

To me, the Belgrade of my childhood smelled like the Marlboro cigarettes my mother smoked — even while I was in utero (it was the ’80s) — and the perfume my aunt wore and chestnuts roasting in the winter, which sellers scooped into a paper cone and we ate on our way to my grandma’s place.

But I didn’t think about those smells as being special, because I had never not smelled them. We hadn’t yet moved to Australia, with its clean air, eucalyptus trees and suburban lawns, where the Southern Cross constellation hung above us, far from our family and the small gray sky of my hometown. I didn’t know that I would miss the smells, or rather, that I wouldn’t realize I missed the smells, and their associated memories, until I experienced them again.

It’s only now, as an adult living in New York, that I have my own Proustian moments. On a cold day smelling of snow, I sometimes get a whiff of urine in a doorway, and that olfactory cocktail reminds me of our building on the Boulevard of Revolution, with its green door, where my family lived when I was small. Men used to relieve themselves in the doorways there, just as they do here.

Behind the green door was an old foyer, and if you were walking down the stairs, you had to push a button each time you arrived on a new floor because the light was on a timer that went out. Out the back of that building I played with other kids. Stray kittens would appear near the caretaker’s toolshed and we’d argue over them, tugging them out of one another’s grasps, except when it was snowing and the kittens huddled under the shed and we’d make snowmen instead.

All those memories from a stinky doorway.

For me, the Belgrade of today is not home. We left there a long time ago, and I rarely visit. When I do, I often get lost, and the slang of young people is unfamiliar. It is not the home I remember when my senses are triggered (like when I try the Israeli peanut snack Bamba, which is uncannily similar to the Yugo Smoki I grew up on). The more time I spend with my memories, the more I augment them, my fantasy Belgrade becoming more beautiful than it ever was.

The United States is a nation of immigrants (still), and New York City is brimming with them. People who have been parted from the smells and tastes of their homes, who I assume are, like me, jolted back when a long-forgotten piece of music blares from a passing car, or a childhood spice enters their nostrils on a windy street in Queens. Do their memories make them feel nostalgia, or love, or are they ambivalent, terrified, heartbroken?

My son was born in New York City a few months ago. Based on the sensations of our block, he may well feel at home smelling a garbage bin. He might also remember the smell of the cinema near our apartment: popcorn and synthetic butter. The sound of his mother humming a Yugo-rock tune. Will these sensations, of the only home he has known, ever stand out to him as something to be missed?

If we go back to Australia (I’m not sure what the final straw will be — health care, education, immigration policy, gun laws), my son will be left with memories waiting to be sparked like a match. And then, the sound of a siren might take him back to our East Village block, where I pushed him in a stroller, picking up dog poop and balancing a coffee that I spilled on myself, and then cursed over and over. Maybe the smell of a dog’s breath will remind him of the couch he had to share with poodles while his parents shouted at the news, or the dog run with its squirrels and cobbles.

As stimuli fly at my baby — I watch him turn his head when he hears someone shouting, at the smell of laundry coming from a grating — I wonder what version of home he’s creating for himself. Which memories will my son carry of the city where he lived when he was born? And will he be like me, and many others who have moved, carrying certain baggage wherever he goes?

I remember my mother’s comment about how the smells of my childhood would remind me of home, and home, I now know, is a place that exists not on a map but in my mind, ready to appear in its full, smelly glory at any moment.

Doonesbury — Quick results.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Get Rid Of All Of Them

Charles P. Pierce on where we stand, and where we go.

I was going to let Dahlia Lithwick’s angry, lucid account in Slate of the end of Al Franken’s senatorial career speak for me, since Lithwick said everything I felt about this tawdry episode, and probably better than I could. Especially this part:

Is this the principled solution? By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve.

It seemed fitting that Franken invoked the name of his mentor, the late Senator Paul Wellstone, in his valedictory address on Thursday, because it was his account of the indecent political hijacking of Wellstone’s memorial service by the flying monkeys of the right that first made me think that Franken was more than simply a gifted satirist. Very important people in American politics, and in the elite American political media, most of whom still have their jobs today, lied about what went on at that service. They did so deliberately, and for cheap political advantage.

[…]

The problem is where do the Democrats go now, although I’m fairly sure Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will be heading to Iowa. Is it time (again) to tug their forelocks over Bill Clinton? Maybe they could dig up Teddy Kennedy and hold their own Cadaver Synod, expelling him from the Senate posthumously? LBJ would be next, then Jack, then finally Thomas Jefferson. Ah, but now, we are told, they have The Moral High Ground, as though you needed to throw one of your own overboard in order to have the moral standing to oppose seating an alleged child molester in the Senate, or to remind people that the president* copped to sexual assault on tape.

Lithwick is dead right. There is no commonly accepted Moral High Ground left to occupy anymore, and to pretend one exists is to live in a masturbatory fantasyland. It’s like lining yourself up behind Miss Manners in a political debate against Machiavelli. Until the Democrats are willing to think asymmetrically about the very real political danger posed by the president* and his party, the danger will grow until it becomes uncontrollable, and that point is coming very soon, I fear. By the time the Democrats admit to themselves that their political opposition has moved so far beyond shame that it can’t even see Richard Nixon any more, the damage wrought to our political institutions may be beyond repair.

The way to fight back is to make it clear to the electorate and everybody else that it isn’t just the individuals such as Moore and Trump and Gingrich and the rest that are the problem; it’s the entire Republican party.  They’re the ones who have embraced these gropers and adulterers and still tried to preach the Family Values bullshit.  It’s the entire gang, and while you might feel it’s unfair to lump all Republicans, including the ones you know personally and may even like, in with the garbage, remember that they will turn on you just as quickly and elect someone even worse than what we’ve got now.

The whole gang has to go.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday Reading

“My President Was Black” — An excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s thoughts on the legacy of Barack Obama.

Last spring, I went to the White House to meet the president for lunch. I arrived slightly early and sat in the waiting area. I was introduced to a deaf woman who worked as the president’s receptionist, a black woman who worked in the press office, a Muslim woman in a head scarf who worked on the National Security Council, and an Iranian American woman who worked as a personal aide to the president. This receiving party represented a healthy cross section of the people Donald Trump had been mocking, and would continue to spend his campaign mocking. At the time, the president seemed untroubled by Trump. When I told Obama that I thought Trump’s candidacy was an explicit reaction to the fact of a black president, he said he could see that, but then enumerated other explanations. When assessing Trump’s chances, he was direct: He couldn’t win.

This assessment was born out of the president’s innate optimism and unwavering faith in the ultimate wisdom of the American people—the same traits that had propelled his unlikely five-year ascent from Illinois state senator to U.S. senator to leader of the free world.* The speech that launched his rise, the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, emerged right from this logic. He addressed himself to his “fellow Americans, Democrats, Republicans, independents,” all of whom, he insisted, were more united than they had been led to believe. America was home to devout worshippers and Little League coaches in blue states, civil libertarians and “gay friends” in red states. The presumably white “counties around Chicago” did not want their taxes burned on welfare, but they didn’t want them wasted on a bloated Pentagon budget either. Inner-city black families, no matter their perils, understood “that government alone can’t teach our kids to learn … that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”

Perceived differences were the work of “spinmasters and negative-ad peddlers who embrace the politics of ‘anything goes.’ ” Real America had no use for such categorizations. By Obama’s lights, there was no liberal America, no conservative America, no black America, no white America, no Latino America, no Asian America, only “the United States of America.” All these disparate strands of the American experience were bound together by a common hope:

It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.

This speech ran counter to the history of the people it sought to address. Some of those same immigrants had firebombed the homes of the children of those same slaves. That young naval lieutenant was an imperial agent for a failed, immoral war. American division was real. In 2004, John Kerry did not win a single southern state. But Obama appealed to a belief in innocence—in particular a white innocence—that ascribed the country’s historical errors more to misunderstanding and the work of a small cabal than to any deliberate malevolence or widespread racism. America was good. America was great.

Over the next 12 years, I came to regard Obama as a skilled politician, a deeply moral human being, and one of the greatest presidents in American history. He was phenomenal—the most agile interpreter and navigator of the color line I had ever seen. He had an ability to emote a deep and sincere connection to the hearts of black people, while never doubting the hearts of white people. This was the core of his 2004 keynote, and it marked his historic race speech during the 2008 campaign at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center—and blinded him to the appeal of Trump. (“As a general proposition, it’s hard to run for president by telling people how terrible things are,” Obama once said to me.)

But if the president’s inability to cement his legacy in the form of Hillary Clinton proved the limits of his optimism, it also revealed the exceptional nature of his presidential victories. For eight years Barack Obama walked on ice and never fell. Nothing in that time suggested that straight talk on the facts of racism in American life would have given him surer footing.

I had met the president a few times before. In his second term, I’d written articles criticizing him for his overriding trust in color-blind policy and his embrace of “personal responsibility” rhetoric when speaking to African Americans. I saw him as playing both sides. He would invoke his identity as a president of all people to decline to advocate for black policy—and then invoke his black identity to lecture black people for continuing to “make bad choices.” In response, Obama had invited me, along with other journalists, to the White House for off-the-record conversations. I attempted to press my points in these sessions. My efforts were laughable and ineffective. I was always inappropriately dressed, and inappropriately calibrated in tone: In one instance, I was too deferential; in another, too bellicose. I was discombobulated by fear—not by fear of the power of his office (though that is a fearsome and impressive thing) but by fear of his obvious brilliance. It is said that Obama speaks “professorially,” a fact that understates the quickness and agility of his mind. These were not like press conferences—the president would speak in depth and with great familiarity about a range of subjects. Once, I watched him effortlessly reply to queries covering everything from electoral politics to the American economy to environmental policy. And then he turned to me. I thought of George Foreman, who once booked an exhibition with multiple opponents in which he pounded five straight journeymen—and I suddenly had some idea of how it felt to be the last of them.

Last spring, we had a light lunch. We talked casually and candidly. He talked about the brilliance of LeBron James and Stephen Curry—not as basketball talents but as grounded individuals. I asked him whether he was angry at his father, who had abandoned him at a young age to move back to Kenya, and whether that motivated any of his rhetoric. He said it did not, and he credited the attitude of his mother and grandparents for this. Then it was my turn to be autobiographical. I told him that I had heard the kind of “straighten up” talk he had been giving to black youth, for instance in his 2013 Morehouse commencement address, all my life. I told him that I thought it was not sensitive to the inner turmoil that can be obscured by the hardness kids often evince. I told him I thought this because I had once been one of those kids. He seemed to concede this point, but I couldn’t tell whether it mattered to him. Nonetheless, he agreed to a series of more formal conversations on this and other topics.

The improbability of a black president had once been so strong that its most vivid representations were comedic. Witness Dave Chappelle’s profane Black Bush from the early 2000s (“This nigger very possibly has weapons of mass destruction! I can’t sleep on that!”) or Richard Pryor’s black president in the 1970s promising black astronauts and black quarterbacks (“Ever since the Rams got rid of James Harris, my jaw’s been uptight!”). In this model, so potent is the force of blackness that the presidency is forced to conform to it. But once the notion advanced out of comedy and into reality, the opposite proved to be true.

Obama’s DNC speech is the key. It does not belong to the literature of “the struggle”; it belongs to the literature of prospective presidents—men (as it turns out) who speak not to gravity and reality, but to aspirations and dreams. When Lincoln invoked the dream of a nation “conceived in liberty” and pledged to the ideal that “all men are created equal,” he erased the near-extermination of one people and the enslavement of another. When Roosevelt told the country that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he invoked the dream of American omnipotence and boundless capability. But black people, then living under a campaign of terror for more than half a century, had quite a bit to fear, and Roosevelt could not save them. The dream Ronald Reagan invoked in 1984—that “it’s morning again in America”—meant nothing to the inner cities, besieged as they were by decades of redlining policies, not to mention crack and Saturday-night specials. Likewise, Obama’s keynote address conflated the slave and the nation of immigrants who profited from him. To reinforce the majoritarian dream, the nightmare endured by the minority is erased. That is the tradition to which the “skinny kid with a funny name” who would be president belonged. It is also the only tradition in existence that could have possibly put a black person in the White House.

“Not In My Name” — Charles P. Pierce raises his hand against the death penalty.

One of my best experiences traveling with the campaign was going to Sunday services at Mother Emanuel in Charleston, South Carolina, and not just because Bernie Sanders and I partook in a Baptist service at the same time in the same sacred place. (I imagined Bernie’s ancestors and my Papist forebears helping each other revolve under their respective sods.) It was a remarkable place from the time of its founding, and it is an even more remarkable place now, since it was baptized in the blood of its congregation on an awful night in June of 2015.

That’s why it became a stop on at least the Democratic side of the 2016 presidential campaign. It was why I was blessed to sit in the back row and pray with the ushers. Before the service, however, I went downstairs where the weekly Scripture study was being held. It was in that same basement that Dylann Roof had unleashed his arsenal six months earlier.

“When I think of repentance and forgiveness,” said one woman, her index finger marking a place in her Bible, “I think of the thief on the cross next to Jesus.” The lesson on many Sundays since last June 17 has been about repentance and forgiveness, both here in the church and out in the country.

On Thursday afternoon, to nobody’s real surprise, Roof was convicted on 33 counts, including nine counts of murder with a hate crime enhancement, for the killing he did in the basement of Mother Emanuel. Of course, the real test will come in January, when the same jury gathers to decide whether the federal government—which is to say, you and me and the President of the United States—should kill Dylann Roof as dead as he killed the nine people on that night in June. And that is not as easy as you might think.

From the start, as The New York Times reported in November, the families of the victims have been opposed to the imposition of the death penalty on the murderer of their husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters.

“My humanness is being broken, my humanness of wanting this man to be broken beyond punishment,” Ms. Risher said. “You can’t do that if you really say that you believe in the Bible and you believe in Jesus Christ. You can’t just waver.”

Don’t kill him in my name. (If the state of South Carolina wants to kill him in the name of its citizens, it will have that chance at a later date.) I worshipped with the people who have the best reasons of all to demand his blood, and they don’t want it. Neither do many of the South Carolinians who have good reasons to demand his blood, but better reasons to doubt the essential justice of the death penalty.

A University of South Carolina survey, conducted last spring, found that 55 percent of South Carolina residents supported a death sentence for Mr. Roof. But divisions among black and white residents were stark: The poll showed that only 31 percent of black residents wanted Mr. Roof to face execution, while some 64 percent of whites backed the use of capital punishment in the case.

My own opposition to the death penalty is beside the point here. This is coming from the day I spent in worship on what one night was a killing ground, and it’s coming from the indomitability of the people who still come there to pray for a better world. I remember what that woman at Scripture study said.

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23: 40-43.

Resistance — John Cassidy in The New Yorker on nine ways to oppose Trump.

Over the past few weeks, a number of anguished friends and acquaintances, and even some strangers, have got in touch with me to ask what they might do to oppose Donald Trump. Being a fellow sufferer from OATS—Obsessing About Trump Syndrome—my first instinct has been to tell people to get off social media and take a long walk. It won’t do anybody much good, except possibly Trump, if large numbers of people who voted against him send themselves mad by constantly reading about him, cursing him, and recirculating his latest outrages.

But, of course, taking a mental-health break is only a first step toward preserving the Republic. As a daily columnist, I see my role as trying to analyze and critique the Trump program, while also trying to understand some of the phenomena that allowed him to blag his way to the verge of the White House. But for those who want to take a more direct approach, here are some suggestions, starting with something you can do immediately:

1. Go to change.org and join the 4.9 million people who have signed a petition calling on members of the Electoral College to reject Trump. Then contact the electors for your state directly and tell them your concerns. On Monday, the five hundred and thirty eight electors will choose a new President. According to the Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, between twenty and thirty Republican electors are ready to vote against Trump. To deny him a majority, the number would need to reach thirty-seven. Most observers think that won’t happen, and, even if it did, the task of electing a President would pass to the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, which would almost certainly vote for Trump. But a big protest vote in the Electoral College could still have great deal of symbolic importance.

A central part of the self-serving Trump narrative is that he won an electoral landslide. That is nonsense, of course. He got about forty-six per cent of the vote, he carried several states by less than one per cent, and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.7 million votes. But how to manifest these figures? There is no modern precedent for a large-scale revolt against a President-elect in the Electoral College. If one emerges this time, it will send a powerful message to the world that a majority of Americans don’t want Trump as their President.

2. Attend the Women’s March on Washington, which will take place on Saturday, January 21st. What better way to demonstrate the scale of the opposition to Trump than to stage a huge protest on his new doorstep the very day after his Inauguration? On Thursday, the Washington, D.C., police department confirmed that it has issued a permit for the march, which will start at Independence Avenue and Third Street Southwest, right in front of the Capitol. From there, the demonstrators will march west along Independence Avenue, which is on the southern edge of the National Mall. Despite the fact that the marchers won’t be allowed near the Lincoln Memorial, which the National Park Service has cordoned off at the request of the Trump Inauguration committee, they will be clearly visible from the White House.

On Thursday afternoon, a hundred and forty seven thousand people had indicated on Facebook that they intend to be there, but the actual numbers could be much larger. And, despite the name of the march, it is definitely not restricted to people with two X chromosomes. According to its organizers, “any person, regardless of gender or gender identity, who believes women’s rights are human rights” is welcome to attend. Effectively, the march is an opportunity for anybody who opposes Trump to get out there and be heard.

3.Contribute to organizations that will oppose Trump and the Republican agenda. In the wake of Trump’s victory on November 8th, a number of well-known liberal groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, the Sierra Club, and Planned Parenthood, reported that they had seen a surge in donations and volunteers. That was encouraging news for opponents of Trump, but it was only a start. Given his illiberal instincts, the nature of his Cabinet picks, and the scale of the Republican Party’s ambitions in rolling back the welfare and regulatory state, the battle ahead is likely to be long and bitter, waged on local, regional, and national fronts.

In this contest of words and wills, all sorts of different groups will be in need of financial support, from national organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations to the political-action funds of the labor unions that will be targeted by Republican governors and their corporate allies to local groups of lawyers trying to help undocumented immigrants who could be targeted for deportation. You can find lists of organizations opposed to Trump herehere, and here.

4. Support independent journalism.Trump is clearly obsessed with the media, and for good reason. Like all skilled propagandists, he knows that journalists represent a potential threat to him and his shameless efforts to traduce the truth. With his popular social-media feeds, and the support of an upstart right-wing press, he has found a way to go around the mainstream media and, when he deems necessary, to confront it head on. But, for all the power of Twitter, fake news, and the social-media echo chamber, real news can still break through all the noise.

Witness the past week’s revelations in the Washington Post and the New York Times about Russian efforts to interfere in the American election. For once, Trump was put on the defensive. For months, he has claimed that nobody knows who carried out the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and other targets: at one point, he suggested it could have been a “four-hundred-pound guy” lying in bed. Last weekend, he called a C.I.A. assessment that Moscow had tried to help him win the election “ridiculous.”

But this week Trump was powerless to prevent leading Republicans, including John McCain and Mitch McConnell, from calling for congressional hearings on the extent and origins of the Russian cyberattacks. Many Presidents in the past have come to fear getting caught inside the Bermuda triangle of prying journalists, official leakers, and congressional committees. But for the oversight process to work there needs to be a thriving and independent press.

5. Get engaged on a personal level. Giving money is one thing, but making a donation to help someone else oppose Trump is no substitute for individual and collective mobilization. In any liberal democracy, the ultimate guardian of decency and civil liberties is an active civil society, which can push back against efforts to mislead the public, flout accepted norms, and centralize power. That’s why, usually, one of the first thing that would-be autocrats do when they take power is attack civil society.

But what is civil society? In addition to big national organizations, such as labor unions, the A.C.L.U., and the N.A.A.C.P., civil society comprises countless local groups, including charities, environmental activists, church groups, think tanks, reading groups, peace campaigners, parents’ associations, and youth groups. It encompasses any group that mediates between the individual, the government, and the market, and whose goal is promoting the common good. The thing to do is to pick an organization that reflects your personal interests or an issue that motivates you, get involved, and stick with it.

6. Contact your congressman and senator and tell them to stand up to Trump. For good or ill, the first line of defense against a Trumpian erosion of democracy will be the U.S. Capitol. As the Trump Administration moves forward with its reactionary agenda, it will be up to legislators in both parties not to cut deals that target the weak, encroach upon civil rights, or enrich the new first family. Thanks to the Internet and a growing number of apps, it is now very simple to find your elected representatives and let them know what you think.

Surprising as it may be to some skeptics, elected officials do listen to their constituents, especially when they get in touch with them personally in large numbers. I relearned this lesson when I was reporting on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, to which many powerful financial interests were staunchly opposed. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who co-sponsored the legislation, told me that the only reason he and his allies managed to overcome Republican opposition, and Wall Street’s efforts to win over some Democrats, was that they managed to mobilize enough ordinary people to exert pressure on their elected representatives. In this case, the public will need to be vigilant and involved across a broad range of policy areas.

7. Support local initiatives to resist the Trump and Republican agenda. Last week, Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento, California, put forward a series of measures designed to protect undocumented immigrants in the state from deportation. “We are telling the next Administration and Congress: if you want to get to them, you have to go through us,” Anthony Rendon, the speaker of the State Assembly, said. And earlier this week Jerry Brown, California’s governor, vowed to fight any efforts by the incoming Administration to roll back efforts to tackle climate change. Reacting to a suggestion from one of Trump’s advisers that he could eliminate NASA‘s earth-science programs, which have done much to illuminate the advance of global warming, Brown said, “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers, and we’re ready to fight. . . . If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.”

Other Democrat-dominated states, such as Massachusetts and New York, are thinking along similar lines, particularly when it comes to mounting legal challenges to some of Trump’s program. And, ironically, they are taking a lead from Republican-run states, such as Oklahoma and Texas, which have challenged many of President Obama’s initiatives in court, such as his effort to use the Clean Air Act to reduce CO2 emissions. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

8. Support electoral reform. Ultimately, Trump’s win was enabled by America’s antiquated electoral system, which was designed to prevent each vote from counting equally. In still relying on the Electoral College and the rule that says each state has two seats in the U.S. Senate, we are beholden to the prejudices and interests of an eighteenth-century ruling class that was white, landed, and dedicated to preserving the prerogatives of individual states.

With the winner of the popular vote having lost two of the past five Presidential elections, you might think there would be a movement to change the system—and there is. It’s called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, and it’s an agreement among a group of states to award all of their votes in the Electoral College to the candidate who wins the popular vote. The beauty of this scheme is that it doesn’t require a constitutional amendment to insure a truly democratic outcome. But it does need the support of states with two hundred and seventy electoral votes among them, and so far only ten states, representing a hundred and sixty-five votes, have signed on.

I asked my friend and colleague Hendrik Hertzberg, who is a longtime advocate of reforming the electoral system at all levels of U.S. government, what people could do to promote the cause. He wrote back, “If you live in one of the forty states that have not yet signed on to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact write—better, call—your state legislators and ask them to get on with it. And send some love (and some bucks) to FairVote.org, which just helped Maine become the first state in the nation to adopt ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, for all its important offices, including its congressional delegation. Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight.”

9. Be smart: violence would only help Trump. Inevitably, there are going to be many more protests after the women’s march. That is as it should be. The right to protest is a fundamental tenet of democracy, and Trump isn’t just another President: he’s a shameless demagogue. But for now the onus is on the protest organizers and participants to try to keep things peaceful, even if they are provoked by counterdemonstrators or aggressive policing. Doing otherwise would be counterproductive.

History shows that violent political protests often produce a backlash from the public at large—a fact that Richard Nixon, among others, exploited with ruthless effectiveness. Trump, in his speech at the Republican National Convention, has already portrayed himself as Nixon’s heir, and, should things get ugly, he would revel in presenting himself as the upholder of law and order. Genuine authoritarians welcome disorder as an excuse to crack down on all forms of dissent. In many cases, they have fomented incidents of violence for this purpose.

At this stage, Trump is still a President in the making. Some of his critics view him as a would-be authoritarian despot; others think he’s more interested in lining his own pockets. (Of course, it is possible that his ambition is both of these things.) Yet others think he lacks the attention span to be a genuine menace, and that he will merely serve as the front man for Republican ideologues like Mike Pence and Paul Ryan. Before very long, we’ll find out. In the interim, there are lots of ways to get involved and retain your sanity.

Doonesbury — “News”

Monday, August 1, 2016

Short Takes

Khizr Khan says Donald Trump lacks “moral compass.”

Muslims go to church in France to show solidarity in light of attack.

Florida Zika virus cases came from local mosquitoes.

Deadly flooding hits Maryland.

Someone in New Hampshire won $487 million.

Tropical Update: Invest 97L shows up in the Caribbean.

The Tigers swept the Astros, making two sweeps in a row.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Mean One Justifies the Means

I seriously doubt that there is a more loathsome person in America than Dick Cheney.

Host Chuck Todd asked Cheney to respond to the Senate Intelligence Committee report’s account that one detainee was “chained to the wall of a cell, doused with water, froze to death in CIA custody.”

“And it turned out it was a case of mistaken identity,” Todd said.

“Right,” Cheney responded. “But the problem I have was with all of the folks that we did release that end up back on the battlefield.”

“I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that in fact were innocent,” he continued.

Todd pressed Cheney, asking if he was okay with the fact that about 25 percent of the detainees interrogated were actually innocent.

“I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States,” Cheney responded.

Translation: “So we killed the wrong guy.  Compared to lying our way into a war, killing over five thousand American soldiers, countless Iraqis, and helped to create a fanatical bunch of theocratic outlaws, it’s no big deal.”

Of course he’s going to defend torture.  People like him never admit to making mistakes even when it goes horribly wrong, and even if he had the heart — transplanted or otherwise — to do it, he’d never expose himself to the possibility that someone would try to arrest him for war crimes.

Dick Cheney never wore a uniform to fight for his country, but I’m pretty sure that given the choice, he’d have one with an iron cross on it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Rotten Spoiled

I was going to include this in Sunday Reading, but I thought I’d save it for today.  Paul Campos wrote a nice piece in Salon about the crybabies of the 1%.

More than half a century ago, “West Side Story” satirized the idea that what was then known as juvenile delinquency was a product of poverty and the psychological maladjustments it produced, and that therefore “this boy don’t need a judge, he needs an analyst’s care.”

Since then, America has been busy transforming itself into an unabashed plutocracy: while median household income has barely budged since the mid-1960s, the annual income of the top 1 percent has increased by an average of approximately 200 percent in real terms.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that the belief that economic deprivation leads to psychological hardship, which in turn inspires youthful crimes, has not merely been discarded but, in some cases, actually inverted.

Consider the case of a Texas teenager who killed four people and severely injured two others while drunk-driving in his father’s pickup truck. Prosecutors wanted to send him to prison for 20 years, but a judge decided to give him no jail time at all after an expert witness for the defense testified that the defendant was suffering from “affluenza.”

This affliction, the psychologist testified, was a product of the defendant having spent his life in the lap of luxury. Having his parents’ cash between himself and reality had left the killer of four of his neighbors unable to make the connection between his decisions – such as his decision to drive a two-ton truck down a residential street at 70 miles per hour while drunk out of his mind – and the potential consequences of those decisions.

In short, the defense team argued, their client was depraved because he wasn’t deprived.

Take it from someone who grew up among those who believed — and had it affirmed — that the rich really were different.  A good lawyer and tax accountant kept the riff-raff from troubling their beautiful minds, and if their little darlings got into trouble, there was always a nice little rehab center or prep school that could whisk them off and not even interrupt the spring break on St. Barts.

Now that the rest of us are beginning to notice, the poor dears are worried that they will become yet again the victims of the torches and pitchforks of the hoi-polloi.  Investor Tom Perkins, sounding a lot like Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, put a name on the whining, and the storm of rebuke he received was richly deserved.  But it also made the perspective clear.

Perkins’ remarks (which have been echoed by various other 1 percenters) point to the real affluenza, rather than the fake syndrome conjured up by an expert witness to help get a rich kid off the hook for four homicides. The real affluenza is the failure of the rich to appreciate that their special privileges – such as the privilege of operating under what is, from a practical perspective, a substantially different justice system than everyone else – must come at a price.

That price is paid in the form of the growing contempt of their fellow citizens, a contempt that grows in proportion to the ever-increasing gap in America between the children of privilege and everyone else.

There are too many Tom Buchanans in this world.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hack Job

Via C&L: A group calling themselves the Syrian Electronic Army (I know; it sounds like a band from the ’60’s) hacked into the Associated Press Twitter account yesterday and scared the crap out of the stock market for about ten minutes.

The AP says they were being hit by numerous phishing expeditions.

The false tweet said there had been two explosions at the White House and that President Barack Obama was injured. The attack on AP’s Twitter account and the AP Mobile Twitter account was preceded by phishing attempts on AP’s corporate network.

The AP confirmed that its Twitter account had been suspended following a hack and said it was working to correct the issue.

The false tweet went out shortly after 1 p.m. and briefly sent the Dow Jones industrial average sharply lower. The Dow fell 143 points, from 14,697 to 14,554, after the fake Twitter posting, and then quickly recovered.

It’s all fun and games until someone loses $100 billion in the stock market.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Short Takes

Greek police clash with protestors over austerity measures.

Drone attack in Yemen killed at least nine people, including a local al-Qaeda leader.

Air strikes in northern Syria kill over 40.

The Boy Scouts released files on abuse going back decades.

Searchers find a fourth body in the parking garage rubble in Miami.

The index of leading economic indicators rose in September.

Dinesh D’Souza resigned from his college president job over his relationship with a woman.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Horner Honked

Florida Republican State Rep. Mike Horner has abruptly resigned over his name being on the client list of a house of ill repute.  (Karma loves ironic names.)

State Rep. Mike Horner has not been charged with any crime, but law enforcement sources told the Orlando Sentinel that his name was included on a client list in a case against Mark Risner, an Orange County man who is accused of running a brothel out of his home.

Riser is facing 13 charges, including felony charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

“I deeply regret decisions I made that are causing my family unjustifiable pain and embarrassment,” Horner explained in a statement on Monday. “While current press accounts from this morning are erroneous, my family still deserves better from me, as do all my friends, supporters and constituents. So today I am announcing I will no longer seek reelection to the Florida House.”

His website — www.gohorner.com (I am NOT making that up) — is “down for maintenance.”  According to the official Florida House of Representatives website, he’s your average white bread conservative Republican… who happens to like to buy a little nookie on the side.

I am sure his defenders will say that he was only helping Mr. Riser (again, the perfect name for a guy running a brothel) in his role as a job creator.  Another small business crushed under the thumb of big government.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Short Takes

Egypt — The ruling council agreed to a speedier transition to a civilian government.

Syria’s government is under increasing pressure from what allies it has left to resign.

Yet Again — The GOP candidates held their 8,214th debate last night.

More accusations for Jerry Sandusky.

“Morally Wrong” — Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber halts executions in his state.

Cheating — More students have surrendered in the on-going scandal involving the SAT.

Stocks fell again on worries over Europe.

Tropical Update — Hurricane Kenneth is in the eastern Pacific as a Cat 4, but is no threat to any land.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Don’t Blame the Hippies

It sounds to me as if David Brooks is blaming the Penn State child rape scandal on the 1960’s.

I don’t think it was just a Penn State problem. You know, you spend 30 or 40 years muddying the moral waters here. We have lost our clear sense of what evil is, what sin is; and so, when people see things like that, they don’t have categories to put it into. They vaguely know it’s wrong, but they’ve been raised in a morality that says, “If it feels all right for you, it’s probably OK.” And so that waters everything down.

Yeah, except I don’t think Jerry Sandusky was at Woodstock, and I don’t think that Joe Paterno and every other place where this cult of college football worship goes on is based on Love, Peace, and George McGovern. These are some seriously conservative people who live by the manly man rules and don’t tolerate any of that “if it feels good, do it” mentality unless it can get them a win on Saturday afternoon and the NCAA doesn’t find out about it.

And not for nothing are there parallels being drawn between what went on at Penn State and what went on in the Roman Catholic Church: the hierarchy of infallibility, the cult of personality around a larger-than-life idol, and the strict code of silence that covered up the sins and the crimes of the powerful against the weak and vulnerable. That kind of power structure and brutality has been with us a lot longer than rock and roll and Timothy Leary.

And as long as people like David Brooks keep finding a convenient scapegoat and Ross Douthat makes excuses — “I believe that Joe Paterno is a good man” — instead of looking within the cloisters of the locker rooms, the sacristies, and other places that promote their own type of counter-culture, it’s going to keep happening.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Private Lives

The news about Arnold Schwarzenegger and the reasons for his separation from his wife, Maria Shriver, isn’t something I would normally write about. As far as I can tell, it’s none of my business and I don’t really care about the private lives of people I neither know or who do not have an impact on me.

But Rachel Maddow makes a good point: it’s not the deed but the fact that people who have demonstrated rank hypocrisy about “family values” make a living out of demonizing other people.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to understand that people who do this sort of thing — live in glass houses armed with stones — are doing it to justify their own weaknesses and to distract attention while still getting some kind of thrill out of doing something naughty. In that respect we never grow out of the pre-adolescent need to make it all about ourselves and tempt fate.

The problem isn’t the politicians and the moralizers caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy; it’s the kids or the wife or the parents who have to live with the stupidity thrust upon them through no fault of their own. Their private lives are shot to hell.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Short Takes

The New York Times reports that North Korea has built a “vast” new nuclear facility.

A two-way street — President Obama pushes back on criticism from Afghan president Karzai.

Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois announced that she’s running for mayor of Chicago, too.

There’s a manhunt going on in Utah in pursuit of a shooter who critically wounded a park ranger.

Pass, friend — Airline pilots will not have to go through enhanced searches.

The pope says condoms are okay for male prostitutes.

Un-friend him — A New Jersey pastor who slammed Facebook for promoting infidelity admits to having at least one too many “friends.”